Monday, 9 January 2023

I have been reading...

But not reviewing! Not since mid-December in fact and as I'm not going to try and do proper reviews of all of them, what I'll do is talk about my most recent read first and then list the others, mainly read in December.

So first up it's The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. This is my first book for the Bookish Books reading challenge which is being hosted by Susan at Bloggin' 'Bout Books. It's also my first book for Mount TBR 2023 which is being hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK.

So, this book was a Christmas present from several years ago, it's beautiful thing quite honestly and I was looking forward to making it my first read of 2023. Briefly, the main character, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, is at uni somewhere in New England and comes across an odd book in the library. It describes underground cities full of libraries and the people that live there and run the place. And then he finds himself mentioned in this book along with an incident that happened to him as child where he came across a painted door on a wall in an alley, which was in fact a real door: he could've opened it and gone in but he didn't. Fast forward and Zachary is at a masquerade ball at a secret club in New York city because there he will find out more about the book. He meets Mirabel who takes him through another doorway and into this underground world which, it turns out, is real. I wish I could say that my experience with this book was as wonderful as the physical copy of the book I own. I will say that it is beautifully and lyrically written, no question of that, the author can write: her book, The Night Circus, was a massive success which at one time was all over the book blogging world. But for me The Starless Sea was a book that spent 500 pages never getting to the point. Zachary spends the whole book wandering around this place looking for first one person, then another, then something else. There are other characters who arrive, do something to him, disappear off and then come back later to repeat the performance. Mirabel is quite interesting and the back story of another man who disappeared down this rabbit hole, met someone, lost them but never came back is intriguing. But all of the pointless meandering and minute detail of said wanderings just bored me to tears. I've no idea how I got to the end - I think I was hoping it would get to some kind of interesting point. It didn't, or maybe by the time it did I'd lost the will to live and missed it. 2 stars on Goodreads and I don't give books star ratings like that lightly... lot of people dish those out willy-nilly... I probably give out two or three 'a year'. A sad disappointment but there you go, it happens and I will add that a lot of people love this book!

So, back in December I think the last book I reviewed was Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley (I didn't like that much either, perhaps I'm getting too picky). 

After that I read A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, which is the first in her 'Veronica Speedwell' historical crime series. This is set in 1887. Veronica has been brought up by two aunts but there's a secret about her birth which she's determined to discover. The last of the aunts dies and Veronica is free to follow her passion for butterflies but someone tries to abduct her and she ends up with 'Stoker' an artist/sculptor/natural history sort of chap. Then they're on the run... This was an enjoyable romp, somewhat unbelievable but well written and great fun. I'll read more as I like books about women who're into science and natural history in Victorian times. 

Then came, The Maid by Nita Prose. I liked this story of a maid in a huge hotel in a big city. I thought it was New York but it's never confirmed and I don't think it matters. Molly Gray is 'the maid' in question. She finds the world difficult to navigate after her gran died, possibly because she's on the spectrum and people either take advantage or don't know how to treat her, and Gran always helped her with that. Molly's job is everything to her but when she finds a dead body in one of her rooms that job and her whole world is turned upside down. I found this a very touching book and gained a lot of insight into how people who are a bit different are treated. My heart bled for her as she tried to deal with trauma without the aid of her grandmother but I thought Molly was a wonderful character, determined to stand up for herself. An excellent debut novel.

So then I read The Accidental Adventurer by Ben Fogle who is a British TV personality who's done a lot of daring stuff like rowing across the Atlantic with Olympian James Cracknell, but has also been an explorer and leader of expeditions and so forth. He's on TV these days seeking out people who have left the rat race and are living in remote regions around the world. Quite an enjoyable autobiographical book about what seems to be a very likeable chap.

And my last read of 2022 which I finished on New Year's Day was, Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews. This is a husband and wife writing team who have a lot of series on the go so it clearly works well for them. Clean Sweep is the first in their 'Innkeeper Chronicles' and the main character is Dina who runs a B&B in a small town in Texas. It's no ordinary B&B though as the inn is magical and the establishment is like a way station for intergalactic travellers or people who're looking for a place to hide out. Someone or some'thing' is viciously killing dogs in the local vicinty. Dina is trying to investigate but an annoying alpha-strain werewolf is imposing his help upon her whether she wants it or not and then things really get out of hand when a load of vampire soldiers also arrive to 'help'. This was completely bonkers but very enjoyable and I already have the second book on my Kindle. Excellent when you want something weird but not too challenging. 

So that's my reading progress up to date. I hope you're all doing ok and finding some good books to read for the start of 2023. 


Sue in Suffolk said...

I read Jumping Jenny in December - what a weird crime story - what nasty people!

I don't often read Biographies of the well known but might try the Ben Fogle - done well for himself since his very first appearance on that "left on an island, with a load of random people who argue" programme so many years ago!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I quite like the sound of "Jumping Jenny (Dead Mrs Stratton)", however I think that I would probably want to read the first book in the series, just so that I could get a 'handle' on the lead character.

I would probably also try the Deanna Raybourn book too, which does happen to be the first of a series, so that's good!

Nothing else really pops out at me from your selection this time, although at least you have made a start on some of your challenges and I do like the cover of your edition of 'The Starless Sea'

I hope your next batch of books are more inspiring for you :)

Margot Kinberg said...

But for me The Starless Sea was a book that spent 500 pages never getting to the point: I know exactly what you mean, Cath! I've read books like that, too. Even if they are beautifully written, with a real sense of, say, place, if there's not a point or a plot, it's hard to be drawn in. I'm glad you mentioned The Maid; I've been wanting to read that one, and probably will, and I'm glad for the reminder. As for Raybourne, I've read some of her work before and liked it. I've not read her for a while, though. Glad you found this one to be fun.

TracyK said...

At least you enjoyed the majority of the books you reviewed here. Too bad that Starless Sea was so long; it is so hard to give up on a book like that, one keeps hoping it will improve.

I am glad you enjoyed The Maid. People had such a variety of reactions to it.

I want to read a recent book by Deanna Raybourn, Killers of a Certain Age, but it seems it is very different from her previous books. And it also is like The Maid where opinions are more divided. I will wait a while on that though.

Lark said...

I liked the writing in The Starless Sea, but not the story so much. Though I did give it 3 stars on Goodreads. But her other book The Night Circus is SO much better. I was a little disappointed by this one. And I'm glad you liked The Maid, too. Molly was such an interesting and fun character! :D

Cath said...

Sue: I know, weren't they horrible!

It's funny but I didn't watch that 'left on an island' thing so had no idea how he'd originally come to fame. Mind, with his mother being a famous actress he was probably likely to anyway!

Cath said...

Yvonne: The Roger Sheringham books are very standalone as there isn't much of a back story or character development. I think I read the Chocolates book first (sorry, proper title eludes me) and that's not the first in the series ims.

The Deanna Raybourn was a lot of fun but not particularly deep or meaningful. And that's fine because that's just what you want sometimes.

Thank you, choosing the next book to read can be such a hit and miss exercise!

Cath said...

Margot: I'm glad you know what I mean by that statement. Thankfully, books like that are rare but I hate getting caught by one, I spent 6 days on it and I resent that a bit.

The Maid is very good, lots to think about in it and a lot of people have enjoyed it, so I hope you do too when you get to it.

Cath said...

Tracy: I just couldn't believe that it wasn't going somewhere really interesting if only I stuck with it. Wrong!

I liked The Maid very much, a lot in it to think about and digest. Very well written too.

I haven't come across Raybourn's Killers of a Certain Age. I'll look that up as it sounds like it might be interesting.

Cath said...

Lark: The writing was really beautiful and that's what had me fooled. LOL! I would have given it 2.5 if Goodreads did halves so it's not far off your raiting really.

Molly was 'great', I loved how hard she worked at trying to understand the world around her. But I grieved for the loss of her grandmother. So sad how that had cast her adrift.

Cathy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed The Maid. Molly is such a wonderful character!

Cath said...

Cathy: She is indeed and I wonder if the author plans to write any more about her or whether The Maid is a real standalone.

CLM said...

I agree that Erin Morgenstern's books are beautifully packaged (isn't she an artist too?) but while I sometimes enjoy fantasy, I really don't like magical realism and isn't that what they are? She did go to a prominent women's college in New England so I am sure she used that for inspiration.

I am currently listening to Women of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn on my commute and enjoying it. It is a contemporary spy book, sort of, but full of humor. The problem with e-audio books from the library, however, is that they disappear into the ethos before they are completed! I got an electronic warning that mine was coming due in a few days and I am not even halfway done! I put the physical book on hold but there are nearly 100 people waiting for it. By the time I get it, I may have forgotten everything I heard.

Glad you enjoyed The Maid.

Cath said...

Constance: I don't actually know whether Erin Morgenstern is an artist as well as an author but it wouldn't surprise me. Yes, I would say her books are magical realism and that's fine as I do actually like that quite a lot and in this book it wasn't that that didn't work for me, it was the lack of any coherent plot.

I rather liked the Deanna Raybourn I read so will look into the one you're reading too. I don't do ebooks from the library as my ebook is my Kindle and KF and our library system doesn't include those in its ebook list. I assume you can't renew an ebook as you can a physical one?

Susan said...

Well, dang, that's too bad about THE STARLESS SEA! The premise sounds amazing, but if there's not a plot or the story just drags on and on, I'll definitely have trouble with it. Especially over 500 pages. No thanks!

I love the Veronica Speedwell series. The books are just so fun. They make me laugh every time. I'm glad you enjoyed the first one and want to continue on.

THE MAID is a delight, isn't it? It was one of my favorite reads of 2022 because it was just so enjoyable. I'll be interested to see what the author does next.

Cath said...

Susan: The premise of The Starless Sea does sound amazing, I agree. And I'm afraid there isn't much of a plot and it does drag on and on and on, so...

So pleased to have discovered the Veronica Speedwell books and already have book 2 on my Kindle.

The Maid was great. Some really hyped books don't live up to the hype but that one did. Oh yes, I do wonder what the author will come up with next. I even wondered if this might be the start of a new series about Molly investingating crimes in her hotel.

Cindy said...

So sorry it was such a dud! I don't give out low ratings all the time either. I hope your next Bookish book is fabulous, sounds like you are due!

Cath said...

Cindy: Well you win some, you lose some but it is nice when your first book of a new year is one you have enjoyed.