Wednesday 13 September 2023

I have been reading...

Several books to talk about today, all of them to some degree 'hyped' books that I've seen around the blogging world and Booktube a lot. But did they live up to the hype?

 I'll start with, Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

Tova Sullivan, an elderly woman of Swedish descent, lives in the town of Sowell Bay, a couple of hours north of Seattle, WA. She's a widow who likes to keep busy so has a job as a cleaner at the local aquarium. It gets her out of house and also takes her mind off the loss of her son, Erik, some 30 years ago. He was 18, his body was never found and no one really knows what happened to him. Tova loves all of the sea creatures in the aquarium but has a special affection for Marcellus, the giant Pacific octopus. She stands and talks to him every day and can actually see him listening to her. One evening she finds him almost dead on the floor, and helps him back to his tank. Thus begins a unique friendship wherein Marcellus is instrumental in finding out what happened to Erik. This is one of those much hyped books that a lot of people seemed to have been reading lately, and no wonder as it really is a delightful read. I like books with older protagonists and lots of ordinary folk in them and this book has a nice interesting cast of characters. My favourite by far was Marcellus the octopus and I loved the chapters penned by him. My least favourite was Cameron, the young man drawn north to look for his unknown father in Sowell Bay: for at least half the book he was entitled and annoying. There was a lovely sense of a faded resort on Puget Sound and thus a good sense of place... it sounded wonderful to me anyway! An excellent read, lived up to its hype.

Next, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson.

Ernest Cunningham has been summoned to a family reunion in the mountains, somewhere in Australia. He's somewhat surprised as he doesn't have a lot to do with them having turned in his brother, Michael, for murder. The brother is now out of prison and due to meet them all in the mountains. Ernest has no idea what his reception will be. What he doesn't expect is a dead body in the snow, and for nobody to know who it is. The lone policeman immediately arrests his brother when he finally arrives, it seems he was out of prison earlier than they were told. Michael decides that Ernest should be the one to investigate and try to prove him innocent... but does Ernest himself believe that? So this was one of those tongue-in-cheek books, written in a style where the narrator - Ernest - chats away to the reader of the book telling her or him how it is that his family are a bunch of killers, be it by accident or intent. There wasn't a single person in it I liked and I must admit to finding the writing style tiresome. I thought the author was trying too hard to pay homage to Golden Age crime yarns. I did like the mystery itself and that's what kept me going until the end, which I thought was quite clever. One thing that did surprise me was the absence of any sense of 'Australia', it really could have been anywhere. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads so it was 'OK' but it should be said that a lot of people like it a lot more than I did. Did not, for me anyway, live up to the hype.

Lastly, Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree.

So, 'Viv' is an adventurer, an Orc in fact, who has tired of adventuring. She needs a new career so lands up in the city of Thune with a plan to bring coffee to the masses. Coffee is not known here, it's  Dwarfish thing Viv discovered while in one of their cities. She fell in love with it and thinks there must be a gap in the market and the possiblility of a new life here in Thune. She finds a shop to convert, a Hob for a carpenter, a Succubus as a barmaid and a genius baker in the shape of a Rattkin. Slowly but surely people are drawn to the new coffee shop. But all is not plain sailing, there's a protection racket going on and Viv has to decide whether she's left her former violent life behind her or not. I was reminded quite strongly of Terry Pratchett while I was reading this although his trademark humour and way with words is not present in this book. It's described as 'cozy fantasy' and that's pretty accurate. I thought it was absolutely charming and the cast of characters delightful. Not a lot happens  (that could be said of a lot of books) but somehow the author manages to make the setting up of a new business absolutely rivetting and that's quite clever in my opinion. Loved it and happily gave it 5 stars. Definitely lived up to the hype! 


So, I'm currently reading this:

The United States of Adventure charts the author, Anna McNuff's, cycling trip through every state of the USA (and part of Canada at the beginning). This is for The Bookgirls' USA challenge I'm doing and so far it's excellent. (NB this has an alternative title, Fifty Shades of the USA but I don't know if that's the American title or the British. The UK Kindle title is the former version, which I prefer.)

I hope you'e all well and enjoying some good autumn reading!

Sunday 3 September 2023

Books read in August

Despite all that's been going on this last month, I still managed to read 10 books. Of course, it could be 'because' of it all I've read 10 books... they do make a good escape from reality!

Anyhow, the books:

65. My Sister's Grave - Robert Dugoni

66. The Murder of Mr. Wickham - Claudia Gray

67. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie (a reread and very good) 

68. The Left-handed Booksellers of London - Garth Nix

69. A Murder of Crows - Sarah Yarwood-Lovett 

70.  The People on Platform 5 - Clare Pooley. I've nabbed the synopsis from Goodreads for speed.

Every day Iona Iverson, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu. Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do.

Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He’d have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver. This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more. It turns out that talking to strangers can teach you about the world around you--and even more about yourself.

I enjoyed this immensely. I'm rapidly developing a taste for this kind of character-based contemporary fiction. It's a 'found family' tale of unlikely people who slowly become friends and form a real support network. Secrets abound and personal decisions and discoveries need to be made. It's well written and I felt very involved in the lives of all of the characters. Nice one.

71. Holy Ghosts - edited by Fiona Snailham is another of the British Libraries' weird collections. There were several stand-out stories in this but quite a few others I'd already read or weren't that great so overall a bit disappointing but fine for anyone who hasn't read 'any' churchy weird fiction at all. 

72. Lady Susan by Jane Austen is not one of her main six novels of course, it's an epistolary novella about a woman who is pretty awful. She foists herself on family for long visits and then sets about scheming to make husbands fall in love with her, thereby causing as much chaos as she can. It was very, very good. 

73. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke. 

This is classic science fiction, published the year of my birth, 1953. 

When the silent spacecraft arrived and took the light from the world, no one knew what to expect. But, although the Overlords kept themselves hidden from man, they had come to unite a warring world and to offer an end to poverty and crime. When they finally showed themselves it was a shock, but one that humankind could now cope with, and an era of peace, prosperity and endless leisure began.

These older, classic sci-fi yarns don't always work for me but this one did. I thoroughly enjoyed this speculation on what would happen if an alien race suddenly appeared and demanded we stop warring with each other. Things begin to happen of course and it's intriguing and makes you think. I wasn't mad about the outcome but there you go. Well written and very readable indeed.

74. The Accidental Detectorist - Nigel Richardson.

This, my only non-fiction read for August, was just delightful. The author, a travel writer, decides to take up metal detecting during lockdown. He joins other detectorists to learn what to look for, which equipment he needs, where to search (nowhere where you haven't got the relevant permissions in place) and so on. It was so fascinating to read about the various people he meets who do this, how welcoming they are are and how they go about the countryside digging it up. You can't say you're a detectorist unless you've found a 'hammered' appparently - this is a sort of handmade coin from before they started minting properly. Poor Nigel has awful trouble finding one while all around him are digging them up by the ton. There's a nice amount of history in the book, interesting facts about hoards that have been discovered, that sort of thing. This was my favourite read of the month and made me head to the BBC's iPlayer to try their series 'Detectorists' starring Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and Rachel Stirling (Diana Rigg's daughter). It's charming and very British. This is a book I highly recommend if you like 'quirky British'.

Anyway, it' nice to be back after a two week blogging break and an odd two weeks it's been. When the medical profession describes something you have as 'interesting' it's never a Good Thing. Hubby's leg is now on the mend but although he had cellulitis we have no idea what caused it or where the open wound came from a week after he was diagnosed or why he needed 3 lots of serious antibiotics to rid himself of it. The theory is some kind of insect bite on the cellulitis area but, all in all, he feels like being 'interesting' is vastly over-rated and I'm inclined to agree!

I hope you had a good reading month in August? I'm delighted to welcome in September. Although it's not officially autumn until the 21st. I do think that once September arrives summer is more or less behind us and that's fine with me. Not a fan of summer. 

Happy September reading! I shall be thinking about what I want to read this autumn and perhaps do a post about it soon.