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IMG_0205What’s it all about?

The latest novel from David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks is another tour de force of interwoven stories with multiple characters told over several timelines. Ostensibly (mostly) about the life of one woman, Holly Sykes, and the people she meets and forms relationships with throughout her life, it’s also a story of a time war that plays out through the lives of (perhaps not entirely) ordinary people.

Or as I flippantly described it in an earlier post “the one that’s a timey-wimey-metaphysical-thriller”

Why did I want to read it?

I enjoyed Cloud Atlas once I got into it (you can read my review of that here and the film version here) and I always full intended to read more of Mitchell’s work but haven’t got round to it until now. As well as being well-received by reviewers this was long-listed for the Man Booker so a good place to start in catching up with his work.

What did I think of it?

I really loved this, was so happy that my first full novel of the year was such a pleasure. I found it much more readily accessible than Cloud Atlas but I don’t know if that’s just because that I’m more used to the way Mitchell structures his novels, or whether the timeline was just more chronologically straightforward. But the main thing is that I really liked Holly as a character, the strange things that happened to her, and enjoyed waiting to see how (or even whether) she would appear in those sections of the story narrated by other characters.

And there is a such a lot to enjoy; the five narrators who bring their different perspectives to the table, the nature of love and friendships and how they develop and change over time as the same people drift in and out of our lives at key points. And how the connections we make can come back and have an unexpected impact.

The speculative elements of the story – the struggle between two views on how those who are effectively immortal should behave towards others, and the vision of our own world in the near future – worked well and the whole thing is just so beautifully written and constructed that I read it in several enormous chunks as I got sucked in, desperate to know how it would all work out. Very satisfying indeed.

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13603362What’s it all about?

Shoggoths in Bloom is a collection of shorter fiction by Elizabeth Bear, must-award winning sci-fi and fantasy author. Includes a couple of tales that bagged her one or two Hugos.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve read some of her work before in anthologies and her stories have always stuck out for me (she was probably my favourite from the recent Lovecraft themed collection which I read and reviewed here), particularly as she often writes tales related to the Cthulu mythos. So I wanted to get to know her work better.

Plus I loved the cover.

And the title.

What did I think of it?

A really strong collection showcasing the variety of her work. If I’m honest I was a tiny wee bit disappointed in the title story, which was good but not great IMHO. But there wasn’t a bad story in here and my particular favourites were:

  • Tideline – one of the Hugo winners, very moving. Loved Chalcedony.
  • In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns – a murder mystery in a futuristic India, with one of the characters being a genetically manufactured hyacinth parrot-cat
  • Cryptic Coloration – dealing with mythical beasties in the real world
  • Confessor – what’s really going on in that hidden lab up that mountain trail?

There are some themes that Bear is clearly interested in, mythical creatures and genetic modifications but two. I like the fact that she writes well across a range of genres and she is a genuine pleasure to read. I’ve already got my hands on more of her stories. Recommended.

IMG_0104What’s it all about?

The Gospel of Loki is the re-telling of the rise and fall of the Norse Gods entirely from the perspective of the Trickster, Loki, using (as far as I can tell and goodness knows I’m no expert) the structure of the sagas but also very much in the style of the self-serving memoir. Which makes it sound a bit dull and worthy when in fact (jumping ahead a little here) it is witty and funny and quite moving. I’m going to say right up front that I loved it.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve come a bit late to the work of Joanne Harris. I was obviously aware of Chocolat because of the film (which I still haven’t seen and I’ve only recently bought the book) and I’ve read a couple of her other novels (Gentlemen and Players a particular favourite) and enjoyed her view of the world which is a lot darker than you might expect. I also have an enormous (and I will be clearly, entirely pre-Tom Hiddleston) love for Loki as a character; I even had a lilac-point Siamese cat of that name back in the 1980s. So I like to think I’m the ideal audience for this.

What did I think of it?

Like I said at the beginning of the post, I loved this. It’s so entirely its own thing and introduces (or hopefully re-introduces) us to the world of Norse mythology untainted by the Marvel thing which is the main reference these days for so many young people (and again I will say that I really enjoyed the Thor and Avengers films as you will see if you visit my other blog, but I am very clear that it is not the same thing at all). So we have Odin and his ravens and his single eye binding Loki to him in a form of brotherhood that of course is not going to end well, and you have Loki and his too-clever-for-his-own-good-ness trying to fit in but not really, the permanent outsider who can never win and who will inevitably trigger the disaster that is Ragnarok. I still liked him though. And it made me want to go and find out more about the original tales, which is always a good thing. Recommended.

Scan 24What’s it all about?

We are in Edinburgh and it is 1874. Jack comes into the world on the coldest night imaginable; his heart is frozen and Dr Madeleine, who has delivered him, has to perform an operation immediately to ensure that he lives. But she is an unusual doctor, and her response to the crisis is to surgically attach a cuckoo clock to his chest. So, clearly we are in the land of fairy tales. And all is well (more or less) until he falls in love…

Why did I want to read it?

This is one of those occasions where I was definitely attracted by the lovely cover. I bought it in Forbidden Planet on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue on a book-buying jaunt with (I think) Silvery Dude. And I’m embarrassed to say that I have had this in my possession for years, and it’s made its way on and off Once Upon a Time challenge reading lists. But this year I was determined to read it.

What did I think of it?

The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart is a wonderfully dark story of love and obsession and difference and rivalry and jealousy and people doing what they think is the right thing without really considering the consequences. One to go back to, I think.

My second Readathon book, and my first completed read for OUAT VIII. (Edit – though of course it wasn’t , it was my second, duh!)

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Scan 23What’s it all about?

Antony Gillingham is in the country and realising that he is not too far away from The Red House where his friend Bill Beverley is spending the weekend decides to wander over on a surprise visit, arriving just in time for a locked room mystery; the discovery of a dead body, a missing host and a soon-to-be-baffled local constabulary. And of course he decides to look into the matter himself, because that’s what you would do, wouldn’t you?

Why did I want to read this?

Recommendation from someone else’s blog (and sorry to that person, I can’t remember exactly where I saw this mentioned) plus attractive cover plus love of classic era whodunits made this irresistible.

What did I think of it?

The Red House Mystery is the only detective novel written by AA Milne, he of Winnie the Pooh fame, and the latter fact is hammered home to us several times on the cover of  this book.

Far from the gentle slopes of the Hundred Acre Wood lies The Red House

[..] a lost gem from the time before Tigger [..]

and so on; you get the drift. And in some ways the harping on at Milne’s more famous creation seems to suggest the publisher is almost apologetic about this book which is a real shame as this really is a little masterpiece of detective fiction and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The lead characters are charming, the mystery is just mysterious enough and although I guessed the “twist” quite early on (which just shows that I spend far too much time watching crime shows on TV) and I had a fairly good idea of who the killer might be, I had absolutely no inkling as to the motive and none of this spoiled my enjoyment of a brisk and breezy read which was really great fun.

dewey-300x300And as a bonus there is an introduction from Milne who outs himself as an aficionado of this type of fiction and makes very clear his likes and dislikes and that basically he wrote this novel for himself.

Such a shame that this is his only one. Really smashing, and a good start to Readathon.

IMG_0013What’s the book about?

A Possible Life is a novel made up of five separate stories over five different time periods. The blurb on Amazon (which I’m using because I read this as an e-book and the one thing I miss about those is the blurb stuff on inside flaps or back covers, but of course now that I look at the beginning on my Kindle app it says the same thing so that shows what I know) says:

Soldiers and lovers, parents and children, scientists and musicians risk their bodies and hearts in search of connection – some key to understanding what makes us the people we become.

Provocative and profound, Sebastian Faulks’s dazzling novel journeys across continents and time to explore the chaos created by love, separation and missed opportunities. From the pain and drama of these highly particular lives emerges a mysterious consolation: the chance to feel your heart beat in someone else’s life.

Which doesn’t really tell you very much I think. And is also a bit pretentious to my mind which is a real shame and would certainly have put me off if I hadn’t been seduced by the cover, intrigued by the structure and caught up in the first story before I really started paying attention.

Why did I want to read it?

See above. Plus I like Sebastian Faulks and as far as I am concerned he gets away with a lot on the strength of Birdsong. I have quite a few of his books but I think this is only the second I’ve read, which is interesting (to me at least).

I was also fascinated to see how this would stack up against A Visit from the Goon Squad which is also a book of linked stories creating a novel and which I absolutely adored and have to thank Silvery Dude for recommending to me (he actually went on about it a lot to anyone within hearing distance but is forgiven because he was right).

What did I think about it?

Well. The first thing to say is that it didn’t work as a novel for me. I think the links between the stories were too tenuous for me to easily pick up (and I like to think I’m the kind of reader who does the whole “wait a minute, is that a connection?” thing more often than not). I spotted a couple of them but not enough to pull it together in a coherent whole.

But, I actually really enjoyed all of the stories, in particular the first one “A Different Man” which starts in 1938 and takes in WWII and its aftermath, and (funnily enough, a bit of bookending) the last one “You Next Time” which starts in 1971 and tells a tale set in the music industry of the time, and which I found lovely and very moving and rather sad and made me want to listen to early Joni Mitchell.

So very much worth spending time with but for this reader a collection of accomplished short stories, not a novel.

And I really need to re-read Goon Squad……

IMG_0001What’s it all about?

In The Executioner’s Heart we are dropped into an alternative steampunk Victorian world where Scotland Yard is called in to a series of murders The victims have had their chests cracked open and their hearts removed, and because there is a ritual element to the deaths the head of the investigation, Sir Charles Bainbridge, calls in Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Veronica Hobbes, who specialise in dealing with the supernatural in a scientific manner.

It quickly becomes clear that the legendary killer The Executioner is involved, but what’s the motive and why take the hearts?

Why did I want to read it?

I’m not sure where I came across this book but I know one of the attractions, besides the storyline (which let’s face it is quite cool) is the very lovely cover.

What did I think of it?

One chapter in I realised that this was not the first in the series of books about Newbury and Hobbes (it is in fact the fourth novel and there is also a book of short stories) but by then I was hooked and decided to continue (although pleasingly I realise that we have the first two on our shelves already – they belong to the Book God). I enjoyed it. It has a very nasty killer whose back story we come to learn as the plot unfolds, it has plotting and intrigue and spies and rituals and cults and action sequences and Queen Victoria is a totally monstrous figure, and of course it has a cliffhanger. Quite a big cliffhanger actually, will be interesting to see how it works out in the next novel which I think comes out this summer.

Great fun.

UPDATED due to appalling proofreading, dreadful spelling and the lack of closing bracket. Sloppy work if you ask me.

IMG_0128What’s it all about?

Jane Logan is Scottish, lesbian, six month’s pregnant and newly arrived in Berlin to live with her partner Petra. She is left to her own devices while Petra is off at work and becomes convinced that her neighbour is abusing his daughter Anna.

Why did I want to read it?

A good question. The cover attracted my eye. I have read Louise Welsh before and enjoyed her books. It sounded intriguing. The words “psychological thriller” clearly trigger a particular response in the bit of my brain that allegedly controls my book buying impulse.

What did I think of it?

Oh boy, The Girl on the Stairs was an uncomfortable read, but for all the right reasons. I felt so tense reading this book; if had been physically possible I would have read it through my fingers.  It felt like watching a disaster unfold, I just wanted to shout at Jane to stop and think but her obsession was so overpowering it’s clear that no-one in her own world could talk any sense into her, let alone a reader on the other side of the fourth wall (I think that’s what I mean, you know what I’m getting at, don’t you?) and it infected her whole life. And the ending was just so….. well, just SO. I had to read the penultimate chapter twice just to make sure I’d understood where this was all going.

Conclusion

Very unsettling. So much unpleasantness and death. Feeling of being effectively alone in a strange city very disquieting. Still living with me several days after I finished it.

IMG_0120Every so often a book comes along that everyone seems to be reading and talking about all at once, and because I can be a bit perverse I tend to avoid them until the puff dies down a bit, then I dive in when no-one else is looking and often fall in love with them quietly in a corner. I did that most recently with Gone Girl (which I thought was great as you can see here) and was going to do the same this time round with Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls which only came out in April. But something drew me in, possibly the tagline; after all who can resist the idea of “the girl who wouldn’t die hunting the killer who shouldn’t exist”? Certainly not me.

So the book opens in Chicago in the 1920s where we meet Harper Curtis who I think its fair to say is not a nice man at all. He’s in pretty dire straits when we first come across him, beaten and hunted, but he finds himself in possession of a key to a very particular House one that allows him access to other times (and for that reason really deserves to be capitalised). Harper is a killer, hunting down the shining girls, young women of promise and vitality whom he taunts and murders rather brutally. But he meets his match in Kirby Mazrachi who astonishingly survives his horrendous attack and when the police cannot (understandably) find her would-be murderer begins to investigate and comes across evidence which points to a situation which cannot possibly be true. But of course is. And she goes after him.

The Shining Girls is absolutely brilliant, a fabulously clever idea and a wonderfully constructed book which twists and loops through time as we follow both Harper and Kirby. The structure of the novel is complex but never confusing though it must have required a phenomenal amount of organisation to keep the various stories straight over 80 years of events. The young women whom Harper kills are all proper characters; we learn quite a bit about each of them and that makes what happens to them so awful. Kirby is a wonderful character, trying to make sense of the terrible thing that was done to her but still flawed and damaged as you would expect. Harper is just a dreadful human being; it isn’t clear whether the House “makes” him do these awful things or whether he would have done something like this anyway, it’s just the spread of his attacks over time which keeps him hidden. But totally totally odious.

I really loved the mix of time-travel and serial killer and I appreciated that not all of the answers are handed to you as a reader. The situation is just as it is and I found that was good enough for me. Definitely a book worthy of re-reading.

Scan 3The Night Circus is one of those books that you just know you are going to adore from page one. I bought this when it first came out in hardback and it hung around on my TBR mountain for no real reason other than I just didn’t get to it. That was, of course, until Silvery Dude got the paperback and started harrying me to read it as he had totally fallen in love with it. So of course I had to pick it up because I (mostly) trust his judgement, not because we read competitively, not at all, whatever gave any of you that idea.

So, the Night Circus (or Cirque des Reves to give it its proper title but not its appropriate punctuation) is a  touring sensation in the 1880s, with all the attractions of a normal circus but entirely in black and white and with some very particular elements – tents filled with clouds, an unusual clock and a dedicated group of followers identified by the wearing of red items amongst their black and white clothing. The story is not so much about the circus itself, although it is of course one of the main characters if I can put it that way, but is really about a duel (?) bet (?) wager (?), let’s say contest between two practitioners of magic which is played out through their protégés, Celia (the daughter of one) and Marco (the apprentice of the other). A contest that the participants have no real control over and only slowly come to understand who their opponent is.  Opponents are. You know what I mean.

This is just glorious, I devoured it in a couple of sittings over a Bank Holiday and was totally immersed in the world that Erin Morgenstern creates. A remarkable set of characters, a narrative dipping backwards and forwards in time, with a really wonderful and believable love story slap bang in the middle and a very satisfying ending. One of those books that you just wish would keep going and that you miss as soon as you’ve finished it.

I know that I’m probably one of the last people in the universe to have read this, but on the off-chance that you haven’t and that you are someone who enjoys being beguiled, then please do read this. You won’t be sorry.

Another read for Once Upon a Time VII.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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