This British Library Crime Classic is from later in the development of the genre than some others, with half the book consisting of the rambling story a man tells to a psychologist after being accused of a murder he can’t remember committing. It’s powerfully cringy, as you can see the narrator deluding himself, and pitiful too, because he’s half-aware of himself, and there’s (as someone later remarks) a sort of innocence about him. He seems to have ended up where he is by accident, and without quite understanding, and his mind seems to be gently unravelling… even though now and then he shows insight.
As a piece of writing, it’s excellent; it makes for discomforting reading.
The latter half of the book pulls back, finally admitting just who has been killed (it was one of the two characters I would’ve predicted), and showing the preparations for the trial (and finally the trial itself). This bit is more of a sketch, lingering on details here and there… but mostly just wrapping up the story implied by the opening narrative, which I found a lot stronger.
The ending is sort of predictable once you’ve seen all those details. It makes sense that the story needs wrapping up — you can’t leave that narrative on its own — and yet it all rather weakens and cheapens the effect. A bit of a mixed one for me, now I think about it in that light. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the Crime Classics series, though; this is definitely a stand-out for that narrative voice.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I normally try to join in with a series of challenges on Habitica called the “Keeping It Real” challenges. Each month, the creator picks a Dewey Decimal category and the participants get to pick any book they want from within that category. I did try a different book first this month, but I didn’t make much headway with this, but then I bethought me of Haggard Hawks. I know of that Twitter because Thea Gilmore’s gorgeous “Grandam Gold” (featuring vocals from Cara Dillon as well!) was based on one of those tweets… and I knew there were also books. Aha! I thought.
And lo and behold, Scribd had this one, so I downloaded it and set to work. I’ll admit, reading it straight through would not be my recommended way of reading this book: it’s more of a dip in-and-out book, one to read during odd breaks and at the bus stop (provided your buses are normally punctual). When you try to read it all in one go, it starts to pall rather.
The thing is, it feels a little random. There’s the theme of going round the world, but the countries that are chosen do often feel like afterthoughts, while there are several different entries for the UK (and I’m not just talking about one from Wales, one from Ireland, one from Scotland, etc — in fact, I don’t think there’s any mention of Wales whatsoever, and we could’ve managed at least cawl or even hiraeth!).
Anyway, some interesting facts, but not a total winner for me.
I was feeling fidgety, so I decided to read for a book by K.J. Charles I hadn’t read yet. Unfit to Print is a standalone, following Gil Lawless and Vikram Pandey, the owner of a dirty bookshop and a high-flying lawyer, respectively. They knew one another at school, but have been separated for quite a long time, with Vik believing Gil to be dead. He’s looking for the son of a local Indian family, though, and that takes him to the street where Gil keeps his bookshop… and there they run into one another again.
Gil’s been hurt a lot and is as prickly as a hedgehog, while Vik’s not been interested in anyone since Gil’s disappearance from their boarding school. They quickly fall into their old intimacies, though Gil finds it hard to offer anything other than the physical and Vik finds it hard to take the physical aspect without the feelings getting in the way. At the same time, Gil needs to help Vik find out what happened to the boy he’s looking for, while trying not to get his reputation all smeared up for him…
It’s a lovely little second chance, and I quickly fell for both characters and their silly desperate attempts not to get hurt more when they’re already stumbling along with plenty of hurt to spare from their pasts. Their interaction smoulders as usual — holding hands was never so sexy — and it was a really fun read overall. The mystery aspect was a little bit perfunctory; it felt a bit of a letdown for the answer to be that easy, but it did make sense as well.
All in all, plenty of fun, though not for all the family!
Princess Princess Ever After is a short graphic novel which features a familiar fairytale trope (a princess in a tower)… with a few additions, such as the fact that another princess comes to rescue her, and the fact that her sojourn in the tower was of her own choosing (to some degree) thanks to her sister undermining her and making her feel worthless. The prince they come across needs help from them… and in the end, the two princesses get married!
It’s really really cute, and I appreciate Sadie’s anxieties and difficulties — Amira is completely kickass, but Sadie is strong in her own sweet soft way; they’re very different people and yet both strong. The art is cute too, and I want Amira’s haiiir. (Also I don’t, because long hair is a pain in the butt, but it looks cool.)
It is a bit expensive for how slight it is, but it’s full colour and beautifully presented, and suitable for quite young readers.
I actually stumbled across this book on someone’s wishlist for a book swap, and then immediately got sucked into reading the opening pages. It took me a while to pick up my own copy, but now I have… and it’s really, really sweet, and funny as well. It’s actually a collection of real letters between Helene Hanff, a writer in the US, and a London bookseller. Starting in 1949, she wrote regularly to the shop asking them for books she wanted, and they wrote back… and slowly a correspondence developed, as they found her beautiful copies of the books she wanted and she ordered them boxes of food and sent friends round to do them favours.
It’s hard to believe that these letters were real, sometimes — it’s just so sweet, and so much like something you’d see in a movie. But it did happen — and typically of reality, Helene didn’t get quite the happy ending one would want. Frank Doel, the man whom she corresponded with, died suddenly of appendicitis before she ever went to London. When she did go to London, the bookshop itself had gone.
The original letters close after the notification of Frank Doel’s death, but my copy had another book in it: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is Helene Hanff’s journal of her time in London just after the release of the first book. It’s lovely to read how she saw England and London, and the little character-sketches of everyone she met.
Nino Cipri is one of those authors I didn’t know anything about a few months ago and then started hearing a lot about all at once, so I was very curious about Finna. It’s set in what is basically IKEA, a megastore called LitenVärld. The layout of the place is so confusing that it wears at the seams of reality, and employees (and customers) have found portals to other worlds opening — and some of those worlds are less friendly than ours. As Finna opens, Ava learns that somebody’s lovely grandmother has vanished into one of these portals… and of course, Ava has to go after her. With the help of her ex-partner, Jules, with whom she has recently broken up.
The book mostly explores a) capitalist misery caused by stores like IKEA — I mean, LitenVärld, and b) Jules and Ava’s relationship, and how they fit together, and all their faults and insecurities getting in the way of what could be a pretty cool relationship. Jules has a tendency to run away from their problems and hide their emotions; Ava has anxiety and lets all her emotions burst out all over the place. Jules is eager to go off exploring, while Ava just wants to find the customer’s grandmother and go home.
T0 say too much about so short a book might spoil it, so I won’t recount any more of the plot or the characters! (Though none of that is a spoiler: it’s obvious from the first chapter.) There are some quirky ideas about the other worlds, and I could wish for a bit longer quest story that takes us through some more worlds — but it’s obvious the focus is really Ava and Jules and how our current world really messes everyone up and is soul-sucking and boring and awful. I’ve never worked retail, but that feeling rings true to me from people who have worked retail, and some of the points about how society is set up and how capitalism can really ruin things make total sense. Jules and Ava’s feelings and messiness all ring true, too.
It’s fun, and I’m not sure the conceit would really have stretched to a long book. It ends on a note of possibility and freedom, and that works for me.
The Replacement Husband was an impulse read, because it was on Kindle Unlimited and I thought “why not?” It’s set in a Regency-analogue fantasy world where various gods exist and choose people to receive their blessing. Owen is one such, blessed by the goddess Mirreith: he is apparently inevitably gay, and will have to marry a man. Though he obviously cannot produce an heir, his partner is guaranteed to have a healthy heir and good fortune.
Unfortunately, in his little countryside estate, there’s very little chance of him meeting anyone anyway. At least until he takes a tumble, hits his head, and is gallantly carried home by a pair of brothers. He quickly falls for Tom, the more handsome and lively of the two — but Tom jilts him more or less at the altar by having a shotgun wedding with someone else. Tom’s brother Arthur steps in…
I wasn’t wholly enamoured of Arthur’s possessiveness and temper; provoked or not, several times he’s inches from violence, and clearly frightens Owen. He is in general a considerate partner, in fact, and takes pains to make Owen comfortable… at the same time as saying things like “say stop now or it’ll be too late”, which, ah, no. No thank you. Owen should get to say no whenever he likes, dude.
So there was some stuff about their relationship that was weird and uncomfortable, and led to me not quite believing in the sweetness of it as they settled in. However, I also did not root for Tom and his behaviour, and I find it difficult to believe that the next book is about Tom getting a happy-ever-after. I might read it if it’s on Kindle Unlimited, because I’m very curious as to how Grayson manages that — Tom makes himself extremely unlikeable — but I’m not in a hurry. Particularly since the other protagonist of the next book is apparently a complete arsehole.
In conclusion: fun enough, but not something I’d be in a hurry to read.
I confidently expected to love this book. January is a temerarious girl who grows up in the home of a very rich collector, shielded by his money and position from the judgement that might arise from her coloured skin in the US at the time. Her father is away constantly, searching for things for their benefactor, so January grows up in that house, lonely and browbeaten into becoming a good girl.
The “temerarious” thing and some of the narration constantly reminded me of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making, especially with the names of the protagonists (September, January). Perhaps it’s partly that constant obvious comparison that brought it down for me; I really, really love the Fairyland books, and all their bright and wondrous cast of characters, the joys and pains of growing up and falling in love. There was a fair bit of the same here in many ways, and it just didn’t make a niche for itself in my heart in the same way.
That being said, there were things I loved; Jane is really cool, and it’s beautifully written; whenever I picked this up I crammed it into my brain in big chunks. It just didn’t quite come to life for me: when I put the book down, I didn’t feel the immediate desperate urge to pick it back up. I actually took a month to read it, even though it was so easy and quick and more-ish once I was reading it. To some extent that’s January’s rather spoilt ways: raised in privilege, she thinks she’s so much better than she is — and then I didn’t believe her transformation at the end to being able to do whatever she set her mind to! In a way, I preferred the story within the story: Adelaide and Yule Ian.
It’s enjoyable, but it’s not a favourite for me. I can’t put my finger on why not, but… here we are.
I loved Widdershins, and pretty much expected to love this one because of it. And there’s quite a bit to enjoy about it, mostly involving Chess: they’re non-binary, they drive a hot pink car with a vanity plate saying NBINARY and a they/them bumper sticker, and they seduce a crossroads demon into making them a hero (leading to said demon’s disgrace in Hell, dooming them to an eternity of processing new souls as they enter Hell). They’re unashamedly themselves, all over the place, and that’s lovely.
Buuut, the humour and the sex/attraction-focused relationship didn’t quite work for me. I didn’t believe that Ralgath and Chess were that attached to each other, and I didn’t have much skin in the game when they were in peril. Everything just happened very fast, from the relationship to the plot, and… I’m not that good with humour or this style of plot. I’m sure it’s a lot more fun when you aren’t a humourless lump like me — but I’ll stick to Whyborne and Griffin, with their angst and pining and more solid plot. Sorry!
This one is frustrating as an ebook — Adobe Digital Editions wouldn’t let me view all of the images no matter how I adjusted the pages — but fascinating; I’d love to get my hands on a physical copy for a while to look at some of the figures again. It’s not just maps, really; it’s a world-tour of disease, with a lot of other illustrations as well. There are reproductions of informational posters, images showing the course of disease, and descriptions of the origins of diseases, the symptoms, their impacts on humanity…
Though there are a lot of images, there’s much of interest in the text as well. Much of it isn’t new to me, of course — but even when it came to tuberculosis, there was a surprise or two for me. (Alright, alright, I’ll tell you: I was surprised that the BCG vaccination actually has very mixed results: the efficacy is 60-80%, but falls as you approach the equator. It’s probably an artefact of different studies or different ways of preparing the actual vaccination, if you think about it, but it’s really interesting to try and figure out how a vaccination could lose efficacy based on geography.)
I’d recommend a physical copy to get the images, but it was interesting even when they weren’t always easy to examine. The facts are somewhat basic, since it doesn’t go into great depth, but there was enough to keep me (as someone who has studied infectious diseases and reads a lot about them) interested.