In a similar vein to my non-fiction reads (see here), I thought I would provide a very quick round up of short fiction I read in the first quarter of 2018.

Jeff VanderMeer shorts

The Strange Bird and This World is Full of Monsters both take place in the same world as his last novel Borne, which I read last year and totally adored (you can read what I said about it here). I enjoyed both of these but found The Strange Bird much more accessible in terms of structure and narrative than This World, though both are beautifully written and very much worth reading.

The Murders of Molly Southborne

Oh this is a corker. Every time Molly bleeds another Molly is born and has to be disposed of; so she spends her life killing herself over and over. I found it totally compelling, as Molly explains what she has to do to survive, how this all happened and what her future might (will?) be. Just so so good, couldn’t stop thinking about it and will read it agin in the not too distant future.

A Long Spoon

It’s amazing the things you forget….  Apparently I bought this Kindle short back in 2014 and came across it when I was sorting out files on my iPad, and because I loved the cover I thought I would give it a go. Johannes Cabal is a necromancer and is heading off to a little-known part of Hell because someone is trying to kill him. He needs a guide though, and summons a demon called Zeranyia, one of my favourite characters of all time; she’s a hoot. This was a fun read, and I was pleased to discover (that memory again) that we have a copy of the first novel in the Cabal sequence.

Have you read any short works recently?

 

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I don’t find it easy to review non-fiction books so thought that I would provide a quarterly (or thereabouts) round-up so that I don’t miss any of my 2018 reading. This post covers the first quarter of this year.

  • The Midnight Assassin by Skip Holdsworth – “Panic, Scandal and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer”, this covers the crimes of the person who became known as the Servant Girl Annihilator in Austin, Texas during the period 1884-5. Never caught, there was serious consideration of this man (probably) as Jack the Ripper a few years later. So interesting I’ve gone off and purchased the novel by Steven Taylor which recreates the murders and the various trials.
  • The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards – a history of the Detection Club as founded by Dorothy L Sayers and others, counting most of the greats (including Agatha Christie) in its membership. A breezy history of the club and the development of the classic murder mystery, this led me down several rabbit holes including rewatching some old TV series and finding successor authors picking up unfinished stories before creating their own. Dangerous for its potential impact on book spend.
  • I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara – “A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer – the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade – from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.” So well written, totally fascinating and really sad whenever you come across sections where it’s made clear that they were reconstructed from the author’s notes. I read this in tow massive chunks one weekend. Gripping.
  • Bright Young People by DJ Taylor – this is one of the rabbit holes I mentioned above. We watched an adaptation of my favourite Lord Peter Wimsey novel (Murder Must Advertise) which has a number of characters described as bright young things, which led me to this book which gives a history of the Bright Young People, who they were, what they got up to and how they, mostly, declined. Includes various Mitfords and Evelyn Waugh for a start. I’m not sure it delivers much in terms of analysis but there is plenty of society gossip. I can’t resist tales of aristocratic ladies!

I seem to be very attracted to true crime at the moment – watch this space 😀

 

513UDubStkLWhat’s it all about?

Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered.

But help is at hand in the form of her neighbour, the maths teacher Ishigawa, who has become obsessed with her. But the police get involved along with the physics professor Yukawa, who acts as an informal consultant to the police, and having studied alongside Ishigawa recognises his genius. So these two great minds battle it out and we are invited to try to work out the solution to how, exactly, Ishigawa covered up the crime.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve recently become very interested in Japanese crime fiction (see here and here for thoughts on other books, and this was recommended to me as a particularly interesting entry in a long list of similar books. The fact that it’s quite clear from the beginning who the killer actually is adds an extra dimension.

What did I think about it?

I enjoyed this very much as a traditional crime novel with a solution that I absolutely did not see coming, and understand why it was so popular in Japan.  The relationship between the two leading male characters is particularly enjoyable, though the “devotion” of Ishigawa to his neighbour is more than a little unsettling, and we are led to believe that it is heading in a particular direction which then turns into something else. I felt that his desire to help Yasuko only made things worse for her in the long run, but of course it would be a ver different story if he hadn’t stepped in.

The solution is ingenious if troubling, and I wonder if I’m alone in feeling that the final action taken by Yukawa represented a real breach of trust. I felt really unsettled by that infliction of emotional pain though it was clearly intense to serve justice.

I will be looking out for more of this author’s work.

25541152What’s it all about?

A bestselling and internationally acclaimed masterpiece of the locked-room mystery genre

Why did I want to read it?

I have read some Japanese crime fiction before (this, for example) but came to The Tokyo Zodiac Murders via my recent intense interest in the Golden Age of Crime Fiction.

Although the some would say that the GACF died out in the UK (not me, it seems alive and well) the traditional forms were preserved in Japan in the form of Honkaku mysteries, where old-fashioned plot devices etc. are used in a modern setting.

Specifically, these works are determined to play fair with the reader, giving all of the information necessary to solve the crime at the centre of each story.

Here endeth the lesson.

Thoughts?

It is a very strange but utterly convincing book. I actually went off and checked whether these murders were real because the first section sets out the details alongside some new evidence in a way which made me convinced that this was based on a real-life case (which it isn’t).

So we have the back story, and when new evidence comes to light our protagonists head off to investigate this series of grisly murders – one traditional locked room mystery, one bloody home invasion and then the murder and mutilation of six young women who will be found at various sites around Japan which seem to have some form of mystical solution. All of the victims are related, and all but one is a young woman.

At a couple of points in the book the author speaks directly to the reader, stating that all of the information that you would need to solve this mystery has been provided, so basically off you go and come up with a solution before you reach the conclusion.

I won’t go into the plot more than this, because half the fun is in trying to work out what on earth is going on. The answer to how the murders were carried out is ingenious but I think you would need to be Japanese to pick up on one of the clues presented.

I enjoyed reading this very much, and it is clearly an important work in the genre. It has reinforced my interest in Japanese crime fiction and a few more have found their way onto my TBR pile.

pexels-photo-877971

My study is nowhere near as tidy as this room!

A quick round up of my reading and book buying for (most of) February 2018. I won’t return to those already covered in my Sunday Salon posts over on The Dowager, but that still leaves an embarrassing amount of new books to note.

Books read = 5. There are a couple I still have to review, but if you are interested in my thoughts on Phase One of #ReadingMuriel2018 then head over to this post.

Books bought since my last post = 11, making a total of 24 bought in February, almost all were Kindle purchases so at least they aren’t taking up valuable floor space. These are:

It is clear that a book buying embargo is probably required 🙂

Also, is anyone else as annoyed as I am by the tendency of Amazon to start putting a book’s description in the title? See the screenshot below. Most irritating.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 21.12.22

Pretty pleased with my February haul, now onwards to March.

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As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Dame Muriel Spark has long been one of my favourite authors and I’m taking part in the commemoration of her centenary this year by reading All of the Things. If you’ve been here long enough you may remember that I tried this before and failed miserably around book 8 out of the 22 novels that she wrote. But I’m determined to finish the project this time around.

Phase 1 took place between 1 January and 28 February and covered the novels she published in the 1950s…..

The Comforters (1957)

My edition is the 1982 Penguin, and I first read this novel in 1984; this is the third time of reading.

Caroline Rose is afflicted by what she calls the Typing Ghost, hearing her thoughts being spoken back to her as if she was the main character in a novel. Is that the case or is she going mad?

I love the waspishness of this novel which basically sets the tone for all of Muriel Sparks books – there is a lot of humour and quite a bit of philosophy, especially here where the very nature of existence is in question. Interestingly, Muriel Spark experienced hallucinations herself at one point due to medication she was taking at the time, though hers manifested themselves as jumbled words on the page which, as she pointed out, would not translate well to a novel. Such a strong and refreshing first book.

Robinson (1958)

My edition is the 2003 New Directions, bought specifically to fill the gaps in my collection when I tried to read all the novels back in 2006; this is the second time of reading.

January Marlowe is writing a journal covering the events of the few months she finds herself stranded on the island of Robinson, owned by a man also known as Robinson. She is there with two other survivors of a plane crash; no-one knows they are alive and they are all awaiting the planned arrival of a ship to tell the world they are OK and help them get back to their lives. But then there appears to have been a murder, and tensions rise as they become suspicious of each other.

I vaguely remembered the plot of this one but for some reason it really resonated with me more the second time around. Even though this is a first person narrative which often screams “unreliable narrator” I really trusted January’s voice. All of the men were downright unpleasant in one way or another so I was rooting for January all the way through. The plot is nice and twisty, which I loved. Of the three, this is the one I can see myself reading again soonest.

Memento Mori (1959)

My edition is the 1979 Penguin, probably one of the first of her books I bought after leaving school (which is where I was introduced to Muriel Spark through the medium of a certain Jean Brodie).

This is the fourth time I have read Memento Mori.

The novel concerns a group of elderly people, (almost) all known to each other and all experiencing the infirmities and complications of their advanced ages. A number of them receive mysterious phone calls where the caller simply states “Remember you must die.” Is this a hoax being carried out by someone they know? Or something more than that?

I first read this when I was 19 and I’m pretty sure that I was deeply impatient with the old folk, with their aches and pains and worries and constant tinkering with their wills and their habit of harking back to things long past. I’m 56 now and I find myself increasingly sympathetic to their plight and anxious for their continued well-being. And in Mrs Pettigrew we have one of Dame Muriel’s wonderfully monstrous women. Still a superb novel.

********************************************************

So, very pleased to have successfully reached the end of Phase One; looking forward to starting the next group covering her novels from the 1960s. Some of my absolute favourites are in there!

 

 

fullsizeoutput_7b8Just a very quick post to brag, sorry, update everyone on the books I was given for my recent birthday, especially as I failed to do this with my more substantial Christmas haul; that moment has passed.

America’s Queen by Sarah Bradford – a biography of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; I’ve always been fascinated by Jackie K (and Eleanor Roosevelt but probably for different reasons). This is a chunkster.

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird – a Sherlock Holmes adventure with a cool premise and even cooler cover. I cannot resist a good Holmesian tribute.

Flappers by Judith Mackrell – my fascination with aristocratic and/or glamorous women continues…..

The Golden Fleece by Muriel Spark – for the Centenary, a book of essays to add to the read along list

I’d Die for You & Other Lost Stories by F Scott Fitzgerald – because it’s Fitzgerald.

You will also see a couple of DVDs in the stack. I make no apologies for the presence of Tom Cruise.

pTodBdEncIt’s my blogiversary; Bride of the Book God is 11 years old today. Who would have thought it?

I was 11 in 1973.

Neil Patrick Harris, Adrien Brody & Pharell Williams were born. Noel Coward, Picasso, Bruce Lee & JRR Tolkien died, as did Roger Delgado (the very best Master in Dr Who). The Sting & The Exorcist were released.

Princess Anne got married for the first time and we were allowed to watch some of it at school. I started junior high school. The UK joined the EU; as a proud Remainer I’m still seething about Brexit but as this is usually a politics-free zone I won’t go on about it (but seething, really).

So as is customary please help yourself to the virtual cake at the top of this post and pour yourself a glass of Prosecco and toast Year 12!

I’m really keen to start 2018 with a clean slate and have decided that I don’t have time or inclination to review the books I read between May and November 2017 (at least up to finishing The Ritual which I reviewed here) before then of the year, which is tomorrow.

I mean this in the sense that I wouldn’t be able to review them in the detail they deserved and that would do the authors and the stories a disservice. I liked them all, some of my favourite authors are in here and I wanted to mark them in some way.

So here are some pretty covers and the statement of intent that I will do better in 2018. Honestly.

 

 

51mOgPy-TCLWhat’s it all about?

In Adam Nevill’s The Ritual, four old university friends reunite for a hiking trip in the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle. No longer young men, they have little left in common and tensions rise as they struggle to connect. Frustrated and tired they take a shortcut that turns their hike into a nightmare that could cost them their lives.

Why did I want to read it?

Amusingly, the Kindle edition of this book has as part of its title “Now A Major Film, The Most Thrilling Chiller You’ll Read This Year”, and to be fair that’s partly why I bought it. It also fitted in with some of my autumn reading which involved a mixture of Scandinavia, the supernatural, death and gore and appalling weather. You will see more of this as I catch up with my humongous backlog of posts.

What did I think of it?

I have several Adam Nevill books but haven’t got around to reading any of them until now, and as I said above this was triggered by the release of the film which, by the way, I haven’t seen.

So, these four guys are doing the male bonding thing and it isn’t going well so Hutch, the one who is leading their expedition, suggests a shortcut; this is a horror novel so of course this is not going to end well. They come across evidence of some very strange practices and there is definitely Something Out There and it is not friendly.  And when you think you know where this might be going it takes a weird turn.

And then it ends.

It’s a very blokey novel and I definitely felt that I was not the target audience, which is fine, but I was mildly annoyed that all of the women referenced in the story were so, well, unpleasant. The Big Nasty was creepy and horrible and well done, and the story definitely unsettling. Although it’s not written in the first person it becomes clear very early on that Luke is the guy we are supposed to be rooting for as we see everything from his perspective, but he really is a bit of a jerk. And the book ends just at the point where it got really interesting. How is Luke going to explain all of this? Sadly, we will never know.

So it’s fine as a novel. Will be fascinated to see how it works as a film, though not fascinated enough to spend any money seeing it. I will read the other works by Nevill that I already have, but won’t be rushing out to buy any more for now.

 

 

 

 

 

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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