The London Monster

The London MonsterThe London Monster by Donna Scott (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: historical mystery

Setting: Late Georgian London

I read it as a(n): ARC

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 322 pp

Published by: Atlantic Publishing

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In Late Georgian London, a man dubbed as “The London Monster” was attacking women, assaulting first their ears and sensibilities with terribly vulgar come-ons and, when those inevitably failed to win the lady’s affection, he stabbed at her with a dagger. Most of the women only had their dresses torn, though a few were cut on their hips and fortunately, none of them died. It is unlikely that the correct man was ever arrested, though one man did serve time in Newgate as the Monster. Author Donna Scott takes this historical figure out for a ride in her new novel, The London Monster.

Sophie Carlisle, daughter of a minor noble, wants nothing more than to become a journalist. Unfortunately, not only is that a profession forbidden to women, she is also betrothed to Cuthbert “Bertie” Needham, her childhood friend. To attempt to get her articles written and published, Sophie goes around London dressed as a boy, researching and following leads. In the course of her journalistic adventures, Sophie meets and befriends Maeve, an Irish prostitute. Tom Hayes, meanwhile, is the son of a filthy rich merchant with aspirations to a seat in the House of Commons. Tom is haunted by his mother’s murder, which happened before his own eyes when he was ten. To atone for his past helplessness, Tom now is a pugilist and vigilante, determined to catch the Monster before he can hurt any more women. Their paths intersect in so many ways, some entirely unexpected. 

First of all, I loved this book. I actually read it in one sitting, which hasn’t happened with a book in a long time for me. I found the writing to be highly descriptive and engaging, the characters complex, and tone perfectly balanced to reflect a variety of tensions. Sophie is a charming and irrepressible figure. Tom appears to be one of those mythical creatures – a man who is handsome, intelligent, AND genuinely kind all rolled into one. Maeve is salty and pragmatic yet still retains a deep sense of hope despite life having taught her not to bother. Each one of these characters are flawed in some way, but it serves to highlight the strengths of their personalities rather than their weaknesses. 

Speaking of weaknesses. Bertie. Bertie, Bertie, Bertie. He had great potential as a man but he’s just so gross and frankly kind of pathetic. I don’t think readers are really supposed to like him, and certainly I did not. If he had even a little more self-awareness and consideration for others, he might have been a totally sympathetic character. As it was, he came off as more of a self-centered whiner who tried to make Sophie love him even while thinking about how marrying her would solve his family’s debt crisis. Not sure you can truly love a person if you want them for their money, no matter how hard he tries. And perhaps he really did love her, but it always seemed tinged with a variety of desperation. Super not attractive. 

As with any book, I’m not sure if the author wrote about certain themes intentionally or if I am imposing my own interpretation upon the story. However, I picked up some strong themes of consent and safety throughout this book. There was obviously no consent at all in the Monster’s attacks on his victims; they all roundly rejected him and he forced violence upon them anyway. Maeve occupies a liminal space of consent – she is a prostitute so her consent is implied through her vocation, but she hates it and is ashamed, so her consent is grudging at best. To me, I think that equates to NOT giving consent. Sophie wants to help catch the Monster in part because of a frightening experience she had at a party several years earlier when a gentleman she flirted with tried to rape her. At one point, she also tells Tom that she wants the Monster to be caught and imprisoned because she wants him and all men to know that they can’t make women feel they can’t be kind or polite without risking assault. Oh hi, modern women’s continuing issue! Women today STILL can’t be friendly to so many men without them thinking we are flirting and they are entitled to get some. 

Linked to that is a strong sense of shame. Sophie feels ashamed of the incident at the party, despite the fact that it was in no way her fault. No matter what a woman says or does, whether she’s flirting or not, at some point a man makes the decision to assault or rape a woman. It is entirely on him. Yet even today, where there is not nearly the stigma surrounding rape that there once was, many women still are too scared or ashamed to report their assaults. Those who do are often not believed, contributing further reasons for women not to bother. If it’s still like that now, I can only imagine how much worse it would have been in the 1780s. And, as explained in the Author’s Note, while there were more than 50 reported cases of women being attacked by the Monster, the true figure is actually unknown – some women almost certainly never reported their attacks, and others falsely reported an attack. Also like today’s society, some people will say anything to get a little attention, to get their 15 minutes of fame. Shame is carried out further in Maeve’s character. She is a prostitute and she does what she does to survive and to provide money to her young daughter, in the care of another family. But she doesn’t want to be a prostitute and, despite some very frank language about sex from her and other sex workers in the book, Maeve is deeply ashamed of what she does and dreams of a day when she might save enough money to pay off her debts to her madame and leave to do other work instead. 

I also felt there was a strong theme of Otherness and acceptance. Sophie at one point thought about how she would never have tolerated a prostitute near her and would never have thought she would even speak with one. Then she met Maeve and got to know her. The two became true friends, despite the huge gap in their social class, and Sophie found she would go to great lengths to help her friend. See what happens when we get to know people? They turn out to be people with their own feelings and hopes and fears, just like the rest of us! Getting to know people is one of the greatest killers of prejudice and bigotry there is, and the friendship between Sophie and Maeve provided a great example of that. I wish it happened more in real life.

Overall, I devoured this book and can’t wait to read more by Donna Scott. Highly recommended!

Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: several different variations of Chicago

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 342 pp

Published by: Crown (26 July 2016)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jason Dessen is a physics professor at a small college in Chicago. Years ago, he’d had a promising future as one of the brightest young scientists in the world. He gave it up, though, in favor of living a quiet life and making a family with his wife. Then, he gets abducted and ends up in an alternate Chicago, looking at an alternate life. Now he has to figure out how to get back to his actual life in his own reality – or decide if he even wants to. 

This was a fast-paced, fun read full of “what ifs” and hypotheticals. It makes you think about the choices you make in your life and ponder the consequences of having chosen one way over another. What happens if you, as Jean-Luc Picard once did, start pulling at the threads that make up the tapestry of your life? 

akata warrios

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: Nigeria

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 477 pp

Published by: speak (3 Oct 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunny Nwazue is a Leopard Person, AKA Nigerian witch. In the aftermath of defeating the evil masquerade Ekwensu, Sunny is spending her time studying with her mentor and learning how to read her magic Nsibidi book. She soon learns of an existential threat to humanity, centered in the town of Osisi, which exists both in reality and in the invisible spirit world. Sunny goes on a quest to save mankind, aided by her friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and her spirit face, Anyanwu.

Okorafor’s characters are ALL delightful and well developed. I fucking love Sunny and her friends, and am fascinated by the intersection of history, myth, and folklore that these books portray. The adventures and challenges Sunny faces are crazy fun to read and show kids overcoming obstacles, learning to be independent, becoming supportive friends, and strong leaders. Love it! Rumor has it that there’s a third book in the works for this series; I really hope that is true and that it will come out sooner rather than later. 

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 327 pp

Published by: Pamela Dorman Books (9 May 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Eleanor Oliphant is a woman struggling with other humans. She appears to be on the spectrum, is highly structured, dislikes being touched, and generally prefers her own company. Sometimes I wonder if I, too, am on the spectrum. I identified with Eleanor in some very uncomfortable ways. Anyway, a wrench is thrown into her routine when she meets Raymond, an IT guy at her work who insists on befriending her. They share a further connection when they both assist an elderly man who faints on the sidewalk. That connection impacts them both in ways no one could have predicted. I don’t mean romance. That’s boring and predictable in most books. This isn’t that.

I loved this book. One of my top reads of 2021 so far. Eleanor has a terribly sad history, which readers piece together slowly with tidbits of information parsed out over the course of the book. Raymond is a proper good guy you can’t help but like. The novel is about the various ways we can destroy ourselves but then usually we get by with a little help from our friends. 

Girls in the Garden

Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (Twitter, Insta)

Genre: mystery, I guess

Setting: London

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 313 pp

Published by: Atria (2 July 2015)

Her Grace’s rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

 

This was a solid meh for me. I enjoyed it well enough to finish it, the writing was fast paced and held my attention. But it maybe wasn’t a mystery? Especially since the answer is literally in the title? I figured this out like in chapter two; I think it would not come as a surprise to anyone who has been or lived with teenage girls at any point. Teen girls can be real assholes. 

That said, I didn’t hate this book at all. Just wasn’t surprised. I do plan to read other books by this author. Maybe if there are ones that aren’t centered on teenage girls, those will not be as easy to solve. Plus, if they’re all set in Britain, I’m down for that. I’ll read just about anything set in Britain.

Love After Love

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Twitter)

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: Trinidad and NYC

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: public library 

Length: 327 pp

Published by: One World (4 Aug 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Betty Ramdin is a young widow raising her son, Solo, on her own. Like, solo. In need of a little extra income or help, she takes on a boarder, Mr. Chetan. The three of them become their own unique little family until one day, Solo overhears his mother telling Mr. Chetan her darkest secret. Solo, like the little shit he is*, takes off to NYC to live with his paternal uncle as an undocumented immigrant. Mr. Chetan becomes the glue that tenuously holds the family together, until his own secret comes to light.

I read this for my book club, which is good because on my own, there is no fucking way I would have even looked at a book titled Love After Love. It sounds like a romance. I do not do romances. I’m glad I read it because it is on my top books of 2021 now. All the characters were richly developed, even if they were little shits. It was also interesting – and sad, sometimes – to see a glimpse of life in the Caribbean. Would definitely read more by this author!

*Solo isn’t a shit because he is undocumented. I am in favor of granting amnesty and Social Security numbers to everyone who wants to be here who doesn’t otherwise break the law. Solo is a shit because he is a spoiled, myopic asshole who could use a good ass-kicking.

The Silent Patient

The Silent PatientThe Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides 

Genre: mystery

Setting: modern London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 325 pp

Published by: Celadon (5 Feb 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Alicia Berenson and her husband Gabriel are, by all accounts, deeply in love with each other. Both have successful careers, her as a painter and him as a fashion photographer. All seems peachy keen until the day when Alicia shoots Gabriel in the face five times and then never speaks again.

OK, so I can completely get it. Alicia had a mood and acted on it. But as with their marriage, things were not all as they appeared. Alicia is moved to a mental health facility, having been found criminally insane or mentally incompetent, whichever is the right term in the British justice system. She refuses to speak. She has violent outbursts. She gets a new shrink, Theo Faber, who is a criminal psychotherapist convinced he can get her to talk. His own motives need some analyzing as well, though.

I don’t get the hype of this book. Yes, it was a really fast read so it didn’t completely suck. But the suspension of disbelief required of readers is too much, at least for me. For one thing, and this is big for me, I’m thoroughly sick of authors – male authors especially – using women as both a stereotype and a plot point. Alicia was depicted as broken, abused, fragile, and so, naturally, crazy. The various ways she was abused served as plot points. It gets really old. 

Also, she refused to speak and was caught literally with the smoking gun just moments after she shot her husband, but we’re supposed to believe she managed to hide her secret diary and keep it hidden all these years, through various transfers to prison and psych wards? Yeah, right. 

And the Big Reveal? The reason she didn’t speak for years? She simply had nothing to say??!! Just no. That is something that would work if one has had a boring day, not when one shoots a spouse in the face and goes to the boobyhatch for years as a result. Come on. I was done at that point.

I do have to say that I liked the way the two story lines crossed and merged, and how it wasn’t clear until the end that one was actually in flashback. I did think that was kind of neat. Just the execution of the story itself was not. 

Spiteful Bones (Crispin Guest #14)

Spiteful BonesSpiteful Bones by Jeri Westerson (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: historical fiction/ medieval noir

Setting: 14th century London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 178 pp

Published by: Severn House (1 Sept 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this 14th instalment of Westerson’s Crispin Guest medieval noir series, some fun characters from the past feature in this story. Nigellus Cobmartin has inherited his father’s house upon the death of his older brother. He and his lover, the delightful John Rykener (under the guise of Eleanor) are in the process of restoring it, the house having fallen into disrepair. The workers discover a gruesome scene – a skeletonized body tied up within the walls of the manor house. It is determined that the body belonged to a former servant who the Cobmartin household thought stole a relic and then took off with the wife of another servant. At the same time, Nigellus and John are victims of extortion, under threat of their lifestyle being exposed if they fail to pay the unknown villain. But nothing is as it appears at first glance, and so Crispin and his apprentice, Jack Tucker, find themselves on the hunt for an extortionist who may also be a murderer. 

The character development over the course of this series has been excellent. Crispin is now in his forties and is beginning to feel the effects of a hard and active life, though he rails against it. Jack is taking on more of the lead role in the sleuthing duo and is the image of a young and vital man. There were a few times that he saved Crispin’s neck, literally and figuratively, and while it was lovely to see, I also miss little boy Jack even as I revel in the upstanding man he has become.

Crispin himself has long since accepted that he is no longer nobility and has made a family for himself with Jack, Jack’s wife Isabel, and their growing brood of children. He seems content enough with his lot and takes pleasure in the simple joys in life in ways he was unable to do before. One of his greatest joys is in his son, Christopher, who he is unable to acknowledge. His friends, too, are his joy, and he throws himself into investigating who would murder a friend’s servant, driven to protect those he loves. 

As always, Westerson creates vivid scenery in her settings. It is easy to picture the sights (and, unfortunately, the smells!) of the Shambles and other places in medieval London. The strength of her descriptive writing is exceptional and that, along with complex character development, have made Westerson one of my favorite authors. She creates characters readers genuinely care about and then develops them into rich and multidimensional people, even secondary characters. Take, for example, Nigellus Cobmartin and John Rykener. Nigellus is a fictional character, but Rykener was a real man who dressed as a woman and was a whore and a skilled embroideress. Their relationship, while it may seem implausible to us given the time period they were from, could well have happened. Rykener was listed as having a husband in one of the documents Westerson referenced, though the man was not named. Why not let the husband be Nigellus? There have always been LGBT people, even if they had been vilified, shunned, or even killed at various points in history. A lack of understanding does not mean they didn’t exist, and there is plenty of documentation to prove it. I think it is really important to discuss social issues in all their many elements, but literature is an ideal medium in which to do so. Readers get to know both Rykener and Nigellus over the course of a few books, and can see them as people rather than ideas, mere figures on a page, or solely by their sexual identity. Having other characters like Crispin sometimes struggle with how they see Rykener helps create depth but also gives a nuanced examination of our own society. A long-winded way to say that I love their relationship, the characters themselves, and how Westerson approached it.

I was sad while I was reading this story because I had thought it was the final entry in the Crispin Guest series. But I was wrong! There is one final adventure to share with Crispin, Jack, and friends, The Deadliest Sin, which Westerson’s website says will be released in 2022. 

In the meantime, I highly recommend this book, as well as the rest of the series, to anyone who loves a good, complex, brooding protagonist and a delightful cast of secondary characters.

The Shadows

The ShadowsThe Shadows by Alex North (Twitter)

Genre: mystery

Setting: Gritten, UK (fictional village)

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: BOTM Club

Length: 323 pp

Published by: Celadon Press (7 July 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Paul Adams is returning to his home town of Gritten after a 25 year absence. The only reason he is returning now is because his mother is dying in hospice. When he was a teen, one of Paul’s classmates was brutally murdered by two other classmates, Charlie and Bobby, and the town has never been the same since. When he returns, though, Paul seems to be haunted, literally, by the ghosts of the past. Is there a copycat murderer playing mind games with him as one of the suspects of the original murder? Is it really a ghost? Or did the teen who really committed the murder escape and carry on with his grisly crimes?

Splitting between Paul’s first-person POV and the 3rd person POV of Detective Amanda Beck, the story unfolds with a good sense of atmosphere. I really liked the way North wrote because I was never sure if this was a regular old murder or if it was actually a paranormal horror story. 

I did not, however, care much for the ending or the multitude of loose strings that I felt were left. One big twist that happened about 80% of the way through the book had no foreshadowing, so it felt like just a twist for the sake of it rather than any real part of the plot. Which is unfortunate because it did turn out to be a major plot point. It could have been really cool but I thought it was just awkwardly done. 

And this could just be me rolling my eyes because sometimes I’m too logical for my own good. But I just couldn’t get behind the whole lucid dreaming thing. Yes, I know one can dream lucidly and direct the course of one’s dreams. I have managed to do it once myself. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy into the shared lucid dreaming stuff that Charlie was into and trying to teach to Bobby, Paul, and Paul’s best friend, James. It was just too silly to believe. If this had been a paranormal story, then sure, sign me up for shared lucid dreaming. But it wasn’t paranormal and so it just fell short for me. 

After I finished reading it, I looked at some other readers’ reviews. It seems that this book is a lot less popular than North’s first book, The Whisper Man. I think I’m glad I read this one first because now I can read the other and be far more entertained, I hope. Just to be clear, though, I didn’t hate this book, or even dislike it. I just wasn’t all that impressed by it. I still read it in just a couple days, which I wouldn’t have done if I hated it.

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads SingWhere the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: literary fiction

Setting: North Carolina marsh/swamp

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: public library 

Length: 370 pp

Published by: Putnam (2018)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Beginning in the early 1950s, Kya Clark is known as the Marsh Girl in her tiny hometown of Barkley Cove, NC. Her family are dirt poor and live in a shack in the swamp, four kids and their parents all crammed into a tiny space. Kya’s father is an abusive drunk and, one by one, everyone starts leaving. First it was Kya’s two eldest siblings. Then her mother. Finally, her brother, Jodie, who was closest to her in age. Kya is about six at the time and she learns to keep the abusive drunk at bay, though eventually he, too, abandons her. Alone and penniless, Kya learns how to care for herself. Through the kindness of one Black family, Kya usually has enough to get by. A friend of Jodie’s teaches her how to read. Eventually, Kya blossoms into a beautiful woman, though her isolation and abandonment issues have made her exceedingly shy and eccentric. 

When Chase Andrews, a well known young man in town, is found dead at the bottom of a lookout tower, the sheriff decides it looks like foul play and eventually arrests Kya, now in her early 20s, for his murder. What follows is a beautifully written story that weaves between the “present” 1969/1970 and the past, starting in 1952. Slowly, the two times merge, bringing Kya’s story into crisp focus.

I don’t usually read books that are wildly popular. I find the hype surrounding them is too often overreaction and the book itself falls flat. But! I. Fucking. Loved. This. Book! It was so, sooooooooooo good! I loved that Kya had a way to educate herself, having avoided school after the one day she attended and was mercilessly bullied. She was an uneducated hick – literally one of the swamp people – at first but learned to read with the help of Jodie’s friend, Tate. She closely studies the ecosystem of the marsh and becomes an expert in the field. And there is no sappy plot that has her turning suddenly into a sophisticated woman who moves to the big city where she is super popular and happy in society or any such tripe. She never loses her connection to her land. She never gets comfortable with people, and certainly not with crowds. It is sad only because she could have become an expert in the marsh ecosystem AND been a more chic person if the vast majority of the people in her life hadn’t walked out on her or had welcomed her into their community. 

The underlying theme was one of tolerance and prejudice. It can be no coincidence that the only two people who truly loved and accepted Kya for herself, aside from Jodie, were Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel, a Black couple from the outskirts of town. They helped her as they were able and as Kya allowed them. They stood by her during the worst times. They were never ashamed to be friendly or to be seen with her. Most of the other people in the book treated her with disdain and rejection, calling her swamp trash or telling their children not to go near her because she was dirty. So much for their vaunted Christian charity. 

There were bright points throughout Kya’s life and the people she encountered. Tate was arguably the most important person in her life. Because he taught her how to read, she was able eventually to support herself with her deep knowledge of the marshes. Jumpin’ and Mabel helped her survive and always made sure she knew she could stay with them if she wanted to. The clerk at the store, who Kya thought was nosy, was actually helping her in ways Kya never knew. These kindnesses made the rejection and isolation Kya faced that much more painful. 

More than anything, I think this book was a reflection on acceptance, hypocrisy, and redemption. I’m sure we all know a person who says they are accepting of everyone, but when faced with a challenge to that, shows they are anything but accepting at all. The people of Barkley Cove like to think they are kind and helpful but they are all quick to make assumptions about Kya based solely on the fact that she is poor. As if it were her fault every single person in her family took off and never seemed to give a thought about her afterwards. Kya made do, and she would have loved to have a friend or someone to care for her like a parent, but she was taught from a young age not to trust people because they will just hurt and abandon her. Kya is able to redeem herself in more ways than one over the course of the novel, from learning to read at the age of 14 to supporting herself through her painting and scientific observations, she shows those around her she is far more than just the Marsh Girl if they care to look deeper. The townsfolk also redeem themselves in an unexpected way, though by the time they figure things out, it is far too late to have a useful impact on Kya. 

Overall, I thought this was a lovely novel and count myself among those who loved it. Seems like the feeling about this are black and white, which, strangely, is appropriate.

Big Sky

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (Website)

Genre: mystery

Setting: mostly a seaside town in the north of England

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Jason Isaacs

Source: My own Audible collection

Length: 11:22:00

Published by: Hachette Audio (25 June 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I’m giving this 3 out of 5 stars only because Jason Isaacs’s narration was superb. The story itself was kind of boring. As with the rest of the books in Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, Big Sky starts with Jackson working on a case, this time staking out a couple to provide proof of their infidelity to his client. Then, showing the kind of weird luck only Jackson seems capable of, he encounters a man on a crumbling cliff and gets sucked into a ring of sex trafficking and kidnapping. Of course, the only person who can solve things and fix it is Jackson.

If he weren’t so sexy, Jackson Brodie would be really fucking annoying. The whole trope of “only I can solve this” was old to begin with, and now it has been pretty much ruined by the Lobotomized Hitler currently squatting in the White House, and it’s a pretty arrogant thing to think regardless of who is saying it. 

It was nice to see Reggie come back in this story. Last we saw of her, she was a lost and scared young lady trying to get by mostly on her own. It was fun to see her in this story and see what she’s made of herself. Other than Reggie and Jackson, sometimes, I really found not one likeable character in this story. The traffickers of course were revolting, but Julia is a shallow twit, Nathan is a typical teen and no one really likes those, and most of the others were pretty one-dimensional. The plot itself wasn’t terribly compelling to me, and Atkinson’s style of writing is so nonlinear that listening to this as opposed to eyeball reading it was a chore. I found myself not listening to it as often as not, and only kept going by pure virtue of Jason Isaacs’s sexy voice and skill in narrating. I really wish he would narrate more audiobooks. He’s one of my very favorite narrators, and it isn’t just because he’s my mega celebrity crush. He is a genuinely excellent narrator, able to do a variety of accents well, and even reading women’s voices nicely. I hate it when male narrators do a falsetto for women, or make them sound like brainless morons. Like, what women do you know who really sounds like that? Isaacs does nothing of the sort and all his voices are authentic and believable. I just really wish Audible could/would make more use of his voice talent.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo's CallingThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (Website)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: mystery

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Robert Glenister

Source: my own collection

Length: 15:54:00

Published by: Hachette Audio (30 Dec 2012)

Cormoran Strike is a private detective living in London. Typically, he investigates missing people, extramarital affairs, and the like. But when Lula Landry, a supermodel, falls to her death in an apparent suicide, her brother begs for Cormoran’s help to investigate. He is convinced his sister didn’t jump but was pushed, that her death was a murder. Cormoran takes the case and is rapidly enmeshed in the world of high fashion and the ruthless, greedy people Landry had surrounded herself with.

Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling for anyone who’s been living under a rock) delivers a thoroughly tepid story that really drags in spots. I truly don’t know what all the hype was about. The plot was actually quite boring and predictable, despite being overly convoluted at parts. My opinion has nothing to do with wanting her to write more like Harry Potter. It is an adult mystery, so I don’t really know why so many people gave her negative reviews because it wasn’t written like Harry Potter. Helloooo, it’s a totally different genre! Even so, it was deadly dull in general. I only kept listening because it ticks a box for a reading challenge task.

Strike seems in many ways like the opposite of the usual private detective. He’s described as kind of short and really hairy. He is not handsome, and frankly, even if he were, his excess hair, described as a pelt or like a coconut mat, would take care of that. Yuck. I don’t really get why Rowling would want her protagonist to be kind of gross, unless it is just to make readers (and characters) focus on his skills rather than his looks. Which, if so, well done on the social commentary about the shallowness of modern society! If not, then just why? I did like that he is a protagonist with a disability, and that the disability wasn’t a constant focus of the narrative. It just was the way he was. The occasional reference to his aching stump or badly-fitting prosthesis was about it; Strike isn’t defined by his disability. 

In other ways, Strike is entirely typical – down on his luck, broke, difficult relationships with all the women in his life, ex-soldier, more competent than the cops or than anyone gives him credit for, with a sassy but highly competent assistant who kind of has a flame for him. It is very cliched.

I wanted to like this one, I really did. I wanted to see Rowling write an adult novel that grabbed my attention and was pleasingly complex. But I was disappointed. This was the first adult novel of hers I’ve read and it doesn’t inspire me to read any more. The narrator did a good job on this, but that was probably the best part of the book for me.

The Distant Hours

The Distant HoursThe Distant Hours by Kate Morton (Website, Insta)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: historical fiction/ mystery

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Caroline Lee

Source: my own collection

Length: 22:31:00

Published by: Bolinda Publishing (26 Oct 2010)

Edie Burchill never really understood her mother. But the arrival of a letter, lost for 50 years and addressed to Edie’s mother from Milderhurst Castle, sets Edie on a mission to discover the mysteries of her mother’s past. Mystery mixed with a bit of the Gothic and the romantic, the plot takes Edie back to Milderhurst Castle, her mother’s home during the evacuation of London’s children during the Blitz. There, she meets the sisters Blythe, twins Persephone ‘Percy’ Blythe and Seraphina ‘Saphy’ Blythe, and their younger sister Juniper. Edie digs deep to discover why her mother is so reluctant to talk about her time at Milderhurst, why the abandonment of Juniper’s fiance in 1941 sent her mad, and what the twin sisters are really hiding. 

This was a solid Gothic mystery, though not one of my favorites. It seems like it has all the requisite components of a very good Gothic mystery, but something was just lacking. I think there was often too much telling and not showing, what must have been pages of no dialogue (listening to it on audio makes it a little hard to tell), and then the denouement was kind of flat and not really a surprise. 

I didn’t really like Edie very much. Not that she was a bad character or anything, she was just rather boring. Maybe this was intentional on Morton’s part because the sisters Blythe were certainly NOT boring. Maybe Morton did that so she could highlight the eccentricity of the sisters. Whatever it was, I did very much enjoy the sisters. The writing style itself was also nice. I like the florid style of Gothic literature, and while this wasn’t exactly florid or fully Gothic, I liked the atmosphere Morton created all the same. 

This was my first read from Morton and, while I didn’t care for some aspects of it, I liked her writing and am happy to give her other books a go. 

Case Histories

16243._sy475_Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (WEBSITE)

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: mystery

I read it as a: paperback

Source: Public Library

Length: 310 pp

Published by: Back Bay Books (1 Sept 2004)

This first installment in Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series introduces, well, Jackson Brodie, private detective and former detective inspector. Case Histories starts off with three different stories being introduced to readers by way of short chapters outlining the characters and reasons we should be interested in them. In short, they are given as case histories. The various stories cross paths in one way or another, whether through a chance encounter in a park or simply through the character of Brodie himself, acting as detective for all parties. The stories are all varied, from a missing child in the ‘70s to a murdered young woman in the ‘90s to an axe murderer’s sister looking for her lost niece. 

I enjoyed this a great deal. I had read one of Atkinson’s books a long time ago, Life After Life, and was bored to death by it. I’m not sure if it was just that I wasn’t in the mood for that particular book at that particular moment or what, but I didn’t like it. I steered clear of her books after that, but decided to give this series a go when I came across the BBC series Case Histories, starring my current mega crush Jason Isaacs. I loved the show and thought I would try the titular series, and I am very glad I did. Atkinson’s writing style might take a little getting used to, but it reads easily and the stories were fun.

I have to say that for such an alpha male, Jackson sure gets his ass kicked plenty. I think it is funny, but it was also perhaps established with the very first time he is introduced in the book, when he’s sitting in his car listening to a ladies’ talk show, thinking about his daughter, who he loves, his ex-wife, who really did one over on him, and he is watching a woman to find out if she’s having an affair. He is complex because he is very much an alpha male – former soldier, former cop, current private detective – but he also is ruled by the women in his life and he seems quite happy for that to be the case. He’s protective of most people he comes across, even if he doesn’t really like them. 

This story also took a look at different ways to grieve and to think of people who are no longer here. Theo idealized his daughter, Laura, even though she wasn’t perfect. He himself seems to think that it is surprising she was his daughter because he thought she was so perfect. He said to himself that he loved Laura more than his other daughter, Jenny. I think if he had not had such a clear image of her in his mind he would have had an even harder time with his grief because he would have had to reconcile Laura’s imperfections with the image he had of her. Probably he would have felt even guiltier for not loving his other daughter as much, too, since he could have had a closer relationship with Jenny. The Land parents clearly favored Olivia over her three older sisters, and it was obvious to them all. It made Olivia’s disappearance harder on her sisters because she was their favorite, too, and there was nowhere for them to go to visit her or remember her. The not knowing is, I think, harder than knowing for sure someone is dead, because you don’t know what is happening to them, what kind of life they are living, or if they even remember you. It would be so much worse, in my opinion, not to know the fate of a loved one than to know for certain they were dead. Lots of complexity in the various plots, which is fantastic. Most mysteries seem kind of one-dimensional to me. This one is more literary than a lot of others I’ve read. 

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on.
  • God and Sylvia had been on speaking terms for almost as long as Amelia could remember. Did she really think he spoke to her? She was delusional, surely? At the very least a hysteric. Hearing voices, like Joan of Arc. In fact, it was Joan of Arc she used to speak to, wasn’t it? Even before Rosemary died or Olivia disappeared. Had anyone ever entertained the possibility that Sylvia was schizophrenic? If God spoke to Amelia she would presume she had gone insane.
  • It was an education (although one Jackson had already been subject to) because Theo was extraordinarily good at documenting the banal details of failure, the litany of tiny flaws and cracks that were nothing to an outsider but looked like canyons when you were on the inside – “He buys me carnations, carnations are crap, every woman knows that so why doesn’t he?” “He never thinks to run a bit of Toilet Duck round the bowl, even though I leave it out where he can’t miss it and I’ve asked him, I’ve asked him a hundred times.” “If he ever does any ironing it’s ‘Look at me, I’m ironing, look how well I’m doing it, I iron much better than you, I’m the best, I do it properly.’” “He’d get me my breakfast in bed if I asked him to, but I don’t want to have to ask.” Did men know how much they got on women’s nerves?
  • Boys took a long time to become men but daughters were women from the kickoff.
  • What did you do when the worst thing that could happen to you had already happened – how did you live your life then? You had to hand it to Theo Wyre, just carrying on living required a kind of strength and courage that most people didn’t have.
  • What if reincarnation existed, what if you came back as a pedophile? But then what would you have had to do in the first place to deserve that? What did the holy girls come back as? Flocks of doves, groves of trees?
  • But Jackson couldn’t make Marlee safe, he couldn’t make anyone safe. The only time you were safe was when you were dead. Theo was the world’s greatest worrier, but the one thing he didn’t worry about anymore was whether or not his daughter was safe.
  • “She’ll spend it on drugs,” she said to Julia as they walked away from the girl. “She can spend it on what she wants,” Julia said. “In fact drugs sound like a good idea. If I was in her position I would spend money on drugs.” “She’s in that position because of drugs.” “You don’t know that. You don’t know anything about her.”
  • “Is ‘macheted’ a verb?” Amelia asked Julia. “Don’t think so.” Well, that was the end then, she was Americanizing words. Civilization would fall.
  • A lot of people thought Theo spoiled his girls, but how could you spoil a child – by neglect, yes, but not by love. You had to give them all the love you could, even though giving that much love could cause you pain and anguish and horror and, in the end, love could destroy you. Because they left, they went to university and husband, they went to Canada and they went to the grave.
  • There was that survey, years ago, that found that women didn’t feel threatened by a man carrying the Guardian or wearing a CND badge. Jackson had wondered at the time how many rapists started carrying a Guardian around with them. Look at Ted Bundy. Stick your arm in a plaster cast and women think you’re safe. No woman was ever truly safe. It didn’t matter if you were as tough as Sigourney Weaver in Alien Resurrection or Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, because wherever you went there were men.
  • The clavicle was tiny and fragile, like an animal’s, a rabbit or a hare, the broken wishbone of a bird. Jackson kissed it reverently because he knew it was the holiest relic he would ever find.
  • “To my friend, Mr. Jackson Brodie, for being kind.” He had cried when her solicitor had read that out to him. Cried, because he hadn’t been particularly kind to her, cried because she didn’t have a better friend, that she had died alone, without a hand to hold.