The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Genre: mystery
I read it as a(n): hardback
Length: 338 pp
Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Libby Jones has always known she was adopted. But upon her 25th birthday, she discovers she is apparently the sole remaining inheritor to a very large home in London’s posh Chelsea neighborhood. She also learns that her birth parents hadn’t really died in a car crash; they committed suicide in a cult. As Libby discovers more and more about her family’s dark history, with the help of a friendly investigative journalist, she finds herself enmeshed in a web of lies and deceit that could alter her entire life.

This was a fun piece of brain candy. It’s the second I’ve read by Lisa Jewell and so far I’ve enjoyed them both. I didn’t think there was a ton of character development but that’s ok. It’s a plot driven story and super in depth characters with a lot of growth throughout the book isn’t necessary for this to be a good read.

I’ve always been fascinated by cults except the cult of personality surrounding a certain orange former president. I know there are plenty of smart people who get sucked into cults so it’s weird to me how otherwise intelligent people can buy into shit like that. The cult in this story was small – just one disgusting but charismatic man and a few couples and small families – but the dynamics and deterioration from normal into crazy was horrifying and interesting all the same. Cults, man. They’re fucking weird.

Anyway, I liked the book, I’d read more by this author, and it was a nice diversion for a long weekend.

The Deadliest Sin

the deadliest sinThe Deadliest Sin by Jeri Westerson (Website | Twitter | IG)

Genre: medieval mystery

Setting: 14th century London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 321 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In this 15th (and final) novel in the Crispin Guest medieval noir series, Crispin and his apprentice Jack Tucker are hired to help the prioress of a convent discover who is behind a series of grisly murders of her nuns. They each appear to be related to the Seven Deadly Sins, begging the question of what the victims really had to hide. At the same time, Henry Bolingbroke, the exiled son of John of Gaunt, has returned to England with an army at his back. Crispin once again finds himself in a position where he has to decide whether to support the crowned king or to commit treason again, possibly paying for it with his life this time. 

For the past 15ish years, readers have followed along on adventures with Crispin Guest, former knight and lord of the realm, disenfranchised for treason when he threw in his lot with the supporters of John of Gaunt over King Richard II. He’s gone from being angry and bitter to content and even happy and loving his role as the indulgent head of a very rowdy house full of Jack’s children. He has learned that he is quite able to make a decent life for himself through his tracking skills, and has earned the appreciation of many Londoners by helping them. Certainly, he has done more good for the citizens than the sheriffs ever did, which makes him smug. So it has been fun to watch his progression over the years. 

Same with Jack. He went from being a 10 year old mongrel street urchin who seemed to be on a glide path to the gallows for thievery to a competent apprentice tracker, loving husband, and fun loving father. His character arc was almost as big as Crispin’s and it has been a joy to see how he’s grown over the years. 

Yes, these characters feel real to me. 

The mystery in this novel was a fun and twisty one, full of murder and theft and nuns! With! Secrets! It would have been a great read on its own, but I was so focused on all the stuff with Henry Bolingbroke and Richard II that the mystery sort of fell to the wayside with me on this one. Not because it wasn’t good or anything. I just wanted to know how it would all end! After the mystery was solved, I found myself covering up any part of the page I hadn’t read yet so that I wouldn’t accidentally read too far ahead and spoil myself. I think that is a mark of a terrific story. 

I could tell you how it ended. I could tell you what I thought about it. But then maybe you wouldn’t go out and read these books for yourself, and that would truly be a loss for you. I realllllly think you should read them all. You won’t be sorry you did and then, when you get to this book, you will be on tenterhooks to see what new awful thing Westerson might do to poor Crispin! And then you can mourn the last book in the series. And then you can go out and be excited to read the other books Westerson already has, and look forward to the new Tudor series she’s got in the works!

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.