Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Book Review)

Richard Mayhew moved to London as a young adult and after years, finds himself working a nine-to-five job, doing what his girlfriend tells him and that’s that. Then he comes across a young girl (or was she young? I read her as a teenager, though this makes things later in the novel quite creepy) who needs help. However, after assisting her, he finds that he’s now stuck in an alternative, dangerous version of London that exists beneath the surface. His mission is to find a way to return to his own life.

I’ve become a fan of Gaiman late in the day, and I certainly find I am far more drawn to his myth based books, such as Norse Mythology and American Gods, over his creepy otherworld books. They are similar and  I kind of love the concepts of layered worlds, a bit like alternative timelines and time travel stories. However, this isn’t my fave. I struggled to get into the world, and I found it quite difficult to connect to the characters. I also find that in several books, Gaiman has a male protagonist who is sleepwalking through life and being pushed around, dominating woman who is supposed to be their lover and partner, but seems to be in it for… what? And who is conveniently removed from the protagonist’s story in a way that seems deserving for them, often with little effort of the man. I guess if it was just once, I could see it as plot, but when it occurs more often, it does make me question the role of women in Gaiman’s writing. I’ll certainly keep reading his books, but his depiction of female characters is something I know I’ll be watching.

Matrix by Lauren Groff – Book Review

Set in the 12th Century, Matrix tells of Marie de France, a half-sibling to royalty who is not attractive enough to remain in court and is instead sent to an impoverished abbey to be a nun. Here, over decades, she turns the fortunes of the community, has visions and takes actions based on those visions.

Apparently, this story is based on a real poet, which is interesting. This book has been highly acclaimed, and I loved Groff’s previous novel, Fates and Furies, but this book did not do it for me. I found reading it a chore, yet in retelling the broad strokes to a friend, it’s clearly a very interesting and engaging story. I can’t see myself raving about this to others or recommending it, but I will understand why others might like it more than I did.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani – Book Review

When Myriam wants to return to work, she and husband Paul hire Lousie as a nanny for their two children. Louise is very quiet and quickly becomes part of the family. However, the reader knows from the first sentence “The baby is dead” that things are going to end tragically.

What I found fascinating about this book is that I still don’t really know exactly what happened. This is more a look into the thoughts and lives of the main players, in particular Louise and Myriam. He writing felt somewhat removed, very much like looking in at having these lives told from a distance. It was certainly intriguing, though I did finish feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower (Book Review)

The novel starts in post WW2 Sydney, with a very wealthy family and some poor orphans who come into their orbit and follows over years as the characters go in different ways.

I struggled with this. For me, it was worth reading just for some of the great, witty lines, but I found the characters unlikeable, the plot unclear and the leaps in time difficult to follow. It’s interesting to look at the reviews on GoodReads – a lot of people gave up on it. I struggled through. However, others did love it. I guess it is one of those polarising novels, though with more people on the dislike side that the like side.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones (Book Review)

Lala lives in Barbados, just off the beach, not far from the super-wealthy houses of the tourists, making a living by braiding tourists’ hair. She gives birth to a child, and dreams of escaping this life, of escaping her criminal husband, of finding a better life. But tragic events persist in beating her down.

The title of this book lead me to believe that it was maybe going to be a but quirky, perhaps funny. I didn’t expected the heartbreak and tragedy. It’s a wonderful book, difficult but fabulous. It’s the debut book by Cherie Jones and I look forward to reading more from her. It is absolutely wonderful.

Isle of Dogs by Patricia Cornwell – Book Review *spoiler alert*

The third of the Hornet’s Nest Series, Isle of Dogs has one particularly strange change – one of the three main characters, West, has disappeared. Not only is she missing, but she’s not mentioned, I think, at all. If this were a television series, or movies, I’d suspect that the actor chose to walk or was booted. But… it’s a book. I feel that the audience is really owed an explanation about that. The other thing that was kind of odd is that there was a scene with Scarpetta, so this suggests that Cornwell is putting these books into the world of Scarpetta and I think, given they are such different books, that was a very strange choice.

So it’s now Hammer and Brazil and a whole lot of confusing stuff going on in a small island town off the coast of Virginia. I would suggest if you are from Tangier, don’t read this. The characterisation of the people from this small community is appalling, although given the various forms of bigotry seen in the two other books of this series, It’s unsurprising.

For my sense of completion, I’m glad I’ve read all three. But given how short life is and how many good crime books there are out there, I’d say steer very clear of these three!

Southern Cross by Patricia Cornwell – Book Review *spoiler alert*

Southern Cross is the sequel to Hornet’s Nest and, because I took such perverse joy in how much I disliked Hornet’s Nest, but enjoyed reading the bad writing, I dove in to Southern Cross. It did not disappoint – and what I mean by that is that it was also pretty darn terrible. Although I found the story made a lot more sense, and I did like the way several different plotlines tied together.

We have Hammer, Brazil and West back together, for some reason all three have been transplanted to Richmond, Virginia (which is the setting of many of Cornwell’s Scarpetta series). I say for some reason – it’s to clean up the Richmond Police in the same way they did in Charlotte. However… Hornet’s Nest showed no sign of this, and actually, neither does this book. I can really see no reason for a change of location. There are several crimes, there is a whole lot of misunderstandings (which I think might be the alleged comedy of the book, however I think misunderstanding ‘coon hunting’ which is racoon hunting for the potential lynching of black people was not at all humorous) and then there was the bigotry seen a lot in the previous book. And the unconvincing sexual tension. Oh, and the strange cat scenes from the previous book have been slightly replicated in this one, only it’s now a dog. Yup. And yet… I feel compelled to read the third in the trilogy. I blame lockdown… more time at home to make unusual reading choices.

Hornet’s Nest by Patricia Cornwell – Book Review *spoilers*

Charlotte, North Carolina. Judy Hammer is the Chief of Police and has allowed Journalist and Volunteer Cop (I did not know that volunteer cops existed) Andy Brazil to drive along in a city that is overwhelmed with crime and poor policing. But Deputy Chief Virginia West will only allow him to ride with her, putting her back on the streets. Apparently, they hate each other but it’s all a cover for poor communication skills and sexual attraction. There’s also a serial killer, but these killings are so scattered through the book, and no-one seems to be dedicated to that case, so it’s hard to know exactly how important that plotline is. In case you can’t tell, I did not think this was a good book. At all.

Patricia Cornwell is mostly known for her Scarpetta series of novels, and this was a change of scene. Still a similar world, though more the policing rather than forensics. And, having read a slew of reviews (including many very hilarious one-star reviews), it appears that this was supposed to be comedy. I’m not sure how. For me, it was a confusing mess of story with characters who seemed completely incapable of interacting, who apparently had romantic attraction and/or chemistry and who accidently kind of maybe solved a series of murders by a serial killer… perhaps? Oh, and add in homophobia, transphobia (oh, the transphobia), fatphobia, racism. And a cat which apparently communicates with cats from the past, is able to identify the clues which are alluding the police and find a clunky way to communicate this to their owner… and… the owner… figures it out? I’m a fan of the Scarpetta novels, despite the flaws, but the only reason I couldn’t put this book down was because I enjoyed exclaiming disbelief aloud as I read.

Honeybee by Craig Silvey (Book Review)

Teenager Sam and elderly man Vic meet on a bridge, both with the same intention, and both save each other. Their lives are changed by their meeting, and each come to understand and support each other in a way that they could never have predicted.

Of all of the coming-of-age Australian books I’ve been reading recently, Honeybee is my favourite by far. It’s hard, I cried lots, and the frustration, the powerlessness, the strangeness of this world was hard to read about, but it was also wonderful. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue – Book Review

Blanche is a French dancer who provides private services for gentlemen in San Francisco in the 1876. She came to the US with two gentlemen, her lover and his friend; all three met performing in Paris, but now she supports their lifestyles. Along comes Jenny who wears men’s clothes and acts in ways unbecoming to a woman. When Jenny is killed in the presence of Blanche, Blanche is left to try to work out what has happened, and how to move forward.

This book was all over the shop. I’ve loved other work by Donoghue, but this did not work for me. I loved the setting, and I think that she crafted some great characters. The structure jumped from past to present, which is often a strong way of revealing mysteries but, in this case, muddied the water for me. I wanted to enjoy this, but I didn’t.