Not even slightly HP

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

I have been saving this for a day when I had the time to read it all at once. I haven’t done much else today, but it’s been lovely and sunny, so I curled up on a blanket in the shade of the trees and enjoyed myself.

I really enjoy the way Naomi Novik’s mind works, and despite this being set in a school for young magicians, it has far more in common with The Hunger Games than Harry Potter. I thought it was inventive, as well as thoroughly entertaining. I enjoyed the descriptions of the monsters, and the difference between good and bad magic, and El’s somewhat sardonic voice made me giggle. I loved the whole school reforming itself every year, and the slightly clunky machinery-in-the-walls required to do so.

A good way to spend a day, and I’ll look forward to the next book. Now, having lazed around all morning, I’d better go and do something useful!

Stranger

Pew by Catherine Lacey

Compellingly written, whilst being slightly disorientating, I am strongly tempted to go back to the beginning and start again. I’m sure I missed things. This is a novel about identity and about humankind’s need to categorise what people are. It is both disturbing and fascinating.

It’s a quite astounding book.

I’m not sure I’ve ever deliberately bought a pink book before

An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler, by Vanessa Riley

Oh my goodness, this is so pink! Also, somewhat to my disappointment the second in a series, I didn’t realise when I clicked on it whilst fleetingly attached to the internet in a service station on the motorway. It had taken us two hours longer than expected to get there, and I’d finished the paperback in my handbag.

However, it did the job and kept me calm as my husband muttered about other drivers and the lack of updates on the satnav. He never gets cross, but there’s a sort of continual just-below-hearing-level commentary which makes concentration on anything worthy quite difficult.

The plot was not totally typical, although it was perhaps a little too predictable. In fact, I think the main plot twist was practically given away in the prologue, which is an unusual way to start. I didn’t particularly like the language style or the titular moppet, so I won’t pick up the first one (or any subsequent), but it was a fast enough read even although I won’t keep it. And it saved my sanity when the traffic jams continued through the afternoon.

Not enlightened

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar

I suspect that I’m just not clever enough for this book. I did enjoy the Persian mythology aspects, a mythology I was not familiar with, so it was interesting, and I had some knowledge of the period of history the novel is set in, but overall I found the constant time shifts very confusing, and I did not always know where I was in the narrative.

This is a novel narrated by a ghost, and it is interwoven with supernatural elements whilst being set in a turbulent and bloody period of Iranian history. There were some horrific descriptions of things that were all too true, and there were almost whimsical descriptions of things that could not be real.

I may be a wee bit prejudiced because I really don’t like being made to feel stupid, but ultimately I read books to enjoy them, not to struggle through. The only reason I finished this was because it was a Reading Group book, and actually I wish I hadn’t. Life’s too short… but it was Booker shortlisted, so I am probably wrong!

Dancing on the Inside

The Hellion’s Waltz, by Olivia Waite

The story of a scam with good intentions, a long-awaited revenge, and a little bit of love at first sight, this was delightful from start to finish.

No duchesses or dukes, lords or ladies, but silk weavers, musicians, clock menders and artificers, lace makers and second-hand clothes merchants. Its a story that absolutely sings about friendship and all the different types of family.

The course of true love never did run smooth

A Midsummer Night’s Romance, various authors

A collection of short stories by different authors. I’ve been reading these for a few days on and off because I find shorts really handy for queuing outside the Post Office, or waiting for the fish van to arrive. My life is so riveting sometimes! This was one of those collections with a common central theme, which in this case was a Midsummer Night’s Dream masquerade ball. I love a masquerade in a book, and there were a couple of authors I knew in the cover list, so I expected to enjoy.

Mostly I did – a lot of the stories were sweet, very readable, and quite fun. Others I didn’t bother finishing, some were too long (once they head towards novella length, I lose motivation). A wee bit of a mixed bag.

I’m really not going to be peevish about an ebook that cost me the princely sum of 79p, but there were typos, and I stopped reading the story that referred to Titania as Tatiana throughout. These are things that perhaps should have been picked up before publication, but it was still really good value. Actually, come to think of it, it might have been on sale because it was Midsummer?

Don’t tell my reading group…

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

I always leave my Reading Group book until a couple of days before the meeting, because I like it to be fresh in my mind when the group meets. So, I had a look at the length of the book (187 pages) and the fairly large clear print, and then at the number of little bits and pieces that needed doing in the garden… and left it, and left it, and then left it again, until suddenly it was the night before the meeting.

I instantly formulated a cunning plan – to just read all day. I reckoned that was a pretty good plan actually! However, we woke up to a glorious morning, and my husband said “Let’s go for a walk!”, and I thought, well, I can read it in the car on the way there, and back, and I can carry it in my rucksack and read it at lunchtime, and it’s only 187 pages, and I am an optimistic human. And then I forgot to take my reading glasses.

After an absolute saga involving detours and locked gates (on a footpath) and a missed bus, we made it home an hour and a half before the Reading Group meeting, and I abandoned my rucksack and husband in the kitchen and read. I finally finished two minutes before the zoom link went active. Fresh in my mind? It was still writhing!

This is a wonderful book. It’s like being held in a comforting hug whilst being told a story. I could see the characters, and I could hear their voices. I cared deeply about all of them. It felt mythological, despite being set in 1976, and no, Aycayia is not your fairytale mermaid, she is something altogether more ancient and complicated.

One of those books where you finish, and you are slightly shocked that there is still a real world out there. I am actually grateful that disorganisation (or fate) made me read this in one sitting, because it was heady. Also, astonishingly the first time everyone in the group has been in agreement about a book, although most of them appeared to have had time to think about what they were going to say.

I promise I’ll be better prepared next time.

Revolution and Abolition

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, by H. G. Parry

I bought this for the cover; the cover is gorgeous and I am very easily influenced. I might not have done so if I had realised that it was the first part of a trilogy (the little roundel which says ‘The Shadow Histories 1’ on the spine is in tiny letters), because I am generally not a fan of having to wait for part two if it isn’t yet published (it’s due in July). However, in this instance I think I need a considerable break before part two anyway!

I didn’t exactly struggle to read this, but it certainly took me a lot longer than fiction usually does, some of that was down to the complicated and detailed storyline, and some of it was the very small print… This is an alternative history story of the Enlightenment, a period of history that was very tumultuous in real life, particularly in France, Haiti and Great Britain where this is set. In this version of the world, as well as equality, liberty, abolition and revolution, there is also magic to contend with. Magic use is tied to governments and aristocracy, and the common people are not allowed to use it.

You can absolutely see where this is going in terms of revolution and dissent!

I loved that the author used real characters and real events to twist the story around, and there were times when it felt like actually reading history. That’s the sign of an engaging novel, when you forget it’s not real! This one will have to be a keeper, because I need to read the next two. I presume we will get Napoleon in book two? I can’t wait.

A wealth of sorrow

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

What could I possibly say about this astounding book that has not already been said? I loved it, although I found it almost too painful to read in places. There were times when I didn’t want to turn the page but I always did, because I was so absorbed in Agnes’ story.

This is Agnes’ story, much more than Shakespeare’s. It’s the story of a mother who has done everything she can to keep her family safe, but it hasn’t been enough. It’s a story about grieving and loneliness and being different and misunderstood.

I cried, and then I read on.

A book to finish in one sitting, because you just can’t move away.