The basement club spat Lawrie out into the dirty maze of Soho, a freezing mist settling over him like a damp jacket.
The pretty cover will definitely throw you off: this isn’t a light, bubbly story about a fabulous time in black music history. This is a novel about black British history, and there’s little prettiness about that.
Jamaicans are ‘invited’ to come to the motherland, but England isn’t a loving mother. Black people are denied on every level of daily living, and when a baby is found, police and white citizens take it as an excuse to go full out racist.
Louise Hare shows the endless fear and frustration as well, making you move from ‘Why not just go back?’ to ‘Why don’t you stand up for yourself?’ and ‘Why is everybody such a wanker?’. Lawrie doesn’t want much in life, but because he’s black there’s a lot of people out there that actively sabotage him.
The Empire Windrush and their people aren’t fiction, nor was their treatment of them. So even though this is an interesting look at London after the Second World War, there’s no fun and bubbles to be found here.
This Lovely City, Louise Hare, House of Anansi Press 2020
Lake Geneva, 1816
Reality is water-soluble.
Now, what to think and say about this one? Unlike The Body in Question, I’m struggling because I’m thinking too much about this story. It’s bewildering, it’s scary, it’s also kind of soothing with showing you how humans and their ideas about identity, life and death have always been around and probably forever will be (in whatever shape).
This isn’t a retelling of Frankenstein, or maybe partly, or maybe only inspired by it. Mary Shelley gets a plot, so does Ry and Victor Stein. There’s layers and century-deep connections, but never in a Gotcha!-way.
Winterson surprised me with a memoir I liked (which doesn’t happen often, as recently mentioned), but I didn’t know what to expect with a novel of hers. After Frankissstein, I still don’t. I find it hard to believe that she could write something like this again, if it’s even a ‘this’.
I’d recommend this novel to everyone who allows themselves to be taken along for a ride. I’d also recommend it because I still don’t know how to place this story and would love to pick other people’s brains. While still in their heads, of course.
Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson, Jonathan Cape London 2019
22 x 30 min
I know it’s based on a game, but to me it felt – from time to time – like it could have been part of the same world that The Sandman Chronicles play out in. It’s bleak and gruesome but also beautiful in the Gothic way and the story telling comes first through spare, solid story lines that aren’t endlessly muddled with side plots.
Castlevania is about vampires, but not really. Or just kind of. It’s about a sad Dracula, vicious vampire women, monster hunters, magical monks (sort of?) all played out in a greyish and brownish Eastern Europe. Maybe. The castle moves around, after all.
If you want lore, mythology, beautiful animation, snarky yet terrifying vampires and their ilk plus quite a quick fix (those 22 episodes are three seasons), you should try it. If you don’t like gore in any way, and prefer your shows bright and bubbly – better you pass this one.
Castlevania, Netflix 2017
The first time our father brought Andrea to the Dutch House, Sandy, our housekeeper, came to my sister’s room and told us to come downstairs.
I changed my mind on this book maybe three – four times. Pretty cover -> meh summary -> positive reviews -> where is this story going? -> Oh. Oh wow.
Wasn’t that an exciting trip to go on?
This book is the house it’s about, but at the same time its story never gets as bright and colourful as the interior of the house. Even before the big thing that changes everything happens, there’s a thick gray layer over not just the people of this story, but the story itself.
It doesn’t make the story less appealing, but it did make me long towards that version of the story: if Ann Patchett would halfway flip to the owners under whom the house prospered, I wouldn’t even have minded and this coming from the woman who despises different times – same houses stories.
Still, the story as it is found its way under my skin. On family, on bitterness, on deciding what you need for yourself instead of for someone else. And in the end – yes: oh wow.
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett, HarperCollins 2019
This is not the love song of Aganetha Smart.
I can point out the different disappointments in this book clearly: the biggest one being the obvious twists to prevent explaining a plot line. This can happen maybe once or twice and should be done well – not something that basically amounts to ‘BUT FIRST’.
For starters, I’m not too fond of two story lines in different times, especially not when brought together through a seemingly random connection. Jump through time or let people age; it’s not that hard. In this case I accepted it because I was curious about the subject: first long distance female runner at the Olympics. Canadian history. Canadian writer. Bring it.
But it’s Aganetha young and very old, and a story line tacked on that isn’t explained – and just barely – until the last ten pages. With Aganetha not being the most charming protagonist, it doesn’t make caring easier. Give me more about the world she grew up in if you can’t or won’t sell me on your main character.
All this creates the feeling of “this could have been more”, which might be more frustrating than this entire novel is.
Girl Runner, Carrie Snyder, Harper 2015
There have been two moments in my life when everything changed.
Time travel! Dinosaurs! Bad guys and unlikely heroes! First book of a series!
Yes, I know, I will forever be overly bitter by the fact that a standalone fantasy novel is hard to find. Sue me (don’t sue me).
On the other hand – I’m a sucker for time travel and will accept a lot for the sheer fact of time travel being involved. It’s just a convenient genre: you get history, adventure, romance (often), sometimes science fiction – all in one book.
Just as in this case. Just One Damned Thing After Another has the scrappy heroine with the dodgy history, very villain-y villains, dinosaurs and mentions enough historical events to make sure you don’t forget the time traveling part. Jodi Taylor provides the majority of this with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, which (might) make(s) the reader more acceptable of the times when things get a bit too trope-y. Is that me complaining about getting everything I wanted from this kind of story? Yes.
If there wouldn’t be sequels, there wouldn’t have been several set-ups that took (a bit) too long to pay off. Without the scrappy heroine-background, there would have been less time spent on moping and self-pity.
So, yes, this is what to expect from the genre. I was just hoping for more.
Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor, Accent Press 2013
In the moonlit room overlooking the city of faith, a priest knelt before Ephyra and begged for his life.
Am I going to say it? I’m going to say it. This is another ‘I thought this would be a stand-alone fantasy YA’ failure on my part. Of COURSE it’s part of a series, rookie mistake!
The nice thing is that you don’t really notice until it’s too late. The question of ‘how is this going to be cleanly rolled up in so little pages left’ doesn’t show up until 3/4 into the book, and even then Katy Rose Pool doesn’t use neon-light warnings to guide you to the open ending. The ending isn’t even that open, which to me – avid hater of open endings – is a relief.
Except for the ages of the protagonists, it’s not very YA either (little romance, little teen-specific issues) and the fantasy part delivers. Scary cult, people with gifts, threatening apocalypse, royals et cetera. The world-building makes you wonder if this is supposed to be our past or our distance future: just look at the map used.
With five protagonists it sometimes feels a bit like some get more time in the spotlight than others; it also makes it easy to quickly get a preference. Maybe in the next book(s) the attention will shifts and you might feel more for other characters.
All in all, a nothing-wrong-with fantasy. If I’d see the sequel in the library, I wouldn’t ignore it.
There Will Come a Darkness, Katy Rose Pool, MacMillan 2019
Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.
Good gravy, just when you thought you already knew, things turn out to be so much worse. Next to a sexist gap in pay, safety and health there is a huge one in the thing that drives pretty much all of society: data.
Why is the default ‘he’? Why is there still a riddle about a doctor whose husband died, and why do too many people involved with design viewing women as ‘men with boobs’? Well, because societies worldwide have made it so, and not enough people in powerful positions protest it. And it turns out to be lethal for women.
Invisible Women isn’t particularly uplifting material: there’s just so many numbers and anecdotes on things that went wrong and are going wrong and men not giving a damn about it. How do we rally for change when the entire history of humanity is against us?
Because in some cases and in some countries things have changed and are changing. And you can never change something you don’t know anything about. And because it might save your life to know.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez, Abrams Press 2019
We typed a hundred words per minute and never missed a syllable.
While I’m absolutely lukewarm about stories that use the World Wars as their background, the Cold War or anything involving the USSR/Russia has easily my interest (peeked). The Secrets We Kept ads love for literature to that. Ace in the hole, you’d say.
I can’t pinpoint why it isn’t one. It’s an appealing, enticing story; easy to read, pretty easy to follow (several chapters keep you in the dark about who’s the protagonist now — at least for a page and a half) and voices could have differed a bit more from each other. But that’s details I discover looking back, not necessarily crippling me during reading the story.
The secrets kept the title mentioned are from both The Agency (American security) as from Russian individuals that dare do things The State doesn’t agree with. Of course, there’s secrets on other levels as well, and this isn’t a Cold War story in the way of ‘pick a side and follow through’. These women and typists carry more responsibility than their detailed-described looks entail.
It’s a fun novel to read, easily calling up images and with no frills when not necessary. I’m honestly surprised that I’m not more excited about it.
The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott, Bond Street Books 2019
On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.
Don’t judge a book by its title. Or maybe don’t expect to know what is going to happen by a book’s title. I thought Lincoln – like the American president. I thought Bardo – a kind of Buddhist limbo, add those and you get something eerie, cool, spooky about mourning, the afterlife and discussing religion.
Instead I got a collection of (fictional) citations and quotations about Abraham Lincoln, his dead son and a lot of people I’ve never heard of before.
It took some time to adjust.
Both Lincolns are very little part of this story. It is about the Bardo and how people of all walks of life experience it while avoiding the reality of having died. As mentioned before – this doesn’t happen in continuous prose, you seem to be paging through an encyclopedia of Americans that have died in the time before Abraham Lincoln. Why? Because some of them look out for Willie Lincoln, and are impressed that Abraham continues to visit his son and mourn him.
So it’s not a story about the American president, it’s a little bit about mourning, it’s a too little bit about what the Bardo is, how it works and what it looks like, and the rest of it is – I guess – about the skills of one George Saunders in bringing a lot of character sheets together and passing them off as novel.
2020 isn’t a great year for books, just yet.
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders, Bloomsbury 2017