My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Although it took me a little while to get into this, I absolutely loved Dracul, a prequel to Dracul written by JD Barker and Dacre Stoker, a descendant of Bram. It starts with the story of Bram’s childhood in Ireland, a child often ill and close to death and the nanny that looks after him. There are some genuinely scary moments, particularly in the section when Bram and his siblings are children. The section where they are children ends shortly after Bram is mysteriously cured and fast forwards to Bram and his siblings adult lives, things from their childhood (I’m trying hard not to give spoilers) have reappeared and Thornley’s (Bram’s brother) wife is sick. Bram and his siblings come together to investigate, drawing them across Europe.
I loved the format of the book (similar to Dracula with its journal entries and letters) but also with flashes of ‘now’, with Bram stuck in a tower battling a (to the reader) unknown terror behind a door. Apparently the options have been bought for Dracul and this so would make an excellent TV series, there were several scenes in particular which would make excellent jaw dropping, gasp out loud cliff hangers for the ends of episodes.
Definitely read the authors notes, how they created the book is fascinating. Apparently the original version of Dracula had an extra 101 pages no longer in the copy that we know today. The authors have pieced together clues about what was in those 101 pages, to create the prequel. It’s fascinating that the original version claims to be telling the story of real life events and why did the real life Bram, as in the book, insist on being cremated immediately after death and why did the real life Thornley commit his wife to a lunatic asylum?
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed Home Grown Hero, the second in the series, repercussions are occurring after Jay’s involvement in a terrorist plot. Jay’s trying to get back to normal but life isn’t letting that happen, with tragic events happening to his new friends. Meanwhile Immy, a sleeper jihadi who is very comfortable in his Western life, has been activated. I love the first person narration with this series. I also love how, with whichever side, you see the characters getting into situations where they’re doing stuff that’s abhorrent but it’s often their circumstances that lead them there.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence is a quirky book, the narrator is quite distinctive with quotable lines like
stories are skittish, like cats. You need to approach calmly and respectfully or they’ll run away and you’ll never see them again.
They felt like the emptiness in the last drawer you check when you’ve been searching for something you loved but which is now lost.
Anyway, what’s it about? Hannah Green is an 11 year old whose parents have recently split up, she goes to stay with her grandfather who just happens, she discovers, to work for the Devil.
I enjoyed the narration, both the ‘voice’ of the book and the actual narration of the audiobook, it was one of those sort of books which is littered by general observations about life, so it’s full of “yes! I get that!” moments. The actual plot is okay.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really liked Gentlemen & Players, set in a private boys grammar school, it tells the tale of the child of the school porter who infiltrates the school. Years later the child is back as a teacher, intent on revenge. The story is told from the perspective of the child / vengeful teacher and Roy Straitley, a curmudgeonly old Latin teacher clinging on as his little world gets squeezed out by modern languages and computers. The vengeful teacher has a particular bone to pick with Straitley and things start to go wrong for the poor old guy but Straitley is not going to go quietly.
I loved how real the school felt, with the tribes of different teacher characters (the suits, the tweed jackets, the beards). I also loved how although the vengeful teacher was definitely the bad guy, Harris definitely made the character the hero of their own story and you could, if not empathise, understand where they were coming from.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have both the hardback and the audiobook of this, I will admit that I’ve looked at the gorgeous pictures in the hardback but ‘read’ it as the audiobook. I should say that the audiobook is not a straight narration of the hardback text, I’m sure a lot of it is the same but it’s arranged differently. The audiobook is quite like a podcast or a radio documentary, with interviews with people involved in the Harry Potter – History of Magic exhibition and people involved in the production of the Harry Potter books and audiobooks.
The book looks at the history of magic by using examples from the Harry Potter series and then looking at real life examples such as books written about the subject in the past and tools that real life witches and wizards would have used. I really liked how the book emphasised how ‘magic’ was often mankind’s first attempt to understand the world and how it works, ie a first attempt at science. There were some great stories about early pioneers going off and discovering stuff.
I’m glad that I listened to the audiobook because as beautiful as the hardback is, I’m far too much of an impatient reader at the moment and I don’t think I would have found the time to sit down and read this, whereas audiobooks are always great for listening to whilst doing something else. So the multitasker in me was satisfied and I did like hearing directly from people like Stephen Fry and Jim Kay but a bit of me wishes that I did have the time and patience because although hearing about the descriptions of these wonderful objects was great, it would have been nicer to have seen them at the same time.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Medieval Bodies is an interesting book that looks at medieval attitudes towards bodies. With the book divided into chapters on body parts, not only does the reader learn about actual medieval feet, for example, but also how they were worshipped (if they belonged to a king or religious leader) and there’s a discussion on medieval exploration (as they often walked, hence the link with the feet). In the chapter on genitals, there’s a discussion on childbirth (which was extremely dangerous), men’s fears about what women may do to their most prized parts of their anatomies and a poem from a Welsh female poet on the vagina which wouldn’t have sounded out of place (once translated into modern English) in a bar in today’s Shoreditch. I have both the hardback and the audiobook of this, the audiobook is read well by the author and the hardback is beautiful with many gorgeous pictures of what the text is talking about.
As for the year as a whole, I read (and/or listened to) 69 books this year, 6 less than my 75 books Goodreads target and three less than I read last year, although if you look at the page count, last year (according to Goodreads) I read 25 869 pages and this year I read 25 931 pages, so I was actually surprisingly consistent. I’ve read a number of very long books this year, particularly CJ Sansom’s Tombland, so I’m ‘blaming’ that for my lower book count.
Stand out memorable favourites from that lot (in no particular order) have been –
- Michael McDowell’s Gilded Needles and Blackwater books. Gilded Needles is an epic novel set in 1800s New York, featuring two warring families, one influential, the other a criminal gang. Blackwater is even more epic, set in the southern United States, it follows along an influential family who happen to have a river monster or two amongst their clan.
- C.J. Tudor’s The Chalk Man, a mystery set between the 80s and the present day, omg that ending, I’m still thinking about it.
- Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker was fascinating and scary (if you don’t get enough sleep) in equal measure.
- M by Henry Hemming was a fascinating biography that is another one that still has me thinking, about the first spymaster for MI5.
- I discovered the Carter & Lovecraft series; Carter & Lovecraft and After the end of the world by Jonathan L. Howard, set in a world where the Lovecraft stories were real, I need more.
- The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, is a story about what happens if you find out the date of your death as a child, it took a long time for me to get into this but I’m so glad I persisted because there are some beautiful, beautiful scenes in this book. I even dream about it sometimes and I never dream about books!
- The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is such a clever book, a cross between an Agatha Christie novel and Quantum Leap.
- The Immortals by S.E. Lister was another book that took me a long time to get into and another book where I’m glad I persisted because the ending was beautiful, lump in your throat stuff. It, as the title suggests, tells the tale of a group of immortals with the talent to jump from place to place, time period to time period.
- East of Hounslow and Home Grown Hero by Khurrum Rahman are thrillers which look at why the bad guys are the bad guys.
- IQ by Joe Ide, a streetwise American Sherlock Holmes style detective, I need to read more of this series.
- The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife is another book I’m still thinking about, about the ravens at the Tower of London, I haven’t been looking at the Tower the same way since.
- Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker, this was so good, I’m a massive Dracula fan anyway but to read a prequel and find out more about Bram Stoker’s actual life (in the notes at the end) was utterly fascinating.
- Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris, a classic school murder story, that had me empathising with the villain and I loved how detailed and real feeling, Harris got the school.