You know, I was looking back on my blog over the past year, and I noticed something. Last April, I posted a selection of short book reviews, with some of my favourites from the previous year. I realised that this might be something I’d like to continue – a sort of tradition – so, here I am, continuing it. Every April I’ll pick a selection from the books I’ve read since the last one of these posts and write a short review, and maybe it’ll help you guys find something to read that you might never otherwise have picked up! …also, selfishly, I hope it’ll spur me on to actually hit my goal on Goodreads this year. I can’t lie, I already appear to be behind somehow, but this is no reason to panic – I fully intend to catch up, and I have every reason to believe that I will… I just need to stop procrastinating. Not my greatest skill, but nevertheless. Right! Let’s crack on, shall we?
Ring by Kōji Suzuki (鈴木 光司) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I want to preface this by saying that before I read this, I hadn’t seen the film – neither the Japanese original, nor the American remake. I still haven’t, but now I’ve got an irresistible urge to do so. I didn’t really know what to expect going into this – I expected something in the Stephen King, quite sort of cinematic, blockbuster horror. This wasn’t like that. It was a slow but steady creeping dread from start to finish, based on what I have to say is an incredibly clever idea. We’re used to horror being this ageless thing, a timeless and nameless force, a menagerie of creatures that have been shared in legends since the dawn of our species. This wasn’t like that at all, this was firmly 21st century. Although some of the ideas and discussions are a little dated, and the introduction of the protagonist’s ‘best friend’ (and his problematic backstory) muddying the waters a little, I found this a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequels!
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Although this one is a bit more in my wheelhouse, being YA fiction, in other ways it was almost entirely new to me. Set in an alternate version of Cairo where magic was returned to the world, the world is co-inhabited by people and creatures called djinn. A djinn (from the Arabic word جَنَّ, from which we get the word ‘genie’) is a magical creature from Arabic folklore and legend, and this book serves as kind of a crash course in Arabic mythology – in the same way that the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan serve as an introduction to Greek mythology – with a very modern twist. It was also delightfully queer, without it being a main focal point of the story or a defining trait of any of the characters, which is nice to see in fiction. It’s nice to see that queerness doesn’t have to be a big deal, it can just be there. I’m not sure if this is going to be a continuing series, but I’ll definitely be checking out more by this author.
The Three Body Problem by Liú Cíxīn (劉慈欣) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ You know, I don’t even really know where to begin with this. I don’t use this word lightly, but this book was absolutely epic. When I finished it, I even ordered a copy in Chinese – just to have, because I only know about four Chinese characters, but I needed it on my shelf. It’s hard to describe, really, without giving away the plot, but it’s definitely the most impressive science fiction novel I’ve ever read. I’ll definitely be reading the others in the series, but although the story is interesting and the idea behind the whole thing is genuinely ingenious, it does get a little in-depth with the science part of science fiction and I do sometimes find myself a little lost. It’s not completely impenetrable for the scientifically uninitiated, and there are some genuinely fascinating insights into Chinese history (that are helpfully explained by translator’s notes, as knowledge of them isn’t all that common outside of China. The one thing about this book that puzzles me is that… it seems to be pretty openly critical of the Cultural Revolution, which I would have thought to be quite taboo, so it seems quite fascinating to me that it would be published and as celebrated as it is in China. Nevertheless, I’m hoping my understanding of all of this will deepen as I continue to read the series!
The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo (横溝 正史) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I have to say, I picked this up almost on a whim, but by the end I couldn’t help but feel that I’d stumbled on a buried treasure. I didn’t realise that this book was part of a series until I’d finished it, and even then there appear to be differing reports on which order the books are supposed to be read in. Seishi Yokomizo doesn’t seem to be particularly well-known outside of Japan, where he was incredibly prolific – The Inugami Curse, originally published as 犬神家の一族 (Inugami no ichizoku, or ‘The Inugami Clan’) in the early 1950s – but his work wasn’t translated into English until much later; the edition I have was published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2020. This is the second book in the series, as it seems like the English translations are supposed to be read in a different order to the Japanese originals, for reasons I haven’t quite managed to work out. The series follows detective Kōsuke Kindaichi (金田一 耕助) as he investigates various cases – this one being the supposed murder of the head of a very influential family, set not long after the end of the Second World War. Honestly, the setting was one of the things that first attracted me to this – I know very little about Japan during this era – but the whole thing is absolutely beautifully put together. It’s everything you could want from a good murder mystery, it keeps you guessing right up until the end, feeding you information slowly to let you come up with your own theories before finally telling you if you’re right. Getting a feel for the characters is an interesting experience, too… Kindaichi is certainly no archetypical Jessica Fletcher or Miss Marple. There’s also a lot of cultural information packed into quite a small space so that, even though it’s a work of fiction, you’re made to feel that you’re leaving the book having learned something. I’d definitely recommend this series, and I’ll be going back to read the one I missed as soon as I get the chance.
This Much Is True by Miriam Margolyes ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Actor, chat-show darling and all-round legend Miriam Margolyes finally released an autobiography. Honestly, with such a rich and storied life, it would be a crime not to. There’s not much to tell you that she couldn’t tell you much better herself, so I’ll leave that job up to her – but she details her own life, from her childhood right up until the present day, with anecdotes that would make anyone blush or roar with laughter, sometimes simultaneously. I know the woman herself is a little like Marmite, it seems that people either love her or hate her, there’s no in-between. I fall into the former camp, so I think there was always a great chance that I was going to enjoy this book. Someone who doesn’t like her as a person (as much as anyone can dislike a person they don’t actually know) may not find it as enjoyable as I did. Still, it’s a recommendation from me!
Well, there we go for another year! I’d like to think that this will help even one person to find a book, so if that person happens to be you, I’d love to hear about it – and what you thought! As always, you can reach me at Twitter & Instagram (I’m @sprakskatan on both), or by leaving a comment here. As always, thank you very much for reading, and I’ll see you next month. It’s Eurovision season…