Book reviews: continuing the tradition

united-kingdomLast year, I decided to start a tradition. To link in with my goal of reading more of the books that I inevitably buy, I decided that every April I would pick five of the books that I’ve read over the past twelve months and write a sort of review post, with some recommendations, and evaluate how I’m performing against my reading goal. I have to say, this year, I’m really on fire when it comes to this particular target – I think it’s partially to do with the switch to The Storygraph, I’m enjoying watching my graphs change and morph with every book I add to the list, it’s really spurring me on – so much so I’m actually 53% of the way to my target and it’s only April. Who could have predicted that? Considering I only managed to read ten books all of last year, the fact that I’ve read 8 in the past three months is certainly surprising. Well, let’s get this show on the road, here are five of the books that I’ve read over the past twelve months. In no particular order…

91V-gEkDBAL‘Mexican Gothic’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia • If you’d have told me at this point last year that ‘fungal horror’ would become an up-and-coming genre, and more so, that I’d be so into it, I’d have said you needed professional help. And yet, here we are. I love a mushroom risotto as much as the next guy – but there’s something about mushrooms that are just inherently creepy. There’s something about them being alive but not sentient, they’re just living their own life in their own way, zombifying ants to climb trees and other weird stuff that fungi do, and none of it is malicious – there’s no actual intention behind any of it, it’s just… propagate, spread your spores as far as possible, and repeat. So keep that in mind, then take a modern twist on a Brontë or Austen novel, set it a long train journey from Mexico City, and make the villains an eerily pale family of Englishmen, feared and loathed by the locals in equal measure, then make sure you keep hinting at the cause of everyone’s problems being supernatural, and I’m sold. There’s actually not much I can say about this without giving away the entire plot, which I definitely don’t want to do, because it’s absolutely worth a read. Beautifully written and genuinely gripping, with a heroine that’s at once aspirational and relatable, this book is simultaneously not at all what I expected and everything I wanted it to be. If you like period dramas and eerie horror, then you’ll love this.

818-42Sj+tL‘The Twyford Code’ by Janice Hallett • Imagine you’re a child who’s had a really rough life. Now imagine you are handed a book by a stranger, which this teacher has a weird reaction to. This teacher then disappears, never to be seen again. You learn, later in life that this particular book is part of a larger conspiracy, with this author (who seems to be basically Enid Blyton from another universe) hiding coded messages inside the text. That was enough to get me hooked. I read quite a bit of Enid Blyton as a kid, and the thought that there could have been hidden messages in there? It made me want to read them again, even though I know this is entirely fictional. This is an incredible story, there are revelations throughout that turn the whole thing on its head and add a new dimension, I honestly don’t know where it was going from one chapter to the next. The format seemed a little weird, if I had to come up with a criticism – I listened to the audiobook, which lessened the impact of that a bit, but I know that some people from my book club who read the physical copy said that they found the format a little difficult to get on with, but I don’t think that should be a barrier to this story. If you enjoy true crime, you’re going to love this.

81KmuTM6etL‘The Lamplighters’ by Emma Stonex • Now, if you learn absolutely anything about me from this blog post, then let it be this: I absolutely love a lighthouse. There’s something inherently spooky about them, which is a vibe I absolutely love – it could go back to a school trip I went on when I was about seven, they’re just so… I don’t want to say it, but the steampunkiness of them is just really, really cool to me. Now, you may not have heard this, but there have been some really grim, horrific things that have happened at lighthouses all around the UK – some really weird, mysterious things; and this is sort of an amalgamation of a couple of them, lovingly mixed together and moved to a fictional location. The story goes that three lighthouse keepers on a lonely tower off the coast of Cornwall disappear, and are never seen again. This is a story that flips back to the keepers, recounting their last few weeks on the lighthouse, and then forward twenty years to the women they left behind, and telling their story. Honestly there isn’t much I can say about this that won’t completely give away the plot, which I absolutely don’t want to do because, simply put, it’s incredible. The fact that it’s included in this post means it’s one of the top five books I’ve read over the past twelve months, but it might even be in the top ten ever -and to think, I only picked it up because it had a pretty cover and was about a lighthouse.

81Xw9NL0pGL‘The Starless Sea’ by Erin Morgenstern • You know, I went into this having absolutely no idea what to expect. There’s a secret library hidden beneath the earth, where there are people who spend their days reading, writing, and protecting stories. Most have found their way there by accident. Your story is there, too, but what if the book that recorded your story fell into your hands one day? Well, that’s what The Starless Sea is about, more or less. Now, there are parts of this that I absolutely adored – I think the idea is fantastic, and who wouldn’t want to go to a secret library under the world and spend their days reading and writing for as long as humanly possible? …surely it’s not just me? In any case, I’ve not read anything else by this author, but there were certain stylistic things that I didn’t super love… there were parts of it that felt a bit Alchemist-y, like the characters were about to go have a chat with the wind; but this didn’t rub me up the wrong way in the way The Alchemist did, it didn’t strike me as being quite so pretentious. (Honestly, no shade whatsoever, I know some people absolutely love that book but it just really wasn’t for me.) This was just a nice story to lose yourself in for a day or two, and it was really just what I needed when I found it. And for that reason alone, I can recommend it.

the-southern-book-club-s-guide-to-slaying-vampires‘The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires’ by Grady Hendrix • Hoo, boy. Where to start with this one. This was another one that I picked up because I liked the cover – I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but… that’s where the blurb is, what else are you supposed to judge it by? I’ve not read any of Grady Hendrix’s other books, but reading this has made me realise that I absolutely have to. Once I got started, I ended up absolutely devouring it in about two days – it really got its claws (or I guess I should say teeth) into me and made me forget about pretty much everything else I could be doing. Describing it is a little tricky – it’s not the most literary book I’ve ever read, it’s definitely on the… I don’t mean ‘trashy’ because that seems insulting, but it’s hard to know what I do mean. It’s sort of like if you took a cross between Steel Magnolias and Desperate Housewives, and shoved Count Dracula into the middle of it all. But Count Dracula looks like Alexander Skarsgård (…or at least, he did in my head). An absolutely gripping story that grabs you right from the very beginning. The men in the story are all pretty useless, and that can be a little irritating, but it’s set in one of the Carolinas in the early 90s so I suppose it’s not beyond the bounds of realism. Would definitely recommend if you’re looking for something to get lost in, and you don’t mind things getting a little… well, bloody.

Well, I hope there’s something there that you’ll find useful – I’d like to think I’ve piqued your interest with at least one of those. I also just wanted to take this opportunity to share my reading statistics for the year so far (see below). I know I’m probably not the most prolific reader you’ve ever come across, but for me this is a real return to form and damn it, I’m proud of myself.

Skärmavbild 2023-03-31 kl. 21.02.30

If you do end up reading one of these books and want to share your thoughts, as always feel free to leave a comment on this post, or reach out and find me on Twitter (while stocks last), Instagram and Mastodon (I’m sprakskatan on all three, I believe), and I’ll be back with another one of these next April. With even more statistics, maybe! Thank you all for reading, and take care of yourselves – until next month!

— J.


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