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January – May 2024 Reading Round Up

Apart from what I’ve previously discussed, the year’s reading so far has been great. Looking at this list there’s only one book I wasn’t keen on, The Priory Of The Orange Tree which I read in readalong fashion with a friend until Christmas. I then completed it quickly because it was starting to make all the grief feel never-ending (that is not a criticism of the book – it’s just that I had been reading it all that while) and so my friend fell behind but she’s since finished it, too, and felt similarly to me by the end of it. I posted a brief review to TikTok (I’ve lost my way there, it’s a lot more difficult than writing, I find) but plan to post a longer review here in time.

All books are works of fiction.

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Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: This Is How You Lose The Time War – In the far-flung future, two people meet each other across a battlefield and begin sending each other letters hidden in various technological ways. Over time – literally – they fall in love and try to work out how to have a life together when they both belong to different factions that are trying to mould the future to fit their desires. This book is fantastically done but it definitely requires a lot of attention; the description is sparse and much is left to the imagination.

Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ: Dazzling – In two dual timeline narratives we follow Treasure and Ozoemena – one girl whose father was killed, the other whose father has disappeared. We find out about their lives in the Nigerian Civil War and their lives beyond that. Ozoemena has been joined to the secretive leopard society and Treasure is being pressured by spirits; both are somewhat struggling at school. I’ll have to leave it there or risk spoiling the entirety – this is a great magical realism/fantasy/mythological story of two girls coming into their own and being more than what their society has created for them to be.

Diana Gabaldon: Voyager – With Brianna and Roger now second and third voices to help Claire decide what to do, she chooses to go back to Jamie. A lot has changed since she’s been away, for both Scotland and the Fraser family, and with Jamie hiding in plain sight from the authorities, it’s not going to be the same life she had before. So much going on that’s difficult not to spoil. I loved this book for the going-back-in-time-again aspect, and it was nice to get away from the book-length flashback of the previous, but there was one big issue I had with this book concerning a second marriage that did mean I had to pause for a week or so. Unfortunately I found the TV show version of the plot thread made it worse, but I did battle on and finish both. I am still generally happily reading the series and am looking forward to book four, I just could’ve done without the unbelieveable plot thread which was less believeable, to me, than the time travel…

Jacquie Bloese: The Golden Hour – In Victorian Brighton, Ellen and her brother take erotic photographs of women to sell abroad. Ellen comes across Lily who is struggling in an abusive household, and offers her money to pose – Lily takes her up on it so long as the photos do indeed go abroad. Meanwhile, Clementine, from America, is stuck in a disagreeable marriage to a man who won’t let her to anything she wants to do. This is an incredibly immersive book – great sense of location – about a fictional photography business and the music hall theatres that are fairly related, alongside a backdrop of the experiences of women of different classes, all looking to gain agency in their own lives. It’s very well done.

Jessica Bull: Miss Austen Investigates – Jane Austen comes back from a rendezvous with Tom Lefroy to a silent gathering – a woman has been murdered. Unhappy with the seeming lack of seriousness with which the magistrate starts dealing with the situation, Jane decides to do her own investigations much to the surprise and relative shock of the locals. This is a brilliant book, Bull’s homage to Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland, and, in the way that it looks at a book that was already a parody, a homage somewhat to Gothic fiction, too.

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Kate Weston: You May Now Kill The Bride – Five close friends go to a hen party (one of their own). The bride is killed. They then decide to go to another hen party anyway and now ‘inevitable’ happens. This is a very good whodunnit where the group of suspects are rarely apart from each other. It’s also rather funny.

Liz Fenwick: The Cornish House – Maddie and Hannah are grieving their husband and father respectively. And now Maddie has inherited a house all the way down in Cornwall; they go there – it’s a large old house and needs a lot of work but they could both do with a fresh start. There is also a rather attractive man around Maddie’s age who helps them out when they can’t find the house. This book, Fenwick’s debut, looks at the grieving process and how people move through it. It also sports some romance and there is a mystery element to the house that turns into a whole theme when it drags up stuff from the past that Maddie had thought she’d buried. A really nice, somewhat cosy, read with a great use of dialogue. I’d been wanting to read it for a few years, and I loved it.

Liz Fenwick: The Secret Shore – With all hands on deck for the war, Merry has become a map-maker for the war effort; she uses her abilities and local knowledge of Cornwall to assist with the plans for what would become the Normandy landings. And now, like many women, she suddenly has more agency over her life, but there is a choice to be made in regards to whether she stays single and able to have a career or gets married and loses it all, and there is a handsome American in the ranks who is starting to steal her heart. This is an almost epic tale of resilience in war and person with an excellent thread of female agency running throughout and a great use of Dorothy Sayers’ gentleman detective, too.

Manda Scott: Any Human Power – When Lan dies, she promises her grandson, Finn, that she will communicate with him after death. She soon finds the ability to do so – infiltrate the MMORPG they enjoyed with their online guild. But the promise she made in life means that Lan must linger and not move on. Years later, Lan’s granddaughter, who she never met, posts a controversial opinion on social media and suddenly the whole thing spirals out of control. The family must secure their property, but they also decide to further the politics and create their own manifesto, and Lan is there for it all, helping Finn as much as she can. This book hit me hard – I was grieving and Scott’s writing of death and grief is incredibly powerful. It’s a very up-to-the-minute book with a lot of discussion on how we can change the world for the better and why we must do so. There is also, in Lan’s presence, a constant thread of Shamanistic belief that runs throughout. Worth reading!

Matt Ottley: The Tree Of Ecstasy And Unbearable Sadness – A boy deals with bipolar disorder, his mind taking him to fantastical places. This is a wonderful graphic novel (or multi-model narrative as I believe Ottley calls it). The artwork is superb, the prose lovely, and the author/artist is also a composer; there’s a musical work to accompany the book; the whole experience is awesome.

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Natalie Jenner: Every Time We Say Goodbye – Vivian leaves Bloomsbury Books and moves to Italy to work in the film industry; the affects of WW2 are still there at Cinecitta, but for Vivian, her time is about being a success and also looking to find out what happened to her fiancé, who fought in the war. An interesting follow-up to Bloomsbury Girls that takes a well-loved character and moves her elsewhere for her very own storyline, this book features Jenner’s now-signature careful use of celebrities passed and steady focus on character development.

Nikki Marmery: Lilith – Thrown out of Eden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Lilith leaves Adam to his feelings of superiority and beings her search for the goddess she knows was taken from them both. This is a story stretching from Genesis to the present day and beyond and Marmery leaves you with an absolute wealth of information about early religion. It’s beautifully written to boot.

Samantha Shannon: The Priory Of The Orange Tree – The Nameless One is awakening and must be stopped. The kingdom of Berethnet is at odds with others but needs an heir; women inherit the throne. Meanwhile Ead is far from home protecting the Berethnet queen, Tani is preparing for her exams to become a dragon rider, and Niclays is trying to remain on the down-low. this was not a book for me; I didn’t find there to be much story, never got on with the characters, too many characters died to serve the plot, and so on.

Only one I didn’t enjoy very much, and I was disappointed because I’d been looking forward to reading it for so long, but the others were all great experiences. Over this, June, month, I’ve already read Mark Stay’s Witches Of Woodville series – at least the four books currently published – and am now reading both Susan Muaddi Darraj’s Behind You Is The Sea and Elaine Chiew’s The Light Between Us, both different genres and enjoyable.

Episode 100: Liz Fenwick

Charlie and Liz Fenwick (The Secret Shore) discuss the women cartographers who were fundamental in the Allies winning the Second World War and the way women at university at the time had to choose between their career and having a family. We also discuss Liz’s love of Cornwall, her use of Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night, and we go back a few times to the people who were involved in the secret flotillas that preceded the Normandy landings.

If you’re unable to use the media player above, this page has various other options for listening as well as the transcript.


Andrew Blackman

June 26, 2024, 10:49 am

Hi Charlie, That’s an interesting collection of reading. I haven’t read any of them, but there are a few that caught my eye—I particularly like the sound of Dazzling.

Also, TikTok for book reviews! I hadn’t really thought of it as a good medium for book chat, but I guess it could be. Do you prepare a script and read from that, or do you just start recording and talk about a book off the cuff? How does bookish TikTok compare with the world of book blogging in your experience?

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