Top Ten Tuesday: My Ten Most Recent Reads

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Previous Top Ten Tuesday Topics

So, a quick post this week, catching up on the last ten books that I have read, reviewed or (in the main) un-reviewed because, as I have said so often, I am struggling to find time to keep up to date with my reviews on top of various other pressures.

So, this is a useful summary and a reminder to myself of the reviews I need to catch up on.

Echo Mountain, Lauren Wolk

1933. When Ellie and her family lose everything, they flee to Echo Mountain. Ellie runs wild, exploring the mountain’s mysteries. But the one she can’t solve is who’s leaving the gifts for her: tiny wooden carvings of animals and flowers, dotted around the mountain for her to find.

Then Ellie’s father has a terrible accident. When she sets out to find a cure for him, she discovers Cate, the outcast witch, and Larkin, a wild mountain boy. From them she learns about being a healer, being brave – and how there can be more to a person than first meets the eye.

I loved this book, which is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and the depiction of life in the Maine mountains during the 1930s Great Depression. I also love the cover! Ellie, the 12 year-old heroine’s discovery of the fire in her heart guiding her to save her dog, Cate, “the hag” in the mountains, and her own comatose father was lovely. There was a revelation about Cate’s identity which did really irk me – I literally said “No, no, no!” out loud as I read – because it was both unnecessary and sentimental, but overall a great read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Right Ho, Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse

Bertie is feeling most put out when he finds that his friend Gussie is seeking relationship advice from Jeeves. Meanwhile Aunt Dahlia has asked Bertie to present awards at a school prize-giving ceremony. In a stroke of genius, Bertie realises he can kill two birds with one stone, palming off his prize-giving duties to Gussie by assuring him that the object of his affections will be there.

Several terrible misunderstandings later and facing chaos, Bertie turns, yet again, to Jeeves who swiftly and ingeniously saves the day.

I adored the ITV adaptation of Wodehouse’s iconic novels, but had never read them. I figured that with lockdown and work – and following an episode of A Good Read on Radio 4 where it was featured – I thought it was time to explore. It was an odd experience, a little slow and irritating to begin with and I wondered how invested I could get in a bunch of silly toffs; but then it did also cause some genuine out-loud giggles at the silliness.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan

When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves:

– a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children;
– Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room;
– Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks;
– money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections.

Exciting times ensue.

I’m not sure how “exciting” these times were, but I did love the voice of the protagonist, Ava, a dry and witty narrator whose personal life bleeds into the grammar lessons she gives to the students in her ESL classes. Her best moments, perhaps, are those comments about language and its quiet invidious power.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

There are few books that I would choose to re-read and find that they rewarded that re-reading. Wolf Hall is absolutely one of those and this was a re-read specifically to review and yet, here we are, still without a review posted. But Mantel’s language, her character of Cromwell, her marrying of the concrete – oh! the boot on the opening pages! – and the lyrical is exceptional.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Into the Drowning Deep, Mira Grant

Seven years ago the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary, bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend.

It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a tragedy; others have called it a hoax.

Now, a new crew has been assembled to investigate. And they’ll discover that whatever is down there is definitely no joke . . .

I had such high hopes for this novel: I’d devoured Grant’s Feed trilogy and it had had such good reviews… but I found it a little boring and tedious to be honest. Two-dimensional and unconvincing characters. Cliched tropes. Repetitive language… How many times do I need to be told that these mermaids had too many teeth?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

On Midnight Beach, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Donegal, 1976

When a dolphin takes up residence in Carrig Cove, Emer and her best friend, Fee, feel like they have an instant connection with it. Then Dog Cullen and his sidekick, Kit, turn up, and the four friends begin to sneak out at midnight to go down to the beach, daring each other to swim closer and closer to the creature . . .

But the fame and fortune the dolphin brings to their small village builds resentment amongst their neighbours across the bay, and the summer days get longer and hotter . . . There is something wild and intense in the air. Love feels fierce, old hatreds fester, and suddenly everything feels worth fighting for.

Back to the Carnegie Medal longlist and I loved this one! Ireland in the 1970s, the claustrophobia of a small town, the backdrop of The Troubles, the mythic re-tellings from Celtic myths I was obsessed with in my youth. Dog Cullen was a great and vivid depiction of Cu Chullain.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Luster, Raven Leilani

Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.

Book Prize Longlists – the Booker and the Women’s Prize – seemed to contain a number of similar novels in the past few years, exploring the conflict between rich privileged white characters and poor working class black women in their sexual realtionships. Luster is one in that tradition along with Queenie and Such a Fun Age. Edie was perhaps a less funny protagonist that Queenie but just as engaging, and Leilani was a better writer than Kiley Reid – her descriptions of Edie’s art were wonderful, even if some of the set pieces were a little strained.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

False Value, Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is facing fatherhood, and an uncertain future, with equal amounts of panic and enthusiasm.

Leaving his old police life behind, he takes a job with Silicon Valley tech genius Terrence Skinner’s new London start up: the Serious Cybernetics Corporation.

Drawn into the orbit of Old Street’s famous ‘silicon roundabout’, Peter must learn how to blend in with people who are both civilians and geekier than he is. Compared to his last job, Peter thinks it should be a doddle.

But magic is not finished with the Met’s first trainee wizard in fifty years…

I had thought we were done with the Rivers of London series after Lies Sleeping, and the resolution of the Faceless Man arc but it seems not. I was put off a little by the blurb: Peter Grant out of the police force, a Rivers of London novel without Nightingale, didn’t seem right. Fortunately it did not take long to realise that Peter was working undercover at SCC and there was plenty of Nightingale to go around – or The Nightingale – as well as magical librarians.

Great fun – the more stand alone novels in the series often worked best in my opinion – and it did explore some of the complexities of Peter and Beverley’s relationship and her inherent Godliness.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

When glamorous socialite Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be rescued from a mysterious doom, it’s clear something is desperately amiss. Catalina has always had a flair for the dramatic, but her claims that her husband is poisoning her and her visions of restless ghosts seem remarkable, even for her.

Noemí’s heads to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, determined to discover what is so affecting her cousin.

Golly, Moreno-Garcia can write! And she can write violation at a deeply visceral level. This is what it says on the tin: a classic Gothic novel set in Mexico and it features all the tropes you might expect. An isolated house, a tyrannical patriarch, a blurring of dream and reality. At first I thought the focus on dresses was unnecessary but it worked to highlight the conflict between the frivolous life Noemí had been living in Mexico City, and the darkness in High Place – and to turn the dresses into a form of armour and strength.

The novel did lose me a little in the attempt to rationalise the horrors of High Place. For my taste, I prefer an unexplained horror onto which I can layer my own interpretations – as in Dracula – and did not need to have pages dedicated to explaining.

But it might need a range of trigger warnings!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has to start over in a synthetic body, in a world where her kind are illegal. She’s never felt so alone.

But she’s not alone, not really. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall Lovelace, is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that, huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

Picking up the Wayfarers series with book 2, I took a couple of chapters to re-orient myself into the world-building. The AI Lovey had become Lovelace and downloaded into a synthetic body and re-named herself Sidra, and this novel explores her life after that – her attempts to come to terms with who and what she is, the limitations of having a body – and interspersed with that is Pepper’s back story as Jane. Names and naming were a key feature of this novel.

I loved it as a heart warming enjoyable read: there was no antagonist as such except perhaps life’s own hardships and vicissitudes and the thoughtless cruelties of faceless organisations who fail to recognise people as people unless they fall into a limited category. And as we switch into a heist story towards the end, you are deeply invested in these people.

I also found that Lovelace’s hypervigilance, her sense of safety in positioning herself in corners of the room, chimed a lot with some aspects of neuroatypicality.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I would love to hear your comments on these books: have you read any and do you agree or disagree with my mini reviews? I will also be browsing other TTT lists with pen in hand to expand my ever-expanding TBR list!

Upcoming Top Ten Tuesday Topics

  • May 11: Books with Nature on the Cover (flowers, trees, landscapes, animals, etc.)
  • May 18: Book Titles That Are Complete Sentences (Submitted by Jessica @ A Cocoon of Books)
  • May 25: Book Quotes that Fit X Theme (Pick any theme you want, i.e., motivational quotes, romantic dialogues, hunger-inducing quotes, quotes that fill you with hope, quotes on defeating adversity, quotes that present strong emotions, healing, etc. and then select quotes from books that fit that theme.)

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