April was very far from my best reading month… I only managed 6 books! None of them are likely to become a new favourite either. Oh well… let’s see what they were.
The 392 by Ashley Hickson-Lovence. Set entirely on a London bus travelling from Hoxton to Highbury and taking place over just 36 minutes, the events of The 392 unfold through a cast of charismatic characters coming from very different worlds. On the 392 are all the familiar faces you might expect to see on any bus ride through inner-city London in the grips of gentrification: delinquent school kids, the high- flyers, the weird, the wonderful and the homeless. These Londoners share two things: a bus journey and a threat. A threat which is ready to blow apart everything they know. This is very cleverly done. I could actually feel the tension. The constant switching between characters made it feels a bit choppy but it made perfect sense to do it that way. The ending was shocking and I’m not sure I liked it. This is definitely a thought-provoking book although I feel like Londoners will get more out of it than most. 3.5 stars.
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd. Bridie Devine – flame-haired, pipe-smoking detective extraordinaire- is haunted by her failure to solve her last case in time, resulting in the death of a child. Reluctantly she agrees to take on her most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors in this age of discovery. Winding her way through the sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing secrets about her past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot-tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where nothing is quite what it seems. I really enjoyed most of this book – Bridie is a fascinating character and the mystery was intriguing – but for me the end let it down. I was left completely confused by the resolution to one character’s story. Honestly the resolution made that entire side story feel entirely unnecessary. 3.5 stars.
The Memory Key by Liana Liu. Lora Mint is determined not to forget. Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return. But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would (which also means certain memories fade, just as they would naturally). Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? Or is her ability to remember every painful part of her past driving her slowly mad – burying the truth forever? This is a quick read and at least parts of it were intriguing. Unfortunately the world building wasn’t great – as in there wasn’t really much of it at all – and the characters are pretty bland. I also found the ending anticlimactic. It’s not a terrible book but I feel like a similar kind of thing has been done much better. 2.5 stars
Wilder Girls by Rory Power. It’s been eighteen months since Hetty and her schoolmates at the Raxter School for Girls were put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit – killing most of the teachers one at a time. The students reacted differently, their bodies turning strange and foreign, growing scales and extra spines. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything. But when Hetty’s best friend Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could ever have imagined. I enjoyed this book for the most part. It was creepy and disturbing and weird and I had so many theories about what was happening. Then it got to the end and it just… stopped. I hate abrupt endings that come out of nowhere! Where’s the rest of it? I need to know what happens next! This is a standalone so the end really is the end but there are still too many questions left open.It’s told from two perspectives, Hetty’s and Byatt’s and I felt like Byatt’s part was too short. After the author drops loads of hints about her past, Byatt’s side of the story just stopped (again with the abrupt endings). That aspect definitely needed to be fleshed out more. On the positive side it is well written and very intriguing just the initial intrigue doesn’t pay off with answers. (Although I was confused by the review that wanted to know how they ended up on the island – it’s literally a boarding school. They came there to go to school. That was the most obvious part for me!). 3 stars – which is a pity because until the end it could have been a 4. I listened to this on Scribd and it took me forever, which is part of the reason I read so few other books. Me and audiobooks do not get along!
Last to Die (Rizzolli and Isles #10). For the second time in his short life, Teddy Clock has survived a massacre. Two years ago, he barely escaped when his entire family was slaughtered. Now, at fourteen, in a hideous echo of the past, Teddy is the lone survivor of his foster family’s mass murder. Orphaned once more, the traumatized teenager has nowhere to turn—until the Boston PD puts detective Jane Rizzoli on the case. Jane spirits Teddy away to Evensong, a boarding school for emotionally traumatized children in the remote Maine wilderness. Forensic pathologist Maura Isles already has a connection with the school – Julian ‘Rat’ Perkins, the 16-year-old boy she met during a previous case, is now living there. At the school, Jane and Maura meet Will Yablonski and Claire Ward, students whose tragic pasts bear a shocking resemblance to Teddy’s. Could there be a connection between the cases? Jane and Maura soon discover that even a school protected by locked gates and acres of forest cannot shut out a gathering threat. And when three blood-spattered twig dolls are found hanging from a tree, they wonder if the threat comes from outside the school… or from within. It’s difficult to review this having not read (enough of) the previous ones in the series. There’s a lot of backstory that’s hinted at and semi-explained but I definitely would have needed to start from the beginning to really feel connected to the characters and understand what was going on. I have read a Rizzoli and Isles book before but that one was book 5 and the things I was missing in this one seem to have happened somewhere between that book and this one.
Anyway… the mystery itself was fine. There were a few too many character perspectives and it got a bit confusing but I did enjoy the school setting and the writing. Overall, this book was good but not great. Honestly I’m just not sure this series is for me based on the two I’ve read (admittedly out of order). 3 stars.
Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay. David Harwod’s wife, Jan, has been acting strangely recently and he’s been increasingly worried about her, so he’s pleased when she suggests they take their four-year-old son on a trip to a nearby amusement park. But what begins as a pleasant family outing turns into a nightmare after an inexplicable disappearance. A frantic search only leads to an even more shocking and harrowing turn of events. Until this terrifying moment, David Harwood is just a small-town reporter in need of a break. His paper, the Promise Falls Standard, is struggling to survive. Then he gets a lead that just might be the answer to his prayers: a potential scandal involving a controversial development project for the outskirts of this picturesque upstate New York town. It’s a hot-button issue that will surely sell papers and help reverse the Standard’s fortunes, but strangely, David’s editors keep shooting it down. Why? That’s a question no longer at the top of David’s list. Now the only thing he cares about is restoring his family. Desperate for any clue, David dives into his own investigation – and into a web of lies and deceit. For with every new piece of evidence he uncovers, David finds more questions – and moves ever closer to a shattering truth. This is very fast-paced with a lot of twists and turns. It certainly kept me interested wondering what was going to happen next. Some of those twists were less believable than others though. There was a lot going on and a lot of layers to unpick. I definitely found myself rolling my eyes a few times but it was a fun way to pass the time. I don’t regret reading it but it’s not one I would keep/read again (luckily I found it on a public bookcase so I didn’t pay money for it). 3 stars.
Total books read: 6, BIPOC/BAME authors: 3.
That means half were by BAME/BIPOC authors. Admittedly the actual number is lower than in any of the previous months of the year (4 each in January, February and March) but I’m calling it a win 😉 (Also, despite reading a book by her before, I hadn’t even realised Tess Gerritson was Asian-American until I happened to see the author picture in the back of this book. I usually pick books because they sound interesting and not because I’m going out of my way to only read white authors…)