Recursion by Blake Crouch

42046112Time travel techno thriller. An alliteration that promises entertainment. Well, it does when the author is Blake Crouch.

I read Dark Matter last year and it was thoroughly enjoyable, so I was excited when Recursion arrived in the post by the publisher.

Barry, an NYC cop, starts investigating a suicide caused by FMS, False Memory Syndrome. More and more people seem to get this disease, suddenly they find themselves with memories of another life and this memories are so real that they find it hard to distinguish between their lived reality and the memory reality.

The other story line follows, Helena, a scientist who wants to build a memory chair, to help with Alzheimer’s to hold on to their memories. A rich investor offers to assist her and she finds herself on a mysterious oil rig, with all the funds she could ever dream of, but also an inkling that things may be more sinister than she thought.

I actually read this on my birthday. We too the train to Liverpool for a day in galleries and eat food and drink coffee and the train journey is 90 minutes each way. And it was the perfect book for it. It really messes with your mind and the implications of time travel technology in the wrong hands: Let’s face it, we can never have such technology, even if it is possible, because humans would abuse it.

Like Dark Matter, it has the “must turn every page” effect that is essential for a book of this type. I mean, who wants to read a slow moving thriller. Ok, some people may be into that, but I for sure want to be at the edge of my seat, gripped and unable to put it down. And this book delivered just that.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

40725252It was not me who discovered Michelle Paver about five years ago, but my daughter when she pulled “The Wolf Brothers” off the shelf at our local library and then read all six books of the “Chronicles of Ancient Darkness” in short succession. So you may forgive me, that I had Michelle Paver down as a middle grade author until I saw Wakenhyrst on the shelf at the same library but this time in the adult section of “new and notable releases”. The magpie on the cover sealed the deal, because I adore the birds for their chatter and cheekiness.

The story starts in the 1960ies, when a journalist tries to uncover more details of the events in 1913 that lead an eminent historian Edward Stearne to be sent to Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital after committing a brutal and random murder. The journalist in the 1960, intrigued to find out more about Stearne after a historian finds some paintings by Stearne done during his time in Broadmoor. He comes to a different conclusion as to who committed the murder and thus we are thrown back to 1906. We meet Maud, the eldest daughter of Edward Stearne, who at the time is 9 years old. The whole family is under the thumb of Stearne who has imposed so many rules about what the family is allowed and not allowed to do. Maud tries to make sense of the goings on in the house and we work our way towards that fateful day in 1913 with utter relentlessness.

Paver demonstrates, that you can have unlikeable characters that are engaging. So often when a story features loathsome protagonists, authors forget that the reader still wants to find out why they do what the do, how they became the way they are and how they feel about the consequences of their actions. Naturally, Stearne is utterly unlikeable, a tyrant, he clearly has been mentally unstable all his life, but because he is financially independent, a landowner, a scholar, he can do pretty much whatever pleases him. As for Maude, I was never quite sure, how much I could trust her, but I certainly felt for her. Whatever she did, I could understand her reasoning, her motives.

Maud is caught up in the rules of the society of her time. Her father knows that she is intelligent, at the same time dismisses her as a stupid girl. She is self-educated because nobody cares to educate her, so she often comes to wrong conclusions. Utterly alone, she has no confidante, no support and when she turns to the stalwarts in her society for help, she is dismissed and threatened. It makes for a claustrophobic, dark experience, when you put yourself in Maud’s shoes.

I adored how Paver made the natural surroundings in the book of central importance to the characters: Stearne who fears the marsh and the fenland and Maud who feels truly herself when she is in the wildnerness of the fens, a forbidding place, but the only place she can truly be herself. Religion is an important aspect of the book, but nature is the true spirit in this book, where absolution and judgement takes place. Nature wins.

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Paver is a truly gifted storyteller, it is rare for me to read a book that I cannot put down and essentially, I read this in one sitting. So you may imagine my pleasure to realise that she has written more books for adults. And thus, the TBR has grown and I am delighted.

Fled by Meg Keneally

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It is a rare thing to read a historical fiction novel with a female main character that is truly a main character in her story (well, unless she is a Queen). And more often than not, when we have such a story, it comes entirely from an author’s imagination. I guess that is because so little is often known about women’s lives in the past, but I think it’s also a sign of publishing trends that there is simply not much published along these lines. A few each year, but more likely then not, women are portrayed in their relationship to the men in their lives, but I am glad to report, that Meg Keneally’s book could have never been called the Fisherman’s Daughter.

Jenny’s father was a fisherman and after his death, his daughters and wife are left to struggle on. The 18th century was brutal to women in general, but especially when left behind without “male” protection and income, society was simply designed for women to be dependent on men, so without that, Jenny’s life soon spirals into financial misery. Somehow she falls into becoming a robber on the highways, which inevitably ends her in court and then on a transportation ship.

Jenny has not been given many choices in life, but her will to survive and struggle for liberty is second to none. Even as a prisoner, Jenny rarely wavers in her sense of self and keeps a level of agency many female characters in novels lack: She is the engine that drives this story and this is what made it such a fantastic read. The book is harsh, unjust and brutal in places, but also just so full of hope.

The story is based on the life of Mary Bryant and the author outlines in the afterword the similarities and inspirations for the story and the reason why she decided to base a character on Mary rather than trying to tell Mary’s story. And I appreciated that a lot. I always prefer if a story is told in that way, as I find myself otherwise unpicking fact from fiction. But a word of warning: Try not read anything about Mary Bryant’s life as this will spoil some of the major plot points in the novel. And you would want to enjoy them without expecting them to happen.

Meg Keneally is an Australian author who has co-authored books with her father Tom Keneally, these books are highly rated and I shall get my hands on them soon. Fled is her solo debut.

Certainly a book, you should pack into your suitcase and take with you on your summer travels, or read it at home with a cup of tea and be grateful that you don’t live in the 18th century.

Published April 15th 2019 by Bonier Zaffre
Paperback, 400 pages

 

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

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I was wary of Underland at the beginning, as I normally reach for Macfarlane’s books when I cannot go exploring myself. Sort of a stand in adventure while bound to my desk for work or asthma keeping my indoors in winter. How would it work reading about him exploring terrain that I have absolutely no interest in exploring myself? Would I love it or would I be detached and disinterested?

Right from the beginning, I was greeted by the high level of writing. It is a bit like meeting up with an old friend, you sit down and pick up where you left off, even when it has been years. The writing is sublime. And the introduction to the Underlands is gentle, sharing his fascination, his motives for writing, he slowly guides us into the book. I loved visiting underground spaces in this way without the need for myself to get uncomfortable, wet or in a dangerous situation. Armchair travelling at its best.

Not all journeys take you literally underground, some are just left you wondering what’s underfoot and I certainly took that with me on my walks last week on holiday in Scotland. Oddly, I thought most about his words after climbing the hill to an old Iron Age Hillfort, pondering what lay beneath me and what memories the stones held that I was standing on. I don’t think, I ever really gave that much thought to what is under my feet than that what lies before my eyes when out walking. And quite frankly that change in perspective was refreshing.

It also got me thinking about my own place in the world, what legacy I will leave behind. What impact I can have to safeguard, to protect and to pass on. And this is where the real strength of any good book comes from: The moment you put it down, it still occupies your thoughts, you carry its wisdom with you and phrases pop into your head when you are doing other things.

Certainly a book for me that I will revisit over and over again, preferably reading out passages to my husband, because the writing is just so wonderful. And we shall keep going out and find beauty and be still.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Hardcover, 280 pages
Expected publication: May 2nd 2019 by Hamish Hamilton

 

If you like C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake (28th March 2019)

It has been nice to see so many people picking up the Shardlake series recently on booktube and instagram. I remember when I first read Dissolution many years ago, I was so smitten with it, I immediately started looking for books that were similar. And this has continued to this day. So I thought I share today some of the books that I think may appeal if you like C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series, set in Henry VIII’s England.

S.J. Parris’ Giordano Bruno Series

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The first book in the series is called “Heresy” and sets the tone nicely for the overarching theme of the book: Religious tensions leading to political intrigue. We are in Elizabeth I’s England and the religious situation for those of Catholic (or other faith’s) is difficult in England and all over Europe religious tensions are growing. Giordano Bruno was a real person and he really came to England and Parris weaves a wonderful fictional world around him. A former monk, he was on the run from the Inquisition in Italy and sought refuge in England. Officially, he is in England to take part in a debate about Copernicus’ findings, but then some grizzly murders happen and he starts to investigate.

There are currently 5 books out and book 6 is scheduled for publication later in the year.

Publisher: HarperCollins

 


PF Chisholm’s Sir Robert Carey Series

We stay in Elizabethan England for this series, but venture north. Sir Robert Carey is another real historical figure and with a modicum of creative license Chisholm brings him alive wonderfully in this series. I was instantly smitten with this daring, intelligent man – even though he is also a bit stupid. His father was the first cousin of Elizabeth, some rumours say half brother, Tudor family politics are nothing if not complicated. In 1596 towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, Carey is appointed as Warden of the Middle Marches which is essentially the border region with Scotland. An area of great unrest at that time, skirmishes between Scots and English on a daily basis, chief amongst them cattle theft. In the books, Carey arrives into a badly managed fort with people on his forces that have rather different allegiances and priorities than serving their Queen.

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There are 9 books in the series, the most recent one only published last year.

Published by Head of Zeus and Poisoned Pen Press.


Ellis Peter’s Cadfael

Before there was Shardlake, there was Cadfael. I discovered the Cadfael series as a teenager back in the 80ies and I was a loyal devotee from the first book. The series was hugely popular in Germany, Germans do love historical fiction set in the Middle Ages and you will find the historical fiction section full of titles like this. What I loved the most about Peter’s books was the sense of place. She evokes Shrewsbury of the 12th century so vividly, it is just such a joy to read. We follow Cadfael a Benedictine monk, a conversus who only joined the order in his 40ies and was a warrior in the crusades before. As someone who always has been interested in herbs and their properties, I loved the little side notes on Cadfael’s herbal preparations for healing. Peters sets Cadfael’s chronicles in the year’s of the Anarchy, 1137 to 1145, a turbulent time and in particular what is now Shropshire saw itself frequently torn between the factions. Needless to say that murders happen in each of the novels, but Peters skilfully weaves the wider historical aspects and conflicts into the story. A joy to read.

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There are 20 books in the series and some short stories.

Publisher, various imprints, now Macmillan


SG MacLean’s Alexander Seaton series

We are leaving the Middle Ages behind and move to 17th century Scotland. Alexander Seaton is set to become a minister of the Kirk, but due to a revelation of an event in his past, the Session rejects his application. Set in Banff in the 1620ies, Maclean masterfully brings Scotland alive, no dashing Highlanders sweeping time travellers of their feet, but a young scholar plagued with guilt desperately trying to redeem himself and to get a grip of his guilt. When one of his last remaining friends is accused of murder, Alexander tries to prove his innocence. I have rarely read a book that both gave me such insight into events of a historical period I had little idea of, but at the same time also really made me understand how people thought at the time. I read all the books in this series in short succession and then moved on to her next series (which you will find below).

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There are 4 books in this series and the series is complete.

Published by Quercus


SG Maclean’s Seeker series

Yes, I mention the same author twice, because I truly love her books and in my personal opinion her books are far too underrated and deserve a wider audience.

Damian Seeker is an officer in Cromwell’s army. The series starts in 1654 during Cromwell’s Protectorate (which ends in 1660 with the Restoration of the Monarchy) and a murder happens in one of London’s new coffee houses. Seeker investigates as it may be linked to a wider conspiracy to bring back the King.  Intrigue, betrayal and murder. I love how we get to know Seeker slowly, he is a mystery that needs to be solved as well, some excellent female characters in this series too, in particular a female villain, we love to hate.

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There are currently 3 books in the series and book 4 (The Bear Pit) is coming out in July 2019

Published by Quercus


Ruth Downie’s Medicus series

I am currently listening to this series after having read them a few years ago. Highly addictive material. Ruso, a doctor with the Roman Legions, arrives in today’s Chester virtually broke, just having lost his father and divorcing his wife. He was not particularly keen to end up in this outpost of the Roman Empire, but needs must. Within days of his arrival, he finds a female corpse that no one wants to deal with and then he saves a slave girl and that adds to his troubles. His boss, Deva is also constantly on his case and, yes, he continues to be broke. I absolutely love this series and how Downie imagines Roman Britain.

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Currently 8 books in the series, the most recent one published last year.

Published by Bloomsbury


There are more books I could talk about, but I think I keep it at this length for now. Any books you want to add? Any series, I should be aware off? Any great new first book in series coming out? Please let me know in the comments.

 

And mother is dead

We were reading Pippi Longstocking. The child then about 4 asked: But what happened to Pippi’s Mommy. Me: She is dead. Child: Ah ok, at least Pippi has a horse and a monkey. Yes, indeed, dear child of mine, she does have that.  At that age, the fact that mothers were quite often dead and fathers were mostly absent did not bother the kid. That came later, once her own mother nearly succumbed to pneumonia, the possibility of a parent dying became something tangible and for a long time, she avoided narratives with dead mothers like the plague. And let me tell you: finding stories with parents around and healthy is quite difficult.

Now, I understand why parents in children’s books are often dead or away: It makes it easier to explain how the kid can take such tremendous risks, go on adventures without anyone shouting “bedtime” or “brush your teeth”. It is just simpler and more straightforward if there are no parents. A lot less explaining to do.

20893529And the whole dead and absent parent thing is not new at all. Look at the Little Princess. Heidi moves in with Grandpa after her aunt takes a job in Frankfurt, both her parents are dead. Before that, the brother’s Grimm collected folk stories and a lot of them speak of absent, dead or cruel parents, which you may argue reflected reality for a lot of children then.

When I was little, I preferred stories of whole families, because I did not have one. The dead/absent parent thing was not something I needed to explore, nor did I need to explore the cruel parent thing. I wanted to be Annika rather than Pippi with a mother who tucks the kids at night and a father who leaves to go to work each morning. I wanted to be the Nesthaekchen, adored by a large family even though she was a lot naughtier than I would have ever been. As much as we seek reading material that reflect our lives, we also want to explore what life could be like. If you have healthy parents, exploring how to overcome hardship after your parents die will be fascinating. It teaches empathy and the “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”. It also teaches you about independence, consequences of decisions without the parental safety net. You can also explore how it would be to be brave or ask yourself what you would do yourself in certain situations, this being something I still often ask myself as an adult reader.

I admit that at times, I groan when there is another story of “mother is dead and father is away”, but I truly understand the doors it opens for storytelling. I am not quite ready to say “The mother is dead, long live the mother”, but I feel we need to accept that this aspect of storytelling will stay with us for good and for valid reasons.

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

39087664The latest Maisie Dobbs – The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear is coming out on the 26th of March and I was lucky enough to get a review copy via Edelweiss. Thank you so much.

Naturally, I do not want to talk to much about the plot, this is book 15 in the series and naturally, things happen along the way, you would want to find out for yourself as you are reading them. Let’s just say this: The Blitz has started and London (and the rest of the country) experiences horrific bombing attacks each and every night. Everyone is tired but doing their bit despite the fear. At this time, a young woman is found murdered and Maisie is asked to investigate.

I have read this series for a long time, so I am always in the state of waiting for the next instalment, but I really like it that way. Every time it feels like I am meeting my old friends again. The books are easy to read, brilliant for escapism yet they deal with subjects like grief and loss, but are never without hope. In fact, I would say the main storylines of these books are resilience, failing and starting again. Certainly something I can identify with.

The Maisie Dobbs books are often looked down upon by more “serious” readers, and yes, they are not literary fiction, but so often the things women enjoy to do or read is being ridiculed, so we must just ignore that. Otherwise, we never get to do anything we truly enjoy. If you like historical mysteries, then you may just like this series. If you just want to sit down and read something that takes you away for a few hours, then these books may be for you. Whether you will enjoy the books or not will depend on whether or not, you gel with Maisie herself. I do. I find a lot of things in common with her, but also plenty that frustrates me about her. And that keeps me reading.

This latest instalment I read in one sitting as I did with all the other books. I am looking forward what the rest of WWII will bring to Maisie and her family and friends.


ebook, 384 pages

Expected publication: March 26th 2019 by Harper