A Single Thread – Tracy Chevalier

Some authors become totally associated with just one type of fiction and can have a hard time branching out into other genres. Obviously, a middle initial (usually an M) can help (I’m looking at you, David Barnett and Joanne Harris) but some writers will forever be known as ‘the author of insert title of book which first made them famous’ no matter how good any of their subsequent books are. Sometimes this is a first novel, like Heller’s Catch-22, and, in the case of Tracy Chevalier, it was a second. I’ve read quite a lot of Chevalier’s books – although, contrarily, not Girl With a Pearl Earring – and I think it would be a shame to think of her primarily as a writer of historical fiction. Many of her books (like Burning Bright or Remarkable Creatures) are set in the past, and feature historical characters, but they have a lot to tell us about being a human at any time period. Her latest is set within living memory, in the early 1930s in a post-war era of ‘surplus women’.

9780008153816Violet Speedwell is a middle-aged woman who finally leaves her family home to work a few miles away in Winchester. She moves to get away from her overbearing mother and to try to be more independent: working as a secretary and living in a boarding house with other single women. Despite her spinsterhood, her drab clothing and her lack of money Violet is a rather modern woman – she mourns her brother and fianc√©, both killed in the Great War but has been known to meet strange men, who she refers to as ‘sherry men’, in hotel bars for brief liaisons and she successfully negotiates for better pay and conditions for herself and a colleague. Although initially surprised by a new friend’s romantic involvement with another woman she is accepting of their choices and helps them in their time of need. Her own yearning for love leads to a very difficult decision and yet another rather modern choice. Violet’s growing involvement with a group who are creating needlepoint kneelers and cushions for the Cathedral in Winchester is a theme throughout the whole book and it echoes the way that all the lives we see are part of a whole community, that each individual thread is entwined in a larger picture.

This is a lovely book which explores big themes of war, loss and the lives of women in a measured yet determined way. There are big changes in a society which has been torn apart by war, and then the Spanish flu, and is now trying to rebuild itself: a process Chevalier describes as a country ‘put back together like the Great West Window – defiant and superficially repaired’ but still, essentially damaged. Women, in particular, need to find a new place as the millions of missing mean leave more single women with the choice of working in those jobs available to them, marrying the men who remain (often either much older, much younger or, somehow, damaged by the war) or caring for their aging, and often grieving, parents. And, like so many good pieces of historical fiction, it shines light on how we deal with similar issues today.

Jane

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The Girl Who Speaks Bear – Sophie Anderson

I love the way that authors, by the detailed research they do into the setting of their books, can introduce us to new worlds, cultures and mythologies. In her first book, The House With Chicken Legs, Anderson introduced her readers to a world of Slavic mythology via the story of Baba Yaga, who guides the spirits of the dead into the next world. In this, her second novel, she leads us deeper into the forests of Eastern Europe with the tale of a girl who discovers that she is, in fact, the descendant of bears. I can’t find any specific folklore this story is linked to – although there are many tales involving bears – but it is magical enough to become a new tradition.

43893965._SY475_Yanka was found as very young child living in a cave with an old female bear. She has been raised with love by Mamochka but always feels like an outsider – she is bigger and stronger than the other children, so much so that they call her Yanka the Bear. So when her legs suddenly turn into bears’ legs she decides to travel into the Snow Forest to try and find out the truth about where she came from and who she is. Throughout her journey she meets characters and experiences events which mirror stories she has been told by Anatoly, a friend of Mamochka’s who lives deep in the forest, throughout her life: she is also accompanied by her house-weasel*, Mousetrap, and meets an Elk called Yuri and a wolf called Ivan. These unlikely friends find they will need to defeat Smey, the fire dragon, rescue the Lime Tree and, in doing so, save the life of Yanka’s closest friend, Sasha.

This a wonderful story – full of folklore and myth – which has enough adventure to keep any child over 8 or 9 years interested. But there is also enough depth to the story to fascinate an adult reader – folk-tales, after all, are easy to read but complex enough to keep you thinking long after the last page is turned.

Jane

 

*I mean, who hasn’t got a house weasel…….:-D

Expectation – Anna Hope

Anna Hope has only written a couple of books previously but I read and enjoyed them both – they were novels with a historical setting, one at the end of the Great War and the other just before that conflict and set in an asylum in the Bradford district. They were of particular interest to me because of their connection to history and my home-town and also because we hosted an event with Anna for The Ballroom. Her latest is a foray into contemporary (well, comtemporary-ish, the story covers a period beginning in the mid-90s which is now rather longer ago than many of us like to admit) fiction looking at the lives of three young women and the expectations they are trying to live up to.

40611121._SY475_Lissa, Hannah and Cate met at university in the 1990s and, like so many young women at that stage in their life, they are full of hopes, fears and plans. They are young, intelligent, politically active – bright lights of their generation – their lives are full of expectations. For themselves they expect satisfying careers, fulfilling relationships and to keep the friendships they have formed. It almost goes without saying that they expect to be treated as the equals of their male counterparts. Society, however, falls behind their feminist principles and its plans for all young women is, as ever, marriage, motherhood and, somehow, retaining their youth and beauty. The final interpretation of the book’s title, Expectation, is that of expecting a child – something which Hannah and her husband, Nathan, are desperate for. Lissa, an actress still waiting for her break, was once pregnant but ended it for the sake of her career and Cate, who also fell pregnant but married the father, and now struggles with what her place is in life – both women find they are made deeply uncomfortable by their friend’s single-minded quest for a child. Sisterhood falters in the face of obsession and husbands fail to understand their wives as the story reaches an emotional conclusion.

This is a well-written book which explores how modern women deal with age-old issues of motherhood and friendship. It has been written with intimate knowledge of a burning desire for a child and a need to explore the deeply-held political views of a generation and how they stand up to life as it is lived today. I was left considering not only my own female friendships but also how my own attitude to life has changed since I was in my twenties.

Jane

 

Here’s a new game: Literary Dystopia or news report?

Much of my recent holiday has been spent in pretty idyllic conditions – lovely weather, cream teas on tap, beautiful gardens and time spent with some of my favourite people – but one or two days were a little less than perfect weatherwise. Of course, they were the days that we were camping at a music festival – quite an adventure with very heavy rain, winds which were throwing tents, awnings and gazebos around the fields and the odd clap of thunder. There was even a moment, on the Saturday morning, when the festival organisers had to consider whether the event could go on – luckily their brilliant team made sure everything was safe to continue and, by the late afternoon, the sun had even put in an appearance! And what, you may ask, was I reading during all this exciting weather? Why dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels with strong threads of climate change and social upheaval going through them, of course! Written twenty-five years apart but both acting as uncanny mirrors to the current political situation in the States (where both books are set). I was reading them concurrently as one was in book form (for the daylight hours) and one on a Kindle Paperwhite (for after dark and those ‘it’s too windy to sleep’ moments…) which meant I should have had to make cultural shifts between books. The two books, however, shared so many themes and issues that the transitions were quite easy. The plots and characters were individual enough that I was never confused about which I was reading too!

Parable of the Sower – Octavia E Butler

9781472263667This book was originally published in 1993 but the world it depicts – California in the mid 2020s, torn apart by destructive climate change and drought and starkly divided into the haves (usually white and male) and the have-nots (children, females of all ages, those of non-European heritage…) – seems more like contemporary fiction than science-fiction at times. California has always been prone to drought and Butler, a native of the state, wrote this book at the end of a six-year dry period which must have made her research into the climate aspects of the story easier. The social aspects would have been the result of a life lived as a woman of colour – even in the more integrated areas like Sacramento she will have seen both prejudice and injustice towards those of African, Asian or even Native American origins.

The main character in the novel is Lauren, the daughter of a Baptist minister, who lives in a walled community with her family and a small number of others. The world outside of the community contains some jobs (not many, and not well-paid) but also huge amounts of danger from the truly destitute. This is a brutal world of drugs, rape, arson and starvation which makes life within the walled towns seem like a paradise. Inevitably, the towns are attacked, the homes burnt and the inhabitants killed – when this happens to Lauren’s home she must then escape, along with just two other survivors, to try and find a better life to the North where water is less scarce. As they travel they meet up with other travellers and the group eventually makes their way to a safer location, far from what remains of civilisation, and settle there to create a new community.

This book is definitely ‘speculative’ in the way it explores what a society divided by race, gender and economic power becomes when climate change and hyper-inflation deepen those divisions. Where it becomes more ‘science-fiction’ is in a condition which Lauren has – hyper-empathy. This is not empathy with emotions particularly but with pain and in such a violent world this causes her considerable problems. It is a secret from all but her family but, once she is on the road and must learn to kill or be killed, she has to reveal it to her companions. The other key aspect of the book is the force behind Lauren’s need to establish a new community which is based on religion. She has lost her belief in her father’s Baptist teachings and develops her own religion, Earthseed, which is based on the premise that God is Change and that humans can be agents of that change themselves. Her ultimate belief is that humans need to leave Earth behind and create their future in space.

Wanderers – Chuck Wendig

32603079._SY475_Wendig is not an author I’d come across before but when I waved my copy towards a writer friend during the music festival we were both at (reading on adjacent camping chairs – very rock and roll) she was familiar with, and enjoyed, his work. And, to be fair, there is a lot there to like. He does write books in the Star Wars franchise and a fair amount of roleplaying gaming stuff (which, I suspect, is where my writer friend knew him from) which I’m probably unlikely to read myself but his take on not so much a post-apocalyptic novel as a ‘during the apocalypse’ one is impressive.

This particular apocalypse takes two forms: first an unknown force which turns some individuals into sleepwalkers and the second, introduced later in the book, a deadly fungal disease with an almost 100% fatality rate. On the whole we follow the sleepwalkers, or rather the family and friends who accompany them since the walkers themselves are effectively locked away from the world (both physically and mentally), as they journey across America but we also see the fear that they arouse in a country which is becoming increasingly right-wing, religiously fundamentalist and, not to put too fine a point on it, racist. The sleepwalkers are an unknown so this fear is, in some ways, understandable but the response from groups who can only be described as white supremacists is much more terrifying to the reader. As the fungal disease begins to take its toll the rule of law breaks down and these extremist groups, and their stockpiled weapons, take over.

Obviously, I was rooting for the walkers and their followers, or shepherds, and the scientists from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) but the characters on the other side are chillingly realistically drawn. In particular Ozark Stover – a larger than life, charismatic, alt-right leader – and Matthew Bird, the preacher that Stover uses to drum up hate and fear for the walkers. Bird isn’t evil – he is manipulated and, eventually, brutalised, into preaching Stover’s brand of hate – but he is a great example of how the weak can be exploited (and his fight back is worth the wait). On the side of the walkers I liked Shana (sister and shepherd of the very first walker, a teenage girl named Nessie), an aging rock star who joins the walkers as a publicity stunt (but who stays when he becomes more involved with Shana and her family) and Marcy (an ex-policewoman whose brain injury seems to give her a tentative link to the walkers): none of them are on the side of the ‘goodies’ because of any political principles but because they love and care for the walkers themselves.

This is quite a substantial book – 800 pages – but I think it is worth reading. It is, in fact, considerably shorter than some of the other epic end of the world novels it has been compared to (The Stand was originally a mere 823 pages but current editions are a stonking 1344 pages long, The Passage is only 1000 pages but is just the first part of a trilogy…) and I think the slowish pace allowed us time to see how society tries so hard to carry on as normal in the face of impending doom. That said Wendig doesn’t pull any punches and there are quite a lot of scenes of violence (both physical and sexual) and some really horrific deaths from the fungal disease (known as White Mask due to the growths which appear on those infected). As I said, quite chillingly realistic in so many ways and yet this meant that the 800 pages flew by. Well, at least during daylight hours…

Jane

Cultural tourism

I’m on holiday this week (and was last week too) so have been taking the opportunity to do even more reading than usual – while also catching up with friends, family, gardens and various Waterstones stores around the country. We’ve been to a 50th birthday bash where there was a hog-roast and Rob joined in with the band, met an old schoolmate who I’ve not seen for nearly 40 years and seen virtually my entire family for a slap-up Sunday lunch at my Mum’s. There is nothing as good as a slap-up Sunday lunch at my mum’s….We’ve also been put to work in my sister’s allotment and Mum’s garden (so we have been earning all the great food) and done parkruns in Devon and Essex. I have also been working on a Twitter project which I call #booksellerontour – photos of me from Waterstones (and occasionally other bookshops) that we come across – I’ve done at least 5 in the last week and am hoping for a record-breaking three in two days when we go on to our final county….In the spirit of all this journeying and exploration of other cultures (well, I did try my cream teas in both the Cornish and Devonian styles – which surely counts as virtually anthropological experimentation) I thought I’d round up some books I’ve read recently which reflect cultures other than the one I was brought up in*.

The Bird King – G Willow Wilson

9781611856361I was a bit blown away by the first book I read by this author, a glorious blend of Middle-Eastern mythology, politics and techno-culture, so I was keen to see if this one was as good. While it doesn’t have exactly the same blend of ancient magic and modern danger it does have some similarities and, even more excitingly for me, it also has as element of historical fiction. Fatima is a favourite courtesan in the court of the last Sultan of Granada. She flees the Alhambra with her friend Hassan, whose maps can change the shape of reality, and they are closely followed by agents of the Spanish Inquisition. At this point the fantasy elements of the plot take over – although the dangers of being caught by their pursuers is always very real – with Hassan’s uncanny maps and a Djinn, Vikram, who accompanies them on their journey.

The main message I took from the book was that any decent society needs to be accepting of everyone, no matter what their gender, sexuality, religion or nationality. But the real glory of it is the way it is told – full of detail, texture and colour – this book is like the Islamic mosaics of the Alhambra Palace itself: complex, engrossing and beautifully satisfying.

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die – Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (translated Arunava Sinha)

9781529391008This is a short and punchy novella set in India which shows the women in an increasing amount of control. Somlata marries into a prestigious Bengali family but soon discovers that her husband (and none of the other men) have any idea of how to live in the current era rather than wallowing in their past glories. None of them work – or would ever consider working – and the whole family lives on the sale of land and gold jewellery (the women’s dowries…). When maiden aunt (the family member they all seem to have to obey) Pishima dies she seems to decide to haunt Somlata – although she does reveal the whereabouts of a hidden jewellery box – and, possibly, even become reborn in Somlata’s daughter, Boshon. Somlata, meanwhile, sets about using the gold she has been entrusted with to set up a business which will give the family both an income and, more importantly, a work-ethic.

This book shows an interesting development in the lives of women in a traditional society. Pishima, a child bride widowed before she was even a wife, has no power outside the family but controls them through sheer bloody-mindedness and the rumours of her mysterious horde of gold; Somlata, from a less ‘worthy’ family, is a quiet force of change bringing the family into a much more modern world where entrepreneurism and hard work are more useful than a proud family name. Boshon, finally, is a thoroughly modern girl who is determined to make her own way in the world without the need for a man. This book is short in length but opens up a whole world of thought.

Unmarriageable – Soniah Kamal

9780749024567It is a truth universally acknowledged that authors just can’t resist the urge to update the story of Pride and Prejudice. With zombies, with added chardonnay, moved to modern day Cincinnati – there are plenty to choose from and quite a few transfer the story to either a South Asian setting or community. I’ve read a lot of these retellings but I think Kamal’s is the best I’ve read so far. The connections with the original – names, relationships and so on – are kept but given a twist which is both contemporary (30 is a far more likely age for a modern Muslim girl to worry about being left on the shelf than 21) and in keeping with the culture of Pakistan (huge weddings, for example). In fact, although this is a thoroughly modern update I was reminded of how many things we think of as being typical of South Asian cultures – like arranged marriages and the importance of a young woman’s virtue – are pure Austen.

The Binat family has five daughters and we follow the lives of Alys and Jena in particular. They teach English at a girl’s school in a small Pakistani city – they teach the literature of Empire to girls who will, in many cases, never finish their education because they prefer to marry to cement their place in society – and are estranged from the wealthy side of their family. This allow us to see, even from the start of the book, that Kamal, like Austen before her, not only understands the world she lives in but understands the necessity of pointing out its faults and hypocrisies. Like the original we see all the main characters develop, show their good and bad sides and then either overcome them (Alys, Darsee, Mr Binat, for example) or totally live up to them (Wickaam and Lady) but some of the more minor ones are, in my opinion, made even stronger than they were in the original. The Lady Catherine equivilent is equally vile but the Anne de Bourgh one is given much more to do and I loved Sherry (the Asian Charlotte Lucas) – even more than I did the original.

All in all this is one of the best retellings of any classic novel I’ve ever read. My only niggle would be that why didn’t characters who all knew and loved Pride and Prejudice see how close their own names were to the Austen originals?

Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

9781529402636Finally, another piece of historical fantasy but this time set in Mexico in the late 1920s. For some this is the jazz age but not for Casiopea Tun: she and her widowed mother live with her maternal grandfather who rules over the whole extended family. Although nothing is more important than family to him it is only his grandson who shares any of his power: the women (and all the rest of his blood relatives are women) are, well, just women and Casiopea is also the daughter of a native Mexican man rather than being of ‘pure’ Hispanic origin. So far, so ‘Jazz Age, Mexican Cinderella’, but then the mythological elements of the plot burst out when – through a complicated set of circumstances – Casiopea releases one of the twin Mayan gods of death. Like you do…She and Hun-Kame, the god, are tied together by blood and bone and will both perish if they are unable to overthrow Hun-Kame’s twin who has usurped his role as god of the underworld.

This is a great big sweeping book which covers Mayan myth and folklore (or which, it turns out, I knew very little), the place of women in early twentieth century Mexican society and so much more. There is adventure, danger, romance and betrayal and some excellent characters. Casiopea is no shrinking violet – even when she is treated as a drudge she refuses to feel as if she deserves less of a future than her cousin – and although she physically weakens through the book she is a wonderfully strong and determined young woman. Hun-Kame begins as a totally god-like being with no concept of what life is like for humans but, as he spends longer with Casiopea and their shared blood and bone, he begins to develop a much more human side. But, when the end approaches, he has to choose between the two worlds.

Phew. That was quite a whistle-stop tour of cultures – from Moorish Spain to Mexico via the Indian sub-continent. A little like my recent tour of Waterstones stores, perhaps….

Jane

 

 

*Deepest Essex. Which I’m pretty sure counts as its own culture…

Crime Spree

After the mental sorbet of books about cats and the like I also tried to keep my energy levels up by reading some of the recent crop of crime novels. Here’s what I made of them…

Scrublands – Chris Hammer

Crime sub-genres which are connected to various countries and regions are still all the rage. Nordic-noir is still a thing – with Jo Nesbo leading the way – and there continue to be novels with a variety of Italian settings, where Venice or Sicily take centre stage as much as the featured detective but recently I have been enjoying a bit of crime down under in Australia. I think I’ve read all three Jane Harper novels and took a foray into Liane Moriarty’s crime-ish psychological thriller but my latest Aussie trip was with Chris Hammer. My conclusion is that, with Australian crime fiction, not only the landscape but the climate itself is a major character in the books.

37655505._SY475_The story is set in a small town which had been suffering dreadfully in an ongoing drought when events come to head with a tragic shooting. Shockingly, the shooter is the town’s priest who was then shot dead by the local police constable. Now a journalist, Martin Scarsden, arrives to write a piece on how the town is surviving a year on. He seems to be suffering with PTSD of some sort and this is meant to be a route back to his old life but he soon finds his investigative mojo returning as he digs deeper into that fatal day. The reasons behind the shooting have always been a mystery – did the priest take an unhealthy interest in the children he was helping? why did he kill the five men he did (while sparing others)? – but digging deeper just creates more questions. And as Martin gets to know the people of the town (some more intimately than others) he also finds that what benefits his journalistic career can affect the people he has come to know and respect.

This was a good read with a pleasingly complicated plot (I was so sure I knew why the priest had gone postal – I was 100% wrong) and strong characters. The strongest character? Australia itself – the landscape, the heat, the drought and the resilience of her people.

The Sleepwalker – Joseph Knox

43686663._SY475_This is Knox’s third Aiden Waits thriller and our (anti-)hero’s life seems to be going from bad to worse. He and his boss have been given the unenviable job of guarding a dying mass murderer, Martin Wick, when an attacker manages to breach security – killing Wick and one officer and seriously injuring Aiden’s boss, Sutty. The fact that Aiden was out of the room and is totally unharmed doesn’t endear him to his superiors – his copybook is already blotted with a string of drug and corruption offences – and they now pressure him into running an investigation into Wicks’ murder alongside the official one.¬† Aiden’s past and, in particular, his terrible childhood, are a large part of this book but the pressures of the present – political manoeuvring by senior officers, a female PC set to watch his every move and the fear of retribution from a powerful local drug lord – are what keep us on the edge of our seats. Aiden spends most of the book trying to plan his escape and trying to avoid being killed – I spent it never knowing which was the most likely to happen.

Knox has once again delivered a story full of plot twists and dramatic events. Aiden Watts is a deeply flawed character but I think we fully understand where his flaws came from and are willing him to prevail over the forces ranged against him. Does he succeed? Does he ride off into the sunset with a happy ending (and, just possibly, the girl)? I’m not telling – you’ll need to read this gripping series of books to find out.

Razia – Abda Khan

46282061._SY475_Not strictly speaking a crime novel Khan’s book features a young lawyer, Farah Jilani, who involves herself with the plight of a Pakistani girl who finds herself a modern slave. Which is definitely a crime. Farah meets the girl, Razia, at the home an important business contact and she quickly realises that the ‘housekeeper’ is, in fact, not a paid member of the family’s staff but a slave. When, with the help of the Pakistani High Commissioner, she is able to help Razia to escape and return to her family it seems that the story has nowhere further to go: but when the girl is arrested for drug smuggling Farah then decides to travel to Pakistan herself to complete the rescue she began in London. Once in Lahore Farah recruits the help of Ali Omar, a local lawyer who also understands the complex political and cultural background of the situation to try and rescue Razia, once again, but this time from a brutal prison system. Farah comes to realise that, although she thought she understood her Pakistani heritage, the reality is much more complex than she knew.

This is a fascinating novel which teaches us (as well as Farah) a lot about both modern slavery and life for the very poorest sectors of Pakistani society. Although, at times, the information aspects of the story can feel a little clunky the plot itself still manages to grip. I certainly felt I knew a lot more about modern slavery and the inequalities of Pakistani culture by the end. Abda Khan’s passion for highlighting these inequalities shines through very clearly.

Jane

 

 

Sorbets, to clear the book palate…

When I look at my list of books, my teetering ‘to be read’ pile, I have to make a number of decisions. I do try to read books within a short time of their publication date – preferably before, but possibly soon after- so I will start off by checking out upcoming titles but sometimes I will also need to decide how much time and energy I have. I love a big fat history book or something scientific but they do take quite a while to read and, sometimes a bit of an intellectual run-up. To be honest, I don’t think I’d have had the enthusiasm to read anything of that nature during the recent mayhem of the Bradford Literature Festival – I’d have managed about half a page each night before falling asleep and if I tried to read on the bus home I’d have ended up snoring in Halifax – so I have been reading a few shorter or lighter books.

Miracle on Cherry Hill – Sun-mi Hwang

45282030._SY475_I have read a couple of Korean author Sun-mi Hwuang’s novels. They are always physically slight, nothing much over 200 pages, but they are beautifully told stories which always seem to end up making me happy. They aren’t necessarily books with happy subjects – this one tells of Kang Dae-su, a successful and wealthy architect who returns to the place where he had been a poor and lonely child. He has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and is somewhat obsessed with punishing what he sees as the poor treatment he received as a child. Gradually, however, he comes to discover that he may not have seen the whole picture and, somewhat against his will, he meets more and more of the current residents of Cherry Hill: those who call the place home.

Kang is an interesting character – he plans to destroy the community which now takes him in but you don’t feel that he is a bad man. Despite his professional standing and the wealth and power he now possesses he is, at heart, the child who felt alone and abandoned to his fate. His return to his childhood home and the people he meets there show him that not only is he valued now but that his childhood was watched over by the community who welcome him back in without knowing his past. The ending is bittersweet – acknowledging that some of the ravages of time can never be repaired – but it does remind us of all the good which exists in the world, whether we are aware of it or not.

Full Steam Ahead, Felix – Kate Moore

41089034Felix the station cat is a bit of a Yorkshire celebrity – a fluffy, black and white moggy who lives on Huddersfield railway station. The station itself is a stunning piece of neo-classical Victorian architecture and is the second busiest in West Yorkshire – it gets both the usual commuters and those heading to and from Manchester airport – so the addition of a station cat (or Senior Pest Controller as she is known) can only add to its interest.

This is the second book about Felix. The first covered her early years at the station (which she moved to as a kitten) and the station staff she worked with there and, in this book we are reunited with many of those characters. Felix is a more mature cat at this point – a veteran of social media and a bit of a star – and the book looks at a lot of her interactions with both staff and passengers. Towards the end it is made clear that she is, in cat years, approaching a time in her life when she has to slow down, think of her own health and even change her diet to prevent a more sedentary lifestyle from causing her to gain an unhealthy amount of weight. Let’s face it, I could certainly relate the that! The station staff, who all seem to be genuinely fond of Felix, come up with plans to make her life easier..

This is a warm, cosy and, generally, unchallenging read. There are emotional parts – where Felix helps various people to overcome problems with health, anxiety or grief – but nothing too stressful. All in all a perfectly relaxing book to read to recover from a busy week or so of heavy festivalling.

Coming up….

I didn’t just read the short or comforting over the last month though. Next post will cover some of the crime novels I read to keep the blood pumping and my adrenaline levels up…

Jane