Oh dear. It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve just had a peek at my last post and it was before Christmas – five weeks ago, in fact. Yes, I was at work for that brief burst of business around Christmas and the New Year (I had time to put in the sale, do a large stock return and put the Valentine’s Day display in – it’ll be there until March, I guess) but I have been furloughed since January 5th. I’ve been reading. Lots. And doing art, and cleaning, and Microsoft Jigsaw (oh boy, that little addiction is still going strong…). I’ve even made a detailed plan of all the jobs I can see I need to be doing around the house. I even added ‘write blog posts’ to the plan. But, as you can see, what I haven’t managed to do is write a blog post all year! Luckily, the year is not yet a month old – let’s hope I can get back on track (while getting my finger out, my nose to the grindstone and my ear to the ground. Let’s hope the lockdown gets lifted before that little lot totally ruins my spine…..) Here are some things I read since last year!
Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales From The Café – Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Follow up to Before The Coffee Gets Cold, these four linked stories tell of more people who need to use the Café Funiculi Funicula’s magical seat which allows those sitting there the chance to travel back in time (although not in space). Their stories involve them meeting wives, friends, family and lovers and giving themselves a sense of closure. We also learn more about the lives of those who run the café. This is a lovely gentle read – although, for maximum enjoyment, I’d suggest you should read the original book first.
D: A Tale of Two Worlds – Michel Faber
This is a quirky tale telling of a world where the letter D begins to disappear. Dhikilo is a young girl, originally from Somaliland, who is the first to notice – she has been used to her name being shortened to Dicky, or even Dick, but when your best friends start calling you Icky well, you know something is wrong. She sets out to solve this mystery with the aid of her history teacher (despite having been to his funeral) and his dog, a Labrador (or Sphinx) called Mrs Robinson. Her adventures reminded me (and many other readers apparently) of those of Alice, Milo or the Pevensie children but I think the self-knowledge she gains makes the book most similar to The Phantom Tollbooth.
This is a book for children* – a fact which I wasn’t aware of until after I read it – but it actually sits very comfortably with folk and fairy tales which, with their dangers and moral messages, are just as suitable for adults. And this could serve as a sort of gateway book to Faber’s other, absolutely definitely, adult books.
*Despite having a lot of Dickens references – many of which would be beyond the reading of the average pre-teen, I think. I read it despite this – I really don’t like Dickens….
Home Stretch – Graham Norton
I read and enjoyed Norton’s previous book, A Keeper, a thriller set in a small Irish town so I expected more of the same from this one. And, in many ways, it is similar – partly set in a small, fictional town in County Cork and with a cast of characters who need mysteries solved in order to be able to move forward with their lives. Where it is different is that much of the action takes place away from Ireland and also that the main character, Connor, is gay. In fact, I was surprised by the lack of gay characters in A Keeper, and Norton writes all his characters (gay or straight) well so this is a good thing on the whole.
Connor is one of only people who managed to walk away, relatively uninjured, from a car crash the day before his sister’s wedding. A day at the beach ends up killing the bride and leaves one girl unable to walk. Connor was driving the car and, in the way of small towns in most countries, the locals find it very hard to forgive him. Like so many young Irishmen before him (and since) he makes his way to the UK, firstly to Liverpool and then London, and then he moves on to New York. At least there he is free to admit to his sexuality and finds love, for a while. However, when his nephew Finbarr meets him in the States, Connor decides to go home and try to make his peace with his family and the community they live in.
Norton’s own voice shines through the writing (I love an author who can write with the lilt of Irish brogue) and this is a good read. I’m a fan of him as a comedian and presenter – I can now add ‘as an author’ to that list.
Death Awaits in Durham – Helen Cox
The latest book in a series I’ve very much enjoyed, this one sees Grace, heroine Kitt Hartley’s ex-assistant in the library, moving to Durham to further her education at a prestigious private college. Grace discovers that the murder of a student, the previous year, is still unsolved so decides that she should look into it. When Kitt comes to visit her they set out to investigate – interviewing the victim’s fiancé, the host of the radio show she was speaking to live on air when she was attacked and staff at the college. It soon becomes obvious that there is a mystery to solve and also that, once again, Kitt and Grace are in danger. With lots of Cox’s trademark humour and a satisfyingly obscure plot this is an entertaining read. My only issue was that there seemed to be one or two tiny, weenie liberties taken with the city of Durham itself – and that is only something I noticed because I lived and worked there for over a decade. I think I’m being a bit too fussy…
Phew. That was quite a catch-up. However, there are lots more reviews to do to bring you up to date. They will need to wait a day or so – hopefully you won’t have wait as long this time…