I can’t keep up with my reading at the moment! I don’t review everything I read, but I want to use some of the books below for various challenges, so I thought I would do a handful of mini reviews to catch up. I read all these books before Christmas, and entirely failed to write reviews despite two weeks off work. Although I think they are probably all deserving of real reviews, I don’t think I will have a chance to do them justice before they fade from my memory. These books are…
Girl at War – Sara Nović
This book has been on my TBR ever since it came out, so when I saw it at the library I seized the opportunity. It’s set against the backdrop of the Croatian War of Independence (1991-5), and we follow central character Ana throughout two timelines, one occurring in her childhood in Zagreb at the outbreak of war, and one in her early adulthood in the US as she’s trying to come to terms with what happened during that period. I think I would have struggled to write a full review of this anyway – not because it isn’t good, but because there are events early on that would constitute spoilers but that are essential to understanding the novel. In short, I’m surprised to see this marketed as YA so often – other than having a young central character, I’m not really sure what’s YA about it. It’s bleak in places, as you would expect, and made for quite depressing reading, both in terms of the war it’s covering and the ongoing war in Ukraine. I don’t remember the Balkan wars of the early 90s (except as the blurriest memories of news footage), but I do have vivid mental images of contemporary war footage. I spent a lot of the book wondering and worrying about how much of this is currently true for Ukrainian children and young people. I think Ana, especially the Ana of the later timeline, is believable as a character shaped by traumatic experiences and trying to figure out how to overcome them. Not an earth-shatteringly brilliant book, but a period I knew little about and a well-told story.
The Postscript Murders – Elly Griffiths
I loved this audiobook – the first of Griffiths’ novels that I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be the last. It begins with the death – surely from natural causes? – of elderly Peggy, a “murder consultant” who provided advice for crime writers on how to kill their characters. Peggy is found by her carer, Natalka. Natalka, who is extremely brilliant and a bit bored with her job, gets suspicious of the circumstances and reports it to local police detective Harbinder Kaur. Thus begins a fantastic story involving a gang of amateur detectives (albeit given a sheen of legitimacy via Harbinder), cryptic clues, a literary festival, and a Golden Age crime novel. This read like a great update to the Golden Age murder mystery – not losing any of its charm, but presented in a modern setting. The audiobook format works – I found the assorted Scottish accents a bit doubtful, but overall I thought Nina Wadia did a lovely job with the narration. I liked that she subtly changed Harbinder’s voice with her parents compared to at work – lots of people do this, unconciously or consciously, and it was a nice detail. The characters have stayed with me for several weeks (not a guarantee with crime fiction), and I guessed some but not all of the solution, which is my preference with a mystery! I wish I’d been organised enough to write a proper review when I finished this, as I think it deserves more than this slapdash paragraph, but there you have it. This is the second of the Harbinder Kaur novels – I think it works well as a standalone, but I’ll be reading the first one soon because I enjoyed this so much!
Round Ireland with a Fridge – Tony Hawks
Tony Hawks is a British comedian, known to me mostly via Radio 4 panel shows. Although I don’t tend to read “celebrity” books I often make an exception for nonfiction by comedians, since they effectively write for a living, and it stands to reason that if I like their material, I like their writing. Right? Well, no, not always – I’ve had some disasters. This one was about middle-of-the-pack in terms of quality. The premise is all in the title: in 1988, Tony Hawks saw someone hitching with a fridge in Ireland. He commented to the Irish friend he was with that this seemed a tad optimistic, but his friend was unfazed by it. It became a bit of a habit for him to relate (and exaggerate) this anecdote on nights out with friends, until at last someone decided to call him on it, betting £100 that he would not be able to hitchhike around Ireland with a fridge over the course of a month. Hawks agreed to the bet, and went through with it even once he’d sobered up. He bought a (mini) fridge, flew to Ireland to meet it, and began his adventure. Basically, the book was fine. I won’t be reading any of Hawks’ other work – many people are funniest when being given silly things to do by Jack Dee, and apparently he’s one of them – but I’m glad I read it. If what I wanted was an armchair trip to Ireland, I think I got it. At least, I got a trip to some of its finest drinking establishments, since Hawks spends most of his non-hitching time in the pub. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, and it proved a light book that made a pleasant companion to my walks to and from work for a couple of weeks – nothing more, nothing less.
I do have some proper reviews in the works, so hopefully I will be caught up soon! I’m trying to get all my Wanderlust Bingo books reviewed (seven to go) so that I can join in with the new one.
The Postscript Murders sounds like an excellent premise!
It’s such a good route into a mystery – I really enjoyed it!
So glad you enjoyed The Postscript Murders – shows what excellent taste you have! 😉 I think you’ll like the first book too, though it’s more a take on a Gothic thriller than a Golden Age mystery. I loved it!
I’m really looking forward to the first book, and to exploring Griffiths’ work more generally!
Sara Nović — a Deaf author! I really loved her novel Tru-Biz, which covers all sorts of angles of D/deaf politics and life. I never read her first novel, however, because war novels bring me down in a way that doesn’t make me more aware.
Elly Griffiths — Kaur is often a female surname for Sikhs. Is that true of this novel? Also, as I read your mini review, I got a hint of The Thursday Murder Club from it.
Tony Hawks — Now, using a mini fridge just feels like cheating.
I didn’t know Nović was Deaf! I totally understand where you’re coming from about war novels. I do find that they make me more aware but there are other topics I enjoy altogether.
Yes, Harbinder Kaur is a Sikh. I’m not sure it’s really a Thursday Murder Club thing except in the basic sense of being a contemporary take on a Golden Age mystery – I think it has more in common with Agatha Christie’s mystery/thriller crossover novels.
Ha, the friend he made the bet with agreed he could take a mini fridge because it would fit in the back of an estate car. What I think does feel like cheating is the fact that, because Hawks was already a moderately well-known comedian, a national Irish radio station got behind his quest and provided daily updates, so that people would actively go out looking for him to give him a lift – this hardly counts as hitch hiking!
If people were going out to look for him to give him rides, that seems more like a scavenger hunt, ha! Find the traveling Irishman with the mini fridge.