Catch-Up Quickies 31

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

That’s the plan anyway and, despite a somewhat disturbing number of hospitalisations so far this year, I am soldiering on with it!

Title:  The Sentence
Author:  Louise Erdrich
Publisher:  Little, Brown Book Group UK, Corsair

Blurb:  In this stunning and timely novel, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich creates a wickedly funny ghost story, a tale of passion, of a complex marriage and of a woman’s relentless errors.

Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading ‘with murderous attention,’ must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation and furious reckoning.

The Sentence begins on All Souls’ Day 2019 and ends on All Souls’ Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

Review: This is a powerfully written story about a year in the life of Tookie, an Objibwe woman in Minneapolis, running a bookstore and being haunted by the ghost of one of her regular customers.

We start with Tookie in the bookstore and then are filled in on how she came to be there and her traumatic, formative experiences to date. Then we come to the ‘main’ plot of Flora – an indigenous-wannabe – haunting Tookie’s place of work. Except that the haunting isn’t the heart of the story at all.

Instead, this is a character-driven story about indigenous identities and cultural heritage; complicated personal relationships; Covid pandemic anxiety; the impact of George Floyd’s murder on POC and police communities (and the places they overlap), and more. It is about one turbulent year in the life of a troubled, struggling, modern American woman, and how she grapples with the internal and external conflicts she faces.

I found Tookie a little difficult to connect with as a main character, less due to her different life experiences and more because they have – naturally and understandably – made her quite prickly and defensive. I did get a better feel for her as the story-year progressed and she gradually developed with the new experiences along the way.

The writing is excellent and atmospheric and the issues raised are timely and important, but I do think it is better to come to this novel with the right expectations. I wouldn’t describe it as ‘wickedly funny’ (although there is humour within) or a ghost story (ditto), and I think if you go into the story expecting some sort of paranormal cosy mystery with wacky hijinks then you risk missing the fascination of this dive into the heart and mind of a difficult but infinitely interesting main character.

Purchase Link: The Sentence on Amazon

Title:  The Gifts That Bind Us
Author:  Caroline O’Donoghue
Publisher:  Walker Books

Blurb:  A spellbinding supernatural teen drama – and sequel to All Our Hidden Gifts.

Maeve and her friends have revealed their powers and banded together as a coven: Roe can pick locks, Lily sends sparks flying, Maeve can read minds and Fiona can heal any injury.

And even better than their newfound talents? Roe and Maeve are officially an item.

But with strange things happening at school, and old enemies appearing in new places, it soon becomes clear their powers are attracting all the wrong attention. It’s not long before Maeve’s gift start to wane, drained by someone – or something – that’s hiding even from her second sight…

The brilliant second installment in the Hidden Gifts series, with further titles to come.

Review: I absolutely loved All Our Hidden Gifts and was very excited when this sequel arrived.

Whereas in the first novel in the series the dark fantasy elements really gripped me from beginning to end, neatly weaving in and out of the coming of age drama, this time around it felt more like the novel was split into two distinct sections. The first half of the story focuses more on Maeve’s teen angst – all about feeling left out; friends moving on without you; struggling to cope with differences like race, gender, sex and magic. The pacing feels very much that of a character-driven, friendship-centred, journey-of-self-discovery drama… slow and exploratory. The fantasy side of the plot kicks in more around halfway through and from then on the second half of the book picks up speed and is pretty action-packed.

I felt really sad for Maeve and incredibly angry at what the Children of Brigid were propagandising, but otherwise didn’t feel as strong an emotional connection to this story as I did to the previous. Perhaps that is more my age talking than anything in the book, however, as my strongest emotions were my sympathy with the burning pain of teenagers who don’t trust themselves and can’t see a future they feel they deserve, and my relief that I am long past that stage in my own life!

The magic did still hold me transfixed and I am still eagerly anticipating the release of Every Gift a Curse in Feb 2023. I need to know what happens next!

Purchase Link: The Gifts That Bind Us on Amazon

Title:  Never Work with Animals
Author:  Gareth Steel
Publisher:  HarperCollins UK, Nonfiction, HarperElement

Blurb:  Imagine going from neurologist to dermatologist, orthopaedic surgeon to obstetrician, assassin to saviour – all in one day. Welcome to the extraordinary world of veterinary medicine…

In Never Work with Animals, vet Gareth Steel shares the moments of humour, horror and heroism across his 20-year career caring for creatures great and small, from bulls to stick insects.

Thought-provoking, heartwarming and often laugh-out-loud funny, this unforgettable memoir reveals what life is really like for our vets.

Review: The obvious comparison to this book would be the classic veterinary memoirs of James Herriot, but actually I would say this is more like an animal version of This is Going to Hurt – more modern and with more emphasis on the medical and financial realities of veterinary work, rather than the poignant, witty anecdotes… although those are definitely there too!

Gareth Steel gives a very real picture of the physically and emotionally draining, stressful world of a general practice vet. And when I say ‘very real’, I mean we get everything, all of the gritty gory bits – blood, guts and faeces.

We also get in-depth discussions of ethical issues surrounding pet- and livestock-keeping, TB, the impact of Covid-19, farming practices, breeding practices, specialist surgeries, euthanasia and more. At times, the book did feel a little bit dense with detail – medical and/or philosophical – in a way that made me feel like I was reading a lecture/study text rather than a memoir.

Honest and raw, this is a fascinating insight into modern veterinary work and would be ideal reading for anyone thinking of a career in the field or who is already on that path.

Purchase Link: Never Work with Animals on Amazon

Title:  Playing for Love
Author:  Jeevani Charika
Publisher:  HQ, HQ Digital

Blurb:  When Sam’s not working on her fledgling business, she spends her time secretly video-gaming. Her crush is famous gamer Blaze, and she’s thrilled when she’s teamed up with him in a virtual tournament.

But what Sam doesn’t know is that Blaze is the alter ego of Luke, her shy colleague – and he has a secret crush too.

Luke has a crush on Sam.
Sam has a crush on Blaze.

How will this game of love play out?

A fun, feel-good romance for fans of You’ve Got Mail, Helen Hoang, Jasmine Guillory and Lindsey Kelk!

Review: Luke and Sam have a lot in common, but they aren’t aware of it. Both have business worries and both have secret gamer lives that they hide behind their online avatars, Blaze and Bravura. Until they find themselves having to work together and all those secrets start tripping them up.

This is a light-hearted romcom, sweet and clean, which reads more like a teen/YA romance than an adult one. This is mainly down to the ‘two personalities’ shenanigans, rather than the gamer plotline (I love playing videogames myself and am firmly middle-aged!), as some of the conflicts it created felt a bit juvenile and manufactured rather than natural. And the romance only develops as far as some light kissing, so there is nothing youngsters couldn’t cope with.

Enjoyable and very easy to read, this sweet romance is about taking risks, being yourself and standing up for your dreams. And you don’t need to like gaming to have fun with Blaze and Bravura as they get to know each other.

Purchase Link: Playing for Love on Amazon

Title:  The Wedding Murders
Author:  Sarah Linlay
Publisher:  HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter

Blurb:  You are invited to the wedding of the season…

It’s the stuff of fairytales. A celebrity wedding in a grand manor house in the beautiful English countryside.

But then one guest goes missing.

And another almost dies.

Someone at this wedding will do anything to stop their dark secrets from being exposed.You might not live to tell the tale…

Review: A group of ex-boyband members with dark secrets in their past reunite for the wedding of one of them, but the old tensions simmer and eventually implode into murder, betrayal and all sorts of skeletons falling out of old closets.

As far as murder mysteries go, this was a perfectly okay one but it didn’t really blow me away, mainly because I didn’t feel any sort of connection – emotional or otherwise – to any of the characters, and the end reveal felt extremely far-fetched… I have no idea how the murderer intended to pull the whole thing off successfully!

It was an easy and entertaining read though, and I did enjoy the way the flashbacks to their music industry past of the Nineties were slipped into the modern day narrative to create an additional level of mystery.

I’d be likely to recommend this to someone looking for a quick, unrealistic murder mystery thriller with a touch of Nineties nostalgia.

Purchase Link: The Wedding Murders on Amazon

One literary ghost story, one YA fantasy, one veterinary memoir, one gamer romcom, one mystery thriller… which one takes your fancy?

Let me know which one you picked and what you thought of it in the comments below!

Until then, happy reading 🙂


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