Since it's not like I'm doing any other writing today, I suppose I might as well do this:
What did you just finish?
Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk. A m/m romance combined with the story of a haunted house in the late Victorian age! Henry Strauss witnessed his family fall into debt and dismay due to the scams of fake mediums, and so has invented a machine that should replace the human element of summoning and exorcising spirits. Vincent Night is a medium haunted by the fact that, while possessed by a spirit, he murdered his mentor and father-figure. Together they are summoned to a haunted mansion in rural upstate New York for a contest of science vs Spiritualism: whoever can prove their methods more effective will win $500 and bragging rights, prizes which both men desperately need.
I really loved the idea of this, and the combination of Spiritualism and steampunk-ish gadgets worked very well. The worldbuilding was fantastic and could have held up a much longer book, the haunting was creepy and complex, and there was a good range of secondary characters. I was also impressed with the book's diversity; Vincent is Native American, Henry's cousin/assistant is a black woman, and another character is a transwoman, who is treated with a great deal of respect by the narrative.
The part I was least interested in, unfortunately, was the romance. It's not that I didn't like Henry and Vincent, or didn't think they had chemistry! It's just that while reading I felt a little like, "Wow, this crazy thing just happened with the ghost! Oh, I guess now we're pausing for a sex scene. If we must." The romance simply wasn't as compelling or as unique as the haunting storyline.
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur. The story of a middle-class wife in modern Delhi, who is absolutely determined to see herself as perfectly normal, even as her circumstances get more and more out of control. The book is told in first-person present-tense, and Mrs Sharma's voice is absolutely gripping, making it very hard to stop reading. Here she is describing herself:
Still, I know that I have to be careful not to take a wrong step. That is why I always say to Bobby, Watch your step. Watch each and every step you take. People will tell you to walk holding your head up high, but I think that you have to keep your eyes on the ground and watch where you put your foot. We hear it on the train daily, Mind the gap. When you get on to the train, Mind the gap. When you get off the train, Mind the gap.
My name is Mrs Renuka Sharma. I am thirty-seven years of age and a married lady. I am a respectable married lady who hails from a good family, and I have a child and a respectable job, and a mother-in-law and father-in-law. I am not a schoolgirl, and even when I was a schoolgirl, when I was Miss Renuka Mishra, even then I actually never did the types of things that other girls of my age did. There was no bunking school to meet a boy, or notes or love letters exchanged, or phone calls in the darkness when the grown ups were sleeping. And it was not that I could not catch the attention of the boys loitering around me. Actually, I was quite a pretty girl, quite a clever, pretty girl, and I don’t like to boast, but the truth is that I did break some hearts in the boys’ school on the opposite side of the road. Still, I think that I knew at that time, just like I know now, that such foolishness is timewaste.
Mrs Sharma's husband, like many Indians these days, is away working in Dubai, where he can earn more money than if he had remained in India. This has left her as the sole parent of their teenage son Bobby who, despite Mrs Sharma's deeply-held ambition to see him with a MBA working in an office, is more interested in drinking with his friends and learning to be a chef. Mrs Sharma strikes up a friendship with Vineet, a man her own age with whom she is at first only interested in finding platonic friendship. At first. Vineet proves to have a very different goal. As matters progress between her and Vineet, she finds more and more convoluted ways of maintaining her self-perception as a 'respectable woman', until it all finally erupts into disaster.
The ending felt too abrupt for me, and though I do think it works thematically, I still would have loved to see some of the repercussions play out. Ultimately though, this was an excellent book, and I am eager to read more by Kapur.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.
The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch. The long-awaited sixth book in the Rivers of London series, in which Peter Grant, a young mixed-race cop in London, discovers that magic, fairies, and ghosts are real, and ends up being recruited as England's only apprentice wizard. In this book, Lady Ty (the goddess of the river Tyburn) calls in a favor Peter owes her, asking him to keep her daughter's name out of the police investigation into a death by drug overdose at a party for rich teens. Peter, of course, does no such thing, and what seems like a simple accident soons turns out to involve lost manuscripts written by Isaac Newton, a secret tradition of female wizards, Reynard the fox (currently working as a low-level crook), and, of course, the Faceless Man (Peter's nemesis) and Lesley (Peter's former partner who seems to have joined the forces of evil).
This book was pretty heavily a case story, without much page time for other developments or character moments. I missed such scenes and particularly would have liked to see more Molly and Beverly (though what we do get of Bev is adorable and I really enjoyed it). On the other hand, Guleed plays a major role, which was great, and I really enjoyed some of the new characters (Dr Jennifer Vaughan and Caroline were my standouts).
In truth, I prefer the Rivers of London audiobooks to reading them, which is pretty much the only series I can say that about. But Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is just so absolutely fantastic at capturing Peter's voice that the written word loses something in comparison. This time I read the book because I wanted to be able to keep up with the fandom, but I am looking forward to eventually checking out the audio version as well.
What are you currently reading?
A Very Pukka Murder by Arjun Gaind. A light-hearted mystery novel set in 1909 India.
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