Before you say anything, I’m aware it would absolutely make sense to do these monthly reading round-ups at the end of the month rather than halfway through. Frankly, though, I think it’s time we freed ourselves from such conventions. When the urge to do something grabs you – assuming it doesn’t break the law, harm yourself or others, or trigger global thermonuclear war – then I say go with it.
And today, I have the urge to write this blog post. So, god damn it, I’m doing it. Here’s what I’ve read since the last reading round-up.
THE KAIJU PRESERVATION SOCIETY – JOHN SCALZI
I’ve been a fan of John Scalzi’s since reading his brilliant Redshirts (Currently just 99p on Kindle), and was very excited to start this. If you haven’t read Redshirts, it’s a sci-fi novel that is both a legitimately good story in its own right, but also a satire on Star Trek.
The Kaiju Preservation Society is similar in that it stands up as an action-packed but character driven story, but clearly draws inspiration from Jurassic Park and Godzilla movies. It has been described as “Jurassic Park meets Parks and Recreation” and while it’s nowhere near Parks & Rec level funny (but then, what is?), there are some nice humorous touches among all the giant monster action.
14 – PETER CLINES
In 14, the somewhat down-on-his-luck Nate moves to a new apartment in Los Angeles, and soon discovers that there’s something disturbing about the old brownstone building. Secrets lie behind every door, especially the heavily padlocked Apartment 14.
As Nate and the other tenants poke around, they begin to uncover a mystery that stretches back over a hundred years. A mystery that might just bring about the end of all life on Earth…
This was another fun read that really kept me guessing. Like with the Kaiju Preservation Society, there’s some alternate reality shenanigans to contend with, and the book makes no bones about the fact it’s a bit like a Scooby-Doo episode for discerning adults, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and am delighted there is another book – The Fold – set in the same universe, which I’ve already added to my Kindle library.
Get it on Amazon (not available on Bookshop.org)
NOTHING LEFT UNSAID – JANEY GODLEY
After back-to-back dimension hopping, I was very happy to be anchored back to reality with this debut novel from Scottish comedian, Janey Godley. Depending where you’re from, you may know Janey best for the “Frank, get the door,” voiceovers she did of Nicola Sturgeon during her Covid updates, or for protesting the visit of Donald Trump to Scotland with a handmade sign that captured the thoughts, hearts, and minds of millions.
Her debut novel is a clever mystery that flits back and forth between Glasgow in the 1970s and the present day. The present day story is told by Sharon, who has returned to Glasgow to be by the bedside of her mum, Senga, who is dying. Senga tells Sharon to look for her diary, and as Sharon reads, the events of Senna’s life play out are revealed.
While the book neatly builds a clever mystery to hang on, it’s ultimately a book about family, friendship, and loss. It’s also a book very much about what it was like to grow up in Scotland in the 70s, though as a child of the 80s I could identify with a lot of it.
It’s a poignant tale, full of heart, and as you’d expect from Janey, packed with humour, from wry observational character stuff to laugh-out-loud moments.
THE SPACE BETWEEN US – DOUG JOHNSTONE
The final book I read in the last month might well be my favourite. Doug Johnstone is a Scottish crime author, probably best known for his Skelfs series. In this book, he steps away from crime and into sci-fi, and the result is one of my favourite books of the year so far.
The story begins in Edinburgh, where several people all see a bright light in the sky, and simultaneously suffer strokes. Three of then – schoolboy Lennox, heavily pregnant Ava, and the grieving Heather – wake up in the same hospital ward. When they discover the source of the light on a beach in East Lothian, their lives become inexorably entangled.
Let me make one thing clear up front. This is not hard science fiction. At no point does the story get bogged down by the inner workings of warp drives, or the intricacies of alien civilisations. It’s a character-driven story set exclusively in Scotland, where one of the characters just happens to not be human.
The characters are perfectly observed, and Johnstone’s skill – as with his other books – lies in making you root for them all. Each has their own hardships they’re dealing with, from abusive husbands to suicide attempts, and the science fiction premise is the lens through which we see them work through these.
The chapters are short and switch between different characters’ points of view, and you find yourself powering through them, not necessarily because you need to know what happens next in the story, but because you need to know what happens to them. You need to know that these people you suddenly care about are going to make it through all this OK.
That’s it for this month. It was quite a sci-fi heavy month, so next month I’m delving more into crime, with new books from Gordon J. Brown, and Marion Todd. Let me know if you’ve ready any of the books above, and share your reading recommendations below.