Monday, 31 March 2014

What I read in March

Sometimes holidays are fuel for my literary fire. Long flights, lazy days by a pool, all good for ramping up my read count. Ski holidays, however, are not so good. And I've been on a ski holiday this month. I took several recent purchases, envisaging evenings spent relaxing in my mountainside chalet, drinking French red, and roaring my way through a book or three.

However, I spent my trip hitting the slopes hard, overindulging at dinner, staying up late playing raucous board games, and soothing my aching limbs with a bucketload of Deep Heat. All good stuff. But it does mean I've only read 4 books this month. And one was very short.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler (Hardback) 7/10 

This was my book club's March selection and we were lucky enough to be given free copies by Books on the Underground. Reception was mixed but I really enjoyed this book, about a young woman named Rosemary who had a sister the same age as her, but who is now gone. 

This book has a twist and at book club we had lots of conflicting opinions about whether or not it was a better read if you knew the twist in advance. I'm sticking with no, so I won't spoil it here, but am happy to privately if you simply must know!

I really enjoyed this book, more for the writing than the twist. Rosemary is an unreliable narrator, you know it from the start and I kinda like that. Her journey as she delves into her family history will likely have you thinking about your own, though I doubt yours are even remotely as wild as hers.

The Lifeboat - Charlotte Rogan (Paperback) 8/10

I've had this on my wishlist for a while and picked it up cheap online last month. I'm so pleased I did because it had me gripped from the first page.

Grace Winter is sailing to America with her new husband to meet his family for the first time. But when tragedy strikes, the ocean liner sinks, and Grace finds herself adrift at sea in a lifeboat whose inhabitants quickly realise is over capacity.

The story followers the passengers as they form and break bonds, rationalise their decisions and take drastic steps in order to ensure their survival over three weeks in the ocean.

The writing here is so good that I actually found myself shivering or feeling queasy and parched at Rogan's descriptions of survival at sea.

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell (Paperback) 10/10

I don't read a huge amount of YA but I've heard a lot of good things about Rainbow Rowell so I picked this up last weekend for a flight home from Aberdeen.

This is one of those books that you cancel plans for. That you stay up later for. That you eke out a longer lie-in for longer for. And it's my first 10/10 rating in 2014!

Fangirl is about Cath and her twin sister Wren, who are leaving home for college and a new life of dorm rooms and assignments and parties. Cath isn't as outgoing as Wren, and spends most of her time in the fantasy world of the fan-fiction she writes, but she must learn to find her place in the real world too. To make friends, to stretch herself as a writer, and to fall in love for the first time.

Full of cult references that made me grin, and descriptions of boys and kisses that made me ache to be 18 again, I myself am a bona fide Fangirl fangirl. I actually felt distraught to finish this book as I loved the characters so much. I tweeted the author to ask if there'd be a sequel and was over the moon when she replied to tell me that there "Sorrrrt of. Mayyyyybe." Literally. Cannot. Wait.

Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill (Hardback) 9/10

While Fangirl was full of joy, Dept. of Speculation was full of sorrow, but like nothing else I've ever read.

It's about a wife, and a husband, and a whole life ahead of them. Then a daughter, then fears, and age, and alternatives.

The structure of the writing here is incredibly poetic, short paragraphs, mixed narrative modes, sentences that I wanted to photograph whilst simultaneously wishing I'd never had to feel the heartache they induced.

Reading this was like watching the film Blue Valentine, it just made me wonder what is the actual point of it all. But ultimately it was beautiful, and quietly hopeful, and I'm going to recommend it to everyone.

Monday, 17 March 2014

What I Read In February

While I haven't quite managed to top the 9 books read in January (nor am I sure I ever will), I did manage to get through another 5 in February bringing my total for the year to 14 so far. This is roughly half of what I read in all of 2013 so a great start! Unfortunately not so many 'book of the year' contenders this month.

Rush of Blood - Mark Billingham (Kindle) 4/10

I can't lie, I hated this book.

The story is about three couples who meet in Florida and a girl who goes missing during their holiday. They stay in touch afterwards and share their thoughts and suspicions over a series of dinners.

The plot is fine enough, but I despised each main character, particularly the way the women were described (highly misogynistic) and the liberal use of the word 'retarded'. I still can't tell if that was the writer's personality coming through or he's just great at writing nasty people (hopefully the latter!)

If you like a good, quick crime read this would be worth a look, but I expect there are betters out there.

Tampa - Alissa Nutting (Google Play Books) 8/10

Tampa is a great read, but the main character is a horror show. 26 year old Celeste is a high school teacher, barely functioning in her marriage, partly due to the Floridian heat, largely due to her deep sexual addiction to 14 year old boys.

This book is highly sexual but fiercely unarousing as Celeste is somewhat of a psychopath and engages in the type of behaviour that I'd be disgusted by in a male lead (not to say I wasn't horrified here). As someone who works in the field of child protection I have a hard time describing this as enjoyable, but it was certainly a page-turner that I'd recommend.

Since reading this I've learned it's based on a true case where a teacher's defence claimed she was "too attractive to go to prison" and I've since thought about this book a lot as an interesting comment on the type of student-teacher relationships which the media so loves to glamorise.

Related to the first two reads this month, here is a great piece about unlikeable women in fiction, and how they don't always mean the book itself is unlikable (as evidenced by my utterly polarised thoughts on those two choices). Gone Girl is an excellent example of this and is mentioned in that article quite a bit (with mild spoilers, but if you haven't read Gone Girl yet might I suggest you HURRY UP!).

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer (Paperback) 6/10

I first heard about this at my book club, only to get home and discover it has won the Costa Book of the Year and I so picked it up in a 2 for £7 deal in Tesco a few days later. (Along with Curtis Sittenfeld's Sisterland for future reading.)

Without wishing to give away too much, this is the story of Matthew, his dead brother, and mental health. It's told over several years, Matthew's memories shifting and changing.

It really is a quite lovely read, from a former mental health nurse who clearly knows his stuff, but something about it just didn't quite grab me. Sweet but largely forgettable, though don't let that put you off, I devoured it in a weekend.

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion (Paperback) 7/10

This was our book club choice this month and had been on a number of our wishlists since the hardback release last year.

This is the story of Professor Don Tillman, a 39 year old geneticist who wants to get married and embarks on The Wife Project to find the bride to be. For the women, this involves completing a very long and very specific survey which naturally means almost everyone is eliminated.

In real life I don’t think I’d much like a Don Tillman, but on paper he is awkwardly sweet and thrown into utter chaos the day he meets Rosie.

An interesting discussion was had about contemporary online dating vs the types of screening likely required by the dating agencies of yore. Don’s survey seemed bonkers to many of us but I’m sure that 20 years ago it would be considered quite normal!

Like The Shock of the Fall, this was very sweet and a quick read. Perfect for summer!

No Time For Goodbye - Linwood Barclay (Kindle) 8/10

My favourite read this month was this, which was recommended by a friend on Twitter.

When she was 14, Cynthia’s family disappeared one night and with no evidence of a crime having taken place, the police investigation went cold.

25 years later, her husband tells the story of her new mission to finally uncover the truth about what happened to her family. The right mix of likeable and loatheable characters, short chapters, and lots of twists, meant this was hard to put down.

This is from 2008 and is one of a number of Barclay’s thrillers so I am likely to pick up another soon. Let me know if you've read any of his others!