Thursday, 29 January 2015

January reads

1. My favourite book this month was also the first one I read. First the bad: So Much Pretty is told through multiple POV narrations, as well as extracts from police transcripts, all of which at first seem to be in no particular order, and I personally struggled for a while to get to grips with this. But I really believe it's worth persevering, as this novel is truly unique in terms of the crime/thriller genre. Whereas most books of this type use the endemic violence against women of our society for entertainment, in So Much Pretty Cara Hoffman seeks to interrogate and criticise it. When a local woman goes missing and is later found tortured to death, the small rural community of Haeden, New York State - which would clearly like to look the other way - is forced to confront some harsh realities by two women, local high school student Alice Piper, and newspaper reporter Stacy Flynn. I loved the sense of place: from grungy Alphabet City in the early 90s, where Alice's idealistic anarchist parents live, to the claustrophobic small-town atmosphere of Haeden, Hoffman evokes wildly diverse places and people perfectly. There are some brilliant twists that make the reason for the odd, scattergun structure of the narrative fall into place slowly. I'd love to go back and re-read some of the early chapters, knowing what I know now.

2. The Girl With All The Gifts was, again, a book I felt like giving up on after a few chapters and then was heartily glad I'd continued reading. In a post-apocalyptic England, an army base is home to a small collection of children, who are kept in cells and treated with the utmost care by the soldiers set to guard them. When ten year old Melanie begins to develop a friendship with one of her teachers, the consequences are far-reaching. An exciting and pacey read, I raced through it despite it being a hefty doorstop of a book, and the ending was just fantastically audacious.

3. Broken Harbour is the second Tana French Dublin Murder Squad novel I've read, and it followed the format of the first (In The Woods) in focusing on a murder detective with a dark past being affected by a current case. In this sense, I thought it could have surprised me a little more, and like In The Woods I felt it took a long time to get to where it was going. Those criticisms aside, I did really enjoy it: there was a real creepiness to French's creation of a half-finished and run-down housing estate on the coast, and the central conundrum - who killed a man and his two young children and left his wife in intensive care, and why does their house have mysterious holes in the walls? - was interesting and tense enough to keep me reading.

4. When I found a classic orange Penguin edition of The Code of the Woosters for two quid in a charity shop, of course I bought it. An enjoyable but exceedingly silly romp featuring Bertie Wooster and his inimitable butler, Jeeves, this was full of delightful period details but had me rolling my eyes a few times at the ridiculousness of the storylines, which include a gravy boat heist, an engagement that's more off than on, and a stolen policeman's helmet.

5. A collection of David Mitchell's columns for The Observer, Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse was a cheap Kindle buy and well worth it. Perfect to dip in and out of, Mitchell is predicably hilarious but also knowledgeable, whether writing about coalition policy or television.

6. The Love Song Of Miss Queenie Hennessey* is the follow-up to Rachel Joyce's bestselling debut, The Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, and although I hadn't read the first book I was still able to get into this pretty quickly. Queenie is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed when she gets a phone message from a man she hasn't seen for twenty years - Harold Fry - saying he's on his way to visit... and walking from Kingsbridge in Devon. As he tramps the length of England to get to her, Queenie tells her story: why she loved him, why she left. I particularly enjoyed the parts about the hospice and the other patients but was slightly less engaged by the flashbacks to Queenie's time in Kingsbridge.

7. I was pretty cynical about Uncovering Ray**, I have to admit. My perception of New Adult fiction is of badly written, cliched romances with added sexy times (Jenny Trout's brilliantly funny read-alongs may have contributed to this perception), but when I saw a Netgalley tweet trailing this NA novel featuring a genderqueer protagonist, my interest was piqued. And you know what? I thought Uncovering Ray was a delight. The characters - from Ray zirself to love interest, fratbro-with-a-difference Wyatt and little brother Dave - zinged with realism and I found myself truly caring about them. Engagingly written, witty and, yes, some hot sex scenes: I'll think twice before I pre-judge NA fiction again.

8. The Ship* was the Curtis Brown Book Group book of the month for January and, sorry to say, I was not impressed. It had all the makings of a good read: post-apocalyptic setting; teenage heroine; mystery to be solved. Unfortunately, not one of those elements were fully realised. The 'heroine', Lalla, was accurately summed up by another character as, "a spoiled little brat." The mystery element, such as it was, was blindingly obvious. And the post-apocalyptic society was never properly explained to the reader, with key ideas (such as The Dove, a device or system - I was never quite sure - which Lalla's father invents) left completely to our own imaginations. Ultimately, the whole thing just felt rather... pointless. But, from what I can tell on Twitter, a lot of other book group members loved it, so maybe it's just me.

9. Manna From Hades was a gift from Kezzie in my Blogger Snail Mail parcel. Eleanor Trewynn has recently retired to Cornwall after being widowed. When a body is found in stockroom of the charity shop she helps to run, mystery is afoot. This was a very gentle murder mystery, not quite successfully harking back to the Golden Age of crime (although with a 1960s setting that felt somewhat forced and fake at times; a lot of the main characters have very modern sensibilities). I kept reading because I liked the characters, and there's some gorgeous description of Cornwall countryside and weather, but the mystery element alone wouldn't have been enough to capture my attention.

10. Murder In The Mews is a collection of four Poirot short stories (but fairly long ones, if you get what I mean). Even as a die-hard Christie fan, I was slightly underwhelmed by these. Poirot works best when allowed to slowly deduce and detect; putting him into short stories did nothing to allow the magic to shine through.

* These books were kindly given to me by the Curtis Brown Book Group but all opinions are entirely my own.
** This book was kindly provided for review by the publishers via Netgalley, but all opinions are entirely my own.
Note: I do not use affiliate links in these posts, I just like to provide a non-Amazon source.


  1. Ah, Girl with all the gifts sounds like my kinda thing. I'm not really that into crime but So Much Pretty sounds intriguing!

    1. I'd really, really recommend them both: 'easy' reading but thought-provoking and gripping, just my kind of books!

  2. Oh I like the sound of the first book.

  3. Some of these sound good, especially So Much Pretty. My to-read list is getting so long that I hyperventilate just looking at it!!

  4. Some interesting reads here!!! I just finished a great Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca, and really enjoyed it. I love the fact you too, try to avoid Amazon! Foyles is my top choice for that!
    Re Manna, I wondered if the mystery would be too gentle for you! Ah well!

    1. I really loved the characters and the writing, I think I'd read another of hers if I came across it - thanks for introducing me to her!

  5. I've just finished The Ship and I can't quite make my mind up on it... Although it's not the kind of book i would normally choose so maybe that's why. I picked The Girl With All the Gifts up from a charity shop but just haven't got round to it despite hearing good things - I really should!

  6. A good month of reading. These posts always expand my to read list!