Friday, 27 March 2015

March reads

I realise, looking at this month's round-up, that I've been working my way through rather too much genre fiction over the past few weeks. Nothing wrong with crime thrillers in moderation but, like any diet, a literary one benefits from a bit of variation and I think in April I need to make more of an effort to read books that require more than a modicum of thought.

1. Letters To The Lost** was this month's CB Book Group pick and guess what? I didn't hate it! January and February having not been exactly my favourite books, I was very relieved to pick this up and, within the space of a couple of chapters, be completely enthralled. Told across two eras - WW2, where Stella is in an unhappy marriage to the local vicar when she meets and falls in love with an American pilot, and modern day London, where Jess is on the run from her violent and controlling boyfriend - the characters are all sympathetic and the narrative moves along nicely despite the book's hefty size. I loved this and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about the Second World War, and particularly women's lives at the time.

2. An isolated house, its inhabitants viewed as 'other' by the community. A family annihilated in once shocking night of violence, leaving two survivors: a young girl and the supposed killer. The same girl, returning to the site of the murders years later, looking for answers. The Crooked House has a basic plot which will be familiar to anyone who's read Gillian Flynn's Dark Places, but set on the sinister Essex marshes rather than the American Midwest. I found it a compelling read, although I wasn't quite convinced by the solution to the crime.

3. When a body resembling police detective Cassie is found, bearing ID in the same name as her former undercover alias, a plan is hatched to find the murderer by getting Cassie to go undercover again: this time, as the dead girl. The Likeness had echoes of Donna Tartt's The Secret History and was another cracking good read from Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series.

4. I love Tanya Huff's paranormal romance series featuring the vampire son of Henry VIII (they're great, trust me!), so when I saw The Enchantment Emporiumthe first of her trilogy about a family of witches, cheap for Kindle I started reading straight away. In the first book in the series, Allie Gale is getting a little sick of her powerful aunties trying to run her life, so when her grandmother dies, leaving her a junk shop out in Calgary, she jumps at the chance to relocate to a quieter life. However, she reckoned without the fey customers and the pigeon-scaring dragons. I thoroughly enjoyed the fast pace and humour of The Enchantment Emporium and would recommend them to anyone who enjoys the urban fantasy of Charlaine Harris, Lauren K Hamilton, et al.

5. & 6. If I find a group of characters I like, I tend to stick around and read my way through the whole series in quick succession. The Wild Ways puts Allie's cousin Charlie in the lead role, as she goes to Nova Scotia for summer of playing guitar at folk music festivals... oh, and saving a family of selkies whose skins have been stolen at the behest of an evil oil baron. And in The Future Falls, Charlie and cousin Jack are tasked with saving the world once again, this time from a deadly asteroid. Yes, I realise these summaries make the books sound ridiculous, but I really fell for the Gale family and their charms, rituals and humour. Occasionally Huff allows her flights of fancy to go a little too far, leaving the reader running to catch up (I was completely lost towards the end of The Future Falls) but nevertheless they're great, fun reads.

7. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway returns in The Ghost Fields*, this time investigating a local aristocratic family who are linked to the discovery of a body in a WW2 plane discovered buried on a building site. I absolutely love the characterisation of this series - Galloway herself, together with minor characters like druid Cathbad - are so well realised that it feels like returning to old friends with each new book.

8. Daughter was recommended to me by my mum, who said it was a cut above usual thrillers. And I'd largely agree with that, with some caveats. The story of missing Bristol teenager Naomi, it's told by her mother, Jennifer, with the narrative moving backwards and forwards between the days surrounding Naomi's disappearance and Jennifer's new life in Dorset one year on. I couldn't stop reading this, desperate to find out what happened to Naomi as secret after secret is revealed about her family. However, I was a little troubled by what I interpreted as implicit criticism of working mothers: so much of the blame for her family's troubles are laid at Jennifer's door, both by her own sense of guilt and by others. Ultimately, I struggled to agree that Jennifer deserved the criticism and punishments meted out to her by her family.

9. The Zig Zag Girl is set in a postwar 1950s Britain and the period details were particularly well done. Police inspector Edgar is stilled scarred by his experiences in the army and when a body turns up chopped into three, resembling a magician's act, he links the murder to his time serving with the Magic Men during the war.

10. I love Alison Freer's regular columns about clothes on xojane, so when I spied her book How To Get Dressed* on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. I think perhaps it would work better as a physical book - with pictures - than as a digital publisher's proof. As it was, I found it a bit wordy and dry: a few illustrations would have better helped, well, illustrate what was being said. That being said, it's full of useful advice about clothing alterations, how to make garments fit your body and work with you, and a handy chapter on vintage and thrift shopping. It's also pleasingly free of the usual, "If you're busty, don't wear x"-type bullshit that so often appears in fashion guides.

11. Despite having seen the film recently, I still loved Wild. The story of Cheryl Strayed's summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is interspersed with her memories of her mother, who had recently died of cancer, sending Strayed into a maelstrom of addiction, destroying her marriage in the process. As a meditation on love, loss and recovery, this is a powerful read.

* This book was kindly provided for review by the publishers via Netgalley,  but all opinions are entirely my own.
** This book was sent to me by the Curtis Brown Book Group, 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. Ooh, a nice selection here. I'm with you on the loving characters then reading all at once! I'm on my 4th Railway detective book in 2 weeks, I'm going to be totally bereft when I finish this one!x

  2. Oh my goodness, how many books do you read? Wow! I used to love Tana French books - must get back into the series again. I like the sound of Wild too - just wish I could read more!

  3. I get quite emotionally attached to the 'world' of a book - or, more often, a series of books - and yes, can then feel totally bereft when I finish reading!

  4. Haha, I know, it's ridiculous! My mum would say I don't properly take things in when I read, and she sort of has a point. That's why reading thrillers works well for me as the plots are usually pretty pacy and don't suffer when you speed through them.

  5. I like the sound of a few of these, thanks. :-) I'm not huge on mystery/crime books but Tana French keeps popping up on my radar and sounds good. Wild is definitely on my "Must read before I'm allowed to watch the film" list!

  6. What I like about Tana French's books, this one especially, is that they're not written in a typically crime thriller-ish way but are much more, I suppose 'literary' is the best term. Basically, they're really well written!

  7. Ooh I will be checking out Tanya Huff, thanks!

  8. I'd really recommend her books - so far I've read the Blood series (vampires), the Smoke series (erm, sort of ghosts and demons if I remember rightly, with characters overlapping from the Blood series) and now the Enchantment series. All great!

  9. Just found you through some sort of lifestyle blog meandering thing.
    Anyway, I just reach the enchantment emporium this week. it was great! Although I am a little unclear as to how the magic system works. I did like how it was truly modern urban fantasy - no guff about old traditional magyck, just normal, modern women getting on with their lives, who happen to use charms and have a lot of sex. I'm looking forward to reading the other two.

  10. I read a review on Amazon moaning about how nothing was explained re. the magic, but I quite liked having to figure out what was going on with the various rituals and charms (although as I said, I was pretty lost by the end of the third book!).