Monday, 13 April 2015

April reads: Part 1

When it became clear that I was speeding through books, I decided to split my April reads across two posts: one now, and one at the end of the month. So yes, as of 13th April I've already read 11 books. Feel free to hate me. But I've been on holiday for a fortnight and even when - like this Easter - I'm kept busy with outings, time with family and friends, and DIY, I'm still usually able to read just short of a book a day.

1. Douglas is a biochemist and the kind of man who was born middle-aged. Now literally middle-aged too, he embarks on a Grand Tour of Europe with his wife, Connie (who has disclosed her desire to leave him) and their teenage son Albie, with whom he has a fractious relationship. Over the course of the novel, Nicholls takes the reader back to when Doug and Connie first met and through the years of their marriage, while we also hear about their amusingly disastrous summer holiday and are slowly able to work out just where things went wrong for the family. I loved Us: as a narrator, Douglas has a great deal in common with Don Tillman of The Rosie Project, not least an almost complete absence of social skills and problems empathising with others. This leads to some very funny set pieces in the great cities of Europe (an encounter with a sex worker in Amsterdam being a particular favourite), while also meaning that I was able to sympathise with Albie and Connie, rather than seeing them simply as the 'bad guys' with whom Douglas is in opposition for much of the book.

2. I didn't love Vivian Versus America quite as much as the first book (Vivian Versus The Apocalypse, which I reviewed here). It suffers somewhat from the same issues that blighted the final Hunger Games and Harry Potter books: namely, that reading about rebels in hiding just isn't terribly interesting (the Hunger Games comparisons were also not helped by several plot points - as well as the name of the male romantic lead - being very similar). But I'm always on board for a strong, explicitly feminist heroine, and Vivian Apple is a very winning one. Here, she (together with best friend Harp Janda) finds herself Public Enemy Number One in an America almost completely in the thrall of the sinister Church of America.

3. Why Shoot A Butler? was fine for what it was, a Golden Age of Crime-era novel about a posh guy solving murders. But despite trying a few of her books, I just can't seem to get into Heyer's style of writing: give me Agatha Christie any day.

4. Bodies Of Light tells the story of the Moberley family in Victorian Manchester: artist Alfred, his wife, social campaigner and religious zealot Elizabeth, and their daughters Ally and May. Focusing mostly on Ally as she grows up under her mother's strict and loveless rule, the book follows her as she becomes one of the first female medical students in the country. The period detail of mid-Victorian Britain is fantastically vivid, and Moss packs the books with feminist proselyting (usually from the mouth of Elizabeth but also from Ally on occasion) and I found it fascinating yet also horrific to read, in brutal detail, about the depredations visited upon working class women at the time. Ally's sister, May, featured heavily in Moss's earlier novel Night Waking, which is also excellent (I reviewed it here).

5. I didn't realise, when I picked it up in a charity shop, that Love Hurts isn't a collection of short stories, but instead comprises mostly of extracts of YA novels, together with a small number of stand-alone short stories. At first I was disappointed by this, but it turned out to be a great introduction to books I probably wouldn't have bothered with otherwise and became a handy way to expand my library reservations list. The few 'whole' short stories were also excellent: I particularly loved Tumbling, an oh-so-cute tale of fandom, Sherlock Holmes and a first date, and the story of transgender teen Danni's summer of transition.

6. You know you read too much crime fiction when you begin to be able to guess even the most devious of plot twists, and in The Skeleton Road the twist really was excellent (even if I did work it out!). When a skeleton is found on the roof of an abandoned building in Edinburgh, DC Karen Pirie of the Cold Cases Unit is tasked with discovering who ended up with a bullet in their head in such an inaccessible location, and why. Taking in war crimes, genocide and the conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the early 90s, this is by no means a comfortable or relaxing read, but with the typical McDermid talent for characterisation and setting it's well worth a look.

7. I Was Told There'd Be Cake is a fabulous collection of essays by New York-based writer Sloane Crossley. Witty, perfectly written, entirely sympathetic, Crossley riffs on topics as diverse as making a misadvised cookie for her terrible first boss (and subsequently handing in her notice on September 11th 2001), the perils of acting as maid of honour, and being a Jewish kid at Christian summer camp.

8. I always enjoy India Knight's writing: she manages, even when being quite horribly dictatorial and, in some cases, offensive, to still be exceedingly funny. I'm a little young for the target audience of In Your Prime, a book thoughts and practical advice on ageing, so the chapters about, for example, caring for elderly parents (or, in my blessedly childless state, on raising teenagers) were not terribly useful. However, her writing was reliably witty and enjoyable and I enjoyed it nevertheless.

9. I'm fascinated by the story of the Occupy movement, and The Occupiers* is a very readable account of how Occupy Wall Street and its subsequent off-shoots came about, with firsthand accounts from activists and written by an author who was on the ground throughout the autumn of 2011. Gould-Wartofsky does a good job of setting the protests within the global context of protest and activism that marked the beginning of this decade.

10. The Worrier's Guide To Life is packed with Gemma Correll's trademark wit and fun illustrations. It'd make the perfect book to give as a gift.

11. Style Me Vintage: Home makes a perfect reference book for anyone wanting to update their home using vintage looks. The lists of what to look out for will come in handy when thrifting, and the author kept a thankfully judgement-free attitude to those who mix vintage pieces with modern reproductions. I particularly liked the chapters on 1940s and 1950s home style and took away lots of ideas to use in my own house.

* These books were 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. I'm really interested in the book on the Occupy movement and I Was Told There Would be Cake might make my summer airplane reading list. Thanks for the recommendations (as always)

  2. I Was Told... would be perfect airplane reading - easy to dip in and out of but also absorbing. For a slightly less academic book about the Occupy movement I'd recommend Occupy: Scenes from Occupied America, which is a great read and covers most of the same ground as the one I mentioned here, but lots cheaper!

  3. I've added Bodies of Light and Love Hurts to my 'to read' list, and I've been meaning to read Vivian Versus the Apocalypse for ages! Thanks for the reading inspiration! :)

  4. I've just finished the first book that I ordered after reading an excerpt in Love Hurts and it was great! Got another two from the library to get through. I was kind of annoyed when I realised that it wasn't entirely short stories, but actually it's been a great way to be introduced to new authors.

  5. Oooh, some great interesting books here! I liked that Georgette Heyer book but like you, I think its not a patch on Agatha Christie! I prefer her Regency romances!
    I like the sound of the cake one. I've enjoyed reading during the holidays but trying to make myself read something different is hard- too much the same!!!x

  6. I've heard of Sloane Crosley's book before and thought it sounded good - I'll have to finally get round to buying it! Have you read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling? I'm guessing you'd like it. SO FUNNY.

  7. p.s. you must have reading super powers. It's the only explanation for 11 books in 13 days!

  8. I did have a fortnight off, so I was managing to pack in lots and lots of reading time - probably about six hours a day?

  9. I haven't but will put it on my library request list!