Thursday, 29 October 2015

October Reads

1. All The Bright Places was one of those books that crept up on me. I didn't instantly fall for the main characters - Theodore and Violet, who meet on the ledge of their school's bell tower - and the narrative was quite slow going, but by the devastating end I was completely hooked. Examining suicide and mental health, it's not exactly a laugh-a-minute book, but it's definitely worth a read for fans of thoughtful YA fiction.

2. Solitaire is perhaps one of the most disappointing books I've read recently; disappointing because it had so much potential but ended up being so utterly crap. Sixth former Tori has a gay brother, friends she doesn't really like, and a new guy at school badgering her into spending time with him. Oh, and some mysterious organisation known as Solitaire, who are pulling pranks ranging from the silly to the dangerous at her school, and who seem to be in some way connected to Tori herself. The problem with Solitaire is that there's far too much going on. The story of Charlie, her brother, would be an interesting one to know more about - he's out at his all-boys school, going out with the rugby star, recovering from an eating disorder, and dealing with bullies - but it's all glossed over in favour of Tori's deeply boring rants. The problem with Tori is that she's just not that interesting: she hates everyone and everything, treats people horribly, is clearly plunging into a clinical depression (a fact which is never really addressed, even when she tries to jump off a roof) but still manages to be massively unsympathetic. We hear a lot about her blogging but that's never really relevant to the plot either. And as for the Solitaire 'mystery', that again turns out to be a bit of a red herring, plot-wise.

3. Beautiful Broken Things* follows Brighton best friends Caddy and Rosie, and what happens when new girl Suzanne breezes into their lives, bringing chaos and complications. I did enjoy this - Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne are all likeable and believable characters - but it felt just a tad too long and it failed to keep my attention for a while in the middle before picking up again at the end.

4. Smoke & Mirrors* is the second of Elly Griffiths' - better known for her Norfolk-set books about forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway  - series set in 1950s Brighton. Detective Inspector Stephens once again teams up with stage magician Mephisto to solve the murders of two young children, found buried under snow and surrounded by sweets in an eerie echo of Hansel & Gretel. The winter setting is atmospheric and the narrative more well-paced and tense than the first in the series.

5. Death Is A Welcome Guest is the second in Welsh's Plague Times series, the first part of which I read and loved last year. This second volume is not as enjoyable, perhaps because the main character - this time, we're following stand-up comedian Magnus as he tries to get from disease-stricken London to his childhood home on Shetland - isn't as sympathetic. The murder mystery element, introduced when Magnus takes refuge in a large house in the countryside, keeps the tension high but other than that it didn't grab me like the first book.

6. Whatever You Lovelike Doughty's recent - and superior - novel Apple Tree Yard, poses questions about revenge and the limits to which we will go when tested by tragic events. Single mum Laura is left reeling after the death, in a hit-and-run accident, of her beloved daughter Betty. Moving between flashbacks of Laura's marriage to Betty's dad, and the present day as she tries - and fails - to move past Betty's death, it's a gripping portrayal of grief and loss.

7. A Game For All The Family is, like all of Sophie Hannah's mystery novels, wildly ridiculous and unrealistic but also completely, utterly attention-grabbing and tense. I read it with a sense of fear and terror in my gut, whilst also rolling my eyes at the ludicrousness of it all.

8. Lotte, a Cold Case detective with the Dutch police, is still trying to recover from a traumatic past case when she's asked to help look into a 10-year-old murder case. When she discovers that her father, a retired cop, may have hidden evidence, she compromises her own position by hiding her relationship with him from the other investigators. A Cold Death In Amsterdam* was an atmospheric read, capturing the city in winter so well that I felt I was walking the streets of the Jordaan myself.

9. What to turn to on a chilly autumn Sunday, when the fire's blazing and I don't want a book that will make me have to think? Agatha Christie of course! Mrs McGinty's Dead is a mid-period Poirot, full of the wit typical of 'his' novels. I especially loved the appearance of the recurring character Ariadne Oliver, a writer of detective mysteries who Christie largely based on herself.

10. Enchanted April is the original 1920s books on which recent release Enchanted August (which I read and reviewed in June) was based. I loved the new one, so was keen to read Elizabeth van Arnem's version. Unfortunately, I think I was hampered by two things: first, reading such a sun-drenched book while sitting in a rainy Norfork cottage wasn't quite right, and second, so much of the joy of the plot relies on the element of surprise, which was obviously removed for me. I did enjoy it but I have to say that I preferred the updated version, which seemed to have more to get my teeth into as a reader.

11. The Bookshop That Floated Away is the story of journalist Sarah Henshaw's often doomed attempts to make a living from a bookshop based on a canal barge, and as a bookshop fanatic it made a pleasant and undemanding read.

12. How To Grow Up is billed as a memoir, but rather than straight autobiography it's more a series of short, often comical, essays each dealing with a specific area of Tea's life: from musings on fashion and style, to the hunt for a wedding venue, to coping with poverty. As with all Tea's writing, it sparkles with wit and life.

* These books were provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.