Tuesday, 26 January 2016

January Reads

1. 2. & 3. On the one hand, Karou is a seventeen year-old art student living in Prague, drinking with friends and squabbling with her ex. On the other, she's an errand girl for a monstrous half-beast in the world she calls "Elsewhere", which she slips in and out of via portals hidden in doors around the world. Compared to both Pans Labyrinth and His Dark Materials (a comparison I don't think is entirely accurate), I quickly became completely caught up in and enamoured with the Daughter Of Smoke & Bone trilogy: with Karou herself, with her friends, with the world of seraphim and chimaera that Laini Taylor creates so perfectly. I loved all three books and, if  you like fantasy novels (or even if you don't - I'm not normally a fan) I would strongly recommend you read them soon.

4. 5. 6. Char very kindly sent me Stephanie Perkins' trilogy of loosely connected YA romances, Anna & The French KissLola & The Boy Next Door, and Isla & The Happy Ever After. I wanted to love them - I'm a sucker for a cheesy romance and each heroine is likeable and the books very readable - but (with the exception of the last one) I really didn't. Why? Both Anna... and Lola... contain some very dodgy relationship ethics at work. In the first, Anna falls for the hot guy at school and makes, if not a play for him then she certainly doesn't discourage him, despite her best friend being in love with him and him already having a (different) girlfriend (and no, I'm not saying that a man can be 'stolen' like a piece of property, but her behaviour is truly not very friend-like to the one girl who's made her welcome at school). In Lola..., the heroine is ridiculously blind to her own feelings, such that stretches credulity, and spends a lot of time messing with both her boyfriend and the guy who loves her. Neither plot line sat well with me, frankly. So I was glad that Isla... was a much less complicated love story, and all the better for it, with our titular heroine and her long-term crush, Josh, making a super cute couple. One thing I will say for all three books, though, is that they have a positive and healthy attitude to teen sexuality and a more diverse cast of characters (I especially liked Isla's best friend, who has autism, and Lola's overprotective gay dads) than most YA fiction.

7. Yuki Chan In Bronte Country* has one of the most beautiful cover designs I've seen in recent years. Sadly, the content doesn't come close to matching the jacket. A quasi-detective story, with the titular Yuki visiting Haworth in order to discover more about her mother's visit ten years earlier, I found it difficult to care about Yuki and the various scrapes she gets herself into; there's something detached about the prose that meant I didn't feel involved at any point.

8. Isabel lives a quiet life in Portland, working in a library, collecting old postcards, and daydreaming about her childhood in Alaska. Glaciers Isabel over the course of one day, as her calm existence is shaken by her attraction to a co-worker, and is a small but exquisitely written book, almost poetic in its use of language.  

9. This Is Where It Ends* takes place over the course of an hour in an American high school where, the principal having finished assembly, the students discover that they can't get out of auditorium. And then the shooting begins. I found this difficult to get into and, although it's well written, I never felt the characters were real and therefore had a hard time feeling engaged or invested in their fates.

10. The Moth Catcher was one of my favourite Vera mysteries in many ways: it's tightly plotted and the characters felt both real and sympathetic, with the central mystery - of how two men came to be murdered in the idyllic setting of Valley Farm - being satisfyingly knotty. However the classism and fat shaming is horrendous, exposing the author's own prejudices rather than adding anything to the plot or characterisation.

11. Julia is a successful musician, but when she buys an antique music score it sets in motion a chain of events which are both decidedly creepy and somewhat silly. Playing With Fire* is a departure from Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles crime series, and is instead a thriller with hints of the supernatural. The vivid descriptions of the Venice settings were wonderful and I found myself turning the pages with increasing fervour, but it wasn't something I'd read again.

12. Looking for something to read on a train this weekend, I picked up a copy of A Pocket Full Of Rye for 50p in a secondhand bookshop. My only complaint with this mystery - which sees a successful London businessman poisoned in a manner suggestive of a nursery rhyme - was that Miss Marple's appearance was limited to a fairly fleeting visit towards the end. I do love Miss M, and the more of her the better, I feel.

13. Even Dogs In The Wild is the 20th outing for Rebus and all the essential ingredients are there: brooding and atmospheric Edinburgh settings, gangster Big Ger Cafferty, conspiracies and cover-ups, and, of course, the indomitable John Rebus himself, together with sidekicks Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox (the latter of whom seems to be becoming a series regular but, for me, strikes the only bum note of the book).

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.