Long time, no blog. The reason for that is essentially that I read too many books last year to review – I think it was 121 in total, and frankly if anyone can write about that many books while also doing things like leaving the house and actually reading other books, props to them. Instead, I have decided to do a book round-up at the end of every month, and here is January’s.
IT – So, this novel is obviously a classic, and the first Stephen King book I’ve read. I decided to read it after watching a trailer for the recent movie (which I preferred in trailer/youtube videos titled ‘Richie Funny Moments’ form, if I’m totally honest). The actual monster was ultimately a huge disappointment and not remotely scary. I felt as though it was a very self-indulgent book. As ever with a lot of male writers, the female characters’ tits were described much more frequently than they needed to be. I am puzzled as to why three of the main characters were called Bill and Bev and Ben. But largely there were huge swathes of this book that I really enjoyed – the friendships were obviously the absolute best part, and the idea of this underlying malevolence of a town was fantastic and evocative. It was just a shame for me personally that the underlying malevolence turned out to be basically Aragog off Harry Potter.
LOCAL GIRL MISSING – I read a lot of psychological thrillers and crime novels and if I am absolutely deadass honest, this one didn’t stand out from the others. I didn’t think that the voices were particularly strong or engaging and there wasn’t a huge spark in the writing for me. I would definitely read her other novels and I wanted to read to the end to find out what had happened, but there was a level of engagement that was missing for me.
THE BREAKDOWN – This was the first book that my friends and I chose for our book group and we weren’t disappointed – we all enjoyed it, and although I guessed a few of the twists it was interesting to see how they were played out and how all the clues clicked into place. I thought that it was tightly plotted but that the characterisation of any character other than the main one wasn’t particularly strong. However, that’s a criticism I have of a lot of thrillers, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary. I thought that the main character was great and that the thread of dementia/forgetting/memory was an interesting one. I also enjoyed BA Paris’s first novel BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, and this morning I started to read the new one, BRING ME BACK which is set for release March 8th. So far it feels clunkier than the others but I’m definitely going to persevere.
MIDWINTER BREAK – See, I totally read literary fiction too. I read this partly because it’s the book of the month at Waterstones and I like to be able to recommend them with some honesty, and also because I love short, quiet literary novels that focus on the ins and outs of relationships and on a short period of time. Gerry and Stella were characters who rang true to me – they were written lovingly and carefully and with a great deal of truth and sincerity. It felt as though they could be real people existing out there in the world and we were seeing a slice of their life. It didn’t stay with me to the same extent that some other literary novels along similar veins have, but I still enjoyed it and thought that it was beautiful in many ways.
IT ONLY HAPPENS IN THE MOVIES – I saw Holly Bourne at an event last year and let’s face it, lads: she is awesome. Funny and so intelligent. This book, the first I’ve read of hers, absolutely reflected that. It was a piece of absolutely pitch perfect YA that took in romance, friendship and families. The relationship between Harry and Audrey was gorgeously drawn and felt a lot more real than a lot of YA novels. All of the characters were great and well-rounded, and the ending made me very, very happy. Also, the focus on friendship between girls was perfect. One thing that a lot of relationship-focused novels seems to lack is an arc for the central character outside the romance, and that often leaves me feeling a little meh about them. I liked that this was the story of Audrey, rather than Audrey-and-Harry. It made the ending all the more satisfying. I’m absolutely going to make my way through Holly Bourne’s other books.
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL – I don’t know what genre this novel was. It wasn’t quite a thriller and it wasn’t quite literary fiction. Whatever it was, I liked it a lot. It reminded me a little of Erin Kelly’s He Said/She Said, which was one of my absolute favourite books of 2017. The story was drawn in shades of grey, there was suspense, there were twists and turns (not all of which were obvious), the voices were all great and different. It was a real pageturner – I think I read it in a day and felt irritated when I had to get off the train and stop reading. Absolutely going to recommend this to customers but I think it’ll do better in paperback.
THE WICKED COMETH – I totally understand what the author was trying to do with this book but for me it didn’t completely succeed. It had so many elements of things that I really enjoy in novels (London being grotty! A slightly mysterious country house! Lesbians! Gross medical stuff!) but in the end it felt a little false and forced, particularly the voice. I think that at the end of the day, Sarah Waters is the only person who can write like Sarah Waters, and this felt as though it was trying to be her and not completely succeeding. I also felt as though the movement of the novel was awkward – lots of shuffling around London. Also, the central relationship didn’t quite work for me: I didn’t see anything between the characters that would have drawn them so deeply towards each other. It annoyed me a little because I felt as though there was the kernel of a really great novel at the heart of this book but for me it missed the mark: I didn’t find it as emotionally engaging as I wanted to, and at times it felt like a slog to get through. (I also think that past tense would have worked better.)
THE CHALK MAN – I thought this was a really excellent novel. It was wonderful to read a book like this with such a strong voice and cast of characters. A lot of the time, suspense/thriller novels read as though the author has carefully drawn out a map of a plot and attached half-hearted characters to it, but the joy of THE CHALK MAN was that all the action stemmed from the characters themselves, which made it feel much more spooky and authentic. I felt as though there were two sort-of endings: one of them was pretty standard but effective but the second one packed a real punch and absolutely delighted me. It also felt as though it was the natural conclusion of what had happened – and the combination of a real surprise twist and something that felt incredibly right is so, so satisfying. Sometimes twists feel sort of glued on, but this was great. The characters were wonderful. The voice was great. Highly recommend.
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW – I was ready to complain about this book not being worth all the hype but unfortunately I must reveal that it absolutely is. I think that in the hands of a lesser writer, it could have been clunky and boring and written by numbers, agoraphobic woman shut in her house spies on neighbours etc, but it was just an extremely solid novel that anyone who enjoys domestic suspense/thrillers will like. I don’t think it had the same depth as Gone Girl – aside from the plot, there was something completely joyful about the way that Gillian Flynn described the ‘cool girl’ phenomenon – so those comparisons aren’t totally accurate. But it was a great book that was tinged with real sadness and emotion and, at times, humour. The ending was also extremely satisfying. Looking forward to telling customers to buy it at work.
As for February? As I already said, I’ve just started BRING ME BACK by BA Paris. I also want to read CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS by Sally Rooney, along with THIS IS HOW IT ENDS by Eva Dolan. Hopefully it’s going to be another month of fun reading.