Monday, 30 November 2015

November Reads

1. The Rest Of Us Just Live Here is based on one of the most interesting concepts I've come across, certainly in YA literature. High school senior Mikey lives in small town America with his ambitious politician mother, alcoholic father, a sister in recovery from an eating disorder, and a best friend who just happens to be part-God. He's only interested in making it to prom and graduation, getting the girl he loves to notice him before she leaves for the summer, and hanging out with best friend Jared. Unfortunately, an invasion by Immortals is messing with these plans. The conceit of the book, which is brilliantly done, is that the Immortals are only bothering indie kids - the same group affected by the battle with the vampires a few years ago (cue some very funny digs at the Twilight franchise), the soul-eating ghosts a decade ago, etc etc - and so remain as a sub-plot dwelt on only briefly at the start of each chapter. As Mikey says, the indie kids "have always got some story going on that they're the heroes of. The rest of us just have to live here, hovering around the edges, left out of it all for the most part. Having said that, the indie kids do die a lot, which must suck." This is easily one of my books of the year: extremely witty, it deals with big issues - the mental health struggles of Mikey and his sister are a huge part of the plot - very well whilst remaining pacy and thrilling. If you read one book from this round-up, it needs to be this one.

2. 21 Proms was one of those YA books that I think are best left to, well, young adults themselves. A collection of short stories about prom, they were (perhaps inevitably, given the subject matter and restricted length) fairly shallow tales, almost none of which gripped my attention. The highlight for me was John Green's story, The Great American Morp, which had something of a great teen movie about it.

3. I'm afraid my love for David Levithan is quickly becoming sullied by one mediocre book after another. Another Day is the sequel to Every Day, which was the story of A, a teenage boy who wakes up every morning in a different body and who falls in love with the girlfriend of the boy in whose body he inhabits for one day. This is the girl - Rhiannon's - side of the story, but because it limits the narrative to exactly the period that was covered in the first book, we don't really learn anything new.

4. A woman is snatched from a Paris street, and Commandant Camille Verhoeven, haunted by the murder of his wife five years ago, is assigned the case. But solving it is going to be more complex than just discovering who her abductor was, and Alex is no ordinary victim. Alex is gory and gripping, packed with satisfying plot twists and very well written. I can well see why it won awards and accolades by the bucketload: very much recommended.

5. When Mr Shaitana, famous for his flamboyant parties, invites a group of detectives - a writer of crime thrillers, the head of Scotland Yard, an MI6 man, and Poirot himself -  to dinner, together with four more guests, he ends up dead. And so the detectives begin to look into the backgrounds of the other guests, about whom Shaitana had dropped hints regarding 'getting away with murder'. Cards On The Table was perfect for a dark autumn night, and marked the debut of one of my favourite Poirot characters, the crime writer Ariadne Oliver, based on Christie herself.

6. The Silent Wife has been compared to Gone Girl but it's nowhere near the quality of that book. Jodie & Todd have been a couple for 20 years when he betrays her with yet another affair. And so she decides to kill him. Written from both points of view in alternating third person present tense chapters, I just couldn't find it in me to care about either character, nor about their eventual fates.

7. I picked up Mystery In White from a secondhand bookshop recently, thinking it would be an appropriate inclusion for a Christmas gift swap parcel, and decided to give it a cheeky read first. A classic Golden Age crime novel with a ghost story element, it made for a nicely seasonal, undemanding read.

8. I've really enjoyed Sloane Crosley's non-fiction essays, so I jumped at the chance to read her first novel, The Clasp*. Three college friends now in their late 20s - Kezia, Nathaniel and Victor - are reunited at the wedding of a classmate, and Victor's encounter with the mother of the groom leads him to become obsessed with a legendary necklace. When, after losing his job, he disappears to search for the necklace, Kezia and Nathaniel team up to look for him. I have to say, The Clasp wasn't really for me; it's written in a self-consciously literary style and the plot took a long time to get going.

9. I read A Place Of Execution years ago and had luckily forgotten quite a bit about the plot. One of Val McDermid's only stand-alone crime novels, it tells the story of young and ambitious detective George Bennett, who one cold night in December 1963 is called to the isolated Derbyshire village of Scarsdale to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The scenes in the dale are atmospheric and creepy, and it contains one of the very best 'reveals' in modern crime fiction.

10. I actually read Signs For Lost Children on holiday in October, but then forgot about it in my monthly round-up. Sarah Moss writes beautifully, imbuing her characters with real life, and I have adored every single one of her previous books. This, the sequel Bodies Of Light, finds Victorian-era doctor Ally beginning her married life to lighthouse designer Tom with a long period of separation, as she continues her challenging work in a Cornish asylum, where she is disrespected and distrusted by staff thanks to her sex, and her husband goes to Japan for more than a year to complete a commission. The descriptions of both Ally's descent into depression and of Tom's experiences in Japan - where the country is vividly rendered by Moss' use of language - are wonderful but I found it a less engaging read than any of her previous novels.