Thursday, 7 January 2016

December Reads

1. I loved Cloud Atlas and so approached The Bone Clocks with eager anticipation. The two books are not dissimilar in structure, both consisting of interlinked stories across different settings. However, The Bone Clocks focuses on one central character - Holly Sykes - first seen as a teenager in 1980s Kent and then glimpsed at intervals, through point-of-view chapters from different characters, until she is an elderly lady in a dystopian future Ireland. There was lots I enjoyed in this book, but lots I didn't, too: a tendency for the chapters to be given over to fairly tedious detail with no pressing narrative need to do so, and an irritating reliance on dumb cod-sci-fi-speak throughout being just two. Overall, I'm glad I persevered with The Bone Clocks, but it's not something I'd hurry to read again.

2. The story behind Carry On is a complex one. Rainbow Rowell wrote a book, Fangirl, about a teenage girl, Cath, who writes successful fan-fic based on a fictional series of books about a wizard (or mage) called Simon Snow, which are not-so-subtly based on Harry Potter. Although I really liked Fangirl, I wasn't keen on the Simon Snow parts (the action of the novel is interspersed with extracts from both the 'original' Simon Snow books and from Cath's fan fiction), so when I found out that Rowell's new novel was a Simon Snow book - basically a fan-fic of a series she herself had invented - I assumed it'd be terrible. Well, just goes to show you shouldn't make assumptions, because I LOVED Carry On. Simon and his roommate/nemesis Baz are both well realised, and Rowell did a superb job of capturing the cadence and rhythm of British teen speak. And yes, it is basically Harry/Draco slash-fic but it's entertaining as all get out and the central romance is gloriously sweet.

3. The Woman In Blue* is the latest in the series about Ruth Galloway, a forensic archeologist who, it seems, gets dragged into every murder investigation in North Norfolk. This one involves threatening letters to female priests, ghostly sightings, and the murder of a young model in the village of Walsingham. As Thomas and I spent a week there on holiday in October, I particularly enjoyed this book as the descriptions of the slightly eerie village are spot-on.

4. I've only read a couple of Sayers' famous Golden Age of Crime novels featuring Lord Peter Whimsey and, on the evidence of The Nine Tailors  I won't necessarily rush to read more.  It's not that I didn't enjoy it - I did, especially some very Christie-esque touches of humour - but it seemed to go on forever, with a tedious amount of detail about campanology that wasn't necessary for the plot.

5. A Boy Called Christmas is the story of a young boy, Nikolas, in 18th Century Finland and its entirely sentimental and emotionally manipulative, but enjoyable nevertheless. Kids will love it - exploding troll heads, cute mouse sidekicks, Father Christmas in-jokes and all - and this adult liked it a lot too.

6. Hush Hush is a hugely enjoyable psychological thriller in the vein of Gone Girl. A mother drives to the river near her Baltimore home and sits under a tree to shelter from the boiling sun. Meanwhile, her two month old baby cooks inside her car. A decade later, she's back in town and financing a film about post-partum psychosis. And, as is par for the course, all is not what it seems: with the mother (Melisandre, which made me think, distractingly, of GoT) and her ex-husband coming across as nasty pieces of work, and their surviving daughters both having hidden agendas too. The character of Tess Monaghan, a PI who has been recruited to help with security arrangements for Melisandre and through whose eyes we view much of the action, was immediately likeable and I quite liked that some threads of the narrative were left unsolved, although others may find that irritating.

7. 8. & 9. was looking for something to read that wouldn't require me to think too hard, and ended up re-reading a load of YA romances: To All The Boys I've Loved Before (which I reviewed here), Fangirl (and what do you know? I actually quite liked the Simon sections this time!) and the very festive short story collection My True Love Gave To Me (reviewed last December).

10. And while I was rereading Fangirl, I decided to give Landline another try, which I hadn't entirely liked on my first read. Set at Christmas, it's an It's A Wonderful Life-esque tale of only knowing what you've got until you almost lose it, but I have to say it's still not my favourite Rowell.