Also Read: Quick Reviews

‘I don’t want to review everything I read. At least not all of it, and not some of it in great detail,’ says Simon Savidge (and if you haven’t discovered his fabulous book blog yet, please do yourself a favour and go there). I feel the same – and my decision earlier this autumn/winter to neglect the ‘sense of duty’ has been very liberating for my reading and my enjoyment of books.

However, there are still books which I enjoyed reading in-between more ‘serious’ or ‘heavy’ books – much like I enjoy snacking between meals. I don’t want to review them at length, but they do deserve perhaps a little more than just a listing in the end of month line-up. So here are three I read earlier:

AlisonMercerAlison Mercer: After I Left You

Why has Anna been avoiding her friends from university for the past two decades? What happened to her at Oxford that she has run away from any reunion since? Well, it’s not that difficult to guess. I pretty much sussed out who/what/with whom/how about a third of the way through the book, with only a few of the details still left to figure out. I did enjoy the descriptions of student life (within the same time-frame as my Cambridge experience, so it brought on a wave of nostalgia), but I have the same problem with the friendships depicted here as I did with Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’. Why on earth would friends treat each other like that, betray each other and not tell the truth for decades? Maybe I’ve been lucky to befriend the right kind of people? Or maybe it is a British thing to not be able to have it all out on the spot? The Latin in me is puzzled.

Not a bad read; once you start, you can’t stop easily. Just not particularly memorable. The snack equivalent would be a packet of ready-salted crisps.

HiddenGirlLouise Millar: The Hidden Girl

There is something about how Louise Millar throws her protagonists to the wolves (I’ve noticed this in previous books like ‘The Playdate’): Mr. and Mrs. Everybody find themselves in sticky situations, which creep up on them almost unawares… Millar is a mistress of the gradual chill and the completely unreasonable main characters. Hannah is obsessed with adopting a baby, so much so that she is prepared to uproot herself and her husband from London, take on a large, dilapidated house in a remote Suffolk village, give up her career, and change her whole behaviour in an attempt to pretend her life is picture-postcard perfect. And, of course, it isn’t… in fact, the move to the countryside seems to unravel everything. The marital discord and obsessive personality sounded very true-to-life, and the house did exude some creepiness, but the donkey story brought it dangerously close to a farce. I also didn’t quite buy the second strand (or should that be the main strand?) of the story – but the author very cleverly kept us wondering if it was a ghost story, a cover-up for murder or a conspiracy possibly involving her own family.

Snack: Liquorice all-sorts – you like some bits more than others.

becauseshelovesMark Edwards: Because She Loves Me

When Andrew meets beautiful, edgy Charlie, he is certain his run of bad luck has finally come to an end. But as the two of them embark on a lusty affair, Andrew wonders if his grasp on reality is slipping. Items go missing in his apartment. Somebody appears to be following him. And, one by one, odd, even tragic things seem to befall his friends and loved ones. Andrew is forced to consider the possibility that Charlie may not be quite the lucky break he thought she was.

It was good fun reading it, with many ‘thank goodness it’s not me’ and ‘how can he not see what’s happening?’ moments. It galloped along at quite a pace, with some moments of genuine insight into jealousy and obsession. But it was a tad predictable and the twist at the end felt overly orchestrated.

Snack: Japanese savoury mix – fun to nibble at, but leaves a bit of a Wasabi aftertaste.

And please bear in mind that I do love all of my snacks, even if they do not sustain me on a long-term basis.

 

 

 

Personal Reading Challenge for December

The year of reading womenIt’s very simple: for December, I’ve resolved to read only books by women authors. This did not start out as an intentional challenge. In fact, the first book I finished in December (which I had started on the last weekend of November) was written by a man. It was Mark Edwards’ stalker thriller ‘Because She Loves Me’.

However, all of the books I had borrowed from the library or that were waiting patiently from me on my Netgalley shelf seemed to be by women writers – or at least the ones that were calling out to me: ‘Read me next! Me!’

So here are the books I have read, am reading and will be reading for this month.

Nina Stibbe: Man at the Helm – I opened this instead of another book and could not stop reading

Françoize Boucher: Le livre qui fait aimer les livres (The Book that Will Make You Love Books: Even If You Hate Reading)

BelCantoAnn Patchett: Bel Canto – because I love her writing and I couldn’t resist the hook: ‘kidnappers storm an international gathering of opera lovers at the Vice President’s residence in a poor Latin American country’

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah – because, given my cross-cultural experience and profession, everyone is surprised that I haven’t read it yet (and it does sound like the sort of thing I would enjoy)

Jacqueline Saphra: The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions – when I first started writing poetry again, the wonderful poet Naomi Shihab Nye said that my (very modest) efforts reminded her of Saphra’s work, so I’ve been reading her work ever since and finally bought the whole first collection

Lauren Beukes: Broken Monsters – because Lauren is a life-force, unpredictable and irrepressible, and boy, can she write!

icecreammanKatri Lipson: The Ice Cream Man – because it’s a Finnish author, although the action takes place largely in Czechoslovakia of the 1940s/50s.

Alison Mercer: After I Left You – because it’s been on my Netgalley shelf for far too long and Cleo recommends it

Lily King: Euphoria – because it’s about anthropologists in the field caught up in a pernicious love triangle (based on Margaret Mead, who is one of the main reasons I studied anthropology)

Look how many varied and wonderful women writers there are just in this small sample!

Am I being a little over-ambitious? Am I not making any allowances for spontaneity? Well, we shall have to wait and see whether the home-made plans bear any semblance to the end result. But I do know that I have plenty more women writers to choose from…