Last week’s reading list went like this
I read them all, with the exception of the Guide Parker des Vins de France, which is going to be a mantelpiece book once I’ve got the study sorted out.
Here’s an overview of what I thought of each one.
Significance by Jo Mazelis
I read this curled up on my sofa with an orange hot chocolate, on a day when I had a cold and was feeling sorry for myself and wanting to be cozy. There’s a certain type of book that works well in that setting, and this wasn’t one of those, so perhaps that’s why I didn’t really click with it.
It’s about a girl called Lucy, who ditches her old life, disappears to France and then gets murdered. The police officers investigating Lucy’s death come across various bits of insubstantial evidence which thwart their investigation – it seems that everyone has something to say, and that different people read situations in wildly different ways.
It did underline how our individual prejudices make us interpret things differently from other people. I just didn’t feel very moved by the story.
The Offering by Grace McCleen
A deeply creepy and brilliantly suspenseful novel, The Offering tells the story of Madeline, who has been inside a mental hospital for twenty years and is gradually working out why she was put there in the first place.
Flashing between the hospital and the farm on which Madeline grew up with her fundamentalist preacher father, the book describes with a piercing accuracy the ways in which the human condition can be twisted into an experience of intense suffering, loss and ultimate sacrifice.
The Incarnations by Susan Barker
One of those epic novels that I frequently find difficult to read, The Incarnations suffers from being a bit long-winded in places and sometimes trying a little too hard.
On the whole, however, it’s an intriguing story that weaves together past and present, giving snippets of history lessons along the way. It deals with reincarnation – both literal and metaphorical – and the ways in which we mould ourselves around lives that we deem acceptable.
The story focuses on Wang, a taxi driver in Beijing. Interspersed between chapters about his day-to-day life are letters that keep turning up – letters from someone who insists that they have been linked through generations and ages, and that the bond between them is too strong to be surpassed.
It feels like a very long read, but it’s gripping enough to give you the impetus to keep going. And the ending’s really good.
Mother Island by Bethan roberts
An unsettling yet relatable tale of familial rifts and the things desperation can make you do, Mother Island is one of those rare books that creates feelings of sympathy for both the protagonist and the antagonist throughout the story.
At the centre is a little boy, Samuel. His mother Nula has hired her cousin Maggie to look after him while she’s at work – and all goes well until the day when Nula comes home to find both Maggie and Samuel gone. As the story unfolds, we learn more about the history of the cousins’ relationship and discover what could possibly drive someone to take such a drastic step.
Mobile Library by David Whitehouse
It’s always a good sign if, as soon as I’ve closed a book’s final page, I pick up my phone and immediately text my librarian buddy to tell her she needs to read it.
I did that with Mobile Library, because it’s the kind of gem of a book that sits inside your bones long after you’ve read it.
Besides, the book has all the ingredients that are guaranteed to make me love it: a library; people breaking the rules for the sake of a higher moral cause; a derelict old house in the Scottish countryside; fucked-up families; misunderstood children; and well thought out characters.
Intrigued? Buy, borrow or steal a copy. You won’t regret it.
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth
This one had a recommendation from Caitlin Moran on the cover, which will almost always make me at least give a book a chance.
It didn’t really do much for me, though. A fairly run-of-the-mill coming of age tale, Animals follows the lives of Laura and Tyler, best friends who share a flat and whose lives and relationships – with each other and with the rest of the world – are gradually disintegrating.
I thought it tried a bit too hard to be a “warts and all” story and found both girls tiresome. But I can see how if I’d read it whilst in my late teens, I might have loved their crazy lifestyle and thought it glamorous, or at least deliciously daring. As it was, boring adult that I am, it just left me feeling tired.
A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
Ostensibly told from the point of view of Shomer, a man locked inside Auschwitz during WWII, A Man Lies Dreaming doesn’t really focus on the prisoner at all, but instead on his daydreams.
An ambitious book that deals with difficult subjects, I found it hard to read, especially once I’d clocked exactly who the private investigator protagonist of Shomer’s daydreams actually was (I can be quite slow on the uptake).
It was interesting and I don’t regret having read it, but I wasn’t prepared for such a heavy, almost Kafka-esque leve of disenfranchisement and starkness.
The Well by Catherine Chanter
In an attempt to revive their marriage, Ruth and Mark jack it all in and move to the countryside, where they buy a smallholding called The Well.
Things are going OK until a drought hits the rest of the country but leaves their property unaffected. Suddenly Ruth finds herself worshipped by a fringe religious cult, and the increasing isolation from other people, coupled with an unbearable personal tragedy, leads to horrific consequences.
The twist didn’t surprise me, but the book was a good, solid read and Ruth was a fascinating character.
According To Yes by Dawn French
Rosie Kitto escapes her life as an English schoolteacher and moves to New York, where she becomes a nanny to the young Wilder-Binghams, twin boys who – like everyone else in the family – live at the mercy of their ice-queen grandmother Glenn.
It’s touted as “hilarious” and “joyously funny” in the official description by Penguin, but my own experience with the book was very different. There were a couple of amusing moments, sure, but most of it was a serious novel about the consequences of switching off your emotions and letting something else take over – whether that’s routine and order (Glenn) or an irresponsible level of sexual abandon (Rosie).
It’s a really nice book about relationships and how difficult they are; about friendships springing up in the strangest of places; and about how important it is to look beyond the surface and see the human being lurking inside each of us.
I’d definitely recommend it. Just not for the reasons Penguin seems to want me to 😉
Today’s book is #PineappleClub by John Stanley, which is the true story of a group of vigilante hackers who work against paedophile rings. I’m about halfway through and I like it so far.
And what’s in store for the rest of the week? Here’s the list, incorporating child protection, hacking, ancient Egyptian spiritual practices, physics, politics and ethics.
What are you reading?