Books of the Month: Mainly Novels

March was an extremely busy month, so in the interests of preserving my own sanity I took a hiatus for a while. Now I’m back, and I’ll probably keep doing my weekly book posts, but I might move the general round-ups to monthly rather than weekly.

In March I barely read anything until the final week, when I read a bunch of novels. Reviews below.

Dangerous Families by Peter Dale et al.

The only book I read that wasn’t a novel, Dangerous Families talks about the challenges of assessing and treating child abuse. It’s not a recent book, so some of the stuff in it is a bit out of date, but it was interesting to learn how things were set up at the very beginning of the child abuse scandals starting to come out, and to learn about combating child abuse from a social work perspective.

Child sexual exploitation (prevention thereof, obviously) is an industry I’ve worked in throughout my whole adult life, in various capacities, but I’ve never been a social worker. And honestly, I’ve never had a fully positive interaction with any social worker I’ve come across. Dangerous Families helped me to understand why that might be, by giving a window onto some of the structure of social work and how that can make things problematic, and ultimately be unhelpful to children.

I’d love to read an up to date version of this book, and learn about some more current issues in the field.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner. One is a respected politician running for office; the other is sick of living in his brother’s shadow. But tonight they have more difficult problems than pettiness and politics. Their sons have been caught on camera committing a heinous act, and the brothers need to decide what to do. Although the CCTV footage has been released, it’s grainy and unclear, so the likelihood of anyone else recognising their children as the perpetrators is slim. What should they do? And should they bring their wives in on the decision?

I’ve read a few novels recently in which some of the most central characters have been pretty awful, and this one was no exception. Despite being terrible people, though, they’re well-written in this case, and that made me want to read through to the end. In the final section of the book we come to understand the characters’ motivations for forming the specific groups they have, and we realise just how true it is that it’s our unconscious traits that attract us to one another as much as our conscious feelings.

Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre

I was sent this for review by the publisher, so it gets its own post, which is scheduled for the 23rd of April. So for now all I’ll say is that I enjoyed it immensely.

Normal by Graeme Cameron

Another book in the ‘horrible people as protagonists’ trend, Normal is about a man who kidnaps women and holds them captive in a basement under his garage. Unlike many books of its ilk, Normal doesn’t try to make us sympathise with its main character, although we do come to understand him better as the story unfolds.

When we first meet him, he’s chopping up a woman and storing her in binbags. Unfortunately someone interrupts this process, which means he needs to kidnap her, and… well, one thing leads to another, you know?

There was a dark humour running through the book which I really enjoyed: I think without that, it would have been a much harder, more gruesome read. Instead it was entertaining but creepy, which is one of my favourite story types.

Not one for the squeamish, but definitely one for the appreciators of darkness.

Animals Eat Each Other by Elle Nash

This is another one that was sent for review by the publisher, so it’ll have its own, longer post. Hopefully by that point my friend will have read it, too: I gave it to her for a second opinion, because I didn’t like it but I couldn’t work out whether that was just me, or if the book wasn’t very well written. I’ll let you know our thoughts in my longer review.

After She’s Gone by Camilla Grebe

Writing this post is making me realise how many books I was sent by publishers this month! After She’s Gone was another one.

Scandi-noir meets Nordic fantasy; it’s great. Full review coming in its own post (apparently I’ll be writing a lot of posts this month…)

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg

I read this because I watched the movie version a while ago, and I wanted to see how all the twists and turns played out in the book. The film was quite faithful to the book’s storyline, with a bit of shuffling around of events towards the end and a few too many cinematic effects (glowing red eyes, anyone?), but it’s worth a watch if you like chilly horrors.

Falling Angel introduces us to Harry Angel, a New York private eye who’s hired by a mysterious businessman to investigate the disappearance of legendary New Orleans singer Johnny Favorite. As Angel looks into the case, he starts to realise it’s much riskier than he’d expected – there is nothing run-of-the-mill about this investigation, or about the man who’s hired him.

Becoming distracted from his main task, Angel starts to look into the background of his employer, and uncovers some intriguing happenings that disgust and thrill him in equal measure.

The twist does that perfect creepy thing: I worked it out in stages, my brain going “Wait… no… surely not?… really?… oh, wow, yes, OK.”

It’s a classic, and therefore a bit of a cliché, but in the best way.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

I started to read this one, but couldn’t make myself get more than about a third of the way through. I used to force myself to finish books I didn’t like, but over time I came to realise that life’s too short.

It’s a no from me.

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Sofia has finished her anthropology degree and doesn’t know what to do next. In the meantime she’s been working as a waitress, but now she’s packed that in as well, and instead has travelled to Spain with her ailing mother.

Rose has been ill for as long as Sofia can remember, and now they’ve come to Dr. Gomez’s clinic by the beach in a last-ditch attempt to make things different. As Rose undergoes some fairly unorthodox treatment, Sofia makes friends with Gomez’s daughter and begins to uncover her own desires.

A brilliant book that will chime with anyone who’s lived in the shadow of a controlling parent, Hot Milk is a quick yet deep read which I highly recommend.

What have you read recently? 


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