Here’s part two of my attempt to play catch up with this year’s reading… Part one is here.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
Shortlisted for the Baileys Prize, this one was discussed by an additional gathering of London Book Club. The title hints at the book’s premise; as the narrator explores the lives of the people she interacts with, her own life and character remains a mere outline. It’s an interesting approach, but there’s nothing really filling in the gaps. Neither plot or character driven, it misses that special something.
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
The best YA fiction tackles mature subjects while avoiding patronising the reader – and All The Bright Places succeeds on both counts. With two suicidal protagonists it’s hardly a light read, but it manages to entertain while deftly taking on the challenging subject of depression.
My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst
With Suffragette now showing at cinemas, there’s bound to be renewed interest in the life of Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragette movement. I found Pankhurst’s autobiography very accessible and a truly fascinating read, especially as I was reading it not long after the general election. Even if you’re feeling disillusioned about politics at the moment, it’s almost impossible not to read this and be grateful for how far we’ve come in the past 100 years.
The Road Beneath My Feet by Frank Turner
While it goes without saying that this is a must-read for Frank Turner fans, even if you’re not it’s still worth a read as an interesting glimpse into life on the road. Charting Frank’s path to success as a solo artist, his tour diaries begin with his final Million Dead gig to his sold-out solo show at Wembley Arena in 2012. The erudite Frank is just as good a storyteller in print as he is on stage, so I hope there will be a follow up.
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth
The blurb slightly misleadingly sells this book as the tale of a teetotal fiance coming between his party animal future bride and her best friend. Fundamentally this is about Laura and Tyler’s friendship, their booze and drug-fuelled antics and Laura’s struggle to decide who she really is and what she really wants. While I didn’t love the story, the writing was brilliantly evocative throughout. I felt hungover just reading it.
Joan Of Arc: A History by Helen Castor
I’m not well versed in the story of Joan Of Arc beyond the basic facts, so found Helen Castor’s take on proceedings particularly interesting. Instead of telling the tale of Joan’s brief life, Castor places the religious warrior into context. Joan is completely absent from the first third of the book, which sets the scene by detailing the turmoil in France in the lead up to Joan’s rise to prominence. It’s a brave approach and won’t please everyone. While I found the context interesting and enjoyed the rounded approach to events, others may find it a bit of a slog to get through. If you’re interested in Joan and the troubles of France during that period it is well worth a read.
The Martian by Andy Weir
A sci-fi book club choice, I found myself whipping my way through this. The Martian’s self-published roots are apparent at times – the language can be clunky, with a few rough edges and occasionally clunky language, but there’s a reason this has made it on to the big screen. While the various obstacles thrown in stranded astronaut Mark Watney’s way start to get ridiculous by the end, this book is still a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The Versions Of Us by Laura Barnett
‘One Day meets Sliding Doors’ is a pretty apt description of The Versions Of Us, which follows a would-be couple through three different scenarios. But while Sliding Doors just followed two different outcomes and had Gwyneth Paltrow’s two hairstyles to keep things simple, the three different narratives are a challenge to follow at times. I’d avoid reading this on an e-reader, as you’ll want to flick back and forth throughout.
Perilous Question by Antonia Fraser
I did already have some knowledge of the 1832 Reform Act having studied it at school, but my memory was more than a little hazy. Despite the fairly dense subject matter Perilous Question is surprisingly readable, with Fraser bringing to life the major players of this pivotal moment in British political history.
Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson
A London Book Club choice, Notes from a Small Island was my first foray into the works of Bill Bryson. I absolutely adored this in parts, particularly when he explores some of the areas so familiar to me, although his observations on Britain and Britons as a knowing outsider do veer into slightly patronising territory at times.
The Invisible Man From Salem by Christoffer Carlsson
This book seems to be working off of the crime novel checklist. Disgraced cop with a dark past? Check. A straightforward case that isn’t quite what it seems? Check. Complicated love interest? Check. Nonetheless compelling narrative? Check. While it may seem a little formulaic at times, The Invisible Man kept me reading far past my bedtime to get to the end.
The Humans by Matt Haig
Another sci-fi book club choice – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Analysing the eccentricities of the human race from an alien invader’s perspective was often amusing, at times moving.
Courtiers by Lucy Worsley
While I’m a bit of a history geek, I’ll admit I’ve never really bothered to find much out about the Georgians. Lucy Worsley’s depiction of Georgian court life, exploring the reigns of George I and George II through the eyes of their courtiers, is engaging, informative and accessible.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Once a largely invisible geek, Frankie Landau-Banks is back at school with a new knockout figure and a new attitude to boot. When she realises her new boyfriend is part of a male-only secret society, Frankie covertly infiltrates the group and ends up anonymously pulling the strings. A fun read, with a far more intriguing protagonist than most YA novels.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This brief novel started life as a short story, which does come across at times – even our narrator feels like a distant character. That said, this book is magical, at times creepy, beautifully written and a joy to read.
Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly Macmillan
This story of a child’s disappearance could easily fallen into tasteless cliches, but manages to be gripping without being exploitative. The clumsy depiction of social media sometimes detracts from what is a great read, delivering twists and turns without becoming ridiculously far-fetched.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A story of the impact of the Biafran War told through perspectives of three different characters while jumping back and forth in time could easily have ended up in a jumbled mess, but not in the hands of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said by others about Half of a Yellow Sun. A wonderful novel fully deserving of all its plaudits.
A Spool Of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
After the Man Booker shortlist was announced I vowed to work my way through every book, and this was the first on the pile. Anne Tyler is obviously a brilliant writer who can capture the intricacies of domestic life, but I wasn’t sure this book was Booker worthy. The relationship between Abby and Red, elderly grandparents at the book’s beginning, forms the centre of novel – but it’s the house they live in that forms the backbone of the book. I loved the character of Abby, and enjoyed the flashbacks to the early stages of her relationship with Red. But as we went further back to Red’s own parents, the story felt distant in more ways than one. I would have liked to have seen more of Abby and more of her son, Denny.
All in all, well written but far too meandering.
One by Sarah Crossan
Written in free verse, I blitzed through this in one sitting. The story of conjoined twins Tippi and Grace is beautiful and heartbreaking in equal measure. A little bit R J Palacio’s Wonder with a dash of John Green.
Another Day by David Levithan
I absolutely loved David Levithan’s Every Day, the tale of A, a person who wakes up in a different body every day. One day A wakes up in the body of Rhiannon’s boyfriend, enjoying a perfect day with her, before spending the rest of the book trying to find his (or her? A is genderless, despite what Rihannon may think and hope) way back to her. Another Day follows events from Rhiannon’s perspective. Not exactly a necessary follow-up, Another Day doesn’t quite stand up to comparisons to its predecessor but is an enjoyable read nonetheless.