Reading Round-up: Spring 2016

It’s about time for some book reviews! I haven’t read a huge number of books this year, roughly one per month, but I’ve had quite good luck and haven’t read any stinkers. Here are the first few:

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

This was a Bloggers Book Club read, and is one of those ones set in an English country house, with an old mystery being discovered in the present. It weaves together the stories of an elderly Indian lady, Anahita, who spent her teenage years in England, her great-grandson, Ari, who she asks to investigate the mystery, an American actress, Rebecca, who is starring in a film at the house, and the various generations of the family who own the house. I really liked the main storyline (Anahita’s), it was well written, well paced and the characters, locations and emotions were richly brought to life. By comparison the modern-day plot and characters were a bit shallow and clunky, and I could have taken or left the American storyline, but it was fine. But unfortunately my lasting impression is tarnished a little by a truly bizarre LGBT scene that was horribly done, with really unnecessary language. Overall it’s a really good novel and one that you can really sink your teeth into, just… brace yourself for a couple of brief moments that might leave you scratching your head.

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Red Country is the sixth novel set in Joe Abercrombie’s First Law world, and is the third of three marketed as “standalone” novels following the initial trilogy. Each standalone is Abercrombie’s tribute to a specific film genre, and Western-style Red Country is the one where that’s most obvious. I was thrilled to quickly realise that one of my favourite characters from earlier in the series was prominently featured – I won’t mention which, as that would spoil the fun 🙂 That particular character provided a lot of my enjoyment of this book, and I really revelled in every aspect of their presence. I also enjoyed the new cast of characters and the new location, and various stories were tied up in a range of satisfying and unsatisfying endings – there’s even an actual (debatable) happy ending or two. Basically, still one of my favourite series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next offering from this world, which is a collection of short stories called Sharp Ends.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Such an emotionally vivid story. The Book Thief is narrated by Death, who provides a unique perspective, sometimes sad, sometimes humorous, of an extra-ordinary family living under Nazi rule. The story he tells us is that of 9-year-old Liesel, who is adopted in tragic circumstances by the Hubermanns, who then end up sheltering a Jew. I loved the choice of narrator, as I found that the combination of his ancient voice, telling the story of a child experiencing both the harsh realities and the little joys of life, created a beautiful and thought-provoking balance. This is a book for people who like to get to know characters, as even the minor ones are very well fleshed out. It’s less about the plot, because although events do happen, the focus is more on getting to know those involved, and caring about what happens to them, and reacting with them. Also because Death drops hints throughout of what’s to come, and although normally I can’t stand spoilers, it actually works well.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I’ve read a few of John Steinbeck’s writings now, mostly novellas which I’ve found remarkably well-paced and complete for being so short. The Grapes of Wrath is a full-length novel, and has a noticeably different pace. Chapters alternate between an overall picture, setting the scene of what’s happening across the country, and an up-close and personal account of how one specific family is affected. It provides a nice balance, and although I can be prone to skipping or skimming descriptive passages, Steinbeck has a wonderful, illustrative prose that meant I read every word. The novel is set during the Great Depression, and certainly isn’t a happy tale, but I thoroughly recommend it anyway. The only part that felt a bit off to me was the end – it didn’t particularly seem to fit or tie up the story – but that was only a minor disappointment.

This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This novel, although quite decent, was a massive disappointment for me, because it had so much unfulfilled potential. It tells the story of a high school shooting incident, with each chapter from the perspective of one of the students, and interspersed with texts, tweets etc exchanged between others. The story is well-paced and engaging, and the concept is good, but unfortunately the result is just a bit shallow. The narrators have family connections that aren’t very well explored, and just felt to me like a cheap way to pull the reader’s heart strings. There is, at face value, a commendable range of diversity in terms of sexuality, race and ability, but again these characters and relationships are described so shallowly that they just feel “token”. But the worst crime of the novel was the complete neglect to explore the shooter’s mindset, any further than “good person experiences a bad thing, becomes a bad person and shoots everyone.” Despite being the most instrumental character, the shooter is not a narrator, and is only given the most cursory glance of character development.

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