Saturday, 10 October 2015

What to buy in the Kindle Autumn Sale

Gateway to the fog

It's autumn, which means it's time for pumpkin spice lattes the traditional Kindle Autumn Sale. It's not the most exciting selection, but here are some recommendations - I'd particularly recommend What a Carve Up! if you've never read it (the sequel, Number 11, comes out next month and it's brilliant) and The Ghost Hunters, a good old-fashioned spooky take that's based on the true(ish) story of 'the most haunted house in England'.

What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe - £1.99
The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring - 99p
The Bees by Laline Paull - £1.99
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas - £1.99
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon - £1.99
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson - 99p
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion - £1.99
The Blinded Man by Arne Dahl - £1.99
The Mall by S.L. Grey - 99p
Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus - 99p
Ratking by Michael Dibdin - 99p
Before You Die by Samantha Hayes - £1.99
The Montalbano Mysteries by Andrea Camilleri - £1.39
Drive by James Sallis - 99p
The Cry by Helen FitzGerald - 99p
Sorrow Bound by David Mark - 99p
Who Is Tom Ditto? by Danny Wallace - £1.99
John Dies at the End by David Wong - 99p

As a bonus, here are some books included in the October Monthly Deals, featuring a suitably autumnal duo (The Woman in Black and The Night Circus) and also The Sea Sisters, which is really more of a summer book, but is definitely worth £1.49 regardless of the season.

by Kate Beaton

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Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Review: I Am Jonathan Scrivener by Claude Houghton

I Am Jonathan Scrivener by Claude HoughtonI Am Jonathan Scrivener (1930) by Claude Houghton

First published in 1930, I Am Jonathan Scrivener concerns the unlikely adventures of James Wrexham, a disillusioned clerk of almost forty who has achieved little in his uneventful life. Wrexham considers himself not only to be a lonely man but to be defined by loneliness, yet - unlike many lonely people - he feels this has enriched his understanding of others.
I have known years of loneliness and there is a type of experience which is revealed only to the lonely. During those years I was forced to learn a good deal about myself and that knowledge taught me what to look for in others. If you have been behind the scenes, you never regain the illusion which belongs to a person who has always been simply a member of the audience.
Fearing stagnation, Wrexham impulsively decides to apply for the job of secretary to Jonathan Scrivener, a 'gentleman of independent means', via an advertisement in the Times. Much to his surprise, Scrivener employs him without the two of them meeting or even speaking. He's even more baffled when Scrivener, who is abroad, issues instructions that Wrexham should move into his flat immediately, make himself comfortable and fully enjoy the advantages of living in London.

This turns out to involve meeting and socialising with Scrivener's many friends, who turn up at his doorstep (and in some cases inside the flat itself) expecting Scrivener to be there. They are: Pauline, a young, beautiful woman with great innocence and an inquisitive nature; Middleton, an alcoholic troubled by his experiences in the war and the loss of his fiancée; Mrs. Bellamy (Francesca), a woman made famous by the suicide of her extremely wealthy husband; and Rivers, a flighty young man and something of a social butterfly. These characters, Pauline and Francesca in particular, are each richly imagined in their own right. What binds them all together, Wrexham included, is a desire for something more than the conventional life they have been offered, and rejection of the options they have before them. But each of them is uncommonly obsessed with Scrivener, something made to seem all the more unusual because they are so different in character, age, class, and experience.

I Am Jonathan Scrivener is very much a book of its time, and it's one of a very, very small number of books (Mrs Dalloway being another) that really made me think about what life and society were actually like during this period. The contrast between the prudish austerity of the Victorian era, so recent in the memories of many, and what is depicted here as the flippancy and flamboyance of 1920s/30s youth; the aftermath of war and the feeling that society was a new, reshaped thing. Wrexham's narrative often involves commentary on London and on society in general, as he observes life in a city much changed from the London of twenty years before. These observations are compelling as a snapshot of this particular period, a world which had seen cataclysmic change and would be upturned again within a decade. They are sometimes amusing because they're still relevant now - and sometimes because they're very much the opposite.
Wherever I went, whatever the time, there were hordes of people—restless, irritable, or apathetic people—staring into shops, herding into 'buses, or waiting impatiently to cross streets which were congested with every type of vehicle, capable of every variety of speed. The gloom, particularly in the faces of the men, was remarkably apparent. In a thousand unsuspected places he results of ordeal by battle were unmistakably clear. These people were weary, sceptical, disillusioned. They sought for pleasure with all the feverish activity of the unhappy. 
I discovered that modern people never smile. They either shriek with laughter or look as if funerals were the order of the day. The dignity of which we English used to boast had vanished; everyone was slightly hysterical and seemed to be waiting for something to happen—half hoping that it would, yet half terrified that it might. The conversations I heard were always about money... a car of any sort was regarded as the highest pinnacle of human felicity. The garage has become our spiritual home.
... Everyone was exceedingly class conscious when the plain fact of the matter was that classes had ceased to exist and everyone now belonged to one vast undifferentiated mass. Democracy had triumphed at the precise moment when everyone had ceased to believe in it. Politics had become a longer word for chaos. At the time of which I am writing the Conservatives were in power... The Labour Party was far too busy preparing its programme, or dealing with revolution in its own ranks, or explaining that it had not stolen its panaceas from the Liberals, to spare any time for effective criticisms of the Government's proposals. Meanwhile, as ever, the country was run by the Civil Service.
At one point, someone makes the remark 'something will turn up - another war or something' - a comment that would have made me roll my eyes had I encountered it in a contemporary novel set in 1930, yet it seems fascinating to find it here.

This is also a very funny book, albeit one with a rather dry sense of humour. One of the most amusing scenes occurs when Rivers takes Wrexham to a Japanese restaurant, a place he clearly finds confounding in the extreme.
It was at this point that the first course appeared. It consisted of odds and ends of dry, very dead-looking things. I tried one which looked like a mushroom of great antiquity, but it turned out to be raw fish. 
Although it resembled spaghetti, recent experience had proved that in this restaurant things were not what they seemed. Nor did the fact that one solitary prawn crowned the writhing pyramid inspire me with any confidence.
    "Looks like spaghetti," said Rivers, "but it isn't."

    I waited, hoping he would say what it was, but he began to eat in the manner of one performing a rite. 
As tactfully as possible I inquired whether coffee in this restaurant in any way resembled the beverage usually associated with the word. On being assured that it did, I accepted a cup. It was coffee. I drank it quickly, fearful that its surroundings might pervert it.
Other highlights include a soup containing 'long weeds' which resemble 'serpents who had died in youth', and desserts that look like 'small, petrified bats'. In fact, many of the book's funniest moments involve Wrexham's interactions with Rivers. He is the 'light relief' character, the least obvious fit for Scrivener's group of friends, seeming to lack the others' yearning for a unique sense of being, and his cheerful volatility appears to bring out the best of Wrexham's dry wit:
Rivers was an entirely new experience for me. Not only had I never met anyone remotely like him, but I had never imagined such a person as a possibility. 
... He paused, studied me with the eyes of a superman, then asked if I could lend him a tenner. The atmosphere was so charged with the philosophy of "live dangerously" that I said "yes".
Naturally, given the strange circumstances surrounding Scrivener's character, the plot progresses as a mystery, as Wrexham tries to piece together the reasons for his employer's patronage of such a mismatched group of individuals - not to mention his own mysterious installation in the role of secretary. If this was a modern novel, it would no doubt build to some revelation about Scrivener - he doesn't really exist, or he's several people, or Wrexham himself turns out to be Scrivener, or something. But while the ending holds a small twist, the story is less about this conundrum than the fact that it brings Wrexham into the others' orbit and transforms not only his day-to-day existence, but his whole belief system. Similarly, while it becomes apparent towards the end that Wrexham is an unreliable narrator - something particularly evident when he speaks of a hitherto unmentioned love for Pauline and also alludes to having been affected by an unknown event, years ago, 'which made me content to become a spectator of life' - we never get to know anything more about him than he has disclosed. That event, whatever it was, remains concealed.

In the final few chapters, Wrexham's grip on reality loosens; he becomes both paranoid and intensely philosophical, puzzles out the connections between Scrivener's friends, and at the same time imagines they might really have been Scrivener's accomplices, acting out parts, and that Scrivener's servant is spying on him. I Am Jonathan Scrivener is a sort of mystery, making it a compulsive read, but more than that it is simply a story about people, their psychology, their differences and depths of character, what they might be driven to accept or reject given a wealth of opportunities. Through his characters, especially his brilliantly drawn women, Claude Houghton explores the questions any person might ask about their own life, and depicts a search for meaning and purpose that is timeless - but the fact that this is so clearly positioned in the time it was written gives it an extra layer of interest for the modern reader, since it shows how social turbulence and the after-effects of conflict might contribute to such existential interrogation.

Rating: 8/10 | Twitter | Goodreads | Tumblr | Bloglovin’ | Buy: Paperback & Ebook

Monday, 5 October 2015

Reading round-up: September

September 2015 books

Neuromancer by William Gibson - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
A classic of the cyberpunk genre, Neuromancer is a book you really experience. This story, in which a broken and disillusioned 'cowboy' hacker named Case is offered a second chance by an enigmatic figure named Armitage, served as the inspiration for The Matrix (which is not to say that it's the same story). The language takes some getting used to - the book has its own vocabulary and the story sprawls all over the place - but when you get into the flow of it, it's dreamlike, vivid, sometimes even beautiful, and frequently very exciting.

Through the Wilderness: Selected Stories by Dan Jacobson - 7/10. Full review / Buy the book
A book of short stories by Jacobson, which I tracked down after loving his first two novellas, The Trap and A Dance in the Sun. The tales here don't quite live up to the exhilarating brilliance of those books, and Jacobson is (perhaps unsurprisingly) much better at portraying South Africa than England, but the best of them have the same high points: faultless depictions of settings, subtle yet tangible suspense, and strong central themes, often involving cultural clashes, racism and selfishness.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen - 8/10. Full review to come / Buy the ebook
Ah, Purity, the book everyone loves to hate. For me, it was more love than hate - drawn in by the premise, I was then hooked by the first main character, Purity (Pip) Tyler. Her name gives the book its title, but it's an error to describe Pip as the protagonist; there's a wider cast of main characters whose lives inevitably intersect, turning Purity into a generation-spanning epic that's mainly about fucked-up families and their fucked-up relationships - so it has more in common with Franzen's other novels than has often been suggested. Personally, I enjoyed this more than The Corrections, and I think its characters will stay with me for a while.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller - 7/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This was a sampled book that turned out to be so gripping, I couldn't stop reading, and within a couple of days I'd finished it. I'm not sure it quite lived up to its early promise - if there's such a thing as too readable, this book was it, as I rushed through the pages to reach the conclusion without being captivated by any of the detail. There's also a climatic twist that's extremely easy to guess. But the plot - about a young girl whose father takes her to live in a woodland hut, telling her the world has ended and they are the only ones left - is well-constructed, and Fuller handles tension brilliantly.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn - 7/10. Full review / Pre-order the ebook
First of all, this isn't a new novel from Flynn, it's a very, very short story, and in my opinion it's a bit of a cheat to publish it as a standalone book. BUT... it is very enjoyable, and with its twisted narrator and twisty plot, it's vintage Flynn with an added splash of gothic horror, perfect for Halloween. I just wish it had been much longer, the better to flesh out the characters and a convoluted plot that doesn't quite fit properly within its few pages.

Dietland by Sarai Walker - 9/10. Full review to come / Buy the book
Dietland is a distinctly weird book - I loved it, but it's quite hard to explain why, perhaps because there are so many different ways to interpret its odd mish-mash of dark feminist satire, conspiracy thriller, brash comedy, and feelgood tale of body positivity. In short, it's about Plum, who is deeply unhappy and desperate for weight-loss surgery until the fateful day she notices a girl following her. This leads to her induction into the world of Calliope House - something like a women's refuge crossed with a secret society - and then in turn to her involvement with a feminist terrorist group called Jennifer. It all works because it has Plum, a warm and believable character, at its heart, which helps to ground the story when it ventures into absurd territory (and that happens quite a lot). Some will love it, some will hate it, but one thing's for sure: I've never read anything quite like this before.

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Starting autumn as I mean to go on: with a book of creepy, spooky, ghostly tales. I've read Priestley's 'Tales of Terror' series out of sequence, so this was the last remaining one I hadn't read, even though it was published first - and it turned out to be my favourite of the lot. These stories are written for children, but the beautiful writing, description and detail, plus some genuinely scary moments, and most of all the author's masterful ability to create atmosphere, make them wonderfully enjoyable for adults too.

Quite surprised I actually managed to finish seven whole books this month, since I also did this sampling thing. I didn't read anything I didn't enjoy in September, but my favourites were Purity and Dietland.

It's quite a relief to be able to go back to reading normally in October (though I plan to keep sampling a few books a month alongside my usual reading - it's a great way to trim down the to-read list). I want to read as many ghost stories, and things of that type, as I possibly can within the next few months, so recommendations are extremely welcome, especially if they're lesser-known, contemporary interpretations of the genre.

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Sunday, 4 October 2015

This week's links: 4 October 2015

This is a weekly roundup of interesting things I've seen or read online during the past seven days (or so). The usual disclaimer: linking to something isn't the same as agreeing with/endorsing it - these are mostly just articles I want to keep a note of for my own reference, but hopefully they might also prove useful or distracting to whoever comes across this post...
Book-related things:

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Sampling September: A round-up & some lessons

What I learned from sampling 30 books in a month

Throughout the month of September, I decided to embark on a project: to work through as many books as possible from my 2015 to-read list, reading only a sample of each - usually the first 2 or 3 chapters. Based on these samples, I then wrote mini-reviews of the books and decided whether I'd want to carry on reading them. September is over, although I haven't quite run out of books to sample yet (I'll probably never run out of books to sample), and all in all, I tried a grand total of 30 books. Many of them might best be categorised as literary fiction, but I also tried YA fantasy, science fiction, crime, dystopian adventure, a romantic novel and a feminist satire - all sorts of things.

Of the 30, my standout favourite was Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire. It's also the longest - 944 pages; if I finish it, it'll be by far the longest book I've read this year - so it remains to be seen whether it can sustain the momentum built up in the first six chapters. But if it does, it's going to be an amazing book.

There's a couple I've already finished, having felt compelled to read on straight after starting them: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, which was exceptionally suspenseful and difficult to put down but not entirely satisfying, and Dietland by Sarai Walker, an uproariously funny satire about the diet industry and the media, with a fantastic central character.

There's a handful of others I'll definitely be finishing at some point: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan, The Offering by Grace McCleen, Up Against the Night by Justin Cartwright, The Chimes by Anna Smaill, Ghosting by Jonathan Kemp.

And those I have reservations about, but am not willing to write off completely: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall, The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan, The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, The Sea Between Us by Emylia Hall, and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

So what did I learn from doing this?

I've become much more picky about thrillers and crime. I now find a lot of books in these genres predictable and dull. It takes something special and different to make me want to read on.

I'm much more likely to casually add books to my to-read list if they are new, relatively popular, and originally published in English. I seem to contemplate translated fiction a lot more carefully; even if I haven't yet bought the book, simply the idea of reading any translated novel in the first place is a much more considered decision. 

I find sampling to be a useful method for getting down my thoughts on a book in a completely honest way. If something's just not for me, it feels a lot better to say that after a few chapters than to read the whole thing and write a bad review.

Reading bits of so many books within such a short time sometimes made me feel as though I was inhabiting many different worlds simultaneously - or like all the stories were somehow taking place within the same world. Quite a pleasant side effect, really.

This whole project was a bit exhausting - especially towards the end - but it was also rewarding. Clearing books off my to-read list makes me feel weirdly productive, not to mention the fact that it makes said list more manageable. From now on, I'm going to make an effort to set aside at least a couple of days a month to sample 3 or 4 books I might want to read and make a definite decision about them.

Here's the full list of my Sampling September blog posts and all the books I tried:
  • Booker Prize nominees: Satin Island by Tom McCarthy; The Chimes by Anna Smaill; The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan
  • Fiction by men, Part 1: Arcadia by Iain Pears; The Faithful Couple by A.D. Miller; City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. Part 2: Up Against the Night by Justin Cartwright; Ghosting by Jonathan Kemp; Alice and the Fly by James Rice
  • Fiction by women, Part 1: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall; The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips; The Offering by Grace McCleen. Part 2: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller; Dietland by Sarai Walker; The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
  • Light reads: The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon; The Sea Between Us by Emylia Hall; Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
  • Science fiction & fantasy: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers; The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan; The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy
  • Thrillers & crime, Part 1: Orient by Christopher Bollen; Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight; The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton. Part 2: Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts; Freedom's Child by Jax Miller; The Crooked House by Christobel Kent
  • ... And finally (couldn't think of any category for these, sorry): The Honours by Tim Clare; Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry; The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Sampling September: The last few books

The Honours by Tim Clare The Honours (2 April 2015) by Tim Clare

The premise: It's 1935 and 13-year-old Delphine Venner is determined to uncover the secrets of Alderberen Hall - a country estate, but also the home of a sinister secret society which has ensnared her parents. The Honours is described as 'a dark, glittering and dangerously unputdownable novel which invites you to enter a thrilling and fantastical world unlike any other.'
First line: The girl with the gun crouched waiting. The dark shape hung over the belt of poplars, then banked, swooping out across the salt marsh.
What I read: The prologue and chapters 1-2 (up to 10% in the ebook).
Would I read the rest of it? I must admit, the thing that attracted me most about The Honours was its beautiful and mysterious cover. I didn't know anything about the plot when I started it, nor whether it was intended for adults or children. The prologue is heavy on the fantasy element and rather comically gruesome; chapters 1 & 2 read more like historical fiction with a mystery twist, and although I thought these were more readable, I found my attention wandering. If something isn't keeping my focus this early on - even with the promise of a secret society! - then I'm pretty sure it's not for me. A scan through a few other reviews tells me it is definitely predominantly a fantasy novel, and whether it's meant this way or not, it also has the tone of something written for a young adult audience. I think I would really have enjoyed this when I was a teenager, but it's not the right book for me now.

Church of Marvels by Leslie ParryChurch of Marvels (7 May 2015) by Leslie Parry

The premise: In late 19th-century New York, the lives of three strangers - a cleaner who discovers an abandoned baby, a girl who works as a circus sideshow act, and a woman who finds herself incarcerated in a lunatic asylum - become entwined. The story has been described as 'The Night Circus meets Water For Elephants.'
First line: I haven't been able to speak since I was seventeen years old.
What I read: The prologue and chapters 1-2 (12%).
Would I read the rest of it? There's something about circus stories, isn't there? I don't know what it is, exactly, but if the huge success of The Night Circus is anything to go by, I'm obviously not the only one to think so. Maybe this magic ingredient also explains why I found the circus segment of The Church of Marvels' opening chapters, the story of sisters Odile and Belle, far more interesting than any of its other threads. I'm probably not being entirely fair on this book, reading it so late into this sampling experiment, and I think my reaction to it is suffering from the fact that I have already tried books with various similarities to this that I preferred: The Gracekeepers for a story featuring a circus, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street for historical fiction with three strangers' lives intersecting, and City on Fire for multiple characters with multiple stories across New York. I don't think I'll be reading more of this anytime soon, but that probably says more about my reading exhaustion than it does about the book.

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough The Death House (26 February 2015) by Sarah Pinborough

The premise: Toby lives in the Death House, where he and his friends are studied by Matron and her team of nurses - scrutinised for signs of changing health. They all live in fear of being sent to 'the sanatorium', from which no one ever returns. 'But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes...'
First line: 'They say it makes your eyes bleed. Almost pop out of your head and then bleed.'
What I read: Chapters 1-4 (11%).
Would I read the rest of it? This is another one I think I would categorise as young adult, although I didn't expect that before I began it; I thought it would be more similar to another book I've read by Sarah Pinborough, The Language of Dying, about a family dealing with grief. All the main characters in The Death House are teenagers, diagnosed as 'Defective' and sent to live together in the austere Death House - though I'm not sure yet whether this is all an allegory or a fantasy story. I know from The Language of Dying that Pinborough is a great writer of effective characters and emotive situations, and I do find the setup pretty intriguing, but yet again - with all the other good books I've sampled this month waiting in the wings, I can't see this making the cut.

Throughout September I'll be working through some of my 2015 to-read list, sampling the books and cataloguing my thoughts on each of them. Find all the posts in this series here!

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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Sampling September: Fiction by men, part 2

Up Against the Night by Justin Cartwright Up Against the Night (27 August 2015) by Justin Cartwright

The premise: Originally from South Africa, Frank McAllister has made his fortune in England; meanwhile, his volatile cousin Jaco has become a minor YouTube celebrity and is involved with the Scientologist movement. When Frank returns to his home country and is drawn back into Jaco's life, he is 'drawn into a world of violence and delusion that will threaten the whole family.'
First line: From a distance, the Reverend Francis Owen, his wife, their servant, Jane Williams, and a twelve-year-old boy, William Wood, watched, helpless and terrified, as a thousand Zulu warriors fell on seventy unarmed Boers and beat them with clubs.
What I read: The prologue and chapters 1-3 (up to 12% in the ebook).
Would I read the rest of it? I approached this with some trepidation; for some reason, between adding it to my to-read list and reading the first few chapters I'd developed this impression that it was going to be really dull. So I was pleased to find it immediately absorbing. Up Against the Night is semi-autobiographical; Frank is a descendant of the Boer leader Piet Retief, as is the author. The first chapter sees him struggling with this legacy, his conviction that 'there is something rotten at the heart of the Retief story, at odds with the myth of heroism and sacrifice'. Frank's first-person narrative jumps from present to past as he recalls stories told by his aunt when he was a boy - this is where the cover image comes from, a memory of moths burning their wings in candlelight. Already there's a lot going on here to get interested in; I'll definitely be reading more.

Ghosting by Jonathan KempGhosting (12 March 2015) by Jonathan Kemp

The premise: At the start of Ghosting, Grace, a woman in her sixties, thinks she sees the ghost of her first husband. This triggers a series of long-buried memories, as she ruminates on her past. But... 'the ghost turns out to be very real: a charismatic young man named Luke. And as Grace gets to know him, she is jolted into an emotional awakening that brings her to a momentous decision.'
First line: It's just after nine am on a bright July morning when she first sees her dead husband.
What I read: Chapters 1-2 (20%).
Would I read the rest of it? Yes, I think so; I really like this so far, and it's very easy to read. The third-person narration is extremely simple and straightforward, stripped of any flowery language, and moves quickly through scenes from Grace's history. By chapter 2, the book has already covered, in flashbacks, the early development of Grace's relationship with Pete, her first husband, as well as the grim reality of their marriage. The ghost mentioned in the blurb hasn't actually turned up yet, though, which means I'm quite keen to read on at least far enough to see how that happens.

Alice and the Fly by James Rice Alice and the Fly (15 January 2015) by James Rice

The premise: The blurb doesn't give much away about the actual plot. It says: 'This is a book about phobias and obsessions, isolation and dark corners. It's about families, friendships, and carefully preserved secrets. But above everything else it's about love. Finding love - in any of its forms - and nurturing it.'
First line: The bus was late tonight. It was raining, that icy winter rain, the kind that stings.
What I read: Chapters 1-5 of part 1 (8%).
Would I read the rest of it? Since the blurb is so enigmatic, I'll flesh it out a bit here. The narrator is Greg, a troubled and bullied teenager who's terrified of something he only refers to as 'Them' (a mention of webs makes me think this might mean spiders, but it hasn't been made clear yet). The narrative is Greg's diary, written as if it is a letter addressed to Alice, a girl he has an obsessive crush on. The first chapter sees him take a going-nowhere, circular bus journey just so he can catch a glimpse of Alice. There's also some background on the setting - while Greg's home is in relatively affluent Skipdale, Alice lives in 'the Pitt', an impoverished, locally reviled area which is literally positioned in... well, a pit of sorts, at the bottom of a steep hill. All this worldbuilding is interesting, but Alice and the Fly feels overwhelmingly like a YA novel. This isn't necessarily a dealbreaker, but makes it much less likely I'll continue, and in this case I'm not especially enamoured of the characters.

Throughout September I'll be working through some of my 2015 to-read list, sampling the books and cataloguing my thoughts on each of them. Find all the posts in this series here!

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Sunday, 27 September 2015

This week's links: 27 September 2015

This is a weekly roundup of interesting things I've seen or read online during the past seven days (or so). The usual disclaimer: linking to something isn't the same as agreeing with/endorsing it - these are mostly just articles I want to keep a note of for my own reference, but hopefully they might also prove useful or distracting to whoever comes across this post...
Book reviews & things: