Sunday, 3 August 2014

Reading round-up: July

July 2014 books

62. Hunger by Susan Hill - 7/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
63. After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry - 10/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
64. The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris - 6/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
65. Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinéad Crowley - 4/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
66. Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois - 8/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
67. A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor - 8/10. Read my full review / Pre-order the ebook
68. Touched by Joanna Briscoe - 6/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
69. Breakfast with the Borgias by DBC Pierre - 7/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook

I haven't had as much time to read this month as I have for the last couple of months. It was my 30th birthday (!), I've been ill (yes, this is still going on, I'm struggling to remember not being ill), it's been a generally busy and slightly manic time. I feel like I lost sight of my reading goals a bit - I mostly stuck to ARCs and new books, only deviating from this for a couple of books from my bigger to-read backlog, and an unsatisfying mystery I picked up at the library (I'm annoyed with myself for succumbing to the latter... But it has been so hot, I've felt as if I should be reading trashy holiday books!)

Best book of the month was Sarah Perry's wonderful debut, After Me Comes the Flood. In this atmospheric, entirely unique novel, a man who spontaneously decides to leave his humdrum life behind gets more than he bargained for when he stumbles upon a picturesque country manor, the residents of which claim to have been waiting for him and anticipating his arrival. The story that unfolded after this beguiling opening wasn't anything like I expected it to be, but was even more compelling, exciting and haunting than I could have imagined. I really loved this book, and it's immediately become not only one of my favourites of the year, but one of my favourites of all time - I can't recommend it enough. (I know I said exactly that about Linda Grant's Upstairs at the Party last month, but they're both wonderful!)

Cartwheel, a novel based on a real crime, was an ARC I'd had for about a year and put off repeatedly because I just wasn't that enthusiastic about the idea of it. But I'm happy to report it was actually an excellent read, which was so much more than a retelling of something that really happened. The fantastic characterisation was its strong point, and a relationship between two of the characters moved me so much I was also in tears. A Bad Character was also a moving and evocative novel in which both characters and setting came alive on the page. It follows a young woman in modern India as she becomes entangled in a dangerous affair with an unpredictable man, and I found it incredibly vibrant and memorable.

I read a couple of Hammer horror novellas this month. DBC Pierre's Breakfast with the Borgias was the better of the two - and a pleasing return to form after the author's last book, Petit Mal, a compilation of writing and art which I thought was terrible. It's a traditional sort of ghost story in which an innocent young character is stranded, in the midst of impenetrable fog, at a guesthouse full of ridiculously eccentric characters. I thought the premise was perfectly suited to Pierre's style, and the result was both humorous and horrifying, but most importantly a really good read. Joanna Briscoe's Touched was interesting, and less predictable than Breakfast, but ultimately not quite as successful for me. It's about a young family who move into an apparently haunted house in a small village, but the story that follows is more about the evil people do to one another than it is about anything supernatural.

Hunger was a very short, quick read, but really enjoyable - I expected something ghostly from Susan Hill, but it was actually more interesting than that, with the feel of a timeless fable. The Evil Seed, which was Joanne Harris's first novel, was fun, but a bit of a mess overall: it had intriguing themes and an atmospheric setting, but got a bit too bogged down in an attempt at real horror. I wasn't particularly impressed by Can Anybody Help Me?, but I should have known that before I even started it, so I only have myself to blame. It's a predictable, run-of-the-mill thriller - the only intriguing element was that the characters were linked together through their participation in an online forum, but I think that idea could have been used to much greater effect than it was.

I should also mention that I had one significant 'did not finish' this month - Sarah Waters' forthcoming novel The Paying Guests. I had been looking forward to reading this so much, and I am truly disappointed that I didn't like it. I'm not going to write a review, but there are some thoughts here; basically, I found it really dull and disliked the protagonist. A real shame, as it was one of my most-anticipated books of the year, but they can't all live up to expectations - and it was a good exercise in writing honestly about how I felt about the book when a) I was lucky to get an advance copy and b) everyone else loves it.

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