Sunday, 7 September 2014

Reading round-up: August

August 2014 books

70. The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland - 7/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
71. Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier - 5/10. Read my full review / Buy the book
72. The Lazarus Prophecy by F.G. Cottam - 9/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
73. J by Howard Jacobson - 8/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
74. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde - 8/10. Read my full review / Get the ebook (free for Kindle)
75. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle - 6/10. Read my full review / Get the ebook (free for Kindle)
76. The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark - 7/10. Read my full review / Buy the book
77. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - 9/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
78. Another Man's City by Choi In-ho - 6/10. Read my full review / Pre-order the book
79. Improper Stories by Saki - 6/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
80. Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay - 8/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
81. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart - 6/10. Read my full review / Buy the book
82. Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos - 7/10. Read my full review / Buy the ebook
83. Generation X by Douglas Coupland - 6/10. Read my full review / Buy the book
84. Leviathan by Paul Auster - 8/10. Review to come / Buy the ebook

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I managed to read 15 books in August - and, in the process, surpassed my 2014 target of 75 books.

First of all, Emily St. John Mandel's magnificent Station Eleven was my favourite book of the month. It's set in a post-apocalyptic version of America, and tells two stories - firstly how the fall of civilisation happened, and secondly, what happens when a travelling band of actors and musicians run into trouble in a town ruled by a mysterious 'prophet'. If that doesn't sound like something that'd normally have you running to a bookshop, I didn't think it would be my kind of thing either, but the way Mandel writes, fleshes out her characters, and puts all the pieces of this jigsaw together s-l-o-w-l-y with infinite humanity and elegance is just perfect (and I went in with very high expectations after all the buzz about Station Eleven on Twitter). It's out in a few days - buy it.

I also loved F.G. Cottam's The Lazarus Prophecy, a horror/historical mystery/thriller hybrid from my favourite author of ghost stories. J by Howard Jacobson was an enjoyable and thought-provoking mix of dystopian fiction and satirical humour, and better than Jacobson's Booker winner The Finkler Question. Equally thought-provoking and funny, though in a very different way, was Roxane Gay's essay collection Bad Feminist, which includes some brilliant and truly inspiring pieces of pop culture criticism alongside insightful pieces on all sorts of topics, including - but not limited to - feminism.

Out of the handful of classics I read this month, the best was The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was a much quicker, easier read than I anticipated; also very good was The Driver's Seat, a dark and strange little novella. I still haven't been converted into a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes books, but the second, The Sign of Four, was definitely better than the first. John Collier's short story collection Fancies and Goodnights was entertaining to begin with, but repetitive themes and constant misogyny across the course of 50 stories (too many, really) dragged it into below-average-read territory for me.

While very short, Down the Rabbit Hole was an intriguing, powerful story - a snapshot of the life of a drug baron's son, from the boy's point of view. The Vanishing Witch was a fun mediaeval romp, a return to form after Karen Maitland's lacklustre fourth novel. Leviathan by Paul Auster was really good, but shares a lot of themes and quirks of style with his other books, so it won't be anything new to fans of the author. I liked Improper Stories by Saki, and although it wasn't really what I expected (gentle satire with a macabre touch, nothing more horrifying than that!) I'd still like to read more by the author.

Nothing I read this month was a real disappointment, but a few of these books - Generation X, By Grand Central Station..., Another Man's City - were just okay, and particularly in the case of the first two, didn't live up to what I'd hoped for from their reputations.

I can't believe it's September already. I've just finished David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, and a huge review is forthcoming - but with so many spoilers I'll probably only be able to post it on Goodreads! I'm currently reading Samantha Harvey's intriguing Dear Thief. What are you reading this September?

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