Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Reading round-up: December

December 2014 books

Christmas Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley - 6/10. Buy the ebook
The title pretty much says it all - Priestley continues his Tales of Terror series with seven stories set around Christmas. These are meant for children, so they're unlikely to actually frighten you (and they aren't as scary as some of the previous installments in the series...) but the author's style is masterful, and there's always a ghoulish twist. Perfect as an easy winter read.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This unusual and magical story jumps all over the place, defying categorisation; I was worried it would be twee, and it kind of is, but it's so many other things as well that I didn't care. It's comforting and easy to read, but at the same time unpredictable, and the plot involves so many different elements that it's difficult to describe in brief. It's about the disappearance of a famous author; the contents of books changing of their own volition; the secrets within an elite club for writers (the Literature Society of the title); mind games, an unlikely romance, and an unsolved mystery. Very enjoyable indeed.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami - 3/10. Buy the ebook
I really wasn't keen on this. Perhaps not surprising given that I've only read one Murakami novel and didn't like that either... But so many people with good taste love him that I always get drawn back to the idea of reading his books, and I knew this would at least be short. There is hardly anything to the nonsensical story, which seems by all accounts to be Murakami by numbers, and I wasn't impressed by the illustrations. Not recommended.

The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
The last remaining collection of Daphne du Maurier stories I hadn't read; also apparently the least well-known. It's certainly not the author's best, but it's nevertheless very interesting and illustrates various stages of her development as a short story writer. Most of the tales here are about relationships, and they're largely lacking in the elements of macabre strangeness that characterise her later stories; some are rather forgettable. Particularly notable are the first and last stories in the book - 'No Motive', an unconventional mystery with lots of detail, and 'Split Second', which starts off as a series of boring domestic scenes only to take a turn into something truly unexpected.

Nest by Inga Simpson - 5/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
A quiet and contemplative novel set in Australia, where protagonist Jen tends a lush, abundant garden populated by birds, and contemplates the decades-ago disappearance of her father and, at around the same time, her best friend. The opening chapters set up a mystery in which a girl goes missing in the present day, suggesting a link with the past disappearances, but this is a bit of a red herring - Nest is more of a meditation on the beauty of nature than a plot-driven story. Beautifully written yet rather dull, I think this would have been a better choice to read in summer than winter.

The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol - 4/10. Buy the ebook
This is apparently a Christmas classic in Russia and the Ukraine, where it's traditionally read to children on Christmas Eve. For me it felt like the wrong combination of a very childlike story and quite adult humour. The translation also seemed odd, with quite a few phrases very incongruous for the time period in which the story was written and is presumably supposed to take place. Overall, I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as I'd hoped I would, but at least it was a quick read.

Discovering Scarfolk by Richard Littler - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Spun off from the Scarfolk Council blog, Discovering Scarfolk features many of author/illustrator Richard Littler's beautifully crafted, funny and macabre images, from 'educational' posters to product packaging. But the story isn't so much a story as just a way to join the (admittedly excellent) illustrations together. Good concept, and I'll be keeping an eye on the blog, but this book doesn't add much to the material that can already be read for free there.

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell - 7/10. Full review / Pre-order the ebook
I've loved most of the dystopian books I've read this year, so I hoped The Ship - in which a group of survivors escape a ravaged London on board (no surprise) a ship - would be another brilliant read. I enjoyed it, and it was certainly compelling enough to hold my attention, but I think it's better suited to teenagers. Sixteen-year-old protagonist Lalage is equal parts sympathetic and annoying as hell, and the cliffhanger ending suggests this may well be the first book in a series.

The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring - 7/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
I bought this on impulse more than a year ago, and pulled it out of a pile of unread books purely because I was thinking of getting rid of it. Happily, it proved to be a fun and entertaining read, if not an exceptional one. Based on real people and events, chiefly paranormal researcher Harry Price and his investigation of the 'most haunted house in England', it's a good combination of compelling characters and an intriguing plot that keeps you guessing; I found it more interesting the further into the story I got. A good book to round off 2014.

I really did not feel like reading much this month, and spent a lot of time watching films. That's why the books I chose to read in December were such an odd mix. Best of the bunch was The Rabbit Back Literature Society, which turned out to be much better than I'd initially imagined. And that's 2014 done - 124 books in all! Here's my year in reading, courtesy of Goodreads. In with the new... a post on the books I'm looking forward to in 2015 is coming soon.

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1 comment:

  1. These are quite a nice story books which one can read. I remember our professor Aloke Ghosh always used to say that such books are a great stress buster and I have no doubt in what he said.