Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Reading round-up: January

January 2015 books

Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales by various authors - 7/10. Full review / Buy the book
Written by the members of authors' collective Curious Tales, this collection of spooky tales is inspired by the Christmas ghost story tradition and ostensibly based on the work of Robert Aickman. Like most collections, it's a mixed bag, but I really enjoyed the contributions from Alison Moore and Tom Fletcher, and was particularly enamoured with Emma Jane Unsworth's brilliant story 'Smoke'. I'm going to be keeping an eye on future releases from Curious Tales - watch this space for more reviews.

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This slow-burning, old-fashioned suspense novel is a year in the life of an eccentric British family, as observed by a young Swedish nurse. While not particularly eventful, it's a masterclass in deft characterisation and clever detail. Don't expect the pace of a thriller, but prepare to be absorbed.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer - 6/10. Full review (spoilers) / Buy the ebook
Wolitzer's YA novel, supposedly based on Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, is actually more like The Secret History for kids, with healthy doses of fantasy and romance chucked in. It's absolutely ridiculous, but against my own expectations I found myself really enjoying the story.

Beastings by Benjamin Myers - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Harsh landscapes, stripped-back language and an unforgiving story make this a sort of British counterpart to Katherine Faw Morris's similarly brutal Young God. A girl abducts a baby and flees across the moors, pursued by a corrupt priest. The raw yet evocative narrative is done really well, but I couldn't care for - or really believe in - the main character, and it's all exceptionally bleak.

(Incidentally I think the above two are perfect examples of the confusing flexibility of the medium rating (three stars on Goodreads, or 6 out of 10). One is an essentially not-very-good book which I happened to really enjoy, despite seeing its many flaws; one is a well-written book which I didn't really enjoy, despite appreciating the skill in the way the story was told.)

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Typically beautifully written, strange and magical, and filled with fairytale references - it's allegedly a retelling of the Snow White story - Boy, Snow, Bird is nevertheless the most conventional book I've yet read by Oyeyemi. An engaging, emotive tale of family secrets and identity politics, divided into three parts, its main flaw is that it never recaptures the thrilling crackle-and-snap of the first third.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Though I'd heard about it when it was longlisted for the Booker, I'd never been that interested in The Spinning Heart, suspecting it would be dry and difficult. In fact, it's a quick and entertaining read, telling the story of an Irish community during the late-2000s financial crisis through the voices of numerous different characters. Would recommend to those who enjoyed Tana French's Broken Harbour.

A Meditation on Murder by Robert Thorogood - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This is the first of a planned series based on the BBC TV series Death in Paradise, the big attraction being that it resurrects the original cast of characters, including DI Richard Poole. It's undemanding, funny and slightly silly, just like watching an episode of the show.

The Spectral Book of Horror Stories by various authors - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
An interesting but uneven collection of short stories by a mix of British and US authors, with the emphasis very much on the horror - subtlety is in short supply, but when the tales work they can be excellent. While some of the stories can, and probably should, be skipped, those by Stephen Volk, Rio Youers, Lisa Tuttle, Alison Moore and Brian Hodge make the book worth reading.

Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann - 8/10. Buy the book
I did this a bit of a disservice by reading the first two stories in October last year, and then not picking it up again until January - my intention was to spread the stories out over a couple of months, in the hope that this would make me savour and appreciate them more, but... it didn't really work out. Though a couple of characters grated, and the repetition of themes dulled their impact slightly by the end, I loved these stories, with 'Little Herr Friedemann', 'The Joker', and 'Death in Venice' itself standing out as favourites.

There's really been no logic to my reading choices this month - which was also the case last month, and will probably continue to be the case in the near future as it's unlikely I'll have the time/mental energy to concentrate on anything 'serious' for a while. That said, this approach seems to be working quite well, and if it ain't broke, etc etc...

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1 comment:

  1. I haven't heard of any of these books, but they sound pretty interesting! :D The cover of Death in Venice is really nicely done. Its intriguing and pretty and makes me want to know what this book is about.

    Cucie @ Cucie reads