Monday, 2 March 2015

Reading round-up: February

February 2015 books

Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
A recently divorced woman starts working at an all-female detective agency, and is sucked into a maybe-conspiracy and a distinctly odd quest to find an abandoned baby, all while navigating a will-they-won't-they relationship with her next door neighbour. One of those quintessentially 90s books that's definitely deserving of the epithet 'quirky', this is a light and slightly silly read - but it's better than all of that makes it sound.

No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine by Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt - 5/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This study of the Columbine high school massacre was co-written by a classmate and alleged friend of the shooters. As such, it offers a really interesting perspective, but it's also heavily biased and influenced by the author's personal experiences. It may have been revelatory when it was published 13 years ago, but there wasn't much here I hadn't already read about elsewhere, and the tone and style were offputting.

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm - 4/10. Full review / Buy the book
Working in a Paris antiques shop, an American girl named Grace is living under a false identity: through a number of flashbacks, we find out what she is running from, and the convoluted tangle of relationships that caused her to be drawn into an art heist. While the premise is intriguing, it's wasted on a deeply boring set of characters, and lots of the details just don't make any sense.

The Curator by Jacques Strauss - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
There's so much in this novel that it's difficult to sum it up briefly, but I'll try: shifting between 1976 and 1996, it follows two generations of a white South African family, personified by father and son Hendrik and Werner Deyer. Both as manipulative and obsessive as each other, Hendrik and Werner make for awful but fascinating anti-heroes - the latter's blend of naivety, self-delusion and murderous tendencies being the main focus. With dark themes but an impressively light touch, it's a powerful and memorable book.

On Evil by Terry Eagleton - 7/10. Buy the book
Mixing theology, political history, modern philosophy and contemporary literary criticism, this is a readable and entertaining treatise on the concept of evil. It's short - actually more like a long-form essay - and although its conclusions are arguably vague, it's very interesting, and you will come away with a long list of further reading.

The Predictions by Bianca Zander - 7/10. Full review / Pre-order the book
Two teenagers brought up on a New Zealand commune try to navigate the changing world of London in the 1970s and 80s, struggling to fit their relationship around 'the predictions' - future visions of their lives laid out by a charismatic fortune-teller in their youth. Zander, author of The Girl Below, has perfected her style with this second novel, and its only flaw is that the protagonists are slightly bland.

Day Four by Sarah Lotz - 6/10. Full review / Pre-order the ebook
Stuck on a cruise ship that's become stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, a diverse group of passengers and staff are tested to the limits by distinctly strange and increasingly inexplicable goings-on. While it has an absolutely fantastic ending, Lotz's follow-up to The Three (barely a sequel, though it's been described as such) is sadly a bit of a drag, weighed down by unengaging characters and a very limited setting.

Bus Station: Unbound by Jenn Ashworth and Richard Hirst - 7/10. Full review / Buy the ebook (read online)
An updated spin on the 'choose your own adventure' genre, this latest project from indie publisher Curious Tales has the unlikely setting of Preston Bus Station, from which the protagonist/reader has to attempt escape during a snowstorm, while deciding whether or not to avoid various sinister characters. With numerous different endings to discover, it's really enjoyable, more than just a novelty.

Even though it's the end of February, I definitely feel like my 2015 reading hasn't really begun yet. There are so many books I want to read 'properly', but I'm trying to a) not think about that (especially since the list is getting longer all the time) and b) wait until I can give them my full attention. So this was another month of random picks and new/forthcoming releases. I'm aware that this isn't a very diverse selection - nothing translated from another language, for example - although I did manage to read two non-fiction books (which is nothing short of miraculous for me).

It's not difficult to pick my favourite of the month - it would definitely be The Curator. Most of the others were, at least, either reasonably enjoyable or reasonably interesting, with Unbecoming the only one I wish I hadn't bothered reading. I must say, though, that Day Four was undeniably a letdown after the brilliance of The Three.

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