Sunday, 5 April 2015
Reading round-up: March
Don't Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Lindsay Hunter's work has been a really great new discovery for me this month. I mentioned this in a recent post so I won't go on about it too much again here, but basically she writes amazing short stories full of cheap glamour and weird darkness. The stories in Don't Kiss Me vary from small-town Floridian drama to bizarro visions of the future, and although some are really magical stand-outs compared to others, they're all well worth reading. She even does first person plural well.
Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik - 4/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This was one of the debuts I was most looking forward to in 2015, so it was a big disappointment to find it sadly lacking in the suspense, drama and style I'd hoped for. Set in and around one of those 'exclusive schools' often found in literature, it follows a teenage girl's attempts to get to the bottom of various mysteries surrounding her younger sister's death. Unfortunately the story is mostly banal, and dragged down further by part of the story being focused on a rape and associated romantic (yes, really) subplot. Readers who haven't paid attention to the comparisons made by the publisher - which include Gillian Flynn, Donna Tartt and Twin Peaks (it's nothing like any of them) - will likely get more out of this than I did.
The Cellar by Minette Walters - 5/10. Full review / Pre-order the ebook
Walters' entry in the Hammer Horror novella series is the suitably dark, but not terribly interesting, story of a girl who is kept as a slave by a wealthy family. When their son goes missing, she's finally allowed out of the titular cellar and sets about getting revenge. While it's a gripping, quick read, The Cellar isn't really horror, and it's peopled with characters I struggled to care about either way. Not one of the best offerings from this imprint.
Daddy's by Lindsay Hunter - 7/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This was Hunter's first book of stories, and it covers many of the same themes as Don't Kiss Me, albeit with a slightly narrower scope. Still extremely good, though.
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell - 9/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Three sisters, the last of a seriously tainted family line, gather in their inherited New York apartment and determine to commit suicide. But only after they've written a book containing all the secrets of their ancestors' history. A Reunion of Ghosts is that book, but also the story of the eccentric sisters, Lady, Vee and Delph - characters so fiercely real that it's impossible not to root for them. The result of all these ingredients is a heartbreaking, hilarious, memorable novel which has instantly become one of my favourites of the year so far.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn - 7/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Flynn's first novel, but the last one of hers I hadn't yet read. It may also be the most disturbing. It starts innocuously enough, with a journalist being sent back to her home town to get an insider's perspective on the abduction of two young girls. But it just gets sleazier and more skin-crawling from there, with major themes including self-harm, teenage girls behaving badly (when I say 'teenage' I mean barely 13, and when I say 'behaving badly' I mean to scarcely believable extremes), and family intimacy that constantly verges on the incestuous. It's really good (difficult to believe it was a debut) but not the author's best, and not for the faint-hearted either.
The Shore by Sara Taylor - 7/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This much-talked-about 2015 debut, nominated for the Baileys Women's Fiction Prize, takes the form of a series of interconnected short stories that flip back and forth through time. 'The Shore' is the place they're all set in, an archipelago off the coast of Virginia, and the stories centre on members of two families whose fates are closely linked with that of the Shore as a whole. In parts it is unoriginal - it's frequently been compared to David Mitchell's work, and indeed it sometimes seems so close to Mitchell's style that it feels like a copy. But it's just about saved by engaging characters and the type of writing that can make you feel invested in what's going on within just a few lines. I'm not 100% convinced it deserves all the hype, though.
Penguin Random House Spring 2015 Debut Fiction Sampler by various authors - Full review
No overall rating for this one since the quality of the extracts (there are fifteen altogether) varied wildly. But the extract from Catie Disabato's The Ghost Network, out in early May, has got me wildly excited about reading the rest of the book. I was also interested to read an extract from Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman (out July) - it wasn't anywhere near as thrilling as the Disabato, but still enough to make me keen to read the rest. Of those I hadn't heard much about prior to this book, Sara Nović's Girl at War (also out in May) really piqued my interest.
So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
In his trademark irreverent and humorous style, Ronson investigates the idea that the concept of public shaming has been resurrected by social media. This is a fast-paced, compelling and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny book, but it seems to touch a little too lightly on many of the questions the central topic brings up. Overall it feels a bit rushed and doesn't have any meaningful conclusions - although I know that's not really the point of it.
The moving and entertaining A Reunion of Ghosts was the best book I read in March. I'd also urge everyone to seek out Lindsay Hunter's stories (there are plenty available online), and even though it was only a bit of the book, I can't get that extract from Catie Disabato's The Ghost Network out of my head. Now I've finished the course I've been studying for the past few months, and have a bit more free time on my hands, I'm hoping April will prove to be a fruitful month both in terms of reading new books, and crossing older ones off the to-read list.
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