Sunday, 13 December 2015

Reading and sampling: Recent ARCs

For those who don't know, 'ARC', as well as being an acronym commonly spotted on book blogs the world over, stands for 'advance review copy' (or 'advance reading copy', depending on who you ask). Usually obtained from sites like NetGalley, Edelweiss and Bookbridgr, or directly from the publishers themselves, ARCs are a good way to find out about big new books early... although they can become rather addictive.

In the past year, I've been trying to be less reliant on ARCs and the lure of the new title, an aim at which I've been moderately, not very, successful - I still need to get better at doing my own thing when it comes to reading, rather than being drawn into the hype surrounding certain books. That said, with the end of 2015 approaching, I've become keen to clear my to-read list of this year's unread ARCs, so as to create more of a clean slate for 2016. Here are a few I've had a go at recently.

2015 ARCs

One I finished...

The Killing of Polly Carter (3 December 2015) by Robert Thorogood
This is the second Death in Paradise tie-in novel - following A Meditation on Murder, published last January - and it wisely rejects the recent arc of the TV series, which included DI Richard Poole's untimely death, and brings the dream team of Richard, Camille, Dwayne and Fidel back together. I had a few reservations about the first book, but liked it enough to read this one as well, and I'm really glad I did, because The Killing of Polly Carter is much better. There are few surprises in the story itself: it's the typical cosy mystery mix of a mysterious death, a plethora of suspects, red herrings all over the place, and a comic subplot. But the pleasure of reading this isn't in figuring out who murdered the eponymous character, it's in spending more time with the original cast and being taken back to the comforting world of the series' early episodes. I can't really recommend this to people who've never seen Death in Paradise (for example, a great strength of Thorogood's writing is that he captures the characters' speech perfectly and creates dialogue that mirrors how they talked to one another on the show, something that would be lost on a non-DiP-watcher) but I thought it was fantastic fun and I really hope these books keep coming for a while yet.

And some I've sampled...

Spill Simmer Falter Wither (8 October 2015) by Sara Baume
(Read up to 19%.) This has been read and loved by (seemingly) every book blogger/tweeter in the country and has also been nominated for the Costa First Novel Award. The tale of a lonely man, Ray, who adopts a one-eyed dog, it's frequently praised for its poetic and lyrical prose, but I didn't really get that from it, to be honest. It's quite a stark and slow-paced story, and feels as though it must only 'get going' later on; however, scanning some reviews from others who weren't immediately captivated has suggested that it retains the same kind of pace and tone all the way through. I haven't really been grabbed by this and I can't see myself completing it. Sorry, internet.

Into the Valley (4 August 2015) by Ruth Galm
(Read up to 9%.) I'm in two minds about this. The blurb makes it sound fantastic; it's the story of a woman known only as B., who suffers from an anxiety she refers to as 'the carsickness', who ups and leaves her life and makes her way across California's Central Valley in a Mustang, cashing counterfeit cheques and meeting a bizarre array of characters. The way the story is told is another matter. It's flat and factual, a style I associate with what I can only describe as boring American novels, and I think I've read quite enough of those. I might give it another chance, but the first thirty pages aren't particularly good or gripping.

List of the Lost (24 September 2015) by Morrissey
(Read up to 11%.) Three months after its publication, the awfulness of Morrissey's debut novel has already become legendary. That's deterred me from trying it up to this point, and now I have read some of it, I really don't know how I can possibly make a judgement on it. If you've read the blurb, imagine an entire book written in that style - it's like trying to constantly unravel riddles, having to read every sentence at least twice, and I'm still waiting for it to settle down and make some sense (but suspect I will be waiting for its entire length). Do I want to read the rest of it? Well... yes, but only because I feel like it's a challenge I must meet. 

Gonzo Girl (28 July 2015) by Cheryl Della Pietra
(Read up to 13%.) The author spent a summer as Hunter S. Thompson's assistant in the early 1990s, and this is by all accounts a largely autobiographical novel, with little changed except the names. The narrator is 22-year-old Alley, who at the start of the book is enduring a three-day trial period with the dubious 'prize' of getting to work for the Thompson figure, here called Walker Reade. The first few chapters have exactly as much drugs, drinking and dodgy behaviour as you'd expect. I'll definitely be picking this up again; while it isn't the best-written thing in the world, it's fun, and will be a quick, easy read.

Beside Myself (14 January 2016) by Ann Morgan
(Read up to 9%.) Hotly tipped to be one of the new year's big thrillers, Beside Myself has an attention-grabbing premise involving twin sisters who 'switch places' as children - but one of the twins, having previously been regarded as the less intelligent and more troublesome sister, refuses to switch back. The first few chapters move from past to present as we learn of the current state of the rejected twin, now mired in depression and squalor and going by the name 'Smudge'. I can see how the idea might be intriguing, but I'm finding both narrative voices incredibly annoying, and I don't think anything about the story stands out in this crowded genre enough to make me want to continue.

Academy Girls (15 September 2015) by Nora Carroll
(Read up to 10%.) An ex-student of an exclusive (is there any other kind) boarding school returns there 35 years later as an English teacher. Unsurprisingly she has 'long-buried secrets', relating to the obsession she and her friends had with their own English teacher, and a manuscript they wrote detailing their 'misdeeds', which went missing back in the day. This is the kind of story I invariably lap up, so it's no shock that I enjoyed the first few chapters and feel I will definitely finish the book. The style so far is a little humdrum, but the mystery of whatever the girls did in their youth is handled well and I'm really curious about what exactly happened.

I received advance review copes of all the books in this post from their publishers through NetGalley.

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