Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Reading and sampling: New and forthcoming fiction

This month I've had a bit of a manic reading streak - partly because of going away to Riga, partly because of the Easter holidays - and, in a continuation of this post, I thought I'd write a little bit about the new and forthcoming books I've been getting my teeth into.

March 2016 ARCs

Some I've finished...

Look at Me (25 February 2016) by Sarah Duguid
The carefully balanced existence of a wealthy, bohemian family - Lizzy, Ig and their father Julian - is disturbed when Julian turns out to have another daughter, Eunice. Lizzy makes contact with her newly-discovered half-sister, but lives to regret it when Eunice worms her way into the family home, making changes that become increasingly insidious and worrying. Meanwhile, Lizzy - a struggling actress who's never quite figured out what to do with her life - is forced to confront the reality of her lacklustre career, as well as reassessing memories of her beloved late mother and her parents' marriage. The whole story has a timeless feel about it, and Duguid's intelligent, economical style works wonders on her characters: Eunice is awful, but not without a vulnerable, sympathetic edge, and while Lizzy makes a companionable heroine, she has her own moments of snobbery and selfishness. The combination of two genres - family drama and psychological suspense - makes for a taut yet elegant novel.

Thin Air (6 October 2016) by Michelle Paver
I didn't think this was going to be as good as Paver's previous ghost story, Dark Matter, especially as the plot is so similar: both books are set in the 1930s and deal with a group of men heading off on a challenging journey, in this case a mission to climb the mountain Kangchenjunga. They're following in the footsteps of an expedition that went notoriously awry, and it's not long before sinister events convince at least one of the group that they're not quite as isolated (or as safe) as they think. Writing in his journal, our narrator, Stephen - the group's doctor, and younger brother of fearless team leader Kits - fears he is losing his sanity... Thin Air is a proper ghost story, the good old-fashioned type, and every detail of its creepy, compelling tale is note-perfect. (You'll never look at a rucksack in quite the same way after reading this.)

The Last One (14 July 2016) by Alexandra Oliva
Aiming to imitate the success of genre-bending dystopian fiction like Station Eleven, this debut novel makes a pandemic and accompanying societal breakdown the distant backdrop to a reality TV show. The protagonist, known mostly by her in-show nickname 'Zoo', believes she's undertaking a solo survival task and has little idea the world outside is collapsing. With such an exciting premise, I thought I'd love this, but its flaws are too numerous and too big. I'll try to sum them up as briefly as I can: Zoo is hard to like and unsympathetic, her arc isn't believable, the worldbuilding is shallow and the ending is trite. Gripping (obviously - I read it through to the end) but disappointing.

Kill the Boy Band (19 May 2016) by Goldy Moldavsky
A sugar rush/caffeine hit of a book about a group of teenage girls who end up kidnapping a member of their favourite band... by accident. It's obviously the work of an author well-versed in fandom culture, and is full of dark humour - which sometimes hits the mark, but sometimes seems more unpleasantly judgemental about its own characters than anything else. Kill the Boy Band is a fast and funny read; despite a few details I wasn't keen on, I read it all hungrily, and desperately wanted the girls to get away with it.

And a few I sampled...

The Assistants (21 April 2016) by Camille Perri
Having just enjoyed Lisa Owens' Not Working, I thought this might be the same sort of thing - an office-based comedy in which a long-time PA, trying to balance numerous debts while her boss 'spends more on lunch than she does on rent', discovers a loophole in the expenses system and must decide whether to take the risk of exploiting it. While this is indeed a light, humorous, entirely harmless sort of story, The Assistants' characters just didn't resonate with me. This and Not Working are to be published on the same day; for my money, Owens' novel is the stronger of the two.

Treats (3 March 2016) by Lara Williams
I feel really bad about not enjoying this more; I really wanted to like it, this 'break-up album of tales covering relationships, the tyranny of choice, and self-navigation'. But I just couldn't get into the tone or style of any of the stories, which felt too lightweight, and I've already read stronger treatments of many of the themes.

A Guide to Berlin (14 January 2016) by Gail Jones
Based on a short story by Vladimir Nabokov, this novel follows a group of travellers - all devotees of the author - who meet in empty Berlin apartments to share stories and memories. While the atmosphere of wintery Berlin was beguiling, it all felt incredibly overwritten and, again, I couldn't get into the story at all. My time would, I think, be better spent reading more Nabokov, rather than reading a book that's an homage to his work and attempts to ape his style.

I received review copies of all the books in this post from their publishers, most through NetGalley - with the exception of Look at Me, which I borrowed from the library.

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1 comment:

  1. Look at Me sounds good to me. I am putting it on my TBR list. Thanks

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