Saturday, 1 November 2014

Books: October Fifty Two in Fifty Two

"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them" 
Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

Two months in, and I'm really enjoying the 52 books challenge. It's definitely encouraging me to find an hour or two each day (usually running away from the office at lunch time towards a local coffee shop) to just sit down, read and relax.

5. Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. 3/5.
This was my selection for Alex's Blogging Good Read series. I'd heard really good things about it (it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize) but couldn't get my head around how it could be that good when my other Karen Joy Fowler experience was The Jane Austen Book Club.
If I'm honest - I'm still not completely sure about it. It didn't grip me in the way I had hoped, and I found the lead character quite irritating. The time-hopping narrative style didn't really draw me in, even though it was actually quite a clever way of telling the story, and unusually done - the story was told more in themes than a linear way. 
Because I knew next to nothing about the book, I didn't "see" the twist coming (I won't reveal it just in case you're also completely in the dark) and was genuinely shocked by it, but after it was out in the open it felt more like a campaign manifesto in parts than a novel about a dysfunctional family. There were really quite traumatic details that I wasn't expecting - animal based, nothing in a Dave Peltzer zone - and that instantly turned me off. Maybe I'm just too much of a softie to read a painful book. Saying that though I did think it was well researched and written (I loved how the philosophy was weaved in) and a great read for anyone interested in family dynamics - just not my cup of tea.

6. Katie Coyle, Vivian Versus The Apocalypse. 4/5
Another of the Blogging Good Read choices - I'd not heard of this one and it really wasn't the type of book I'd normally pick (I usually stay away from anything remotely sci-fi, and tend to steer in the opposite direction to teen fiction). I will quite happily say thought that my initial prejudices were wrong, and I really enjoyed it. I found the characters surprisingly realistic the more we got to know them, their reactions to difficult situations (booze, normally) and the bickering was all reminiscent of actually being eighteen. Coyle managed to toe the line between irritating characters, and realistic flaws pretty well. 

The story itself - about a new religion which appears to correctly identify the date of the apocalypse - I thought was really well executed. For a tale which span almost a year it was fast paced, and I enjoyed getting to know more about what may have actually happened as the characters did. I find that sometimes in "unusual situation" books the characters keep things from the audience, or the narrator lets the secret slip but because so much of this book is based on conversation, it unravelled quite naturally. 
My only criticism is that the ending - which was nicely handled, I wasn't sure where it was going to go - was a bit fast for my likes. I might have to re-read the last couple of chapters in a week or two if I've not remembered it all. 

7. Agatha Christie, 4.50 From Paddington. 3/5.
The third - and final - Blogging Good Read choice. I'd not read this one before, despite being quite a big Agatha Christie fan. I listened to it on audiobook, read by Joan Hickson, who was perfect. She just is Miss Marple. However - Miss Marple isn't really in this one much, and I think that's why I didn't enjoy it as much as others. The charm and powers of her reasoning (Miss Marple is a wonder for matching murderous situations to small time scandal in her home town) were lost, and that's what makes Agatha Christie's stories so enjoyable normally.
Even though it wasn't quite as riveting as I'd hoped, I still enjoyed the story and the mysterious romp, and I found it strangely comforting.

8. Katie Fforde, The Perfect Match. 2/5.
I picked this one up from the library as an audiobook. To say that it isn't my usual choice would be an understatement. Bella is going out with an estate agent, which we all know is synonymous with being an arse. Except she is one too - the rare type that actually cares about her clients and wants to help her 80 year old friend stay in her mansion. She's just too nice, frankly. She's got a thing about a former colleague, a lawyer, which we also know is synonymous with being an arse, and therefore chaos in her love-life should ensue. Except it doesn't and we know how it ends from the beginning because there are massive plot hinting klaxons. I found myself more interested in the sub plot involving her godmother (because living with a godmother is more socially acceptable than your actual mother), and a stranger on a train. That one should have ended in some sort of 1940s mystery. Except it didn't. We know how that one ends from the beginning too. Unoriginal, uninspiring, but surprisingly good to have on in the background while you're deep cleaning the kitchen.

9. M. C. Beaton, Death of A Charming Man. 2/5.
I do normally really enjoy my silly murder mysteries, and have been working my way through this series, but this one (number 10) didn't quite do it for me. It's premise - a handsome man turns up and everyone goes gaga for him - is quite similar to one of the others in the series but somehow missing the usual charm. Hamish, our protagonist, is miserable, his love interest is being unpleasant, the additional characters (none of the local neighbours in this one) were all unlikeable and it was all just a bit... much. I just wanted it to be over so I could move on to the next one in the hope that's back to the usual funny and relaxing cheese. Fingers crossed.

10. Edward Marston, The Painted Lady. 3/5.
Another audio book. I picked this one because it was a historical mystery (there's been a theme in the type of book I choose at the moment) and to begin with, I wasn't sure whether I could keep track of the characters. But I carried on, and enjoyed it. The parallels between 18th Century London's prejudices and modern day Daily Mail scandals amused me - he must have been the murderer, he was a Foreigner And A Catholic! Not particularly taxing, not an especially historically accurate read, but quite entertaining.

11. Marian Keyes, Rachel Goes On Holiday. 4/5. 
I really wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. It was another fluffy audiobook to have on in the background. Fluff is doing Marian Keyes a miss-service. Yes, there is a romance tangled up in the story - but there's also tales of drug addiction, alcohol abuse, chronic loneliness, and how close people get to really, really messing up. The story of Rachel, and her rapidly declining mental health, is told slowly. It's a weighty tome. But I think that's why it works. Keyes has been open about her own drug and alcohol addictions in the past, and I did find myself wondering whether there were autobiographical elements here.
There are parts of this which are surprisingly bleak for a "chic lit". Rachel's spell in rehab, the main part of the story, manages to discuss addiction with a sympathetic but brutal reality and I found myself really warming to the characters, all of whom had their own stories which unravelled alongside Rachel's.
Not at all what I thought it would be - I really enjoyed it.


  1. Love that Lemony Snicket quote! It's so true - and, I would add, never trust anyone if you go to their house and there are no books!

    Thanks for the recommendations. I agree with you about the Fowler - I had heard great things about it but the lead character grated horribly.


    1. That's so true! I always look around people's houses and wonder where the books are...!

    2. Haha, I do that too! I don't trust people who don't have books.

      I love Rachel's Holiday (and most of what Keyes publishes, actually). It's so funny without being lightweight. And I also agree about Agatha Christie being comforting, they are such cosy reads. Strange, when what you're reading about is murder!

  2. At last someone else that agree's with me about the Karen Joy Fowler book. You're right it was more like a manifesto than a well written story. such a disappointment!

  3. Christ, that's a lot of reading you're getting done there. Colour me jealous. I've been reading the same two books for months and managing maybe 3 pages a night. Sob. I used to read for hours every day. (I do still carry a book everywhere with me though, even if I rarely actually manage to open it, rest easy Lemony)

  4. Ooh - loving all your reading. I might need to check out that young adult book as it sounds really good from your review. If you ever want to borrow one of our million books then please do!