Monday, 11 January 2016

Recently Read: November & December

The last of my book reviews from 2015 and this means that I've reached my Goodreads target of 50 books to read throughout the year. Yay! Technically, I'm just over that with 51 books…but that's just being persnickety. I read more than that the year before and have set more targets for myself for the year ahead too (HERE).
That sounds pretty stringent but if I don't set a goal, I won't read as many books as I'd like to, or as many different genres.
Anyway, for now here's what I've just read:

Woman In The Making: A Memoir by Rory O'Neill
This was the most recent book choice for my book club and as a long time admirer of Panti, I really enjoyed this look at the life of one of Ireland's biggest advocates for LGBTQ rights. 
Starting from Rory O' Neills idyllic childhood in the 1970's in Mayo through to his stay in Japan and the birth of Panti during club nights where he first learnt the art of drag, to being diagnosed with HIV, right up to his role in the fight for marriage equality last year. I really enjoyed this memoir, Rory has had a really interesting life so far and strikes me as an intelligent and humorous person. If you're looking for an absorbing autobiography, this is a good place to start.

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill
I'd class Louise O'Neill's second novel as the book of the year for 2015, even though it took me a while to get to it! Emma is the queen bee of her social circle; teen girls in a small suburb of Dublin. The somewhat-friends are in their final year of school and attend a house party one weekend where a lot of alcohol and some drugs are taken in large quantities. Before Emma passes out she's behaved pretty poorly and treated her friends quite badly- there's something under the surface of their friendships from the start of the book and it's this that's one of the most clever elements to Asking For It. Emma isn't a likeable character by any means; you're not rooting for her and you spend the first half of the book wishing she would treat people a little better. What works well about this is that O'Neill is making the point that you very much do not have to be the "perfect" victim; anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, regardless of how good or bad they are. 
Emma wakes up the next day, having been tossed from a car into her parents front garden and is horrified to find that a Facebook page has been created to showcase graphic photos of her sexual assault at the hands of male friends of hers, all well-respected in the area. She remembers none of what happened and it's from there that the real nightmare begins. O'Neill has managed to accurately capture how our society treats female rape victims, especially where young women are concerned and indeed, young male perpetrators who were deemed to be "upstanding citizens". It's probably one of the most devastating books I've ever read; when I finished it I cried angry tears and it took a while before I stopped thinking about Emma. I'd recommend everyone read this and furthermore, it should be required reading for all teenagers.

The Call of the Wild: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux
I've been a long time fan of BBC documentary maker, Louis Theroux. This book is a culmination of all of his "weird weekend" shows where he stayed with the likes of alien hunters, porn-film makers, neo-Nazis and the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. The idea behind this book is to see what has become of these people since, how they feel about Louis since the documentaries aired and what it is that attracts Louis to the weirder elements out there. 
I got this on Audible, which definitely added a lot to it. Louis reads it himself and bizarrely, does a whole range of American accents too. At times it is really interesting and funny but overall, I found it a little bit lacklustre. I'd probably have preferred to have just watched the documentaries again if I'm honest; I didn't learn a whole lot more about these people than I already knew and I found myself tuning out often, which is unusual for me when listening to audiobooks. 

The 13 Problems by Agatha Christie
I bought this for my kindle for when I was in hospital as I obviously wasn't feeling great and wanted to have a book on standby that wouldn't be super hard to get into. The 13 problems involves thirteen different short stories all involving Miss Marple and a group of friends, all of whom seem to have had at least one bizarre mystery in their lives, involving an unexplained death. Sure enough, Miss Marple solves each case where no one else can, cause she's great. Either that or she somehow killed all of those people, as I suspect she has in every other Marple book too. 
Herself and Jessica Fletcher, always up to no good. 
Anyway, this one was grand, not the best Marple but entertaining nonetheless. 

The Book of You by Claire Kendal
I had read loads of reviews of this last year that described it as a really gripping thriller. It's mostly a novel about stalking and is incredibly dark at times. Clarissa is relieved to be called for jury duty as it means she'll have potentially weeks away from Rafe, a work colleague who has insidiously wormed his way into her life. Everywhere she turns, he's there. He sends her unnerving 'gifts' and disturbing letters and won't take no for an answer. As the trial progresses and the details of what happened to the victim are revealed, Clarissa starts to see similarities between herself and this woman and realises she can't go on like she is but will she manage to stop Rafe before it's too late? 
As it turned out, this was a very gripping read but probably one I could have done without if I'm honest. It was very graphic at times and seemed to be unnecessarily salacious when it came to detailing sexual assaults. It's definitely a good thriller; I was on the edge of my seat for most of it but I don't know if I'd recommend this one.

The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon
I requested a copy of this on NetGalley and although it wasn't the most seasonally appropriate book to read, I still enjoyed it. The story starts with 30-something year old Helen, working in a book shop and living above it, she seems to have a solitary life that was blighted by something in her past. As she starts to reminisce, she takes us back to her sixteen year old self and the Summer the Dover family moved in next door to her and her recently separated father (her mother having left the family home). Up to this she had been lonely and alone but Victoria and her siblings bring a whole new world of colour and adventure into her life. There are ups and downs and secrets are revealed until finally a tragedy occurs that will change all of their lives forever. Back to the present day and Helen is still struggling with her memories of that Summer, she can't recall what actually happened to have caused such a grim turn in her life but she's determined to find out. I loved how atmospheric this book is- it transported me back to hazy Summer days from my youth where each day stretched out miles in front of you and it felt like anything was possible. That aside, I felt that in establishing the background of that Summer that it became almost too dragged out and took too long to get to the crux of the story. 

Nightingales at War and Nightingales Under the Mistletoe by Donna Douglas
These were numbers 6 and 7 in the series about nurses in England in the 1940's. It's now full on WW2 and the crew of the Nightingale keep calm and carry on for as long as possible until there's just one too many air raid attacks and they have to up sticks and move to a country hospital. There's all sorts of shenanigans now that most of the eastend is struggling to get used to country life, we meet new nurses and doctors and old ones are reintroduced too. As usual, these aren't going to be winning the Pulitzer any time soon but they're entertaining in a comfort-blanket kind of way. 

Murder for Christmas by Francis Duncan
I wanted to read a couple of festive book this year and there's something very seasonally appropriate about a vintage style old country house murder mystery (especially if you saw And Then There Were None this year, am I right?) and so I snapped up this Agatha Christie inspired novel. Mordecai Tremaine (his name is mentioned about a million times throughout the book) is an amateur detective who has, along with a whole slew of people, been invited to spend Christmas at the home of Benedict Grame in the small sleepy village of Sherbroome. He doesn't really know why he's been asked to attend but he goes anyway, probably because he's a weirdo. Sure enough, someone is murdered; Santa is found dead under the tree, but who's in the suit and how and why were they killed? I found this intolerably slow moving, it felt like I was wading through the book version of treacle at times and when the killer was finally revealed it was less shocking and more of a major relief to be honest.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
I also finally completed the Harry Potter series. I had a goal to read them all in 2014 and for the most part, I did. I got stuck on the final book last Christmas and ended up having so much going on that I never finished it. Then I thought I'd read it last January but I had a mental block at that stage; Harry Potter was 2014 and it was now 2015. So I left the second half of this 'til December because Harry Potter is really more of a Christmas thing, for me anyway. 
Loads happens in the Deathly Hallows, but mostly, Harry, Ron and Hermione really grow up. They leave school and for most of the book, are separated from their family and friends, relying only on each other, leading at times to fractions within their tightly knit group. There are many deaths and many tears (cheers for that J.K. Nothing says 'Christmas' like weeping heavily) and a final throw down between Harry, Voldemort and, well, everyone that makes for very exciting reading. I loved this series and am so glad I finally read it, years and years after everyone else!

Have you read any of these?
What are you currently reading?


  1. Definitely agreed on Asking For It; I don't think I've spoken to one person who read it that it didn't affect them in some way.

  2. I loved the Harry Potter series, I've read them twice and I'm thinking of reading them again this year. Maybe in December to get in my in the Christmas mood. I put myself a goal of 52 books back in 2014 and I don't think I'll ever put myself under so much pressure. I cut down to only 12 for 2015 and now I'm going for 24 in 2016.

  3. Pity about the Louis Theroux book, but maybe he's more suited to TV than book?

    I NEED to read Asking For It, I've had it since before it even came out as I got an ARC but haven't got around to it yet. I'll prob read it in March, I plan to read Irish authors that month

  4. That's such a shame about the Louis Theroux book as we love his shows so much it's definitely something we'd buy!