Thursday, 2 March 2017

Recently Read: December & January.

Oh, I've read some truly excellent books over the last two months. Some have been Christmas themed so I won't go into depth on those reviews cause let's face it, no one wants to read them now but just in case you want ideas for next year (you're fierce organised, if so), they'll be at the end. The rest are book club picks, new releases, books I've had on my TBR (to be read) list for ages and some were audio books that took several months of terror to get through (I'm looking at you, It. You prick). 

Himself by Jess Kidd
Although this is a relatively new release, I managed to get it at the start of January on my Library app, for free! I must do a post about that actually, cause there are some great books to be found on it. Anyway, Himself is set in Co. Mayo in the 1970's. When Mahony, a mysterious young man with, it has to be said, a very sexy swagger, shows up in search of his long lost mother, he causes quite the upset in the small and unsettling village of Mulderrig. Mahony was abandoned by his teenage mother as a baby and after that she was never seen or heard from again. He joins forces with an elderly, flamboyant actress who knew his mother and believes she was murdered and piece by piece they begin to work out what actually happened to her all those years ago.
Along with her assistance, he also has the added help/hindrance of his own ability to both see and communicate with the dead and they have plenty to say for themselves, as Mulderrig starts to give up its secrets. It sounds very dark but it's peppered throughout with humour and real Irish-isms that had me chuckling away to myself. I'd actually describe it as a cross between Agatha Christie and Father Ted, I've honesty never read anything like it and I loved every second of it. It's masterfully written and I was distraught when I realised I was coming to the end. I know for some, the added element of the supernatural might not sit well with them but I felt it was perfectly placed in this novel- it already has such a creepy vibe that it made perfect sense. Definitely one to read and Jess Kidd is an author to watch out for.

One by Sarah Crossan
This is a YA novel but it's one of those ones that's surprisingly well suited for an older audience too. Grace and Tippi (named after Hitchcock heroines- LOVE) are conjoined twins, joined at the waist and somehow defying modern medicine by still being alive at 16 years old. They share everything and never want to be apart but unfortunately their health has other ideas and the pressure to separate begins to loom over them. The book follows their lives up to making the choice of whether or not to separate and for a little while afterwards too. What I loved about it was that the author really showed their individual personalities- I felt like I got to know them both and also it was interesting and rare to read a book with protagonists living with this condition. This is a quick but heartbreaking read. Prepare to weep, uncontrollably. 

Holding by Graham Norton
This was the big book release towards the end of last year. Graham Norton won an award for Holding at the Irish Book Awards (which I was at and got to see him speak- he's even funnier in real life) and so I was really excited to read his first work of fiction. Holding is set in a small, fictional town in West Cork (write about what you know, I guess) where Sergeant PJ Collins is shaken from his comfortably quiet and dull position of village police chief by the discovery of human remains on an old farm. They're suspected to be that of Tommy Burke- a village Lothario that disappeared well over a decade ago, leaving the lives of two local women, Evelyn and BrĂ­d changed forever. Duneen's inhabitants are seemingly hiding plenty of secrets, lies and resentments that will inevitably be revealed in order to find both the victim and the killer. I enjoyed this book. It moves along at a good pace and it's witty, moving and well written. I'm looking forward to reading Graham's next book, whenever that may come along!

Monsters by Emerald Fennell
Emerald Fennell is that lovely red-haired actress from Call The Midwife and lo and behold, she has more than just acting ability, she's also a rather brilliant author. I wasn't sure when I started this if it was a YA novel or not because it's written from the perspective of a very morbid 12 year old girl. Having said that, it's very dark and takes some grim turns that I might not want any teenagers reading about. Anyway, this girl (we never learn her name), is staying with her extremely unpleasant aunt and uncle in their B&B for the Summer. Her parents have recently mysteriously died on a cruise ship and so she's an orphan.So she's stuck in this miserable guest-house by the sea.
She's already bored when a woman's body shows up, naked and bloated in a fisherman's net.
She's a weird kid, to be honest. Obsessed with serial killers, murder in general and she enjoys causing trouble and upset to others. Everyone seems to dislike her so she has no friends, that is until Miles, a similarly odd 12 year old boy comes to stay with his mother. He also has an eerie fascination for death and murder and so the two join together to find the killer. There's a whole host of creepy characters and disturbing events in this book with a slightly shocking ending that Fennell has left wide open for a sequel. This was definitely not what I was expecting when I picked up this book and I half fear that it may stay with me for quite some time to come. I definitely want to read more from Emerald Fennell though, she's another great author to watch out for.

It by Stephen King
I'd been planning on reading this book for years after accidentally seeing and being horrified by some of the film adaptation as a child. I'm also a big King fan so it seemed like a glaring omission in my pile of read books that I had still to tackle It. I say tackle because it's huge. I started listening to it on Audible in October (for Halloween) and finally finished in December. I veered wildly from enjoying it, to being genuinely terrified, to being emotional, to being disgusted and nauseated and then right back to being amused. That's just classic King though and this beast is no exception. And I mean beast in every possible way.
So, in case you don't know, It is set in small town Derry, Maine where a group of school kids must do battle with an omnipresent, ancient evil that takes the guise of your biggest fear; sharks, spiders, insects, an Egyptian Mummy, a werewolf, blood, homophobia, powerful bullies, child abuse and of course, clowns. Oh yes, clowns. Lots to be scared of here and honestly, there are so many moments that completely stopped me in my tracks where I just couldn't keep walking until I got to where the kids get away…if they were going to.
The book is broken into two parts- set in the 60's when they are kids and fight It for the first time and again in the 80's where they must all return to Derry as adults and fight the unspeakable evil again. As always with King, this is an odyssey. There are novels within novels in there- invented and lengthy histories of the town of Derry where It shows up every 27 years to wreak havoc and take as many lives as possible. I'm struggling even to review this properly because it really was such an experience. My one gripe is parts of the ending which left me loudly exclaiming "WTF!"several times. That said, if you're a King fan and a horror fan, you really do need to read this. Otherwise, do not put yourself through all the mini heart attacks!

My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood*
Kate Rafter is a well respected journalist, returned home from a harrowing stint in Syria which has left her exhausted and broken. The book begins with Kate being questioned in a police station in the UK by a psychologist. We don't know why she's there or what she has done but she clearly has more than a stressful job causing her problems- we learn that her mother who has dementia has just died, her father was abusive, her sister is an alcoholic and Kate herself is alone following her relationship breakdown. Her incarceration continues and I'll admit, I loved every time a chapter started with this because it felt like I was picking up clues and was slowly piecing it together. Interspersed with these chapters are flashbacks to her trip home. The second half of the book changes direction somewhat and at first I was disappointed. I was completely sure I had the ending worked out- I remember saying to Himself that I couldn't wait to finish it to be proved correct! Well, it turns out that I was only partly correct but I was also very wrong. If you enjoy a good psychological thriller, this is a good choice.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.
I haven't seen the film of this but I wanted something uplifting to listen to for the start of January and I feel like this was a great choice. Cheryl Strayed (not her original name, she changed it cause she thought "Strayed" was more appropriate…hmm), feeling like a shell of herself following the death of her mother from cancer, her own divorce and her brief foray into heroin abuse, decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. At the time, and probably still now, this was a Herculean feat for someone unused to hiking and hiking at that level, on your own. A woman hiking the PCT on her own was virtually unheard of and yet, off she went. The book follows her on the trail through all of her trials and tribulations and I found it surprisingly interesting. I was looking forward every day to hearing how she was getting on apart from certain times (her being really mean about her dying mother and feeling sorry for herself) and it was overall, a pretty positive read for what is a particularly grim month. 

Nine Folds Make A Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan
There's three different stories in contention with each other in this book- a family emigrating from Lithuania to America at the start of the 20th century, a mute Jewish boy locked away in an Irish Catholic institution in 1958 and a young woman in present day London trying to decide whether or not to accept the Jewish faith when her boyfriend proposes. I'll be honest, this one really dragged for me and I only finished it because it was a book club read. Otherwise, I'm not sure I would have continued with it. It was reasonably well written but the three intertwining plots were convoluted and confusing at times and I struggled to stay interested and not completely depressed. 

Christmas Books!

A Nightingale Christmas Carol by Donna Douglas
This is another in the Nightingale Nurses series that I've been reading for the last few years. The books are set in the 1940's and by now we're smack bang in the middle of WW2. There's a whole host of recurring characters, love stories, cool nurses and war heroes. What's not to love! Honestly, for me it's a really enjoyable and somewhat trashy read but that's just what you need sometimes.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
The thought of Agatha Christie, a big country house and Christmas time always seems like the perfect combination but for some reason it never quite works out that way. So in this one Poirot is asked to assist in finding the murderer of an elderly businessman and father at Christmas. His horrible children are all potential suspects and with the return of a long lost son, a Spanish granddaughter and the son of a former enemy, there's red herrings a plenty. This was entertaining enough and has a locked door mystery o there that I would never have figured out for myself. Overall, worth a read.

The Cosy Christmas Teashop by Caroline Roberts
I don't have enough bad things to say about this one. Poor spelling and grammar, constant repetition and an incredibly dull storyline where nothing happened and I had no interest in what happened to any of the characters. There's some pleasant descriptions of baking but that's about it. Save yisserselves.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
I've read A Christmas Carol before, years ago but this was a free audiobook with Audible so I said I'd have a re-read. This is a classic Christmas story and the audio version of it was wonderful. Perfect for popping on while decorating, baking Christmas cookies, or in my case, walking to and from work in the cold. 

And that's the lot for now. I'm finishing off my February reads and already started my March books but what are you reading at the minute? Anything good? Have you read any of this lot?

*Kindly sent to me for review. As always, all opinions my own. 

1 comment:

  1. I really liked One! I should have read a physical copy though, I feel like the free verse didn't come through really strongly in the ebook. Or at least it took time for me to cop it, I picked up a copy of the book in a book shop when I was half way through and it made more sense to me then.

    Hoping to read Holding this month!