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Saturday, 25 July 2015

Recently Read: May & June.

The last couple of months have been pretty poor for me reading wise, considering I've only managed six books throughout May and June but in my defence some of these were lengthy, arduous reads. Bet that really makes you want to read on, eh?!

The Secret Place by Tana French
Sure look, I've gone on at length about Tana French by now but just in case you're new here, she's an Irish crime/thriller author with five books now published about the fictional Dublin murder squad. I loved her four previous novels to varying degrees and so was really looking forward to The Secret Place. You don't need to have read the other books as they aren't technically a series but each book focuses on a detective that featured in the background of one of the others. This time then we have Detective Stephen Moran who works in Cold Cases but really wants a break into Murder. He gets a visit from schoolgirl Holly (who is the daughter of Detective Mackey from The Faithful Place), who brings him a photograph of a teenage boy who died a year prior with the words "I know who killed him", written across it. His body was found on the grounds of a prestigious boarding school where Holly attends and no one was ever caught for his murder. Stephen sees this as his chance and teams up with Detective Antoinette Conway, who originally worked the case. The time span of the book is a day that they spend in the boarding school interviewing the likely suspects (all of whom are teenage girls), until they finally figure it out. 
So, a few things here. Firstly, Tana French writes beautifully. In fact her prose often reads as poetry which doesn't seem to work as well here as it has done before. She has captured the tone of teenage girls very well though and has rightfully been complimented on how accurately she has accessed modern day teen slang and phrases but that aside she has also managed to grasp that feeling of youth; of being in love for the first time, the confidence that comes with being aware of your own coming of age and realising that everything is changing. That's a universal sensation, non-reliant on a specific time or generation- we've all been through that and I thought she portrayed that quite successfully. I have to say though that this book felt longer than all her others (it's roughly the same length though) and I almost had to drag myself back to it, which hasn't happened to me with her work before. It's a good mystery and there's enough potential outcomes that you will be guessing the whole way through but I felt the pace was just too slow and overall I found his book somewhat lacking, I am sad to say. 

Disclaimer by Renee Knight
Hailed as the big thriller of the Summer, Disclaimer has an interesting and original premise. Catherine is a happily married, middle aged documentary film maker. She picks up a book she finds in her house and starts reading it, horrified to discover that it depicts a dark, grim secret from her own life from years before when her son was a child. Its author is at first unknown but as the book progresses, we hear from him too- a seemingly deranged retired teacher who is out to destroy her. But how does he know her secret? What is their connection and can she stop him before he reveals the truth to those she loves? 
Being honest, I didn't love this one. Reading about the calculated and frankly unwarranted destruction of a woman's life for a perceived wrongdoing over the course of an entire book was tiring and unpleasant. Her supposed crime turned out to be far less exciting than you were led to believe and when there is a twist that her misdeed was in fact not what it seems either, I practically threw the book out the window (except that it was on audio so that would have involved smashing my phone). *SPOILER ALERT* but there is a rape scene in this book and similar to Apple Tree Yard (review HERE), this was a scene that was unexpected and to be honest, rather gratuitous. For once, I'd like to read a thriller where the female character's sexual assault isn't a shady plot device. I didn't think it was necessary here and although the author very much made a point about how women are judged by society for having sex compared to when they are a victim of sexual assault, I felt it was ham-fisted and again, not necessary. 
Ugh, I'm actually annoyed I read this one. 

No Safe House by Linwood Barclay
I forgot to bring a book in my case on holidays recently and got to the airport book shop with not long to spare before boarding. This was on offer so I picked it up along with the latest Nick Hornby. I knew I hadn't read it but there was something familiar about it and it wasn't til I was about two chapters through and drinking my Ryanair tea that I realised I had read the prequel No Time For Goodbye, which was released some 8 years ago. That had been a really big seller at the time and was about a teenage girl who wakes up one day to find her whole family have disappeared in seemingly mysterious circumstances. Anyway, that's all I remembered of that but in this book that girl is now grown up with a teenage daughter of her own who breaks into a house at night with her ruffian boyfriend to take a car for a joyride. Unbeknownst to them, there's someone else in the house with them and it's not the owners. Shots are fired and from then it's mostly pure confusion and a vague reintroduction of characters from the previous book that no one remembers. Overall it's a fairly benign crime thriller. I wouldn't be surprised to see this pop up as the storyline on the new (awful) Hawaii 5-0 or one of the many CSI's etc. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I've wanted to read the Color Purple (kills me to leave out that u) for a while now and have avoided seeing the film version until I had finally picked up the book! This is the story of Celie, a young poor African-American girl living in Georgia in the 1930's. We learn early on how horrendous Celie's life is- her father rapes and beats her and her mother is dying. She has two children as the result of that abuse that are taken from her and adopted. She does have her sister Nettie though and they love and support each other. Celie is later sold off into marriage to a much older man (Mister) who needs someone to look after his unruly kids and his house and the poor treatment of Celie continues apace there. While it all seems very bleak, we're introduced to different female characters that all have a huge impact on Celie's life- how she sees herself and how she allows others to treat her. Sofia is strong willed and assertive and refuses to allow Harpo (one of Mister's grown up sons) to treat her badly. Shug Avery is a lounge singer and Mister's 'other woman' and soon becomes close friends with Celie, teaching her about her own sexuality and her worth as a woman. All throughout the book we read Nettie's letters to Celie- Nettie is now working as a missionary in Africa with a couple and their adopted children and through that we're treated to a whole other storyline. Although we can read these letters, Celie cannot because Mister has hidden them from her and so one of the big questions of the book is if Celie and Nettie will ever be reunited and can Celie find the happiness she so truly deserves? I won't give anything away but I did cry rather a lot, several times during this novel. It is wonderfully written- dark but humorous, upsetting but sensitively written with larger than life characters you'll be rooting for the whole way throughout. I also loved the meaning behind the significance of "the colour purple". Its description is rather lovely. In case that isn't enough to tempt you, it won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1983 and has been censored by several countries for it's depiction of African-American women's treatment by American society in the 1930's and for it's use of violence. I'm of the firm opinion that all banned/censored books need to be read and read by many! Go get it!

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
You might know Aziz Ansari from such television shows as Parks and Rec and eh, his stand up routines that are on Netflix. You might have expected then that a book penned by such an individual would be a comedic memoir, in the style of Tina Fey, Mindy Kahling or Amy Poehler but you would be wrong. Modern Romance is a humorous look at dating in today's technology obsessed world with extensive research, data, polled audiences, focus groups, actual text conversations and input from leading experts (the book is co-written with a University based social scientist) to explore how people meet each other and fall in love in this modern era. I really enjoyed this book and although there was nothing overly shocking or ground-breaking in it, it felt fresh because of Ansari's comedic approach.  I bought this on Audible because it's read by the man himself, which was a nice touch and great for listening to on walks but I felt I missed out by not getting the hard copy which featured lots of graphs and cool charts that helped explain some of the data discussed in the book. Regardless, I thought this was an interesting and entertaining read. 

The Last Letter From Your Lover by JoJo Moyes.
I've read a few books by JoJo now and have had varying degrees of success with them but I said I'd give this a go as the premise sounded interesting and it was buy one get one free on Audible that month. Ahem. Anyways, The Last Letter From Your Lover is a love story spanning forty years- starting in 1960 where Jennifer Sterling awakes in hospital with amnesia following a car accident. She's married and so is very confused when she discovers a love letter from an unknown author asking her to leave her husband. Fast forward to 2003 where a journalist, Ellie finds the same letter in the newspaper archives where she works and begins her detective work to discover if the letters lovers had a happy ending- something she is very keen to find for herself too. I did like this book while I was reading it but I don't think I was ever fully invested in it. Even now when I went to write this I found myself struggling to remember the storyline. It's grand like but not the best book I've read this year by any means.

What are you reading at the minute? Anything good?


  1. Just finished Go Set a Watchman from Harper Lee, haven't read at The Color Purple although been meaning too! Next on my list!

    1. Ooh I have that on its way to me in the post! Can't wait to get stuck in!

  2. I'm the slowest reader in the world as I only really read in bed. At the moment, though, I'm reading We're All Completely Beside Ourselves which has been on my to-read list since last year when you reviewed it. I'm really enjoying it. Very different. Next on my list is either The River God by Wilbur Smith or If I Stay by Gayle Foreman

  3. I just read no safe house too, was really looking forward to it but thought it was a bit if a letdown and a rehash of the first book. jus tried to read the secrets she keeps by deb caletti, but gave up after 130 pages, nothing seemed to happen and I was getting confused with all the characters..... reading the story of us by dani Atkins at the moment and thankfully enjoying it! was going yo get disclaimer, but having second thoughts after your post!

  4. I have yet to read any Tana French, I'm a disaster. Just seemed to move away from that genre in the last month or so and on to fluffy summery things - I'm going to read To Kill a Mockingbird again this week because I'm not entirely sure if I've actually read it, I only remember bits so I'll give it a read and then have a look at Watchman.

  5. I'm so glad to read your review of Tana French's book. I have read so many mixed reviews and have been holding off on getting it. Might give it a miss! I love that you get through so many books, I only read in bed at night and usually find I'm asleep after 20 pages. I must set aside more time!