Books in May and June 2021

I may not have seen many films in June, or read many books in May, but the book count for June certainly made up for it. It was helped by a dedicated two days sitting in the garden reading, and also a bumper crop of books from Waterstones… including my top pick of the month…

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half
I would never have read this book if not for being able to go into a physical book shop. I was wandering around with three books from the buy-one-get-one-half-price deal and couldn’t find a fourth. A bookseller spotted me and she recommended this book and was so passionate about it that she was willing to add it into the deal. I’m so grateful to her because it was a really wonderful read. The characters leap off the page and the steps through time are perfectly managed to move the characters forwards. It’s a really easy read but with plenty of depth within it and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

T Kingfisher – The Hollow Places and The Twisted Ones
I read back to back T. Kingfisher’s two horror novels, she’s one of my favourite authors, but she normally writes fantasy, so setting both books in our world is a departure for her and I really enjoyed hearing her voice in this setting. The characters are vibrant and incredibly relatable as usual and the setting tangible and immersive. Technically her genre has shifted from fantasy to horror, but frankly I’m not sure of the distinction between the two, it’s almost like horror is just fantastical stuff set in our ‘normal’ world. Weird animals in a fantasy setting are normal, but transplant them into a ‘normal’ world and they become monsters , both genres have magic and weirdness in both, it’s just a matter of how surprised the characters are when they encounter them.
The Hollow Place was the better of the two, managing a more smooth plot that didn’t rely on big chunks of narrative/explanation; while The Twisted Ones had a slightly underwhelming plot that I lost track of towards the end. But both books have Kingfisher’s usual vibrant characters telling the story and their normalness is a great doorway to the weirdness of the situations the books bring up. I’m not entirely sure that I found either book scary (except the description of the hording grandmother’s house), and I found myself occasionally shouting at the characters for some poor or slow thinking. But I enjoyed them nevertheless.

Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen – The Planets
This is the book of a BBC documentary, and I read the paperback version rather than the coffee table one with loads of pictures, this is a normal paperback with just a dozen or so photos in the middle and a few scattered diagrams. And that’s the principle problem with the book, there are so many visual things that the authors are struggling to describe and inspire wonder. I did like the construction of the book (and the TV series) which intertwined the story of the exploration of the planets with the descriptions of the planets and the solar system, science and theories on their history. It was an interesting and informative read, and to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have actually read the words in the coffee table book, just flicked through the photos, so there’s really no winning with me.

Philip Gwynne Jones – The Venetian Legacy
Another great mystery novel set in the wonderfully described Venice. Jones takes us to another island to expand the setting of the Venetian lagoon and open up yet another different aspect of this amazing place. I didn’t massively care for the Venetian Mafia angle of the story, but it was well crafted, twisting past events together with the present to show the long reach and wide impacts of this kind of criminal empire. This is a really great series to drop into, and this is another really satisfying entry.

Laura Purcell – Bone China
There’s some good stuff in here, a couple of different characters and a couple of different time periods that all *sort of* come together in the end but more in a kind of messy granny knot than a really nice plait. It just felt a bit clunky in places. It also suffers from the usual problem with with first person narrators keeping things from the reader, it just feels clumsy for a sub-conscious voice to keep dropping hints about what’s happened. It was an ok read, but nothing to get excited about.

Dale Bailey – In the Night Wood
This book was rather lacking in get up and go. It wasn’t really enough of anything substantial, there was a bit of fantasy, a bit of gothic horror, a bit of modern thriller, but the only thing it did with any real substance was wallow. Literally 75% of the book just kind of wallowed in the depression of the two main characters as they mourned the death of the daughter, while being annoyingly vague about the details of her death. The plot elements of the story felt like a bit of an after thought and nothing really developed satisfyingly. I didn’t hugely enjoy it and read the final third or so of the book at high speed just to get to the end.

Agatha Christie – The Mystery of the Blue Train
A middling-to-good Hercule Poirot. It’s a good collection of characters, and from the very start I was coming up with different ideas and components of the mystery and having them ruled out one by one. The only problem with it was that although I’d got elements of the solution, it felt a bit like a swerve at the last minute for the full answer and so it felt a little unsatisfying. I do think though that between the interesting set of people, the drama of a train setting and then a lot of it being set on the French Riviera it would only take a little polish of the plot to make a great film.

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