Being a fan of both urban fantasy and crime novels, I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to read Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers Of London series, but it took getting the books into stock at work to prod me into finally picking them up. They're far from perfect - at times the humour verges on the silly and puerile (I don't think, for instance, that the reader needs to always be told when Peter Grant, the protagonist, has an erection, and am also unsure why he apparently suffers from priapism more suited to a teenage boy), and they tread on some decidedly dodgy ground when it comes to race - but they're very readable, the combination of police procedural and magic being well handled and entertainingly written.
Anne Tyler's take on the oft-adapted The Taming Of The Shrew is a fresh and witty approach to Shakespeare's classic comedy. Moving the action to suburban Baltimore (of course), her Kate is a cynical and unfulfilled young woman with a father trying to marry her off to his research assistant, so said assistant can get a green card. Avoiding the more unsavoury aspects of the original - most notably the wife beating - and replacing them with gentle family rom-com scenes makes Vinegar Girl* an enjoyable if not especially challenging read.
Modern Lovers* is a terrifically enjoyable comedy of manners set in Brooklyn following the fortunes of a group of friends from college who now find themselves with college-aged children of their own. Not a great deal happens, in the sense that nothing enormously dramatic occurs (well, apart from an arrest, a fire and a couple of breakdowns), but the characters are enormously engaging and I was very much invested in the journeys they all go on, separately and together. This would make a great beach read for anyone looking for smart, funny writing that's a cut above the usual summer bestsellers.
Life Moves Pretty Fast
Life Moves Pretty Fast is a collection of essays - always funny, often poignant - about the great teen movies of the 1980s: Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink, etc. Subtitled 'The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (And Why We Don't Learn Them From Movies Anymore)', each chapter looks at a different iconic film. From discussion with the stars, writers and directors, to personal anecdote, to looking at the changes to the Hollywood studio system that means such films couldn't be made now, Freeman dissects the movies that meant so much to her as a teen. My favourite chapter, predictably, was the one on Dirty Dancing, which focuses on the pro-choice message behind the film and ponders why abortion is a dirty word in mainstream movies today.
Scoot Over Skinny: The Fat Non-Fiction Anthology
ed. Donna Jarrell & Ira Sukrungruang
Oh, I had such high hopes for Scoot Over Skinny , which I picked up in a secondhand bookstore in Toronto last summer. An anthology of fat writers, writing about fat: it sounds great, right? Wrong. It started well and the first few essays, while not amazing, were pretty good. But then it went terribly wrong. The fat shame and fat hate included herein was depressing: there are pieces about bariatric surgery, about ‘hogging’ (a delightful practice wherein bros pick up, have sex with, and then shame fat women), I suspect that actually many of the writers weren’t fat: David Sedaris is included, for one thing, and his piece about his sister, Amy, wearing a fat suit is just bizarre in its lack of relevance. The only thing that made me glad to read it was a superb essay by Sondra Solovay. “I cannot talk about fat politics without exploring race, sex, and other forms of discrimination…” she begins, before slaying with a completely on-point look at intersectionality and fat politics. I’ve made copies of this essay: the rest of the book will be swiftly donated.
I loved Ruth Ware's debut, In A Dark, Dark Wood, so had high hopes for The Woman In Cabin 10*. Unfortunately those high hopes weren't really met. Travel journalist Lo, traumatised by a violent break-in at home, leaps at the chance of reporting on the launch of a luxurious Scandinavian cruise. Stuck on the ship, with the wifi down ("teething problems"), the scene is set for a classic murder mystery. Sadly, despite the promising set-up, it all gets a bit overwrought and hysterical. Hinting at mental illness - a mention of past trauma here, a glimpse of medication there - has become a convenient short-cut to make your narrator both unreliable to the reader and to other characters, hence ramping up the tension as people refuse to believe what they say. Or so the theory goes, I suppose. Instead it comes across as lazy writing, and ableist to boot.
13 Minutes* is an above-average psychological thriller for a YA audience which reminded me of Megan Abbott's books, if Abbott was from Lancashire instead of the USA. When Tasha, the most popular girl at school, is pulled from an icy river and revived, it begins a chain of events that lead to tragedy. Told through multiple first person narration - mainly Becca, Tasha's one-time best friend - but also Tasha herself, transcripts of counselling sessions, text messages and diary excerpts, the book slowly reveals its secrets, before pulling a bait-and-switch on the reader just when you think you have it all figured out.
The Fire Child
S K Tremayne
Warning, this review contains spoilers because this book is so bad I want to save you all from having to read it. As I said above in my review of The Woman In Cabin 10, I am seriously tired of lazy "is she mad/is it real?" plotting in psychological thrillers, and The Fire Child* has this in spades. The plot is ludicrous: woman is swept off her feet by a rich widow, marries him weeks later and is whisked to his palatial but past-its-best family home in an isolated valley in Cornwall. So far, so Du Maurier. Unfortunately, Tremayne is very much in the "tell, don't show" school of writing, so we are told that Rachel finds the house sinister, but not shown why that should be so. We're also told that she loves the house passionately (after a few weeks?) but again, not shown why. She constantly bangs on about wanting to 'heal' Jamie, her new stepson, but we're not shown any attempt from her to do so, apart from an ill-advised visit to a psychologist. As for her husband, events escalate ridiculously quickly - there's no sense of creeping menace, just BAM, he's a bad guy because we're told he is. All this and some shitty, lazy writing about poor areas of London (Rachel has 'escaped' from a 'terrible upbringing' being working class. It later transpires that some of it was pretty terrible, but the character talking about the escape doesn't know this at the time, it's literally just terrible because people wear high-vis vests and drink cheap larger). Truly, one of the worst books I've read in a while.
* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.