Friday, 18 August 2017

What I've Been Reading Recently

July and the start of August haven't been great for reading: in July I was mostly incredibly busy and stressed with wedding and family stuff, and almost immediately after the wedding I fell ill and still haven't properly recovered. As a result, I've mostly been rereading for comfort - lots of Miss Marple mysteries and the whole Georgia Nicholson series - with a small sprinkling of new release thrillers and dystopias.

Deon Meyer
Rating: ****
When I was at school we read Z For Zachariah and I was completely absorbed by its presentation of not just the dramatic events, but also the minutia of daily life and survival after a nuclear incident. Fever provides something of the same reading experience, dealing as it does with the establishment - by narrator Nico Storm's father, Willem - of a new settlement in the South African Karoo desert following a disastrous global pandemic. There is a refreshing focus on the mundane realities of survival, from planting crops and building irrigation systems to producing diesel from sunflower oil. The challenges of not just scraping by, but building a successful community, are made clear to the reader without the narrative ever feeling bogged down with detail. Excitement is provided by the regular incursions by groups of piratical raiders on motorbikes known as the KTM, and the battle scenes have a harrowing realism. Meanwhile, tension is derived from the fact that reader, from the first few pages of the book, knows that we are building to the murder of Willem Storm. Meyer is best known as a writer of Cape Town-set police procedural thrillers (which are, in my opinion, criminally under-read outside of his native South Africa) but this departure into dystopian post-apocalypse fiction is hugely absorbing, combining Meyer's knack for characterisation with his ability to pile on the narrative tension.

No Dominion
Louise Welsh
Rating: ****
Welsh's Plague Times trilogy has been a timely and inventive example of post-pandemic fiction, spreading the action across three books of varying tone: the first book in the series, A Lovely Way To Burn, was a masterful murder mystery-meets-disaster novel and introduced us to the character of glamorous TV presenter Stevie. The second, Death Is A Welcome Guest, followed stand-up comedian Magnus' attempts to get out of plague-hit London and to his  childhood home of Orkney. No Dominion is the final book and opens ten years down the line, with Stevie and Magnus both on Orkney, where a settlement of survivors has been established with Stevie as president. The teenagers of the settlement, however, are getting antsy and difficult (as teenagers do), and when a group of new arrivals turn up, events are set in motion which mean Stevie and Magnus have to leave the islands and head to Glasgow. Essentially a dystopian road trip novel, No Dominion was grippingly brilliant and it was a real pleasure to be back with the characters of Stevie and Magnus. As is typical of the road trip genre, there's an episodic nature to it which I thoroughly enjoyed (with their encounters at the castle of Lord Ramsey being a particularly enjoyable episode, with what I assume was a deliberate take on Game Of Thrones as modern dystopia).

True Love At The Lonely Hearts Bookshop*
Annie Darling
Rating: **
Verity Love, our titular heroine, is a vicar's daughter. We know this because we are told it repeatedly, in lieu of providing her with an actual personality. She's also an introvert, something that we're again repeatedly told - with introversion presented here as a pathological condition unique to our heroine, instead of a way of being for approximately 50% of the population, Seriously, there's even a whole scene where she solemnly sits the hero down and explains this terrible affliction called introversion. She has a cat, likes Jane Austen, and is so much a romantic fiction stereotype that I wanted to scream. Anyway, one day she has a meet-cute with handsome architect Johnny which leads, inevitably, to a summer of being each other's dates at various weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, etc. Love, of course, ensues. As does boredom, on the part of the reader at least. Romance is not a genre I know particularly well but one author I do like and respect is Sarra Manning, so it was on her recommendation that I decided to read True Love At The Lonely Hearts Bookshop. After this experience, I think I'll accept that romance isn't my genre and move on.

The Good Daughter*
Karin Slaughter
Rating: ****
I'd been craving a properly involving, gripping thriller that wouldn't make me shout in frustration at ludicrous plot twists or grit my teeth at sympathetic depictions of police brutality, and The Good Daughter ticked all my boxes and then some. Slaughter's standalone novel, set in smalltown Georgia, is on the surface about two tragedies within the community - a family attacked 30 years ago by masked gunmen, and a subsequent school shooting in the present day - but it goes much deeper than that, asking challenging questions about guilt, complicity, family and trust. Refreshingly for a US crime novel, the town police are portrayed not as highly trained investigators who'll always save the day, but as bumbling at best and trigger-happy at worst, while the central characters are all entirely believable and utterly sympathetic.

* This title kindly provided for review by the publishers via NetGalley


  1. Did you read Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed? I think you and I have quite similar tastes and I really loved it. I must revisit the Louise Welsh ones - I didn't love A Lovely Way to Burn, but have really enjoyed all her other books, particularly The Bullet Trick which is fantastic.

    1. I did read it but didn't love it (it was so depressing!).

  2. Good reviews - the lonely hearts bookshop sounds particularly dreadful!

    1. It was almost enjoyable dreadful, if you know what I mean?! Certainly it's fun to review terrible books.