January Book Reviews

january books

Moth Girls by Anne Cassidy

They called them the Moth Girls because they were attracted to the house. They were drawn to it. Or at least that is what is written in the newspapers that Mandy reads on the anniversary of when her two best friends went missing.

I was intrigued by the premise of this novel: a mystery surrounding the disappearance of Mandy's two best friends who slipped into a creepy house in their neighbourhood and never returned. However, I was slightly disappointed. I wish more had been made of the 'moth' element, given that it is in the title; I think it would have added to the foreboding and intrigue of the story where this was slightly lacking for me. The character of Mandy was rather frustrating - there was a lot of possibility for exploring what it's like to be the one who's left behind, defined by an event like this one as we don't often hear that side of the story. However, it turns out she wasn't very good friends with the two girls who went missing, and yet allows this one incident to control her five years later, which doesn't make sense to me. I won't spoil the ending for you, but, whilst I was interested enough to read to the end to find out what happened to the girls, when I got there I was left feeling a little flat. It was a logical ending, which explained why the girls had never been found, but it really ignored that 'moth girls' element and felt a bit too 'convenient', if that's the word.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald 

This book has been on so many 'best of 2015' lists, and it's so easy to see why. It's a beautifully written tale of bereavement and obsession which combines memoir, history and nature writing in a very moving and readable way, despite the obvious academic background of the author. Devastated after the death of her father, Helen adopts a goshawk named Mabel and dedicates her life to training her. Goshawks are traditionally described as wild and difficult to train, but Helen finds Mabel to be challenging but surprising. Throughout the book, Helen finds her way through her grief by focusing on falconry, learning about herself and this very unique bird. 

I think you can tell that I enjoyed this book, but I also found it fascinating and difficult to grapple with. I absolutely loved learning about falconry, and the scenes with Mabel were glorious. She had such a distinct personality, and it made me want to adopt my own hawk (although, obviously that would be a terrible idea!). But I felt throughout that the author was keeping us at arm's length, intellectualising something that is purely emotional. Maybe it's my inherent nosiness, but I left this memoir with almost no knowledge of the author herself, which was mildly frustrating. This book resists meaning, resists genre and resists you. I'm excited to discuss it at my book club this week! 

Fishnet by Kirstin Innes 

I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and I've been dwelling on it ever since. Following the story of Fiona, stuck in a dead end job and weighed down by single motherhood, as she attempts to find her sister Rona, who walked out six years ago and hasn't been seen since. A chance revelation that Rona had been working as a prostitute prior to her disappearance has Fiona reeling, and she embarks on a journey to discover more about the world of sex work in a bid to get closer to her sister. This is a fictional book, but it has its roots in the very real stories of sex workers, and will challenge everything you think about this controversial profession. You'll be taken on that journey with Fiona, a perfectly flawed narrator whose eyes are very much opened by the end of the novel. I'd recommend this book to anyone - especially if you're looking for something easy-to-read but thought-provoking. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to this book; it's got such a cult following and it's been on my radar for a long time. The book consists of the letters of Charlie to an anonymous stranger, pouring his heart out about the strange new world he finds himself in as a freshman. As he makes friends, tries drugs, discovers The Rocky Horror Picture Show and attempts to join in with life, rather than simply sticking to the sidelines, we follow along with his innermost thoughts and emotions. I can see why this book is so beloved, but it fell a bit flat for me - it is overwrought, angsty and there's a disconnect between Charlie's supposed intelligence (he gets straight As) and his writing style, which makes him appear far younger than his years. This is a quintessential 'coming of age' story, and appears designed to make you cry - there is so much suffering crammed into the pages but it doesn't feel that real to me. Maybe I'm just too old - perhaps if I had read this as a hormonal teenager I would have identified with the characters more and found it more moving, but I can think of many other books which deal with this issues which have had a bigger impact on me. 

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

This book has been billed as one of 2016's most exciting debuts by people in the know, so of course I was intrigued. The story follows Roy, a life-long liar and con man who's lived many lives. Now in his eighties, he's setting up his final con - shacking up with the sweet Betty in an attempt to make off with her life savings. However, everything is not as it seems, and as we chart Roy's life back through time to World War Two, the pieces begin to fall into place. I found this book incredibly dull for the first half but gripping for the second, so take from that what you will. It's told backwards, going back in time through Roy's various cons - but  the first few seem more there to set the scene and paint the picture of Roy's very questionable character rather than to advance the story in any real way. The part set in WW2, however, was riveting and I wish it had taken up a larger percentage of the book. If you can push through, I think you'll find it the same - but if I hadn't been writing this review then I probably would have put it down long before we got to the juicy stuff. 

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Georgie McCool struggles to keep her marriage together in the face of her successful career as a TV writer. Neal takes the kids to Omaha for Christmas, but she has to stay at work and wonders if this is the final nail in the coffin for their marriage. That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past and feels like she's been given a chance to fix her marriage before it even starts... 

Yet more Rainbow Rowell. I think it's a given now that I'm a fan of hers - I love her characters, her way of writing, the little jokes and pop culture references, the romance which feels squishy and warm in her novels, rather than cringeworthy and earnest. This actually wasn't my favourite of her novels; the time-travelling phone was a little too kooky for me but it was still very sweet and touching. I devoured it in a day - if you're looking for something light and heart-warming for a weekend read then this is the one for you.