It has been a busy reading month for me. A weekend away in a cottage with no wi-fi will do that for you. Quite a few of the books that I read this month were ones I also listed on my books to pre-order for 2016 list and I'm pleased to note that most of them lived up to my high expectations!
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard*
Sometimes you just need some pure escapism, which is exactly what this book provides. Revenge, class warfare, family rifts, evil masterminds and an on-going search for the individuals that might just be able to bring the war to a close. There are twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but I don't want to spoil too much, since so much of the pleasure in these sorts of books is in finding out what happens and you might not have read the first book, but suffice to say that this book had me hooked all the way through and I already want to get my hands on the next instalment. This was a much bigger novel - the first introduced us to Mare but in this one we travel across her world and watch her grow even further. She's no longer quite such a Katniss-alike, which I appreciated, and watching her struggle with herself as she's caught between two worlds, knowing she can never turn back, makes her very likeable. This isn't some big, literary masterpiece but if you want something to hold your attention and keep you captivated then this is it.
Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes
You might remember how much I raved about 'You' last year - the story of creepy stalker Joe that will literally grab you by the eyeballs and not let go until you've devoured the whole novel in one sitting. It is easily one of the best books I've ever read, and I was so happy to hear that there was a sequel coming out. I was not disappointed - Joe is still an absolutely captivating and creepy character, who you somehow ending up rooting for despite his actions. However, whilst 'You' felt like a complete story that stands alone, this hasn't quite got that same quality - it isn't a necessary sequel and although I enjoyed it, it was sort of more of the same. Joe goes to LA to track down a girl who steals from him (and tramples on his heart) but finds himself in a all-encompassing relationship with a sweet rich girl, whose infuriatingly reckless brother threatens to bring down with him. I still want more of Joe, he's one of the best characters that I've ever read and I love how these books defy genre and always keep you on tenterhooks, but this wasn't quite as strong as the first.
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes*
This was billed as one of the most exciting books to come out in 2016 by the likes of the Guardian, so I was thrilled to get my hands on it. That, however, is where the excitement stopped. What was described as a study in courage, compromise mortality and art felt rather flat to me, with the main character always resisting the reader in a frustrating way that felt more like a history book than a novel. I'm okay with a slow, quiet novel, but the language and atmosphere wasn't enticing enough to keep me and the plot was almost non-existent. It's a tough subject to tackle; this is a fictional account of a real person's life - that of Russian composer, Shostakovich, who lived throughout the rule of Stalin and beyond. What should have been fascinating and potentially very emotional, was more intellectual. I wanted more from this book than what it could provide.
Love Sick by Cory Martin*
I find it hard to review memoirs, because it doesn't really feel right to pass judgement on somebody else's life - that is, after all, how they experienced something and who am I to say that it should be otherwise? This is the true story of a woman who, in her mid-twenties, discovers that she is suffering from MS, a condition that will debilitate her life and impact her in ways she can't even predict. Sort of. She's never really properly diagnosed with the disease, constantly going back for more inconclusive testing which, I'm sure, was very frustrating to go through and is therefore very frustrating to the reader. It makes it a little bit confusing, because she's so sure of the diagnosis at first and begins to prepare for a life blighted by MS, before, seemingly, jumping backwards and leaving everything up in the air. This is half sickness memoir and half dating stories, as Cory, a yoga-loving, independent TV writer, struggles to find love whilst coming to terms with her health problems. There are moments of humour and moments of poignancy, as well as a rather schmaltzy ending (which I didn't think took too much away from the feeling of the overall book). It certainly makes you think, and be glad for your good health but I didn't find it as powerful as I think the author was hoping me to find it by the end.
One More Day by Kelly Simmons*
Carrie's son Ben was snatched from her car more than a year ago, leaving her and her husband absolutely devastated. It's clear that he is never coming back... until he does, for just twenty-four hours, leaving all eyes on Carrie as rumours start to spread about her. The premise had me totally hooked, and I was so interested to see what happened to Ben, but I found myself slightly disappointed by this book. Sinister goings-on lead to nothing, and the true perpetrator was rather unbelievable to me. There were some supernatural elements which just didn't gel with the rest of the story for me, and I felt like more could have been done with the set-up that drew me in in the first place. That said, I liked the character of Carrie, and some of the secrets that were revealed definitely added some extra twists that I enjoyed, but I just wanted something slightly meatier.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Sometimes, the unknown is the scariest thing of all. Which is exactly what makes Bird Box so terrifying. Honestly, do not read this if you are of a sensitive disposition. Or, if you're in a holiday cottage with no street lighting nearby and a long, dark walk to the bathroom... There's something outside that's causing people to kill themselves and others - to see it, whatever it is, is to go mad, but no one knows what it is. Only a handful of survivors remain, including Malorie and her two children, who have never seen the outside. Now, they must flee to a place where they might be safe, taking a treacherous journey down river, blindfolded. This book will have your heart racing - at times, I was holding my breath without even realising it. This is a perfect horror tale, truly.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I thought that I would hate this book. Like Big Magic, which I read at the end of last year, I had a lot of pre-conceptions about Elizabeth Gilbert's work and the kind of book that this would be, which were blown away when I actually read it. Never judge a book by its movie trailer. I think this book could stray into the pretentious and the ridiculous very easily, but it is saved by the warmth and humour of Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful writing voice. You immediately like her and want her to succeed. As she travels across Italy, India and Indonesia, meeting a wonderful cast of characters and working through her issues, she regales you with tales of eating pasta, finding enlightenment and experiencing love. I absolutely adored the Italy section (so many descriptions of gorgeous food!) and the Indonesia section (the friendships she makes also make for beautiful anecdotes - I was crying from happiness at one point) but the India section was a little bit too earnest for my liking. It is saved by the great voice of Richard from Texas, but if you're a sceptical person then I think you might find it the same as I did. Overall, however, I loved this book and I'm sure I will return to it. I also want to post it to some of my friends with passages highlighted, and, as I'm sure everyone who reads this book is, to plan my own yearlong sojourn across the world.
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
If you're looking for a short, enjoyable read that will have you cackling with laughter then this is the one for you. This book is made up of short stories and snippets in a Southern (American Southern, that is) voice capturing moments of domesticity with a sharp sense of humour and observation. You have housewives that commit murder for prime real estate, celebrity treasure hunters on a doomed reality TV show, and a very sinister book club, and that's just for starters. They were as deliciously dark as I expected.