December 2018 Books

This post contains review of books that were provided free of charge by the publishers, in exchange for a review. 

December-Books

Well why wouldn’t I be posting about December books in the middle of February? I’m nothing if not totally on-brand.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
I decided to read all of the Poirot books as one of my 37 Before 37 goals; I’ve read many of them before, but I thought it would be good to tick them all off. I haven’t actually decided if I’m going to read them in chronological order, but the first Poirot book seemed like a good place to start. I’ve read The Mysterious Affair at Styles before, but I couldn’t remember the salient details, and so the murderer did come as a surprise to me. Obviously there are various caveats that come with reading Christie, but I can’t resist as they are so entirely entertaining.

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens
Now here’s a series that has all the entertainment factor of Agatha Christie’s books, without any of the accompanying uncomfortableness that reading Christie’s mysteries give you. This is the second in the Murder Most Unladylike series; I’m late to these books, but I’m enjoying discovering them when I chance upon them in the library or in charity shops. This story takes us away from Deepdean school and to the home of Daisy Wells, the president of the Wells & Wong Detective Society, where a murder takes place, and once again Daisy and Hazel are thrust into the centre of the mystery. Wonderful stuff.

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz*
December, as it turns out, was a very murdery month, in terms of books. This is also the second in a crime series; Anthony Horowitz has developed a story that includes himself as a main character. It’s an odd premise; it feels a lot like non-fiction, in that so many of the main parts of Horowitz’s life are used as plot points. His work on Foyle’s War, for example, is referenced frequently. But of course, the case itself, is entirely fictional: a barrister, known for his work on high-profile divorces, is found murdered, bludgeoned with an expensive bottle of wine. Suspicion falls on the ex-wife of one of his recent clients, and investigator Daniel Hawthorne is called in to help solve the crime. Horowitz (the character in the book, rather than the author himself) is writing the book on Hawthorne, so is once more brought along on the investigation.

As I said, it’s an unusual premise, and has the potential to feel like a gimmick, but I really like the set-up. The case itself is totally far-fetched, but I suppose that helps make the story more fantastical, given that the presence of the author as a character feels so weirdly normal. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did the first in the series, The Word is Murder, but it’s still a lot of fun, and I think there’s just enough more traction in the idea to warrant a third book.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper*
Read my full review of The Lost Man.

Black Roses by Jane Thynne
I find it very hard to resist stories set in the early 20th century, particularly if they centre around the upper classes. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated, I just am. Black Roses is set in Germany in 1933, a few years prior to the outbreak of war. Clara Vine is our central character, drawn to Berlin by the promise of an acting job at the famous Ufa studios. What she doesn’t expect is firstly to be drawn into a circle of Nazi wives, including Magda Goebbels, and then to be recruited by British Intelligence to spy on this group of women. This is a long book, but I devoured it while I was on holiday over Christmas. It’s the first in a series, so at some point I’ll be grabbing the next one to read.

In at the Deep End by Kate Davies*
This is another book I read while on holiday, having downloaded it from Netgalley without really having any idea what it was about. As it turns out, it’s about a woman named Julia, who thinks she is just unlucky enough to have had bad sex for the most part, but comes to realise that she’s actually been looking in the wrong place, i.e. at men. When she chances on a date with a woman, she realises what she’s been missing out on, and begins a very tumultuous relationship that is full of much more satisfying sex. This is not my usual kind of book: I’m no prude, but I just don’t tend to read books with graphic sex in them. And this is pretty graphic. But it was refreshing to read some modern fiction about someone who wasn’t straight (though as I acknowledged on Instagram, she was still late 20s, white, able-bodied, and living in London).

The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen*
I’m planning a full review of The Other Half of Augusta Hope at some point, because this doesn’t publish until June, and I don’t want to preempt it too much. Needless to say that I absolutely loved this book; I’d be surprised if it doesn’t have a similar impact to last year’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It’s the story of Augusta Hope, a twin, who has never felt as though she fit in, and is nothing like her sister Julie. It runs parallel with the story of a young Burundian man, Parfait, whose life is dictated by the civil war that ravaged his country. It’s beautifully written, and made me laugh and cry, and it was the perfect book to finish the year on!

Books in 2018 – 51

Books marked with an asterisk were provided by publishers.

AD: Book Review ~ The Lost Man by Jane Harper

I was recently offered the chance to read and review The Lost Man by Jane Harper. I received a copy of the book from the publishers, in exchange for a review.

Synopsis

Three brothers. One Death. No Answers. 

He had started to remove his clothes as logic had deserted him, and his skin was cracked. Whatever had been going through Cameron’s mind when he was alive, he didn’t look peaceful in death.

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of Outback Queensland. They are at the Stockman’s Grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects… 

47269822_1045955845583610_3537602134063520621_n

I’ve read and reviewed both of Jane Harper’s previous novels, The Dry, and Force of Nature. Both of those stories featured the same police officer, investigating two different cases. When I was offered the chance to review this one, I assumed that it was going to be the third in that series, so I was surprised when I discovered that it was a standalone story, though I needn’t have worried, because I think this was Harper’s best book yet.

Like her previous two novels, The Lost Man is set in the Australian outback, and once again, the location is hugely important to both the story and the atmosphere. Nathan, the oldest of three brothers, meets his youngest brother Bub, at the Stockman’s Grave, a local landmark, where their other brother, Cameron, has been found dead. Nathan lives apart from his family, at the next farm along, which happens to be hundreds of kilometres away. Everyone is isolated by the geography of the region, with Nathan having lived in exile on his own farm due to events from a decade previously.

The mystery of Cameron’s death is that he was used to life in these unrelenting surroundings, so it’s extremely unlikely that he would have left his vehicle without the necessary provisions. This leads police to believe that he must have taken his own life, but Nathan isn’t so sure, and begins his own investigations into his brother’s death.

Everything we learn about the family comes through Nathan’s eyes, who, having kept his distance, is finding out things that even he didn’t know. The story is revealed slowly and deliberately; this is a real slow-burn of a book, with family secrets buried deep.

Once again, as with her other two novels, I was blown away by Harper’s ability with both character and plot. The tension of the story, building to a climax with the reveal of what happened, and why it happened, grows to a point where I literally could not put this book down. The characters are, for the most part, people who I love spending time with, and as with Aaron Falk from Harper’s first two books, I found myself missing Nathan once he was gone.

Everywhere I look, I see that I’m not alone in my love for Jane Harper’s incredible stories, and I’m also not alone in loving each new book a little more than the last. With a trajectory like this, I really cannot wait to see what comes next!

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Publication Date: 7th February 2019
Little Brown
Provided by publisher

 

October & November 2018 Books

October & November (1)

Well this is not at all unexpected: I am still rounding up books I read last October. Never let it be said that I am not committed to finishing the things I start, even if I never do it promptly.

Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
It’s been such a long time since I read this that I’m having a little trouble remembering anything about it! But my Instagram caption tells me that I really liked it, so I’m going to trust past Jane. It’s a boy-meets-boy story, about a young gay guy who gets involved with an older guy whose family are strict Mormons, and therefore totally against the idea of having a gay son. It’s a long book, and I don’t think it necessarily needs to be, but it’s a nice story

Everless by Sara Holland
I grabbed this from the library shelf on a whim, without knowing what it was about at all. It’s a YA fantasy book, and I don’t read an awful lot of them, so it made a nice change. The basic premise is that time is currency, and can be extracted from blood to be used, especially by poor people. The story itself is about as YA fantasy as you can possibly get – there’s a teenage girl at the centre of everything, with a mysterious past, and there’s a boy (or two) providing a love interest. But I think the central premise is interesting enough to hopefully sustain the series, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for the next one in the series.

House of Glass by Susan Fletcher
Read my full review of House of Glass.

A Keeper by Graham Norton
It’s easy to be a little bit sniffy about celebrity books (though I try to judge on merit rather than turn my nose up). But I read Graham Norton’s debut novel, Holding, when it was released a couple of years ago, and knew then that he’s just a writer who happens to be famous for other things. A Keeper opens just after the death of Elizabeth Keener’s mother, bringing her back to Ireland from the States, where she has re-located. The narrative splits between the present day, where Elizabeth is slowly uncovering the truth about her father, who she has never known, and the past, where Patricia, her mother, is meeting her father for the first time. It’s a story of secrets and lies, families and relationships. If you’ve not read any of Graham Norton’s novels, I highly recommend them. He handles his deftly written characters delicately, and here he weaves a plot backwards and forwards throughout two generations.

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Almost without a doubt, this was my book of 2018. I listened to it as an audio book, which I think is probably the best way to read this, as it’s read by Michelle Obama herself, and she’s just entirely wonderful. Her memoir feels like an entirely honest look back at her life, from her young years as a schoolchild, through her time as a young professional and then working mother, through to her time in the White House as the first African-American First Lady. I devoured this book, listening for hours at a time, and as a result I felt as though I had her voice in my head for days afterwards. She’s inspiring, and funny, and warm, and just wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed Becoming.

Books so far (up to this point) in 2018 – 44

I didn’t include December’s books in this round-up, because it would have made it entirely too long, so there will be a final 2018 books post in a few days!

 

Book Review ~ House of Glass by Susan Fletcher

I was recently offered the chance to read and review House of Glass, published today by Susan Fletcher. I received a copy of the book from the publishers, in exchange for a review.

Synopsis of House of Glass

June 1914 and a young woman – Clara Waterfield – is summoned to a large stone house in Gloucestershire. Her task: to fill a greenhouse with exotic plants from Kew Gardens, to create a private paradise for the owner of Shadowbrook. Yet, on arrival, Clara hears rumours: something is wrong with this quiet, wisteria-covered house. Its gardens are filled with foxgloves, hydrangea and roses; it has lily-ponds, a croquet lawn – and the marvellous new glasshouse awaits her. But the house itself feels unloved. Its rooms are shuttered, or empty. The owner is mostly absent; the housekeeper seems afraid. And soon, Clara understands her fear: for something – or someone – is walking through the house at night. In the height of summer, she finds herself drawn deeper into Shadowbrook’s dark interior – and into the secrets that violently haunt this house. Nothing is quite what it seems.

 

House of Glass Susan Fletcher

Quite simply, House of Glass is a beautiful novel. It’s been a while since I read anything as evocative as this story of a young woman living in a strange house. The beauty of it is that it’s part mystery, part horror, part historical fiction, and part romance, and all the different strands are woven together beautifully.

Our main character, Clara, is a compelling woman; she has spent her entire childhood ensconced in her family home, never leaving for fear of breaking a bone due to a medical condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. Her bones are fragile, and rather than risk serious injury or death, her parents decide that the best course of action is to keep her safe indoors, where she retreats into books, gaining all of her knowledge from encyclopedias and reference books. Clara is exceptionally well-read, but has none of the life experience that she needs, and it isn’t until the death of her mother that she decides to really venture out. In her grief, she makes friends with a gardener from Kew Gardens, which in turns leads to her taking a job at Shadowbrook, working in the glass house of the title.

To give too much detail about the plot would be to spoil the gradual way in which the story unfolds, but it’s an engaging read that I think will pull in even the most jaded of readers. Clara’s journey, from someone with so much conviction in her beliefs, through a period of doubt and questioning, is wonderful to be a part of. She’s a woman who feels almost out of time; her necessary confinement means that she hasn’t grown up around the people who would seek, in 1918, to tell woman that they have a specific place in the world, and they aren’t expected to make their opinions known.

Any book that explores grief, particularly when concerned with the loss of a mother, is one that will speak to me, and when it’s done well, I can completely recognise myself and my own grief in it. One of my favourite quotes from the book conveys this entirely:

“It never goes,” he said. “You survive it – you do. But it is a different life to the one you had before.”

House of Glass by Susan Fletcher
Publication Date: 1st November 2018
Virago
Provided by publisher