Saturday, 2 November 2019

My Year in Books 2019: October

Once again, I didn't have much time for reading for pleasure this month. I think I managed one more title than last month, but still not a lot of books on the list. Hopefully, I'll get chance to read a bit more next month, as my to-read pile is getting scarily high!

In case you're interested, here are my reviews for the rest of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September

And here are my reviews of the books I read in October...

The Image of You by Adele Parks (2017)

For reasons I’m not going to go into here, I recently found myself alone somewhere late at night with nothing to do. As if by magic, I wandered past a Help for Heroes charity book sale with an honesty box and a couple of titles still left for sale. I paid my £2 and took the one that looked most readable. Admittedly, The Image of You very much looks like one of those domestic noirs I’ve been trying to avoid… but it was this or Andy McNab. The blurb promises a story about identical twins – Anna and Zoe – who have a close bond, but polar opposite personalities. When Anna (the trusting, romantic one) meets Nick on a dating site, Zoe (the outgoing, edgy one) decides he’s not to be trusted and plots to prove Nick is lying to her sister. To be honest, if you haven’t already started to guess the twist, you’ve not been paying attention. The Image of You is quite a long book for the genre – which feels longer if you’ve already guessed what’s happening. Anna is impossibly sweet and perfect; Zoe is hyper-sexual and unrestrained. Nick is a sort of Patrick Bateman-lite character who uses online dating to get casual sex. He falls for Anna on their first date and proposes within months; he falls for Zoe on their first meeting and ends up in bed with her that night. Of course, he never sees them both in the same place at the same time. Hmmm…

The Taken by Alice Clark-Platts (2016)

This next book marks a return to the stash of books I got from charity shops in Cleveleys earlier in the summer. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this one – and I certainly didn’t know it was the second in a series. The Taken is a detective novel featuring D.I. Erica Martin – who I now know is Clark-Platts’s series character. Martin is called is when a celebrity preacher/faith healer called Tristan Snow is found dead in his B and B, his head stoved in with an unknown weapon. Snow is the charismatic leader of a church called Deucalion, and he was in Durham for a live show as part of a national tour. With him in the guesthouse are his wife Sera and daughter Violet, plus his sister-in-law Antonia and manager/business associate Fraser Mackenzie. But which of them might have a motive for bumping off the much-loved preacher? And why – given Snow’s fame – are they staying in such a downmarket establishment? From the blurb, I thought this one might be a bit OTT and far-fetched. It has its moments, but mostly it’s just a really compelling and entertaining story. I struggled a bit understanding the detective’s private life (having not read the first book in the series), but I loved the atmosphere created, particularly in the glimpses of the Riverview guesthouse and Snow’s suspicious church. I wouldn’t say The Taken is the most original mystery novel I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely well-written and a bit of a page-turner.

Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside by Jon Bounds and Danny Smith (2016)

I picked this book up at the RNLI Lifeboats shop on a daytrip to Blackpool in June. The blurb promises an ‘eccentric’ road trip, in which the two authors travel England and Wales in an attempt to visit all remaining piers in just two weeks, and a ‘nostalgic’ take on ‘Britishness’. It’s fair to say I went into this expecting one thing, but got something quite different. It’s also fair to say that’s no bad thing. Yes, to some extent, this is a travelogue about a journey around 55 piers (plus a couple of ‘bonus’ ones), but it’s also an exploration of class, masculinity and insecurity. If it engages with ‘Britishness’, it’s as a vague, intangible concept, and the ‘nostalgia’ is always delivered with a knowing bite. This is a road trip in the Hunter S. Thompson mould, with as much attention given to the constant booze consumption and unwashed clothes in the car as there is to the marine architecture outside it. But it’s a compelling tale (not quite non-fiction travelogue, not quite novel), with a thought-provoking sense of darkness and detachment that culminates in a just brilliant chapter at Pontins in Southport. At times, I felt that the exploration of class and masculinity could’ve gone further – some points hint at profundity but don’t quite dive down to its depths – but the book makes up for this with some wonderfully evocative and somewhat virtuoso descriptions. And, appropriately, Blackpool is a highlight (for the reader, if not for the writers).

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