Friday, 11 December 2020

My Year in Books 2020: November

So I managed to read a couple more books than last month, though I've still not really managed to find much time to read for pleasure. I've reviewed and taught a lot of books, but I never include those titles on these lists. (I'm just saying that in case you think I'm getting rusty!)

My reviews of this month's books are below. In case you're interested, here are my reviews for the rest of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October

Here to Stay by Mark Edwards (2019)

I decided to read this one on a whim, as it was available through Amazon Prime (I was in an impulsive frame of mind, so didn’t linger too long over my choice). Here to Stay looked like pretty standard domestic thriller fare (and yes, I did base that assessment mostly on the font choice on the cover). And looks were not deceiving here. The protagonist is Elliot, a rich but lonely man who lives in a beautiful old Victorian house. He meets a woman named Gemma, and after a whirlwind romance they decide to get married. And then she invites her parents to come and stay with them, and things get unpleasant. Here to Stay is well-written, but I have to say I didn’t enjoy this one. I read it in a single sitting, and I did finish it, but it was a tough read. The main problem is that none of the characters were particularly engaging. Almost all of them are over-the-top horrible, and those that aren’t (like Elliot) are underdeveloped. As a result, the book didn’t so much have a creeping sense of threat as a series of in-your-face episodes of people just being horrible to each other. Two other issues I had were that some of the things that happened just weren’t plausible, and (big no-no for me) there were a lot of references to animal abuse and a cat who was constantly in danger of being harmed. This one just wasn’t to my tastes, I’m afraid.

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (2020)

I wasn’t intending to read the new Cormoran Strike book right away. I knew it was a massive tome, and the idea of reading it in hardback made my arms feel tired. My mum said she felt the same, but then she ordered it anyway. After she read it, she passed it to me, and I couldn’t resist. It is a massive book, but it’s also a surprisingly quick read (mostly because it’s a page-turner, so I kept ending up reading more chapters than I intended to, which is what happened with the other books in the series as well). I really enjoyed Troubled Blood. It’s a cold case story, which is a bit of a change of pace for the series. And I’m a bit of a sucker for a cold case story. It also takes place over a much longer timescale to the previous books, so the story unfolds more slowly here. Fans of Cormoran and Robin will find much to enjoy here (no spoilers), but it was also nice to read a book that feels like it’s enjoying just taking its time. In case you’re wondering what the plot of Troubled Blood is… forty years ago, a GP went missing somewhere between work and the pub. Her daughter now wants Strike to look into it. While that’s quite a simplistic summary – and some readers might be more interested in the character development than the plot – there’s a really good mystery here with some ingenious and well-placed clues.

Still Life by Val McDermid (2020)

Speaking of cold cases – and speaking of my mum – this is one that’s been on my to-read pile for a bit. Me and my mum were ‘at’ the launch of Still Life, a fantastic online event by Portobello Bookshop that we really enjoyed (McDermid was launching Still Life alongside Doug Johnstone and The Big Chill). Again, my mum read it really quickly, but it took me a bit longer to catch up. Still Life is the new instalment of McDermid’s Karen Pirie series, and I think it’s my favourite one yet. Val McDermid is a writer who just gets better and better. In this book, Karen Pirie investigates a long-dead body found in a campervan, but is also called in when a body fished out of the sea is discovered to have a connection to a ten-year-old missing persons case. What I really like about this series is the interactions between the characters. They’re all rather likable (perhaps even more so than in McDermid’s other series), which makes for an enjoyable read. The other thing that’s interesting about this one is that it’s set in the first couple of months of 2020. McDermid talked about this at the launch, saying that the book was mostly written during lockdown but set just before it. She said she wanted to have references to coronavirus there, but had to be careful not to be too heavy-handed with the foreshadowing. I think she strikes a good balance, with just the right amount of ominousness.