Monday, 5 July 2021

My Year in Books 2021: June

Time for my monthly round-up of the books I read for pleasure last month. Only three books on this list this time. I am about two-thirds of the way through a book I'm really enjoying, but I didn't quite finish it in time to include it in this month's post. I guess it'll have to wait until July. For now, here are my mini-reviews of the books I actually finished in June.

In case you're interested, here are my reviews from previous months: January, February, March, April, May

Madam by Phoebe Wynne (2021)

A while ago, I signed up for something called Secret Readers from Hachette. It seemed to be a project where readers were given access to read an eBook (either pre- or post-publication) so that they could give some feedback afterwards. It was advertised as ‘get a free eBook’, but it was obviously more about gathering reviews and responses to recent titles. Either way, I didn’t hear anything back for them for a while, and then when I did I couldn’t work out how to access/read the ‘free eBook’. Out of the blue, I got an email from them this month offering me a choice of three titles, so I thought I might give it another go. I chose Madam, and I read it on the rather frustrating browser version of the proprietary e-reader (but I’m not reviewing that, so I’ll let that go). Madam is set in the early 1990s. A young Classics teacher called Rose is offered a job at a prestigious girls’ boarding school. When she gets there, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s something quite quite wrong at Caldonbrae Hall. While there are shades of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and also of Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Languages (which I read that last year), the plot also bears some similarities with Never Let Me Go. However, while Madam has its charms, the revelations are a bit implausible here, and I’m not a fan of vague shadowy organizations with inexplicable omnipotence. Not a strong recommendation.

The Apartment by K.L. Slater (2020)

And now another book that I read because I was offered a free eBook (okay, not strictly ‘free’, but included with my Prime membership). The Apartment looked to be fairly standard domestic noir stuff: Freya Miller and her young daughter are looking for somewhere to live, when a chance encounter in a coffee shop brings her an offer of an unbelievably cheap apartment for rent. Is this offer too good to be true? Of course it is. Will that encounter turn out to have been less of a chance? Of course it will. I started this one thinking I might quite like it, but I’m afraid it wore thin rather quickly. Freya makes a lot of very silly decisions – even by the standards of the genres – and her daughter is the least convincing five-year-old ever. A couple of the other tenants in the strange apartment block are curiously engaging, but it’s just quite hard to buy into the protagonist’s predicament. I had an uneasy feeling from the start of this one that the big reveal was going to be implausible – and that turned out to be the case. Again, even by the standards of the subgenre, I struggled to believe in what was revealed. It’s a bit of a shame, because the set-up is pretty intriguing, and there were some aspects of the creepy apartment building that did capture my interest. Overall, though, this one was a bit of a disappointment. I should probably avoid free eBooks for a while.

The House of a Hundred Whispers by Graham Masterton (2020)

Leaving aside the free eBooks, I turned back to my sometimes-neglected Abominable Books pile. The House of a Hundred Whispers was one of the recent featured books (I think it might have been in last month’s parcel). From the blurb, it looked like a haunted house story set on Dartmoor. And I guess it is a haunted house story set on Dartmoor… but it’s also something else (and it’s not your average haunting either). The book begins with the death of Herbert Russell, former governor of Dartmoor Prison. His estranged children arrive at Allhallows Hall, Russell’s rambling Tudor mansion, to attend the reading of his will. The will holds some surprises for the family, but there are more shocks to come when Herbert’s grandson Timmy disappears, and the family starts to realize that there’s something not right at Allhallows Hall. As I say, this isn’t your average haunted house. I liked the reveal of what is haunting the house, and the deeper story of how and why it’s happening is well-done. But what I really enjoyed was the sense of place, story and history that imbue Masterton’s version of Dartmoor. My only real criticism here is that the characters and their motivations sometimes strain credibility a little – I couldn’t always believe their reactions to the building horror. Some of the characters (particularly the police who are searching for Timmy) are a bit quick to swallow the Russells’ tales of supernatural occurrences at the house! Overall, though, I enjoyed this one.

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