This post has been a *really* long time coming, but if you’ve seen my Instagram feed over the last while I’ve read some really excellent books. One of the bonuses of being pregnant is definitely all the reading – I can’t do much else, and I’m told it’s the last reading I’ll be doing for a while!
I’ve read a really interesting combination of stuff recently, from thrillers to historical romance and pretty much everything in between. Escapism is the name of the game so nothing too taxing, mostly!
The one on everyone’s list recently has been A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
This is one of those ‘unputdownables’ that will have you eating through your meals and staying awake all night. It’s a very absorbing scene and plot. However, about 75% of the way through it I started to get emotionally exhausted. It’s taxing, and emotionally demanding, and to be honest, it could have done with some relief from the misery. It’s beautifully written but very, very disturbing. One to avoid if you’re feeling emotionally fragile; I wasn’t right for a week after it.
If you’re looking for something a little lighter and more zippy, but equally unputdownable, I highly recommend Distress Signals by first-time author Catherine Ryan Howard, who just happens to be from Cork. (I’m not saying this because she’s from Cork… it helps… but if I didn’t like it, I’d say nothing!) The familiar setting and characters helps to bed you in, but it’s a really quality thriller and I finished it in 24 hours. A great holiday read – I’m only hoping Catherine can produce the next one fast as I’d love to add her to my annual ‘holiday author’ purchases (used to be Terry Pratchett but currently includes John Connolly and Philippa Gregory).
Another brilliant thriller I read recently is the second book from Unravelling Oliver author, Liz Nugent. Lying in Wait is the story of a middle-class Dublin family with a secret, and if you’re looking for villains, look no further, Liz really knows how to write them! Oliver kept me awake for an entire night of my honeymoon two years ago (the romance!) and Lying in Wait was no different. Don’t read it on a worknight!
If you’re looking for a series of murder mysteries – one of my favourite genres, and always handy between meatier fare – I recently came across the Shetland Series by Ann Cleeves. My mother’s addiction to ITV murder mysteries means I had heard about the TV show before the books, but they are a great read and the protagonist, Jimmy Perez, is everything you want in a detective lead; full of regrets but passionately driven. The setting reminds me of the Aran Islands. Great reads.
On the mystery end of things, I picked up a couple of Sarah Waters books in a charity shop recently – I fancied something a bit historical but with a mystery aspect to them. I got a bit more than I bargained for, with her gothic, Dickensian style writing being a real revelation. I’ll be honest, they kind of freaked me out (and like A Little Life, I wasn’t in great form after finishing them!!) but she writes compelling stories with very unusual characters. Fingersmith, the story of a sort of Dickensian scam that goes horribly wrong, is utterly creepy and will really stay with you, while The Little Stranger is another one you won’t forget in a hurry, set in an eerie mansion in rural England between the wars.
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is part of a new series of classics re-imagined by contemporary authors. I absolutely love Anne Tyler and was delighted to see this come out. However, I have to say, the Taming of the Shrew doesn’t really lend itself to a modern rewrite. Tyler’s warm and humane style doesn’t lend itself terribly well to the misogyny of Shakespeare’s original work – the beauty of her writing is normally the mundanity and believability of very emotional events. But this story just beggars belief a little too much… an enjoyable read, but not as good as her usual work.
Another modern rewrite of a classic is Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. Again, I adore Sittenfeld – but the difference here is I also adore Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice. Sittenfeld takes the classic story and plonks the Bennetts into the modern US. The characters are equally amusing and she manages to just about translate Austen’s scandalous events (Lydia and Mr Wickham) into equally scandalous modern travails – quite a feat these days, it must be said. What scandal compares to the defilement of a young lady by a dastardly soldier? Elements of it are ridiculous, but it’s most enjoyable.
One of the highlights of my reading this year has been At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier. She’s best known for Girl with A Pearl Earring, but this is a far more impactful book altogether. Set in pioneer Ohio, it’s a riveting read focussing on human frailty and capacity in a time of bleak and harrowing poverty which also had so much potential for adventure and discovery. The apple tree theme running throughout is absolutely fascinating and has given me a new interest in orchard husbandry! Its characters, imagery and themes have stayed with me in much the same way Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible did, and could I have no greater praise for a novel.
My current read is strangely similar in many ways to At the Edge of the Orchard. I picked up The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) in my local shop’s charity pile and it is riveting. It’s an international story, with botany as the central theme, moving from London’s Kew Gardens to pre-civil war Philadelphia, with romps around South America, the Caribbean and other exotic locations in between. With an underlying tone of spiritualism behind the science, it really draws you into the age of discovery. I’m not finished it yet, but I’m dying to know what happens…