A few more snapshot reviews from me. I’ve read quite a few interesting bits and pieces lately, with these being some of the highlights:
So Much for That- Lionel Shriver; Bleak yet tender, this is an unflinching account of a woman with terminal cancer and the complete kick in the teeth that causes to her husband’s plans for them for an early retirement to an idyllic island called ironically, “The Afterlife.” It’s not just a book about cancer however, it’s also a bitter look at the extortionate American health-care system, at marriage, at family and at friendship. Suffice to say, this isn’t a book for everyone as some of its themes are particularly hard-hitting, but it does make me thankful everyday that in Britain we are lucky enough to have the NHS. Make of that what you will. 4 stars out of 5.
Madame Bovary- Gustave Flaubert; You know what? I didn’t expect to enjoy this classic novel quite so much as I did. I’m not sure why that actually was, but instead this has turned out to be one of my favourite reads of the month. The book concentrates on the principal character, Emma, who marries a country doctor, Charles Bovary. The marriage isn’t quite what she imagined though and instead of the romance, wealth and luxury that she reads about in her much-loved sentimental novels, their existence actually becomes quite provincial. In order to obtain some excitement, Emma takes a lover and slowly her boring, country existence descends into one of lies and deceit. The themes in this 19th Century French novel are still all too relevant today and it really is an interesting take on the notion to be content with what you actually have. Loved it! 4.5 stars out of 5.
The Devil in the White City- Erik Larson; This book combines the true story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with a serial killer who was trawling the city at the time. Though admittedly rich in historical and architectural detail, I found this book quite lacking in the detail about the murders themselves, which was my pretty macabre reason for picking it up! Not a very balanced piece of non-fiction, but interesting nonetheless, particularly for people interested in architecture and American history. 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles- Agatha Christie; The first novel starring Poirot is actually a book also featuring on the Guardian’s Definitive… list. It’s easy to see why. This memorable, well-written crime is full of read herrings and lots of twists and turns and is definitely my favourite Christie novel to date. After a woman is poisoned, the suspicion immediately falls upon her husband. Just when you think you’ve figured out whodunit however, another spanner is thrown into the works… 4 stars out of 5.
We Need New Names- NoViolet Bulawayo; The moving story of a young girl’s journey from Zimbabwe to the USA. This is a story of family, immigration and friendship amongst other themes- and though I found it to be a pretty engrossing read (I loved the narrator’s voice especially) I grew confused with all of the issues the novel tried to address by its finish and I wasn’t quite sure what, if any, the message of this story was supposed to be. The ending too, was a bit to abrupt for my tastes. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Orphan Train- Christina Baker Kline; I started off really loving this novel, sure it was going to be four and a half star read- maybe even a five. It was rife with historical detail and atmosphere and its premise so interesting. A dual time-frame novel, it focused on the orphan train riders in the early twentieth century United States and of a young girl in the twenty-first century who is writing a report for her history class and finds out for herself about one of the train riders lives- an elderly woman whose own earlier life shares some stark parallels with her own. Again though, the too-quick ending for this spoiled the book a bit for me. I wanted to know more, I guess. 4 stars out of 5.
Witch Child- Celia Rees; a fascinating piece of YA historical fiction based around the witchcraft trials of the 17th Century and the pilgrims arriving in the New World from England as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. Though targeted at a younger audience I think this book, with its well-developed characters and insightful level of research, will appeal to most adults too. I enjoyed this engaging novel so much that I suspect it won’t be too long before I order its sequel Sorceress for my Kindle. 4 stars out of 5.