Once again, I start this post with an overwhelming need to apologise for how much I read - isn't that awful? I realise that this is coming straight after a post in which I said I don't have time to scratch myself some days - but I always make time to read. I've read a minimum of 6 books a week since I was old enough to read. If I told you I watched 19 TV programmes in one month, I don't think that would provoke much reaction.
So here are the 19 books I read in August instead of watching TV. Apart from the Great British Bake Off. ESSENTIAL.
I read 11 books from Netgalley this month, and 8 that I bought myself. I'll start with the Netgalley ones:
Joanna Briscoe: Touched
Touched is a Hammer Novella. It's about a young mother who moves to a sleepy English village with her husband and five children. The cottage they are moving into used to belong to the husband's mother, who was very close to Eva, one of the children. The house seems to be refusing all attempts at renovation - plus, there seems to be a hidden room. Throw in a creepy builder who seems to have a fascination with one of the other children, an "imaginary" friend and a few family secrets, and you have a dark atmospheric novel that kept me guessing until the end.
The BUST DIY Guide to Life
BUST magazine isn't something I've heard of, but the story of how it started is included here and is worth a read. The founders (one of whom is also the founder of Stitch n' Bitch) wanted to start including craft/DIY articles from a feminist slant to show women that they could still be strong, independent and make a damn good cheese ball. The book has loads of craft articles and ideas - some were too hipster for my taste (quilted wall art, pot holders) but there are still a lot of great hints and tips like how to hem jeans, or how to make a vest and pants from a large t-shirt. There are also great sections on how to support your immune system naturally, and how to support yourself financially. A lot of it is not applicable to someone who lives in very rural Ireland (as opposed to a kitsch apartment in Greenwich Village) but it was still a fun read.
Stacy McKitrick: Bite Me, I'm Yours
I haven't read any vampire fiction since the Twilight books came out, and I didn't even finish reading that series. I'm very loyal to the Buffy vampire world (turn to dust, don't sparkle, etc) but I thought I'd give this a go. Initially, it's okay. Sarah is recently divorced and meets a magnetic, enthralling guy (vampire) who seems drawn to her. The story was nothing special, it was standard girl-meets-boy, girl-has-crazy-ex, boy-fights-for-girl fare, but there was some unnecessary crudeness here that I didn't like. I'm not a prude by any sense, but when a story is trundling along nicely, it does kinda throw you when the male MC starts talking about his "other head". Seriously. There was also a very cringey scrabble scene that would never happen in real life, but I don't suppose any of it would happen in real life. It went a bit Mills & Boon and it's not a genre I'll be following. Contains allusions to a brutal rape that may be triggering.
Jessica Shirvington: Between The Lives
This was a new take on the Young Adult genre for me. The first line was "I am a liar." Every 24 hours, Sabine switches to a parallel life. In one, she has a younger sister. In another, older brothers. The only constant is that her name is Sabine in both worlds. The two lives have never crossed, but when she breaks her arm in one life and it's not broken when she switches - does this mean that there's a loophole? That potentially, she could choose a life? If so, which one would she choose? When she decides to tell her parents in one life what's going on, she is admitted to a mental hospital. It's pretty obvious which life she should choose.. until someone believes her. The ending was rushed and the "twist" was a bit meh, but I enjoyed this book a lot and could see it becoming really popular.
Peter Monn: The Before Now and After Then
This book prompted me to send out my first ever Goodreads Recommendation. I just thought it was such a sweet book, and even though the main character is gay, it's not a book about being gay. It's a coming-of-age story about a boy who finds his person in the wake of a great loss. Loved it.
Kelly Rimmer: Me Without You
A tragic love story, nothing we haven't seen before. This is a dual POV and I had issues with that - from Callum's view, he came across as a self-obsessed nitpicker. From Lilah's, he was sensitive to her feelings and intuitive. It was like there were two different Callums. This book has been compared to Me Before You (<sarcasmfont>sure if you can't draw a comparison to Gone Girl, go for Me Before You, eh?</>sarcasmfont) but it actually reminded me a lot more of the movie Love and Other Drugs. It didn't make me cry, which is unusual considering I can cry at an ad, but anyway. It was okay.
Rachael English: Each and Every One
This was a nice, easy read about the Shine family in modern day, post-recession Dublin. Gus Shine and his wife have been supporting their adult children for most of their lives, digging them out of financial ruts and making sure they have all they need. When Gus makes a series of bad investments, the business is in danger of imploding and Gus decides that it's finally time to cut the apron strings. Some of the Shines deal better than others - it was a good read and there were little surprises here and there. Well written, it would make a nice holiday book.
Paul Gitsham: No Smoke Without Fire
This is the second in a series - I haven't read the first one and it didn't spoil my enjoyment of this, I didn't feel in any way out of the loop. At the beginning, a man is released from prison after serving a long sentence for a string of violent sexual offences. A year later, a young woman is found dead after a brutal assault. DCI Warren Jones and his team are called on to the case and soon realize that they could be dealing with a serial killer. There were lots of red herrings, lots of twists, and it kept me reading to the end. Enjoyable, and also really nice to read about a cop who isn't an alcoholic or estranged from his wife.
Ella Harper: Pieces of You
This was a sad little book. Lucy and Luke are the type of couple others envy - best friends, happily married, and still crazy about each other after 8 years. Sadly, ongoing fertility problems are causing a strain on their marriage - but Lucy is pregnant again and this time the pregnancy is going well. When Luke has a terrible accident and ends up in a coma, a woman Lucy has never met comes to visit him. The woman seems to know a lot about Lucy........and the woman is also pregnant. Through flashbacks from Lucy, we see that the marriage could have been under more strain than either she or Luke were willing to admit. We get POV from Luke's mother Patricia and his sister Nell here too. I could have lived without Nell's, but I understand why it's there. Patricia is trying to hold the whole family together and deal with her own issues too - it's a devastating book in parts but it was a great read. Not mad about the ending.
Gillian Anderson & Jeff Rovin: A Vision of Fire
Actress Gillian Anderson's debut novel (written with Jeff Rovin, who writes the Tom Clancy spin-off novels, among others) is a real treat for sci-fi fans. Dr. Caitlin O'Hara, adolescent psychiatrist, is called to the UN after the daughter of the Indian Ambassador has a suspected mental breakdown. But as other teenagers in different parts of the world begin to exhibit similar symptoms, is there something powerful and sinister at work? What does it all have to do with the mysterious artifacts being collected by "The Group"? And is Caitlin putting her life at risk to try and save her patient? Loved this, can't wait for the second one in the series. Some parts near the end were ridiculous but it was all really enjoyable and I couldn't put it down.
The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014, edited by Paula Guran
A collection of 32 stories by horror authors, all published in 2013. As with every anthology, there are going to be a few duds - the ones that didn't enamour me included The Legend of Troop 13 which is essentially just about a lot of over-sexed middle-aged men in unhappy marriages who are on a bus to try and find a group of hot girl scouts that went missing years ago. Ick. Stand-outs were Phosphorous, based on the true story of the Bryant & May matchgirls (but with a really horrific twist), and Dark Gardens - a genuinely scary tale of a man who moves into a house once owned by a magician with a penchant for mannequins. I did a more detailed review on Goodreads here.
On to the books I bought:
E. Lockhart: We Were Liars
This is one I'd been meaning to pick up for a long time. Beachwood Island is inhabited during the summer by the extended Sinclair family. The liars in question are cousins Cadence, Mirren and Johnny, along with Gat, who was taken in by a relation. Cadence is the narrator, and at times she is an unreliable one. She uses strong metaphors to convey her emotions - in the first few pages she states that her father shot her, using the description of being shot as a metaphor for being heartbroken. She talks of 'bleeding' a lot. Cadence has an accident one summer and suffers horrific migraines as a result - she returns back to the island for the first time since the accident and feels that her family aren't being truthful to her. There's a lot done for appearances and show in this book - god forbid the family be made to look bad. It's a strange one, I'm not sure how I felt about it - but it's definitely one I'd recommend and one I will probably re-read. It reminded me a little of the movie The Uninvited.
Heléné Gestern: The People in the Photo
The main character (also called Heléné) is seeking information about an old photograph, and puts an ad in the newspaper. She has one response, from a man named Stephane, and a friendship blossoms. Family secrets are revealed (slooowwwly) and Heléné learns that things are not always as they seem. This book was actually quite sad and melancholy - I suppose the main message was to grab life with both hands. I couldn't connect with either of the main characters, and the addition of photographs would have been nice considering the whole story was built around photography. I found it dragged, but the writer has an amazing skill at describing images.
Annie Lyons: Dear Lizzie
Lizzie has just lost her wonderful sister, Bea, to cancer. She goes to her funeral, and back to the house for the sake of Bea's son and husband. Lizzie left her family home a long time ago after a falling out with her mother - and has no desire to return. After a few jibes from her mother, Lizzie is all set to leave that part of her life behind - until Bea's husband hands her a package. In it are 12 letters, from Bea, with instructions for Lizzie to carry out over the next year. It is a little like P.S. I Love You, but with sisters. And better. As Lizzie tries to build a life for herself, it becomes apparent that Bea was hiding something from Lizzie. Something that affected the course of Lizzie's life, and something Lizzie is unsure if she'll ever be able to forgive her for. This could have been really predictable, but it wasn't. I liked Annie's writing style a lot and will be looking for more of her books.
Stewart Lewis: You Have Seven Messages
I thought this was going to be like a kind of When a Stranger Calls type thing. But it wasn't. It was about an extraordinarily privileged young girl who has lost her mother, but found her mother's cell phone. On the phone are seven voicemails - will they provide clues as to what really happened in the lead-up to her mother's death? This was another eye-roller - the main character takes a couple of photos and by the end of the book she has a meeting with Annie Leibovitz. "I may be fourteen, but I read the New York Times" was one of the opening lines - the character was so overly dramatic. "I blew out the candles on the cake and felt empty inside" - how everyone remembers their FOURTH birthday, I'm sure. There was a bit of an odd atmosphere to it - like a dark undercurrent that never quite bubbled to the surface. Overall I found it more annoying than anything else, but it's my own fault for expecting it to be a mystery.
Eve & Leonora Epstein: X vs. Y - A Culture War, A Love Story
A throwback to the 80s and 90s as seen through the eyes of two sisters 14 years apart in age, this was a joy to read. I covered it more in a blog post here.
Liz Nugent: Unravelling Oliver
This was the August choice for Rick O'Shea's Book Club. It's the tale of Oliver, a wealthy, sucessful Dublin man in his 50s who has just hit his wife so hard that she is in a coma. We get multiple points of view to build a picture of Oliver - a meticulous, calculating sociopath who has destroyed the lives of many of the people he has come into contact with. I didn't enjoy the book, unfortunately. It divided the book club, though - many really enjoyed it and thought it worthy of recommendation, so don't be put off by my opinion.
Jenny Han: To All The Boys I've Love Before
This is a YA book about a 16 year old girl named Lara Jean, who has had crushes on 5 boys. To help her get over them, she has written each of them a letter, never to be seen by them. So it's surprising that she not only puts the letters in envelopes, but addresses them. Can you guess what happens next? Someone posts the letters - and all hell breaks loose. Only, it doesn't. The main character comes off as much younger than 16, and the "fallout" from the letters is fairly mild. Unless you count agreeing to be used by a boy in order to make his ex jealous, or having it off with your sister's boyfriend. I'll be honest - I didn't finish it, nor had I any desire to. Disappointing. I'm not overjoyed that this song has been in my head for the last 6 days, either.
Bonnie Nadzam - Lamb
I added this to an Awesome Books order after I read Lorraine's review. It had been sitting on my kitchen windowsill ever since, until I came across Paula's review. I picked it up yesterday morning and couldn't stop reading it. Tommie (11) and David (54) meet when her friends dare her to walk up to him and ask him for a cigarette. She does, but in order to teach her friends a lesson, David pretends to kidnap Tommie, to show her the dangers of talking to strangers. What if he were a bad man? Lucky he's not a bad man. He drives Tommie home safely. They begin to meet up regularly - He just wants to be Tommie's friend, to buy her nice things and show her the mountains. Maybe they'll take a trip. Maybe for a week. Or longer. The sense of unease and dread that filled me while reading this is hard to describe - I was on edge the whole time. What didn't happen scared me more than what did. A very unique, disturbing book - but a must-read.
Favourites this month - Lamb, A Vision of Fire, Dear Lizzie, Touched, X vs Y and The Before Now and After Then.