I love reading. At the beginning of the year I vowed that I’d dedicated more time each week to getting lost in a good book. I haven’t upheld that promise as much as I’d like to have done but sharing my reads on Instagram in the form of mini bullet point book reviews each time has spurred me on to pick up another, and the reaction has been great. If I can encourage other people to get reading too then that’s a huge bonus.
Anyway, I wanted to take it wider than just my Instagram stories and share more of my reads (and my gobby opinions!) in a monthly round up post as well as more on my main feed. For the first one, I thought I’d cover the highs and the lows of the last eight books I’ve read cause…even number. Let me know if you’ve read any of them and what you thought, or what your recommendations are for next month in the comments!
What I Read This Summer: The Highs and The Lows
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Length: 400 pages
Eleanor Oliphant has some issues. A turbulent past that she seems to have forgotten, or more accurately, blocked out in the ultimate act of self-preservation, a lack of social awareness and a love of routine and mundanity like no other. Although this book is categorised as a psychological thriller, it’s definitely not scary, nor is it meant to be. Instead it subtly delves into PTSD, so subtly in fact, I’m not sure that every reader will have picked up on that theme, unless it’s something they’ve got some form of experience of. It’s difficult to write about mental illness well, even less so from the perspective of a rather difficult protagonist, and in that vein, it’s a very classy novel. But you do have to bare with it.
Eleanor definitely isn’t the most likeable of characters, frankly, she’s a bit weird and for most, probably almost entirely unrelatable. The first few chapters felt very clunky and it wasn’t until about half way through that I actually felt invested in the story. Once it picks up pace you learn to love Eleanor and all her quirks and the final quarter is a real page turner.
In terms of plot value, it’s neither predictable nor unpredictable but there is a big twist at the very end that I definitely didn’t see coming, despite having figured out the rest of the book. The only element I never really connected with was Raymond; Eleanor’s colleague and love interest. Kind, sweet, loveable Raymond. Unless you’re a hopeless romantic, I think it’s very difficult to truly understand why he’s interested in her. It almost just feels a bit like Honeyman thought all good books need a love interest and a Disney ending. Maybe that’s mean and I’m a heartless cynic, but I just never understood his motivations.
Overall it’s well worth a read; it’s refreshingly different and you learn to see humour in Eleanor that is quite touching at times.
I See You, Clare Mackintosh
Length: 372 pages
Psychological thrill-seekers will love this one. It’s pacy, tense and oh so gripping. A woman spots a photo of herself in the classified ad section of a daily newspaper (basically The Evening Standard, if calling it so wouldn’t be blatant copyright infringement). She’s confused and concerned but tries to brush it off, and nobody really takes her seriously anyway. She starts to notice that a new woman appears each day alongside a web address that appears to be locked, and these women each, more often than not, become the victim of violent crimes. Why? Because someone is stalking their commute…
I’ve never read a thriller quite like it. It’s so imaginative without being totally unrealistic and the London Underground setting is genius. It offers enough to raise your heart rate without actually stopping you from sleeping at night and the relationships weaved throughout are so cleverly done that you pretty much come to doubt each and every character.
Absolutely worth a read. I consumed it in less than a day; staying up well past my bed time because I just had to learn more.
Friend Request, Laura Marshall
Length: 400 pages
Louise gets a friend request on Facebook…from someone she believed to have died over twenty-five years ago. Dun, dun, duuuuun. Honestly, I did not understand the hype behind this book. It’s got some good reviews and according to the front cover is ‘the most gripping thriller you’ll read all year’. Yeah, maybe if you usually opt for Enid Blyton novels (which might be a bit unfair; The Famous Five has some touch and go moments). The plot centres around Louise’s fear of the friend request and the implications and her guilt surrounding the events that she believes lead to the death of the school girl, twenty-five years previously. It’s essentially 300 pages worth of ‘Is she really dead?!’ – ‘How did she actually die?! – ‘WHO is running that Facebook page?! – and whilst I’m probably being a little too scathing, it’s not about to win any literary awards.
It’s an easy read for on the train or by the pool if you’re feeling particularly tired that day but it doesn’t ever get much more complex than the above. It’s not a terrible book, but it is pretty far-fetched, the characters are hard to invest in and not all that much happens. The ending wasn’t exactly predictable, but it didn’t knock my socks off either. There are far more thrilling thrillers to be read.
Close to Home, Cara Hunter
Length: 385 pages
Now if you want a thriller, this book really is worth it’s weight. Eight year old Daisy goes missing at a neighbourhood party and her (faintly ridiculous) family just can’t help but implicate themselves. Mainly because they’re really dumb. The novel follows a DI – side note: I find it very interesting Hunter chose to write as a man – as he attempts to solve the case and ultimately discover whether or not the child is still alive. It’s gripping enough to be a quick page turner whilst simultaneously holding enough back to weave plenty of red herrings and leave you wanting to secretly skim ahead to the end (basically book crime). There’s a fair amount of focus on police procedure which is far more interesting than it sounds and it’s one of the first books I’ve read that is genuinely totally unpredictable.
I really, really didn’t see the ending coming at all and I’ll be intrigued to hear whether anyone else did. I read the first hundred pages in one sitting and then raced through the rest before putting it down, shocked by the conclusion. Bonus points because it’s all set in Oxford, where I grew up.
In the Dark, Cara Hunter
Length: 430 pages
You can tell I really enjoyed Close to Home, because I immediately ordered Hunter’s second novel. It’s not exactly a sequel in that the stories are entirely independent, but I think it definitely helps to read them in order because you get to know the DI’s (and other members of the force) backstory. This one was even better than the last, which is high praise indeed. I’m basically a Cara Hunter fangirl.
A woman and child are found in the basement of an old, senile man’s house. He denies all knowledge of them, but Alzheimers doesn’t exactly make him the most reliable of witnesses. Meanwhile, a cold missing persons case is dug up and potentially linked and just like Hunter’s first novel, you spend a lot of time wracking your brain and doubting each and every character.
The conclusion is shocking, heartbreaking, wildly different to any other I’ve ever read in similarly themed novels and ultimately incredibly clever. What is a relatively simple premise becomes a very, very sophisticated book and I highly recommend it.
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
Length: 388 pages
I had really high hopes for this book. The themes that it touches upon; namely race, class and wealth divide are really promising, but that’s the issue. It only touches upon them. Where it could have been a really sophisticated, challenging read it seemed to just stop short of little more than scratching the surface.
Shaker Heights is a ‘perfect’ planned city; the picket fences are perfectly aligned, children each play three sports and two instruments and the grass is a precise twelve millimetres. Or something like that. It’s your middle class ‘American Dream’ community and frankly, outsiders are not welcome. When Mia, a nomadic artist, and her daughter, Pearl, move to Shaker Heights they stick out like a sore thumb. However, Pearl makes friends with the Richardson children – one of Shaker Height’s most upstanding families – and this gives rise to some interesting enough exploration of normality and of dysfunction within a family unit. The first half is very, very slow. There’s a lot of contextual scene setting that never seems to go very far.
The really interesting question of the novel is this: a Chinese baby has been left at a fire station, abandoned by her poor mother who simply cannot cope. She’s adopted by a white, wealthy American couple who have battled a decade of heartbreaking fertility issues. They rename her and raise her as their own for a year, before the birth mother discovers her location and wants her back. She has not yet been formally adopted: queue court case. Who should get the baby? Unfortunately this incredibly thought-provoking actually accounts for a relatively small proportion of the whole book. This, and the section on Mia’s backstory is by far the most gripping part but it’s overshadowed by a lot of overly descriptive, repetitive day to day.
I found the ending, for the baby and for the novel as a whole, largely unsatisfying and frankly a little bit silly. Lots of people seem to love it so I’d recommend it for its themes, but I’m definitely not shouting about it either.
Everything I Know About Love, Dolly Alderton
Length: 328 pages
Whether you’re a fan of Alderton or not, you’ve probably heard the hype surrounding her memoir. At times it’s witty, relatable – think MSN’ing teenage boys – and at others downright heartbreaking (namely the chapter entitled ‘Florence’). It’s also a bit wanky. I struggled a lot with a real sense of ‘woe is me’ throughout the book which, from an author with a privileged, middle class London-dwelling, private school-attending, upbringing felt quite hard to swallow. By all means, the tales of her teenage years, female friendships (the most interesting part), bad dates, sexual conquests and rollercoaster relationship with alcohol was entertaining but at times it was also incredibly self-indulgent. Maybe that’s just the nature of a memoir, I don’t know. It’s an easy read and fine if you’re led by a pool like I was but it didn’t leave me with the usual sense of satisfaction at finishing a book; in fact I largely skimmed the final chapter. I’m just not on board with the whole “I am my own universe; a galaxy; a solar system” and “swim naked in the sea any time you’re vaguely near the coast” narrative. If you are, you’ll probably love it.
This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay
Length: 288 pages
The diary entries of a junior doctor over his six years working for the NHS before he ultimately quits medicine entirely. It’s a real eye-opener; the sort that burns your retinas a bit with the reality of the state of our beloved NHS. It’s also a good insight into the lives of junior doctors and Kay’s anecdotes from the wards will probably make you laugh and cry in equal measure.
His ability to write such witty, dark humour about often very harrowing situations is a real talent. It’s genuinely involuntary belly laugh out loud in public kind of material from a book that really shouldn’t be funny. Kay has such a way with words and a really brilliant sense of humour. I think every person who lives in the UK should read this book (and elsewhere, of course). It makes you want to go and find the nearest junior doctor and give them a huge hug and feed them chocolate cake or something. Oh, and don’t vote Tory. Only kidding, the novel miraculously manages to avoid being political. Except at you Jeremy Hunt, you swamp donkey.