Compared to last year, so far 2015 has been a bit of a disappointment in terms of reading. I’ve felt sluggish, struggling to maintain an interest in many of the books I’ve read, or dedicate much time to them.
But in June, things picked up.
Partly, that was down to the fact that I had a holiday, so I had some extra free time. But even before I went away, I’d read more books than usual. For whatever reason, in June I seemed to pick books that were more engaging and I spent more of my free time reading.
I started the month with A Reunion of Ghosts, which I’ve already reviewed in more detail. It follows three sisters whose family is cursed unto the fourth generation, their ancestors committing suicide or meeting unnatural ends one after another. As the sisters prepare to meet their own fate, they recount the darkly humorous story of their family.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf explores the burgeoning relationship between an elderly couple and the reaction of their family and friends. It might not sound like a particularly appealing idea for a novel, but this is actually a very touching story about grasping any chance for happiness and holding it tight.
The couple at the centre of the story have been neighbours for years, but it isn’t until after their spouses pass away that they come to know each other better. At first, they just begin to spend their nights together, talking and enjoying some simple companionship. But they soon discover deeper feelings for each other, which are threatened by the judgement of their families.
It’s a short novel, written in very simple yet eloquent prose and was an unexpectedly moving read.
Hercule Poirot is back on the case in The Monogram Murders, by crime writer Sophie Hannah. I enjoyed reading Agatha Christie novels when I was younger, and have wanted to read this new story for a while, although I’d been put off by some less than stellar feedback.
But I grabbed a copy in Tesco on a whim and actually rather enjoyed this new Poirot adventure. Sophie Hannah manages to capture both Christie’s style and Poirot’s character in an authentic way and there were enough twists and red herrings in the plot to keep me interested.
This month I also read two YA novels, which I had mixed feelings about.
After enjoying one of Megan Abbott’s previous novels, I picked up Dare Me, a thriller that follows a high school cheerleading team. Beth has always been the captain, the popular girl, with best friend Addy her lieutenant. But when a tough new coach starts at the school, everything changes and suddenly Beth isn’t in charge anymore, although she’s determined to win back her position…by any means necessary.
Megan Abbott writes teenage girls fantastically well, but after this novel, I think she writes a particular kind of girl: the bitchy, slightly deranged diva that is out to destroy someone’s life. Perhaps not the most realistic of characters.
I really enjoyed the opening of this novel. It was punchy, the writing was sparky and everything had that peppy cheerleader energy, with a dark undertone to the story. But after a while it all became a bit samey; there’s only so much teenage bitchiness and scheming I can handle.
Despite that, this actually a pretty dark read with an unreliable narrator and at times it’s hard to get a handle on who is actually the one driving events. Cheerleading is a very niche world, but it makes an interesting subject for a thriller, as the story picks up on some of the darker aspects of that world and the girls’ desire to fit in and be popular.
Being popular is also a big issue in Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, the second YA novel I read this month. As I said in my full length review, at times the level of bitchiness and teenage drama also got a bit too much in this novel.
However, the underlying story is so powerful that it can’t help but stay with you. The book deals with the idea of female beauty and the expectations society has for women, all told through the device of a future post-apocalyptic society were women are genetically engineered for men’s pleasure.
It’s definitely thought-provoking and cutting in its assessment of society’s approach to ‘perfection’.
My other reads this past month were linked to our trip to Venice. As we stayed on Venice Lido, I downloaded a copy of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, which is set in the same location.
It tells the story of a famous writer who comes to Venice for a holiday, where he becomes fascinated by a beautiful young boy staying at the same hotel. But he is distracted by something sinister that seems to be happening around him and becomes convinced that there is some kind of contagion threatening to infect the city.
This is a story of obsession: both in the form of love and fear. It makes for an uncomfortable read, as much of the narrative is dedicated to describing the beauty of the boy and the writer’s growing infatuation with him.
It did capture the oppressive nature of that summer in Venice, with the heat and the stagnant water defining the atmosphere, underscoring the ill-fated love the writer has for his muse.
And finally, I wouldn’t usually list a travel guide here, but I spent a lot of time reading about the history of Venice is Rough Guide’s Venice and the Veneto, so it seemed worth a mention.
Affiliate links below.
- A Reunion of Ghosts, by Judith Claire Mitchell
- Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf
- The Monogram Murders (Hercule Poirot Mystery 1), by Sophie Hannah
- Dare Me, by Megan Abbott
- Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill
- Death In Venice And Other Stories (Vintage Classics), by Thomas Mann
- The Rough Guide to Venice & the Veneto, by Jonathan Buckley