After enjoying a bumper couple of months reading, September went by at a much slower pace. It’s not looking like I’ll reach my target of reading 70 books this year, but who knows…
However, this month I did get through a fairly varied selection of books.
Kimberly’s Capital Punishment, by Richard Milward
When Kimberly wants to break up with her boyfriend, she decides to treat him horribly in the hope he’ll dump her. But her plan backfires when he kills himself instead. To make up for her behaviour, Kimberly adopts an altruistic outlook on life, trying to help as many people as she can. Unfortunately, it’s not long before people are taking advantage of her in any way possible…
I always want to love Richard Milward’s novels, as he’s a young author from my home town of Middlesbrough and the sense of place comes across very strongly in his work. He’s also what you might call experimental: his stories are written in quirky styles and past novels have included chapters written from the point of view of a butterfly or a piece of dandruff.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make his books easy to read. In Kimberly’s Capital Punishment, he takes his concept into a pretty dark and fantastical place, which won’t be for everyone.
But if you like a challenge and enjoy an edgy but darkly funny read, reminiscent of Irvine Welsh, then Milward’s books are worth checking out.
The Day is Dark, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
I got this book out of the library a couple of months ago, not realising I already had a copy on my Kindle. I’ve read a few of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s books, thanks to my obsession with Iceland, and she always writes an entertaining crime thriller with a hint of the supernatural.
Anyone who enjoyed the TV show Fortitude will find the plot of this novel familiar.
After a woman disappears from a mining station in the wilds of Greenland, her colleagues assume she wandered off and died of exposure. But when the staff go home for the holidays, leaving two men behind, things take a sinister turn.
Soon all connection with the base is lost; but not before a chilling video that seems to show the brutal death of one of the men is discovered.
Along with a motley group of staff from the mining company, doctors and rescuers, lawyer Thora travels to Greenland to investigate. But with the locals refusing to speak to her, claiming the mine site is cursed, things soon get disturbing.
As with the other novels in this series, the author is great at combining a frightening mystery with moments of pure domesticity, something the female Scandinavian crime writers do so well. It creates a balance between the creepier parts of the story and Thora’s often amusing attempts to balance home and work.
Last Night in Montreal, by Emily St John Mandel
The latest book by Emily St John Mandel, Station Eleven, was one of my favourite books of last year, and seems to be popular with pretty much everyone who came across it. Hardly surprising, when it features a pacy story that is also thought provoking and beautifully written.
I downloaded one of Mandel’s earlier novels when it was on offer in the Kindle store and I loved it.
It follows the story of a girl called Lilia, who was kidnapped by her father as a child. He took her from her home in Canada to the US, where they spent years travelling, driving from town to town alone. By the time Lilia has grown up, her father is ready to settle down but she feels compelled to keep moving.
In New York, she starts a relationship with a young graduate student who is obsessed with dying languages. When Lilia walks out of his life, he receives a mysterious letter telling him to come to Montreal if he ever wants to see her again. There he learns the story of Lilia’s past and the parallel life of the private detective who trailed her across country for years, until his obsession drove his own family apart.
This is a beautifully written, poignant novel that explores the idea of obsession and the desire to escape. Anyone who has ever yearned to travel will relate to Lilia’s need to keep moving. As well as an exploration of the journey, Mandel also uses the motif of language to magical effect. While her lover studies dead languages, Lilia spent her adolescence learning to speak all kinds of languages, earning a living as a translator. Language also becomes a focal point when the action moves to Montreal, a city with two personas, English and French, and a battle between the two languages, which is reflected in the isolation of a young woman who never learned to speak French and is excluded from much of society.
I envy Mandel’s ability as a writer. Really recommend this one.
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
An old favourite, I’ve read The Historian four or five times over the years.
When graduate student Paul discovers a mysterious book in the library, he is caught up in a mystery that seems to involve the legend of Vlad the Impaler: Dracula himself. But when his advisor goes missing after telling him a frightening part of his own past, Paul is determined to find out what happened to him. This leads him on an adventure through communist Eastern Europe, with a beautiful but harsh female colleague and a cast of intriguing historians determined to delve into the dark past of the famous monster.
Unfortunately, this rereading of The Historian let me down a little – one of the reasons why this month was slow for reading. The story didn’t grab me as quickly as it has done in the past, and as a hefty book, it took me a couple of weeks to read.
But The Historian is still a good read. It’s an elegant horror story, imagining a Dracula obsessed with academics, which gives the novel an intellectual, descriptive tone. It’s also a fantastic read for anyone interested in travelling around Europe, as the descriptions of some of the historic cities are enough to inspire your wanderlust.
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