A little look back at what I read in June…
The Crow Road, by Iain Banks
When Prentice McHoan returns to his eccentric family for his grandmother’s funeral, he is drawn back into their lives and becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his favourite uncle, a travel writer who never came back from his last journey.
I first read The Crow Road when I was about 11 and it’s remained one of my favourite novels ever since. It’s a clever coming-of-age story, mixed in with a bit of family saga and a teeny drop of thriller, all told in Iain Banks’ literary style.
Prentice is a young man struggling with unrequited love and family conflict, which all gets a bit much as he tries to finish his degree. Banks writes incredibly human characters full of quirks and flaws and it’s an enjoyable journey to learn more about them as the story progresses.
Set in the early Nineties, it feels like a snapshot of its time and having read the book so young, this always epitomised the idea of young adulthood for me.
American War, by Omar El Akkad
In the middle of another Civil War, this time over fossil fuels, America is slowly tearing itself apart. The Southern states are the battleground, where the people live in the midst of guerrilla skirmishes and refugee camps, avoiding unmanned drones.
When her father is killed and the family end up in a camp, teenager Sarat Chestnut is recruited by a mysterious man who sets her on a path of destruction.
This is a dark, dystopian story about a future war that destroys America as we know it today. It’s a powerful read that explores extremism and hate, and questions what it takes for someone to become a suicide attacker.
Closed Casket, by Sophie Hannah
The latest adventure from Hercule Poirot, as part of his modern day revival.
When Poirot and Inspector Catchpool are invited to a house party hosted by a famous detective writer, they’re intrigued at the prospect but soon find themselves in the middle of an unpleasant family drama. Lady Athelinda Playford announces during dinner that she has changed her will and the sole beneficiary will be her terminally ill assistant. When he is brutally murdered later that evening, there are several obvious suspects, but the witness statements just don’t add up.
Confined to the house, Poirot and Inspector Catchpool make it their mission to discover the truth and catch the killer, before they strike again.
I’ve always enjoyed Agatha Christie novels and it was nice to see Poirot brought back to life at the hands of crime author Sophie Hannah. This is a fairly solid, old fashioned crime thriller, but perhaps one for die-hards only.
Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon
Maddy is your typical 18-year-old – smart, funny and curious about the world. But there’s one big difference in her life: thanks to an illness that affects her immune system, her house is a sealed bubble that protects her from the world outside. She’s always been content with that, but when Olly moves in next door, Maddy discovers a reason to rebel against the constraints her doctor mother has enforced.
This book took me by surprise; I absolutely loved it, finishing it in two hours one Friday night. It’s an easy and engaging read, told in a very cinematic style that will no doubt translate well into the upcoming movie adaptation.
Maddy is a great character caught up in extreme circumstances, but at heart she’s still a normal girl, despite her illness. Definitely recommended.
Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon
A memoir from journalist Bryony Gordon dealing with her struggles with OCD and mental illness.
This year I’ve read a number of memoirs and essay collections, much more so than I usually would. I’d read a lot of great things about Mad Girl and decided to see what the fuss was about. I can be wary of books that deal with mental health issues, especially anxiety disorders, as I find it sometimes triggers my own anxiety, but I actually really enjoyed this.
Bryony Gordon has a witty, intelligent voice and can make light of what must have been some very difficult times in her life. Despite the things she’s been through, the book is never maudlin and she doesn’t write for sympathy. It’s a bit like chatting with a girlfriend about her problems. Some of Gordon’s drunken adventures read a bit like Bridget Jones, if Bridget was also dealing with mental health issues, but that only makes them more engaging.
And it’s nice to read that Gordon overcame many of her problems to marry and have a daughter and a happy family life.
Worth reading if you’re at all interested in mental health and the affect it has on people’s lives.
Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo
Teenage orphan Alina Starkov grew up in the land of Ravka, which is blighted by the Shadow Fold, where monsters destroy anyone who dares to enter. After joining the army as a map-maker, Alina discovers a power she never knew she had while crossing the fold. She is claimed by the Darkling, who insists she train as a Grisha and use her unique power to save the kingdom.
But her new position comes at a price: the loss of her life-long friendship with fellow orphan and army tracker Mal. As Alina’s power grows, she comes to understand a horrible secret that threatens the kingdom and everyone who lives in it.
It took me a while to get into this one, but I’m glad I persevered, after picking up a copy of the novel at a World Book Night event at my local library.
I don’t often read fantasy, but I was intrigued enough by the story and it’s ending to consider reading the next part in the trilogy at some point in the future. For me, the high point in the story was the relationship between Alina and Mal, which came to the fore during the second half of the novel when the plot really kicked in.
Please note: I received a complimentary copy of American War from the publisher in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
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