I finished last year quietly when it came to reading. Although I had two weeks off work over the holidays and I read more than I have been in recent months, I didn’t read a lot.
Here’s a look back at the last few books of 2017.
Little Deaths, by Emma Flint
One morning Ruth Malone wakes up to find her two young children missing from their New York apartment. When she can’t find them, the police are called in and are immediately suspicious of Ruth, who doesn’t behave in a way they expect a panicked mother to.
And when the children’s bodies are discovered, the police’s suspicions quickly turn to hostility. Ruth is a divorced woman in 1960s America, who works nights in a bar and has a string of male ‘friends’. She takes time to work on her appearance; her hair and makeup is always perfect, despite the tragedy. She doesn’t show her feelings openly.
All that makes her guilty in the eyes of the police. But is she?
Little Deaths was a much hyped debut at the end of 2016, based on a real-life murder case. It’s a well-written, compelling story, but I’m afraid it left me cold.
Ruth is a difficult woman to empathise with. But for the reader at least, her pain is on show. For the police and other characters in the book, only her flaws are on display. We get to see it all. And she’s a character who hasn’t had an easy life, so there is sympathy there for her; despite her lack of natural mothering instinct and her selfishness, Ruth isn’t a bad person.
While this is recognisably a good book, it’s one that I found difficult to enjoy.
Harry Potter 1 -3, by J.K. Rowling
Over the holidays, I decided to begin re-reading the Harry Potter books, as I had a chunk of time to dedicate to them. It turns out the first three were enough for now, although I did enjoy sinking back into the familiar world of Hogwarts.
Hopefully I’ll re-read the rest of the series this year.
Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
As a child, I read a lot of Agatha Christie novels and I’ve always been partial to her blend of sinister but cosy crime. But some of her novels work better than others and, despite being one of her most famous works, I found this incredibly disappointing.
If you’re not familiar with the story, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is travelling on the Orient Express when the train is caught in a snowdrift. At the same time, a murder is discovered in one of the train’s compartments. Poirot must investigate and identify which of the other passengers is responsible for the crime.
My main gripe with this book was the ending, so it’s difficult to review it without giving anything away. While the cast of characters are broad and intriguing, the solution to the mystery seemed unlikely and too much of stretch.
Although this is one of Christie’s most popular stories, she’s written many others that had more satisfying conclusions.
Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks
The final book I read in December was one I sadly did not finish.
Last year, movie star Tom Hanks released his debut short story collection, which was influenced by his collection of vintage typewriters. Common threads run between stories, with several characters appearing more than once, including a newspaperman who uses a typewriter to compose his articles. A number of the stories have an autobiographical feel, as they explore the movie industry, or they connect to the subject of one of Hanks’ films. One story recalls Saving Private Ryan as it reflects on a character’s experiences in the war.
As a writer, I often have mixed feelings when a celebrity releases a book, particularly fiction. There’s the frustrating feeling that the book may have been published purely because of their profile rather than talent or hard work, but Hanks’ book seems to have secured some positive buzz. I was intrigued to read it and see if he could replicate his screen success on the page.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t for me.
Hank’s writing has an old-fashioned, fifties-esque quality to it, as he favours exclamations like ‘yowza’ and ‘whoop’. But the stories sometimes feel disordered and unstructured, a little bit random. Perhaps with a bit of extra polish it could have become a more engaging collection, but as it is it didn’t hold my attention beyond the first few stories.
However, Hanks himself narrates the audiobook version of this collection, which may turn out to be a far better way to experience his work, in his own voice.
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N.B. I received a complimentary e-copy of Uncommon Type from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.