Reading has been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember, but over the last few years I fell out of the habit of reading for fun. When I was studying, most of the reading I did was for my essays, so since graduating I’ve been consciously making time to read for fun again. I thought it would be a good idea to document this on my blog, as I love reading other people’s reviews and discovering new books that way. With that said, here are my thoughts on the last ten books that I’ve read, I hope you enjoy.
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
5 / 5
First up is My Absolute Darling, which focuses on the disturbing and complicated relationship between 14 year old Turtle Alveston and her father, Martin. Raising her to be a self-sufficient survivalist, Martin uses every kind of abuse you can think of to control Turtle under the guise of protecting her.
You can probably tell from the synopsis that this book is an uncomfortable read, though there are lots of lighter moments too. One of my favourite aspects of this book is the sense of place and the natural world that Tallent writes so beautifully. Turtle’s character impressed me throughout, she is tough, resourceful, intelligent and I loved reading about her adventures.
I have since seen some reviews that were uncomfortable with a romanticised portrayal of abuse, but I did not see it like this at all. I thought that Turtle’s thoughts about her situation felt authentic, nuanced and true to her character. Abuse creates a whole array of emotions, and I feel that this book demonstrates this perfectly. It’s an interesting take on surviving abuse that is totally different to anything I’ve ever read.
I absolutely love this book, and I would highly recommend it for those of you who enjoy psychological thrillers, coming-of-age adventure stories, and character studies of damaged individuals. I know it sounds like an unusual combination, but I thought it was a great mix. Just be warned that it handles some dark subject matter.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
As the 2017 Goodreads Choice Winner and the second book of renowned Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins, Into the Water had a lot of hype surrounding it. It follows the story of Jules, who returns to her old town of Beckford following the news of her sister Nel’s apparent suicide. Knowing that Nel would never have jumped, she becomes tangled in the mystery of Beckford’s ‘drowning pool’ and faces old demons.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t really a fan of this book. It might be the case that I just don’t love Hawkin’s writing, as I thought Girl on the Train was disappointing too. My biggest issue with this book is that it has way too many characters, there are at least a dozen different POV’s to follow. In my copy, there is a list of the main characters and how they relate to each other, which to me says that there are too many to naturally follow. Because of this, I didn’t end up connecting or identifying with any of the characters, and by the end I didn’t really care what happened to anyone.
It definitely wasn’t a bad book, it was worth a read if you liked Girl on the Train but I think that perhaps Hawkins just isn’t for me. Saying that, I would give her future books a read just in case she can change my mind. It’s unusual for me to not get on with books of this kind, so I’d be interested to know if you have read it and thought any differently to me.
Authority by Jeff Vandermeer
Authority is the second instalment of the Southern Reach trilogy which centres around the mysterious Area X, sealed off from civilisation after an unexplained ecological disaster. Expeditions have been sent in to conduct research, but almost all have ended in death. Following on from Annihilation, Authority continues to investigate Area X from the perspective of John Rodriguez, the newly appointed head of the Southern Reach agency.
I found this book a bit odd, to be honest. Reviews for this series have always been quite mixed, so whilst some people didn’t get on with the first book, I absolutely adored it. I thought it was creepy, atmospheric and I couldn’t wait to learn more about Area X. Unfortunately, I feel like Authority didn’t have half as much of the spirit as Annihilation had. It was a slow read and I didn’t feel like it was going anywhere.
Authority focuses heavily on the bureaucratic details and office politics of the Southern Reach, which some readers may find interesting. Unfortunately, I found it so far removed from the dystopian horror style and tone set in the first book that it felt like a completely different series. I feel that it could have been written into a novella or as one POV among a few others, as it didn’t seem enough on its own.
It’s a shame to say that I won’t be picking up the final instalment in a hurry. I would definitely recommend the first book as a standalone, but I’m not sure I’ll get round to finishing this trilogy if the final novel is anything like Authority.
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
The Fifth Season is the first instalment in The Broken Earth trilogy, a science fantasy novel set on a planet where a “Fifth Season” of catastrophic climate change occurs every few centuries. It begins with the story of Essun, who discovers that her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, a great rift has been torn into the earth that threatens to spark a Fifth Season that could last for centuries.
This book absolutely blew me away. It is the perfect mixture of fantasy, sci-fi and post-apocalyptic fiction and the world-building in this novel is incredible. Jemisin has packed this world with creative and intelligent detail, making it feel so real as well as entirely unique.
The three main POVs switch between Essun, Demaya and Syenite, all fully realised characters who I just loved. I liked the secondary characters just as much, and the variation of race, sexuality and species seen throughout brings so much life and vibrancy. The plot is fantastic and perfectly paced, and I’m struggling to find a single flaw with this book at all if I’m being honest.
As you can probably tell, I could rave about this book for hours – and did so to anyone who would listen. I think this is a must-read for all fantasy and sci-fi enthusiasts, and I can’t wait to get hold of the rest of the trilogy.
One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Described as The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us is Lying begins with five students in detention, but only four walk out alive. It’s a young-adult murder mystery full of secrets, suspicion and high school drama.
Whilst I used to love young adult fiction as a teenager, I feel like I’ve grown out of them for the most part as I much prefer darker and grittier books now. However, One of Us is Lying was a refreshing and light-hearted alternative to my usual crime novel. It deliberately relies on stereotypes, tropes and cliches in a way that I would normally despise, however I found it surprisingly enjoyable.
I sped through this book in a matter of hours. It’s definitely a page-turner and I was rooting for the main romantic pairing right until the end. It’s fun, easy to read and doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, the style of writing is fairly one-dimensional, meaning that the characters can be predictable and it doesn’t offer anything different to what already exists in this genre. Whilst I didn’t notice this myself, I have seen that some readers were unhappy with the book’s portrayal of mental health and sexuality, so it’s something to be aware of if you are uncomfortable with this. Personally, I would recommend it if you enjoy young adult fiction and want a fast-paced mystery that is hard to put down.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Based on a true story, The Tattooist of Auschwitz tells the love story of Lale and Gita, two prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp. Lale’s ability to speak multiple languages means that he is put to work as the camp’s tattooist, marking his fellow prisoners permanently with their numbers. After laying eyes on Gita as he tattoos her, a secret relationship blossoms in which Lale uses his privileged position in the camp to keep them both safe.
This book is a lovely, thought-provoking read. Set against the harrowing brutality of Auschwitz, the relationship between Lale and Gita brings hope to an otherwise horrific situation. It was beautiful to read about the compassion shown by many of the characters, many of which are based on real people. The love and humanity shown throughout this book was really heart-warming.
Whilst there are many distressing scenes in this book, I felt that it didn’t focus too heavily on the atrocities of Auschwitz. Certain incidents would be mentioned almost in passing, or with little detail. I wonder if this is Morris’ writing style, or whether this is how the real Lale remembers his experiences. It is interesting to think about which parts have been affected by Lale’s memory over time, or fictionalised by Morris for the purpose of the story. Either way, this was a really enjoyable read for people interested in romance and the World War Two period.
The Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst
The Shortest History of Europe is exactly what you would expect, a rapid overview of European civilisation from the ancient Greeks and Roman Empire through to the present day. My copy is a mere 193 pages long, so it’s an incredible feat for Hirst to summarise thousands of years so succinctly.
I chose this book because I loved history at school and college, and I figured that this was a good way to get back into learning about it. It was easy to read, clear and interesting, so I would definitely recommend it if you’re interested in European history, especially the ancient and classical periods.
However, it’s not the sort of book I would pick up for fun, so it took me a while to get through it despite being so short. I also wish I had taken notes throughout, as I found myself a bit lost without an index to refer back to for certain names or events.
Admittedly, it is a very Westernised perspective and it over-simplifies complex factors, but it’s a great starting point for further reading if you need a general understanding. I will probably read it again someday, take notes and read some more detailed accounts of the parts that interest me the most.
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
The Only Story is a novel about nineteen year old Paul and his fourty-eight year old married lover, Susan. Meeting at a tennis club in the 1960’s, the two enter into a romance that challenges the concept of love itself and fights against the stigmatisation of age gap relationships.
This book was thought-provoking and discussed the philosophy of love from the perspective of Paul as a young lover through to his cynical middle-aged years. Some of it was so moving that I had to stop myself from crying on the train at times! I also really enjoyed the use of memory, shown in the shift between first, second and third person as Paul describes the ups and downs of the relationship. When problems occur, Paul distances himself from his own story as if they were not his, and romanticises times of happiness. I thought this was a clever way of showing the impact that emotions have on our own perceptions of the past.
Unfortunately, I felt that the final section of the book was significantly slower and quite unorganised, so I didn’t enjoy this part as much. The final few pages brought it back though, and again I was holding back the tears. I definitely recommend The Only Story, as it’s an atypical love story that made me question my own perspectives, something that I really enjoy in a book.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
As the winner of numerous young adult awards, We Were Liars has been on my radar for a while as a quick summer read. Instead, I read the whole book in bed feeling like death on a sick day from work, so not quite the vibe I was going for.
It tells the story of three cousins – Cadence, Mirren, Johnny – and their friend Gat, as they spend each summer on a private island belonging to their wealthy family. The main themes are familial tensions, forbidden love and recovering from trauma.
As the second young-adult book in this list, there are some similarities to how I felt about One of Us Is Lying, mainly that it was enjoyable as long as I didn’t take it too seriously. However, I didn’t like the romance in this book as much as I did in the other, and most of the characters are pretty unlikable. The main driving force in We Were Liars is the anticipation of the ending, which I thought was well worth the wait.
The writing style was mainly fragmented, choppy and very dramatic in its overuse of metaphors and short sentences. Whilst it is slightly irritating, it suits the main character of Cadence, a teenager who experiences everything as if it is the end of the world. It also made for a very fast read.
I would say it is worth a read purely for the ending, which genuinely surprised me whilst still making total sense. A great choice for chilling out at home or reading by the poolside.
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
To end on a positive, Shutter Island is one of the best books that I’ve read in a while. Set in 1954, Shutter Island is home to a hospital for the criminally insane, and U.S Marshall Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule are tasked with investigating the disappearance of a murderous patient.
This book is a fabulous psychological thriller that is packed with unexpected twists and turns. Every theory I had was turned on its head every few chapters, and I never knew what to believe. The less said about this book the better, just know that it’s creepy, crazy and will probably hit you like a ton of bricks.
I’m so excited by this book that I’ve added the film adaptation and also a handful of Lehane’s other books into my bullet journal list. Also, I’ve read that the book largely expands on the film adaptation, so if you have seen it then that shouldn’t put you off. If you couldn’t tell, I would highly recommend this book for anyone who loves a good mystery!
So that’s everything!
A bit of a long one I know! Hopefully you enjoyed this and perhaps even added something to your ‘to-read’ list. You can keep up to date with what I’m reading here on Goodreads, or I’ll be back with more book posts in the future. Drop me a comment with what you’re currently reading, or your thoughts if you’ve read any of these books before.