April in Books

It’s been a while since my last Month in Books post, either I wasn’t blogging or I had hardly read anything but articles. April is the first month in a long time that I’ve managed to reach my old monthly minimum of four books and this post is kind of a digital fistpump. Also, wordpress has since added a gallery so yay!

 

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It’s also been roughly a month since my first real attempt at listening to audiobooks, as mentioned before, my new commute sees me taking the motion sickness inducing bus and audiobooks have been a real highlight. Despite the noise from traffic and the bus drivers singing along to the radio, I was able to follow the story and it actually helped distract me from awful stop-and-go traffic and nausea. Though I did miss my stop once, caught up in all the excitement of Veronica Mars taking on Neptune once more.

So two of my books in April were audiobooks, Before I go to Sleep by S. J. Watson and A Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham. Before I go to Sleep is another suspenseful thriller and the narrator worked well for me. I’m sure you’ve all read the book or watched the movie already, but I was a bit distrustful of the hype. It’s been enjoyable enough for a thriller, but don’t expect exciting things on the character development front.

A Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, though strangely enough not written in the first person, gets extra points for being read by Kristen Bell. I think choosing this as an audiobook was the best decision, it was like listening to the show and Bell is amazing at doing all the other characters’ voices. The mystery is great, too, so it should work for those who are not fans of the show (why not???) and it’s set in good old seedy Neptune.

My two literary fiction reads were amazing as well, I’ve blogged about them here Life After Life and here Ink. I’m so glad I discovered Sabrina Vourvoulias, hopefully she’ll write more novels.

 

Hope you all had a great April! What books did you read?

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Thoughts: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

lifeKate Atkinson’s Life after Life tells the stories of Ursula Todd’s lives, from each birth to each of her deaths, in their many variations. Thus, Ursula is stillborn on a cold winter night in Englang in 1910. Or, she is born and just saved from being strangled by the umbilical cord.

The premise of being reborn is not a new one, but Atkinson’s execution is so well-done that each re-living of a moment of Ursula’s lives showed not just a what-if moment, but presented a broader picture of family life and life in Edwardian England and the Blitz. Focusing on a few of these important moments and examining how one difference affects so many lives, the lives of Ursula are never repetitive and despite knowing that Ursula would simply be reborn, I was always invested in each version of the events.

This is due to the wonderful characters around Ursula, especially her mother Sylvie who outshines Ursula as one of the strongest characters and, as always, Atkinson’s writing style. Even if I actually prefer her crime series, the dark humor and sharply-drawn characters are a delight in all her works. Perhaps it’s because she is not afraid of making fun of her characters and I always look forward to the sometimes biting comments and insights that can be found in the narrative and opinion characters have of each other. Surprisingly, I found myself less invested in the main character Ursula. Some longer moments helped round her out more, and shows how especially women’s lives can be heavily impacted and changed by gender-specific violence. But for the most part, what made me turn the page were all the other characters. This is likely due to the sometimes choppy nature of the premise, but Ursula seemed to be a conduit more than anything else to me.

The thing with this sort of premise is that of course the really is no definitive version, no ‘real’ life, despite Ursula becoming more aware of this and attempting to change events and get ‘it’ right. Even though the book is over 600 pages long, it did not feel too long. The latter part explores the idea of changing history by killing Hitler and giving Ursula one life in Germany during the 1930s, thereby connecting it to the novel’s opening. I do appreciate Atkinson not making this the focus of Life after Life, but these parts fell somewhat tacked on to the rest of the story and I finished the novel more dissatisfied than I would have without the last 100-200 pages.

And so I really did enjoy reading this novel, especially the writing and the imagery of summer days in Ursula’s home and the vividness of the horror of the Blitz. But perhaps, I appreciate the premise and set-up just a bit more than the actual story. Still, even if this one does not have me raving, I definitely recommend it. Also, I just found out that a companion novel called A God in Ruins, focusing on her brother Teddy’s story, will be published in May. So now would be a good time to pick up Life after Life, if you haven’t read it yet.

Have you read Life after Life? What did you think?

January in Books

I read eight books in January, not a bad start into the new year. What I apparently suck at is writing up reviews! Here’s the complete list:

Singled Out (Virginia Nicholson)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer) -reread

Les Aventures Extraordinares d’Adèle Blanc-Sec: Momies en Folie (Jaques Tardi)

Ripley’s Game (Patricia Highsmith)

Skulduggery Pleasant (Derek Landy)

One Good Turn (Kate Atkinson)

The Magic Toyshop (Angela Carter)

Saturday (Ian McEwan)

 

I think the comic thing might actually stick, I’m getting better at reading them and that makes me enjoy them more of course. Have I told you all how fantastic Tardi’s Adèle comics are? If you enjoy adventure stories, don’t have a problem with mummies and dinosaurs returning to life, want a witty and kick-ass heroine and Paris pre-WI, then please try them!

I’ve also been considering reading more (or, let’s face it, any) YA fiction, and decided to try the first Skulduggery Pleasant book. I thought a sarcastic skeleton would fit my sense of humor very well, and I did enjoy Skulduggery and Stephanie’s banter.The story was fun and moved quickly and I think I’ll read the rest of the series as well. But why does fantasy (it is fantasy, right?) nearly always have some kind of epic war looming? Please recommend some YA books to me where that is not the case (and which also skip the swoony love story plot).

Then I also read one non-fiction, Singled Out, which was great and made me want to read up on all the novels about spinsters. I basically added the bibliography to my tbr list. Of course I didn’t neglect my crime reading, One Good Turn is the second Brodie book and as good (or perhaps even better) that Case Histories. Also, it’s subtitled A Jolly Murder Mystery, how great is that? Atkinson’s observations of people and their interactions is just so caustic, but apt. Then I really had to read Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game for uni, and Ripley is really one of the greatest anti-heroes around. I’ll definitely read the other Ripley books. It was also weird to read about the mafia hanging out in my city! 😀

January also meant Virago Reading Week which was really great though I couldn’t keep up with everyone’s posts and mostly lurked. But it did introduce me to Angela Carter, who might just become one of my favorite writers! I’m still lugging Mad, Bad and Sad (a 500 page hardback, that already killed one bag) around with me and yes, it’s a must-read!

Saturday and Extremely Loud were both for uni. I’ve suffered through Extremely Loud twice now, both times assigned reading, if you can believe it; one more time and I’m going to scream. But Saturday was good, so now I’ve read three McEwan books and loved one, enjoyed one, and the other exasperated me. Either McEwan’s versatile writer or I’m just weird.

 

What was your reading month like? Doing good on your resolutions?

 

Review: Case Histories

Now that I finally have time for fun books again I thought I’d sort out the books I have here at my parents and put the ones I didn’t like up on bookmooch. It’s really weird that loving to read means reading anything to the extended family, but I hope someone will have more fun with these books than I had. Anyway, while I was sorting and dusting, I noticed Case Histories by Kate Atkinson on my shelf. I had no idea I owned this! I remember trying something by Atkinson at some point but I think I didn’t enjoy it that much. But then looking at my poor neglected copy,  I remembered Simon of Savidge Reads mentioning how much he loves Atkinson’s series, and so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did!

Case Histories is the first book in a series around private detective (and former police officer) Jackson Brodie, and is set in Cambridge. But the novel starts with three case histories: Three year old Olivia disappears from the tent in her garden one night, 18 year old Lauren is attacked by an unknown man in a yellow golfing sweater, and young mother Michelle looses control and kills her husband. These cases all take place at different times and seem to be unconnected. The only link between them is that Brodie is asked to investigate them by Olivia’s sisters, Lauren’s father, and Michelle’s sister wanting to find her niece. Brodie is not a very happy man, he is divorced from his wife and is haunted by a personal tragedy, which is a fourth case history. His private eye business, too, is going slow, most of his cases are provided by old eccentric Binky Rain, who asks Jackson to find some of her many cats. When these three cases are dropped in his lap, he is not very optimistic about solving them, however, he is a nice guy and takes a real interest in those family members left behind. There are the Land sisters, Amelia and Julia, who find Blue Mouse, Olivia’s toy, the one she disappeard with. There’s Lauren’s fathers Theo, to whom she was and still is the world, and Michelle’s sister who wants to find her niece.

Of the three opening chapters, the case histories, I was most invested in Olivia Land’s. Atkinson introduces the reader to a dysfunctional family, the distant father, the exhausted mother, neither of whom appears to be very interested in the children. The sisters in turn are all slightly weird but all very much their own person, and it is interesting to find out what has become of them thirty years later. Atkinson suceeds in creating characters that are likable but odd, tragic but unintentionally funny. There are not too few characters but all of them come to life. Perhaps this is part of the reason why critics refer to Case Histories as literary crime. This book is one that can be enjoyed by crime- and non-crime readers alike. Although it has a detective and cases of missing persons, the focus is as much on the tragedy of losing someone close and dealing with how to move on from that, as it is on the mystery of the cases. You want to find out what happened, but  that is not the central question of this book.

Case Histories is probably one of those books that has people gushing about how it transcends the genre and combines the best of genres etc. This is somewhat insulting to the ‘conventional’ genres, but I suppose I get their meaning. Even if literary crime sounds somewhat pretentious, I think I like it. I hope that means my reading horizons are expanding 🙂

Other thoughts:

Teresa at Shelf Love

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!