An excellent reading month for me - not in terms of my numbers, as I fell one short of what I was planning on reading this month (one of those isn't my fault - it's proving impossible to get ahold of a copy of one of the books on my April TBR, but I think I might be able to get it delivered in the next 2-3 weeks, so I've pushed it onto my May TBR. Fingers crossed...), but in terms of the quality of the books themselves. Nearly all of the books I read this month were great - only one disappointment. Just some great reading, and some truly fun quarantine presents. At least 3 of the books I've read this month are contenders for my Best of 2020 list!
Here's my April wrap-up:
Best book of the month: The Mirror and the Light (Tender is the Flesh ran it a close, close second - but ultimately, the greatest living English writer [or is that Margaret Atwood??? Ahhhh, please don't make me pick...] has produced yet another masterpiece and that does edge it, I'm afraid).
Most pleasant surprise book of the month: Il est de retour, by Timur Vermes (trans. Pierre Deshusses). This one is a stretch for this month, as I knew it was a good book, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how good - it was sharp, witty and absolutely hilarious.
Most disappointing book of the month: Strange Antics, by Clement Knox. I was expecting this to be something which it decidedly was... not. I think I may have enjoyed it more if it had been properly advertised, so the disappointment is more about the fact that the story didn't line up with what I thought, rather than the quality of the writing. Worst book of the month: See 'Most Disappointing' entry.
The Mirror and the Light (5★/5), by Hilary Mantel: This book is going to make my top 10 of 2020 list. Reviewed here.
Tender is the Flesh (4.8★/5), by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. from the Spanish by Sarah Moses): A weird, creepy, horrible book that is about cannibalism, but is also a really great piece of literature. My spoilery review is here, but basically: I recommend it if you're in the mood for a challenge.
The Unicorn Hunt (4.5★/5), by Dorothy Dunnett: The most involved, complicated, complex book of the House of Niccolò so far. There's also some random divining thrown in there for no reason that I could discern, and because of that weird foray into the supernatural - which I fundamentally believe does not suit the tone of the rest of the novels, but I do still have three books to go, so maybe my mind will be changed - and the slightly unresolved nature of all of Nicholas's adventures, and the speed with which the action moves around; and the fact that apparently the first third of the book was orchestrated by Cyprus and Zacco but then we spend less than ten pages in Cyprus unravelling all of that???; makes The Unicorn Hunt my least favorite of the Niccolò books so far. (Although I do have a working pattern that, in all series longer than four books that I have ever read in my entire life, going back to the Warriors series of my early days; the third book is always my favorite and the fifth book is always my least favorite. I'm serious. This has been the case in every series I have ever read.) Anyway, I'm looking forward to Dorothy returning to form in the last three books of this magnificent work of historical fiction - and hopefully without the weird supernatural elements that make no sense and don't fit!
Au service secret de Marie-Antoinette #3: La Mariée était en Rose Bertin (4★/5), by Frédéric Lenormand: Another delightfully silly romp. The mystery in this one is, I think, the sloppiest - the two threads don't really quite tie together, and Rose Bertin has to make quite a stretch to resolve them. Also, there's a pretty big reveal about Léonard in there that is just dropped into the middle of the novel and is just... never addressed again? But maybe it'll come back in Book #4, which I am eagerly awaiting, whenever it is published. As always, just pure, silly, enjoyable escapist fun, and I laughed aloud at several points. The irony of reading these with the knowledge of history remains excellently strong.
To Lie with Lions (4.7★/5), by Dorothy Dunnett: Another weird one in the House of Niccolò. The pacing felt a bit off for the entire book, which leads me to believe (hope) that she's building up to quite a big reveal - otherwise it's just some bizarre plotting. Also, she's continuing with the bloody divination, which I still bloody hate, and don't bloody think the series needs it, or is made better by it. Also, all the deus ex Tobie arrivals and the never-ending warfare between Gelis and Nicholas when they OBVIOUSLY just need to schtup is starting to grate. But I've immediately dived right into Book 7, so obviously I am still very much along for this absolutely batshit insane ride.
Caprice and Rondo (4.6★/5), by Dorothy Dunnett: Another whiplash-inducing book, where we move around all over Europe and the timeline feels strangely compressed. But the big reveal of the end of the novel was delightfully twisty, and disturbingly evil and eerie - plus we seem to be setting up for the final showdown, the final reveals, very nicely. My one gripe is I could never figure out why this book is titled the way it is - whereas all the other titles were pretty obviously metaphorical for the story, this one left me puzzled.
Gemini (4.6★/5), by Dorothy Dunnett: The last book of House of Niccolò. It was an absolute wild ride. Read my series recap/debrief/thing here.
Il est de retour (4.4★/5), by Timur Vermes (trans. from the German by Pierre Deshusses): A solid, wickedly funny book about Hitler coming back from the dead and becoming an insanely successful Internet and TV sensation. Read my review here.
Strange Antics: A History of Seduction (1.5★/5), by Clement Knox: A disappointment. It wasn't so much a history of seduction as a series of loosely connected biographies of different people the author considered important to the development of a seduction narrative, all from the eighteenth-century to beyond, all Anglophone, and (with one exception) all focused on men. It was disjointed, sloppy book, and Knox did not spend enough time in his introduction explaining or justifying why he's made this research choice, or even how he selected the people he chose to focus on. His writing style is also unnecessarily pretentious - he repeatedly uses fancier-sounding, longer words to convey his point instead of choosing a simpler, more commonly-known vocabulary word, which might work if the rest of the work has the intellectual shoulders to carry that; his does not. It makes him sound like someone desperately trying to prove to us all that he's much smarter than he actually is. He also used the word 'pile' to refer to country estates multiple times through the book, and I found that annoying. A disappointing book.
The Splendid and the Vile (5★/5), by Erik Larson: A spectacular read and another contender for my Top 10 of 2020 list. Read my review here.
Let me know your thoughts/opinions on any of these books if you've read them, or if they've tempted you!
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay at home and wash your hands!