A slightly slower month for me, this one - I was on holiday for a good chunk of the month and so my reading slowed down a bit while I was home, as there was a dog that needed playing with. Also I drank a lot of alcohol and I don't tend to read much while hungover. A bit of a slower month in terms of quality, as well - mostly these were fluffy, easy books that didn't really leave much of a lasting impression. A couple of standouts though, which I do mention below.
Anyways, read on for my full April wrap-up!
Best book of the month: L'art de perdre. Lush, introspective, realistic, gorgeous. Highly, highly recommend.
Most enjoyable book of the month: The Intimacy Experiment. Fun. Just pure, unadulterated, fun. MORE, ROSIE DANAN. MORE.
Most 'pleasant surprise' book of the month: The Guest List. Better than expected! A clever mystery puzzle that worked out in a, if a little overneat, plausible and satisfying way. Highly recommend as well.
Most disappointing book of the month: Edge of the Grave. Good premise, poor execution - and I really wish this author had had a bit more discipline in sticking to the time period he claimed to be writing in. Oh, I'm sorry, are we in 2010 or 1932? There were times I couldn't tell. POOR.
Worst book of the month: Pretty Little Wife. A prime example of what is the worst of the domestic thriller subgenre.
L'art de perdre (5★/5), by Alice Zeniter: A crisp, achingly lovely exploration of immigration, loss, nostalgia, and what it feels to long for home when you're not quite sure what home is or where it is. Recently translated into English and available here, I highly recommend it. The language is beautiful and Alice Zeniter treats a complex, difficult topic with nuance and compassion. I really loved this book and it's in the running for my top of 2021 list. Highly recommend.
The Absolute Book (4.5★/5), by Elizabeth Knox: A complex, oftentimes knotty, fantasy novel that is also basically a love letter to the power of libraries and knowledge and brings in a lot of other arcane knowledge, like theology and metaphysics and also some random geography? I think this book would have benefitted from a more rigorous editing process and maybe being a hundred pages shorter and losing at least one plotline, but the central characters are interesting, complex, and difficult to like; the moral compasses at play are all massively skewed (I love a skewed moral compass!); and the way everything fits together is satisfying in its lack of neatness. Absolutely gorgeous writing, as well. I recommend this book with the caveat that it is involved and sometimes difficult to follow, so if you want an easy, fluffy fantasy, maybe give this one a pass.
The Wife Upstairs (3.5★/5), by Rachel Hawkins: A thriller retelling of Jane Eyre. It was fine until the last 50 pages, when it became proper fun. It was a fast, easy read that was fun to read, but it's also somewhat forgettable, the actual definition of fluff. Good for a beach read, or getting yourself out of a reading slump. I really wish we'd stop with the domestic thriller retellings of classic novels now, publishing industry. There are more original stories to tell.
Pretty Little Wife (1.5★/5), by Darby Kane: And now we move into a BAD domestic thriller! The writing and characterization is sloppy; the important events of the novel are glossed over in ways that frankly don't make sense in order to create suspense but ends up just creating confusion; the big plot twist at the end is both entirely predictable and yet completely out of nowhere and then just... doesn't get discussed? Ever? It merited both more build-up and more resolution, and didn't get either. Don't read this book, and also maybe don't read anything by this author either. Also I'm really bored of domestic thrillers. It's all that's getting published right now and I want to see SOME OTHER STUFF.
A Good Marriage (4.4★/5), by Kimberly McCreight: Having just said how bored I am of domestic thrillers, this one was pretty decent. There are a lot of plot points that are done a disservice by the fact that there are only two POVs (and one of them is first person, which I think vastly limits the amount of sleuthing we as readers are about to do and does a bit dilute the impact of the eventual solution); but it is sufficiently complex and there is enough happening that putting the pieces together is a gripping, enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Another pulpy recommendation that is good for getting out of a reading rut - the story carries you along, and the writing is strong enough to be an enjoyable endeavor.
The Guest List (5★/5), by Lucy Foley: I will admit, I was pleasantly surprised by this one! I expected it to be pulpy and bad, but it was actually really fun. An enjoyable twist on the locked-room mystery, this was a fun puzzle in which the pieces slotted together in a plausible, satisfying way. I almost find myself wishing that this book had been longer - each of the alternating POV characters have strong, well-defined voices; the plotting and pacing is superb; and the characterization is developed well. The dialogue also manages to quite successfully manage the balance between being realistic and appropriate for a novel. I highly recommend this one - it's one of the better modern mysteries I've read in a while.
One to Watch (3.6★/5), by Kate Stayman-London: It was fine. I think the author is trying to do waaaaay too much politics and is stretching herself too thin with the story, and the way the plot develops feels a bit too deus ex machina for my taste. But it also didn't do enough for me to care about it much one way or the other, so, you know - it's fine. Whatever. It was a good book to read on the plane.
The Age of Innocence (5★/5), by Edith Wharton: I really loved this book. I loved the complexity of the characters and the way Wharton is doing Austen-levels of social critique in gorgeous writing and excellent descriptions, but I also feel weird reviewing a classic novel, so I'll just say - it's a beautiful novel and I really loved it.
The Janes (4.6★/5), by Alice Vega: A gritty, gripping thriller about Mexican cartels and human trafficking and that features a PI who carries around a pair of bolt cutters with which to torture men. Intrigued? Of course you are. Reviewed here.
To Love and to Loathe (4.1★/5), by Martha Waters: Not as strong as her first book - there's a lot of repetition of dialogue, too many callbacks to novel #1, as if Waters was unsure of her footing; and the love story was a bit less fully developed. There was a bit too much focus on the secondary characters, so we got to spend less time watching Diana and Jeremy falling in love, which made the climax feel less earned. We also kind of glanced over the sex, which was a bit weird? But it was still quite fun, and I look forward to book #3. Lots of shitting on how terrible men are, which I do always appreciate.
The Intimacy Experiment (5★/5), by Rosie Danan: Another excellent, excellent romance novel (perhaps some more sex would have been appreciated? But the 1.5 sex scenes that we got was absolutely FIRE). The love story is sweet, believable and the characters are so easy to root for, and so delicately complex. I will literally read anything Rosie Danan writes.
Au service secret de Marie-Antoinette: La Reine se confine! (3.7★/5), by Frederic Lenormand: Not the best he's written in this series, but still a fun, fluffy book that was a good, easy read when I needed a palate cleanser. The in-jokes about pandemics and the French Revolution were quite funny, even though the mystery falls a bit flat in parts. I will still keep reading these books.
The God of Small Things (5★/5), by Arundhati Roy: A beautiful, complex book that does some very interesting things with timelines and structure. I'm glad I stuck this through, but it did take about 150 pages before the story fully engaged me emotionally and I was able to connect with this novel more than intellectually. Absolutely gorgeous writing, and Roy is doing a lot in a relatively short page count. I look forward to picking up more of her books and challenging myself, since this woman clearly does not believe in writing timelines that are easy to follow or characters that are likeable or even easy to understand.
Edge of the Grave (2★/5), by Robbie Morrison: A dud. Reviewed here.
Operation Mincemeat (4.5★/5), by Ben Macintyre: An utterly bonkers book about an utterly bonkers plan that... somehow worked???? How did this work???? Oh my DAYS. Well-written, well-researched, a gripping, compelling read - basically a perfect example of nonfiction thrillers, with some top-notch use of archives and records thrown in. I wish the timeline had been laid out a bit more clearly at the start of the book, but in all, I highly recommend.
There you have it, folks. That's all she wrote!
Let me know if any of these strike your fancy or migrate their way into your own TBR lists, and as always -