January wrap-up (part 2)
And here's the second instalment of this month's wrap-up - a very good reading month for me to start off the year! 28 books read, almost all of them thoroughly enjoyed.
Best book of the month: Les Oubliés du dimanche, by Valérie Perrin. I will be taking no questions at this time. Also Beartown.
Most enjoyable book of the month: Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead. Fun, enjoyable bonkersosity about a writer who accidentally becomes a hitwoman for the Russian mob. What more do you need to read this series right fucking now?
Most 'pleasant surprise' book of the month: Um, go on then. The Age of Doubt. There you go.
Most disappointing book of the month: Erm, I'll stick Wahala in here. It had a lot of buzz but I think ended up being just a bit unfinished as a novel. Worst book of the month: Les Bourgeois, by Alice Ferney (see wrap-up Part 1 for why this book sucked so much).
La fille qu'on appelle (4.2★/5), by Tanguy Viel: A complex, nuanced look at political influence and the weird relationship it creates with consent. I think I would have liked this book more if it had stayed entirely with one of the two protagonists instead of going back and forth between the two, but as it is the relationships in this were well-observed and the writing was meandering and lovely. Very thought-provoking.
Premier sang (5★/5), by Amélie Nothomb: One of the stronger entries in the back half of Nothomb's writing career. This is a novel she wrote from the point of view of her father, retracing his life up until his experience as a diplomat in the Congo during the civil war there. Exquisite writing, and you can read throughout the whole book how much she loved her father and how strong her grief is (he died during the health crisis). An early favourite of the year, potentially a contender for 2022 best-of. No English translation as of yet, but I expect one is coming,
Le collier rouge (3.1★/5), by Jean-Christophe Rufin: I expected this to be much more dramatic based on the blurb, but as it was it was a pretty nifty exploration of pettiness and pride and the lengths people are willing to go to for the smallest of paybacks. I wish the central character had liked his dog more, though.
The Track of Sand (3.8★/5), by Andrea Camilleri: A nice way of getting back into Montalbano this year. I liked the bait-and-switch that this one centered around, and some strong work from the secondary characters.
Wahala (3.2★/5), by Nikki May: A good book undone by some fairly significant pacing issues. Reviewed here.
Parable of the Sower (4.3★/5), by Octavia Butler: Disturbingly prescient, especially considering that I can absolutely see the world looking like this dystopian hellscape in two years' time. This was written in the 1980s. Yes, it wreaked havoc with my anxiety. It's the story of Lauren Olamina, a young girl with hyperactive empathy syndrome, who sets out to gather followers and start her own community-based religion after the destruction of her home and the death of her family in a post-apocalyptic (but not quite) California. It's a very interesting read that does a lot of heavy lifting on discussions of family, race, identity, religion, everything. I can see why it's a modern classic.
Beartown (5★/5), by Frederik Backman: My heart still hurts from this one. Reviewed here.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling: A reread (obviously) so I'm not giving it a star rating. I just need the nostalgia hit right now, and I'm spacing out my rereads of these wonderful, wonderful books as palate cleansers after heavier books.
The Maid (3.3★/5), by Nita Prose: A mystery with a neurodivergent central character. It was a good, if very basic, murder mystery, and yay for more books about and centering neurodivergent people, but it did become a bit difficult watching Molly get relentlessly taken advantage of by all the horrible people around her.
The Potter's Field (3★/5), by Andrea Camilleri: I'm running out of quickie ways of describing these books, so... this was good! Much darker than the books before have been, and the investigation and the mysteries are starting to take backseats to the psychological introspection of Montalbano. I don't hate it, not by a long shot, but I would like some more cut-and-narrow detective work occasionally.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling: Another reread - this one undertaken when I needed a break from The Plot Against America.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling: Read while recovering from a night of drinking and sex. Still my favorite of the series. Very much enjoying this reread and the nostalgia hit.
The Plot Against America (3.8★/5), by Philip Roth: Intellectually I can appreciate that this is an excellent book. It's a revisionist take on America's entry into World War II, about what would have happened if Lindbergh won the 1940 presidential election instead of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the book is superbly written, I just had a hard time connecting with it emotionally and found it almost too dark and disturbing to read in parts. I think that was because it just hit too different after 4 years of a T**** presidency.
Le rêve du Celte (2.6★/5), by Mario Vargas Llosa: A historical fiction that also tells the story of Roger Casement, an employee of the Foreign Office who was executed by the British government in 1916 for conspiring with the German government to stage an uprising in Ireland (for those eagle-eyed readers, you will notice that 1916 was perhaps not the year to be trying to strike a deal with the German government if you were British). It also tells the story of his travels in the Congo and the Amazon, writing reports on the abuse of indigenous populations by corporations there. An interesting topic, but wildly weird pacing - I think it would have been more impactful if Vargas Llosa had picked just one of those episodes to focus the novel on, instead of trying to cram in this guy's whole massively eventful life.
Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead (3.8★/5), by Elle Cosimano: The second book in the wildly entertaining Finlay Donovan series, and I'm already eagerly awaiting the third instalment! The plot of this one is even more bonkers than the first, and is very far-fetched and a bit sprawling and confusing (Finlay gets sucked into an accidental hit again, this time on her ex-husband, ends up on the payroll of the Russian mob; there's a dirty cop; and her partner is involved in I think an illegal gambling ring?), but still very fun. Highly, highly recommend this series if you need a light, easy pick-me-up read that is still good.
The Age of Doubt (4.7★/5), by Andrea Camilleri: My favourite Montalbano mystery so far, I think. The mystery is the most clever and the psychological puzzle is both fascinating and very sad.
Hurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose (3★/5), by Leigh Cowart: An interesting book, but that I think would have benefitted from having a little bit less memoir in it and a more rigorous scientific approach. I found the switches from interviews with exports to the purple prose of Cowart as she recounted her own experience with something a bit jarring, and I think by Chapter 10 the interest of the anecdotes had worn off a bit. Still, a very interesting, informative read and I learned a lot!
L'événement (5★/5), by Annie Ernaux: A very short memoir about Ernaux's experience with an illegal abortion in 1960s France. Fascinating, unputdownable, very sad - everyone should read this book. And it's only 130 pages, so it's only going to be an hour of your life for something that's truly eye-opening. And just reinforces the idea that making abortion illegal is stupid and self-defeating and no government should do it.