Right, so my numbers are way down this month - I hit a massive reading slump in the second weekend of May (partly because I was ill, and partly because Francis Crawford of Lymond is an exhausting, exhausting man and he literally sapped all of my energy and mental bandwidth). Anyway, once I powered through that one and decided to let the last two books of the series take a backseat for a bit - give myself a bit of a break, yeesh - my reading did pick back up again, and I still managed to turn out a decent 12 total books. I'll need to pick up in June, though.
Best book of the month: Civilizations. A delightful, fun, interesting, thought-provoking read that I couldn't stop thinking about long after I finished reading it. Most 'pleasant surprise' book of the month: The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires. I was expecting to like this, but I wasn't expecting to find it quite as much fun as I did - so it's a pleasant surprise in that sense. I'm stretching the definition, but since this is my blog I make the rules and if you don't like it you can kiss me.
Worst book of the month: Lord James, by Catherine Hermary-Vieille. Terrible. This was terrible. Every single thing about this book was bad and the only redeeming quality was that I quite like this period in history, and the background and incidental characters did have slight shades of nuance that were completely lacking in the main plot or the central protagonists.
Most disappointing book of the month: Le Pays des autres, by Leïla Slimani. Not that this was a bad book - I just had very high expectations of it, and the book didn't quite live up to them.
The Disorderly Knights (4.7★/5), by Dorothy Dunnett: The strongest entry in the Lymond Chronicles so far. The novel is jam-packed full of fanatics who have never met the concept of nuance, which does get a bit grating by the time you've read 615 pages of it; but the emotional stakes of this novel feel higher than in the first two and the cast of characters is limited enough that all of them feel fleshed out. Lymond is also up against a villain that actually gives him a run for his money, and the ending isn't the neat wrap-up that we've had in the first two. I'm well gripped, Dorothy!
If I Never Met You (5★/5), by Mhairi McFarlane: Look, I'm never gonna judge kitschy cute romances on the same curve as I do books that claim to be literary fiction - I don't expect the same thing that I do from authors who put their novels on a pedestal. I reach for romance novels when I want something light, easy to read, uncomplicated escapist fantasy: and that's exactly what If I Never Met You is! It's cute. It's sickeningly cute. It's got a breakup scene in the first twenty pages that is incredibly painful and incredibly relatable. It's got no sex in it, which annoyed me slightly. It's a meet-cute in an elevator that also has a fake-relationship-with-a-contract that turns into a real soulmate love! It makes no sense! This is not actually what working at a lawyers' firm is! How do all these people have both jobs that require long hours and also unlimited free time and spending money! Everything happens at completely implausible speeds! Again - there's no sex!!!! But it was also a good, sweet, lovely, unrealistic romance that made me feel happy and fuzzy when I read it, and honestly, right now, that's all I fucking want, so everyone put your judgment back in your pocket. I LIKE KITSCHY RIDICULOUS ROMANCES OKAY.
Le Pays des autres (4.1★/5), by Leïla Slimani: My least favorite of Slimani's novels but still a solid book. Read my review here.
Keeper (4.4★/5), by Jessica Moor: A difficult one, this. Reviewed here.
Pawn in Frankincense (4.9★/5), by Dorothy Dunnett: A hard, hard read. It drags badly, and then picks right back up again in the last 200 pages and flings you around a bit like a rag doll, and then stomps all over your heart with big clompy heels and laughs at you while you sit there emotionally destroyed, and then still manages to make you so incandescently annoyed at Francis Crawford that you need to go lie down for several hours. Or maybe that was just me. That scene of the live chess game was so tense I had to stop halfway through and go remind myself to breathe. I'm going to sue Dorothy Dunnett's estate for severe emotional distress.
Soif (5★/5), by Amélie Nothomb: Another real strong entry by Amélie Nothomb. This novel follows the meandering thought process in Jesus's mind as he is tried, sentenced to death, and crucified, and his stream of consciousness before he reappears to the Apostles. There's an awful lot packed into this very short book (it's only 152 pages, with big font; I read it in a couple of hours between the end of my work day and dinnertime). There are very funny moments, a lot of thought-provoking ones, and a really sweet account of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and Jesus and John. Jesus as a slightly blasé, philosophizing young man struggling with the weight of the task he's been handed and the contempt he feels for most people is both slightly shocking (I am, after all, a devout Catholic) and incredibly relatable, and centers Jesus in a way that you don't get when you just know the Biblical stories. It also highlights just how incidental the people in the stories we know are in the overarching Christ mythology - they are, to all intents and purposes, there as props in the story of the Son of God come to redeem man. An interesting, thought-provoking book; I highly recommend it to everyone who can read French or who feels like hunting down a translation (although, again, as I have said before - if you can muddle through in the original, I highly recommend you do. Amélie Nothomb's writing sparkles because she has a causticity to her wit and an irreverence in the way she plays with words that would, I think, be severely impacted if not completely lost in translation).
My Dark Vanessa (4.6★/5), by Kate Elizabeth Russell: A very hard, but very good book. I've reviewed it here.
Lord James (1.5★/5), by Catherine Hermary-Vieille: A terrible book that I shit on relentlessly here.
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires (5★/5), by Grady Hendrix: An enjoyable horror book that critiques misogyny in an incisive, brilliant way but leaves something to be desired in the way it tackles racism and white saviorism. You can read my review here.
Adults (3.4★/5), by Emma Jane Unsworth: This is a fine book. The main story is the central character's complicated grieving process after a miscarriage and her subsequent breakup, which could have been incredibly gut-wrenching and compelling - but I think Unsworth sent so much time at the start of the novel exploring how much Jenny is a fuck-up that by the time we get the big reveal that she's grieving, we've spent too much time with her being a shitty friend and employee to really feel for her as much as we should. The fact that I think that probably makes me an awful person, though.
Civilizations (5★/5), by Laurent Binet: An excellent book - another contender for Top 10 of 2020 list. Check out the review!
Shakespeare in a Divided America (4★/5), by James Shapiro: An interesting idea, that left me with my hunger a little. It could have been better developed, and I think Shapiro's conclusions could stand up to some more intense scrutiny than he'll get (because nobody seems to care about Shakespeare anymore). I don't usually say this, but I think this book could have been longer and that the scope could have been expanded to allow for a more rigorous analysis. Still a good book, though - and I highly recommend Shapiro's previous dives into Shakespeare analysis, as he comes at it from a fresh perspective and his arguments are interesting even if they are a bit tame.