Remember when I said I was going to read that big huge stack in the picture at the start of this month?
Anyway, I didn't do that. Bit of an uneven reading month for me - the month started out really strong, with a lot of great books that are in contention for my top of 2021 list, and then as my attention flagged in the latter half of the month my quality of reading also decreased. Ah well. My numbers were still halfway decent.
Read on for my full wrap-up, as ever.
Best book of the month: Miss Benson's Beetle. It's a wonderful, wonderful book. Please read it right fucking now. Also Sharks in the Time of Saviors. And also In the Time of the Butterflies. GAAAAAH there were too many good books this month! I can't pick!!!! Just read them all!
Most enjoyable book of the month: People We Meet On Vacation. A lovely little romcom that made me happy sob. MORE BOOKS EMILY HENRY, MORE BOOKS NOW.
Most 'pleasant surprise' book of the month: I'll stick the Miss Marple mysteries I read in here - I was expecting to like them, but distinctly feel that I preferred Poirot, and so far I haven't found that. So, yay!
Most disappointing book of the month: The Khan. Good premise; I wanted to like it; but the immature storytelling and the weird pacing totally threw me off and made it really hard for me to get into this book, let alone enjoy it.
Worst book of the month: Antigone Rising. Let us never speak of this again.
The Silver Pigs (4★/5), by Lindsey Davis - A very enjoyable, very fun book that has whetted my appetite for more Ancient Roman PIs. Reviewed here.
Klara and the Sun (5★/5), by Kazuo Ishiguro: A really lovely, really melancholy, really thought-provoking book. This is doing a lot of philosophy and deep thinking through the eyes of an original, intuitive narrator. I've heard this book described as the spiritual successor to Never Let Me Go, which does do a pretty accurate job of summing up the themes and what Ishiguro is really trying to get across here - but I think the language is a bit more assured. Either way, this has made me want to go back and reread more of Ishiguro's earlier work, and it's a superb novel. Highly recommend. Ishiguro remains an auto-buy author for me.
The Khan (2.5★/5), by Saima Mir: Good premise; disappointing execution. Reviewed here.
Miss Benson's Beetle (5★/5), by Rachel Joyce: A wonderful, perfect, charming, heart-warming yet crushing book. In contention for my top 0f 2021 list. Cannot recommend highly enough, especially if anybody needs a pick-me-up book or a book to get you through a reading slump. Gushed about here.
Hurdy Gurdy (3.5★/5), by Christopher Wilson: It was a fine pandemic story. Does some interesting things with structure and characterization, and I liked the way Wilson plays with theology and narrative constructs; but it didn't leave me very moved, and I thought the thought-provoking nature of it was overblown. The tongue-in-cheek aspects of it didn't land for me either; I thought they were too much of an attempt at being clever rather than actually being funny. It was a quick read though, so I won't be too harsh on it.
La Société du Mystère (3.7★/5), by Dominique Fernandez: Not my favorite of the Fernandez books. Maybe it has to do with the painter at the center of it - I didn't know much about Bronzino going into this, so I was more along for the ride than actively enjoying parts of it - also, I struggled with the way Fernandez portrayed the homosexuality of his main characters in this novel. I got the sense that he was suggesting that Bronzino was gay because he... hated women? Which I don't love, on multiple fronts. Ah well. Still gorgeous writing, and a real appreciation for Italian art and language that shines through. Will keep reading all of this author's books that I can get my hot little hands on.
People We Meet On Vacation (5★/5), by Emily Henry: This book is perfect. Everyone go read it yesterday. Reviewed here.
Antigone Rising: The Subversive Power of the Ancient Myths (0.2★/5), by Helen Morales: I can see why this book would work for other readers, but it's really not for me. It's aimed at people who have no, or very little, knowledge of ancient history and the relevant Greek and Roman myths, so the constant contextualization and explanation that Helen Morales did - which would be useful for someone who, unlike me, doesn't already know all of this - ended up just grating on me endlessly. Also, Helen Morales didn't actually engage with any of the myths or their relevant, real-world applications in any meaningful, new ways, it was just a lot of regurgitation of what's accepted as progressive thought on Twitter. Do I disagree with any of it? No. Do I wish she'd presented it in a way that was actually new, or interesting, or thought-provoking instead of lecturing people who already agree with her? Yes. Yes I do. This was very disappointing.
Curtain (4.5★/5), by Agatha Christie: Not my favorite of the Poirot novels (I know that's a controversial opinion), but it was my last one left to read, so you can look forward to my definitive ranking of the Poirot novels in the next couple of months. I just think that this one stretches the bounds of credulity more than some of the other novels did, and I didn't love the feeling of the ending - it didn't feel earned, or like it had actually come at the end of an investigation. Don't worry though Agatha, you're still the best mystery novelist of all time.
In the Time of the Butterflies (5★/5), by Julia Alvarez: My God, what a book. Reviewed here.
The Murder at the Vicarage (5★/5), by Agatha Christie: I loved it! I held off on reading the Miss Marple mysteries for so long because I was worried I wouldn't love them as much as Poirot, but really, this one was great! Clever mystery, a cleverer detective, Agatha Christie at her best. I have already purchased the next three Miss Marples and I can't wait to get back into them. Goddamn it, Agatha, why are you so good.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors (5★/5), by Kawai Strong Washburn: I have read so many excellent books so far in May - this one is in contention for my top of 2021 list. A beautiful, beautiful book about a lot of things, but mostly about how a family survives after a tragic loss - there's a lot of Hawai'ian myth and folklore, and the characters are so vivid and real, and the writing is just gorgeous, and the imagery is so evocative and the sense of place and setting and time is so lush and rich and ugh. This is just an unbelievable book that I cannot recommend highly enough - heart-crushingly sad, of course, but just absolutely beautiful throughout. Please read this.
Outlawed (4★/5), by Anna North: Mhmmmm. Conflicting thoughts on this one. Reviewed here.
Seating Arrangements (3.3★/5), by Maggie Shipstead: A bit bonkers. It was described as a modern twist on a comedy of manners, and is set on a New England island, describing the wedding of the eldest daughter of a family of WASPs (and they are sooooo WASPy, oh my days). The story moves along at a decent pace, I just wish the stakes had been higher - nothing much happens beyond some cringey, highly embarrassing moments, and the whole Lolita thing got a bit creepy by page 250. Crisp writing, though - I'm definitely going to be reading Maggie Shipstead's next two books (this was her debut).
Twice Shy (5★/5), by Sarah Hogle: I didn't love this one as much as I loved You Deserve Each Other (the resolution felt a little less earned, and the supporting characters read more like stock characters than in Hogle's debut), but reading this book still felt like eating a warm, gooey chocolate-chip cookie. A lovely romance, some excellent pining, red-hot banter, a wonderful male lead, a heroine that was very easy to root for. I didn't love the virgin trope that Sarah Hogle brought in here, but it was still a very enjoyable read.
Falling (2.5★/5), by T.J. Newman: Perfectly adequate thriller fluff, is funny without wanting to be funny. I've reviewed it here.
This Must Be The Place (4.4★/5), by Maggie O'Farrell: I saw a lot of early themes here that she developed more fully (and in my opinion, more successfully) in Hamnet - family ties, the myriad different ways that exist of being a family, the different ways that exist of coping with grief, etc. Some very beautiful, very evocative writing, and I loved the chronology and framing style she adopted for this book, of creating a web that interweaves and interlocks, and the shifting backwards and forwards in time - and the ambiguity of the ending also worked for me. I think I would have just liked a bit more substance in the emotional punches; they were delivered very much as the catalyst for the story rather than being the story itself, but I think more time spent on them would have made them more impactful for the reader.
The Body in the Library (4.5★/5), by Agatha Christie: I'm officially on the Miss Marple train! I bought the next three already this month despite being broke as fuck. I like that so far they're all centered around the same locality, it means that we get to spend more time with the characters of the first book and really lean into Miss Marple as a person and watch the little village scene fully develop. I will say nothing more other than - why have you not read these yet, reader?
Black Buck (1.8★/5), by Mateo Askaripour: I am not the reader for this book. It was pegged as satire, as a way of exploring all the ways a lack of diversity and not enough people of color in tech can go wrong, as a takedown of the culture of Silicon Valley - but a lot of the humor missed me, and the horrific racism that the main character experiences throughout the entire first third of the book feels voyeuristic more than it feels like it serves a narrative purpose. The pacing is really weird, as well - each third of the book feels like it could have been its own story, and the threads of them were never properly tied together. The climax was crammed onto two pages right at the end and it all happened so quickly and brutally that I was left a little bit reeling (which I think was a deliberate authorial choice, so I will give him points for that). And the dialogue never felt realistic, but rather like every character was consciously performing what they were meant to be saying in that moment; that might have been a deliberate choice as well, but it didn't work for me as well. And, lastly - I've said it before and I'll say it again - I am so goddamn sick of misogyny being used as a way to make a story 'realistic' in 2021. We all know sexism exists in tech, Mateo. The characters didn't need to refer to women as cum buckets. The only female character with more than two lines that wasn't his mother or his girlfriend was only introduced in the last 70 pages of the book (and his mother gets fridged 50 pages in). The amount of horrific sexism being spewed by the characters honestly made me sometimes question whether or not the author also hates women and is using satire as an excuse to say these degrading, insulting things. Sexism is not a plot point! We don't need to speak about women that way anymore! Why do male authors keep bringing in sexism when it doesn't advance the plot????? Anyway, as I've said - a book whose premise is a good one, and parts of it worked for me, I just don't think I'm the reader for this experiment.
Les Dames de Rome (3.5★/5), by Françoise Chandernagor: A solid novel. Really lovely writing, but the story suffers a bit from the fact that history knows so little about Selene's life at this period that she feels a bit incidental to her own story. I'm looking forward to reading the last book in this trilogy, though.
The Moving Finger (3.6★/5), by Agatha Christie: I love Agatha Christie mysteries and that's all I have to say about that.
And there you have it, folks - that's all she wrote! Let me know if any of these books strike your fancy, or if you've decided to pick up any of them, or if you disagree with me vehemently, or whatever.