Updated: Dec 22, 2020
A very successful reading month for me - 16 books for me in total, including a few very good and very enjoyable ones. Anxious People and Beach Read are both contenders for my top 10 of 2020 list, and there were only a couple of duds and a couple on which I had mixed feelings.
Read on for my full wrap-up.
Best books of the month: Anxious People for the enjoyment factor; How Much of These Hills is Gold for the beautiful writing factor
Worst book of the month: Not the Girl You Marry (so bad it's turned me off other books by this author, unfortunately).
Most 'pleasant surprise' book of the month: The Roommate. Completely bonkers premise, but an absolutely violent delight to read anyway. Really looking forward to the second one in this series.
Most disappointing book of the month: Well Played. I loved Well Met so much, and unfortunately Well Played is kind of the definition of a sophomore slump book.
Les Petites Mazarines (4★/5), by Pierre Combescot: I never really figured out what this book was trying to be. Was it historical fiction masquerading as straight biography, or was it the other way round? Also, the split in attention was patchy - I think I would have appreciated it more had it focused on just one of the sisters, instead of trying to bounce around. Still though, an interesting read and Combescot's sense of irony pointed through very well and made me cackle more than once. A good, easy read for anybody who wants to dip their toe into learning more about this period of French history.
De la part de la princesse morte (4.4★/5), by Kenizé Mourad: Good Christ, what a story. Mourad, a French journalist, wrote this fictionalised version of her mother's life, who died when she was only two years old. And Good LORD, what a life Selma led. I highly recommend this book to everyone - it's been translated into multiple languages, English translation here - because it's such a wild, crazy, adventurous story that honestly does not read like it should be real. Also, I learned so much and my heartstrings got tugged on a ridiculous amount. Only docked a few stars because of all the adolescent angsty self-finding (I know - I'm an awful person).
Well Played (4.3★/5), by Jen DeLuca: A book that suffers from being the second in a series, I think. I still liked it, though. Reviewed (sort of) here.
The Roommate (4.7★/5), by Rosie Danan: This book is completely, beyond, utterly bonkers. The premise is literally the most ridiculous thing - Clara moves cross-country for her childhood crush, ends up living with a porn star, porno things ensue. I'm not joking, that's the plot. This book is crammed full of every single porn and romance novel trope you can think of, but switched around and reversed to the point where you think Rosie Danan was actively trying to cram in as many reversals as she could in one novel. It shouldn't work, and yet, I was fully onboard - I think probably because Danan is legitimately funny, and the banter between Josh and Clara absolutely sizzles, and even though the book is ridiculous, the love story is ridiculous and the characters are fully-crafted, real-feeling people. Of course, it only works if you just fully give up any pretense of realistic romance and lean into the ridiculous - since I was willing to do that, I got a lot out of this book, and I liked the sex-positive focus (more explicitly sex-focused, sex-positive stories for women, please!). I'm already hugely looking forward to the next book in this series in spring 2021.
Beach Read (5★/5), by Emily Henry: Oh my god this book is so good, I loved every single word. My review is here. Please read this book.
Anxious People (5★/5), by Frederik Backman: I was originally thinking I would do a review of this book, but I've decided against it - I think it's beneficial for everyone to go into this book completely unspoiled. It's mad-cap, bonkers, completely ridiculous; but also does that thing Backman does best, of tugging on every single one of your heartstrings and making you both laugh until you cry and weep copiously in the same paragraph. It's such, such, such a wonderful book. It's in contention for my top 10 of 2020 list.
Not the Girl You Marry (0.5★/5), by Andie J. Christopher: Sigh. This was not a good romance. It was meant as a gender-swapped retelling of How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days, but it's just too trite, too clichéd, too much of a straight re-telling to be interesting. The main characters have no chemistry and the entirety of their relationship felt beyond forced. Also, even though Christopher writes Jack to be a good guy, he comes across as a massive Nice Guy who blames women for his own issues. Their inner monologues are both so repetitive that they completely flatten into caricatures. Will not be reading the rest of the books in what is projected as a trilogy. Entirely skippable, wish I had not read.
The Rules of Magic (3.1★/5), by Alice Hoffman: Bit of a weird one, this. The story skips and starts and a lot of it feels like it's happening inside of a dream sequence. I think I would have appreciated some more concrete world-building and an actual plotline, but there was some lovely writing throughout.
Une sorcière à la cour (1.5★/5), by Philippe Madral: Meh. Everything was so obvious, all of the twists and turns were telegraphed, and the bad guys fell into some very stupid traps throughout. Pacing and plotting was off, as well, and the author has some... questionable opinions about women. Didn't love the narrator either.
The Once and Future Witches (3.1★/5), by Alix E. Harrow: There was... a lot happening in this book. It was way more fantasy than I was expecting it to be, and I got the distinct feeling that Harrow started the book with a television adaptation in mind, and worked out her story, her plot, her characters and her prose based on that. Every introspective moment felt like it was trying to be A Big Moment, a Quotable Epiphany, or Revelation - the character growth was telegraphed and told rather than shown and developed - and the pacing was off; there were too many big climaxes and not enough proper pacing. I also would have appreciated more involved world-building and an actual explanation of how the magic in this world works. Too many auxiliary characters were introduced, involved in two chapters, and then disappeared never to be mentioned again; the characterization of the three central sisters was patchy at best and interchangeable at worst. But, much like the inevitable television adaptation, I was gripped from beginning to end.
You Had Me at Hola (3.7★/5), by Alexis Daria: A fine, cute, kitschy romance. The dialogue occasionally felt forced, and I didn't connect with the context as much as I have in other novels, but I loved the chemistry between the two leads and the soap opera quality of the romance was fun and delightful. I also really loved the political and social point that Daria is making throughout. An easy, fun, enjoyable read.
Frenchman's Creek (3.2★/5), by Daphne du Maurier: A novella about Regency (I think?) England, in which Dona St Columb goes to Cornwall to escape a loveless marriage, meets a French pirate, they fall in love, hijinks ensue. I felt like I was reading a novel adaptation of the poem The Highwayman at points; the plot is a bit ridiculous, and the characters never feel more than partly-sketched; it was hard to figure out why these two main characters were attracted to each other, as the pirate never really seems as more of a romantic pastiche of a pirate. It was a fine, quick read that does nothing to dethrone Rebecca as a masterpiece in my mind.
How Much of These Hills is Gold (4.5★/5), by C Pam Zhang: I completely see why this was longlisted for the Booker. The language is rich, beautiful, and evocative. Zhang is telling a sprawling, heartbreaking story with very few words, and the sparseness of the language means that every emotional punch lands and lands hard, and all the subtext and innuendo is more meaningful than paragraphs of text would be. The story is pretty unrelentingly grim, and I think Zhang's metaphors and symbolism were a bit heavy-handed, especially by the end - I think I would have liked a smidgen more plot, but overall, this was a beautiful, beautiful book and an absolute honor to read.
Silver Sparrow (3.6★/5), by Tayari Jones: Mhmmmmmmm. A gloriously well-written book, that serves as scathing social critique. I think the fact that the central characters were so horrendously unsympathetic that turned me off liking this one as much as I loved An American Marriage: the two male main characters were selfish, self-absorbed, entitled, and downright demanding that I didn't understand why both the female characters were willing to turn themselves stupid and weak over them. Also, as someone who's spent a year of my life as the other woman, I have a really hard time with books where the other woman instead of the two-timing man ends up as the villain in the story, which is how this book ends. Still, though - great writing. I'm looking forward to making my way through the rest of Tayari Jones's back catalogue.
The Thursday Murder Club (3.5★/5), by Richard Osman: A perfectly fine, light, fun read. This is the kind of book that I call 'Prosecco books' - nothing too difficult, it goes down easy, it does the trick. I recommend if you're in the mood for something you don't need to think about too much, but still want to think about puzzles a bit. My full review is here.
As ever, let me know if you have read any of these - or if any of my reviews and recommendations have decided you into picking one of these up!