Read in 2017: January


I thought I'd experiment slightly with the format of these wrap up posts.  I always wanted to keep my reviews snappy, but sometimes felt that meant I didn't get a chance to fully describe the plot and give you guys a real idea of the story.  This month I thought I'd try out giving you the blurb before my review as a way of achieving this....let me know if it works!

#1 - CITY ON FIRE // Garth Risk Hallberg
"Midnight, New Year's Eve, 1976.  Nine lives are about to be changed forever.  Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, heirs to one of New York's greatest fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better of worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by the punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter and his idealistic neighbour - and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year's Eve.  Then, on July 13th 1977, the lights go out."
I started the year by finishing off this beast of a book from my winter TBR. It's huge (944 pages!) and I'm ashamed to admit that the main source of any positive feelings I have towards this book is the fact that I'm proud to have got through it.  It could definitely have been cut down, despite how well-written and accomplished it felt.  The characters are rich, diverse and complex and I liked how their plot lines were woven together throughout, but often I found myself skimming past the flowery embellishments to find the action.  Then there was the fact that this is set in a very specific point in time which I knew very little about.  New York in the 1970s is alien to me and I feel that I missed a lot of the atmosphere and tension by not knowing anything about the political background and events of that time.
Rating: ★★★

#2 - KISSING THE WITCH // Emma Donoghue
"Thirteen tales are unspun from the deeply familiar, and woven anew into a collection of fairy tales that wind back through time...Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed.Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire. Acclaimed writer Emma Donoghue spins new tales out of old in a magical web of thirteen interconnected stories about power and transformation and choosing one's own path in the world." 
 This year I hope to read along with The Feminist Orchestra Bookclub and this was January's book.  Short story collections can be hit and miss with me, but this fairy tale retelling selection was a definite hit.  Each story retained classic elements of traditional fairy tales which gave them a really authentic feel, despite the new spin on things.  Female characters were at the forefront but presented in a strong new light, with more depth than just waiting around for a prince.  I particularly loved how all the stories threaded together, with a character introduced in one tale taking the spotlight in the next.  I recommend!
Rating: ★★★★

#3 - ALL I EVER WANTED // Lucy Dillon
"Caitlin's life is a mess. Her marriage to a man everyone else thinks is perfect has collapsed, along with her self-esteem, and breaking free seems the only option.  Nancy, her four-year-old daughter, used to talk all the time; in the car, at nursery, to her brother Joel. Then her parents split up. Her daddy moves out. And Nancy stops speaking.  Nancy's Auntie Eva, recently widowed and feeling alone, apart from the companionship of two bewildered pugs, is facing a future without her husband or the dreams she gave up for him.  But when Eva agrees to host her niece and nephew once a fortnight, Caitlin and Eva are made to face the different truths about their marriages - and about what they both really want..."
Lucy Dillon is a guilty pleasure of mine and her contemporary romances are some of the best.  I'd forgotten how nice it can be to get lost in a book without having to concentrate *too* hard (especially after City on Fire!) and I found myself racing through this in a day or two.  Lucy Dillon always writes about dogs in her books, something I've said in the past can grate a little or seem gimmicky, but in this book the balance was just right and it didn't feel like the dogs were there for the sake of it.  What else was interesting was the fact that the main character wasn't particularly likeable, I found her selfish at times and didn't always agree with her decisions. If you're looking for chick lit with a bit more substance definitely check out Lucy Dillon.
Rating: ★★★★

#4 - THE POWER // Naomi Alderman
"What if the power to hurt were in women's hands?  Imagine a world where teenage girls awake one morning with extraordinary physical strength and power that outstrips their male counterparts. Thanks to a newly acquired section of muscle near their collarbone, young women can now conduct electricity like electric eels: inflicting pain or electrocuting to death as they wish. They can even waken this power in older women too. In Naomi Alderman’s The Power, the balance of the world is irrevocably altered overnight."
I loved this book.  It's got action, politics, strong characters, intertwining plots and feminist points for reflection.  It was exciting and I couldn't wait to read more...not much else to say other than it's my favourite book of the month!
Rating: ★★★★★

"This is the incredible story of [The Chicago World's Fair's] realization, and of the two men whose fates it linked: one was an architect, the other a serial killer.  The architect was Daniel H. Burnham, the driving force behind the White City, the massive, visionary landscape of white buildings set in a wonderland of canals and gardens. The killer was H. H. Holmes, a handsome doctor with striking blue eyes. He used the attraction of the great fair - and his own devilish charms - to lure scores of young women to their deaths. While Burnham overcame politics, infighting, personality clashes and Chicago's infamous weather to transform the swamps of Jackson Park into the greatest show on Earth, Holmes built his own edifice just west of the fairground. He called it the World's Fair Hotel. In reality it was a torture palace, a gas chamber, a crematorium." 
This is a non-fiction book on a fascinating period which I knew nothing about.  Erik Larson splits the focus between the two men in alternating chapters, but in truth it was only H.H. Holmes' chapters that I really engaged with.  I couldn't really envision the fair's grand scale so struggled to connect with sections about its construction and the struggle to complete it.  Perhaps it reveals a little too much about my psyche to admit that I still wanted *more* from the killer's portions of the book.  His crimes (and how he got away with them) were shocking, but I didn't feel shocked whilst reading and felt perhaps it needed a bit more time spent on the crimes themselves.  Has anyone else read this and felt the same?
Rating: ★★★

#6 - EVERYDAY SEXISM // Laura Bates
"After experiencing a series of escalating sexist incidents, Laura Bates started the Everyday Sexism project and has gone on to write 'a pioneering analysis of modern day misogyny' (Telegraph).  After an astounding response from the wide range of stories that came pouring in from all over the world, the project quickly became one of the biggest social media success stories of the internet.  From being harassed and wolf-whistled at on the street, to discrimination in the workplace and serious sexual assault, it is clear that sexism had become normalised. But Bates inspires women to lead a real change and writes this 'extremely powerful book that could, and should, win hearts and minds right across the spectrum' (Financial Times).  Often shocking, sometimes amusing and always poignant, everyday sexism is a protest against inequality and a manifesto for change."
When I bought this book it was a bit off piste and something I'd never normally have gone for.  I am, however, so glad I did as I really enjoyed it's blend of facts, figures, anecdotes and observations.  The book was split into chapters such as 'Women in the Media', 'Women in Public Spaces' and 'Women Under Threat' which made it really easy to dip in and out of.  Not only that, the Everyday Sexism project doesn't limit itself to the sexism experienced by women, and I was glad to see another chapter ('What About Men?') featured within.  An undeniably important book that everyone should read!
Rating: ★★★★

#7 - THE FOX AND THE STAR // Coralie Bickford-Smith
"Once there was a Fox who lived in a deep, dense forest. For as long as Fox could remember, his only friend had been Star, who lit the forest paths each night. But then one night Star was not there, and Fox had to face the forest all alone and learns to embrace life and the world around us. It is a book that crackles with imagination and wonder."
This was a charming story housed in a beautiful cloth-bound book with gorgeous illustrations.  Sounds positive, right?  Unfortunately I didn't find that there was much more to it beyond that.  It's a nice story of friendship but that's just it - nice.  After hearing rave reviews and seeing that this had been crowned Waterstones Book of the Year 2015 I expected much more.
Rating: ★★★★

#8 - THE STOLEN CHILD // Lisa Carey
"St Brigid's is a remote island off the west coast of Ireland. It is a barren place and its small community is dwindling. But according to rumour it is a magical place, home to a healing well.
Two sisters, Rose and Emer, have resisted the call of the mainland. Rose is beautiful, blessed with love and many children. Emer is unlovely and, worse still, she is cursed by the strange currents that run through her fingers.  When a dazzling stranger alights on St Brigid's, she is shunned. She has come in search of a miracle, and the islanders keep their secrets close. But gradually she insinuates her way into the sisters' lives, and even Emer opens her heart.  Little do they realise that her quest will endanger the lives of all who remain on the island. Passion will endanger everything they hold dear."
In complete contrast to All I Ever Wanted, this wasn't an easy book to read.  I felt like I had to concentrate whilst reading...but in a good way.  It was dark, consuming and really drew me in to the atmosphere of the island and the story.  To be honest I definitely picked this one up on the basis of its cover and didn't really know what I was getting myself into.  It's a story of love (and its different forms), friendship, trust and magic set against an isolated island wrapped up with folklore, fairies and curses.  It wasn't what I was expecting and managed to be so much more than I could have anticipated.  The only reason this wasn't a 5 star read is that the ending wrapped up a little too nicely and (I felt) unnecessarily so.
Rating: ★★★★

"Who is the real Sophie Stark? The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is the story of an enigmatic film director, told by the six people who loved her most. Brilliant, infuriating, all-seeing and unknowable, Sophie Stark makes films said to be 'more like life than life itself'. But her genius comes at a terrible cost: to her husband, to the brother she left behind, and to an actress who knows too much."
I found it really interesting to be reading about a character but only through the eyes of other people and was drawn in by how Sophie's personality seemingly changes according to the perspective of the narrator.  Whether this was Sophie herself or the narrator projecting the Sophie they wanted to see, it definitely made me stop and think more about the relationship shared.  Sophie is enigmatic but also surly and unlikeable at times and the overall feeling I got from her was that of loneliness and vulnerability.  This isn't necessarily a book I'd recommend, but if you're looking for something a little different, or a book for a book club, then this may be one to check out.
Rating: ★★★

Whew!  I read far more than I anticipated in January!  What was your favourite book you read this month?

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