It’s been ages since I wrote about what I’ve been reading lately so I figured it was time for a run down. I joined a book club last year and it’s been a really fun way of expanding my reading horizons. Everyone has different interests and tastes and it’s fun seeing how we react to different things.
One of our recent books was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. It’s a love story which begins on the Italian coast in the early sixties and hops across decades and continents until it reaches its end in the US. It’s a perfect plane read (also can we talk about how good the cover is?!) and I particularly like that the ending involved some growth and peace for many of the characters without straying into complete fantasy land; there’s a little bit of mess and darkness. Having said that, I found parts of the plot ridiculous. Can you imagine being 22 and mistaking pregnancy for stomach cancer? Enough said.
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – I think Rowling is a very fine storyteller and it’s a bit of a shame that she’s constantly in the shadow of Harry Potter (though, what a shadow). This couldn’t be more different from Harry Potter and I think that’s affected the reviews. Harry Potter is huge in its scope, featuring not only an entirely imagined world but the ultimate battle of good and evil. In contrast, the Casual Vacancy is firmly unextraordinary in its setting and plot. A member of the local council of a small English town dies suddenly, leaving a casual vacancy that villagers fight to fill. Though it’s not full of dragons etc, I loved it for making something so rich out of high schoolers dealing with adolescence, infertility and difficult in-laws.
The Expats by Chris Pavone - I have to say, this isn’t something I would have read without book club spurring me on but I actually quite enjoyed it. It’s light, yes, and somewhat implausible (think the book equivalent of Scandal) but my goodness, I couldn’t wait for the secrets to start tumbling out. The main character is Kate, who gives up her job as a CIA agent to follow her husband and their young sons to Luxembourg for her husband’s work (something to do with computers and banks and security). She befriends a young American couple who aren’t all they seem and things gradually shift from the mundane to thrilling. It’s not a challenging or particularly memorable read but it’s a decent way to pass the commute, which is more than I expected!
Longborn by Jo Baker - Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors, which feels horribly cliche to admit but I suppose they’re classics for a reason. I’ve never read fan fiction before and was pretty sceptical about this one, which loosely follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice but is told from the perspective of the Bennets’ servants. I enjoyed the beginning of the book – I think Baker highlights how grim life would have been in 1808 (the pressure to produce an heir, a total lack of contraception, horrendous wages and working conditions and the list goes on) but overall, this wasn’t a book I enjoyed. It was both boring and totally overdone. The characters weren’t developed at all and although it’s interesting to think about how the Bennets would have looked to the servants, I hated the way Baker recast some of the characters. Mr Collins, who must be one of the most ridiculous characters in history, is presented as a rather sweet, nervous young man trying to find his way. Ugh, please. And there ends my brief flirtation with fan fiction.
On to something better! Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is delightful. It captures perfectly the horror and joy of being a teenager and falling in love for the first time. It’s well written, tender and so touching. I don’t have anything more to say about it except, go read it!
Next up on my to read list is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and perhaps Tess D’Ubervilles, which I’ve someone never read. What are you reading at the moment? And do you have any recommendations? There’s nothing I love more than book suggestions!