The Year in Books: February
My book for February is as yet undecided - I got a massive haul from the library last week, as well as the books I've downloaded recently and the ones I got for Christmas. I'll just see what takes my fancy!
My book for January was The Lie by Helen Dunmore, a book my mum had enjoyed and passed on to me. Set in Cornwall in 1920, Daniel is back from fighting in the war, but finds himself homeless and without family or many friends. He is struggling with what would now be called PTSD and he is trying to come to terms with how everything and everyone has been changed by the war. There are several lies in the book, so it's not always clear to which one the title refers - they are all distinct and yet linked together. Whilst there wasn't much of a plot, it was well written and I'm pleased I read it around the time of the centenary commemorative events.
Once again, it was the title that attracted me to download Ella and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper*. Ella is in her eighties and has always wanted to see the sea - she lives in Saskatchewan, the province in the middle of Canada. So one day, she starts walking the 2,000 miles to the coast. She leaves her husband Otto at home with his memories and some recipe cards she has written.
The story jumps backwards and forwards in time, which I quite liked and found it easy to follow, except there was a complete lack of speech marks. I like speech marks! Now, this doesn't always annoy me, and I've read several books with little or no punctuation and I've got on fine with them. I just think this book needed them. Whilst I was plodding on, trying to get over the lack of speech marks, Ella meets a coyote called James who can talk. Or is it just Ella thinking he's talking? Or is he actually talking? Either way, I can't be doing with magical realism - I never enjoyed reading books such as One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez as I just didn't 'get' what they were trying to do. So I admit I quickly skim-read to the end of Ella and Otto. I liked the writing, and I think I'd read more by the author, but only if it contains speech marks and no coyotes (magical or otherwise).
The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan* explores the story of two women in different times, the 1930s and 1890s, and how their individual stories are closely linked. In 1933, Alice finds herself unmarried and pregnant and is sent off to Fiercombe Manor in disgrace. There she learns about the life of Elizabeth in the previous century and finds how similar their lives are, linked by Fiercombe's current housekeeper who was Elizabeth's maid.
I found this quite a quick read, and whizzed through it. There are explorations of how society has changed (or not) in its attitudes towards women and their reproductive duties, and how Alice and Elizabeth were constrained in different, yet similar, ways. I liked the writing more than I liked the plot, though.
I was browsing the shelves in my local library and started accidentally in the crime section - not my first choice of genre to read, as I need to be in the right mood for it. But then I spotted some brightly coloured books, standing out amongst the dark colours of the books surrounding them - they were books from Alexander McCall Smith's No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.
I'd forgotten that technically these are 'crime fiction' books, although I'd never have described them as such. I spent a good few minutes reading through the blurbs to try and work out where I was up to in the series, and then I checked out The Double Comfort Safari Club and The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. I've definitely missed two books out, but it's easy enough to pick up the stories. I love these books - they're such a comforting read, I've spent several evenings recently curled up under a blanket with them. They're gentle stories, nothing terribly bad ever happens, the crimes (such as they are) get solved and everyone celebrates with a cup of tea. In fact, if the characters didn't drink tea at every opportunity, I don't think anything would ever get done. Now, if you didn't like the first book, you're not going to like any of the subsequent books as they are incredibly similar. This is one reason I quite like them, but I appreciate they are not everyone's cup of tea (pun intended).
Laura is hosting The Year in Books again and organised a Twitter chat last week. It was great to spend an hour chatting about books, I've now got plenty more highly-recommended books to seek out!
*Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for giving me a copy of this book in return for an honest review. All thoughts, opinions and photos are my own.