As February comes to a close, it’s time for another wrap up. I finished 10 books throughout the past month, bringing my total for the year so far up to 19. Here are some thoughts on each of them, in the order I read them.
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] The beauty of Tallent’s vibrant and expressive prose formed an effective contrast with the dark and often brutal nature of the subject matter being explored here. Focussing on an abusive father-daughter relationship, he didn’t shy away from both the mental and physical impacts such a dynamic can have. For a long book (and one so heavy in content), I flew through it, so that must say something for how readable his prose is, but I didn’t feel the emotional payoff of the ending was as strong as it could have been. I also thought that towards the end, it spiralled towards being needlessly dramatized and gratuitous, flirting with possible sensationalism.
A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This book gave me tingles from the off; that elusive feeling that tells you you’re going to love something – and love this I most certainly did. The plotting of this sinister tale was masterful. Levin consistently got the balance of what he did and didn’t tell the reader spot on, allowing him to build tension at all the right moments, to establish a tone of mounting dread, and to keep the reader on their toes with great characters and brilliantly delivered twists that culminate in a perfectly satisfying conclusion. Clever, intricate and damn thrilling to read, this is a fantastic example of crime and suspense at their very best.
The Lady in the Looking Glass by Virginia Woolf
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] Woolf is an author I really want to like but just can’t get into. I hoped I’d have better luck with her short fiction, but none of the 5 stories in this collection did anything for me, sadly. With a few, I could see and appreciate what she was doing thematically, but the others were a struggle to even get through in all honesty. It’s a shame, but we can’t like ‘em all, I suppose.
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Yuknavitch’s prose held moments of real beauty, and this was another book that I flew through. I thought it was very clever to use such an old story (Joan of Arc) as the basis for a futuristic story, that in turn speaks volumes about our own times. There was a lot that I loved about it thematically, as it explores notions of gender, sexuality, man’s destruction of the Earth, and the role of storytelling in both survival and in documenting history. However, I felt Yuknavitch became too heavy handed with these themes, with the allegorical imagery and potentially preachy tone threatening to swallow the plot in favour of the messages she so obviously wanted to convey, leaving things feeling a bit messy overall.
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Carrie Fisher was a natural born storyteller, and these pages ooze with her trademark wit, warmth, zingy one liners, and playful turn of phrase. The inclusion of the diaries she kept as a 19-year-old during the production of the first Star Wars (and her fling with Harrison Ford) offered a surprisingly poignant insight into a vulnerability we didn’t associate with Carrie’s vibrant and confident self later in life.
Vixen by Rosie Garland
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] With her ornamental prose, Garland captured the atmosphere of the rural 1300s setting and the backdrop of the encroaching Black Death very well. There was something about the whole feel of the story that I liked, and once again for a big book, I sped through it. Lots of interesting themes and ideas were touched on (like corrupt religious power, historic gay relationships, and gender roles) but I felt like none of them were pushed as far as they could have been. That said, I did enjoy its look at the enduring nature of love and the questioning of faith when the two are put under immense pressure.
Lullaby by Leїla Slimani
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This book opens in the wake of the story’s powerful and shocking climax, in which a seemingly perfect nanny has murdered two children. The actual reading of the book was perfectly fine, but I have to admit it just never really went anywhere beyond the power of its striking opening scene. It threw up so much potential in terms of examining the events that led to the climax; the disturbed psyche of the nanny; or the grief of the aftermath – but sadly we didn’t really get any of that. Though we do go back and see the events leading up to the murders, nothing that occurred felt convincing or satisfying enough to explain why she was pushed to such actions, or to provide some kind of closure or emotional payoff. Meh…
Wonderland by Kirsty Mitchell
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] As a physical object, this is easily the highest quality, most beautifully produced book I own. As for the content, Mitchell’s photography is absolutely stunning; full of impeccable attention to detail and rich thematic meaning. The project began when her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, with the series serving as Mitchell’s solace from the pain of the real world, and a means to honour her mother’s memory by bringing to life the stories she told her as a child. Each image is a world of its own, full of mesmerising beauty, and yet tinged with something darker. They all weave together to tell one ongoing narrative of life, death and healing, and the project is testament to the power of art as a means of escapism, and the wonder of channelling emotion into something meaningful and transporting.
Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This may not be considered one of Christie’s all-time classics, but I found it such an enjoyable read. I loved the concept, and that we jumped right into the grips of the story with no undue fuss. The set-up of a lone character trying to penetrate a rural, small village was great, and she captured the everyone-knows-everyone-else’s-business kind of atmosphere really well. It wasn’t perfect (there were a few coincidences, and a small romance sub-plot that felt a little rushed at first), but I had a lot of fun reading it. I spotted a major red herring right away, and thought I had it all wrapped up way ahead of time… Alas, she got me again.
The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This middle grade novel didn’t blow me away by any stretch, but it was a fun palate cleanser of sorts with some great ideas in it. The concept of a villain that hunts imaginary friends is fantastic, and there were a couple of well executed, creepy scenes. The fact that imaginary friends forgotten by their children go to libraries to survive (because that’s where imagination lives) is a rather beautiful notion that I’m sure will strike a chord with bookworms of any age.
Though a bit of a mixed bag in terms of ratings, February was a very enjoyable reading month overall, and I look forward to seeing what books March will bring my way.
What was your favourite read in February?