Rebel of the Sands - Alwyn Thomas


Although there are too many characters and confusing political and cultural backstories, at heart this is an exciting adventure story with a(nother) strong female protagonist. I do wish that books setting themselves up for a sequel finished properly, though.

My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout


People rave about Elizabeth Strout's writing so maybe I missed the point. A self-consciously clever and self-referential book, with a lot left unsaid but (as Billy Joel said much more effectively) I don't want to work that hard.

The Muse - Jessie Burton


Attentive readers may remember that I wasn't too keen on Burton's previous book but this was slightly better. So the two historical periods didn't gel too well, the 'twist', such as it was, predictable, and the ending yet again tailed off to nothing, but at least I didn't fall asleep this time.

The Magicians - Lev Grossman


Poorly structured and full of plot holes it might be, but entertaining it definitely is.

Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh


I read this because it was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and the acclaim seems well-deserved. Oddly sinister, piling up the squalid yet mundane details, it ratchets the suspense with its intriguing unreliable (or maybe extremely honest) narrator. Very clever, if not exactly entertaining.

Dead Man's Ransom - Ellis Peters


Who shot the sheriff? Well, no-one because it's 1141. But who suffocated him? Who cares? Cadfael will find out and the lovers will be together. Utterly forgettable, unfortunately.

The Woman in Blue - Elly Griffiths


I know I said this series is underwhelming but how could I resist one about a village 5 miles from me? Or an alternative-reality version of that village, anyway. As it happens, this one was a bit better than the previous couple, even if still more soap opera than thriller, and even if the murderer seems to have been picked at random (Christie-like) from the cast of characters.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson


The idea of reading this was shamelessly stolen from Becks but I'm grateful to her as it would otherwise have passed me by. This grotesque, tragic yet also strangely upbeat novel is a little, twisted treasure that makes me wonder what was really going on within its smug counterpart, 'I Capture the Castle'.

Skellig - David Almond


I read this tight little fable to test whether my daughter would like it. I don't think she would, but I think I did. It covered a lot of ground for a YA novella, and I'm not sure I understood it all but I can understand why it's become a classic. A less obvious feature were the subtle hints at a Tyneside setting, cleverly entwined into the story.

The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie


This was billed as funny. It wasn't, particularly, unless you're into unrealistically eccentric characters with tedious hangups and dysfunctional families navigating shoehorned social commentary.

Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon


A quick, easy, predictable read that doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you think about it too carefully.

Golden Hill - Francis Spufford


I wait ages for a decent novel and then two come along together, although I imagine this tour de force provokes strong reactions either way. Personally, I enjoyed the nods to 17th-century picaresque farce, the Henry Fielding references and the unusual, intriguing setting. The air of mystery around the central character was well sustained, and there is probably much to consider if you fancy writing an essay about it. But I don't.

Uprooted - Naomi Novik


At last - a shining shaft of sunlight in the recent fog of mediocrity. Novik's Temeraire novels are evocative but, freed from that very male context to write a sometimes dark, always female-centred fairytale, she writes like a, well, dream (as long as we ignore the mushy middle). Who can I lend it to?

A Siege of Bitterns - Steve Burrows

Didn't finish

Just admire the striking cover and don't bother opening the book. It's dull and confusing and the characters have no character but what really made me stop reading was the weird determination to capitalise types of bird. Seeing Crow and Bittern clog up the page is simply too distracting. I bet the copy editor and the author had strong words over that particular stylistic decision.

Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler


Anne Tyler is a novelist without equal but even she has her off-books. This retelling of 'The Taming of the Shrew' as an amiable romance among socially awkward characters may feature her signature sharp observation but lacked bite and conviction. I wonder if it even started out as a Shakespearean update but was adapted to be one on request.