Merivel: A man of his time - Rose Tremain


Tremain's books are always varied - if you don't like one, there's always another completely different story to try. But here, unusually, is a sequel. I read Restoration years ago - before I started my reviews, it seems - and remember little but it didn't matter much. Merivel is such a vivid character, strangely sympathetic despite - or because of - his many flaws, and doing the best he can with the times and means given to him. It's both a tragic and hopeful book - much like Restoration, actually.

H is for Hawk - Helen Macdonald

Didn't finish

I persisted with this book as the author does with her hawk, hoping I'd get on with it if I just tried harder. But there comes a point when you have to admit you're bored and unengaged and you just need to fly free.

The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson


Bill Bryson is one of the very few authors to make me laugh out loud and bore anyone around me with choice phrases. After lending this book to my mum and her partner, it seems I'm not the only one. But it did seem a rather a filler between more meaty volumes (though after writing the history of the universe, it's unclear how much more meat is available to Bryson), and a little incoherent - but great fun and slightly insightful all the same.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - Becky Chambers


Yes, it's written well enough, and the space-worlds and characters are carefully thought out. It's nice to have a generally upbeat story... but should a good book really be 'nice'? Shouldn't it be a little challenging, a little subversive, a little less derivative, a lot less, well, twee? I enjoyed it well enough but I doubt if I'll remember it in a month or two.

The Chimes - Anna Smaill


Reading a book about how music sounds is never going to quite work. Reading a retro-futuristic dystopian book about how types of music that don't exist sound is never going to work at all. Hampering characters with no memories is also going to make rounding them out a tad challenging. All in all, this reads more like an undeveloped first draft - or a heavily cut draft of a much longer book.

The Loney - Andrew Michael Hurley


With great hype comes great disappointment and this follows that well-trodden path (across the abandoned beaches and into the twisted local community, fanned with the poisoned winds of misplaced religious fervour). No discernible terror, very little drama and, of course, a frustratingly vague resolution. Hmm. Did I miss something?

Great cover, though.

Lila - Marilynne Robinson


Literary fiction that's lived entirely in the main character's head. It's very lyrical and contemplative and all that but really nothing much happens and even the promise of action is so laid back as to not bother happening at all. I may read another but I'll probably forget I've read this first.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness


Beautiful and terrible - that's the world of the admirable Patrick Ness and a painful mirror on the real world. This fable is spun from delicate words and difficult circumstances - a tour de force, I suppose, but lacking a core emotional engagement that would really have drawn me in.

Sweetland - Michael Crummey


A strange, evocative book that begins as a story of a community and becomes a fable of individualism. The unusual writing style was well judged and appropriate, laying itself out slowly and able to support the increasing weirdness of the protagonist's experiences until the inevitable ambiguous ending.

[I liked this cover best despite the misspelling of the author's name!]

A Clash of Kings - George RR Martin


How odd. After enjoying the first book so much, the second one made so little impact that I forgot to review it for a month. It's more of the same, but sillier and grimmer and with even less resolution. And so many kings (and queens)! If any land needed to be a republic, it's this one.

A Game of Thrones - George RR Martin


It's an unpromising mix of things I don't usually choose to read: dodgy sex, graphic violence, tedious politics, suffering innocents and superfluous adjectives. It didn't end properly, there were too many names, and one story arc remained totally detached from the rest. But it's also clever and well constructed with fascinating, three-dimensional characters and [sighs in resignation] I couldn't put it down.

No Fond Return of Love - Barbara Pym


Not many writers make me laugh out loud, but Pym's wry and knowing humour is just my style. Jokes about indexers and editors also go down well. While neither deep nor memorable, and pretty similar to the other Pym books I've read, it's still a template for the modern domestic novel.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy - Rachel Joyce


This 'companion novel' to 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' is really more a back story for the goal of that pilgrimage. Beautifully written and tragic, as you'd expect from Joyce, but Queenie is not the most compelling character and ultimately it all seems rather unnecessary.

The Circle - Dave Eggers


A carefully considered cautionary tale featuring some interesting (and concerning) issues at the expense of a proper plot and character development. Great cover. though.

Dying Fall - Elly Griffiths


This was instantly forgettable - the plot, what there was of it, didn't make sense, and the characters seemed shoehorned in. But the prose is undemanding and it's readable enough for the holidays.