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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The Ghost Story, more like, in the sense of it being hardly there. As this series goes on, it becomes more like a soap opera and less like a tightly plotted set of murder mysteries. There was only one candidate for the murder(s) this time, which killed the suspense, and even that took a back seat to the tedium of the characters' relationships. Disappointing.
The first odd thing is that the cover is almost sexy but actually the content is the sort of thing my 8-year-old reads. The second odd thing is that it tries so hard to be steampunk cute that it loses most of the charm it's aiming for. And the third odd, but common, thing is that it's determinedly 'first in the series' and therefore is more of a prologue than a self-contained story. Disappointing.
By this point in the series, you'd expect to feel some emotional investment in the characters but neither they nor the story are particularly memorable in this sixth book. But I'll keep reading the series purely for the local interest.
A fairly standard cutesy romcom, enlivened by the narrator's mentor, an invisible talking horse, but unfortunately that disappears two-thirds of the way through. Well written but its distractingly self-published feel could have been solved with a decent structural edit.
Temeraire is as appealing a dragon as you can imagine, so it's a shame that his rather dull human handler/companion Laurence gets most of the page time. Still, the alternative history is diverting even if the story itself isn't and the lack of proofreading too distracting in places.