A View of the Harbour - Elizabeth Taylor


Like a muted Under Milkwood, this captures particular community at a particular time. The characters and location are deftly sketched and not much happens very convincingly.

The Wonder - Emma Donoghue


Accomplished, intriguing and very, very depressing.

Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith


Impressively well written, if a little unlikely. A true psychological thriller that sounds much more complex and satisfying than the film (which apparently changed vital details and which I've never seen).

Tropic of Serpents - Marie Brennan


Much of the same, really. Notable mostly for its detailed, self-contained alternative world.

A Natural History of Dragons - Marie Brennan


The fabulous cover artwork sums up the ethos of this series - a 19th century steampunk world like - but not quite like - our own. A feisty heroine finding her place in a male society, wild dragons determinedly different to those of Naomi Novak's books and derring-do galore. Even if, on reflection, not much actually happens...

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell


Yes, this is the famous '10,000 hours' book, and it makes that case engagingly, if not particularly convincingly. Basically, [spoiler!] success is a mixture of hard work and luck. And this book is a mixture of repeatable anecdotes and forgettable links.

The Shining - Stephen King

Didn't finish

Somehow I've got through my reading career without encountering any Stephen King. And this novel has moments of brilliance, both in terms of the quality of the writing and the psychological disquiet. But it was so hard-going that I forced myself to read it in small batches until I realised I really didn't have to. Will I read more King? Hmm, maybe, but there are many other writers I'd rather try first.

The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton


There were plenty of houses but there wasn't much mirth. The style itself is hardgoing these days, and the self-sabotaging heroine so much the product of another time that is was hard to sympathise with her plight. Still, it's one of those classics that I can now drop into conversation when I next find myself discussing the commodification of women in early 20th century America.

Strange Weather in Tokyo - Hiromi Kawakami


Popular on Netflix at the moment are various gentle Japanese dramas focusing on bar and restaurant culture. This fits in very well with that genre - two lonely people gradually become closer as they drink sake and enjoy various dishes together. A little spice is added by protaganist making no excuse for being rather contrary and difficult, and the plot unfolding through a series of slightly disjointed vignettes - the story rings a little truer as a result.

Death of Anton - Alan Melville


A rather delightful lost classic, set during a very specific period of time. Interesting protagonists and some striking turns of phrase make its obscurity rather unjust.

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 put it 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.