I Kissed Shara Wheeler - Casey McQuiston




A sweet and funny YA LGBTQ+ romantic drama set in an Alabama Christian high school. Compulsively readable, with some clever turns of phrase, the number of gay characters (spoiler: almost everyone) heroically tries to rebalance the usual straight stories. There is, strangely, no hint of sex - other than kissing, of course - and only a nod towards the real issues faced by kids in such communities, but it is a tonic to take in the relentlessly positive message. 

Soul Eater - Michelle Paver


More vivid worldbuilding, thorough research and well-rounded characters but marred by the muddled story and too much emphasis on fantasy over history.

The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett




I wondered why I hadn't read more Terry Pratchett so I read this and then I remembered. A masterclass in world building but at the expense of everything else.

The Cut - Chris Brookmyre




I had breakfast with Chris Brookmyre once, at an editing conference. We had a very interesting conversation and then he went on to give the sweariest keynote speech ever given, which, probably to his surprise, the editors loved. This book is neither as interesting nor as sweary, unfortunately - competent enough but with some unlikely coincidences and confusing plot points.

And points are lost, as ever, for the pandemic epilogue. Come on, authors/publishers! We've just had 400 pages of suspending our disbelief so you really don't need to shoehorn in some awkward references to lockdown at the end.

Impossible - Sarah Lotz




Weird, maybe, convoluted, definitely, but impossible? Well, given I couldn't understand what the protagonists saw in each other, or why they did what they did, or why it resolved so awkwardly, then yes.

Also: 'pointless pandemic-themed epilogue' warning. Why did the publisher evidently insist on this 'realistic' afterthought when the whole point of the story is that it's 'impossible'?

Malibu Rising - Taylor Jenkins Reid




I was really looking forward to reading this but it turned out to be a struggle to finish. Why should I care about these rich, entitled people with their everyday problems? As well as the trend to set stories in the past just because people don't have cellphones, there seems to be a whole new genre about the relationship dynamics among four or more adult siblings, as if those of us from smaller families should be envious. Meh.

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman




Gaiman leaves me conflicted. His characters (at least the male ones) are vivid, his world-building impeccable, his style of writing funny and clever and fluent and yet... there's never any emotional engagement in his stories, no reason to care about anyone... so that it all ends up more style than substance.

Klara and the Sun - Kazuo Ishiguro



I loved this. I described Never Let Me Go as 'science fiction with depth' and this explores the same themes from a different angle. You don't need a thrilling plot to create a compelling story, and this beautiful, gentle and detached narrative encompassed the nature of humanity, of diversity and love and life and death. And how I cried for poor, sweet Klara at the end.

Never Saw Me Coming - Vera Kurian




This was fun as a psychopath primer, should The Psychopath Test not be enough. How they interacted - or not quite interacted - with each other was particularly intriguing. But the plot was badly paced and made no sense, with an irrelevant background of political protests that had no bearing on anything, and there were enough typos to break the story world on several occasions.

Body Language - AK Turner




The writing was awkward and the plot full of convenient loopholes but at least I learned a few things about working in a morgue, in case it ever comes up at a party.

When I Find You - Emma Curtis



The many things wrong with this novel can be summed up simply: People just don't behave like that. It's hard to suspend your disbelief when all the uniformly unsympathetic characters do and say (or don't say) things that nobody would never do or say (or not say). It didn't help that nothing much happened for 75% of the story, and then it suddenly became a confused and very slow attempt at a thriller.

The Masqueraders - Georgette Heyer




As long as you can make allowances for being of its time - both 1928 and 1745 - this is one of the better Heyer novels. OK, so cross-dressing always adds an extra frisson but there's also the impeccable research, the clever dialogue and, most of all, the vivid main characters. 

Heyer has been shockingly betrayed by some ugly covers over the years. This recent one is at least pretty but the designer clearly hadn't read the book, showing a woman (presumably not a man!) in a dress from about 150 years after the story is set.

Magpie Lane - Lucy Atkins



I dreamed the correct ending to this halfway through, which makes it either a premonition or predictable. It's true that the (non-)plot depended on the character telling the story, and good unreliable narrators can make a book spark, but this one was so unlikable that I found myself siding with the employers she hated so much.

The Last Graduate - Naomi Novik




Copy and paste my review of the first book in this series, except it's even more frustrating that there's probably a diamond in the rough here if only it didn't read like a first draft. The weird Anglo/American stream-of-consciousness style is no doubt a deliberate choice (Novik is an experienced author, after all) but the many moments of confusion it causes brings the reader out of the otherwise-promising story. Get an editor, already.

Snap - Belinda Bauer




I like Belinda Bauer's far-fetched small-town crime capers. Yes, the plots don't bear too much thought, and the characters are larger than life, but the quality of the writing makes you suspend your disbelief and just go with it.

The Appeal - Janice Hallett




The first two-thirds of this was an entertaining and perceptive skewering of middle-class middle-Britain, inventively told through emails and text messages. But once the crime finally happened, it seemed that the author (or her publisher) lost confidence in the narrative style and instead felt the need to tell, not show, readers what to think. The context for the sudden change didn't even make sense and undermined everything that had gone before. I demand an appeal!

The Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer



This Heyer at her jolliest, with a clear nod to Austen in its spirited (and frankly rather tiring) Emma-like heroine. Featuring the rich characters and vivid Regency world-building you'd expect, if typically formulaic, although cousin-as-love-interest is a little too 19th-century for my comfort.

(So many covers to choose from but I liked this rather unconventional one best.)

Spirit Walker - Michelle Paver




The second in the series is just as evocative and well-researched as the first, and a much lighter read than 'Clan of the Cave Bear', which I'm sporadically attempting. But the story itself was pretty forgettable. Great cover, though.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid




No, not Victor Hugo. Now, that would be interesting. This, on the other hand, while diverting, was like an early Daisy Jones and the Six (by the same author) - the story of an alluring woman in a glamorous world reflected through the medium of the media. And, like that book, not as profound as it would like to be.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess - Sue Lynn Tan




The words were as rich and vivid and slightly overdone as the cover. The story was standard adventure fare with added magic, a fresh dash of  Chinese legends and a heroine-on-a-mission. The result was... fine.