The Kingdoms - Natasha Pulley



This was extraordinary. Flawed and confusing but still, overall, extraordinary in a good way. Pulley's engaging writing style and the complex, well-researched plot unexpectedly combine to produce a refreshing take on that hoary old genre: time-travelling historical speculative fiction.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer




Interesting from a cultural viewpoint - accounts of everyday life, poverty and starvation in Malawi usually go unchronicled. But otherwise not emotionally gripping, and problematic in terms of the Western privilege of 'choosing' a boy to fund and champion.

I Found You - Lisa Jewell



Well-written nonsense.

They Both Die at the End - Adam Silvera



I really didn't want to read this month's book club choice. Why would I, when <title>? Not that such an ending is unusual, but it is unusual for the whole book to be about that ending. And indeed it was brutal - but also intriguing to explore the idea of whether it's about the journey or the (final) destination.

The Night Hawks - Elly Griffiths



Notable only for the clunky 'Beware! Covid's on its way' references and the hilariously inaccurate local driving times. But still I read this series.

The Rose Code - Kate Quinn




On the one hand, day-to-day wartime life at Bletchley Park was well researched and fascinatingly portrayed. On the other, the story was so awkwardly written to be almost unreadable at times. From the weird American phrasing and unconvincing dialogue to cringingly rendered characters to the rather tedious plot (such as it was), it didn't crack the code for my idea of an excellent novel. 

The Inheritance Games - Jennifer Lynne Barnes



A teenage girl unexpectedly inherits a fortune and several hot teenage boys. As wish-fulfilment fantasies go, this one was quite fun, even if I'm a little old to find the 'romance' (such as it was) very convincing. Although the end seemed written entirely to get you to read #2 in the trilogy, I probably will, when it comes out.

The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz



I should have been reading something worthy but this exuberant journey into a writer's fragile psyche was much more fun. The eponymous plot wasn't all that exciting but the unlikely story of the (allegedly) stolen story unfolded and - importantly - ended pleasingly. Not high literature, despite its pretensions, but a good read.

The Dictionary of Lost Words - Pip Williams



You'd think I'm the ideal audience for this novel - I've studied, lived and worked in Oxford and work with words now. But the story was so dull, the characters so two-dimensional, the dialogue so unlikely, and the author so keen to show off her conscientious research and ruminations on the nature of words that I just didn't care.

I'm might also start keeping count of books where women become pregnant after having sex once. Spoiler: It's most books.

Celestial Navigation - Anne Tyler




This early Tyler starts out promisingly with her trademark 'short story' opening chapter but it soon gets weird and inexplicable. Disappointing.

Tin Man - Sarah Winman




I'm all for relationship-based novels and beautifully written character studies - and this excelled at that - but I also expect something to actually happen in a story. There was no narrative tension to this at all, beyond 'bereaved man finds friend's diary, feels better' (spoiler!).

Madame Burova - Ruth Hogan




This was so awkwardly written that I had to check it wasn't self-published. So much exposition, so much cliché, so many unnecessary characters, so little of the editing it desperately needed to give it some sort of focus and depth. I didn't actively dislike it; it just wasn't very good.

Sylvester - Georgette Heyer



Copy and paste what I said abut False Colours and Faro's Daughter. Because it was even slightly less memorable than them.

Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens




I can't see the appeal of this much-hyped novel. I think what irritated me most was the fact it was all so unlikely. Unrealistic I can handle - if the world building and characters are strong enough you can happily suspend your disbelief - but this was just silly because it didn't ring true on any level.
And the poetry! Dear God, the awful poetry, which even one of the characters thought was bad. So why include it? This book just didn't know what it was or where it was going.

We Were Liars - E. Lockhart




I realised what the story was really about halfway through (spoiler: it was the same pretty obvious twist as in a book I read last year) but I still cried at the end. It's a sophisticated YA novel, portraying the complex self-absorption of teens and, yes, the characters and their circumstances are unsympathetic and the writing style is annoyingly mannered, but that's, y'know, the whole point.

The Firm - John Grisham



If there were any keen readers of this blog, they'd know my opinion of Grisham's books is as exciting and unpredictable as his storylines (full of peaks and troughs). Unfortunately, this classic has dated badly over 30 years, crammed as it is with sexism, racism and tediously bickering alpha males, including the 'hero' himself, who I hoped would get eliminated by the mob but the plot didn't even make enough sense for that.

Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym




This late Barbara Pym novel is as sharp and occasionally as funny as her earlier ones, but it's shot through with the poignancy not only of the regrets of old age but also of relentlessly changing times. 

The Fine Art of Invisible Detection - Robert Goddard




Goddard must have read my review of Into the Blue, as this recent 'thriller' replaces the middle-aged white male main character with a middle-aged Japanese female main character. Who was really only differentiated from all the middle-aged white male secondary characters by her clipped way of speaking and no-nonsense manner. Because she's, like, Japanese, you know. But it was much more tedious than you'd expect of a globe-trotting detective adventure.

The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett




This is June's choice for both my reading groups and I was expecting such a trendy book to be political and preachy and worthily hardgoing. But, on the contrary, it's a lyrical, engaging account of the shifting nature of identity. Yes, it's a little heavy handed at times and, yes, nothing much actually happens, but it's an easy read with a sophisticated structure.

The Unforgetting - Rose Black




Perhaps the barely literate style choice of omitting conjunctions and pronouns at the start of run-on sentences was to distract attention from the incoherent story and forgettable characters. So it was no surprise that it ended as if some pages were missing.