The Most Fun We Ever Had - Claire Lombardo


A bit like Lethem's 'The Corrections' but not as good, a bit like any Anne Tyler novel but with more sex and childbirth and a more daring non-chronological narrative structure. It was interesting, it was readable, it was well written, but yet again the cast of annoying, self-absorbed characters made it hard to care what happened to any of them.

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry


I'd been putting off reading this, partly because I wasn't all that keen on Perry's previous book, After Me Comes the Flood. But this was very different - rich and complex in all sorts of ways, with unusually detailed characterisation and an unusually modern take on Victorian Britain. I even liked the way it didn't wrap everything up neatly at the end (spoiler!).

Daisy Jones and The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid


I've often thought 'Deepen Meaningful' would be a good name for a band. Not this band, though - much hyped but there's little profound about the sex 'n' drugs 'n' rock 'n' roll rows, and that's not helped by the ingenious, appropriate yet distancing interview-style narrative. But it still enters pretty high in the charts for simply being such a fun, escapist ride.
Soon to be televised, I believe - that could be interesting.

Floodland - Marcus Sedgwick


This is set in my neck of the woods - or rather floods, if the dystopian climate chaos described here comes to pass. Even so, I struggled to find much, well, depth, and read it in less than three hours.

Followers - Megan Angelo


A oddly compelling account of shallow people leading shallow lives and then sort of, maybe, regretting it. It's a strange mixture of competent, fluid prose and a creaky, US-centric plot.

Rubbernecker - Belinda Bauer


This was an easy yet clever read, both quirky and thought-provoking, funny and dark. And set, in part, at Cardiff Uni, where I spent some time many years ago. I even knew a dental student who dissected heads in the very anatomy lab described in the story. I'll definitely search out more by this author (overlooking the slightly scrappy character-driven narrative structure).

Just For One Day - Louise Wener


I imagine the target market of Britpop fans is quite specific, but it includes me. I saw Sleeper perform two or maybe three times in the mid-90s so it's fun to go behind the scenes in this memoir. But it's not as enlightening as I hoped. There was a little gossip (probably within legal boundaries) but I'd have liked to know more about the mechanics of writing a song or making a video or planning a tour.

The Mermaid's Sister - Carrie Anne Noble


A whimsical, lyrical book that's, ironically, steeped in the grief and loss of the long, lingering death of a loved one. It's a really lovely, well-written read - a little awkward in parts, perhaps, and with a plot that doesn't bear too much examination - but certainly fantastic in many senses.

Recipe for a Perfect Wife - Karma Brown


I don't really know what to make of this. On the one hand, it was an appealing two-day read with an interesting premise. On the other, the story depended on the protagonists' unrealistically irrational behaviour. Why do contemporary novels feature such unlikable women with whom we are expected to empathise? The ending of both narratives was decidedly iffy and heavy-handed. And, of course, it needed a decent edit, but what book doesn't these days?

Cuckoo Song - Frances Hardinge


Finally, something worth reading. In other hands, the simile-heavy style would be overwritten, and the Gothic/fantasy/social commentary plot disjointed. But somehow Hardinge makes it work, and work like a, well, song. Even better than 'A Skinful of Shadows' (but unfortunately with the same occasional jarring phrasing that a decent copy edit should have sorted out).

Theodore Boone: The Fugitive - John Grisham


Oh dear. This was more the quality of Camino Island than The Rainmaker, and in fact I wonder whether Grisham's name on the cover is his only involvement in these more recent novels. If I were him, I'd not want anything to do with such a dull, emotionless, impersonal book. I didn't even care enough to hate it.

The House Swap - Rebecca Fleet


'Dead-on domestic noir' is the only quote on the cover that is remotely accurate. It's a case study in the stock features of the genre: an unexciting plot driven by unlikable characters, unrelatable behaviour and unlikely situations.

Strange Sight - Syd Moore


I grabbed this off the shelf just before the library closed down - the fabulous cover and quirky premise caught my eye. It turned out to be the second in a series but that didn't matter much. It was simply a fun read, if a little creaky in places.

Emma - Jane Austen


Inspired by the latest, and very lovely, film adaptation, I gave this a re-read and (spoiler!) it's really rather good. The humour and reactions are still recognisable, and it's a masterclass in characterisation that modern authors would do well to study.

Note that I didn't like it much when I last read it, 15 years ago, and, in fact, have no recollection of reading it then at all. The 'anti-feminism' I objected to doesn't bother me as much these days - it's a product of its time, and Emma (as a character) interestingly pushes the boundaries of what a woman in her circumstances was free to do, but is simultaneously trapped by her own snobbery and prejudices.

(It's had some off-putting covers over the years but I think this engaging example captures the spirit of the story.)

The Gloaming - Kirsty Logan


I'm not sure why magical realism always seems so depressing and negative but this didn't make me change my mind. On the one hand, the writing was evocative and lyrical but, on the other, nothing really happened to the sketchily drawn characters.