The Visitors Book - Sophie Hannah


This is why I don't normally read short stories.

Half Bad - Sally Green


This YA fantasy thriller is notable for its gritty Britishness, as a direct challenge to You Know Who, but ultimately it felt unfinished and underdeveloped, as if an early draft had been sent to the publisher. I think setting up first novels as the start of a series does them a disservice.

Three Things About Elsie - Joanna Cannon


Three things about this novel:
1. The metaphors. Dear God, the metaphors. It was like a 464-page creative writing exercise.
2. The 'twist'. Oddly, it was both obvious from about halfway through, and also inconsistently handled.
3. The story. Lumpily structured and didn't really make sense.

A Rare Benedictine - Ellis Peters


Brother Cadfael's offcuts. I won't remember anything about it in a month.

Into the Blue - Robert Goddard


I usually avoid reading books by white, middle-class, middle-aged men in which I am supposed to sympathise with the suffering of white, middle-class, middle-aged men. And in this case all the white, middle-class, middle-aged men were depicted very vividly, unlike everyone else. But I grudgingly admit that it was unusually well written and cleverly plotted and I found myself rooting for the protagonist despite my prejudices. (It was also amusing to note that the story was only possible because of its late-1980s, pre-mobiles, pre-internet setting.)

Upstairs at the Party - Linda Grant


This self-indulgent novel makes a huge metaphorical meal of an unsympathetic narrator (just for a change) and her boring friends going to university and then leading disappointing lives. I have rather less sympathy for the Boomers here than for the lost Millennials in Queenie, though neither set of characters is particularly likeable.

Queenie - Candice Carty-Williams


The reviews say it's a hilarious award-winning tale of the misadventures of a young black woman. It's actually a depressing account of her sexual and racial abuse and the way society has disempowered not only women like her but a whole generation. As a novel, it's fine but, like the reviews, didn't know what to make of itself.

Gaudy Night - Dorothy L Sayers


The interest of this lay in my own experience of an Oxford college, albeit one that seems to have been struck from the record in this story. Otherwise, it was all rather dated, wordy and confusing, and riddled with typos. And, disappointingly for a 'golden age' detective story, there wasn't even a murder!

The Hermit of Eyton Forest - Ellis Peters


I hadn't read a Cadfael mystery for a while but the library has reopened (yay!) and this 14th in the series caught my eye (I don't think I've read 13, or the 12th for that matter, but they're all so similar it makes no odds). This had the usual creaky plot but these books are really about vivid characters and evocative settings.

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.