Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow - Gabrielle Zavin



It's been so long since I've read a book that actually lived up to the hype that this was like a long, refreshing drink. The characters weren't particularly likable, the style was a little leaden, something unlikely happened two-thirds through in order to inject some energy into the story... but somehow it all worked. Smart, complex, full of pop culture and high culture references - what relief to read a really good contemporary novel!

One True Loves - Taylor Jenkins Reid




I think this was TJR's last novel before she found herself a niche in fake celebrity memoirs. Those are better. Perhaps it's the more focused characters in the later books - the two men in this seemed to be exactly the same so no wonder the narrator struggled to choose between them. And I have no idea what they saw in her. Unsurprisingly, that made the whole premise a little rocky.

A Slow Fire Burning - Paula Hawkins




You don't have to like a book's characters - and these were universally unlikeable (a known problem with this author) - but you do have to be interested in what will happen to them - and I wasn't. The people and their stories just didn't hang together, to the extent that I wondered how much the author cared.

Project Hail Mary - Andy Weir



Beyond all the tediously detailed science (which I mostly skipped) and the ultimately pointless backstory (which I mostly skimmed), this is a sweet story about an unlikely inter-alien friendship that saves two worlds. I didn't warm to Weir's rather amateurish writing style, and would have liked to know much more about the journey to where they ended up, but it gets points for the lovely interactions between the two main characters.

The Bookseller - Cynthia Swanson



Although this story wasn't boring, exactly, it was hard to care. That's partly down to the two-dimensional characters (and the self-absorbed narrator) but mainly due to the author's rookie error of trying to shove in all her meticulous research at the expense of a well-constructed narrative. 

In a Good Light - Clare Chambers




I much preferred this to Chambers' later and more famous Small Pleasures. Not much happened, but what did happen happened engagingly and showed how a character-driven plot can still make a good story.

Lessons in Chemistry - Bonnie Garmus




This book is so popular that my library reservation took three months to come through in the form of an enormous hardback. But I might as well have stood in line to be hit over the head with it, so heavy-handed is its execution. So women were disrespected in the 1950s - we get the point but the descriptions are so exaggerated they fail to ring true. Apparently also children were Roald Dahl's Matilda, you could become a champion rower by reading, not rowing, dogs were basically people who couldn't speak and people were, including and especially the main character, unlikeable and entirely unsympathetic. 

The Hypnotist's Love Story - Liane Moriarty




Some Moriarty novels are pretty good. Others are less so. This was, generally, less so - a lot of fuss about not very much. 

Unraveller - Frances Hardinge




Hardinge is back on track after the rather disappointing Deeplight. Here's her typical robust world building, unflinching examination of power, politics, love and friendship, arresting turns of phrase and vivid characters. Maybe a little too episodic and drawn out but that's only a minor issue with this quality of writing.

Early Morning Riser - Katherine Heiny




I really enjoyed Heiny's earlier Standard Deviation, although remember nothing about it now. This is that most unusual of books - literally laugh-out-loud funny in places, as well as whimsical and evocative. It did go on a little too long, so that I started to lose patience with the rather annoying characters, but it was still overall a Good Read.

Platform Seven - Louise Doughty




A ghost who can't communicate or interact - what an unusual idea. Well, there's a reason for that. A protagonist with no agency doesn't make for a great story, and so it depended on rather drawn-out flashbacks to her life. There were some other promising ideas here too but overall it was far too slow, over-researched and unnecessarily complicated for them to be fully explored. And at the end it seemed that (spoiler!) there was no link between the two deaths after all. Another draft needed! 

I did like it being set in Peterborough, though - an underrated city I'm vaguely familiar with.

The Last Anniversary - Liane Moriarty



The first third or so of this was pitch-perfect - a balance of humour and pathos, with quirky characters to carry you through. But then it started to meander a bit, some points of view fell flat, the multiple story lines got slightly wearisome, many of the topics were a little problematic - but to its credit, not all the ends were tied by the last page.

Devil's Cub - Georgette Heyer




Heyer's stories are always a product of her time. By modern standards, this 'hero' is really not the sort of guy you'd ever want to meet, let alone marry, even if he is described as kinda hot. It's uncomfortable to buy into the feisty-yet-virtuous heroine eventually submitting to his overbearing persuasions. There's also the author's patronising treatment of anyone who doesn't happen to be of the nobility. That said, Heyer's stories are also always crammed with more vivid characters and relatable humour than most modern novels, with plots that roll out and resolve satisfactorily. And that balance of great and dodgy is what keeps her endless supply of Regency romances interesting.

One Last Stop - Casey McQuiston




McQuiston's YA novel, 'I Kissed Shara Wheeler', was delightful. This earlier book, in comparison, was crammed with entitled 20-somethings leading frankly rather meaningless lives and the central romance was drawn out until it became paper-thin. Clearly, readers are expected to fall for the quirky, cutsey characters but middle-aged me couldn't help wishing they'd just face reality and responsibility. Still, McQuiston gets points for carrying the (rainbow) flag for accessible queer fiction.    

The Carer - Deborah Moggach



The beautiful cover is probably the most memorable thing about this story. Fluently written by an experienced author, yes, but... the characters were clearly supposed to be complex but they weren't, and certainly none of them were sympathetic - it was just more rich people drama. Admittedly, I didn't see the double twist coming but the rest of the book bent itself into unlikely knots trying to explain it - and the lack of introspection that followed from the apparently intelligent characters just didn't ring true.

Interestingly, I gave Tulip Fever, the only other Moggach novel I've read, the same score 19 years ago.

The Beautiful Dead - Belinda Bauer




I'm a big fan of Bauer's thrillers but this wasn't her best. Why? Perhaps it was a bit too weird, without the oddly humorous, very British, small-town authenticity of Snap or Exit. And there was the big problem of the serial killer's eight or nine (I lost track) victims not being as important as preventing the deaths of the protagonist and her father. But it was still better than most novels in this genre.

The Lamplighters - Emma Stonex




Life on a lighthouse was dull and repetitive and a little dreamlike, just like this book. It was too lavishly descriptive for my taste, the characters too cold and similar, the magic realism and metaphorical flights of fancy too heavy handed. More 'hardgoing' than the 'gripping' and 'riveting' asserted on the cover.

After You'd Gone - Maggie O'Farrell


Didn't finish

What a relief to realise I didn't have to keep reading this dull, oddly written book. Perhaps my tolerance for literary fiction has diminished but the headhopping, the time jumping and the constant change of tenses was just annoying, and the characters and plot weren't engaging enough to make up for it.

Spirited - Julie Cohen



Why didn't this quite work? As usual, it came down to being poorly edited. The author clearly wanted to show off her extensive research but as a result the characters were dull and their story badly paced - though credit is due for never explaining away the supernatural elements.

That Summer - Jennifer Weiner




The simplistic cover designs do this book no favours by implying it's a chick-lit beach read - but it soon becomes clear that beaches can be dangerous places. Its serious message is somewhat undermined by the pantomime villain of a husband, who any real wife would have left years ago, and by the weird 1950s vibe of what was supposed to be a contemporary story. The alleged twist was also so telegraphed from the beginning that I was surprised to learn from reviews that it was a twist at all. But it was interesting enough, in a 'rich people's drama' kind of way.