Spring Book Reviews 2016

Some of my reading this spring has made me focus on what readers want from a book – and you can see why below. You only have to read a few book reviews to see how readers disagree. It’s interesting, but it does make you wonder why… Genre is a factor, of course. There will always be certain expectations. I’ve never been one for science fiction for example, and if I read a thriller I do want it to be exciting. But aside from the obvious, different considerations are also more or less important for different readers. I will only really enjoy a book if I feel it is well written. For others, a twisting plot, an unusual subject, characters they can identify with may be more important. What’s great though is that this only confirms how individual we all are. And fortunately, there are lots of books around for us all to enjoy…

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

For some reason this book passed me by when it first came out in 2012 and now that it’s being made into a film (congrats, Jojo!) I thought it was about time that I read it. Well. It’s very good! Jojo Moyes conveys such warmth in her writing – she is so good on characterisation; Louisa for example is flawed, interesting, caring and slightly damaged. We warm to her immediately because she is quirky and yet ordinary, intelligent and yet unassuming and wonderfully unaware of her own qualities. Will is also damaged of course and our hearts go out to this prickly, perceptive, dignified man – such a lovely hero. The other characters may not be quite so important to the main story but they are all precisely drawn and bristle with individuality. Secondly, Moyes’ dialogue is excellent. It is easy to believe in the banter between Will and Louisa; the formal conversations between Camilla and Louisa; the sisterly battles of Louisa and Katrina et al. The book isn’t formulaic by any means but it still possesses a win win recipe. At least one character journey, a moral, a poignancy, bitter-sweet humour and a concept that is about as thought provoking as they come in this genre. I was especially interested in reading that Jojo Moyes didn’t decide how the book was to end until she’d virtually written the penultimate chapter. All I can say is – she made the right decision. A great love story. An excellent and heart-warming read.

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

I love a bit of domestic noir and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular at the moment. Essential ingredients: suspense, pace, twists and turns, unputdownability. And for me it has to be very well written too. As readers we don’t have to like all the characters (think Gone Girl) but we do have to understand where they are coming from – otherwise known as empathy. A lot of the books in this genre take what seem to be ordinary people/families/ situations/ relationships and then proceed to give them a sharp twist. Maybe there’s a terrible secret or fear in someone’s past, maybe someone is not who they appear to be (this is a popular one). I was looking forward to reading How I Lost You but sadly it nearly lost me near the start. I simply didn’t believe in the main character of Susan. She had clearly been through a harrowing experience (being accused of murdering her son and subsequently jailed) but although we were being told how she felt, I wasn’t quite feeling it. She irritated me. She came across as stupid sometimes, and the situations she was placed in often felt contrived. I also found the writing style lacked sharpness. However, because the book was fast paced and had lots of tension and unanswered questions, I felt compelled to continue reading. (And let me tell you, I often don’t continue reading! Life’s too short to read a bad book…). So. I ended up feeling a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. When I finished the novel I looked at some other reviews and it was interesting to see that many readers loved this book but an equal number had voiced concerns similar to my own. I suppose this tells us that you can’t please everybody all the time. Or can you? I enjoyed reading this novel but I felt frustrated. I kept feeling that it could and should have been better.

The Bones of You by Debbie Howells

In contrast, The Bones of You – also domestic noir, also about seemingly ordinary people, also crammed with suspense – was, for me, a delight. I loved the delicate structure of the book, the use of gardening and the seasons, the complex relationships between the characters, the voice of the narrator Kate and the way the poetic voice of Rosie was woven into the narrative. The characters in this book went on a journey and had a learning experience which was thought provoking and informative for the reader. They always seemed authentic and I could believe in them even when they were a tad irritating (a bit like real life really). Faithful to its genre, there were also twists and turns in this captivating novel and it was hard to put down. When I finished reading, again, I checked out other reviews, and interestingly again I found ambivalence and criticisms. Some people were making good points, but I had been so involved in the story I hadn’t noticed the flaws in authenticity and hadn’t really cared. This book had a lot of depth and the writing carried me through as much as the story. Highly recommended!

© Rosanna Ley
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