It is humbling to look at your Must-Read List and see novels just getting away from you. You pick them up and put them down again because the reading experience is so personal that you know when a book is right for you – and when it isn’t.
Some books need a lot of concentration so you save them for a holiday or a long, wet weekend. Others are just the wrong genre for your mood at the time. Or maybe you wanted to read it but were put off by that negative review, or worse, the review that had too many spoilers in it. And then there are those books you just want to save for a special occasion – like the last chocolate in the box of Belgian pralines. You just never know when you might need it.
So here is my list of really good books I should have read last year but, for whatever reason, didn’t:
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins – This book follows Hawkins’ dramatic success with The Girl on the Train, which was the book that tipped me into a domestic noir reading frenzy. It has the usual tropes – an unreliable narrator; a murder among ordinary people, one of whom tries to solve the case; a see-saw plot-line where you can’t tell what’s going to happen next; an ongoing undercurrent of menace. So a really tight, compelling read. Since then I have seen so much in this genre (see my earlier post about Chick Noir), that I keep forgetting to go back to read Hawkins again. Into the Water looks spectacularly creepy – bodies discovered at the bottom of a lake tend to up the creep factor – so it’s sure to be a nail-biter.
Home Fire by Kamilia Shamsie – Shamsie’s previous book, A God in Every Stone, was one of those novels that quite early on gave me one of those ‘Oh, no!’ moments and it took a while to recover from it. With a Shamsie novel you get amazing characters you really care about caught up in the politics of the day. In the earlier book it was wars and genocide, tough times indeed. She’s a wonderful storyteller and you learn a lot. For the new book, imagine a modern-day reinvention of Socrates’ Antigone. (I didn’t know why we studied the play at school all those years ago, but now it will definitely come in handy. Thank you, Mrs Blyth.) I will read Home Fire for sure and love it, but I will need to prepare for those ‘Oh, no!’ moments.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng seems to have so much going for it. I remember picking it up and being captivated by the first page – always a good sign. According to the blurb, it follows events that upset the balance in tight-knit Shaker Heights, Ohio, a community where everything is just so. But what causes young Isabelle Richardson to go round the bend and burn the house down? A kind of psychological mystery circling around family dynamics, politics and secrets. Lots happening, so yes, I will read this one soon, definitely. Yes.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders seems to be a book that some people really love, while others find it all too literary. A winner of the Man Booker Award, this book about Abraham’s grief over the death of his young son is bound to tug the heartstrings. There are ghost characters who form a kind of Greek chorus, which suggests an experimental kind of book. I will need to be in the mood for a challenge but, like many literary novels, it is quite short, so no excuses really.
The Book of Dust: Vol 1, La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman – I loved Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – that wonderful world he created that has connections with our own world, but then switches to one where there are witches, armoured bears and magical devices that have their own scientific logic. That compass! That knife! Then there was the fun of figuring out your own ideal daemon. I loved the character of Lyra, so a new book about what happened before, when she was a baby, is sure to be interesting. Still really looking forward to reading this one, but maybe it’s a praline read.