Since the last instalment in this series, I’ve lapsed a little on the reading front as life inevitably got in the way. I moved back to Chester, then down to London and finally up to Cambridge, all within the space of a couple of months. It was beginning to feel a little like a live version of Location, Location, Location, to tell you the truth – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve landed a job I enjoy, where I’m paid to do one of the things I love most: surround myself with books. Over the past few months, I’ve read books for all sorts of reasons: some simply because they were sat on the bookshelf; others because I really wanted to see what all the hype was about. Some I really loved; others fell flat. I’m sorry to say it, but The Girl on the Train just didn’t do it for me. (Maybe the film is better. Any opinions?) A Nurse in Time had potential, but fell short of the mark. Fortunately, after a few duds (the biggest by far being The Lie), things picked up and I read book after book that I absolutely loved.
Vet on Call – Marc Abraham
Although my default genre is crime, I’ve been trying to read a wider range of books this year. Marc Abraham’s autobiography detailing his first year as an out-of-hours vet is jam-packed with anecdotes that induce tears and laughter in equal measure. It reads almost as a collection of short stories, one domesticated animal debacle per chapter, making it easy to dip in and out of. With a clientele featuring hundreds of gerbils, a magnetic hamster and an over-eager German Shepherd breeder (spoiler: excess dog testicles involved), there’s nothing this vet hasn’t seen. Lively, witty and filled with hilarious ‘did that really happen?’ moments, this is the tale of one vet, twelve months and countless pet problems.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
I was given The Handmaid’s Tale for my birthday and promptly fast-tracked it to the top of my TBR pile. (I wasn’t fast enough to catch up on the Channel 4 adaptation though, so that’s on my to-watch list for the cold, wintery months ahead.) I’m convinced that had I studied more books like this at school, instead of things like Lord of the Flies, English Literature might have interested me more. But I digress. What I particularly liked about Atwood’s dystopian narrative was that the policies of the Republic of Gilead had their genesis in reality: religious iconography, costumes, condoned policies and historical events all played their part in the creation of a disturbingly plausible narrative. Offred is one of many handmaids whose sole function is to reproduce; failure to do so is akin to signing a death wish. Flashbacks offer a glimpse into her life before the Republic of Gilead overthrew the US Government and implemented its brutal and unforgiving regime; inevitably, she is torn between her past, which cannot be taken away from her, and her future, which hangs on the whims of the family she currently serves. Atwood writes beautifully, and it’s scarily easy to visualise the goings-on in this regimented society.
Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
This had sat on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time; a long train ride home from Norwich prompted me to borrow a book off Laurence, and he just so happened to have a copy of Child 44. It’s an absolutely smashing thriller – one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read, if not the best. (That’s high praise from me.) It’s one of those carefully crafted thrillers, the sort that’s perfectly executed and leaves you guessing right up until you turn the final pages. Leo Demidov is a faithful – if idealistic – servant to Stalin, and unwaveringly loyal to his country. For him, everything is black and white, right or wrong. Until he uncovers a series of brutal child murders, brushed under the carpet by the Soviet State, and feels compelled to act. In a country where everyone has little to gain and everything to lose, the stakes are high and it isn’t long before everything begins to spin out of Leo’s control.
No Picnic on Mount Kenya – Felice Benuzzi
In May 1942, the blanket of cloud covering Mount Kenya parts for the briefest of moments. Mesmerised by its splendour, Felice Benuzzi begins to concoct a plan, one that could only, in his words, be undertaken by madmen: to break out of the British POW camp he is in, climb Mount Kenya and then break back into the camp. Finding others willing to join him on his seemingly impossible endeavour was a challenge, but find others he did, in the form of two compatriots, named Giuàn and Enzo. Over eight months, they painstakingly prepared sketches of the mountain, built up a supply of rations and fashioned themselves mountaineering equipment from scrap metal. This is the remarkable story of three men, bound together by courage, a yearning for adventure and sheer madness. It’s a tale of mind over matter (at its most extreme), and you can’t help but marvel at how three undernourished and underprepared prisoners of war managed to hoist their country’s flag atop Point Lenana, the mountain’s third-highest peak. This is an absolutely fascinating memoir, and hands down one of the most interesting books I’ve read so far this year. (Thanks Dad for the recommendation!)
Titles | July – September 2017
The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) / Vet on Call (Marc Abraham) / The Lie (Cally Taylor) / A Nurse in Time (Evelyn Prentis) / The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) / Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith) / On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan) / No Picnic on Mount Kenya (Felice Benuzzi) / L’Étoile du Nord (Georges Simenon) / The Cherry Tree Café (Heidi Swain) / The Stranger in My Home (Adele Parks) / The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane (Ellen Berry) / Rosie’s War (Rosemary Say & Noel Holland) / Life of Pi (Yann Martel) / I Found You (Lisa Jewell) / Somewhere Only We Know (Kate Long) / See Me (Nicholas Sparks)