I like to read good books and review bad books.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose - Alice Munro Quite extraordinary.

We So Seldom Look on Love

We So Seldom Look on Love - Barbara Gowdy A mixed bag- some stories glitter (e.g. the title story and "Ninety-Three Million Miles"), while others fade.

Little Deaths: A Novel

Little Deaths: A Novel - Emma Flint 3.5 stars

Loves Music, Loves to Dance

Loves Music, Loves to Dance - Mary Higgins Clark Enjoyable fluff and creepy in parts like everything else MHC has written. The killer was suitably deranged, though easy to suss out from his first few scenes. The closet fashionista in me (no pun intended) appreciated the elaborate descriptions of characters' clothes.

Goodnight, Irene

Goodnight, Irene - Jan Burke I liked the scenes with Frank and the cat. Otherwise, it's a plodding mystery with forgettable dialogue and characters.

Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned: Enchanted Stories from the French Decadent Tradition

Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned: Enchanted Stories from the French Decadent Tradition - Gretchen Schultz, Lewis Seifert Disillusioned indeed. Fascinating premise, but Angela Carter does this better.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories - Angela Carter This book is such a treat. It's a feminist, erotic retelling of a selection of popular fairytales like Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Red Riding Hood, The Snow Queen etc, and does not lose the darkness and punch of the original narratives. Carter's satin prose is such bliss that you want to crawl into it and wrap it around you.

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood More of a live blog than speculative fiction these days :/

A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler My god it was dull. I get that it's supposed to be one of those insightful sketches of Ordinary Realistic Families (TM), but did the prose have to compete with the subject matter in its quest to do away with any limits to banality?

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies - William Golding An utterly chilling take on the dark(er) side of playground squabbles. I'm usually loath to describe any book as having any impact on my outlook, as I mainly read books for pleasure, not for life lessons. But LotF is an exception. The slow, sickening reveal of the bottomless pit that is human behavior lingers well beyond the pages of the book.

The Murder Room

The Murder Room - P.D. James Dull dull dull. A formulaic tale of the police interviewing one bland suspect after another, the appearance of each one meticulously described, even if they exist only for a couple of pages. Not even the addition of a secret club for posh orgies, the 96 (geddit?) club, could spice up the book. Through the course of two murders and another attempted one, the police investigate through banal dialogue, with the narrative occasionally cutting to their PoV as well as the suspects' equally banal love lives (or lamented lack of them). It feels like PD James hopes to distinguish it from a run of the mill crime novel by trying to explore the psyche and backstories of the characters. However, there is not much depth or relevance to any of this and it merely bogs down the plot. Shame, since the premise is interesting: each killing is a replica of a 1930's murder. After several pages of more description, more talk, and too-convenient coincidences, I silently cheered whenever another body dropped.
The sad part is that there are some seeds of promise in 'The Murder Room,' but they never sprout. Kate, a subordinate Inspector, is a fairly interesting character and there is a hint of tension and strife with her snarky colleagues. But these are not developed. Instead, Kate is limited to occasional outbursts related to her working class roots and subsequent class rage, and usually is 'gently' chastened by the protagonist Inspector Dalgleish. (The latter is not only a clever, hardworking sleuth but also suitably genteel with a secondary career as a respected poet.) The moment before the killings which is written as if the narrator is looking over the shoulder of the unknown killer, is chilling and vivid. If only the rest of the prose could be so.
I'll be vague here to avoid spoilers: you can also see a strain of conservative thought running through the book, for at its heart is the idea of preserving institutions, loyalty as a result of ties of blue blood, and a subtle endorsement of deferring to the upper classes. This links 'The Murder Room' to the 'cosy crime' novels best exemplified by Agatha Christie's works, even though this book was published in 2003 and has crimes as graphic as those in, say, Scandinavian noir.

(Edited for typos.)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Seth Grahame-Smith It is tolerable, but not good enough. And it is only tolerable because a) most of the novel is just the original Austen and b) it has a creepily fetching cover that looks good on a bookshelf. However, they say a little goes a long way, and here it certainly does. Even though Seth Grahame-Smith's zombie insertions take up only a little of the novel, they go a long way in ravaging it.
Now, I do love parody (and horror), the more irreverent the better, and no classic is too good for one. So at first the idea of zombie warfare sounded fun, and if you want to get all academic, it made an interesting possible metaphor for the effects of 18th century marriage-by-duty. But this parody is neither fun nor clever. The new writing is atrocious. It tries to mimic Regency prose but ends up like a second rate fan fiction attempt with all the stereotypical stiff formality of that style, but none of the warmth or wit (barring one or two moments.) Mostly, the humor is reminiscent of the graffiti scrawled on toilet walls at my old secondary school. In a mashup the old and the new should slot into one another with ease, but here it reads as though Austen's work has been wrenched open to force the new into it. The result is a discordant, unfunny read. It feels like a cheap attempt by publishers to milk more cash out of a well-loved work. I wouldn't have a problem with this if the additions had any literary or humorous merit, but this parody is an unhappy alternative.
(P.S- In my rating of the book, the star exists only because it thankfully has left a lot of the Austen bits alone.)

An Experiment in Love

An Experiment in Love - Hilary Mantel Hilary Mantel's portrayal of the highly-charged interactions among young women contains traces of Tudor politics: powerplay, backstabbing and a very thin line between friends and enemies. The novel charts the coming-of-age of Carmel McBain, who many years later is sifting through her memory. Carmel leaves a working-class home, a convent education, and a domineering mother for college, just as England enters the Thatcher era. Accompanying her is Karina, a longtime schoolmate who has been selected as a 'friend' by their mothers. The term 'frenemy' has never been more apt. In a hostel that resembles a draughty hospital, Carmel and Karina grapple with poverty, stress, 'girl-politics' and boyfriends. All these are sharply observed and unsparingly written. The supporting cast include vivacious Julia, angelic rich girl Lynette and various other classmates desperate to shed innocence. They pin their hopes on education to help them live life on their own terms, but realize that women's lib still has frustratingly long way to go, echoing Mantel's own experiences in her memoir 'Giving Up The Ghost.' Each character (even a minor one) is convincing, their fears and conversations almost disturbingly real. Anorexia is a major theme. Carmel gets thinner, Karina fatter, their relationship more brittle. Slowly, the memories move to the tragedy.
Mantel's prose glitters with detail, it is full of lovely similes and imagery. There is something poignant about the descriptions, Carmel's memories and experiences are recognizable, in fact too much so. It is also very funny in places. However, throughout the book the main effect is some sense of foreboding. This feeling leads up to the denouement, but lingers even afterwords.

The Luminaries

The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton Disappointing. At first, a gold rush & a murder sounded intriguing. I liked that the chapter lengths resembled a waning moon. The initial atmosphere was well written, burning slowly to leave a sense of suffocating tension.
However, the rest of the book was unsatisfactory. Nothing wrong with a twisting plotline, but here it seemed as though Catton had tried to fit too much (yes even 800 pages couldn't support this). The characters seemed Victorian parodies- the maligned prostitute, the gruff, paternal agent, the inscrutable foreigners. A bigger let down was the writing. In trying to imitate a Victorian style, The Luminaries contained its worst characteristics: stretches of purple prose and too much description, but no sight of any Dickensian wit or Poe-like thrills. To maintain the elaborate zodiac-themed structure, it seemed as though clarity of narrative had been forgotten. Wading through all that verbosity was a chore
I realise that The Luminaries may intend to be a Victorian pastiche, but it came across as trying too hard. It also has none of the inventiveness of Catton's debut novel The Rehearsal. I'm surprised this won the Booker.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn I enjoyed the tortuous narrative and needle sharp portrayal of NY yuppie life. Most impressive was the characterization of Amy. You don't need a word from Nick, his sister or the police officers to know Amy. Her diary entries, from the glib, suspiciously breezy early entries, to the increasingly sinister self-obsession in the later ones, tell us enough. There's been a big brouhaha about whether the sketch was sufficiently feminist or not. My opinion is that this is irrelevant. To me a book's success does not depend on whether it's characters are relatable or even likable, but on how well they're drawn. And Flynn succeeds with Amy, though perhaps not so much with the other characters.
Having said all this, Gone Girl collapses in its final third. There is no coherence, and the pages drag to the ludicrous end. The overall effect is of a work that is an enjoyable taste, but nothing more. The book and its characters are as lasting and deep as Nick and Amy's glitzy romance. I don't feel the need to revisit it. Gone Girl is junk food, but a fine example of that kind.

The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes Something is lacking. The prose is technically pristine, but bloodless. I have no strong emotions towards the characters and their conditions. There is no feeling or mood that lingers in me after I close the book. I can find things to admire, but not many to like, even though I did want to like it.

Currently reading

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Thomas Piketty, Arthur Goldhammer, L.J. Ganser