Sunday, 12 May 2013

April Reading Highlights

Reading! Reading! Reading! I think I may have overdosed on books.

Working in a publishing house is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me, but it is also quite emotionally distressing. There are books everywhere, all around me, and I want to read them all but I can NEVER read them all. It torments me.

So what I'm realising is that I am never, realistically, going to be able to post reviews of every book I read here any more. In the last few weeks I have been reading about a book a day. So I'm reducing down again, to just the pick of the bunch. These are the books I've been evangelising about in the last month.

First, I have managed to do a review for The Bookbag: of Jenni Fagan's utterly, madly, stunningly brilliant The Panopticon. I five-starred it, and would five star again.

And the best of the rest:

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

I am ashamed to admit that it has taken me three years to read this book. I don't even know why. It's based on my favourite fairy tale, 'The Robber Bridegroom' (the English version is actually called 'Mr Fox', and it is my favourite because it contains animal people, grisly murders and a fierce girl detective who triumphs by using her brain). But somehow it never happened, until I went to the Granta Young British Novelists launch, heard Oyeyemi read and fell in instant and blazing literary love with her.

I pretty much ran to the till with Mr Fox and then fell on it like, er, Mr Fox on one of his victims - and oh my god, it's good. It's a mind-bogglingly smart collection of sharp, terrifying, stunningly well written short stories, all linking together to make up a battle of wits between a male writer and his female muse, an imaginary woman who has taken on a life of her own. Oyeyemi's writing is so bloody amazing, and what she's got to say about the way men control women is so true and (even more importantly) so effortlessly well expressed.

5 stars! 10 stars! How do I become friends with Helen Oyeyemi?

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas

I love Fred Vargas. I have nothing bad to say about her. Her mind works in such unique, charming, off-the-wall ways, and the universe she's created for her crime novels is both utterly delightful and full of animals. In The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, a pigeon is as important a character as a police officer, dogs need to be fed sugar at regular times of the day and there are a loving couple of rats who help to solve a murder.

Someone has been committing murders in the town of Ordebec, and the supersitious villagers believe that the culprit is Lord Hellequin, a ghostly rider who punishes the wicked by killing them and stealing their souls. Although the supernatural is never the real answer to one of Vargas's mysteries, there's an atmosphere of misty possibility that make you feel like you're in a slightly alternate universe. Vargas's protagonist Adamsberg is adorably vague, a cloud-shovelling policeman who has trouble remembering people's names and who didn't realise he had an extra illegitimate son because he failed to read a letter properly. This book, like all the others, is softly written but with a beautiful attention to detail and a quirky sense of humour. Vargas has a knack for creating characters (both human and animal, there really is no difference) that you instantly fall in love with, and her good guys radiate real honest goodness.

I think Vargas is the best thing in crime fiction right now. This latest novel is as good as all the others - and now that I've read it I really want a dog called Fleg.

4.5 stars.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Well, we can all pack up and go home. John Green's written the perfect YA novel and there just isn't any point trying to follow his act. As I tweeted at the time:
Seriously, I am only exaggerating a little. This is just a virtuoso work of fiction, something that's beautiful and touching but also completely real in a way that most tearjerkers don't manage to be. The characters seriously read like people (real people, ones who are a bit mean and a bit small and a bit selfish, but still good), and so you can go from crying to laughing outrageously in about half a page. It's the most fearless presentation of the realities of suffering from cancer that I've ever read, as well as one of the best teenage love stories, and it has extremely light and intelligent things to say about everything from Great Literature to computer games.

One in the eye for anyone who thinks that YA is written by people who aren't good enough to write proper books.

5 stars. 

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

I went to the launch of this (launches, by the way, are the best things about publishing apart from everything to do with the books), and can confirm that Abigail is nice, fun and the same age as me (this is her second book. Yes, really). She is also an extremely thoughtful and imaginative author who has written a novel so compelling that I started it on Friday evening, had to be dragged away from it to go to a dinner party and then leaped out of bed at 7 on Saturday morning because I had to finish it now now now.

I really don't want to give away any of the plot, because so much of the book is about peeling away layers of secrets to reveal the even crazier secret underneath (it's a testament to how perfectly balanced and well-imagined Golden Boy is that when I tried to explain the plot to my boyfriend it sounded like something from Take a Break, like MY STALKER EX-BOYFRIEND ATE MY SISTER'S BABY WHILE HIGH ON DRUGS, but while I was actually reading it it didn't feel sensational at all). Suffice it to say, though, that Max Walker, the apparently perfect golden boy of the title... isn't. At all.

I'm seeing Golden Boy trailed in America as for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which... I'm not sure I buy into. Sure, it's about a teenager coming of age, and there are some very nicely-observed moments of emotional resolution, but it's also incredibly dark and shocking - and it's got one of the most horrifying openings I've ever come across. I read the first three chapters, put the book down and said, "I can't believe she just did that".

Seriously, though, I loved it, and I think that Golden Boy's going to be huge. Quick, everyone, read it now!

4.5 stars

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