Broken Harbor, by Tana French I LOVED THIS BOOK. First of all, I’m a huge, huge Tana French fan, and this Amazon reviewer summed up the reason perfectly: French writes “literary fiction that just happens to be a mystery.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. The mysteries she crafts and her mastery of plot development are what make her books stay-up-all-night page turners, but the character development and her truly gorgeous writing are what make the journey enjoyable, rather than just a race to find out “whodunit.” I’ve honestly never encountered another author so able to marry excellent writing with compelling plots while maintaining such a high degree of quality in both.
Anyway, as I said, love all of her books, but this might be my favorite so far. I absolutely raced through it. I don’t want to give anything away, but I loved how un-formulaic this book was. The way the mystery unfolded kept me on my toes, never feeling like I could see what lay ahead. It moved in such a way that elements you thought were one thing suddenly twist and fold into something else…it’s hard to explain, but I was just incredibly impressed with the unique way in which this plot moved. Toward the end it even gave me the creeps a little (which I loved). It’s amazing to me that she was able to write what is, essentially, a crime novel, but inject it with this sense of unease and a rising tension so that while it’s not a ghost story or anything of the sort, I still felt slightly spooked towards the end.
The Secret Place, by Tana French Okay, so after that major gush-fest about Tana French, now I’m going to admit that this one wasn’t my favorite of hers. That being said, she could write a dictionary and I would read it, so it was still good. Just if you haven’t read her before, I would recommend not starting with this one. The Secret Place takes place in a boarding school and features two detectives along with a gaggle of teenage girls (a little reminiscent of Reconstructing Amelia in that regard), and I did feel that the French did a decent job of creating distinct characters out of the many teenagers in the book (there were eight main girls and they didn’t blend together).
Speaking of characters, another cool thing about French’s books is that each one focuses on a main character who was a secondary character in a previous novel. It’s an interesting approach that gives her books a feeling of continuity. However, the events of the past novels are only alluded to and are in no way essential to the current story, so it’s not like they’re a series that has to be read in order. It also means that each book has a different main character, which I like very much. You’ll read one book and think you understand that secondary character, and then in the next one (where that person becomes the main character) she gets so much deeper inside their head and their motivations that you feel like you didn’t really know them at all in the previous book. Just like when you meet someone and then get to know them better in real life, I guess!
All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr I think I had an unfair bias against this one because I was coming off reading those two Tana French super page-turners, so this felt rather slow to me by comparison. However, it is a beautifully written story that covered large subjects (war, family, science, courage) by focusing in on a small set of characters and their unique situations. Doerr creates a world and pulls you into it, and in time you grow to really care about the fate of the characters. This book is more about the journey than the destination, and I think it requires some patience, although there certainly were suspenseful aspects. It’s just a quality book overall and it has stuck with me a bit.
Us, by David Nicholls This book was a major disappointment to me. I loved One Day and expected to love this as well, but no. The thing that fell flat for me was the main character – I just couldn’t stand him! To me he was just absolutely annoying with a corny sense of humor…I’m completely on board with unlikable main characters, but I have to draw the line at annoying main characters. The subject matter interested me -it’s an examination of relationships and the ways in which they change over time, told through the lens of two opposites who find themselves in a flailing marriage. The parts of the book that are about the early dating days of the two main characters and how they fell in love were vastly more interesting to me than the later parts where it’s about how their marriage has soured twenty years down the line. Ultimately though, I didn’t care much about any of the characters or what happened to them. There were some interesting points made about relationships overall, but basically this was a big miss for me. If you want to read a better book (in my opinion), about relationships, go for The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P (which I really loved).
Another book I read in January was At Home With Madame Chic, which was a gift from the publisher. As you can see, it’s a charming little coffee table book written by Jennifer L. Scott of The Daily Connoisseur, featuring little stories, advice, and cute illustrations. This is a follow-up to her first book, Lessons From Madame Chic, in which she wrote about how her host mother from a trip abroad to Paris created a chic, simple wardrobe and life. Here she writes about ideas and tips to keep your home organized, clean, and a source of happiness rather than stress. However, she’s not at all judgmental or uppity about it – Jennifer is super down to earth and shares her own struggles and journey toward learning to keep a happy home. It’s a fun, cute little book that provides some genuinely good motivation for keeping your space in good shape and staying positive along the way. Definitely a nice gift idea!
Anyone read anything good lately? I’m about to start The Girl on the Train and what with all the hype it’s been getting, my expectations are pretty high!
last photo by me