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November Wrap Up

November was a month of flitting. After the reading slump that befell me in October, I picked up the pace again in November but did find it hard to settle into any one book. As a consequence, I’ve often had a few books on the go at any given time this month and some of them, inevitably, have carried over into December so will be wrapped up next month when I have finished them.

Slade HouseSlade House by David Mitchell

Confession time. Before being given a proof of Slade House by a bookseller friend, I had never finished a David Mitchell novel. Which is not to say I’ve never read one. I got three chapters into ‘Cloud Atlas‘, got confused, gave us and picked up something with a linear sense of narrative. Since then Mitchell, with his meandering plots and ‘high’ writing style, has been consigned to my ‘literary authors to avoid’ category (a category also occupied, until ‘The Children Act’, by Ian McEwan. Sebastian Faulks and Jonathon Franzen remain in residence) so I never attempted ‘The Bone Clocks‘, to which ‘Slade House’ is a companion piece. Having finished ‘Slade House’ I might now give it a go however because I thoroughly enjoyed this one. A creepy literary ghost story, ‘Slade House’ follows sinister twins Jonah and Norah Grayer as they lure ‘guests’ into their trans-dimensional home – the titular Slade House – in order to steal their souls and thereby extend their own lifespans. Told over the course of 40 years and 5 narrators, this does feel more like a set of interconnected short stories as opposed to a novel but I felt that this made it more digestible and offset the complexity of the overarching plot. The characterisation is particularly good, with each narrative voice sounding unique – particularly important as the plot becomes repetitive at times. The ending would probably make more sense if I had read ‘The Bone Clocks’ but it stood on its own well enough and was sufficiently intriguing to get me to add ‘The Bone Clocks’ to my TBR. Overall, this changed my mind about Mitchell – there was more to this novel than beautiful writing and the complexity was intriguing rather than frustrating, making it an ideal starting point for anyone similarly put off by ‘Cloud Atlas’ but wishing to give the author another go. 

The GrownupThe Grownup by Gillian Flynn

A second confession. I didn’t enjoy Gillian Flynn’s phenomenal bestseller ‘Gone Girl‘. Whilst I appreciated the skill it took to create them, I found the two lead characters completely hateful and struggled to stay with either of them to the end of the book. That said, I had no issue with Flynn’s style – her writing is sharp, direct, witty and with a deliciously dark twist, so I had no hesitation in picking up her novella ‘The Grownup’, just published as a slender, stylish paperback. This delightfully sinister little thriller, first published in the George R R Martin anthology ‘Rogues‘, follows a young woman faking it as a cut-price psychic following an early career in soft-core sex work. When Susan Burke walks into her shop, our narrator is all to ready to follow her usual script and tell Susan what she wants to hear. But then Susan relates her story. A story that involves a malevolent spirit, a haunted house and a sinister 15 year old stepson. What unfolds is a chilling, snarky short that is perfectly poised between supernatural chills and psychological thrills. Perfect for curling up with by the fire for an afternoon, this is thriller writing at its best with a convincing sting in the tale waiting at the end.  

Ink in the BloodInk in the Blood by Stephanie Hochet

Another creepy little book, this time from a selection of European novellas selected by small press publishers Dedalus Books. The anonymous narrator of ‘Ink in the Blood’ has long been fascinated by tattoos and begins to draw designs for expert tattoo artist Dimitri. Eventually he goes under the needle himself, choosing a Latin phrase in the form of a cross, ‘vulnerant omnes, ultima necat’: ‘They (the hours) all wound, the last one kills’. At first delighted with his new tattoo, the narrator soon begins to notice that his ‘vulnerant’ is disappearing, leaving only ‘ultima necat’ on his skin. As the words fade, he begins to find himself changing in attitude, disposition and outlook as his tattoo gradually becomes a threat to his life. I loved the premise of this one but, alas, the story did fail to live up to the promise in my opinion. Some of the ideas raised in the early chapters don’t get fleshed out as much as I felt they could have been and I thought the ending was rather vague, without any resolution – very frustrating given how much tension had been built into earlier chapters. That said, the narrator was deliciously creepy, with gradual shifts in character that tip him from slightly odd to full blown weird as the novella progresses. And I liked the unreliability of his narrative, the fact that the reader has to find other interpretations of what the narrator is experiencing and decide for themselves what the truth is. This is an ambitious little book and one that does many things well but unfortunately, for me at least, it overreaches itself in places and the resolution failed to match up to the promise of what came before.

Black Cairn PointBlack Cairn Point by Claire McFall 

Hot Key Books are rapidly becoming one of my favourite YA publishers – their list is varied, lively and definitely worth checking out if you enjoy YA fiction. Black Cairn Point is one of their books for older teens, a spooky slice of psychological horror set in Scotland. Heather agrees to go on a camping holiday with Dougie and his friends because she’s desperate to get closer to him. But when the two of them disturb a pagan burial site above the beach, she becomes convinced they have awoken a malevolent spirit intent on doing the group harm. Alternating between the events on the beach and one year later, when Heather is in a mental institution waiting for Dougie to wake from a coma, this is a haunting thriller with a killer twist at the end. To say too much more would be to ruin the story but I loved McFall’s sense of atmosphere and foreboding and I thought she captured the joys and pitfalls of teen group dynamics very well. Some of the characters are a little stereotypical – there’s the nerdy girl, the quiet guy, the jock, the loner and the popular girl all present and correct – but they blend together nicely and the plot generally avoids falling into well-worn horror movie territory. And the ending…well, let’s just say the ending is cleverly done and leave it at that. Definitely one to check out if you like your YA with a slice of the supernatural. 

I did read one other book in November but I’ll be doing a separate post and author interview for that one so watch this space! For December, I am taking part in Jen Campbell and Holly Dunn‘s ‘His Dark Materials‘ read along to FINALLY finish Phillip Pullman’s epic trilogy before the year is out. I’m halfway through ‘Northern Lights’ at the moment and loving every minute. In contrast to the magic of Lyra’s Oxford, I’m also reading Yeonmi Park’s memoir ‘In Order to Live‘ about her escape from North Korea and her extraordinary struggle to survive. It’s a harrowing read but absolutely fascinating and told with such honesty – I’ll do a full review as soon as I’ve finished but I can already say it’s well worth checking out. I’m going to try and fit a few other books in over the Christmas hols as well – I saved some of my annual leave for the week before Christmas so I’m planning to set a day or two aside amidst the festive madness for some quality reading time. As always, do let me know what you are reading either by leaving a comment below or by tweeting me @amyinstaffs. And, until next time…

Happy Reading! x

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