July 2019 reading round-up

Janelle Monae

July was a good month in many ways, but most importantly because we saw Janelle Monáe! In the real life! We went to Manchester for the first four days of the Manchester International Festival and it was excellent. She is amazing and I love her.

I also went to see Amélie the Musical and survived the UK’s mini heatwave. In the world of books, I read 12, which is loads! Quite a variety of types of book, as well. My favourite was probably The Night Circus by Uršuľa Kovalyk.

Our August will end with a weekend away, but for now we’re going to enjoy the summer in Bristol.

Books read

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
This tale of the friendship between a young scholar trying his hand at running a business and a jack-of-all-trades adventurer Zorba is a modern Greek classic and my Greece choice for the EU Reading Challenge. I think it’s well written but I really didn’t like Zorba and was slightly disturbed to see how many readers of this book idolise him.

The Dialogue of Two Snails by Federico García Lorca
I really enjoyed this slim volume of strange philosophical poetry translated from Spanish. There are some short pieces of prose and some pieces styled as conversations, plus a few intriguing line drawings that are like a cross between Picasso and scientific diagrams.

The Night Circus by Uršuľa Kovalyk
This collection of short stories is my Slovakia book for the EU Reading Challenge. They’re strange, sometimes surreal explorations of modern life, and they’re beautifully written.

Saga volume 8 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
This comic series continues to be brilliant. The intergalactic adventures of a young family manages to deal with war, trauma, forgiveness and abortion. So good.

Now You See Me by Sharon Bolton
This is the first book in Bolton’s series about Lacey Flint, a young police detective in London with flagrant disregard for rules and regulations and a shady past. It’s a really gripping, enjoyable read with some pretty dark, disturbing violence. It’s about what appears to be a Jack the Ripper copycat, which is an ambitious place to start a new series, I thought.

Dead Scared by Sharon Bolton
And then I immediately bought and read the second Lacey Flint book. This time, Lacey is trying her hand at going undercover as a student at Cambridge, where there has been a spate of suicides that don’t fit the usual pattern. It’s an interesting exploration of suicide statistics and is again very gripping, but I must admit I found the revealed story to be far-fetched.

If Snow Hadn’t Fallen by Sharon Bolton
This is a novella set between the first two Lacey Flint novels. A young British-Pakistani doctor is horribly murdered practically on Lacey’s doorstep, dragging her into what looks like a hate crime. While I admire Bolton’s willingness to venture into difficult territory, I don’t think she handled discussions of race and culture very well and this volume nearly put me off the series entirely. I also saw the twist coming a mile off and my heart actually sank when I realised that was indeed where it was all leading.

Like This, For Ever by Sharon Bolton
But that didn’t stop me from ploughing right on to the third full-length Lacey Flint novel. This one was much better. While realism is still stretched quite far in terms of the complexity of the crimes and how they keep on involving Lacey personally as well as professionally, this book does acknowledge how much horror Lacey has been through and show her dealing (not that well) with the trauma. Faith in Bolton restored.

Paper Girls volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
A few people have recommended this series to me in recent years, and I’m yet to meet a Brian K Vaughan comic I don’t like. That said, I felt a lot of ideas were packed into this opening and not enough story or character for me to be quite sure about it. It opens on Halloween 1988 with a group of paper girls out on their delivery round when they appear to stumble across the end of the world. What is happening? Why have they survived? Who are the two groups of people (creatures?) following them? I am certainly intrigued enough to seek out volume 2.

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
This memoir/celebration of science and its importance to Levi is deservedly a classic, and also my Italy book for the EU Reading Challenge. Each of its 21 chapters is framed around one chemical element – sometimes abstractly, sometimes very directly. Its a device perfectly suited to Levi, whose writing is engaging and profound.

Claymore volume 1 by Norihiro Yagi
While in Peterborough for work last month, I visited Close Encounters comic shop. The lady behind the till saw me browsing the manga and clearly had me clocked, because she asked unprompted if I would like a feminist recommendation. Of course I would! This was her suggestion. Monsters called Yoma prey on humans, and can only be killed by hired female warriors known as Claymore. These women are half-monsters themselves, so is it possible for them to experience any kind of normality? It’s a great premise, told in a fun way.

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton
Yes, I also read the fourth Lacey Flint novel. In this one, Lacey is trying to take life easier by stepping back into uniform, but weeks into her new job she finds a body, and she can’t help getting involved with the investigation. The plot deals with illegal immigration, race, sex work and people smuggling, and these threads are handled far better than in If Snow Hadn’t Fallen, thank goodness.