In Feb – April 2017 I read some real crackers – including (finally) braving the Hunger Games. Read on for reviews of 8 great fiction books! (And see yesterday for great recommendations of Christian books). In no particular order, these were the eight fiction books I read:
1. Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
“We are all migrants of time.”
This timely, beautifully-crafted novel by the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist begins with a young man and woman who fall in love even as their country is falling apart. It follows the journey as the fragile refugee couple move from country to country, trying to find a place to belong. It is unsettling, because it is both painfully current but also because it has magical realism elements (refugees escape from country to country through magic doors that instantly transport them from one place to another.)
The magical realism forces you to think hard about the writing – for example, the descriptions of Greece sound very current and realistic, but the dystopian vision of London is not (yet) a true one. Sometimes this works well, other times it’s a distraction. For me the start was stronger than the end – post-London it lost some energy – but the start was so strong as to be extraordinary.
Highly recommended for its masterful prose, global worldview, complicated love story, and the painfully real examination of what it means to be displaced.
Get it for $10.59 from amazon.com (paperback), £10.49 from amazon.co.uk (hardback) or £10.49 (hardback) from Wordery (free shipping worldwide)
2. My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal.
Leon, a nine-year-old black boy, is separated from his white baby brother when they’re both taken into care. This little gem of a story follows Leon’s journey as he navigates the care system while processing the loss of his mother and brother. I was concerned that this would be excruciatingly difficult to read because of its subject matter, but it’s not. It walks just the right line between sweet and sad, and somehow holds the tension throughout.
It deals sensitively with race issues and the search for appropriate versus dangerous parent-figures without preachiness. Most of all, I was carried along by the story and strong writing voice, and gobbled it up in three days. The character of Leon has stayed with me – a sign of a great novel. Warning: can make you want to sign up as a foster carer. Highly recommended.
3. When God was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman
The rough plot is that a girl, her brother and her best friend all grow up with secrets to hide, and the rest of the plot explores how those secrets have damaged them in various ways.
The strength of the book is its writing: humorous, poignant, effortlessly-told individual scenes and incidents make it a pleasure to read. The weakness is the plot – the book meanders along with interesting peaks and troughs but no real narrative arc.
There were interesting themes – loss, luck and misfortune, the way our childhood shapes us, loneliness and identity – but the main character was cold, and colder in adulthood, so it was only the writing that made me continue rather than an engagement with either plot or character. Our book group was divided – for me it was instantly forgettable, but for others the writing voice alone made it a strong and pleasurable read.
4. Murder of a Movie Star – Posie Parker Mystery #5 – L B Hathaway
I absolutely love this Agatha Christie-style murder mystery series, and look forward to each book as it comes out. This one is set in the world of British cinema just as Hollywood is in ascendance, which is an element of history I didn’t know. As ever, I enjoyed reading Hathaway’s well-researched historic notes at the end which explain which elements of the setting were based in fact.
I gobbled it up in a day or so, and kept guessing till the end as to who the murderer was. Another wonderful Posie Parker – can’t wait for the next one. Highly recommended for anyone who loves Agatha Christie.
If you’re new to the series and love a good, cosy murder mystery, start with Murder Offstage for just £0.99 / $1.29 (whole series link here.)
5. Hysteria Vol 5 – ed. Linda Parkinson-Hardman
This is the fifth anthology of prize-winning poetry, flash fiction and short stories written for women. I heard about this anthology and the Hysteria Writing Competition when my friend was included in the poetry section (check out ‘A Young Man Once’ by Barney Harper).
Anthologies can be a mixed bag, so although I already knew her poetry was excellent, I was reassured to see that the quality of writing was similarly high.
I loved dipping in and out of this collection of fresh, high-quality writing by upcoming female writers – if you are looking for bite-sized portions of beauty to inspire you in your writing or reading, this is the perfect anthology. Highly recommended.
The Hunger Games Trilogy
I put off reading these books for ages because of the premise – in a dystopian society, children are picked to fight to the death while the rest of the world views it live as a reality TV show. I had a young child at that point, and it was all a bit raw even to consider kids killing each other. But this year, now that the world is looking darker in many ways, I thought it might actually be a comfort to read about a world a little worse than ours, so I gave it a go to see what the hype was about.
And it really is worth the hype – the trilogy is excellent. It’s Young Adult, so it’s fast-paced to hold the attention of a teenager, but really well-written, so that you are utterly absorbed in the world and keep having to read just one more chapter. It’s the first book since Ink by Alice Broadway (also a YA book) that I felt irritated by interruptions because I just had to finish it. I read all three in one week. Do yourself a favour and get them all. I’ve reviewed them individually below.
6. The Hunger Games (#1) – Suzanne Collins
The premise is that in a dystopian society, children are picked to fight to the death while the rest of the world views it live as a reality TV show. I read somewhere that Suzanne Collins came up with the idea after she flicked through the TV channels and was struck by the horrible juxtaposition of a reality ‘survival’-type game show, glamorous and fully of celebrities for our entertainment, contrasted with scenes of children in the midst of warfare on the news.
With that in mind, the power of her dystopia for our day is that we are living the Hunger Games – we are the rich people of the ‘Capitol’ watching the survival of the fittest as children die everyday on our television screens. This, for me, was what makes it not just a brilliant read but the potential to endure and be a classic. Having said that, the latter half of the first book reads a little like an interesting survival memoir rather than exploring the characters – that comes out more in the next books.
7. Catching Fire (#2) – Suzanne Collins
Sometimes the middle books can just be lengthy set-ups for the final book, but this was full of action and the love story felt authentic and nuanced.
The stakes are raised in this book, and it’s wonderful to see how secondary characters also become more fully developed, without losing the sense of excitement and drive.
8. Mockingjay (#3) – Suzanne Collins
This was my favourite in the trilogy because even though it started a little slowly it was absolutely outstanding treatment of the complexities of war. Remembering that this is a book aimed at the Young Adult and teen market, it would have been so tempting to have had a ‘just’ war, good overcoming evil. But this book explores the evils of warfare itself – how even fighting for a good cause can be hideously destructive to the winning side, and cause permanent damage to those who survive: I wanted to give Suzanne Collins a standing ovation for this.
Even when there were characters who died that left you crying, ‘But that’s not fair!’ – it proves her point. That’s what war does. Though I got through the whole of the trilogy without crying, the very ending made me sob like a baby, and I was left with immense gratitude for the journey I’d been on.
Highly recommended for teens (13 upwards) and adults alike.
Hope you enjoyed those recommendations! Even though life is looking a little slow for me right now, I’m grateful that I can still disappear into a book and be transported into another world. Fiction is such a gift.
1. Exit West – Mohsin Hamid.
“timely, beautifully-crafted novel by the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist”
$10.59 from amazon.com (paperback) click here to buy (US)
£10.49 from amazon.co.uk (hardback) click here to buy UK
£10.49 (hardback) from Wordery (free shipping worldwide) click here to buy from Wordery
2. My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal.
“This little gem of a story follows Leon’s journey as he navigates the care system while processing the loss of his mother and brother.”
Get it for $14.58 from amazon.com (hardback) click here to buy US,
£4.99 (kindle) or £5.84 (paperback) from amazon.co.uk click here to buy UK
or £7.08 from Wordery (free shipping worldwide) click here to buy
3. When God was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman.
“a girl, her brother and her best friend all grow up with secrets to hide”
Get it for $6.49 from Amazon click here to buy (US)
£4.99 from amazon.uk click here to buy (UK) or
£6.76 from Wordery click here to buy
4. Murder of a Movie Star – Posie Parker Mystery #5 – L B Hathaway.
“Highly recommended for anyone who loves Agatha Christie”
Get it for $5.20 from amazon.com Click here to buy (US)
£3.99 from amazon.co.uk Click here to buy (UK)
5. Hysteria Vol 5 – ed. Linda Parkinson-Hardman.
“bite-sized portions of beauty to inspire you in your writing or reading”
Get it for $5.20 from amazon.com, Click here to buy (US)
£3.99 from amazon.co.uk Click here to buy (UK)
6. The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins.
“really is worth the hype”
$16-20 (all 3 kindle-paperback) from amazon.com Click here to buy (US)
JUST £9.90 (all 3 books in paperback!) from amazon.co.uk Click here to buy (UK)
£15.32 (all 3 paperback) from Wordery (free shipping worldwide) Click here to buy (Wordery)
See also yesterday’s recommendations for six Christian books. ENJOY!
Over to you:
- What have you been reading recently? What worlds have you been disappearing into?
This post contains Amazon and Wordery affiliate links, which means if you click through to Amazon.co.uk Wordery.com or Amazon.com from this site and buy absolutely anything in the world, you help this site, at no extra cost to you. I received a free advanced copy of some of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are.