I’ve had a lot of fun with my reading over the past three months, as you can see from the numbers below:
Forty-eight books is an above-average number for me and I was lucky in my choices with forty-four per cent of books being four stars or above. As usual for me, books written by women outnumbered books written by men by more than two to one. This was the first quarter after my self-imposed three-month book-buying ban, so I’m not surprised to find that only 42% of the books I read were already on my shelves at the start of the year.
I set myself a TBR ABC reading challenge which started this quarter. It involves reading twenty-six books from my TBR, each one with a title that starts with a different letter of the alphabet.
This challenge is working well. I read seven of the books this quarter and three of them turned out to be four-star reads that had been languishing on my shelves.
Five Best Reads
All five of my Best Reads this quarter were thrillers. They were all written by women. Four of them feature strong women as their main characters and three of them were published this year. All but one of them are set in the United States. Julie Clark shows up on the list twice because I was so impressed with ‘The Flight’ that I bought and read her next book ‘The Lies I tell’ when it came out last month.
‘At First Light’ is a dark catch the serial killer novel which has gruesome ritual killings at its heart, but which is, from the first page, a glorious cinematic entertainment. It has the impact of an anime drawn using strong lines and a dark palette to create an atmosphere that is one part threat, one part humour and two parts sheer escapism.
I loved the wit and deliberately dramatic scene-setting. Then there’s the puzzle of the posed dead body showing signs of a ritual killing and surrounded by what looked like Norse runes. What truly pulled me in was Dr Evan Wilding who has
comic book graphic novel character written all over him. A British academic who has tenure at the University of Chicago where he lectures on semiotics, does falconry as a hobby, works with the Chicago police as a consulting forensic semiotician giving meaning to signs, intentional and unintentional, left behind by killers and who is also only fifty-three inches tall.
‘At First Light’ is the first book in a series. I’ve pre-orders the next book, ‘Dark Of Night’ so I can read it as soon as it’s released in November.
‘The Flight’ just blew me away. It was the first thriller that I’ve read in a long time that managed to be truly thrilling and be populated by real, relatable people. It delivered a wonderful mix of tension, reflection, fear, friendship, hope and difficult choices. The mechanics of the plot are complex but so well-engineered that you won’t notice. The women at the heart of the story are memorable and impossible not to become emotionally invested in.
Set in a pretty little town on an island in Cork harbour, ‘The Invisible’ is a well-crafted, edge- of-the-seat thriller that engages unblinkingly with the ugly realities of modern slavery.
Lindsey Ryan, the ex-soldier turned tearoom owner at the heart of the story is a wonderful creation. She is tough and competent, but she isn’t invulnerable. She’s not some ex-special forces guy who always has a plan. She’s not Jack Reacher or Evan Smoak. She’s a woman so scarred by what’s already happened to her that death sometimes feels like it might be a release. But she can’t walk away from the evil next door. She refuses to have more people on her conscience. So she stands up and does what’s needed. But there’s no macho confrontation. No calling out of the bad guy. She’s trying hard to be seen as the tea lady next door until she can find a way off the island.
In ‘Jane Doe’, Jane is a modern-day Fury, Tisiphone translated into the twenty-first century. A successful lawyer with a high-powered job in Kuala Lumpur, Jane has set her career aside for a few months to return, incognito, to the Mid-West city where she went to college, to avenge the death of her only friend. She knows who is to blame and she’s going to make him pay.
‘Jane Doe’ describes, sometimes with wit and always with disturbing accuracy, how abusive men undermine vulnerable women and how badly even men who are not abusive, behave when they let their erections do their thinking.
It’s a thriller that gets you deeply invested in the success of the main character, keeps you guessing about what she intends to do while hoping that she’s successful and then cranks up the tension page by page until it reaches a climax that is worthy of all the build-up.
‘The Lies I Tell’ Is a story of a long con that has the momentum of a slick heist movie. The cleverness of the plot was a joy, it kept me guessing and guessing again.
Then there was the emotional uplift that came from seeing plausibly abusive men, with a history of harming women, being taken down by a woman who they fail to recognise as a threat.
Then there was the lying. The reader knows that both of the main women characters are lying about who they are and what they want. Each of the women also knows the other is a liar. What is constantly, deliciously, tantalisingly unclear is when they are lying and why they are lying. The women are not the only liars. The men around them also lie and cheat. The women don’t always lie to each other, which makes it harder to know what any exchange means.
n the end, everything comes back to intent. It’s not the lies these women tell that are important but why they tell them. The answer to that question provided a splendid resolution to an original and surprising thriller that got better and better as the book went on. Even when I was ninety per cent through the book, I was still having to guess at the resolution. When it came, it was worth the wait and put everything that went before it into perspective.