So way back September I published a blog post called ‘Summer Reads Vol. I’ and got around to Vol. II in November. The purpose of these posts was to write mini reviews of all the books I’d read over summer in succinct reviews rather than in depth ones. Whilst some books do deserve longer reviews, my hectic final year life just can’t keep up with it (currently balancing The Martian with The European Tragedy of Troilus, which I know you’ll all be adding to your TBR lists). So I’m continuing the concept of mini reviews in this new series, which follows on from the Summer Reads to the Mini Reads series.
This is Volume III.
1. Dream a Little Dream – Giovanna Fletcher
I love this book. I won’t lie, I’m a bit of a Gi fangirl – I watch hers and Tom’s videos frequently on YouTube and I knew I wanted to read this desperately, so when I got my hands on a copy at Penguin last summer, I wasn’t letting it go easily.
It’s a gorgeous romantic novel that centres on Sarah, a twenty-something year old in the midst of her twenty-something year old slump. Her PA job isn’t exactly what she’d always wanted, her career is somewhat disappointing to her mother, and she happens to still be friends with her ex and his perfect new girlfriend. Who can blame her for enjoying the dreams she’s begun to have about a handsome stranger from her past? But when her dream guy appears in her real life, things get a little more complicated than she expected…
It’s an extremely easy, satisfying read. Yes, it’s a little predictable in places, but that’s the joy of it. You kind of know how it’s going to end up so you can enjoy the journey to the final destination. Giovanna is a very accomplished romance writer and perfectly understands the torment of unlucky-in-love post-graduates and the way that friends become your family once you move away from home. I loved the little nod to husband Tom in one of the dreams and found myself staying up late to finish reading it over Christmas.
I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a lighter read, full of warmth, character and substance.
2. Funny Girl – Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby’s most recent novel is a tale of Sophie (née Barbara) who finds fame in 1960s London in a sitcom about married life. The book follows Sophie from her humble beginnings in Blackpool, to her life as a young ingenue, to full-blown stardom. Surrounding Sophie are an ensemble of characters working with her on the sitcom including suave co-star Clive, producer Dennis, and the writing team Tony and Bill (who offer an interesting subplot about homosexuality).
Most of the humour in the novel comes from Sophie’s interactions with the ensemble, rather than Sophie herself. It’s a good read, but ultimately simply isn’t as strong as some of Hornby’s earlier works like About A Boy and A Long Way Down. It is a pleasant novel that is never hilariously amusing nor darkly observant (as it could be of stardom in the 1960s). Rather than racing down a train track, it simply meanders and never reaches the peak interest of the earlier novels.
It’s sweet and it’s pleasant, just like Sophie’s eventual golden years, but it simply isn’t enough from an author as talented as Hornby.
3. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
I had wanted to read this for a while after hearing about it through various channels, but was initially wary as my mum hadn’t liked it. That just goes to show you can’t always trust someone else’s opinions. I thought it was a fantastic read, though it does take a little while to get into.
It is novel about Don and Rosie, the former a man of ritual, and the latter a reckless fireball, who find themselves embroiled in a plot to discover Rosie’s birth father, whilst Don himself attempts to find a Wife. Once the introductory material introducing Don gets out the way and the plot gets going it is a humorous and captivating read, that is really driven by the relationship between Don and Rosie, who are so mismatched but so perfect for each other.
I found myself laughing out loud at various points and motivated to keep reading as both the A-Plot of the Rosie Project and the B-Plot of Don’s search for a wife were equally engaging. It was a thoroughly entertaining novel and easy to read once you got into Don’s brain and accustomed yourself to his method of narration. The only problem I had with it was that I simply couldn’t understand how someone of such intelligence as Don, with a speciality in genetics and a strong awareness of Asperger’s, couldn’t place himself somewhere on a scale on which he clearly belonged.
Nevertheless, I would wholeheartedly recommend this, and encourage you to push on through the somewhat challenging opening as you navigate Don’s narration, to get to the truly special, sentimental hilarity of the second and third thirds of the novel.
4. The Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
This is marketed towards lovers of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones and I can definitely see why. It’s a fantasy novel set in the future, which rather than making 1984-like predictions of the future reverts the future back to a medieval time of horses, highwaymen and sword-fights.
On Kelsea Raleigh’s 19th birthday, her mother’s guards come for her to take her to her throne, for she is the Queen-to-be, inheriting her mother’s throne after living in hiding all her life. Now Kelsea faces a kingdom who doesn’t quite trust her, the threat of the Red Queen in the neighbouring nation and the legacy of her mother’s reign weighing on her shoulders. With only her Guard and the mysterious Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea must save her kingdom without losing herself.
It was a solid read; it wasn’t anywhere near as captivating as The Hunger Games but had a host of interesting characters including Lazarus, Kelsea’s Mace and the Fetch, a mysterious outlaw. If I’m being honest, I’d want to read the second book only to find out more about him.
Johansen’s difficulty is that she is trying to set up a new world that’s interesting but is neither here nor there. It’s medieval, but it’s set in the future. She could have spent less time on Kelsea’s long journey to the throne and more time setting up the world to make it more understandable for readers; I was certainly confused about where and when the story was supposed to be taking place.
And Kelsea herself is a weak character. She’s plain but strong. That’s her description. She is also frequently excused her failings as a character because she’s only nineteen. Except Katniss Everdeen had more strength at age sixteen. (I’m sorry to keep comparing, but if the copyediting is going to point out THG as a common interest, I can’t help but compare the things they have – or don’t have – in common.)
It was a slow story, with an extremely slow build, but made an interesting opener to a trilogy. It felt more like a prologue (and it needed a prologue to try and explain all the Crossing/Pre-Crossing setting) that was waiting for some real action. I suppose it was as the next book is titled The Invasion of the Tearling. If Emma Watson is indeed attached to a film version (as is one of the book’s main selling points) then I hope the film has more action and is more deserving of Emma’s calibre. Though how they’re ever going to make Emma Watson look as plain as Kelsea’s meant to be is beyond me.
So there’s the next volume in my Mini Reads – have you read any of these novels? Let me know in the comments below!