The Books I Read in April 2016

All three of the books I read in April were surprises to me. Two were a nice surprise, and the third was a big fat disappointment of a surprise. Read on to find out why...

Crooked Angels by Carol Lee

I didn't realise I was reading a non-fiction memoir until I was at least a quarter into Crooked Angels and I thought it peculiar the author would give the main character the same name as herself. However, it's not overly clear from the back cover of the book or the way in which it is written, which is sort of dream-like in the way it jumps in and out of the past to the present, a time period that is also a little surreal due to the excruciating and exasperating pain the author is experiencing, a suffering that completely mystifies her when it comes from out of nowhere and stops her busy life in its track.

Once I knew that I was reading a true story my enjoyment of the book and its wild, wonderful prose deepened. The wandering words matched the story which crossed continents and revealed a childhood that on the surface probably appeared quite normal but was clearly anything but. To read this story of self-discovery at a time when my own body was only just starting to feel like my own again after pregnancy and childbirth only added to the poignancy. After I finished Crooked Angels I did a quick Google search to find out what other books the author has written - a definite sign that I enjoyed this book more than I expected to.

And I think this was one of my favourite lines...

"My grandfather's stories were true, true stories that only happen in the dark, ones where you know your way."

Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
It's very odd that I can't remember where I picked up this book. Was it in a charity shop back in the UK during my last visit? Was it at a friend's house? Was it in the bargain section of a book shop (because I have a terrible habit of only buying books from these)? I honestly do not know, but that sort of suits the story that this novel tells. It's odd. It's unexpected. And it doesn't develop or deliver what you think it will.

It is essentially a story about the falling-apart of a woman after the collapse of her marriage. New Zealand is where she chooses to fall apart and I suppose this is what attracted me to the story as when I was in New Zealand myself some years ago I thought its distance, its wildness, its unique mind-bending and ever-changing landscapes to be a very good place to fall apart, or get lost or to simply escape something. 

With such a bold opening to a novel, it then surprised me a little that it didn't really keep dishing out the boldness. There were no gasp-inducing plot twists; no dramatic revelations of a lover or abuse or even anything other than what we learn about the situation in the first half of the novel. It quickly transpired, therefore that the stream of consciousness narration - which wouldn't appeal to all but definitely did to me - was to be the main event in the book, because this is what revealed how much the woman was falling apart... or not.

I did also Google this author after I finished this book, but not necessarily to see what else she had written, more to see if she had gone to New Zealand to fall apart or to get lost or to simply research the book. It never became clear if she had or not, but that didn't seem to matter because at some point I realised that as a writer you don't have to live the books you write in order for them to be convincing or entertaining or whole.

A little example of why I thought this stream of consciousness worked...

"Up close the bartender's face was boyish and pained, so much so I felt like his mother when I looked at him, and it was unbearable to see him so unhappy after all that I had gone through to bring him into the world. This was not a convenient feeling to have when all I wanted was to order a sandwich and beer."

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This book in one word: Melodrama.

This book in two words: MAJOR Melodrama.

This book in five words: A melodrama of Frankenstein proportions.

And so on.

I really wanted this to impress and entertain being that it is considered the first sci-fi horror story of its time and also Ms Shelley and her mum (Mary Wolstencraft - Google her) lived such unconventional lives for their times, however the constant "Woe is wretched me!" (there were a LOT of wretches and wretched-ness in this book) tone just took all my attention away from the plot. Also, what was with the story within a story within a story set-up? Or rather, story within a story within a very long letter from a boat that actually had no means of sending the letter? Forgive me Mary, but it just didn't swim with me.

Yet in reading Frankenstein I found out that Mary Shelley was the daughter of feminist writer Mary Wolstencroft so, I'm glad I read it if just to discover that. However, I'm also glad I don't have to read it again. If that makes sense.

I did find some nice quotes in the text like...

"I also became a poet and for one year lived in a paradise of my own creation..."

What books have you read recently that surprised you, be it in a good or a bad way?

Find more book reviews and recommendations from this year: JanuaryFebruaryMarchApril and May

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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