The Books I Read in June 2016

I have a trio of books to review and share with you from June of this year. One was excellently entertaining and educational, one was educational but not utterly entertaining and one should have been entertaining but desirably not at all educational, but failed on the first count. Read on and please do send me your own book recommendations in the comments.

The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

As you will go on to read, this book was this month's saving grace, and will almost certainly be one of my favourite books of the year. It nearly made me more painfully homesick than the thought of my Mum's roast dinners, or a cream tea after a blustery walk across some boggy fields, or simply going wild in the aisles at Waitrose. His 20 years later follow-up to Notes From a Small Island, The Road to Little Dribbling will satisfy all your Bill Bryson expectations and then some, as it balances his snarky sense of humour with his tender fondness for all things British. It should go without saying too that it was incredibly informative, too easy-to-read that I felt it was over far too quickly, and I became convinced that if I read only Bill Bryson books for the rest of my life I'd probably be okay with that.
I'm going to stop gushing about Mr Bryson now and just say if you have any kind of interest/curiosity/affection/bemusement about the British Isles, the British people, and our weird and wonderful ways, get this book, read it and hug it, and then lie back and think of Yorkshire Pudding. I learned so much, like how the letters and numbers system of road-naming came to be (which almost made sense to me, proving just how British I am!), and how there is a "fans of" group for almost anything. And the above paragraph about how much the people who make English bus shelters must hate you, was just one of the few hundred times I laughed out loud.

(HUGE thank you to my good friend B for gifting me this book for my birthday - she knows me so well!)

The Bees by Laline Paull
Half of the time I was reading this novel I was asking myself, why am I still reading this? I'm actually surprised how often I find myself thinking this, but with this novel I know exactly why I struggled to lose myself. There are a number of reasons why, in fact. Firstly, this novel falls in the fantasy/science-fiction genre, which is one that I am not familiar with or a fan of. Secondly, the book is about bees, which therefore makes it appealing to those who like nature, insects, creatures, gardening, or bee-keeping, which does not include me. Thirdly, the book is so heavily soaked in the ins and outs of bee anatomy and behaviour, that it often gets in the way of the plot, and those of you who have read previous reviews of mine will know that it's a real bug bear of mine when an author or book lets all the research they did get in the way of a story. Or, as is the case of this novel, often the research effectively became the story.

So why did I keep reading this book? Frankly, the idea fascinated me. I loved the concept of a dystopian world created out of a bee-hive, and even little old uneducated me knows the importance of bees to all of our lives. It seemed such an obvious and yet very original idea. I also loved how the majority of the books characters were women - as are the workers of any beehive - and of course, that the hive's leader is a Queen. I'm a sucker for any book that is about a female-dominated society and indeed this book explored this, though perhaps not to the depth I would have liked. 
The writing was what I would describe as "solid". It was reliably effective, which is would be praise to some, but not to others. (FYI, it's possibly not what I would like to hear about my own writing.) It didn't transport me, it didn't move me, it didn't suck me in or spit me out. It just was. I was very surprised to learn that the author was a playwright by profession, but perhaps this explains the more direct description that seemed lacking in imagination. There was, however, plenty of "action" and interesting if not astounding character developments, and the ending was suitably climatic and impacting for the book's genre/s. So all being said, I can imagine this book enthralling a different kind of reader, and would highly recommend it if you have more interest in bees or dystopian worlds or indeed the potential dystopian future of our world... And with that big tease, I'll finish my review here.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh
Hmmm. I just couldn't see the point of this novel at all. And I know that that's actually kind of the point of holiday reads (and indeed I picked it up in the villa we were renting in Tuscany) but still... it kept me hanging on for something, but then didn't really deliver it. 

It's also an interesting observation by other reviewers here that the older woman having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old boy seems to be considered "sexy" and "seductive" while the alternative of a 40-something-man and a teenage girl would have been a very different novel indeed, and certainly wouldn't or should have been hyped up as a raunchy beach read. I'm sure there are deeper issues to be considered if you wanted to explore this further, but I don't feel now and here is the right place or time.

All that said, I think the writer is capable of a lot, lot more so maybe I'll try some of her other books. Now he's a photo of a rather saucy extract that I think does hint at the author's capabilities... I just wonder if the editors/publishers felt it needed more of the Fifty Shades effect which I've definitely seen suffocate other books in recent years.
Now over to you, what have you been reading recently that didn't really impress you? Or more importantly, what have you read recently that REALLY impressed you? I'd love to hear more about these books!

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.
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