A Month of Murder and Gardening
I only put four books on the reading list for July and I ended up reading three of them, plus three others. I only read in two genres: crime/thriller novels and gardening books. My ratings range from one star all the way up to four. No five-star reads this month. Hopefully August will deliver at least one. Here’s what I read in July.
INTO THE WATER
By Paula Hawkins
In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .
This was a difficult book to rate. In the end, I had to give it four stars because it is very well-written, structured and plotted. And yet…
Here’s the thing. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it left me feeling quite down and a bit depressed. This is not the result I want from reading fiction, especially on holiday.
And so, it’s a hard book to rate. Honestly, I think the quality of the writing deserves a full five stars, but my enjoyment level, apart from revelling in the prose, was probably closer to two.
THE BUMBLEBEE FLIES ANYWAY
By Kate Bradbury
Genre: Non-fiction – Memoir- Gardening
Finding herself in a new home in Brighton, Kate Bradbury sets about transforming her decked, barren backyard into a beautiful wildlife garden. She documents the unbuttoning of the earth and the rebirth of the garden, the re-wilding of a tiny urban space.
Honestly, this was a cover pick. I was in my library, returning a few books and not intending to borrow any more (ha ha) when I spotted this sitting face forward on a shelf. I walked past and then stopped and turned back. I think it was that bumblebee, glowing so golden on a wintry grey July day. Although it was the cover image that caught my eye, the subtitle made me pick it up: A year of gardening and wildlife. I absolutely love any kind of gardening memoir. Add wildlife and it’s even more alluring. This one came on my winter holiday with me.
The blurb doesn’t really describe this book very well. It’s true as far as it goes, but there is a lot more here, from many passionate denunciations of the way we’re treating the planet and the wild things that share it with us, to detailed descriptions of the private lives of bumblebees, various birds and other wildlife, to accounts of the author’s own private life and difficulties during the time she was re-wilding her garden. I would have preferred a little more gardening and a little less about Kate’s personal struggles, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this and it has really inspired me to do a little re-wilding in my own backyard, Australian style.
THE IMMORTAL PRUDENCE BLACKWOOD
By Stephanie Grey
Genre: Historical Murder Mystery/ Thriller
This was a digital ARC from Netgalley and I was looking forward to it. It’s the story of a search for a serial killer in Washington DC in 1947, with a twist: one of the detectives is Prudence Blackwood, an immortal who seeks vengeance for those murdered by history’s most notorious serial killers. That sounded like a terrific premise and should have made for a really fresh take on the thriller genre. Sadly, it didn’t work for me at all. It reads like a second or third draft rather than a polished novel. The story covers several timelines, and in each case it felt like I was reading a detailed outline rather than being thrust into the action. My emotions were never engaged with the characters either. And on a line-by-line basis, the phrasing is often quite awkward. A disappointment.
THE COLOUR OF BEE LARKHAM’S MURDER
By Sarah J Harris
Genre: Murder Mystery/Thriller
Jasper is not ordinary. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary…Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder.He’s sure something has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly.
I had high expectations of this novel, and for the first third, Harris more than met them. I was confident I was reading a five-star book. I loved the character of Jasper and the way he sees the world. His relationships with his mysterious neighbour and his struggling father were interesting and unpredictable. The slow revelation of information was intriguing, the writing immaculate.
And then somehow the novel just bogged down. And it stayed mired through the entire middle section. There was too much repetition, too many scenes where nothing happened and we didn’t even learn more about the characters.
I persevered in the hope that it would get better. And it did. The final quarter was great, and I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. Looking at the novel as a whole, I think at least eighty of its over four hundred pages could simply be cut, and should have been. The novel would be much stronger and nothing important would be lost.
I’m not sure if the final revelation is meant to come as a surprise but if so, it was too heavily flagged, at least for an experienced reader of mysteries. I didn’t mind that, though. I just wish the novel as a whole had lived up to the promise of its first hundred pages.
By Agatha Christie
Genre: Murder Mystery
Miss Marple’s last case, Sleeping Murder, was written over 30 years before it was published and sees Miss Marple solve her final mystery.
Soon after Gwenda moved into her new home, odd things started to happen. Despite her best efforts to modernise the house, she only succeeded in dredging up the past. Worse, she felt an irrational sense of terror every time she climbed the stairs. In fear, Gwenda turns to Miss Marple to exorcise her ghosts. Between them, can they solve a crime committed many years before?
Well, it’s a Christie novel, so of course they can. I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of this one, devouring it in one day! The first part is so much fun, following Gwenda as she arrives in England and finds the house, etc. Things have certainly changed a lot since the forties – a seven bedroom house is “not too big” (just average I guess. 😉)
There are co incidences galore, but the novel is just so charming, I don’t care. It also gets so complicated at one point that I remember when I first read it I started making notes to try to get my head around it. But Christie irons it all out beautifully in the end as usual. One of my favourites, and a real treat for the final novel of Mission Marple.
GARDENING IN TIME
By Caroline Boisset
This was a charity shop find while I was on holiday: a hardcover gardening book for $2, a bargain I wan’t going to pass up. It was a very fast read, with more illustrations than text, and not much of the information was new to me. But it was enjoyable and did give me a few ideas and things to think about when planning future plantings. It gets four stars because I think it would be really useful for someone who hasn’t had much experience with planning for seasonal effects and hasn’t already read thousands of pages on the subject.
So that’s my month of Murder and Gardening. Not too bad overall: an average rating of only 3 stars, but with four 4-star books. What did you read in July? Any 5-star recommendations?