Season's Readings: August and September 2016

I have to admit that, until August, I had got really slack on the reading front. (Let's be honest, I still am.) I think it's because I've got into the habit of watching TV on my commute instead - great as it means I can catch up on things Nick doesn't like as much as I do, bad that it massively eats into my reading time - and then I'm so tired that I end up going straight to bed without even looking at my Kindle. But over the last few weeks and with a concerted effort to read every night, things have picked up a little. So here's what I've been reading in August and September...

Also, a brief pause to say: HERE BE SPOILERS. If you haven't read the Divergent series (and you want to), then you've been warned. If you have (or you don't want to), carry on.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
I have set myself a goal this year that I am not allowed to start any new book series until I've finished the ones I'm already working through. Allegiant is the final book in Roth's Divergent trilogy, following Tris Prior as she chooses her 'faction' based on her personality, whilst aware she is 'Divergent' - not easily fitting into one category - and considered a threat to society. In Allegiant, the faction system has been shattered to create an equal society, whilst former faction members are plotting to restore the old ways, and Tris and her friends must choose where their allegiances lie. One of the things I liked about this book was the switch between Tris and Four as narrators - it's nice to see different characters' perspectives, especially in YA fiction which is so often in the first person - and the ending, which puts a different spin on the typical dystopian novel but still has a hopeful note. It's also well-paced and, unlike other final books in trilogies, doesn't feel like it's shoehorning too much in or tying the loose ends up too neatly. Overall, a well-written, satisfying end to the series.

Warleggan by Winston Graham
With the new series of Poldark in full swing, I wanted to get ahead and read the books it's based on. Warleggan is the fourth Poldark novel, which sees Ross and Demelza's relationship being tested as they and others around them make decisions which will have a lasting impact. (I'm really trying not to spoil this as you can tell!) After the seemingly unrelenting misery and slow pace of the third book, it's refreshing to see things pick up; there's still a lot of emotional involvement but (initially at least) I felt a lot more connected to the characters and less frustrated. I also like that I could get properly into Ross and Demelza's heads - as the previous novel was largely Demelza-driven, getting more of an insight into Ross is refreshing, even when he's doing utterly shocking things. It's perhaps not quite as enjoyable as the first two books, but you sense that a corner has been turned.

The One by Kiera Cass
After the slight emotional trauma of Warleggan, I needed some light relief, which came in the form of the third book in Kiera Cass's The Selection series. Another YA near-future dystopia, the series follows American Singer, who is competing for the affections of Prince Maxon in a Bachelor-style TV show. In the third book, the threat from rebels is escalating and pressure is growing on  I'll be honest, it's not exactly going to win any awards for being a great work of literature and the ending is glaringly obvious, but as a bit of escapism it worked. It was also nice to see some well-developed supporting characters - too often they're one-dimensional, particularly the antagonists, but in this instance I felt like we got to see different sides to them. Not necessarily one I'd recommend though as it was a bit too formulaic for me by the end.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
And then it was back to the heavier fare - although given this is a relatively short book, appearances can be deceptive. As the title suggests, it focuses on the detective Hercule Poirot's investigation of a murder on a train stranded in the snow and a limited number of suspects to choose from. It's brilliantly atmospheric - I felt as though I was trapped in the carriage with the characters - and there are so many twists and turns you honestly don't know where it's going to end up. Consequently (and I'm aware this is controversial) the actual ending feels like a bit of a cop-out, but Christie has told the story so well and created such rich characters that it's entirely forgiven. It builds the suspense absolutely brilliantly and I'm looking forward to reading more of Poirot's adventures in future.

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Rather unusually, I stuck with crime for my next book, as this one had been on my to-read list for a while and I wasn't keen on starting a new series. Set in Texas, it's the story of Tessa, the lone survivor of a serial killer whose victims were dubbed the 'Black Eyed Susans' after the field of flowers they were buried in. As his execution draws closer, Tessa begins to wonder if he is really innocent, and works with investigators to uncover the truth. I felt like this book did a great job of recreating the Texas summer - you can almost hear the pavement sizzling and feel the oppressive heat - but equally I felt like you never really got to know any of the characters well enough to truly warm to them. The ending also feels like it's too neat for my liking, which for me is the book's major flaw. But it's well-written, with a great build-up of suspense, and I really liked the twisted fairytale elements of it.

Total books read in August: 2
Total books read in September: 3
Total books read in 2016: 26

So overall August and September haven't been particularly intense reading months, and I'm still a way off my target off 40 books for the year, but I think making a concerted effort to read more is definitely helping. Onwards and upwards for October then...

What have you been reading lately?

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