In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Yes, yes, late to the party. I've been looking forward to reading this ever since it came out - I'm not sure of girls of every generation grow up reading Judy Blume but girls of my generation did, and I wanted to know if the "she just gets it" feeling would still be there all these years later. And it was. For those who haven't read this, it's set in a town called Elizabeth where three planes crashed within two months of each other, back in the 50s; the crashes were real but the novel follows fictional interlinked families as they deal with the aftermath. There are so many - so many! - characters in this novel that I did find it difficult to keep track of who was who, but I loved it. I loved the people, flaws and all, and I loved the writing which exposed sharply honest emotions without judgement or sentimentality. Wonderful.
Now For The Disappointing Part by Steven Barker*
30-something Steven has spent his adult life temping for employers such as Amazon and Expedia because he hasn't figured out what else to do; in between jobs, he has done odd bits of freelance writing. This is his story. And it's a well written story. A lot of it will be familiar to anyone who has ever temped, to anyone who has ever wanted to be a writer but not known how and to anyone who has ever had a long-term partner who wanted them to get their act together. I just wasn't sure what the point was. It didn't tell me anything new about temping nor did Steven have any great epiphanies along the way. He came across as one of those guys who thinks he's much cleverer than average but is really scared that nobody else has noticed. And I know those guys in real life; I don't need to read their story.
Autumn by Ali Smith*
I've loved Ali Smith for years - ever since stumbling across Free Love back in 1998 - but, to be totally honest, I didn't have a clue what was going on in The Accidental and I've been putting off reading How to be Both for about a year in case it left me with the same vague sense of not being smart enough. So I was hesitant to read this. Especially as the description on Amazon implies you need a degree in English ("Keatsian melancholy" and "Shakespearian jeu d'esprit", anybody?) to wade your way through it. In fact, it was a surprisingly quick and - in that sense - easy read. It's an undeniably intelligent novel and, if you've not got a degree in English but would quite like one, there's enough subtext in it to get you through your dissertation, but at no point did it feel inaccessible. Instead, I felt drawn into the characters' lives and, in particular, Daniel's shaping of stories. This is something rather special.
It Was You by Jo Platt*
Alice's friends want to set her up on dates. Not that any of them have their love lives together - within her close knit group there are wobbly marriages, serial monogamy and an eternal singleton. Which all makes this sound like run-of-the-mill chick lit. Which it's not. These characters are written convincingly and with utter affection; they've got their quirks but they love one another nonetheless (and I grew quite fond of them, too); the plot seems lightweight but it's large and complex and cleverly makes its point (although it does then explain the point in an epilogue...). There are no surprises in store - you can guess from the first chapter who's going to have a happy ending with whom - but it's a fun journey, following along with Alice and her friends. One I would happily read again.
*Provided for review