The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Bestseller; tackles racism and sexism; celebrates female friendships; made into a film. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Should have been something I loved. But it felt hollow to me. The first half felt contrived - "here's the point I want to make; here's a structure with which to make it; forget whether or not it rings true for these characters". Come to that, the lead character felt two dimensional, too. I felt a bit icky about a white writer writing about a white character being absorbed into a wacky black family. And then there was the religious sect with all its made up mantras and rituals which, to me, felt like some sort of teenage silliness, doing magical spells to find out whether or not your crush was going to marry you. This book tackles such big issues that I hate to so completely dismiss it but it felt very clunky to me.
Shine On, Marquee Moon by Zoë Howe*
Okay, I read this book because it was by an established music writer who focuses on my kind of tunes - I was absolutely hoping for an insider take on the tour bus. And that's what I got. But. But... it seemed such a lost little book, not sure whether it was trying to be a comedy farce, chick lit or a gritty exposé of big egos and heroin addiction (and, frankly, discovering your partner is hooked on heroin didn't seem like great subject matter for a light-hearted comedy). It also irritated me that the whole book was written in the first person by somebody who wasn't in the room a lot of the time - how did she know what happened and what was said and the details of what other people thought?! It felt clunky. So... yeah... it was an okay beach read (tour bus read? on the train to a gig read?) but don't bother unless you can borrow it from a friend.
Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan*
Is every sentence in this book supposed to be as baffling as a mirror maze? I got tired of the already tired metaphors and the meandering imagery. I've no idea where the book ended up heading, which is a shame as it seemed like it might have been somewhere quite interesting.
In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie*
FINALLY! I was starting to wonder if it was me, not them, but FINALLY there was a book I liked this month. In fact, I loved it. Even if it did make me cry. Several times. It's the book I wish my book group had read instead of The Secret Life of Bees - and I say that because it involves a bunch of ten year old girls making up secret religious rituals as a form of bonding (and sometimes bullying). They're a bunch of ten year old girls whose parents are missionaries in China in the late 1930s/early 1940s; the girls are growing up in a boarding school set up specifically so the missionaries could carry on with their work, unencumbered by offspring. The book starts off with their almost comically childish silliness but, with each chapter, the lead character's loneliness grows; she's becoming alienated from her classmates at the same time as the Japanese invade China, their troops marching ever closer to the children in the school. Yes, this book is an emotional read, but it's deftly done - heartbreaking and beautiful, all at once. Highly recommended.
*Provided for review.