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January Reading Round-Up

I hope you’ve all survived January! It’s gone pretty quickly for me, and I’ve now been back at work longer than I was on holiday for. Those days of lie-ins and lounging about reading all morning are but a distant memory. *sigh*

But, I have managed to read quite a few books despite that (the January social calendar is usually pretty slow!), as well as catch up on a couple of films and TV series I’ve been wanting to watch for a while.

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Books read in January:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | Review
The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti
Stoner by John Williams | Review
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell | Review
The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern | Review coming soon
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth (proof read for work)

Films watched:

The Thirteenth Tale | Based on Diane Setterfield’s book (read my review here)
American Hustle
(On this note, I also featured on my blog a list of my top 10 book adaptations which was good fun collating)

I’ve been watching the first three seasons of Downton Abbey which is wonderful (it’s become a bit of an obsession) – I can’t quite believe it took me so long to get into it! I’ve also been watching season 2 of the quirky and clever Swedish/Danish crime series The Bridge, I think the characters have developed even more and I’m really enjoying it. What else? Sherlock! I loved the first and third episodes in the new series (wasn’t so keen on the second one) but it’s all over already – how long do we have to wait until the next series, hmm…?

In February, I’m mainly looking forward to the gradually lighter mornings, taking part for the second time in the Literary Blog Hop Giveaway (running from the 4th-8th of February), watching the film adaptation of The Book Thief, wine tasting at Divino Enoteca and tree top climbing at Go Ape.

I’m not sure quite what I’ll be reading yet, but some of my potential reads are:

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (definitely will be an at-home read as it’s far too weighty to cart around in my handbag!)
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Souief (I picked this up at a Book Swap event in my work during Book Week Scotland)
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (I won this as part of the Literary Blog Hop giveaway back in 2012 and thought there was no better time to read it than in the run-up to the next one!)

What about everyone else? Got any exciting plans coming up in February?

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Book Review: Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

HEATWAVEInstructions for a Heatwave is another book that seemed to have a lots of buzz about it in 2013 when it came out (see my recent review of Stoner by John Williams for all the buzz about that). Originally published in hardback at the beginning of the year, the paperback followed fairly quickly and was published in the same year (it was picked for the Richard & Judy Autumn 2013 Book Club). Maggie O’Farrell is a writer that, for me, seems to straddle the gap between chick lit (brr, horrible term) and literary fiction – I read her novel The Hand That First Held Mine (which won the Costa Novel award in 2010) a few years ago and although I enjoyed it, I found it lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. I’m sorry to say that Instructions for a Heatwave left me with a similar feeling of ‘meh’.

Blurb from the publisher

‘It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children – two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce – back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share.’

The story starts out well, setting the scene as Robert disappears, a normal morning, except the heatwave has been going on for weeks and people are starting to go crazy. The children start to gather back round the family home, and I particularly enjoyed the parts concerning Aoife who returns home from New York. It wasn’t a surprise to me after reading these sections that O’Farrell had been inspired and influenced by Colm Tóibín’s wonderful novel Brooklyn.

The other characters just didn’t feel fleshed out enough however, and I wanted more depth to them. For example, Michael Francis’s relationship with his wife, and in particular her breakdown, just didn’t seem real to me – it felt like his ‘problem’. Because each of the characters has to have a ‘problem’. For Aoife, it’s her learning disability which she feels ashamed of and tries to hide; for Monica, (she gets two) it is her struggle to endear herself to her stepdaughters, and the secret of why she split from her first husband, Joe; and for Gretta, it’s a secret that she’s been hiding from everyone for quite some time and isn’t ready to reveal yet. I wanted there to be fewer characters to focus on, or more time to spend with them to find out what made them tick. I wanted the heatwave to make them act crazy, to do things they wouldn’t normally do and for the reader to be challenged a bit more.

There are some nice episodes in it, and I do enjoy O’Farrell’s style of writing as it’s both lyrical and accessible. But the plot seems to get a bit lost in the characters’ various ‘problems’, and it seems to get completely forgotten at points that their father has gone AWOL and, in fact, there seems to be a general lack of sentimentality when they talk about him, poor man. He is but a plot device to bring the family back together and to bring their secrets out into the open. What was his name, again?

The ending in Ireland is a bit twee and inconclusive. It doesn’t really give many answers, not in that good way where part of the fun on the reader’s part is deciding what happens for yourself, but in an ‘oh well, that’s that over I suppose’ kind of way that fails to leave much of a lasting impression. I feel like I’m being rather hard on it, it’s not really a bad book (and an awful lot better than a lot of fiction out there marketed to women), but it just falls a bit flat and I had expected a lot more given the buzz. All that said, I really did love the cover! (I never know if you’re meant to consider that in a review…)

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