Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina

‘Gods and Beasts’ is my March reading group book. It tells of the reality of living in the corrupt world of Glasgow, Scotland where webs of lies and deceit entangle even the most innocent of characters.

I am somewhat ambivalent about this story, unable to decide if I thought it was brilliant or awful. It has several threads to the plot so that at times, remembering names is a pain and the narrative feels fractured. However, that may be a deliberate technique to illustrate the fissures in honesty and society in general.

With so many characters, none felt particularly well developed, but this might be my reaction as a reader not having read the earlier work involving DI Alex Morrow. I thought some of the sexual references were distasteful but probably served well to illustrate the setting of the text. I also found the use of direct speech didn’t sufficiently well signpost the speakers so that it wasn’t always clear which speaker had made which comment.

The narrative is well resolved, with enough left for future Alex Morrow books to pick up. I wouldn’t read this again and I wouldn’t go back to read earlier Alex Morrow books, but I would read the next in the series.

Guilt trip

Anyone else out there feel guilty if they don’t finish a book? I’ve had a reading hiatus for almost a week where the book I was supposed to be reading for my reading group stared accusingly at me and made me feel so guilty that I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t finish it that I couldn’t read anything else either. Sinclair Mc Kay’s book ‘The Secret Listeners’ evoked a very wide range of responses this month at my reading group. The follow up to ‘The Secret Life of Bletchley Park’ this text told the story of those young men and women stationed around the world who listened to enemy messages and decoded them around the clock, providing invaluable information that helped to win the Second World War. We all agreed that we learnt a great deal about the times and we were filled with admiration for those whose story was told. A couple in the group loved the book. Rather more of us found the disjointed writing style, small print and occasionally patronising tone somewhat off putting and many of us didn’t finish it. It did, however, lead to a very varied discussion with topics covering eras BC to the present day.

New reading group book is ‘Gods and Beasts’ by Denise Mina and I’m already gripped.

The Villa Girls by Nicky Pellegrino

A few years old now, this book was one I received when I swapped texts with another reader. Set mainly both in London and Italy it concerns four girls with very different personalities who holiday together in a villa each year. As a result of these holidays, the recently orphaned Rosie falls in love with olive grower Enzo.

The writing style is as good as Victoria Hislop or similar authors but I found the pace of The Villa Girls frustratingly slow and it seemed to take two thirds of the book to establish the characters. The plot only really began for me about a third before the end.

However, if you want a book that really evokes Italy and food then this is worth a read. The descriptions of meals and cooking are detailed and precise so that you can really picture what is thee on the plate. Unfortunately, I felt this element was overdone and became irritated by the constant references to the food even though cooking, eating, photographing and writing about food are essential elements of the book.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes if you’re holidaying in Italy and want to capture the feel of the country or you’re on a beach and want something light to read. Would I read it again? No.