Quick book picks for February

Escape the bleakness of February with some new books. Many of my choices are tackling some hard-hitting subjects in varied and interesting ways. Titles link to full reviews as usual.

  • The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara – A raw novel about LGBT life in NYC from the 1970s to the 1990s that weaves together characters whilst placing them firmly in real LGBT history (a good pick for February being UK LGBT History Month).
  • The Hoarder by Jess Kidd – The story of a woman who works as a carer for an eccentric old man and is drawn into the mystery surrounding him in his weird house.
  • Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan – A road trip tragicomedy about friends dealing with PTSD, war, and traumatic childhood events, which often feels like a specific kind of indie film.
  • Home by Amanda Berriman – This novel about the housing crisis and sexual assault told from the point of view of a four-year-old is a tough but also sweet look at life using a distinctive voice.
  • Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh – A quirky book about food and eating, with a style that won’t suit everyone but will appeal to Tandoh’s many Twitter fans.

The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

Unexpected characters: The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

The Hoarder is an intriguing and mysterious novel about a psychic carer who ends up drawn into the life of a strange old man. Maud Drennan faces the difficult challenge of helping the cantankerous Cathal Flood in his huge, ram-packed home in West London. He has scared off all the carers who have come before and lives with a menagerie of cats, a fox, and a few ghosts of the past. Soon Maud finds herself trying to work out what happened in the house and what the secrets of the Floods are, aided only by her agoraphobic landlady Renata and a legion of unhelpful ghostly saints.

Kidd blends Catholicism, mystery, and runaway girls in a narrative that develops interesting characters as the protagonist tries to unravel past secrets. Maud is headstrong and determined, but with a past of her own, and her battles with Cathal form much of the book’s premise. Her landlady Renata, an agoraphobic trans woman with a stage show past, is great as she eggs on Maud to see murder and conspiracy everywhere, and then helps her answer the real questions posed by what Maud finds. The plot is tense, but it is the characters that make the novel, even down to the saint ghosts that only Maud can see and who are generally completely useless.

From the premise, I wasn’t sure how enjoyable the book would be, as it didn’t sound hugely exciting or new. However, Kidd’s skilful combination of tense mystery and varied characters meant that it was an easy read to devour, that leaves the reader guessing the answers and appreciating the detail.