I thought it would be fun to start off with a book I find hard to describe rather than one I just loved. The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams is definitely one of those that is not easily defined. I didn't love the book, but...I didn't hate it either. I found it interesting and thought provoking in ways I did not expect.
The setting of the novel is London in the Summer of 1840. The story revolves around a strange young lady with a dark past who is living with her uncle. There is someone who is killing young women during this long, hot summer, and the protagonist feels a type of connection with the killer in her mind. She thinks she can figure out who the murderer is and why he is killing these women. Think of a mixture between Henry James' Turn of the Screw (with less detail), Jack the Ripper, and a dash of that "Upstairs, Downstairs/Downton Abbey" type thing.
The book kept me reading, I did find it interesting, but - I can't help but point this out - I found some of the relations between some of the characters a bit...shocking? No, "shocking" is too much. Perhaps, I should say, a bit odd? Not because I doubt the validity of such things throughout history, as they have gone on since the beginning of time, but...I guess I never thought of it in the context of Victorian London. I never asked myself about the types of things that went on behind closed ladies' bedroom doors or in servants' quarters. Don't get the wrong idea, the whole book isn't wallowing in it, but when it did pop up, it surprised me. I wasn't expecting it based on what I knew about the novel before I read it. It also makes it a book I wouldn't recommend to every person I know. Some people are open-minded enough to accept things like that as a part of the story, and a fact of life, and go on with it. Other people, well,...they don't handle it so well. I have friends and family on both sides of that literary wall. In other words, while I would have no trouble recommending it to most of my friends, I would not recommend it to my mother. Understand?
And, speaking of recommendations, if you are a fan of historical fiction and murder mysteries, you may enjoy this book. It won't be the best book you ever read, but it is a good book. I'm glad I read it. I wouldn't put it at the top of your list, but maybe in the middle. However, I should warn you, if you're a reader who doesn't like shifts in the narration throughout the book, you may want to skip this one. It happens fairly frequently and, to her credit, the author states it was on purpose to make you feel as confused and uncertain as the protagonist. I get that. I even appreciate it. However, I know some of my friends that wouldn't want to read it just for that reason.
Last, but not least, if it helps to say how I feel about this slightly odd duck, I liked it enough to look up some of Kate Williams' other books. The Pleasures of Men was her fictional debut, but she's written other types of books before this one, and she's written some since. In fact, I'm already interested in reading the biography she wrote on Josephine Bonaparte. I guess that says there's something about Williams' style that I like and want to enjoy again.
Happy reading! :)