What I Read in March

Spring update, continued. March is the best month: it has my birthday, International Women’s Day, World Book Day, Crufts, and, this year, London Book Fair! Also, I read some books, which I’m sure you’re just dying to hear my opinions on, so let’s get to that:

25458747TRUTH OR DARE by Non Pratt – A new Non book is a veritable event, and I was delighted to get a proof of this, a tale of tragedy, YouTube, and unlikely romance. Predictably brilliant but brilliantly unpredictable. When it comes to contemporary YA, Non Pratt is truly one of the best. (Proper review to come closer to publication date!)

coverHOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi – Epic in scale, this sweeping novel follows seven generations of family, beginning with two half-sisters in eighteen century Ghana. Homegoing is unflinching in its portrayal of the horrors of slavery, and the continuing weight of that history. As might be expected, it’s difficult to hear at times, but it is luminous and compelling as anything I’ve ever read. The way the ties between ancestor and descendant stretch but never snap is an almost elementally powerful concept, and Gyasi successfully juggles fourteen separate voices living very different lives whilst making sure their stories are woven together subtly but effectively, making the novel more than a sum of its parts. Homegoing is brilliant and unforgettable, and I can’t wait to see what Gyasi does next.

25699515ORANGEBOY by Patrice Lawrence – I loved this tough, pacy YA novel, and… so did everyone else! I’m so pleased to see Patrice being handed accolades left right and centre. Marlon is a (mostly) sweet kid who gets caught up in his older brother’s world of gangs and danger when an innocent date at the fair ends badly. This is quite unlike a lot of contemporary YA I’ve read, but a good way, with the plot keeping me anxiously turning pages until the end. Marlon is a very likeable main character, even as he keeps making decisions you know aren’t going to work out for him. The supporting characters are great too, and the librarian mum is a fine addition to the growing canon of actually-present-and-parenting YA parents.

the_jungleTHE JUNGLE by Pooja Puri – The inaugural title of new YA imprint Ink Road, Pooja Puri’s debut had a fair amount riding on it. That’s without considering the heavy subject matter. The Jungle is a YA novel about the Calais refugee and migrant encampment. The writing is understatedly lovely, and the depiction of the situation these people have found themselves in – its essential, inhumane unfairness – is deftly done. I would have liked to know more about the characters’ backgrounds, but perhaps the point is that now they are in the Jungle, they are seen as residents of the Jungle, not as whoever they were in the past. The twists and turns the plot takes are unexpected, and Pooja avoids writing an easy narrative. Overall, this is a story that will make you think, without the get-out of a neat resolution.

CHASINGTHESTARS_9780857531414_JKTCHASING THE STARS by Malorie Blackman – I DNF’ed this when I first tried to read it. It had such an excellent pitch – Othello in space! Othello is a black teenage girl! – but I’m not sure it ever lived up to it. Longer review to come as part of my YA Book Prize shadowing.

33016783THE ESSEX SERPENT by Sarah Perry – Newly widowed Cora Seaborne moves to Essex and hears the tale of the Essex Serpent, rumoured to be terrorising the parish of Aldwinter. Will Ransome, man of the cloth, has no truck with the tall tales of mythical creatures, but that’s only one thing of many he finds to disagree over with Cora. It took me some time to get into this, but once I was in, I was in ALL THE WAY. What a big, sexy, clever, lovely book. It’s about the monsters of love and desire… and also science, socialism, sensation. I couldn’t wait to get back to Aldwinter every time I went back to the book. Every character feels like a friend, and I miss them already.

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What I Read in February

Looks like I spoke too soon about the returning vitality of this blog! But spring is here, the daffodils are nodding their yellow heads, and I have read a few books that I want to talk to you all about, so let’s go. (Here’s February, with March to come shortly.)

16109340I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson – I know this is a favourite for a lot of people. I listened to the audiobook, and griped a lot about the “English” accents I was therefore subjected to, but overall I enjoyed this book a lot. I love Jandy Nelson’s distinctive prose style. It elevates her books above the generic US contemporary mold and makes them a little more magical. In I’ll Give You The Sun, the story is told in a non-linear way by two sibling narrators, and I really enjoyed this, especially the way it digged deep into the characters and the way they changed over the years. People change so gradually for the most part, we can’t see how different we’ve become until we compare ourselves against ourselves two, three years ago. Mostly, the book is about family and truth, and how we keep secrets from those we love the most, or even from ourselves. It’s a totally charming book with all sorts of lovely and unconventional family dynamics. Thoroughly recommended.

1000x2000THE ARGONAUTS by Maggie Nelson – This beautifully lucid examination of sex, gender, birth, death, and everything else had me feeling rather smarter just by merit of owning it. Nelson has a wonderful brain and a compelling way with words. It stood out to me more as a startlingly personal piece of autobiography rather than a work of theory, as I have already discussed and thought about gender in complex ways during my academic career. Yet there is something so vital about a woman talking frankly about her body and the miracles and pleasures it can perform. You cannot read this book without your intellect and empathy being expanded, and isn’t that exactly what literature is for?

downloadSTILL by Nadine Aisha – A poetry collection about survival, and giving voice to the experience of being a woman in a world still so steeped in gendered violence. I’m basically a big Nadine Aisha fangirl. Moving, honest, bare and beautiful. If you have the chance to see the poet perform her work, leap at it. Her words form a quiet, powerful place for the reader to reflect and endure: to be still.

Farizan_IfYouCould_pbk_rgb_jkt_2MB_HR_WEBIF YOU COULD BE MINE by Sara Farizan – Heartbreaking and candid, this novel gives voice to a gay teen in Iran, in hopeless love with her childhood best friend. I enjoyed the frank tone of the narrator, and the brief window into what is in some ways a very different culture (and in other ways, not so much).

NASTY WOMEN edited by 404 Ink – The consistent quality of this essay collection is just staggering, as is the incredible spectrum of issues it covers. This should be required reading for every human being, especially men. Saying that, I found something new in every essay, even those about issues on which I already considered myself informed. Special shout-outs for Laura Waddell’s piece on the invisibility of the working-class narrative, Rowan C Clarke’s heartbreaking essay revealing homophobia to be alive and well, and Alice Tarbuck’s quietly subversive celebration of bf31247696521029a6d876ecb6d8216e_originalwitchcraft. I’ve been particularly passionate lately about the idea that when we, as women, speak out about our own experiences, what we are doing at the same time is carving out a space for other women to speak. Nasty Women is carving out a bloody huge space for women’s voices, and thank goodness for that.

 

What I Read in January

Don’t look now, but this blog might slowly… sleepily… on wobbly legs… be emerging from its slumber. Might. I might also just be laid up in bed, feeling grumpy about my achey face, and wanting to do something halfway productive.

I’ve been reading a lot less since starting my masters degree, because I’ve, y’know, got other things on. Also, I don’t take the train anywhere near as often. Look, there are excuses to be made and I’m making ’em. The upshot? I read four books last month, which puts me comfortably on track for reading fifty in the year.

labyrinth-lost-final-coverLABYRINTH LOST by Zoraida Córdova – Alex is the strongest bruja in her generation, but she hates magic and blames it for everything going wrong in her life. Unfortunately, magic this strong won’t be denied, and when she tries she ends up disappearing her whole noisy, complicated, loving family. This YA fantasy has a lot of elements I appreciate deeply: the whole cast is Latinx, and the main character is bisexual. There’s an interracial f/f romance where neither character is white! The system of magic and mythology are all intriguing and inspired by the author’s own culture. This is witchcraft as you might not have encountered it before. I loved the matriarchal vibes of Alex’s community: not having female siblings myself, I’m always fascinated by fictional sisters, and apparently the second book in the series is going to be about the eldest sister Lula, which is exciting. Overall, LABYRINTH LOST is a solid first instalment with a great premise, though I hope we get some fleshing out of Alex and Rishi’s relationship – or even just of Rishi, to be honest – in the next book.

0308_WATERSTONES_Butchers Hook_Bpb.inddTHE BUTCHER’S HOOK by Janet Ellis – Anne is a young women in Georgian society, and is therefore powerless. She is fated to marry the odious Onions, but she is in love – obsessive, consuming, bloody love – with Fub, the butcher’s boy. The novel is told through Anne’s voice throughout, and she is sharp and morbidly funny, an enjoyably twisted creation. The cleaving of flesh – sex, birth, death, butchery – is the theme here, and Anne’s sexual awakenings are intimately tied with her murderous ones. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say she kills more than once. The first murder takes place in a truly extraordinary extended scene, narrated with such pitch black hilarity that I had to read lines out loud to the people around me at times. (I’m fun at parties.) I found the novel uneven as a whole; it isn’t quite virtuosic enough to pull off its dark trick of a protagonist, but it is enjoyable and entertaining, if very weird.

thepowerTHE POWER by Naomi Alderman – Teenage girls start to gain the power to create electricity – suddenly, they can hurt and even kill with ease. Naturally, all hell breaks loose. There is a lot of buzz, if you’ll permit the pun, around this book. Around December, everyone on my Twitter feed was recommending it. I finally decided to listen to it on Audible, having had that specifically recommended at least twice, too. I’m still having mixed feelings about it; it’s very smart, often exciting and tense, but I think suffers from its characters mostly being conduits for ideas rather than feeling like people. And yet, as I walked along listening, there were certain characters I would tell (out loud) to eff off. I remember listening to a particularly agonising scene on my walk to school on a Monday, and feeling devastated. I wanted to talk about this book all the time. I would give my very patient girlfriend summaries of what happened today, and how worried I was for so-and-so, and how insightful this analogy was. THE POWER is brilliant. I am sure I will be thinking about it for a very long time. You should read it and talk to me about it, though I’m sure the conversation will be mostly nodding enthusiastically and being amazed at how clever the author is.

23513349MILK AND HONEY by Rupi Kaur – Raw but tender collection of poetry about pain, love, and survival. Honestly, I think most of the really good poems in here were ones I’d seen before on tumblr – the author is a bit of an internet celebrity – but I enjoyed the collection. I can see why it has resonated with so many readers. There is authenticity and honesty in the poet’s voice, with every piece so deeply personal that it is able to communicate directly with the reader. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read the collection in one sitting, as the style gets a bit monotonous after a while. Poetry is memorable speech, according to Auden, and there is some truly memorable speech to be found here, especially in the poems about identity and body image.

What I Read in June

Long time no blog, but I’ve had a busy old month. I’m sitting on some exciting news, and also I’ve been on holiday and also I’m in YALC prep mood. (That’s a lie, I’m never prepped for anything.) More seriously, it’s been a hell of a news week/month/year. Strength and solidarity to the lot of you book people, and everyone else. Let’s get through the second half of 2016 and call it a win, yeah?

What did I read in June, then?

CAM GIRL by Leah Raeder: I thought this had a lot of really great, fascinating things to say on gender, sex, and identity, and a central ‘ship that in theory I should’ve been way into. All the twists were super obvious, though, which may or may not affect your enjoyment of a story. Also it was a bit melodramatic for my tastes. Elliot Wake (as the author is now known) writes dark stories in a uniquely poetic voice about sexy queer people, though, so I’m gonna keep reading his books.

THE LAST SUMMER OF US by Maggie Harcourt: A bit of an odd one, this – as an attempt to transplant the USYA wacky road trip story into Wales, it mostly succeeds thanks to a charming cast and a delightful slow burn romance. It’s also really sad. If you like emotions, banter, and ostriches, this is the UKYA book for you.

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THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware: I took this to read on my holiday and ended up devouring it on the plane. It’s a gripping, atmospheric mystery that takes place almost entirely on an exclusive cruise ship. There are some ace twists, and I thought the writing was much improved from Ware’s first book, the very well-received In A Dark, Dark Wood. (I enjoyed that book, but the characters’ motivations were ludicrous IMO.) Would definitely recommend to thriller fans. One of the characters had the same name as a certain BRIT award-winning indie-folk artist I’ve seen live three times, which was distracting.

RAW – A WILL/HANNIBAL FANTHOLOGY: I loved this so much. I read it lying on a sun lounger by the pool, sipping cocktails, and I honestly felt I was living my best life. Only the Hannibal fandom could produce something so delicious, dark, romantic, and beautiful. #SaveWillGraham

ANIMORPHS #1 – #8 and MEGAMORPHS #1 by K.A. Applegate: June marked the 20th anniversary of Animorphs #1: The Invasion. I started my third reread of the series while I was on holiday with three friends who have also read the whole series. (Interestingly? They all read it as adults.) I had somehow forgotten just how dark it is. Also funny, scary, smart, moving, everything. p.s. Ax is absolutely bae.

DIETLAND by Sarai Walker: Easily one of my favourite books of 2016. Anarchic, angry, smart, brilliant. I expected the vigilante justice to be a bigger part of the book but Plum’s coming of age was my favourite part, so I didn’t mind Jennifer taking a backseat. I hope Dietland gets passed on to young women who need it, just as Plum passes on books to her girls. It’s cathartic and tragic at the same time. Dietland makes the political deeply, devastatingly personal.

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THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson: I bought the Zoella book club edition of this because I thought the cover was gorgeous. People always talk very highly of Nelson’s books and I thought this was a very pretty book but UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT: I found it kinda boring. It’s so hard to care about straight YA romances between quirky white kids any more. That said, I loved all the poetry.

END OF WATCH by Stephen King: I don’t even know what to say about a Stephen King book. I read it, King’s prose is like a pair of slippers for my brain, the characters are all endearing, the villains are villainous, the horror horrible. Old Man King does not understand social media and it’s adorable. I cried at the end.

THE HIDDEN ORACLE by Rick Riordan: I’m gonna level with you, I’ve not read anything by Riordan since I was a teen myself. I barely know what’s going on in this book (I’ve not finished it yet). I’m just reading it because a girl at the library was reading it and she was SUPER PSYCHED about it and about NICO/WILL and I want to be able to talk to her about it.

May Book Haul & minireviews

I’m usually dreadful at remembering what book came into my possession when, because DESPITE working in a library, I am no diligent cataloguer of books. This month I decided I would keep all my May purchases together, so I could show ’em off.

It’s too dark in my house to take nice pictures, so here’s a dark picture:

May Book Haul

BOUGHT NEW: Girl Up by Laura Bates and Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

CHARITY SHOPPED: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger

KICKSTARTED SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, FINALLY ARRIVED FROM USA: RAW a Hannibal/Will fanthology by various

I’m excited about all of these books but RAW is so gorgeous. It’s absurd that I own a hardback book of Hannibal fanfiction, but I didn’t know what OTP meant until I shipped Hannibal/Will, and also it came with an enamel pin of a heart, like, I’m sorry but I LOVE IT SO MUCH. THIS THING OF DARKNESS I ACKNOWLEDGE MINE.

It’s a travesty I haven’t already read The Little Stranger, and I’ve heard good things about Not Forgetting the Whale. While I don’t read much nonfiction, I do like to read about feminism, and Laura Bates’ book is beautifully designed and charming. I’ve been looking forward to Kill the Boy Band since the beginning of the year, so when I spotted it in Foyles I picked it up immediately.

DISCLAIMER: I will not read any of these books until about August 2017 because who actually reads the books they buy???


WHAT I READ THIS MONTH:

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood: Summer-drenched, great characters and sense of place, timey-wimey nonsense didn’t quite work for me. #ThisIsWhoIAm

The Green Road by Anne Enright: Funny and acutely observed, with sentences so gorgeously constructed I had to read them four or five times.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild: Lively and lovely, a sparkling reminder that art is the most important thing in the world.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury: review here

Ruby by Cynthia Bond: A tour de force of horror and rare beauty. I don’t have the words but I’m glad Cynthia Bond does.

One by Sarah Crossan: review here

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie: Sharply absurd, funny, clever. Too many squirrels. I don’t know if I just wasn’t in the mood for this, but I absolutely dragged myself through it.

2016 so far, in bullet points

Time is slip-slipping away, and it feels like the only productive thing I’ve done for the past couple of weeks is listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. I have actually been up to things, out there in the real world, so here’s a quick update:

  • January saw the inaugural meeting of the Raven Boys Book Club. We’re planning to (re)read all three books in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle in time for the much-anticipated release of THE RAVEN KING in April. Desserts were eaten, drinks imbibed, and Gansey maligned. I have now seen the beauty and glory of the US hardback editions of the books and am horribly tempted to order my own copies… (Hey, it’s my birthday in March!) The next meeting is scheduled for the end of February, and we will be discussing THE DREAM THIEVES. Tweet us discussion points, or something!
  • As per my promise to reread some books, I read PRISONER OF AZKABAN and GOBLET OF FIRE. I have… so many… feelings… and this year is a very good year to be excited about Harry Potter all over again! Stay tuned for my brand new thoughts on Arthur Weasley, probably.
  • Last Saturday was National Libraries Day, and Wednesday 10th February was Coventry Central Library’s 30th birthday! All libraries, all the time. The Guardian published a great piece from an anonymous public librarian here, and everything I said in this interview with Lauren James last summer remains true.
  • I’ve had my first review quoted in an actual printed book! I’m incredibly honoured that my handful of words share the same pages as the thousands of wonderful words that make up Sara Barnard’s BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS. It’s an absolutely stunning book – my copy arrived today and I’ve been flicking through it and getting engrossed all over again.

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  • I also had the pleasure of meeting lovely Lu Hersey yesterday! Sadly, I didn’t get to see her talk at Kenilworth Books, but we did have a good potter around the charity shops and I bought an awesome edition of a Susan Cooper book for 70p from The Tree House Bookshop!

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So as you can see, it’s been all go on my end! With the announcement of the Carnegie longlist imminent and the YA Book Prize shortlist not long after that, it’s not like the pace is letting up any time soon. And I did promise some posts about female friendship sometime this month… If I’m not too busy celebrating Galetine’s and Valentine’s, that is.

 

Top Ten Reads of 2015 (part two)

Top Ten Reads of 2015 (part one)

For the sake of symmetry, I’ve split my top ten 5/5 and if you have any problems with my life choices, you can fight me. Here’s the second set of five books I read and loved this year.

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GEORGE by Alex Gino
Affecting, sweet, moving and important, George is the story of a trans girl who really wants to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web. It rings with authenticity as a trans story told by a trans author. I want to put this book into the hands of as many people as I can, because it is important without feeling worthy; it’s a little-heard story expressed with the utmost feeling.

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OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS by Claire Fuller
A book as dark, hypnotic, lush as the wilderness. Peggy is eight when her survivalist father takes her into the woods to live in die Hütte, telling her the rest of the world has been destroyed. Peggy’s coming-of-age, the abuse she suffers, and her eventual return to the world are all brilliantly told, but it’s the imagery that’s stayed with me: the trees, the river, the chasm of the ended world, the silent piano.

A Darker Shade final for Irene

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab
I’m not much of a fantasy reader but I was so glad to have picked this up. It’s exciting, pacy and inventive and left me desperate for the next instalment. Kell’s travels through alternate Londons are just a whole lot of fun, and there are pirates and great outfits. What’s not to love? I think the cities are the true stars, but I’m a fan of bisexual royalty Rhy, too.

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A GOD IN RUINS by Kate Atkinson
I loved Life After Life, and this was the companion novel, following Ursula’s beloved little brother Teddy. It’s an immense character study and honestly I would read a book on each of the Todds, vividly drawn and appealing as they are. A God in Ruins is often devastating, in its domestic intricacies (such as Teddy’s relationship with his daughter and her children) as much as in its powerful WW2 writing. It’s a rich, sad book to live in for a few weeks; to feel deeply.

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A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara
Three months later, I still think about Jude St Francis. I can only quote from my review, written minutes after finishing the book in floods of tears: “A Little Life is devastatingly romantic. It made me want to call my friends and tell them I love them. It’s eloquent on loss, trauma, and grief but also on friendship, kindness, and love. I’m giving this book five stars not because it’s flawless but because the ways it made me think and feel were so profound. I was dreading reading this; I was expecting a slog. Instead I have confirmed my belief in literature as a tool for learning empathy. I read A Little Life obsessively and cried a lot, and now my own life feels a little fuller.” Have I been manipulated? Probably. Is it an experience I would recommend to others? Probably not. Am I glad I read this book? Yes, yes, yes.