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.

HIATUS

I know, I know, it’s not as if this blog ever had a regular posting schedule anyway, but I’m going to put it into hibernation for the next couple of months. (Okay, I might pop back up with some 2016 round-up posts, because they are irresistible. You all need to know my favourite ships of 2016, I’m pretty sure.)

I’m going to go away and think about how best to reshape this blog so that it looks great and more closely aligns with my passions, goals, and #aesthetic.

I’m still going to blog about YA, don’t you worry.

See you later. Here’s a #shelfie to tide you over. Tell me what I should read next!

 

Sarah in Scotland: week one

It’s been a week since I moved to Edinburgh to start my masters in publishing and I have already learnt so much.

Like, what square sausage is. And the name of the highest mountain in Canada. I’ve met dozens of Italians. I’ve already had two Ridacards. (The current one has a much, much better ID picture than the first one did.)

Most importantly, I have learnt that I now live in the greatest city in the world (the greatest city in the world!). Admittedly, I am comparing it mainly to Coventry, but every day I’ve spent in Edinburgh I have felt delighted and lucky to be in such an amazing place.

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I’ve already started work as a bookseller, joined the Society of Young Publishers, and attended an author event (with the lovely Laura Lam and Elizabeth May). I’ve met the rest of my cohort, or as I like to think of us, 40 rising stars of publishing.

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Today was my first day of school. It was very strange to be sat back in a lecture theatre. I didn’t know if that would ever happen to me again, but here I am. I’m ready to learn. I’m ready to drink vats of coffee and publish some books. Look out, Scottish publishing! I’m here!

things about which I am a dork

Inspired by this blog post about the podcast The Dork Forest, my buddy Lauren challenged me to pick my top four candidates for stuff I could talk about for a really long time and not get bored even though everyone else would be super bored like whoa.

Now, I am quite an enthusiastic person. I am earnest. I enjoy things wholeheartedly. Even my ironic pleasures are actually secretly just things I really like. I like liking things!!! And this is a quality I enjoy a lot in other people. Even if I have no interest whatsoever in Royal Mail Christmas stamps since 2003, if you care about the subject so much that your eyes light up when there’s an opportunity to semi-naturally bring it up in conversation, I care about it too, okay? At least a tiny bit. (If I like you.) Fandom is a joyous thing, absolutely not to be left as an embarrassing relic of one’s teenage years. And fandom runs deep. In this blog post, I will reveal my four chosen dorkdom obsessions. In doing so I will also be revealing four fragments of my very soul.

In no particular order…

Continue reading “things about which I am a dork”

YA Shot Blog Tour: an interview with Anna McKerrow

Today I’m delighted to welcome Anna McKerrow onto the blog. Anna’s debut YA novel, CROW MOON, came out the day before my birthday in 2015, which I absolutely considered a portent of good things to come. This stormy, sexy tale of witchcraft in a near-future time of disastrous climate change proved irresistible, and thankfully I only had to wait a year before the next instalment, RED WITCH. As we count down the days (okay, weeks? months?) to the final book of the Greenworld trilogy, I took the chance to quiz Anna about writing, magic, and the wonders of UKYA.

YA SHOT BANNER SIDE

This post is part of the YA Shot Blog Tour. YA Shot is a one-day annual festival based in the centre of Uxbridge (London). The 2016 festival will take place on Saturday 22nd October 2016. YA Shot is run in partnership with Hillingdon Borough Libraries and Waterstone’s Uxbridge. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s event and had a splendid time, and it’s all in support of libraries and young people too!

Anyway… on to the interview! See how quickly you can guess the theme the questions are based around…

Continue reading “YA Shot Blog Tour: an interview with Anna McKerrow”

YALC 2016 round up part three

Sarah likes books

It’s the third and final instalment of my YALC recap! HURRAY.

Post-Potter, we were both tired out, so we didn’t get to YALC until later in the morning. Probably my favourite part was seeing everyone in appropriate Hogwarts regalia! Confusingly, I, a Ravenclaw, was dressed in Gryffindor colours to be Neville (I had a toad in my pocket) accompanying my girlfriend, a Hufflepuff, dressed as Luna Lovegood. The wizarding world is complicated, man.

some adorable Luna Lovegood at #YALC – who's that girl?!

A post shared by sarah (@slouisebarnard) on

We got lots of lovely compliments for our wands, which were both handmade by the genius pictured above. COMMISSION HER, SO SHE CAN AFFORD TO BUY ME BOOKS.

Our first event of the day was Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison’s Co-writing workshop. Despite some, er, encouragement from Lucy to “make new friends” and co-write with a stranger, we totally wrote our pieces together. SORRY. As with all the workshops of the weekend, it was very cool to see familiar faces (whether from Twitter or author photos) mingling with enthusiastic readers and fans. And everybody had great things to bring to the table. Except for me, cos I cheated.

After the workshop, we headed to the Morally complicated YA panel, with Melvin Burgess, Emerald Fennell, Louise O’Neill and Manuela Salvi. This was interesting on a lot of levels; I always have time for whatever Louise O’Neill has to say, as I think she’s an important voice of advocacy for young women. I’ve not read Manuela Salvi’s novel Girl Detached yet, though I’ve heard strong reviews, but I have read some of her blog posts in the run up to YALC and can’t wait to read a whole book by such a thoughtful, fearless writer. Melvin Burgess has been writing controversial books for teens for literal decades – since before I was even a teen myself – and Emerald Fennell wrote Monsters, a hilarious work of subversive genius. My favourite moment of the panel was somebody asking about censorship of bad language in YA. Manuela responded with an explanation of how fiction doesn’t necessarily replicate reality, and prose is allowed to be more elegant than our real lives without it being censorship. Emerald: “I LOVE SWEARING!” She spoke about fighting for the f-bombs in Monsters, and I reckon, for what it’s worth, they were 100% worth it. There are some laugh out loud jokes in there, where swear words form the punchline.

Aaand following the fun of that panel, IT WAS STIEFVATER TIME!

For a little background, I started reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle last year, while I was in Cardiff. While reading about the youths looking for Glendower, I was walking past pubs named after the chap. It was good. I fell immediately in love with the series: it’s creepy, addictive, moving, complex, funny, clever, inspired by things I adore (like The Dark is Rising sequence) (I feel like you could call it The Secret Dark History is Rising Cycle) and full of characters who just feel like my friends now.

In the months preceding the release of The Raven King, the fourth and final (…maybe) book, my friends and I began a book club solely to reread the series. IT WAS GREAT. I can officially confirm, these books reward a reread. The series is now one of my favourites of all time. OF ALL TIME. I care a lot about these magical nerds!!! And so there I was, with half of my book club, ready to meet the author who created the characters we’d been talking about for months.

I’m not even going to recap Maggie’s talk. It was as funny and energetic as you’d expect, and she talked about ugly babies and setting John Green on fire.

Hers was the only ticketed signing I attended during YALC. We all got numbers, and were called up to join the queue in groups of about 20. It was very efficiently run and meant we didn’t have to hang out waiting forever. Instead we wandered around until our numbers were called. We met Emerald Fennell who was lovely and ships Harry/Luna jsyk.

Eventually:

SO THAT WAS COOL.

And that was about it for YALC 2016! We dragged ourselves and our cases back to Euston station, and I settled down to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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After Lauren James, who has SEEN THE PLAY and KNOWS WHAT TRANSPIRES BETWEEN THOSE PAGES had checked it out first, of course.

Back home, I realised just how modest my bookhaul was:

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See? How restrained was that?! (Not counting the twelve or so books I took with me.)

In conclusion: YALC 2016 was brilliant bookish fun, and it’s getting bigger and better every year. ROLL ON 2017 FOR MORE OF THE SAME, SAY I.