What I Read in May

According to Goodreads, I only read two books in May, which doesn’t seem like it can possibly be right?!?! Goodreads is always putting my books in unexpected places. I blame the app. I’m too much of an oldster for any of this. (Btw, I now have more than four friends on Goodreads! You can be one of them.)

51DajNvVaLL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_THE DARK CIRCLE by Linda Grant – This book is on the Baileys Prize shortlist, which is another shortlist I have not managed to complete in time for the prize announcement this year. (Once upon a time Sarah liked books…) I listened to this over the whole month. When people asked me what I thought of it, I told them it was “weird”, which I stand by. Lenny and Miriam, two teenage East Londoners, get sent to a sanatorium as the institution’s very first patients paid for by the burgeoning National Health Service. Their rough manners generally scandalise and amuse the residents, providing a little bit of variety in the long, dull days of the rest cure. I really didn’t know what to make of this book, but eventually the characters got under my skin. It’s a book in which little happens, but the non-events change the characters’ lives forever – which is perhaps a true chronicle of illness. It’s a vivid portrait of a momentous time in British history. Without getting all political about it, now seems an excellent time to extol the virtues of the NHS. The great levelling effect of universal healthcare is explored: rich or poor, we all have bodies that sometimes fail us. The Dark Circle is a funny novel about class, sickness and shadows, city and country, and post-war politics. I’m still not sure what I make of it.

51c2LE-2pFL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_THE MONSTROUS CHILD by Francesca Simon – Speaking of shortlists… I picked up The Monstrous Child on the strength of its YA Book Prize shortlisting. I’m familiar with Simon as the author of the Horrid Henry series, but didn’t know she had also written YA. This is a novelisation of Norse mythology’s Hel, narrated by the woman herself, who is just your ordinary half-corpse teenage girl. The narration is sharp and fun, but not enough to carry the book, which really is just a retread of the myth, with very little in the way of suspense or character development. Still, the book itself is a dark and gorgeous thing. More illustrated YA, please!

spellbookSPELLBOOK OF THE LOST AND FOUND by Moïra Fowley-Doyle – Thank you to Harriet Venn & PRH Children’s for the chance to read this early in exchange for an honest review. The Accident Season is my favourite book of the past few years, so this was my #1 most anticipated book of 2017. After a summer party in a small town, things start to go missing – or are they being taken? Olive loses her best friend, and isn’t sure who it is she’s found when Rose turns up again. Mysterious teens with botanical names start sprouting up in the most unexpected of places. And diary pages are scattered like clues in the fields and hedgerows… This is a strange, messy book, with tales taking root between the lines of unreality. Moïra’s writing is wonderfully evocative; I’ve never been to Ireland but reading her words, I can feel the rain and smell the soil. (Not to mention the poteen.) Most importantly, her teens are just so real: conflicted, affected, smart, wholehearted. Her characters ground the more fantastical elements of the story in a truth made of injokes, chocolate digestives, eyeliner, and hope. Spellbook of the Lost and Found isn’t as perfect as The Accident Season, but it is its own beast, something meandering and beautiful. I’ll be thinking about it for a while yet.

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Help, I still don’t have a World Book Day costume

WBD2016_blue_rightup-01Tragically, I love an excuse to dress up in costumes, but I’m actually… really bad at it. I lack commitment. I lack focus. I lack ideas.

Here are my terrible ideas for costumes, this fine World Book Day 2016:

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Therese Belivet

In searching for a picture to accompany this blog, I read a couple of reviews of Carol, and mainly my conclusion is that I really want to see Carol again. (Therefore I am already channelling Therese with 100% success, right?) Rooney Mara is so adorable in this movie. In reality, I don’t think I could pull off a short fringe. But I can dream of those fifties fashions. MAIN CONS OF THIS COSTUME: it is only tangentially a book character costume, it is in no way a children’s book character costume, it is a terrible idea. MAIN PROS: I can definitely pull off the “unquenchable thirst for Cate Blanchett” vibe.

Belle (and Boo)

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Belle has absolutely flawless style. I would have to carry around a fluffy bunny all day, but I don’t think that would be a major problem. It would also be kind of weird to be a small retro child… I guess… MAIN CONS OF THIS COSTUME: my fluffy bunny would probably get chewed by a toddler at some point during the day, nobody would know who I was dressed up as. MAIN PROS: I would be adorable.

Hermione Granger

I had a haircut recently (#fascinatingbloggerinsights) and as well as decreasing my supernatural strength, it has decreased my physical similarity to Hermione Granger. Now my hair is only diminutively bushy. Also, I KNOW CHILDREN’S BOOKS. I should be able to think of something more inspired than “Harry Potter character” surely? MAIN CONS OF THIS COSTUME: I would have to buy Gryffindor merch and as a staunch Ravenclaw, I find that idea abhorrent. MAIN PROS: Hermione freakin’ Granger, y’all!
(P.S. if you are dressing up as Hermione this WBD, I fully support you, it just doesn’t feel right for me at this time in my life)

Bea from THE ACCIDENT SEASON

(Alas, I cannot remember Bea’s surname.) The top secret reason I’m not being Bea for World Book Day is because I am keeping her in reserve for her true audience… YALC attendees. You heard it here first!! Bea is my perfect cosplay because I already am tall with curly hair, tarot cards, and a ukulele. Just add red hair dye + lipstick. I will not be doing an accent, you will be relieved to hear. MAIN CONS OF THIS COSTUME: YALC. MAIN PROS: Certainly not my ukulele playing.

OTHER WITCHES

I have also considered Mildred Hubble (I have insufficient hair) and Winnie the Witch. There is a considerable theme emerging. A colleague told me the other day that I could be the library witch and it was honestly the most positive affirmation I have ever received.

But then someone reminded me of another book witch…

Someone with a super easy costume… (Converse! Jeans! Things I wear already!)

It’s Titchy Witch!

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She’s a small ginger witch who’s excited about her haircut! SO RELATABLE. I think I might have a last-minute costume for World Book Day…

Top Ten Tuesday: books and songs

Top Ten Tuesday is fearlessly pioneered by the fine folks at The Broke and the Bookish.

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A lot of my favourite artists write songs that are already stories. I love the Decemberists to pieces, and one of their most famous songs is a nine minute long tale of a young man taking to the seas to avenge his mother’s death, with a frequently staged climax in the belly of a whale. I live for this stuff. I think Joanna Newsom is a genius and honest-to-goodness real life white witch, and every one of her songs means something, even if I’m not 100% on what.

Words are words, and some of them are bound up into books, and some of them are sung out loud. Either way, they’re magic.

Without any further ado, I bring you THE TOP FIVE SONGS I WISH WERE BOOKS:

  1. Old Pine by Ben Howard – This song has accompanied me on a lot of road trips, and it’s the perfect combination of summery, chilled-out acoustic vibes and the bittersweet knowledge that those times have passed. “I’ve come to know… the friends around you are all you’ll always have.” It’s probably a literary fiction novel about a group of childhood friends who reunite whilst looking back on their last summer together… which makes it sound a bit like IT by Stephen King. Uh, unintentional!
  2. Which Witch by Florence + The Machine – BY WHICH I MEAN, I WANT THAT CONCEPT ALBUM ABOUT WITCH TRIALS IN HOLLYWOOD. We could have had it all. We were robbed. What could have been. #neveroverit (Honestly, most of Florence’s songs would be great stories, especially the ones on Lungs.)
  3. Divers by Joanna Newsom – A gorgeous, shimmering, doomed love story, which in book format would be pretty much exactly the same thing. Hopefully with mermaids/mermen. General mers.
  4. Monday Afternoon by Marika Hackman – I love Marika’s music, and basically all I want is a novel or twenty that has the exact spooky, moody, dark feel as last year’s debut album We Slept At Last. (THE ACCIDENT SEASON comes pretty dang close.) Failing that, I’ll take a book narrated by the ghost of the lover who got stood up in the woods and promptly lay down in a ditch and died.
  5. Lake Song by the Decemberists – This is ALREADY a YA novel and I’m mad about it. “And I, seventeen and terminally fey, I wrote it down and threw it all away…”

And as a chaser, FIVE SONGS THAT WERE CLEARLY WRITTEN ABOUT BOOKS:

  1. When The War Came by the Decemberists (I have a favourite band, okay) is OBVIOUSLY about THE NEXT TOGETHER by Lauren James.
  2. Runs In The Family by Amanda Palmer is the breakneck paced, uncomfortable, unsettling theme song of A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING by Eimear McBride
  3. BOTE by Menomena is absolutely, can’t-unsee the national anthem of Theon Greyjoy from A GAME OF THRONES (or more pertinently, A CLASH OF KINGS) by George R. R. Martin
  4. Down By The Water by Signe Tollefsen (PJ Harvey cover) is inextricably linked with Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s THE ACCIDENT SEASON in my head.
  5. If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Love Song, It Would Sound Like This by Broken Records is literally about Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, but I love that play and I like this song, so I’m bending the rules and it’s making the cut, okay?! Okay.

There we go, then. A soul-baring shuffle through my iTunes library. Let me know what you think/how dreamy Colin Meloy is in the comments or on twitter @slouisebarnard!

Top Ten Reads of 2015 (part one)

Top Ten Reads of 2015 (part two)

Reflecting my reading habits this year, I’ve split my top ten into two top fives: top five YA novels, and top five of everything else.

SARAH LIKES BOOKS, in particular these five 2015 YA releases:

THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
I devoured The Accident Season in one sitting back in May, and I’ve already reread it since then. It’s a gorgeous, spooky book and it’s very much my #aesthetic. I can’t wait to read whatever Moïra writes next. Here’s my original review, and I also made a playlist which you can listen to here.

AM I NORMAL YET? by Holly Bourne
I’ve quickly become a Holly superfan. I mean, I even have a tshirt to prove it. (Thanks, Usborne!) Her YA contemporary stands out in a crowded market as authentic, sometimes painful to read, always compelling. Am I Normal Yet? is the first in a trilogy about a grassroots teen feminist group and if you don’t think that’s amazing I don’t know what to say to you. Mini-review in this post here.

BIRDY by Jess Vallance
“A bit horrible, but in my very favourite way,” is how I described Birdy when I read it in the summer. It’s short and sharp like a KNIFE TO THE GUT. It explores the darker side of female friendship, filtered through the lively, irreverent narration of Frances Bird. It’s excellent, and not very nice.

MONSTERS by Emerald Fennell
If The League of Gentlemen wrote a YA novel… This book is morbid, disgusting, and hilarious. It’s got echoes of Daphne du Maurier, The Turn of the Screw, The Little Friend, and Enid Blyton, as well as every grubby seaside postcard you’ve ever seen. It’s perfectly pitched as a kiddies’ mystery novel (and ingeniously typeset and designed just like one too) but please don’t give it to your eight year old niece. I laughed out loud every couple of pages. I’m pretty sure Emerald Fennell wrote this book just for me.

THE NEXT TOGETHER by Lauren James
I’m just very excited this book is out there in the world! You can read my review here.

And here they all are together. Interestingly, I own all of my top 5 YA picks, but I own none of the books on my other list. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

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Top Ten Tuesday: books I’ve read so far this year

Top Ten Tuesday is pioneered & hosted by the splendid Broke and Bookish.

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As a kind of follow-up/addendum to my recent round-up of what I’ve been enjoying January to June, here’s a list of the top ten books I’ve read so far this year.

1. Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison (review)

2. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (review)

3. The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick (review)

Those were my three favourites on a generally very strong shortlist for the inaugural YA Book Prize.

Pictured: my books getting ants on them
Pictured: my books getting ants on them

4. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I read this back in February. I vividly remember finishing it during my break at work and then walking around shell shocked and heartbroken for the rest of my shift. A classic love story, in which the central romance is beautifully and devastatingly drawn.

5. Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

I did a fairly useless job of reading the Carnegie shortlist, but I did manage this one, and I was so glad I did. It’s sad, it’s real, it’s alive. I feel an uncomplicated affection for this lovely read.

6. Black Iris by Leah Raeder

This book is dark, twisted, and REALLY QUEER. It’s basically amazing. I’ve read nothing like it, in terms of style AND content. I was unsure about it at first, but as soon as I was in, I was in all the way. ALL THE WAY.

7. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Okay, so I was nagged into reading The Raven Boys, but I inhaled it greedily on Welsh trains while ignoring my girlfriend because it’s so so good. It’s been a while since I’ve felt “addicted” to a series but goshdarn it if Maggie hasn’t made me a fan of her boys! I could have put all three on this list quite happily, but The Dream Thieves is the best, so here we are.

8. The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (review)

I LOVE.

9. The Manifesto on How to be Interesting by Holly Bourne

So I picked this up on a whim at work – it was on the returns trolley and I was very bored. Clearly the stars were aligned, as it had never piqued my interest before, but I sat and read the first chapter and fell in love with Bree. Bree is very definitely a mess, but she’s charming and witty and her voice carries this book. I’m so excited about Holly Bourne’s next book I can’t bear it.

10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The sky is blue & I'm reading about men who hate women #readthegirl

A post shared by sarah (@slouisebarnard) on

I know, I’m years late to this party, but I just read it and loved it. With The Girl in the Spider’s Web coming out later this year, The Reading Agency has sent us loads of promotion material encouraging people to #readthegirl and I for one was appropriately urged. It kept me up past 3am because I was so intrigued by the mystery. I’m looking forward to reading Millennium book 2, and maybe the third and the new fourth instalment too. Lisbeth is back!

REVIEW: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

As Midsummer approaches, the long, bright days of the season begin to tip towards autumn. Here to sing us beguilingly into the dark is Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s excellent debut novel, The Accident Season.

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Seventeen-year-old Cara and her family have been cursed by the accident season for as long as she can remember. Every year, at the end of October, the whole family become uncannily susceptible to illness and injury – but why? Is the accident season even real? And this year, the spookiness isn’t stopping with the accidents…

The Accident Season is my favourite kind of book: dark and strange, with high emotional stakes and compelling characters. YA fiction is particularly good at delivering what I want. While reading The Accident Season, I was reminded a lot of Alexia Casale’s The Bone Dragon, which also handles trauma with a touch of magic, as well as gorgeous, evocative prose. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (which I reviewed here) is another example of a spine chilling twist on what is at its heart a story of relationships. (Twisted ones.)

The Accident Season reads like a dream, if an unsettling one. The Irish river town setting feels ageless and yet contemporary, which just adds to the creepiness of the goings-on. The accident season is an endless, grey world of its own. Autumn, as all right-thinking people will already know, is the best season, and it is wonderfully evoked here. The story hums with the knowledge that Hallowe’en is when the boundaries between worlds are at their thinnest, and the everyday can become infused with dread. There are ghosts here. The psychological thriller aspects are played perfectly, and the whole book is a master class in “show, don’t tell” plot development, but that this is a ghost story is never forgotten.

Any story falls down without strong characters, but I loved this cast. Their complicated relationships are well explored, without letting the romances weigh down the story. Cara and Bea are winning and sweet as best friends, and I was over the moon about the LGBT relationship that is not shoehorned in, but springs organically from the characters involved.

The Accident Season is the epitome of a dark, beautiful thing. It is so lyrical and delicious that I swallowed it up in one sitting, and I can’t wait to reread it once I’m holding a physical copy in my hands. (It’s on preorder, of course.) It also has tarot cards and ukuleles and a masquerade ball. I was never going to be able to resist it.

This book has got to be a classic.

The Accident Season is out 2 July 2015 from Corgi Childrens. I received a copy via NetGalley from Penguin Random House UK Children’s in exchange for an honest review.