My Favourite Books of 2016

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood*

This is the book that I think will stick with me for a very long time. I was surprised that it didn’t get more pick up in the bookish press this year, but perhaps that is due to the controversial subject matter (or perhaps the sheer volume of books out there). The story follows eight year old Wavy, daughter of a meth dealer and only ‘adult’ in her household, and twenty-one year old Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold. After a chance meeting, the two form an unlikely friendship – and begin to fall in love. It’s shocking and complex and thought-provoking and ugly and wonderful, just as the title suggests. 

The Girls by Emma Cline* 

Quite the opposite of ‘All the Ugly and Wonderful Things’, this book seems to have been in every ‘best of 2016’ list going – and was hyped from the very start of last year. And whilst some have questioned its popularity, I would definitely say that all of the praise for this book is very much deserved. The lyrical, lilting writing is evocative and beautiful, capturing the heady summer of 1969 and that liminal moment on the cusp of girlhood and teenagedom that characterises the life of protagonist, Evie Boyd. Based on the true story of the Manson Family, Evie is captivated by the girls who come to town, living on a ranch in the hills under the leadership of the enigmatic Russell. As Evie grows closer to the girls, and, in particular, the bewitching Susan, she finds herself pulled into life at the ranch, until something happens that changes everything forever… 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 

Another heart-wrenching and heart-breaking novel – this is not a light beach read, but it is an absolute masterpiece and another book that will stay with me for a long time. After college, best friends Jude, JB, Malcolm and Willem move to New York to pursue their dreams. They are more like brothers than friends, but whilst they are close, none of them know the true pain of Jude’s past and present. As they make their fortunes, you learn more about Jude’s history and it is more painful and horrifying than you can imagine. You will need a million tissues when reading this book, for sure, but it will also bring you moments of lightness and hope, and one of the most touching portrayals of male friendship that I have ever come across in literature. 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney* 

A family drama that’s whip smart, funny, and surprisingly touching. The Plumb children have been relying on ‘The Nest’ – a trust fund payment that will pay out when the youngest turns 40 – to help solve their self-inflicted problems. However, just before the pay out, eldest brother Leo – notorious rogue and failed businessman – gets into a car accident whilst under the influence and the resulting fallout depletes ‘The Nest’ that they were all relying on. As the siblings struggle to find a solution, they must battle with old conflicts and the very particular pain that your family can bring. It’s entertaining, a little madcap with a very lovely ending. 

The Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan 

2016 was the year I discovered historical romance novels – and I am so glad that I did. I devoured this series, which follows a group of friends (the eponymous Brothers Sinister, and their honorary members) as they each fall in love. This is feminist romance at its very best, with heroines that defy expectations and stand out from the crowd – and I loved them all. And I loved the male protagonists more because they could see how wonderful these women are, which is the right way round in a romance, I think. The stories were full of intrigue and feminist badassery, as well as the obligatory kisses and marriage proposals. 

Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi*

This debut from comedian Shappi Khorsandi is absolutely stellar. Seventeen-year-old Nina has a drinking problem, and her life begins to unravel after a rather traumatic evening that she doesn’t quite remember. This book is darkly funny, very powerful, emotional and brave. Nina is a fantastic protagonist; although she acts like a bit of an asshole to her family and friends, she goes on a real journey and you are rooting for her all the way. This book pulls no punches when it comes to the reality of alcoholism, and there are some pretty big roadblocks for Nina to overcome, but you find yourself rooting for her all the way. 

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne’s whole Spinster Club series is absolutely excellent, but the third one, which focuses on Lottie and her #Vagilante campaign to call out every instance of sexism she encounters for a full month, was my favourite. This is a really excellent look at the struggles of being a modern feminist, and Lottie is such an amazing character. The scenes of sisterhood in this novel had me welling up, and I’m sure I punched the air a few times as Lottie got down to some serious feminist business. We need more books like this in the world! 

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven*

If you need a book to uplift you, then you definitely need to pick this one up. Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ and had to be cut out of her own house. That was years ago, and now she’s ready to embrace every possibility that life has to offer. Jack is one of the popular kids at school, but he has a secret. He can’t recognise faces – including those of his own family. Every day is a struggle to play it cool. When the two get tangled in a cruel high school game that ends them in group counselling, they come to realise they have more in common than they’d first imagined and they start to change each others’ worlds. This is a gorgeous love story, and if you don’t adore Libby and her fat-positive, grab-life-by-the-balls attitude then you maybe don’t have a heart.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult*

This book is a punch in the gut, especially given the current political climate. Ruth is an experienced labour and delivery nurse, but during a routine shift she is abruptly told that she can no longer care for a particular newborn. The parents are white supremacists and they don’t want Ruth, which is African American, to touch their child. When an unfortunate incident leads to the baby’s death, the parents accuse Ruth of a serious crime and the life that she has built up around her starts to crumble. Kennedy, a white public defender, takes the case and the two struggle to see eye-to-eye as they confront racism, privilege and prejudice in order to win Ruth’s freedom. I was hooked on this interesting and emotionally smart book, and I think it would make a great book club read if you’re starting one up this year! 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

Want more? Follow me: Twitter / Instagram / Bloglovin / Pinterest

2016

[Photo by Tom Joy]

2016 has been a funny old year. On a personal level, it’s been as great as any other. We bought and mostly renovated our first house, which allowed us to welcome so many of my favourite people to Leeds for weekends, and let me indulge my greatest passion of hosting (and feeding) friends and family. We have already had so many wonderful times in our new house, and I’m sure there are many more to come in 2017. I have been happy this year, content in my life and satisfied with where I am. Which is totally at odds with how the world at large feels; I’m sure I don’t have to rehash the events that have made us all feel worried, scared and concerned for the future this year. I think we’ll all be glad when 2017 rolls around; yes, it is an arbitrary marker of time but a fresh start is always welcome. But for now, I want to have a little look back at what I’ve been up to this year… 

Bought our first house

Lived without a kitchen for two months… not something I want to repeat! 

Spent our weekends doing DIY

Learnt how to strip wallpaper and sand skirting boards. 

Indulged my inner fan girl at The Cursed Child

Hosted Christmas Day for the first time. 

Celebrated with friends at two weddings. 

Ran a slightly faster Abbey Dash time than last year. 

Crocheted my first cuddly toy (a bunny!). 

Ate our weight in French food to celebrate our first wedding anniversary

Read 120 books. A personal best, and one that is unlikely to be repeated! 

Fell in love with romance novels. 

Helped choose two wedding dresses and started to fulfil my first ever bridesmaid duties. 

Threw a big Friendsgiving party – the first of many, hopefully! 

Bought my first real Christmas tree

Moved my sister into University halls. 

Went apple picking

Felt very inspired by Hillary Clinton, regardless of the outcome. 

Relaxed at the spa on my very first spa weekend! 

Attended three surprise parties. 

Discovered loads of great new podcasts (Oh, Witch Please and All Killa No Filla were particular favourites). 

Started (and maybe finished) a new book blog. 

Blogged a lot less than I would like – something to sort in 2017! 

Want more? Follow me: Twitter / Instagram / Bloglovin / Pinterest

The Very Best Way to Make an Apple Pie

orchard

Like every other pumpkin-spice-loving basic bitch on the Internet, I have fully embraced the concept of ‘hygge’ this season. This Danish concept of ‘cosiness’ is having a big impact on how much I can embrace the darker days and colder temperatures of autumn.  There is no literal translation for ‘hygge’ in English, but it amounts to living simply and seasonally, finding ways to enjoy the chilly winter days rather than just endure them, and encouraging community rather than isolation. There are copious amounts of candles and hot chocolate involved, and plenty of blankets, but more than that, it’s about spending your time meaningfully, getting outdoors when you can, and spending quality time with your nearest & dearest in a low-key and switched-off sort of way. 

group-picking

And so it came to pass that we spent an afternoon making an apple pie in the very best way possible. In the morning, I prepped the pastry so it would be ready, using my trust Four and Twenty Blackbirds cookbook (seriously, this recipe has never failed me and makes the most perfect crust for your pies). With the pastry chilling in the fridge, we pulled on our walking boots and our snuggly scarves and headed over to Lotherton Hall for Apple Day! 

picking-apples

Because, of course, picking the apples fresh from the tree and squirrelling them home to bake your pie is the pinnacle of pie-making perfection. Armed with a couple of apple-picking contraptions, a leaflet full of apple information, and a whole lot of enthusiasm, we plundered the orchard for the very best cooking apples. It was no mean feat, let me tell you! The birds and the bugs had had their pick of the apples (not to mention the toddlers who were far more skilled at this apple picking business than us!) but we walked away with a haul of 26 apples ready for baking. 

amy-cheryl-and-katie

With cheeks rosy pink from all that fresh air (we’re all office workers, we’re not used to such things…), hair slightly damp from the rather abrupt rain shower and arms full of apples, we headed back to the house for the next stage of the operation. One of my favourite parts of hygge is sharing the cooking; entertaining becomes more a communal activity than a fancy dinner party. And many hands make light work – especially when it comes to pie baking. So everyone played a part; from peeling and cutting the apples to mixing them up with spices & bitters, to rolling the pastry and pouring over the caramel and assembling the lattice on top. It was truly a group effort, and it tasted all the sweeter when we divvied it up and poured over copious amounts of cream. Truly, the best way to make (and eat) an apple pie is with friends.

apple-pie

Want more? Follow me: Twitter / Instagram / Bloglovin / Pinterest

8 Books I Am Excited About Right Now

I have a real book buying habit. I have a pile of books next to my bed and plenty of unread books on my Kindle, but I can’t seem to stop picking up new titles. It’s tough when there are so many good-looking books coming out this year! Here’s 8 books that will definitely be coming home with me soon… 

2016 books 1

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye 

Reader, I murdered him… 

A re-telling of Jane Eyre with a sinister twist. Jane Steele identifies strongly with the heroine of her favourite novel, Jane Eyre; she, too, is an orphan who has suffered cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. But this Jane is just a little bit more badass – she’s a vigilante serial killer righting wrongs on behalf of London’s have-nots. Basically, you just have to say ‘vigilante serial killer Jane Eyre’ to me and I am so there. 

Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti 

Jessica Valenti was the woman that introduced me to feminism – when I read her book, Full Frontal Feminism, my life was changed forever. This is her memoir, exploring the very real toll that sexism has played in Valenti’s life. I’m expecting her signature mix of shock, humour and self-recognition in this, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. 

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott 

I love Megan Abbott’s work – particularly Dare Me which I read at the beginning of last year. In her latest book, she tells the tale of Katie and Eric Knox, who have dedicated their life to the burgeoning Olympic career of their daughter Devon. When a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just before a crucial competition, their world is rocked and Katie finds herself drawn to the crime… Abbott writes so well, her books are all-consuming and I’m excited to read her latest.  

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay 

There’s no doubt in my mind that Roxane Gay is one of our greatest writers – she is thoughtful, empathic, and incredibly astute. Everything I read by her moves me to tears. I think that will be doubly true of her latest book, described as ‘a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself’. 

2016 books 2

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe 

There is something so cosy about Nina Stibbe’s books. Her first, Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life, is one of my favourite books of all time and one I keep coming back to when I need something to warm my heart. Her characters are vivid, interesting and very, very British. Her newest book tells the story of Lizzie, a 15 year old who finds herself working in a chaotic old people’s home in the 1970s. I just know it’s going to be wonderful. 

Becoming: Sex, Second Chances, and Figuring Out Who the Hell I am by Laura Jane Williams 

If you hang out on the internet, you’ve probably come across Laura’s blog – Superlatively Rude. She’s achingly honest, and committed to sharing her stories, however painful, embarrassing or uplifting. This true life memoir is sure to hit you right in the feels, as she charts how she came to really figure out who the hell she is via sexual excess, a vow of celibacy in an Italian convent and everything in between. 

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer 

I’m a big fan of Amy Schumer’s comedy – she’s smart, satirical and completely unapologetic. Her first book promises to leave you ‘nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably’. Sign me up. 

Bad Boy: A Novel by Elliot Wake 

A story about a trans boy written by a trans boy. Formerly writing under ‘Leah Raeder’, his previous books have been intense and provocative (I loved Black Iris) and this is billed as the most groundbreaking yet. Sexual fluidity, drugs and revenge – in a romance novel? Yes, please. 

P.S. You might also want to check out the books I was excited about at the beginning of the year – some of these are out now (and out soon!). 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION.

Want more? Follow me: Twitter / Instagram / Bloglovin / Pinterest

8 Books to Preorder Right Now

2016 books to preorder

A new year has re-ignited my excited for new books. There are so many amazing books being published in 2016, and I’ve already lined up these ones for pre-order. My favourite thing about pre-ordering books is when you’ve forgotten about them and then they’re delivered straight to your desk. What a treat! 

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

‘You’ was one of my favourite books of last year, the creepy, sexy, thrilling story of Joe, bookstore worker, avid reader and obsessive stalker. I’ve read it twice over since, and I could not be more excited by this sequel, which is published in just a few days. 

Exit, Pursued By A Bear by E.K. Johnston

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person.

I am a total sucker for a cheerleader story. I just can’t help it. Hermione Winters is the captain of her cheerleading squad, on the cusp of victory until someone slips something into her drink at a party…

Smart young adult fiction that tackles rape and female friendship? You know I’m so there. 

Maestra by L.S. Hilton 

Described as a ‘shockingly original thriller’ with a heroine that rivals Amy Dunne, that plays out in the world of art, the French Riviera and the rather salubrious areas of the West End. Read the whole synopsis here, and get ready to join me in a binge read of this book. 

Love Sick by Cory Martin

At 28, Cory Martin thought she had it all – a dream job as a Hollywood writer, her own apartment and a healthy obsession with yoga. When it is a revealed that she has Multiple Sclerosis, she becomes determined to find love before the potentially debilitating disease takes over her life. Navigating illness and dating at the same time, with humour, grace and strength – I anticipate that this will be a very powerful memoir. 

The Girls by Emma Cline

This book has been described by Book Riot as ‘The Virgin Suicides meets the Manson Family’ – is there anything else you need to know? An exciting debut novel, The Girls follows Evie, a lonely teenager who finds herself in the thrall of older girl Suzanne, and a soon-to-be-infamous cult with a charismatic leader… 

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

A sharp, funny, delightfully unhinged collection of stories set in the dark world of domesticity, American Housewife features murderous ladies who lunch, celebrity treasure hunters, and the best bra fitter south of the Mason Dixon line.

I’m not sure this book needs more of an introduction. A humorous, pointed look at domesticity and womanhood. I’m all over it. 

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard 

I read Red Queen at the end of last year. I say read, but really I devoured it in 24 hours. It may be the culmination of every other young adult dystopian fantasy novel featuring a feisty heroine (you’ll see what I mean when you read it) but it captivated my interest and I really must find out what happens next. 

The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates 

With a creepy title like that, how could you resist? I have a strange obsession with horror tales, despite my cowardly nature, and I am so excited for this collection of short stories. Is there anything more haunting than creepy dolls? No, I don’t think there is. Read more about the collection here

Want more? Follow me: Twitter / Instagram / Bloglovin / Pinterest

A New Year

fireworks

[Photo by kazuend

So, here we are. 2016. 

I feel very conflicted about the New Year. A few weeks back, I was absolutely desperate for the clean slate, and so ready to get stuck into a new year and new projects. Now, I’m not so sure. I already feel overwhelmed by the possibilities that a full 12 months ahead brings me.

I’m a natural planner and worrier, which I don’t think serves me well at times like this. I think back on what I had planned at the beginning of 2015 and know that it all went awry. 2015 was a great year for me, but I also felt more anxious and worried than I have in a long time – particularly towards the end of the year. I’m settling down with work and family and friends, but I also feel like I’m really in transition in my life. Maybe that’s the curse of the twenty-something. 

I sometimes wish I could see into the future and give myself a little reassurance. I often feel like I’m running out of time for everything I want to accomplish and do. Which is silly, because I am only 25 and, in theory, I have so many years left. It just feels uncertain; I don’t know what my life will be like or even who I will be in the years to come, so I feel like I want to get it all done now. 

The accepted wisdom is that a pile of New Year’s resolutions designed to shake up your whole life is a recipe for disaster. It takes time to change who we are and what we do, and the arbitrary date of 1st January is not necessarily the best time to try to get fit, eat more vegetables, drink more water, read more books, advance in our careers, learn a new language, save money and nail a capsule wardrobe. And yet, I find myself sketching out lists of plans, challenges and changes that I want 2016 to hold for me. I wonder if the best way is to throw them all in the air and see which ones I manage to juggle in the end. 

I’m not sure I meant this to sound so negative; that definitely isn’t the way I want to start the new year. I am excited, too. This year is going to be a big one, whichever way you look at it. And as always, I know in my heart that the best is yet to come. 

Want more? Follow me: Twitter / Instagram / Bloglovin / Pinterest