I spent some time today in Waterstones, browsing the children's books. I was buying a present for a Naming Ceremony we're going to on Sunday and, after picking up a couple of books for their sweet girls I spent a little time browsing the titles, feeling waves of nostalgia washing over me. Peace At Last. Olga da Polga. The Magic Faraway Tree. I feel so lucky that my parents instilled a love of reading in me, and that all of these books were such a huge part of my life as a child. There were books everywhere when I was young and those books, and the ones that came after, have brought such joy to my life. I hope that the books that I have purchased for Martha and Lydia hold such happy memories in the future. I feel like that would be a bigger gift to me than it would to them.
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I did not expect to be blown away by this book in the way that I was. I've seen the movie, and I remember it being emotional, but it's nothing compared to the book. I don't really like romances as a general rule, but the relationship between Claire and Henry was so perfect and real - despite the very odd situation, alluded to in the title. At times it was joyous, at other times heart-breaking, but it always had me hooked. I loved that Henry wasn't the perfect romantic hero, and that the story didn't shy away from the pain of love. It felt like the story held a lot of truth, even in the impossible situation that it portrays. A definite must-read (but have the tissues on hand).
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
I LOVED Mindy Kaling's first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns, and this was a return to her signature style but with a little bit more of a grown-up edge. Her first book was about her childhood how she got to where she is now, where the second is more about how she copes with running her own show and generally being a badass lady. My favourite thing about Mindy's books (I can call her Mindy, right?) is how strong her writing voice is - it's like you can hear her speaking. It's so distinctive. Not to mention hilarious. This is a lovely, light read that still manages to have some hard-hitting moments. The essay at the end about confidence is particularly excellent.
Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
I need to implore you to read this book. It's just darling. It took me a little while to get into it but by the end I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. This book is described as a Muslim Bridget Jones and I couldn't think of a better way to put it myself; it has the same lovable female protagonist, the same let-you-in-to-their-world diary style and the same feeling of satisfaction at the end. Of course, it's also a world apart because it shows you the world of Muslim dating which, unless you are in it yourself, you've probably not heard much about. I know it was an eye-opener for me. You fall in love with Sofia as she navigates her own love life, the problems of her family and friends and trying to write a Muslim dating book that she feels is true to herself. Just lovely stuff, really.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
One of the most powerful books I have ever read. This is more of an extended essay, written as a letter to Coates' teenage son, about the realities of being a black man in America. Now, more than ever, I feel we need this book - a reminder of the truth of inhabiting a black body in the USA. This book rejects hopeful narratives about how everything will turn out alright in the end, if we just struggle against racism, and instead talks about ways to inhabit that struggle and survive. A very important book, if only to start more conversations about race.
Asking for It by Louise O'Neill
Does it matter if you can't remember? A novel about betrayal and consent, truth and denial, in the age of the smartphone.
You may remember how much I loved Louise O'Neill's first book, 'Only Ever Yours', earlier this year, so as soon as I saw she had a new novel out I had to snap it up straight away. Like her debut, O'Neill pulls no punches in this book and it will hit you hard. It feels like a story we've heard too many times before, and one that I never want to hear again. Everything about this book is perfect in its darkness, from the unlike-ability of the main character, Emma, to the reactions of her parents and brother. You need to read this.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
I think this is my favourite Margaret Atwood book so far, it was so compelling and thought-provoking. Set in a dystopian future where a financial slump has led to mass unemployment and rampant crime, a married couple sign up to the 'Positron Project', an enterprise that guarantees employment and a safe place to live, as long as you spend every other month in prison. What starts out as the answer to all their problems soon turns sour, as you can imagine, but it really isn't in the way that I anticipated. Atwood has never shied away from the 'big questions' but this really does have a lot packed in, without feeling didactic and preachy. The story carried you along effortlessly, but you find yourself pondering the future, capitalism, marriage, sexism, the prison system and so much more. I wouldn't usually call myself a sci-fi fan, but I love Atwood's brand of socially-conscious, questioning dystopias. Just. So. Good.