February Book Reviews

february books

It has been a busy reading month for me. A weekend away in a cottage with no wi-fi will do that for you. Quite a few of the books that I read this month were ones I also listed on my books to pre-order for 2016 list and I'm pleased to note that most of them lived up to my high expectations! 

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard* 

Sometimes you just need some pure escapism, which is exactly what this book provides. Revenge, class warfare, family rifts, evil masterminds and an on-going search for the individuals that might just be able to bring the war to a close. There are twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but I don't want to spoil too much, since so much of the pleasure in these sorts of books is in finding out what happens and you might not have read the first book, but suffice to say that this book had me hooked all the way through and I already want to get my hands on the next instalment. This was a much bigger novel - the first introduced us to Mare but in this one we travel across her world and watch her grow even further. She's no longer quite such a Katniss-alike, which I appreciated, and watching her struggle with herself as she's caught between two worlds, knowing she can never turn back, makes her very likeable. This isn't some big, literary masterpiece but if you want something to hold your attention and keep you captivated then this is it. 

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

You might remember how much I raved about 'You' last year - the story of creepy stalker Joe that will literally grab you by the eyeballs and not let go until you've devoured the whole novel in one sitting. It is easily one of the best books I've ever read, and I was so happy to hear that there was a sequel coming out. I was not disappointed - Joe is still an absolutely captivating and creepy character, who you somehow ending up rooting for despite his actions. However, whilst 'You' felt like a complete story that stands alone, this hasn't quite got that same quality - it isn't a necessary sequel and although I enjoyed it, it was sort of more of the same. Joe goes to LA to track down a girl who steals from him (and tramples on his heart) but finds himself in a all-encompassing relationship with a sweet rich girl, whose infuriatingly reckless brother threatens to bring down with him. I still want more of Joe, he's one of the best characters that I've ever read and I love how these books defy genre and always keep you on tenterhooks, but this wasn't quite as strong as the first.  

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes*

This was billed as one of the most exciting books to come out in 2016 by the likes of the Guardian, so I was thrilled to get my hands on it. That, however, is where the excitement stopped. What was described as a study in courage, compromise mortality and art felt rather flat to me, with the main character always resisting the reader in a frustrating way that felt more like a history book than a novel. I'm okay with a slow, quiet novel, but the language and atmosphere wasn't enticing enough to keep me and the plot was almost non-existent. It's a tough subject to tackle; this is a fictional account of a real person's life - that of Russian composer, Shostakovich, who lived throughout the rule of Stalin and beyond. What should have been fascinating and potentially very emotional, was more intellectual. I wanted more from this book than what it could provide. 

Love Sick by Cory Martin*

I find it hard to review memoirs, because it doesn't really feel right to pass judgement on somebody else's life - that is, after all, how they experienced something and who am I to say that it should be otherwise? This is the true story of a woman who, in her mid-twenties, discovers that she is suffering from MS, a condition that will debilitate her life and impact her in ways she can't even predict. Sort of. She's never really properly diagnosed with the disease, constantly going back for more inconclusive testing which, I'm sure, was very frustrating to go through and is therefore very frustrating to the reader. It makes it a little bit confusing, because she's so sure of the diagnosis at first and begins to prepare for a life blighted by MS, before, seemingly, jumping backwards and leaving everything up in the air. This is half sickness memoir and half dating stories, as Cory, a yoga-loving, independent TV writer, struggles to find love whilst coming to terms with her health problems. There are moments of humour and moments of poignancy, as well as a rather schmaltzy ending (which I didn't think took too much away from the feeling of the overall book). It certainly makes you think, and be glad for your good health but I didn't find it as powerful as I think the author was hoping me to find it by the end. 

One More Day by Kelly Simmons*

Carrie's son Ben was snatched from her car more than a year ago, leaving her and her husband absolutely devastated. It's clear that he is never coming back... until he does, for just twenty-four hours, leaving all eyes on Carrie as rumours start to spread about her. The premise had me totally hooked, and I was so interested to see what happened to Ben, but I found myself slightly disappointed by this book. Sinister goings-on lead to nothing, and the true perpetrator was rather unbelievable to me. There were some supernatural elements which just didn't gel with the rest of the story for me, and I felt like more could have been done with the set-up that drew me in in the first place. That said, I liked the character of Carrie, and some of the secrets that were revealed definitely added some extra twists that I enjoyed, but I just wanted something slightly meatier. 

Bird Box by Josh Malerman 

Sometimes, the unknown is the scariest thing of all. Which is exactly what makes Bird Box so terrifying. Honestly, do not read this if you are of a sensitive disposition. Or, if you're in a holiday cottage with no street lighting nearby and a long, dark walk to the bathroom... There's something outside that's causing people to kill themselves and others - to see it, whatever it is, is to go mad, but no one knows what it is. Only a handful of survivors remain, including Malorie and her two children, who have never seen the outside. Now, they must flee to a place where they might be safe, taking a treacherous journey down river, blindfolded. This book will have your heart racing - at times, I was holding my breath without even realising it. This is a perfect horror tale, truly. 

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert 

I thought that I would hate this book. Like Big Magic, which I read at the end of last year, I had a lot of pre-conceptions about Elizabeth Gilbert's work and the kind of book that this would be, which were blown away when I actually read it. Never judge a book by its movie trailer. I think this book could stray into the pretentious and the ridiculous very easily, but it is saved by the warmth and humour of Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful writing voice. You immediately like her and want her to succeed. As she travels across Italy, India and Indonesia, meeting a wonderful cast of characters and working through her issues, she regales you with tales of eating pasta, finding enlightenment and experiencing love. I absolutely adored the Italy section (so many descriptions of gorgeous food!) and the Indonesia section (the friendships she makes also make for beautiful anecdotes - I was crying from happiness at one point) but the India section was a little bit too earnest for my liking. It is saved by the great voice of Richard from Texas, but if you're a sceptical person then I think you might find it the same as I did. Overall, however, I loved this book and I'm sure I will return to it. I also want to post it to some of my friends with passages highlighted, and, as I'm sure everyone who reads this book is, to plan my own yearlong sojourn across the world. 

American Housewife by Helen Ellis 

If you're looking for a short, enjoyable read that will have you cackling with laughter then this is the one for you. This book is made up of short stories and snippets in a Southern (American Southern, that is) voice capturing moments of domesticity with a sharp sense of humour and observation. You have housewives that commit murder for prime real estate, celebrity treasure hunters on a doomed reality TV show, and a very sinister book club, and that's just for starters. They were as deliciously dark as I expected.

January Book Reviews

january books

Moth Girls by Anne Cassidy

They called them the Moth Girls because they were attracted to the house. They were drawn to it. Or at least that is what is written in the newspapers that Mandy reads on the anniversary of when her two best friends went missing.

I was intrigued by the premise of this novel: a mystery surrounding the disappearance of Mandy's two best friends who slipped into a creepy house in their neighbourhood and never returned. However, I was slightly disappointed. I wish more had been made of the 'moth' element, given that it is in the title; I think it would have added to the foreboding and intrigue of the story where this was slightly lacking for me. The character of Mandy was rather frustrating - there was a lot of possibility for exploring what it's like to be the one who's left behind, defined by an event like this one as we don't often hear that side of the story. However, it turns out she wasn't very good friends with the two girls who went missing, and yet allows this one incident to control her five years later, which doesn't make sense to me. I won't spoil the ending for you, but, whilst I was interested enough to read to the end to find out what happened to the girls, when I got there I was left feeling a little flat. It was a logical ending, which explained why the girls had never been found, but it really ignored that 'moth girls' element and felt a bit too 'convenient', if that's the word.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald 

This book has been on so many 'best of 2015' lists, and it's so easy to see why. It's a beautifully written tale of bereavement and obsession which combines memoir, history and nature writing in a very moving and readable way, despite the obvious academic background of the author. Devastated after the death of her father, Helen adopts a goshawk named Mabel and dedicates her life to training her. Goshawks are traditionally described as wild and difficult to train, but Helen finds Mabel to be challenging but surprising. Throughout the book, Helen finds her way through her grief by focusing on falconry, learning about herself and this very unique bird. 

I think you can tell that I enjoyed this book, but I also found it fascinating and difficult to grapple with. I absolutely loved learning about falconry, and the scenes with Mabel were glorious. She had such a distinct personality, and it made me want to adopt my own hawk (although, obviously that would be a terrible idea!). But I felt throughout that the author was keeping us at arm's length, intellectualising something that is purely emotional. Maybe it's my inherent nosiness, but I left this memoir with almost no knowledge of the author herself, which was mildly frustrating. This book resists meaning, resists genre and resists you. I'm excited to discuss it at my book club this week! 

Fishnet by Kirstin Innes 

I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and I've been dwelling on it ever since. Following the story of Fiona, stuck in a dead end job and weighed down by single motherhood, as she attempts to find her sister Rona, who walked out six years ago and hasn't been seen since. A chance revelation that Rona had been working as a prostitute prior to her disappearance has Fiona reeling, and she embarks on a journey to discover more about the world of sex work in a bid to get closer to her sister. This is a fictional book, but it has its roots in the very real stories of sex workers, and will challenge everything you think about this controversial profession. You'll be taken on that journey with Fiona, a perfectly flawed narrator whose eyes are very much opened by the end of the novel. I'd recommend this book to anyone - especially if you're looking for something easy-to-read but thought-provoking. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to this book; it's got such a cult following and it's been on my radar for a long time. The book consists of the letters of Charlie to an anonymous stranger, pouring his heart out about the strange new world he finds himself in as a freshman. As he makes friends, tries drugs, discovers The Rocky Horror Picture Show and attempts to join in with life, rather than simply sticking to the sidelines, we follow along with his innermost thoughts and emotions. I can see why this book is so beloved, but it fell a bit flat for me - it is overwrought, angsty and there's a disconnect between Charlie's supposed intelligence (he gets straight As) and his writing style, which makes him appear far younger than his years. This is a quintessential 'coming of age' story, and appears designed to make you cry - there is so much suffering crammed into the pages but it doesn't feel that real to me. Maybe I'm just too old - perhaps if I had read this as a hormonal teenager I would have identified with the characters more and found it more moving, but I can think of many other books which deal with this issues which have had a bigger impact on me. 

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

This book has been billed as one of 2016's most exciting debuts by people in the know, so of course I was intrigued. The story follows Roy, a life-long liar and con man who's lived many lives. Now in his eighties, he's setting up his final con - shacking up with the sweet Betty in an attempt to make off with her life savings. However, everything is not as it seems, and as we chart Roy's life back through time to World War Two, the pieces begin to fall into place. I found this book incredibly dull for the first half but gripping for the second, so take from that what you will. It's told backwards, going back in time through Roy's various cons - but  the first few seem more there to set the scene and paint the picture of Roy's very questionable character rather than to advance the story in any real way. The part set in WW2, however, was riveting and I wish it had taken up a larger percentage of the book. If you can push through, I think you'll find it the same - but if I hadn't been writing this review then I probably would have put it down long before we got to the juicy stuff. 

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Georgie McCool struggles to keep her marriage together in the face of her successful career as a TV writer. Neal takes the kids to Omaha for Christmas, but she has to stay at work and wonders if this is the final nail in the coffin for their marriage. That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past and feels like she's been given a chance to fix her marriage before it even starts... 

Yet more Rainbow Rowell. I think it's a given now that I'm a fan of hers - I love her characters, her way of writing, the little jokes and pop culture references, the romance which feels squishy and warm in her novels, rather than cringeworthy and earnest. This actually wasn't my favourite of her novels; the time-travelling phone was a little too kooky for me but it was still very sweet and touching. I devoured it in a day - if you're looking for something light and heart-warming for a weekend read then this is the one for you. 

 

Book Club

books

I love how many different kinds of books there are in the world. There are the books that change your life, the ones that break your heart and the ones that grip you and don't let you go until the final page. At the moment, I feel like I'm reading for entertainment more than for anything else; life has been hectic in the run up to Christmas (two sleeps!) so I've been seeking stories which are easy to follow and books that carry me along with them. If you're looking for some fun, relaxing books to read over the Christmas holidays then I definitely think there's some recommendations here for you! 

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I am sometimes the worst for pre-judging something before I read it, and I really take back everything I ever thought about this book before I read it. I expected it to be pretentious and big-headed, but in fact it was charming, funny and full of nuggets of wisdom. It's a little woo-woo in places and, like with all books of this nature, I don't agree with everything but I left this book feeling inspired to live a creative life in the best way I can, which means it most definitely fulfils its purpose. Elizabeth Gilbert's tone of voice is so warm and friendly, you can't help but like her, and I'm sure that any creative person will find inspiration and comfort in this book.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

I had a total nerd moment over this book, which I think is kind of the point of it. I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell earlier in the year and absolutely loved it; it's the story of Cath, who writes fan fiction about her favourite books, the Simon Snow series. This is Rainbow Rowell's version of the final Simon Snow book, which kind of means she's writing her own fan fiction which is just beautifully bizarre. I think you have to read Fangirl first to really get this book; although it could stand alone it is so much more delicious when consumed afterwards. It's part Harry Potter parody, part fan fiction, part stand-alone adventure and just totally wonderful. I absolutely adored it for its humour, for the romance and for the pure escapism. 

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

This book absolutely terrified me, and had me gripped right until the final pages. There are two intertwining storylines concerning an abandoned house on a secluded island with no contact from the outside world, and a mysterious set of deaths that are somehow connected to the disappearance of the investigator's son, which wonderfully come together without feeling forced. It is so, so scary (creepy child ghosts, anyone?!) but also fascinating - there is almost no way of guessing the ending so it really does have you hooked until the end. Do not read in the dark. 

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware*

I read this book within 24 hours, and it was exactly what I needed and wanted to read. It's a tense thriller centred around female friendships. Some of the characters are a little clichéd (the glamorous girl and her needy best friend, for example) and the ending is a little predictable if you've read a few thrillers before, but it's still a very enjoyable read with a few twists and turns. The setting of an imposing, secluded house in the middle of the woods, with no phone signal, is enough to add an air of foreboding to the story and it will definitely give you chills! 

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Oh, what a magical tale this is. It tells the moving story of Tita, who is doomed to care for her mother until her death and therefore cannot marry her true love, Pedro. In frustration, he marries her sister instead, which is only the start of the tragedies that befall them. Tita is a magical cook, and her food invokes powerful emotions in those who eat it, which infuses the novel with delicious, evocative scenes. It's beautiful and bittersweet. 

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard*

Mare lives in a world divided by blood, where 'common' Reds are ruled by a Silver elite who possess superpowers. When Mare finds herself working at the palace, she discovers her own power - which should be impossible since she's a Red. Her newfound powers could unsettle the balance, which places Mare in a very dangerous position... If you've read Hunger Games then you'll definitely recognise some of the tropes of this novel - feisty heroine who must lead a revolution to save her people from an oppressive regime, whilst torn between the boy she spent her childhood with and the one who has come into her life and understands her new position. However, that doesn't stop this from being a fun novel which will have you turning pages as quickly as you can. I can definitely understand why it's been such a huge bestseller this year.

*I RECEIVED COPIES OF THIS BOOK FOR REVIEW PURPOSES. 

My 10 Favourite Books of 2015

books of 2015

I'm closing in on my target of reading 100 books in 2015, with only a few days left to go. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to finish in time and, looking back, I can't believe how many books I managed to get through in just one short year. I feel like I've learnt a lot from taking on this challenge, not least that I really can find time for reading if I prioritise it. I've fallen for reading all over again, and I've discovered new authors and a book-ish community online, and it's just been wonderful. My 'to read' list was around 200 books at the start of the year and, although I've read almost 100, the list has grown to over 400 in that time. Reading more makes me want to read more - there are so many fantastic books out there to get my hands on and I'm discovering more all the time. 

That said, not every book I've read this year has been a stand out. There have only been a few duds, books I wish I hadn't picked up but finished for the sake of this challenge, and only one that I put down and never picked back up again. There have been lots of enjoyable books, but many of them don't stick in my mind longer than a week, and are unlikely to become permanent favourites. However, these ten books have stayed with me throughout the year for one reason or another, and I've been recommending them to as many people as possible. Some are just incredible reads; the kind you want to tear through in a day and simultaneously wanting to get to the end, whilst never wanting to get there because it will all be over. Some are thought-provoking and life-changing. A couple are a mixture of both.  

Dare Me by Megan Abbott 

Addy and Beth are the queens of the school, and of the cheerleading squad. But when a new coach begins to favour Addy over Beth, who has always been top of the stack, the cracks in their friendship begin to show. This book set me on a bit of a Megan Abbott binge and, although her other books are enjoyable, this one is addictive. It's fast-paced, slick and tense. It captures something unique about teenage girlhood, friendship and ambition, and you'll devour it in a day. 

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

This is Amy Poehler's memoir and it has changed my life. I'm not exaggerating about that (for once). Not only is this a gentle, funny look at Amy Poehler's life, it's also full of wisdom about being a woman in the world. I bought the audiobook, too, and listen to it whenever I feel sad. Amy Poehler has such a wonderful way of looking at things, and I hope one day to be able to be so generous of heart and spirit. 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 

I was initially dismissive of Rainbow Rowell's work, which seemed too romantic, too schmaltzy for my tastes (based on the cover I should add - a lesson for all of us). I was so, so wrong. Her books are heart-warming, smart, funny and an all round delight. Fan Girl follows fan fiction author and new college student Cath as she navigates the new world she finds herself in on her own, without her sister Wren. Prepare to laugh, cry and nod your head in recognition. 

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

This book is so hard-hitting, it will stay with you for a long time. It was one of the first books I read in the year, and I'm still recommending it to people all the time. Set in a dystopian universe where women are bred to be wives and concubines and trained in the art of pleasing men, competition is fierce between girls for the most covetable 'wife' spot. It's uncomfortable and a little too close to home, despite the dystopian setting, but so, so good. 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler 

I went into this book blind, and it absolutely blew me away. The book tells the story of Rosemary and her family, including her unusual sister Fern, who disappeared when Rosemary was young, and her estranged brother, Lowell, who is wanted by the FBI. As the tale unfolds, this book will make you question some of your most deeply held beliefs about family and humanity. Truly unusual and astonishing. 

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel 

This book is magical - it seems that everyone who picks it up absolutely loves it, and I'm sure you will, too. I'm not usually one for post-apocalyptic takes, but this one is just so riveting and so wonderfully weaves together personal narratives with a wider story arc - both as poignant as each other. A flu virus takes out most of humanity, and you must watch as mankind is devastated. Fifteen years later, you pick up with a group of travelling Shakespearean actors, bringing hope to this new world, until they come across a violent prophet... 

You by Caroline Kepnes 

Oh gosh, this book. I wanted to read it again as soon as I had finished the last page, and I'm so excited to hear that there is a sequel on the way. 'You' follows stalker-turned-boyfriend Joe, as he obsessively manipulates beautiful, aspiring writer Guinevere Beck. This book is absolutely thrilling, and it's definitely interesting to hear things from the stalker's perspective... 

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik 

Sofia Khan is a Muslim woman living in London and trying to navigate dating, her family, her friends and her religion. It's a Bridget Jones-style take on modern dating life from a character that you can't help but love for her forthrightness and her kind heart. For non-Muslim readers it feels familiar and unique all at once, and is truly a charming read. 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

 Ta-Nehisi Coates tells his life story, focusing on what it really means to have a black body in the USA. It's incredibly moving and so thought-provoking; I've had numerous conversations about its contents since reading it on holiday in October. With race relations in the USA being what they are, this is a really important book. 

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall 

Don't read this book if you don't want to be completely emotionally wrung out by the end, because there's no way to survive this book intact. Dan tells the true story of his chaotic family life, as they struggle to care for his terminally ill father, who was once the head of the household and the centre of their family, and their mother, who is battling cancer. It's frustrating, it's surprisingly funny, it's dark, it's emotional. It's brilliant.  

Book Club

november books

The Shining by Stephen King

The problem with reading classic books so long after they were written is how much they are embedded in popular culture. I knew so much of The Shining before I went into it, which I think ruined some of the surprises for me. As a genre which relies so much on thrills and spills, I don't think that this book had the same impact on me as intended. That said, I still got super freaked out whilst reading it, and whilst there was a bit of a slow start, I was gripped by the end. I loved that you weren't sure whether Jack was a bad man, or whether it was the creepy hotel that was working through him - it gave so much more depth and horror to the story. I loved the character of Dick Hallorann, he was excellent and worth reading the book for on his own and I loved his relationship with Danny (although Danny definitely seemed precocious for a five year old, even one with 'the shine'). I'm glad I've finally read this book, but I look forward to reading some Stephen King that isn't quite so famous so I can really get the full benefit of his skills in horror writing. 

Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson 

If you're after a thriller that will leave you breathless, then this is the one for you. I was totally hooked by this book from the very start - it's the second book I've read this year that focuses on memory loss as a device to create mystery, but this one was done so well that it didn't feel like a tired concept. Christine wakes up every day with no memories of her life, having to learn all over again about her husband and the life they lead together before the accident which left her with amnesia. With the help of a doctor she begins to piece together some semblance of the life she lead before, and the person she was, but all is not really as it seems. I loved the slow reveals in this book - every time you felt that you had a grasp on the truth, it slipped away from you, so you really felt Christine's frustrations. The perfect book to curl up with on a rainy Sunday!  

In Order to Live By Yeonmi Park*

Who could not be fascinated by North Korea? It's easy to joke about the ridiculousness of the leaders of this bizarre and barbaric place, but it really is a terrifying country. To be so controlled and indoctrinated is so alien to our way of life here in the UK (and in much of the rest of the world), that we can hardly imagine. Yeonmi Park's story is an extraordinary one - she tells of the hardships she and her family faced in North Korea, and of her life once she escaped to China and eventually to South Korea. At times it is truly distressing to hear about the reality of life in North Korea, and the suffering as a trafficked woman in China that even seems preferable to returning home. However, Yeonmi is such an incredible woman and her perseverance in the face of everything is humbling. Her relationship with her mother, in particular, will tug on your heart strings, and I found myself welling up with tears on more than one occasion. This is such an important story, and I hope that the telling and the sharing of it will help prevent further stories just like this one in the future.  

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán* 

Somehow this book manages to make some pretty serious topics seem light and, dare I say it, slightly humorous. Libby is diagnosed with cancer on the same day her husband decides to make a devastating announcement that changes their marriage forever. Understandably, her life begins to crumble and she takes off on a trip to get away from it all, where she meets a handsome stranger... This is a readable and likeable novel about a difficult subject, with a few predictable twists and turns. There are some wonderful characters - Libby's twin brother and the Puerto Rican lady she meets on her travels are both gems - but I didn't warm to Libby all that much. I didn't want her to die, obviously, but I just wasn't all that invested in a happy ending for her, which was a shame. That said, this is still a fairly enjoyable book - no mean feat, given the central subject matter! 

If You're Lucky by Yvonne Prinz*

Georgia's brother, Lucky, is the golden boy and everyone is devastated when he is killed in a surfing accident in Australia. After the funeral party, Lucky's friend Fin decides to stick around town and starts to worm his way into Lucky's old life. Only Georgia is suspicious of this charming stranger - is there more to him than there seems? I really wanted to like this book - I love a good thriller and a mystery stranger is always a good hook, but I just found it really frustrating. I could see where the author was trying to go with this, but I just didn't feel that it was very well executed. Everything seemed to escalate in severity very quickly, and the motivations of the characters weren't very well explained. Georgia has mental health issues which are meant to make it unclear to the reader whether she is imagining things, or whether she is the only one that knows the truth - it's the same device that works so well in Homeland but here it falls a bit flat. 

I Call Myself a Feminist by Various*

It was Jessica Valenti's 'Full Frontal Feminism' that first introduced me to the world of feminism, so I have a soft spot for thoughtful, funny feminist books. This is one of the best I've read for a while, and would be a great gift for the feminist in your life. I loved the breadth of topics covered in the book, which is designed as a collection of essays punctuated by feminist quotes. You've got everything from rape culture to female genital mutilation to motherhood and more. It feels like a really good snapshot of modern feminism, with a strong commitment to intersectionality, and has essays which are both introductory and those which are more complex. There were moments which made me feel so proud to be a feminist, and how far we've come as a movement, but also others which made me despair for the state of things and get angry - which is kind of the perfect balance for a book like this. A definite must-read! 

*I RECEIVED COPIES OF THIS BOOK FOR REVIEW PURPOSES. 

Book Club

book club

I hate to say it, but I'm behind with my reading challenge. Goodreads is reminding me daily that I'm two books behind schedule in order to reach 100 by the end of the year. This month has been light on the reading-front. I spent about two weeks battling through Helter Skelter, which was so much longer than I expected (although very interesting, which kind of made up for it). The thing is, when it's sunny outside, it's so tempting to just drop everything and head to the pub garden rather than battening down the hatches with a book. Still, I set myself a goal and I'm intending to see it through - so binge-watching Orange is the New Black will have to wait for me to catch up with myself. 

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi 

I am endlessly fascinated with cults, and serial killers. They are both so out of my realms of understanding, and I am desperate to wrap my head around their motivations and experiences. So the story of Charles Manson and The Family, who infamously committed a string of murders in California in the 1970s is, as you can imagine, the perfect marriage of two of the most bizarre and interesting, not to mention horrifying, parts of existence. This non-fiction book, written by the prosecutor who tried Manson and his co-defendants, is a bit of a slog and includes a LOT of detail. If you want to know the real ins and outs, then this is the book for you. Although I found the book interesting, there wasn't enough depth into the characters and motivations for my liking; perhaps, because it is impossible to know why these women would kill on Manson's command, and how he came to have that sort of power. Oddly enough, there was one moment where I actually sympathised with Manson - a brief, but surprising feeling given who he is and what he's done. This is the first true-crime book I've read, but I don't think it will be the last. 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold 

Oh, this book is heart-wrenching. Truly, truly heart-wrenching. I'm sure you know it, but if not then The Lovely Bones tells the of the aftermath of the murder of a teenage girl and how her family and friends come to terms with her death, with a surprising twist: Susie herself is telling the story from heaven, and has to come to terms with things herself. I choked up so many times, particularly when her Dad was struggling. It's the worst thing you can ever imagine, but then life still has to go on. This book is beautiful, and it will make you cry. 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This book is in hot contention for the best book I've read this year. I'll be thinking about it for a long, long time. It tells the story of Rosemary and her unusual family; at the beginning you think that she's just your average slightly-spoiled, rebellious college girl, but quickly you realise that there is SO much more behind the scenes. This book was really unusual, and had me totally hooked. I loved how Fowler wove in some pretty serious, meaty issues but with such a human touch - it didn't feel preachy but at the same time you felt like you'd learnt a lesson when you put it down. Definitely give this a go if you're looking for a new book. 

Black Iris by Leah Raeder 

I keep finding myself drawn to these kinds of Young Adult fiction books this year; they're easy, they're escapism and they're a little bit thrilling. This dark, sexy tale, however, is one of the better ones, with some fantastic writing to boot. I loved the language throughout, and the level of suspense. I got a bit tied up in the plot by the end, which felt a little bit convoluted, and I would question the motives of some of the characters, but I was hooked until the end. Want a decent beach read that isn't just fluff? This is it. 

Book Club

book chair

I have a new reading chair. It's comfy and yellow and just perfect for curling up in. I am trying to resist throwing all my clothes on it at the end of the day, so that it remains free when I have a spare minute for reading. That, I predict, will last all of a fortnight. 

I've not been sharing all the books I'm reading with you here, otherwise this would become a dedicated book blog and there are others doing the whole book-blog thing far better than I can. I am recording everything on Goodreads and it's amazing how many of the books I've read since January that I have already forgotten about. There are a few that really stand out, that I have absolutely loved, but far more than fade into obscurity within a few months. You can't really know how you'll feel about a book until it's over, right? You win some, you lose some, in all things. Books especially. 

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

This book has an intriguing premise, but a difficult one. Aysel is looking for a suicide partner online and finds Roman, who is determined that they should set a date for the deed in just a few weeks time. As they get closer to the date, and each other, one starts to get cold feet... I'm not sure how 'realistic' (for want of a better term) this book is in its portrayal of suicidal teens and the ending was perhaps a little predictable (not always a bad thing) but, for a book based around suicide, it was actually pretty sweet. 

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 

This book is lauded is genius, and I can understand why, but I didn't love it in the way that I wanted. Reading the blurb, it felt like something that would be right up my street but I found it clunky and although it was interesting to read a book which explored gender, it felt like something was missing in the portrayal of Callie. There was a disconnect between Callie as a narrator of the novel, and Callie as a character, about whom we learn little other than his/her hermaphroditic status (Eugenides has explained his use of the word hermaphrodite rather than the more accepted intersex as being part of the Greek classical tradition). I wanted it to be two stories - the story of Callie's incestuous grandparents, and the story of Callie; although it was written in the Greek epic style (a little joke about Homer in the introduction did amuse the classicist in me) it felt too long and disconnected. There were moments of brilliance - the courtship with The Object and Callie's relationship with Julie - but I wasn't as wow-ed as I wanted to be. 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

How has it taken me so long to read this book? Having had an interest in feminist literature (and simply feminism itself) for almost 10 years now (gosh...), numerous friends, teachers and articles have recommended this book to me but I have never gotten around to actually reading it. I think I was put off by the 'science fiction' description, and my previous experience of Atwood's work, which as been mixed (loved The Penelopiad - again, the classicist in me was rejoicing - but wasn't so enthused about The Blind Assassin). I'm admonishing myself now though, because I absolutely loved it. I loved the characters, the intrigue, the way it kept us guessing, the implications. I love how dystopian fiction like this throws into sharp relief issues that we are dealing with in the right here, right now. I wanted a little more closure at the end, and a little bit more explanation of how the world ended up like it is in the novel, but overall I was absolutely blown away. A total must-read. 

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou 

I've read this before, back when I was doing The Color Purple (my favourite book of all time) for A-Level coursework. Counting the years out, I realise how long ago that was, and I had actually forgotten a lot of what happens. This book documents the first part of Maya Angelou's life, from some amazing, life-affirming moments to some heart-breaking ones, as well. As with all of Maya Angelou's work it is wise and wonderful, and I loved it. 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng 

If you're looking for a real page-turning this Summer, then this is it. In the first sentence we learn that Lydia, beloved daughter and sister of the Lee family, is dead, but the whys and wherefores are kept a secret. Looking back over Lydia's life, and the life of her parents, you watch how events lead up to her death with that car-crash horror that keeps you hooked until the end. Exploring family tension, racial difference and the power of secrets, this is an excellent read; although at times the author over-eggs the pudding a little bit (you'll see what I mean) rather than working issues in subtly, I was left reeling at the end. 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 

This is the loveliest book I've read this year. It's just so sweet, and funny and light. The perfect corollary to so much else that I've been reading recently. Following the story of socially-inept genetics professor Don as he attempts to find a wife, this book is full of mishaps, capers and misunderstandings, just like any good rom-com. If you're looking for a book that will make you smile from ear to ear, this is it. 

What have you been reading recently? Share your recommendations with me! 

Book Club

book 1 I find myself quite attracted to Young Adult fiction at the moment. I have avoided it for the most part in the past, finding a lot of the tropes that characterise the genre a little frustrating, but right now it's exactly what I need and I've actually been pleasantly surprised by a couple of those that I have picked up. It's nice escapism, which is exactly why I loved reading as a teenager. I feel like I'd lost that part of reading for a while - I read to appreciate the beauty of writing, to find passages that made me think about the world, about myself - but sometimes I just want to read purely for entertainment and that is why Young Adult has been so perfect for me in the past few weeks. 

On a separate note, I'm considering doing these book reviews in video format in the future (or maybe as a podcast?!). I've been watching some BookTubers and I love hearing other people talk about books. I think it's easier to get across enthusiasm and nuance when you can see someone's face rather than just read their words (is that ironic, given that we're talking about books here?!). Anyway, watch this space! 

 

book 2

 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 

This is the book that really epitomises the adage 'you should never judge a book by its cover'. So many people have raved about this book, so I picked it up on the Kindle Daily Deals a few weeks back. I was hooked as soon as I started reading, which is really not what I was expecting. It was surprising in so many ways, but I particularly enjoyed the depiction of fan fiction culture, which sat so well against the other storylines. I loved the way the characters gleefully embraced their fangirl natures. This book was really heart-warming and I couldn't get enough. It made me want to go back to Uni and do research on fan culture, which is the nerdy sociologist in me talking, but I really thought it was an excellent, unusual backdrop for the usual YA story. Definitely worth reading, even if you're put off by the pastel cover! 

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas 

Combining a murder mystery thriller with glamorous teens, this is YA tropes writ large and I am unashamed in having enjoyed it. I think the ending was a little more predictable than I think was intended, but it still had that glorious moment of realisation when you realise your suspicions are true, and the whole story has been turned upside down. Some of the characters were a little bit lazy - the boyfriend, in particular - and I'm sort of over the 'hottest, richest guy at school dates the protagonist and turns out to be perfect and sensitive' because it's so unrealistic, but it the story was tense and the friendship between the two main characters made up for a bit of laziness in the other areas. 

Perfume by Patrick Süskind 

Something slightly different from all that YA! This is a dark, Gothic tale about Grenouille, a man with an intense sense of smell - which doesn't sound that dark until he starts murdering women in order to capture their perfect scent. He becomes obsessed with creating a perfume which would cause others to worship him as a God, which goes pretty much as you can imagine. This book is deliciously creepy, and the descriptions of scents are incredibly evocative. I wasn't in love with this book, but I definitely appreciated the exploration of smell as an important part of humanity and the sinister, but slightly pathetic, character of Grenouille. 

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill 

I absolutely LOVED this book. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, going into it, which made it all the better - it was unusual, surprising and lifted me completely out of my own world and into the chaotic, slightly dingy version of Montreal that O'Neill had created on paper. The story follows Nouschka Tremblay as she begins to navigate adulthood; she's the daughter of a famous folk singer who exploited her and her twin brother Nicholas for the sake of his career whilst abandoning him to the care of their grandparents and her whole life has been messy, grubby and lacking in stability. Her relationship with her twin brother is destructive, as he goes down a darker path and she tries to cling on to a 'normal' life, always teetering on the edge. This is a slightly surreal read - I particularly loved the way she described the many cats that hang around in the novel - and incredibly compelling. I loved Nouschka, I wanted her to have the best, happy ending. You'll have to read it to find out if she gets one! 

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill 

I couldn't put this book down; it was absolutely fantastic. O'Neill (no relation to the previous O'Neill, I don't think...) creates an intense feminist dystopia, where women are 'bred' and trained in a special academy to be the companions of men. Only a few can have the coveted wife spots, and there is prestige to be won by being chosen by the richest, most important boys, so they are in fierce competition with each other. A lot of the novel is taken up with their obsession with the way they look, with their weight, with how they compare with each other. It's society's body image issues writ large, and it's both horrifying and fascinating. I'm addicted to this book, I wanted to read it again straight away - if you're a fan of feminist dystopian fiction (and who isn't, amiright?) then this is a definite must-read. 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins 

Another book which I've heard a lot about, and another book which deserves the hype. It took me a little while to get into at the beginning, but by the end I was pacing the house, book in hand, too tense to sit still but desperate to find out the ending. The twist at the end was so surprising; I didn't see it coming at all, which I loved. The main character, Rachel, was so frustrating but so excellently written - her alcoholism (no spoiler, it's revealed pretty quickly in the book) is the perfect device to keep you guessing as most of the story is told through her eyes but her blackouts keep you from knowing the full picture until the very end. A lot of people have compared this to Gone Girl, and I can see why, but I actually enjoyed this a lot more so if you're after a bit of a thriller I would highly recommend this one! 

Book Club

book club 2

I'm attempting to read 100 books this year, and so far I'm on track. It's intense. It occupies a lot of my time - both the actual reading and the planning to read, the working out when I'll have time, when I need to finish each book to stay on course, what I'll read next. I'm enjoying it so far, and have read some really great books. I have over 200 on my to-read list, but I'm always looking for recommendations, so fire them my way! 

Catching Fire & Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

I have a lot of feelings about The Hunger Games series, most of which are probably as a result of reading all three books in just four days which basically gave me nightmares because it was so intense. As you can probably tell, I was pretty hooked from the beginning and I can't believe it's taken me this long to read these books - they're unusual, riveting and surprisingly dark. I quite liked that they had a bit of an edge, and I really liked Katniss' character throughout; I felt that she was really relatable and realistic - apart from the whole archery & survival badass thing. I didn't even mind the love triangle, which I know people have critiqued as unnecessary. I did, however, feel that the storyline span a bit out of control towards the end and was so fast-paced it was hard to keep up. I think this is my failings as a reader though; I always want a happy ending, or at least a satisfying one, and I don't really feel like I got that. Katniss was so out of it for most of the third book due to injury or illness that things felt distorted, and there were a couple of plot points that I didn't agree with but which I won't share due to the *massive* spoilers it would give. I just wish that things had turned out better for all the characters, really. I'm sentimental like that. 

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

I'm sure most of you have read Pride & Prejudice, whether through choice or because of a school assignment. I originally read it due to the latter, and I'll admit that I didn't really like or appreciate it. I was never an Austen fan, finding her trivial and sentimental - which just shows how mature I was when I was making those criticisms. Now, I couldn't be further from that - whilst I'm not an Austen super-fan and some of her novels don't really do it for me, Pride & Prejudice is on another level. It's witty, it's charming, it's gripping. It's everything I want in a novel and more. Whilst the love between Darcy and Elizabeth has been idolised in popular culture, for me it is the relationship between the sisters, and between Bingley and Jane that hold the real sway. Elizabeth is one of the best heroines in English literature, in my humble opinion, and I wish that there had been a sequel so I could keep reading. 

How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is one of my favourite writers - heck, one of my favourite people - and I was very excited for her new novel. I devoured this in mere hours and wasn't disappointed. Like her first book, How to Be a Woman, it's laugh-out-loud funny and tears-in-your-eyes poignant all at the same time. It's about class, sex, career, life, being a woman and trying to build yourself from the ground up - which is basically everything I like to read about. The cast of characters is a rag tag bunch, mostly well-meaning, and Johanna, the protagonist, is adorable, flawed, wild and wonderful. I'd really like to see something from Moran that isn't a variation on this theme - working glass girl turned music journalist - because I love her ideas and her way of expressing them, her open-hearted honesty and whip-smart wit, and I sometimes felt like I was re-reading How to Be a Woman. I want more! 

Julie & Julia, Julie Powell 

A book about being a food blogger. How apt, you might think. I actually wasn't blown away by this book, despite the subject matter, which tells the story of Julie, a New York secretary who embarks on a year-long challenge to cook everything from Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking vol. 1' in an effort to kickstart her life. Or at least, that's what I assume her motive is - it's not very well explained and there are times when I just thought 'But why?'. There was no rhyme or reason explained - but maybe there was no rhyme or reason in reality either; this is a true story after all. There were some touching moments and I enjoyed learning more about Julia Child - and about French cooking - but I just wasn't charmed (maybe because she kept insulting her husband - if I'd been him, I would have had some serious issues with this book) and it's not one I'll go back to. I'm also a bit put off mastering the art of French cooking myself, especially if it involves so much offal... 

Dare Me, Megan Abbott 

I think this is my favourite book of the bunch, a story of cheerleaders with a dark edge, a mystery to solve and a friendship gone awry. It starts out innocently enough as a tale of teenage jealousy and competition, but the tension ramps up throughout the novel until it's almost unbearable. Told my 16-year-old Addy, the book starts as a new cheerleading coach arrives, toppling Addy's best friend and Queen Bee Beth from her captaincy - who immediately looks for revenge. Addy and the new coach become closer as Addy's relationship with Beth becomes more strained, until events spiral out of control. The whole book feels slightly menacing, in the best way, and there's an excellent twist. The language is brutal and visceral. I already want to read it again. 

Book Club

book club

I often wonder if I will ever reach the end of my 'to-read' list - which currently stands at around the 200 books mark. With new books being published all the time on top of all the old classics that I've never gotten around to reading, it seems pretty impossible. I'm hoping that my goal of reading 100 books in 2015 will put at least a bit of a dent in it. The trouble is that re-reading books is often just as good, if not better, than reading them for the first time - there are so many that I've read once but want to delve into further, whether it's to find something as yet undiscovered, or to revisit the comforting things I know are held there. Book-reading-wise, it will have to be the journey, not the destination, that really matters. 

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, Joanne Harris 

 I have now finished the 'Chocolat' series as it stands, but my hunger for more of Vianne Rocher's adventures is definitely not satisfied. I absolutely adored these set of books - more than I even imagined I would. The wonderful characters, the mouth-watering descriptions of food, the slight touch of magic, I am totally gripped. Somehow Joanne Harris manages to weave the perfect story - keeping me on edge for page after page as I long for a happy ending for my favourite characters, and for a less-happy one for those I dislike. Absolutely perfect. 

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee 

I first read this book in a Booker Prize class a few years back, and whilst there's no denying that this is a brilliant novel, I didn't enjoy it as much this second time around. I think it's the tired stereotype of the ageing literature professor, who somehow manages to seduce his beautiful student and then tries to make the encounter seem deep and meaningful. I've read that character too many times and I don't care for him. That said, this book is incredibly artful - it's set in post-Apartheid South Africa and deals with some pretty hefty stuff, like the possibility of redemption, the realities of violence, personal shame, animal rights. It's packed in. There are moments of sheer brilliance as he snatches the book away from being a purely political book - which, given the subject matter, it could easily become - into something greater but I can't help wishing the story was told from his daughter's perspective, throughout. She was the far more interesting character. 

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Another re-read for me - I've been meaning to pick this book up again since the movie was released because I'd mostly forgotten it, and it's always better to read the book before you see the movie. As I remembered, the language is stunning, the picture painted of Gatsby's decadent, fabulous and yet shallow parties is inspired and the ending tragic. However, I found that the pace was a little fast and some of the revelations a little too convenient - it felt like it was over before it really began. Which is perhaps reminiscent of the very Jazz Age that it critiques, but I would have preferred things to be a little more drawn out. 

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen 

This was the first novel that Austen completed for publication, although I believe it wasn't published properly until after her death. It certainly doesn't feel as nuanced as Pride & Prejudice, and the main character, whilst charming in her lack of negative characteristics, is also intensely irritating as a result. This book is a classic comedy of manners, critiquing high society and the 'marriage market' of Austen's day but, whilst the hero is one of Austen's better ones, the romance feels a little forced and the circumstances that lead to the ending are quite far-fetched. I'll definitely be sticking to her more popular novels in the future.  

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett 

How did I miss this book when I was a child? It's absolutely glorious! Such a sweet, heart-warming tale - if there ever was a happy ending of a book then this is it. I don't have much more to say than that - if you haven't read it, you really must. 

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

This is another instance where I have been holding off on watching the movie until I've read the book, and I'm glad I waited because I loved this book! I borrowed the whole set off my sister at Christmas and read the whole first instalment on New Year's Day. I'm not usually a young adult fan, but this was totally riveting. The characters are excellent and I love how they defy the usual stereotypes, with Katniss being the slightly-surly hero and Peeta being the charming, loved-up one. I was totally gripped until the very last page, and I am so ready to read the next ones!