January reads 2016

I’ve taken a break from reviewing/blogging the past couple of months, but I really got back into reading in January after only reading half of Dune and nothing else in December. I’ll get back to doing full reviews in February, but for now some mini-reviews of everything I read in January in the order I read them:

duneDune by Frank Herbert (novel)

This book is exactly why I hate reading my friends’ favourite books of all time. It’s not that I hated it, I just felt ‘meh’, the worst of all the book reactions. I think Herbert is a great world-builder and I can see how elements of the story influenced a huge number of people, but I just didn’t care about any of the characters. If it had ended with a huge asteroid plummeting into the building, it would have been an annoying ending but I wouldn’t have cared that all the characters were dead. Unfortunately, meh.

half blood princeHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (novel)

Continuing my slow read-along with the Witch, Please podcast (you’re listening already, right? Smart and funny feminist critique and love for the series – you must). Harry is annoying in this (he’s supposed to be), but I found him less annoying than the first time I read it. This book has some interesting things/issues to think about. For example, I don’t like that as Tom Riddle starts creating more horcruxes (and crossing the line over to ‘evil’) he loses his good looks and becomes more disfigured. Yay for disfigurement = evil. Sigh. The final book has always been my favourite (I ignore the epilogue), so I’m looking forward to seeing what I think when I get to that in February/March).

the red treeThe Red Tree by Shaun Tan (graphic novel – fiction)

I absolutely loved this. The whole book is this really beautiful depiction of depression and sadness; he almost doesn’t need the short sentences that accompany each picture. I think it jumps to a happy ending a bit too quickly and I wish it had been a bit longer, but this is definitely my favourite read of the month. Stunning.

bitch planet 6Bitch Planet #6 by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Taki Soma (comics – fiction)

It’s back! Again! This is one of the special third issues, this time about Meiko Maki’s history. A short, dark origin story with some really great lines and imagery. There’s also an absolutely brilliant reply by Kelly Sue to a ‘not all men’ letter, and a nice tease on the back page about the beginning of the second arc…

the killing jokeThe Killing Joke by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland (comics – fiction)

It’s taken me ages to get to this, possibly because I don’t often read superhero comics. I like the idea behind it that anyone could become the ‘bad guy’ given a bad enough day, but I think it needed an extra few panels, maybe a page or two, as his final conversion to the Joker felt a bit too quick. It’s Alan Moore, so it’s dark, but not long enough to be as great as it could have been.

sumSum by David Eagleman (short stories)

I like the ideas behind this collection (different versions of the afterlife – like working as a character in other people’s dreams), but I ended up giving up half-way through, despite how short it is. I enjoyed a couple of the stories, but quickly felt bored and unmoved. Life’s too short, ironically.

sugar and snailsSugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin (novel)

I’m not really sure what I think about this, and it’s hard to talk about without giving everything away. It’s a coming-of-age-in-later-life story, moving backwards and forwards in time as the pivotal moment in Diana Dodsworth’s life is slowly revealed. I think the balancing between the two time periods, and the timing of the reveal, is well-handled. There were just a couple of moments that made me cringe at the language dealing with an issue (when it was the narrator and not tied to the views of another character).

the art of askingThe Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer (non-fiction)

This came extremely highly recommended, and I like Amanda Palmer, so I think my expectations were too high. I nearly gave up during the first part because I didn’t like the writing style at all. I don’t mind when books rapidly switch between periods of time, but it was very repetitive and felt more like a rushed first draft. I am glad I stuck with it, though, as the writing does smooth out as it goes on (though still repetitive at times). I agree with some of what she says and disagree with other things, which is much the same as what I think of her outside of the book. As it needs another couple of rounds of editing, I’d skip this and just watch her TED talk, which has everything the book does, except her relationship with Neil Gaiman, in a much more concise way.

Also on the blog this month:

My 10 favourite books of 2015

Currently reading: The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm (for the Women’s Lives Book Club – an online book club dedicated to reading biographies of women. There’s still plenty of time to join in – just contact Rachel Syme)

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10 best books of 2015

These are the ten books that I enjoyed the most, that made me think the most, that made me feel the most, or sometimes all three. It includes 3.5 non-fiction books, 1.5 poetry collections, 4 novels, and 1 comic (plus 4 honourable mentions because yes). The first two are my joint absolute favourite read of the year, but the others are in no particular order:

sapiensSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (non-fiction)

There is so much in this book. It’s about history, science, the environment, religion, politics, philosophy, economics, and what the future might look like. No matter what your interests, there will be something in Sapiens for you. Highly readable, fascinating, and challenging. Full review here.

citizenCitizen by Claudia Rankine (poetry & non-fiction)

This is an incredible collection of poetry and non-fiction essay, interspersed with artwork and photography, about what it means to be black in America. It’s raw, powerful, angry, and, at times, tinged with a kind of resigned sadness. Even if you aren’t much of a poetry reader, I urge you to pick this up. Full review here.

StiffStiff by Mary Roach (non-fiction)

I loved this book about all the different things that can happen, and has happened, to bodies after death. It’s a book with lots of interesting stuff in it, from body snatchers to the process of a ecological decomposition, and makes you think about what you might want after death. A non-morbid, morbid book which is interesting and funny and moving. Full review here.

the wicked and divineThe Wicked and the Divine: Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson (Comics)

Although I didn’t like the second volume quite as much, I loved this. It’s about how every 90 years, twelve gods become human, are worshiped, glorified and hated, and then die two years later. In their current incarnation, they are rock and pop stars – there is a David Bowie-esque one (Luci, a reincarnation of Lucifer, who I have a massive crush on), a Florence & the Machine type, etc. The colouring in particular is great, and the writing is a lot of fun.

moby dickMoby Dick by Herman Melville (novel)

This wasn’t what I was expecting at all, in an excellent way. The bulk of the novel is series of ‘diversions’ and very little plot, but that’s where the good stuff is – all the grand themes about what the knowable-unknowable white whale means to you, the environment, self-destruction, obsession, racism, and just about everything else is in the irrelevance. It’s surprisingly readable and has very short chapters, so well worth a go if you’re not sure. Full review here.

black countryBlack Country by Liz Berry (poetry)

Berry is from the Black Country, and the collection is centred around that area and its dialect, but it is also more broadly about what home is, about leaving the place you grew up and going back to it, and growing up generally. I love the way she uses imagery like

For years you kept your accent
in a box beneath the bed,
the lock rusted shut by hours of elocution

I think part of what made this one of my books of the year was seeing her read at an event, as she’s such a great performer of her poems. You can check out a video of her reading poems from this collection here.

Henrietta lacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (non-fiction)

Henrietta Lacks died in 1951, and this is a book about the two strands of her immortal life – her cells and her family. It’s also about medical ethics in research, medicine and race, the question of who owns the bits of body that are removed (like cells, tonsils, or blood), and the huge number of scientific discoveries made possible by Henrietta’s cells. Though at times Skloot inserts too much of herself in the story, I really like the journalistic writing style. Full review here.

giovanni's roomGiovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (novel)

This book is just devastatingly beautiful. It’s only 150 pages long, but packed full of beautiful prose and aching emotion. Even though I was frustrated with the narrator and his actions most of the way through, I could understand why he was acting the way he was – that intense brilliant/horrible feeling of loving someone made even more intense by the fact it was a forbidden love and one that he consequently felt ashamed of. Oh Giovanni.

All the birds, singingAll the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (novel)

Evie Wyld has exactly the kind of writing style I like – deceptively simple and beautiful. The structure of this book is also really interesting. The chapters alternate between the present moving forward, and the past moving backwards. It means Jake can never outrun her past, as it continues to catch up with her, and where she ends up (whether good or bad) is literally right next to where she started. Full review here.

signs preceding the end of the worldSigns Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (novel – Spanish in translation)

Translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman. I loved the writing style of this novella, as well as how ambiguous the ending is. For such a short book, it packs in so much about language, borders, family, and immigration. Full review here.

 

And because it’s hard to choose just ten, here are four honourable mentions that nearly-but-not-quite made the list:

Sweet Home by Carys Bray (short stories) – This is a really strong collection that broke my heart a little and made me say wow out loud. Full review here.

Fan by Danny Rhodes (novel) – It’s a grim and raw book, with so much unhappiness, and one in which you are not always going to like the central character. But it’s also gripping, beautifully written, and feels emotionally true (the author was also a Forest fan at Hillsborough that day). Full review here.

Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner (graphic novel) – It has the feel and shape of a short story, in a good way, with the sparse yet moving writing style I liked so much in All The Birds, Singing. The art style works really well with the writing and I like how it makes the sharks seem both more and less real at the same time. Full review here.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (non-fiction) – A book about nature and our relationship to it in the rawest sense, and how grief blurred the lines between the hawk’s taming and Macdonald’s own untaming. It’s incredibly well-written and very visual with beautiful imagery and description, and the different parts of the book blend together seamlessly.

Happy reading for 2016!

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November reads 2015

between the world and meBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (non-fiction)

This lives up to all the hype. Written as a letter to his teenage son, Between the World and Me is about what it means to inhabit a black male body. It has the death of Coates’ friend at university at its centre, but is also about how history has led to this present, and what might come of the future. There were a couple of bits I didn’t like, and I preferred Claudia Rankine’s Citizen which covers similar themes, but this eloquent and emotional book is still well worth your time.

saga 5Saga volume 5 by Fiona Staples & Brian K Vaughan (comic – fiction)

All of the different storylines are coming together and, because I’m reading it in trades rather than singles, it took me a little while to get back into it and remember who was who and where and why. Volume 3 is still my favourite, but I really enjoyed this one too. It has a general theme of the ethics of violence, particularly when it came to Marko’s history, and introduced a bunch of new weird characters ready for the next volume. I’m looking forward to it already.

liliths broodAdulthood Rites by Octavia Butler (fiction)

Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler (fiction)

These are the last two books in the Lilith’s Brood trilogy. I always think I’m not that into sci-fi, but I think I actually love it. Each book is narrated by a different kind of creature (human/construct/ooloi), each a few decades ahead of the last. It’s partly about the ‘human flaw’ – intelligence at the service of hierarchical behaviour – but also about the ethics of what the alien race, the Oankali, are doing. For me, that was the most interesting part alongside the plot. Butler never truly, directly addresses the problems with the Oankali’s ethics, and just hints them through some characters’ actions. I love when an author leaves spaces for the reader to think and fill, and it seems harder to do well with a book that’s so plot-driven. No wonder she’s the queen of sci-fi.

our endless numbered daysOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (fiction)

This is a gripping and enjoyable book, and really good for a wintery night, but I found the twist annoyingly obvious and, for some reason, found the book unsatisfying as a whole. Full review here.

wide sargasso seaWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (fiction)

As you probably know, this is Bertha’s story, the ‘mad woman in the attic’ from Jane Eyre. It’s told from the perspective of both Bertha (real name Antoinette) and Mr Rochester, and takes place mainly in the Caribbean where Antoinette lives and meets Rochester, with the ending crossing over with events in Jane Eyre. Sadly, I liked the ideas of the book more than the book itself. But I do get the feeling I’ll enjoy it more on a second reading – something about the purposeful disorientation of it is worth another look.

Also on the blog in November:

My budget bookish gift guide – everything for your favourite book nerd for less than the price of a paperback

Currently reading: I still haven’t settled on a book but probably City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

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Budget bookish gift guide

It’s always fun finding great presents for people, but it can be difficult at Christmas when you’re on a budget and buying lots of presents at once. Here are a few bookish present ideas which cost less than a paperback.

Photo 25-11-2015, 20 26 15‘Reading Night In’ Box

Every reader likes a cosy night in to read, especially when the weather is wuthering outside. The great thing about a night-in box is you can spend as much or as little as you like and totally personalise it for the recipient. You just need a box (a shoe box is a good size), and fill it with things for an evening staying in to read. You can include things like nice hot chocolate, snacks, comfy socks, a bookmark, a mini bottle of wine, whatever your budget allows. If you can afford it, include a book, but if not, don’t worry – just label it as a ‘reading night-in box’ and the person will get the idea. (I’ve done night-in boxes as wedding, birthday and Christmas presents, and just adapt the box to the person & occasion. It’s my go-to gift).

Photo 24-11-2015, 14 17 08Tea with Dumbledore

The gifts in the Harry Potter studio tour shop are lovely but too expensive for a lot of people. I did this ‘tea with Dumbledore’ for a friend’s secret santa and it cost about £6 (plus the brown paper & string which I already had):

  • House Elves Christmas Tea – loose leaf Christmas tea that smells amazing from The Great Tea Blender  (25g for £2)
  • The Silver Snitch tea strainer – small silver spherical tea strainer also from The Great Tea Blender (usually £3.99 but bought in a gift set with the tea for £5 total)
  • Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans – Sainsbury’s own brand jelly beans
  • Muggle chocolate frogs – a couple of Freddos!

rainy day activity bookRainy Day Activity Book for adults

There are some absolutely beautiful colouring books for adults by Johanna Basford, which would make a lovely gift alongside some colouring pens/pencils. However, if that’s too expensive check out these rainy day activity books by Pizza Eaters. They cost £2.50 each (plus postage), and come in different themes from eighties movies to Buffy to Game of Thrones, and contain things like colouring-in pages, dot-to-dots, and word searches.

monster bookmarks

Homemade bookmarks

I have little to no crafting skill, but if you do there are lots of ideas for beautiful and quirky bookmarks on Pinterest. Sometimes craft supplies can mean it ends up costing more that buying new, but you can make cool monster corner ones like these using an envelope.

bookplatesBookplates

The Literary Gift Company has a range of different book plates (£2.99 for 25 plus postage) for the book nerd in your life that likes to organise and lay claim to their books before lending them out.

toteTote bags

Books and tote bags belong together (you can spot someone who works in publishing by the sheer number of tote bags they own) and now that carrier bags cost 5p they can double as bookish shopping bags. Out of Print Clothing do some gorgeous ones, but for about £13. You can find some author quote ones at The Literary Gift Company for £6 (and they also sell the more expensive Out of Print ones), and Waterstones also do some like the one on the right for £7-£10.

A dramatic reading

And if you get really stuck, you can always video a dramatic reading from one of their favourite books – it worked for Joey!

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Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

our endless numbered daysIn 1976, eight-year-old Peggy is taken by her father to a remote cabin, ‘die Hutte’, told her mother has been killed in an accident and the rest of the world has been wiped out, and they must find a way to survive. In 1985, aged 17, she has returned home, her mother alive. Told in chapters alternating between past and present, Our Endless Numbered Days is about what happened in between.

This is a gripping book, the kind you binge read over very few sessions. It’s also perfect for this time of year – even though there are long sections that happen in the summer, it’s absolutely suited to being curled up indoors while the weather rages outside.

However, the twist is extremely obvious and, as the book ends on the ‘reveal’, I’m not sure that it’s intended to be, which always annoys me a bit. There’s also a lot of beautiful writing and description but for some reason it didn’t register with me at all as I was reading it, though I did like the way it showed the dad’s (and Peggy’s) gradual mental unraveling, through his increasingly unstable moods and slipping into calling Peggy by her mother’s name.

Apart from the obviousness of the twist, there was nothing I particularly didn’t like about the book, and I was gripped by it, but I didn’t love it and it hasn’t stayed with me afterwards. It’s an enjoyable enough book, especially for a wintery night, but ultimately not a satisfying one.

I received a free copy from Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

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October reads – Writers of Colour month

Although I ended up being too busy with other things to blog (or read) as much as I would have liked this month, I did read some really great books. I had been planning to have some guest posts from other bloggers for Writers of Colour month, but I think asking people just the month before wasn’t enough time so it didn’t happen. Next time I do something like this I’ll plan and get organised a couple of months before. Anyway, books!

meatspaceMeatspace by Nikesh Shukla (novel)

This really wasn’t for me. I just don’t enjoy books/films/tv that makes me cringe (I should like Alan Partridge but I don’t, I hate cringing), and there’s a lot of cringing for the main character Kitab in this. I could see that ‘Kitab 2’ was partly a real-life version of the stories he would tell about his brother, but I found the character ridiculous and annoying (and cringe). I also really didn’t like the ‘twist’ at the end. So, yeah, not for me at all.

signs preceding the end of the worldSigns Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (novel – Spanish in translation)

Translated by Lisa Dillman. I loved this short novella. It’s ambiguous and beautifully written, and about language, borders, family and immigration. I need some more people to read it so I can discuss the ending! Full review here.

citizenCitizen by Claudia Rankine (poetry & non-fiction)

This is an incredible collection of poetry and non-fiction essay interspersed with artwork and photography. It’s raw, powerful, angry, and, at times, tinged with a kind of resigned sadness. Even if you aren’t much of a poetry reader, I urge you to pick this up. My pick of the month. Full review here.

giovanni's roomGiovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (novel)

Just devastatingly beautiful. It’s only 150 pages long, but packed full of beautiful prose and aching emotion. Even though I was frustrated with the narrator and his actions most of the way through, I could understand why he was acting the way he was – that intense brilliant/horrible feeling of loving someone made even more intense by the fact it was a forbidden love and one that he consequently felt ashamed of. Oh Giovanni.

liliths broodDawn by Octavia Butler (novel)

I really enjoyed this. Despite the fact it was slightly longer than most other books I read this month (still only 250 pages!), I finished it the quickest. It’s a proper page-turner, but with a lot to think about too. Having read The Book of Strange New Things so recently, I couldn’t help but compare the two. Even though I know they are supposed to be different genres (TBoSNT is literary fiction with sci-fi elements, while Dawn is sci-fi), I felt Dawn did everything I wanted TBoSNT to do and didn’t. I bought it as the whole trilogy (Lilith’s Brood) in one volume, and the end definitely felt like the end of a chapter rather than the end of a book, so I’m going to get stuck into the rest of it very soon.

the silence and the roarThe Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees (novel – Arabic in translation)

Translated by Max Weiss. This novella takes place over one 24-hour period of the life of Fathi, a writer in Syria who is considered a traitor for his views on the regime and so is no longer allowed to write. It’s about how a dictator must be adored, and how the hysterical crowds and the dictatorship feed into each other. It’s about what it’s like, and how, to be standing on the outside of that, and if it’s possible to stay on the outside. You can really feel the oppressive heat, mirroring the inescapable oppression of the unnamed dictator. I wanted a little something more from it, perhaps a little more subtlety, but it’s definitely worth a read.

Also on the blog in October:

A list of my favourite comic book creators of colour (though to be honest they are just general favourites anyway)

Some more Booktube recommendations #3

Currently reading: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (non-fiction)

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Booktube recommendations #3

Recommends #3 is finally here – another five booktube channels that predominantly discuss genres other than YA. I love all of these channels, so definitely check them out. As always, I’ve added their most recent video so you can get an idea of their style.

Star Crossed Smile Reads (SCS Reads)

Nnenna reads mostly adult fiction and posts reviews, tag videos, and the occasional vlog. She’s just so thoughtful and relaxed and I really enjoy watching her videos.

Rincey Reads

Rincey reads a range of books from middle-grade fiction to contemporary literary fiction and comics. She posts reviews and great book-related discussion videos on topics like what it means to be well read and reading diversely. I always end up adding at least one book/comic to my tbr. She also makes videos for the Book Riot channel, which is also worth a watch.

The Skeptical Reader

Yamini reads adult and classic fiction, some fantasy, and non-fiction. She’s a literature student, so you’d expect her to read a lot, but she reads really a lot every month. I have no idea how she does it. What I like about her videos is that she’s very honest about what she thinks, and is also quite analytical when she’s thinking about books, their characters, and plot.

Brown Girl Reading

Didi mainly reads literary fiction but also bits and pieces of everything else. She lives in France, so also reads in French! She’s extremely knowledgeable and passionate and always has interesting things to say about what’s she’s read. She often takes part in read alongs and is usually leading the way for (American) Black History Month with the hashtag #ReadSoulLit.

The Young, The Broke, & The Bookish

Adira hasn’t posted a video in about a month, but it’s still worth subscribing to her channel for when she’s back. She mainly reads adult fiction, YA, and non-fiction, and also runs the Writers of Colour book club on Goodreads. She manages to be thorough and informative and yet somehow concise at the same time. Hopefully she’ll be back making videos soon.

October is Writers of Colour Month on this blog.

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