November Reading Round Up

Bit quicker of the mark this month, hopefully that’s a good sign. I’ve enjoyed most of my books this month, bar one. I have a ridiculously large pile to read for December, the sooner the holidays the come the better! As always, let me know what you thought of any of these, or of any recommendations you may have based on the below.  Anyway, let’s Dig in:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Spoiler alert: Eleanor is not completely fine; She is a lonely, traumatised young woman thumbnail_20181110_211459who is the product of a deeply abusive childhood. But try telling her that. Her level of trauma is only superseded by her level of denial. And then slowly, and totally against her carefully mapped out routines, she begins to form connections. People come into her life who chip away at her carefully constructed walls and as her life begins to look a little messier and a little more joyful she begins to discover all the things she hadn’t even realised she was missing.

Equal parts absurdly funny and painfully visceral this book is a must read. It is optimistic and heartbreaking, empowering and full of love, and it perfectly highlights the impact a little kindness can have as well as the repercussions of casual cruelty. Yes, it’s everywhere, but don’t let that put you off – there’s a reason and there are elements of it which are much darker than I was expecting, despite the pervading sense of fun.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Following the death of her mother, Sophia and her Father move in with her Grandmother and establish a new family routine. The family spends its winters in town on the mainland and summers on a private island in the Gulf of Finland; a quiet, isolated existence where small joys become momentous and relationships count for everything.

The Summer Book hinges on Sophia’s relationship with her grandmother, while her father remains a faceless object on the periphery, preoccupied with work and hard graft to keep the family self-sufficient. Meanwhile Sophia and her Grandmother push and pull at each other as their relationship shifts and reforms over the years.thumbnail_IMG_20181117_212222_476 They fight, they make up and they explore their immediate surroundings, finding endless adventures in the tiny and unpredictable environment and a deep bond.

From the author of the Moomins, The Summer Book is a touching story with a predictably strong focus on the importance and warmth of family relationships. Its’ style is reminiscent of the Little House books (minus the problematic racism and sense of privilege). It’s beautifully atmospheric, resulting in a tangible sense of island life and the importance of different family relationships.

The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig

The Truth Pixie has been cursed since birth, unable to utter anything except the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even when it causes no end of discomfort, hurt and offence to the magical creatures around her. With such an affliction she feels she has no choice but to lock herself away and engage with people as little as possible and only when absolutely necessary, until one day, when it all comes crashing down in an encounter with a Troll. But this seeming disaster quickly leads to the Truth Pixie making her first real friends who teach her to accept and value her curse as a gift.

This one was so short I almost feel like I’m cheating including it, but its message of being yourself and you will eventually find your people is important. And it’s Matt Haig who is quickly becoming my must read author of 2018.

One of our Thursday’s is Missing

Yes, I’m still ploughing my way through this series. Despite some of its ideological complexity it is highly entertaining in its Meta assessments of the written word. A Detective series set inside a Bookworld inside an alternative Universe (Head spinning yet?), where Thursday Next can jump between reality and the settings of any written word, this is a typical mystery series set inside a very atypical world. And just as you feel you’ve got a grip on things, Jasper Fforde has a bit of fun and throws a spanner in the works with One of our Thursday’s is Missing.

This is the first book to be told from the perspective of someone other than the “real” Thursday, instead switching to the viewpoint of her fictional counterpoint, the ‘written’ who has a very different set of motivations, is treated as inferior by just about everybody but is similar enough to the original that her curiosity is not entirely under control, making her the only one trustworthy enough to track down the real Thursday and unravel the conspiracies threatening both the real and the book world. One of Our Thursday’s is Missing is as good as the best in the series and better than many of them, but if you reach this far in the series it’s safe to say that I’m preaching to the choir.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn

I do enjoy Crime Fiction, but it’s not my go to genre. I struggle with the predictability of it; I often feel like it’s trying incredibly hard to illicit an emotional reaction or deliver a shock and it very rarely does, despite stories being beautifully crafted and the obvious narrative skill from the author. thumbnail_20181129_085510I struggle with the voyeuristic nature of it; I am drawn into rooting for increasingly terrible things to happen, simply to provide me with entertainment which I sometimes find unsettling. And yet, I tear through crime fiction books fast. They seem to be light palate cleansers, endlessly readable, but leaving me ready to consume something more substantial.

Anatomy of Scandal is such a book. Kate Woodcroft is a Crown Prosecutor with a particular taste for prosecuting sex crimes. James Whitehouse is the rising star politician who finds himself on trial for rape. Taking a unique angle of a crime mystery by viewing it from the court trial as opposed to initial investigation, the twists and turns were still clear from very early on. This book is clearly a product of the Me Too movement. Entitled powerful white men benefiting from a system that gives them the benefit of the doubt potentially facing their comeuppance, and there are some wonderfully crafted moments and characters, but it never quite feels like it manages to break out of the generic crime fiction boundaries. Enjoyable and readable popcorn for the soul.

Sled Zepplin

Elma the Elf is new to Santa’s toy factory. She’s full of enthusiasm and initiative; two qualities that are firmly discouraged in elves. It quickly becomes clear why as Elma discovers a conspiracy of MI5 proportions:  Santa is missing, and has been for years, which as a mangy farting and forgotten Comet explains, is why Parents have taken to giving out cheap nasty toys and dressing up as Santa. (Beware of this depending on what level of belief your child is at as it may lead to awkward questions).

I was eager to read this as it’s the first book I was given for an honest review and who doesn’t love free books? But for a long time I couldn’t because the day it arrived and I read the opening sentence  (which is a corker of an opening sentence) to my 6 year old he disappeared with it into his room and refused to emerge until he’d read the whole thing. I’m not sure I can provide a better review than that – he devoured it and loved it. My one caveat would be that Cranachan Books is advertising this as an “advent book”, one chapter a night in the lead up to Christmas. It will never last that long because your kids won’t want to stop.

Elevation by Stephen Kingthumbnail_20181115_184640

The latest Novella from King is a strange affair. It tells the story of Scott Corey who has discovered that he is exponentially losing weight without losing any mass, a terminal illness that only leaves him with months to craft some sort of positive impact to leave behind on his small Maine hometown.

On the surface it’s a pretty hamfisted story of equality, homophobia and and prejudices, however it is intricately woven with the importance of kindness and neighbourliness overcoming perceived differences and bringing out the best in people. Given its length, it has to do its job in a very small space and manages to be intriguing and optimistic if a little preachy. On top of all that, it has the page turning readability of all Stephen King stories. The man could describe Government Policy and probably make it compelling.

Darke by Rick Geckoski

Dr James Darke is a dick. There’s no way round it. He is a pompous, selfish, cruel, racist dick and even as an understanding for his present day actions develops in graphic detail it doesn’t combat the fact that he was a dick before his more recent traumas. As a character study it is somewhat interesting. Seeing the difference between his thought processes as he freely writes in his journal and the more restrained version he presents to the world, including his loved ones, is a jarring contrast but yeesh; This was a struggle. It felt like being stuck in the brain of a psychopath.thumbnail_20181201_230313

The novel opens with Darke sealing himself away from life and while you begin to understand the reasons for this about half way through (and I don’t want to spoil this because as hard as it was to read what he and Suzy go through on a human level, this was the only thing that gave me any semblance of sympathy for Darke and kept me going until the end) you have to make it through too many instances of blatant cruelty and casually racist attitudes to get there.  I believe in the author’s note he refers to Darke as “Curmudgeonly” but that suggests some level of grumpy charm which he simply doesn’t possess. Darke clearly has a way of viewing the world that it’s tempting to dismiss as unique, but then his wife displays some questionable views as well and it’s hard not to believe that these are just hateful people. It’s a very ‘worthy’ book but not an enjoyable one.

 

Pick of the month: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Dud of the Month: Darke by Rick Geckoski

Spooktober reading

Yes, I know, it is a week since the end of October and I’m only just doing a monthly round up now, but in all fairness; I’ve only just decided that this is something I want to do, so consider this a practice run.

This has been a big reading month for me, so I promise that there won’t be this amount of content in every monthly round up, but in October I managed 12 books. Phew, no wonder I’m tired! A lot of this level of reading has something to do with an ongoing bout of insomnia: and a lot of my insomnia might have something to do with picking up books way too close to bedtime. Whoever advised that you should read before going to sleep at night to help relax was clearly reading very different sorts of books.

Anyway, moving on.  At the end of each month I plan to rank the books I’ve read that month – best at the top. I’m really shocked to notice that my two best books from October are non-fiction as I’m normally purely a fiction kind of girl (Real life has too many sharp edges).

The Guilty Feminist: From our noble goals to our worst hypocrisies by Deborah Frances WhiteIMG_20181028_162325_812

Anyone who uses podcasts should be listening to the Guilty Feminist podcast. Thought-provoking, educational, intersectional and always striving to be better while admitting to those little niggles that might undermine your best intentions, the Guilty Feminist community is a glorious community filled with laughter, hope and righteous anger when it’s required. It’s fair to say I love it, so when a friend sent me a signed copy of Deborah Frances White’s new book, which deals with the same themes, I immediately promoted her to best friend and gave her my children in my will. (I didn’t do that; She would never have forgiven me. She’s getting the cat.)

I am also stealing her review of the book because I haven’t thought of anything better and I’m shameless: “It’s a self-help book for people who hate self-help books.” And it is. I found it empowering, inspirational, funny and challenging. If you want to know how and why you should check your privilege, why you take every opportunity to make your voice heard or even why it’s ok to like Say Yes to the Dress and how Dirty Dancing is a feminist text, then this is the book for you. Bugger that, this is a book for everyone and everyone should read it now.

As you Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Ewles, Joe Layden and Rob Reiner

Look there’s no getting round it, I am a MASSIVE fan of the Princess Bride and have been for a very long time so picking this book to read was a no-brainer for me. An account of the Princess Bride from the perspective of a very young and green Cary Ewles with contributions from every other major player who is currently still alive, this book is as charming, innocent and full of love and nostalgia as the film itself. In fact it made me desperate to go and watch it again – which is what all good accounts should do. It feels a little bit too lovey at times, and the dismissive way everyone just accepts Robin Wright’s role boosting the male characters despite being the titular character is a little disappointing, but If you like the Princess Bride, this is a must read.

The Humans by Matt Haig IMG_20181015_215007_152

Matt Haig has been a bit of a discovery for me this year. I know he’s been around and doing his thing for ages, but I’ve only  just fallen in love with his style and imagination. The Humans feels like a mix between non-fiction and high fantasy. Ostensibly the story of an alien assassin sent to earth to impersonate a mathematician and remove any and all evidence of his latest groundbreaking discovery (seriously, what’s not to love about that concept?), the tale is actually a study of what makes us human, what connects us and how, given all our apparent cruelty, barbarism and hypocrisies, do we retain our optimism and earn our place in the Universe. It’s a lovely story full of heart in the face of apparent darkness. You will need to be able to suspend your cynicism and allow yourself to be swept along in the story, as Matt Haig’s writing works best on the emotive level.

First Among Sequels, Something Rotten and The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Somewhat unfairly I am writing a review for all three of these books together as they are all part of the same “Thursday Next” Series, which is suitably intricate so I would recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through. Even then you may find some of the more fantastical mechanics of how the bookworld operates confusing but the rollicking adventure more than makes up for it, and as Fforde points out through his characters “Some people like the technical stuff”.

Thursday Next is a literary detective for the Swindon division of Spec Ops in an alternate world where Dodos, Mammoths and time travel are all prevalent. Not only that but Thursday has discovered the ability to jump in and out of the “bookworld” which consists of any type of writing. Including washing instructions. If you are still with me then this is definitely a series to pick up. I’ve enjoyed them all so far, even the bits I didn’t fully follow. The world building is suitably whimsical and meta that it probably covers no end of narrative sins. Some characters are jarring, but few stick around for long and there’s endless fun to be had with spotting all the literary references.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Mia Warren and her 15 year old daughter Pearl live a nomadic lifestyle, but as they arrive in Shaker Heights they intend to bring that to an end, allowing Pearl to invest in making friends and hopes for the future for the first time. Their arrival however sends ripples throughout the rigid suburban community and particularly the tidy life of their IMG_20181018_183028_411landlady Mrs Richardson.

With a little space from this book I’m now torn. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, and the characters were well drawn. I didn’t spot a lot of the twists and turns or how well some of the sub-plot characters would connect with me and the “little fires” that are lit are absolutely needed to subvert the suppression. But I’m not jumping up and down with excitement about it. I’m glad I read it but I’m not rushing to recommend it to anyone as a must read, although I suspect it would make some people question their life choices.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Laura Miller

I picked this up because I was looking for something with a spooky atmosphere.  I loved the film from the 1960s and along with half the world’s population it seems, I’m currently hiding behind pillows watching the new TV show on Netflix (Which has very little to do with the book except for a few name checks and nods.). Focused on 4 people: 2 women with varying supernatural experiences, a young man who is set to inherit the house and Dr Montague who invites them to stay one summer and see what they can uncover within the supposedly haunted house, the narrative stays pretty close to Eleanor’s viewpoint. It does so so subtly that it is only as the book itself decends into madness alongside Eleanor that you realise how linked you are to her perspective. A nice read with plenty of atmosphere, it feels tame in comparison to even the 1960s film, let alone the current series.

False Lights by K.J. Whittaker

I received this book as part of my book subscription and absolutely would not have chosen this by myself, so going into it with fairly low expectations meant I was pleasantly surprised.  Set in an alternate universe where Napoleon won the battle of waterloo and England is now under occupation by the French, this historical romance novel follows the adventures of Hester Harewood. The daughter of a black sea captain and a disowned aristocrat, she has to avenge the murder of her father, tame her new husband who is suffering from PTSD and save her home, the Duke of Wellington and England itself, all while carrying the weight of society’s haughty disdain fuelled by racism. It’s a pretty heavy load, but luckily she’s a compelling heroine. So why so low on the list? I think because it feels so niche and while I was interested in what happened I don’t think I actually emotionally connected with anyone. For a start I loathed Jack Crowlas and so the fact that Hester was so drawn to him held me back from committing to her totally. If you like historical romance I think you’d love this. If you don’t, maybe steer clear.

The end we start from by Megan Hunter

In the near future London floods catastrophically, resulting in a mass exodus of refugees into the rest of Britain. On the same day, a London woman gives birth to a baby and she and her family have to flee the disaster area, suddenly displaced and lost. The narrative unfolds in short flashes of memory from the mother’s point of view as she tries to not only survive, but create some semblance of a life for her new child. This story was an odd one. I finished it in about 2 hours: I couldn’t put it down but the characters annoyed me so much with their choices, particularly towards the end that I was just left frustrated. It’s an unusual book, and certainly a memorable exploration of the “What if” dystopia scenario but beware feeling an anger that the protagonist is all too willing to forgive a pretty big wrong done to her.

Can you Hear Me? By Elena Varvello

An Italian man reflects on his 16th summer in a sleepy rural town where he started to discover some of life’s pleasures courtesy of his best friend’s mother, while his father spirals into a mental health breakdown that has catastrophic repercussions for his family. I found this to be a tough read, not simply because of the looming foreboding of Elia’s father. His mother suffers horrifically and has her efforts to protect Elia and hold her family together largely ignored. There are secrets hinted at and never revealed and the whole tale ends on a note of despondent acceptance. It was an effective story but I definitely needed something cheerier to read afterwards!

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell Lurene Haines

Yeah not a fan. The artwork was lovely, Oliver and Dinah were great. The story even had an emotional dimension that I welcome in my superhero stories.  But I have a real problem with how they chose to victimise Dinah without giving her a substantial story (Other than the repercussions of her investigation, her story is mainly conducted off panel) all for a pay off in future comics. Word to the wise, if you have to dedicate a section in your intro as to WHY you feel you had to abuse the female lead then you’re writing your female characters wrong. Moreover Oliver felt like a passenger in his own Green Arrow story. It’s all set up and very little pay off, and in a graphic novel that is considered a classic I expect more.

IMG_20181020_115237_913

Pick of the month: The Guilty Feminist: From our noble goals to our worst hypocrisies by Deborah Frances White

Dud of the month: Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell and Lurene Haines et all