Autumn begins with a few good reads – September Round-up

September was an odd month for me (I blame the Autumnal solstice and the darkening nights, cause it couldn’t POSSIBLY be my laziness. Nope. Not that.). The books I managed to read were all generally good and I would recommend them, however I spent far too long persevering with a book which I desperately wanted to like and ended up abandoning after about 2 weeks; and then the rest of the month scrolling the internet instead of reading (this I blame on the whole Sony/Marvel debacle while I not-so-patiently waited for confirmation that they were PLAYING US THE WHOLE TIME. Ahem. Moving on.) So there’s not a lot here, but other than my DNF I’d give any of them a shot!

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I am so late to the party on this one, but it has been sat on my TBR pile for months. This is the book that kickstarted me reading again after “it-that-shall-not-be-named” (at the bottom of this list.) and I suspect you already know how powerful and phenomenal it is.

Starr Carter is a typical teenager, studying for exams; navigating changing friendships; hiding boyfriends from parents. But as she and her childhood friend Khalil are driving home from a party one night, tragedy strikes and Khalil is brutally shot dead by a cop in front of her, igniting the racial tensions in the community and forcing Starr to question the prevalent institutional prejudice being aimed at her community. All while she is trying to grieve and come to terms with her own  heartbreak and trauma. Worse still, it’s not the first time Starr has had to witness the death of a friend.20190925_121435

Starr is a girl who straddles two worlds, the one she grew up in where she feels she can be herself, and the one her school sits in, one of opportunity and privilege but where she feels she needs to censure herself in order to fit in. What follows the horrific murder of her friend is a clash of those two worlds, and Starr’s journey to see if she can bring the two versions of herself together in a way that she is comfortable with. It is an astoundingly powerful story and should absolutely be a recommended text for all schools everywhere.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I love love love The Handmaid’s Tale – not the TV show, the book (although I watch the show avidly too). I think it was probably the last book to surprise me. I’d heard of it, but somehow my brain had assumed it was a historical story about a servant. I had no idea what awaited me; how horrifying; how powerful; how plausible a dystopia it contained. And through the horror I fell in love with Offred and Margaret Atwood’s sinisterly powerful writing. The Testaments is NOT the Handmaid’s Tale. It doesn’t contain the creeping horror or the unavoidable dread. But it is exactly what fans of the original 20190920_143823needed 30 years later, in a world skirting scarily close to an oppressive dystopia.

It is a more streamlined look at the world of Gilead, focussing on three separate female voices and experiences of the regime: Agnes who was raised a believer; Daisy who was raised in Canada but whose parents hold secrets close to their chests; and Aunt Lydia. Yes. That one. Each woman’s voice is individual; Daisy is a child of privilege, awakening to some of the global issues around her, Agnes is that of a devout believer and Lydia is…complex and will genuinely keep you guessing until the end. Most importantly in this political climate, it offers hope and shows that individual actions always count for something.

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Betty Widdershins and her sisters live with their sullen grandmother in Poacher’s Pocket; a rowdy, inn on the dreary island of Crowstone.

Desperate for a life of adventure, Betty plans a secret outing with her youngest sister to neighbouring Marshfoot for her 13th birthday, but is mysteriously caught mid-voyage by their Grandmother. Betty is then devasted to discover that all Widdershins’ girls are trapped by an ancient curse and if they ever leave Crowstone, they will die by the following sunrise.

Her grandmother attempts to soften the blow by showing the girls three magical objects which have been passed down through generations: an old bag that transports the bearer wherever they wish to go, a mirror which shows the holder whatever they want to see, and a set of Russian dolls containing the power of invisibility. When Betty tries to use these objects to change their fate, she inadvertently puts her sisters in mortal danger and has 24 hours in which to save them all.

This is a lovely, engaging story led by a brave and likeable heroine.

The Stone of Destiny by Caroline Logan ⭐⭐⭐ (and a half!)

I’m on the blog tour for this one next Monday, so I’ll post a full review then – but it’s ace!

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A School in South Uist: reminiscences of a Hebridean Schoolmaster 1890 – 1913  by F.G. Lea ⭐⭐⭐

This was a bit of a comfort read for me. Although it’s events take place over 100 years ago, the community, people and traditions it so gently describes are alive and well throughout the Hebrides, and defiantly recognisable to any who have experienced the way of life here… except now we have more cars. It’s not a dramatic story, but it is a cosy snapshot of Hebridean life and so would invoke homesickness in ex-pats or give a nice taster for those wanting to know more about the Hebrides. My only complaint is FG Lea spends WAAAYYYY to long talking about sport. Especially fishing.

Kraken by China Melville (uch…DNF)

I wanted to like this one so badly – from the cover (yes, I know, but LOOK at it ! ↓) to the concept (Copper is20190902_131936.jpg thrown into the underground world of Secret London Cuthulu Cults worshipping giant squid) this just looked my bag.

It was my curated book subscription book too, so chosen specifically for me; but at one point I actually googled the history and current stance on Cursive Writing, just because I was so easily distracted. Trying to keep my brain on this story was HARD work and even though I tried for nearly two weeks I only got about 8 chapters in. I couldn’t invest in the characters, I could barely understand what was happening half the time, and while generally I tend to let narratives like that flow over me until it clicks, I just couldn’t make myself care with this one…so apologies if it suddenly gets good 3 pages after I quit but Life’s too short.

 

Pick of the month: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 

Dud of the Month: Kraken by China Melville

August Reading Round-up

Whaddya mean it’s 3 days late? Phst nonsense..nope..*Sticks fingers in ears* La La La La Can’t hear you!

Ahem…

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Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Not due out until early 2020. Dear Edward tells the story of a 12 year old who is the only survivor of a plane crash that kills 191 people including his whole family. The book juxtaposes two time periods: the last 6 hours of the ill-fated flight and it’s passengers; and the following four years as Edward tries to come to terms with the disaster and find a way forward through his shock, survivor’s guilt and PTSD.

It’s a tragedy with no real narrative surprises but such beautiful insight into the good and bad elements of humanity that it proves compelling and heartbreaking in equal measure. It looks at the significance of mental health and examines how much harder emotional scars are to heal than physical ones and the importance of empathy and kindness in the building of relationships. This is going to be a must read for book clubs.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

JoJo Moyes has produced another readable and captivating story with The Giver of Stars, due out in October 2019. It follows the story of the 5 women who make up the Horseback Library between in the late 30s/early 40s and in doing so they find their independence, confidence and friendships that will last forever.

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Inspired by a real Horseback Library (but with fictional librarians) it’s a heartwarming, optimistic and empowering story who’s galloping pace and engaging characters manage to completely eclipse any moments of cheese and tweeness. AND it celebrates the heroism and natural subervisiveness of librarians. It’s going to be a crowdpleaser.

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Peter Grant is at it again, trying to make sense of the mystical world of River Gods and Fey and malicious poltergeists running riot around London. In Lies Sleeping, Grant and Nightingale close in on Chorley as he nears completion of his long term and devastating plan, and have to consider making a tenuous alliance with the most dangerous partner yet in order to ensure mutual survival.

The Breakneck pace and crime novel writing style belie the complex world building and story arc that means that, despite having read every other Peter Grant novel, I STILL have to revise the ongoing story arc on Wikipedia to remind myself of the historic and dimensional jumps and whether Leslie May is currently a friend or foe. I love these books, and there’s nothing else out there like them (Please ignore the comments that this is Harry Potter for adults, while I love Harry Potter this is much darker, gorier and grittier…and Peter has is a lot smarter), but be warned, you can’t just jump in in the middle of the series or you really will be lost. Go back and enjoy them from the start.

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sara Pascoe is one of my favourite comedians, so I expected the breathless irreverent humour present in this, what I wasn’t expecting was to learn so much about my own

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body.

In Animal, Sara has done research into what is known about the female body and how it responds to situations, and details what she has discovered, while dotting throughout some rather funny and touching anecdotes that demonstrate her newly discovered understanding of her psychology and physiology. If you are a woman, it is likely you will know a good portion of what is contained in here, but there’s always more to learn, and it makes an interesting and more identifiable take on the autobiography genre – one which while making you laugh – acts as an autobiography for the reader and their own body as well.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones ⭐⭐⭐

Ooft this was a tough one. The quality of the writing; the nuance and delicacy with which Jones tackles the havoc wrecked on the lives of the characters, and the adept handling of the complex feelings involved are all beyond excellent, and allowed me to read this book in less than a day. I sympathised and felt for the characters and felt rage at the horrific injustices done to them and the repercussions. But I didn’t like them. The levels of misogyny in Roy and Celestial’s father were stomach churning, and at times terrifying – even the way that Roy thinks and speaks of Celestial before the tragic night that rips them apart are framed in ownership and viewing her as a trophy – seeing her as a tick box accomplishment. Celestial was more likeable, and in an impossible position, but displayed moments of selfishness that it was hard to empathise with, mostly involving in-laws and parents. Ironically, in creating such well-drawn characters, such fully-formed people with the good and the bad, Jones has created characters that are fairly unlikeable

The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young ⭐⭐⭐

As a child found washed up on the beach, Tova found a home among the Svell, a private clan who fear and ostracise Tova for her gift of reading the future in the Runes, yet use her skills to guide their major decisions. When the Chieftain who provided her with at least a fragile protection takes offense at an unfortunate reading, Tova finds her position is even more brittle, but having been told for her whole life that she is a cursed Tova has nowhere else to turn. But once again her gift as a truth tongue sets in motion a series of events that might just lead her home.

This had all the elements of a book I should have loved, and it was good. But I didn’t find myself as emotionally invested as I had hoped. The characters are interesting but felt two dimensional and predictable which stopped them being compelling. Tova had very little agency, and even when she made a life-changing decision it felt as though she did so as a pawn of fate rather than a heroine in her own right. With everything seemingly pre-destined and controlled by the Spinners it removed any sense of jeopardy or intrigue. Very readable, but pretty forgettable.

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Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan ⭐⭐⭐

I’ve jumped around with this series a little, given I only just read the first novel in the Lady Trent Memoirs series last month, but I was excited to get my hands on the newest release, which is a spin off from those memoirs. Following the academic writings of Lady Trent on her findings on Dragons, this spin off focuses on the efforts of Lady Trent’s Granddaughter, Audrey, as she attempts to make an academic name for herself and step out from her famous Grandmother’s shadow. Audrey is commissioned to translate stone tablets which may hold the key to lasting peace between Scirling and draconian society, but political manoeuvrings and secret plans might be using her as a pawn.

Because I haven’t covered the whole series yet, I found a lot of the information in this one took so long to unfurl (Draconeans clearly appear much later in the Lady Trent series, but here knowledge of this half human half dragon race is assumed) that it probably had a significant impact on my enjoyment. But structured through journal and newspaper extracts as well as letters, this is a book whose structure is more compelling than the narrative it tells. Suspicions are raised early that all is not as it seems, but the reader can quite easily see the schemes afoot so long before Audrey herself figures them out that the story feels grindingly so until about three quarters of the way through when the action suddenly kicks in. A decent enough read, but not a standalone spin off and does drag for a while.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder ⭐

So a little glimpse of my haphazard review process: I keep a list of what I read in a word document so that I can remember and add to it or write reviews whenever I get a chance through the month. I never do – it’s always a last minute panic accompanied by “Shit, Shit, Shit, why am I doing this again?”

This month as I looked through my list to put them in some semblance of preferential order, but when I came to The Pisces I couldn’t even remember what it was about – just that I hated it. I had to go and look up the synopsis again at which point I shuddered and realised it’s not that it’s a forgettable book, I’d just blocked it from my memory for self-preservation.

The Pisces is described in the blurb as “whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy and above all, fearless.” It’s none of these things. Lucy is horrible. Not in her anxieties or fears or neurosis which I think everyone can identify with, but in her selfish behaviour and actions. The Dog dies FFS because she’s too busy off shagging people who frankly aren’t worth anyone’s time. She lost any inkling of sympathy or redeemability from me instantly. And “sexy” could not be further from the truth. The sex is awful, and fairly skin crawling, as are all her love interests. There’s no one to root for in this book, except the dog. And he dies due to neglect. Therefore this is a tragedy. Go to Ao3 if you’re looking for sexy fiction, cause this ain’t it.

Pick of the Month: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dud of the Month: The Pisces by Melissa Broder