June Reading Wrap Up

June is always the month I look forward to the most. In my mind, June is the perfect month – halfway through the year, not too far in that you can’t change how the year is going and also far enough that whatever you’ve done so far doesn’t mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. June is summer, sun, beaches, lazy mornings, salads for lunch that you actually choose to have because anything warm is a huge ‘no no’. For me, June also means my birthday, again perfectly in the middle so I have a little wait when it hits June 1st but also not too long. Most importantly, June is the month for sitting outside with a book, jumping from reading in the sun to scurrying back to the shade because your poor, english skin is unused to such weather.

This June, I did pretty darn well when it came to books – and I base that solely on the first book that I read, no, that I conquered, because ‘read’ is too light a word for completing the masterpiece that is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. WHAT a book. It’s been on my TBR so long that I almost don’t recognise the list without that title on there. An incredible re-imagining of what ancient gods would be like in the 21st century, and which new gods have been created to worship over time. This in a fantastic road-trip esque romp through the US, leading to the battle between old and new – with plenty of twists and turns throughout. Gaiman once again proving to be an incredible storytelling.

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After that, I was very easily swayed by a lot of friends in my decision to pick up HeartburnI by Nora Ephron. This was an unexpected gem, and one that I truly enjoyed. Bound in the new Virago Classic covers, this gorgeous looking book is, as the author prefaces, a novel/memoir/nonfiction/fiction journey. An examination of the days around the fallout of her second marriage, Nora tells the story with new names and a few reimaginings, but at the heart is Nora herself. The more I try to describe it, the worse I become at explaining exactly what this book does, but I recommend it all the same.

Whilst I like to think of June months as hot moments in the sun reading, the truth is I spend most of my week at work and do most of my reading on my commute. As I’m sure many can relate, the tube is so disgustingly unbearable in summer that trying to focus on some lovely chunky book that you can sink into, I can barely concentrate on a few lines before thinking ‘god, it’s bloody hot in here’. This is why the next two books I decided to read were two more of the Penguin Modern Mini Classics.

The first I decided to pick up was The Skeleton’s Holiday by Leonora Carrington. A small bind-up of some of her very short stories, this was an enjoyable read and perfect for dipping in and out of. They made me think of small vignettes rather than explored ideas, just a glimpse of a story without more meat to it, but enjoyable all the same. A couple I truly loved and would read again, but others definitely felt like they went straight over my head.

The second mini, and last book I read in June, was The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson. If I quite liked The Skeleton’s Holiday, then I absolutely loved The Missing Girl. This has definitely convinced me to pick up a Shirley Jackson, and I definitely plan to do so when Halloween is approaching later on this year. Creepy and unsettling, this different stories were all expertly told and addictive, ones that you just have to devour (before they devour you).

And that was my June! July is already off to a flying start for me, mainly because I started off with a couple of fantasy books to get my reading juices flowing again, so I look forward to telling you all about them next month.

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April Reading Wrap Up

We’re already past the halfway point for May, but seeing as I’ve been so behind on updating my blogs, my April wrap up is happening now. I haven’t really had the inspiration to blog much recently, but luckily that hasn’t extended to my reading.

In the month of April, I finished reading 4 books – the first of which was The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, a mammoth of a book that took up most of my March reading time. I truly enjoyed it – the writing style was beautiful, the world perfectly crafted, and such interesting characters. However, I wanted just a little bit more from it (which isn’t what I thought I’d say about that beast of a book). Despite it’s length, I felt some of the characters didn’t get enough time to be developed. As I don’t want to spoil it, all I can say is that there were certain characters who were set up fantastically, but didn’t really have much of an ending or story-arc. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one, and hope that the un-finished stories of the characters that I felt deserved more are merely indications of further novels dedicated to them.

After that, I went into full fantasy mode starting with Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Illuminae Files series, and the final instalment was not exception. It had me on the edge of my seat, in denial half of the time and in pure disbelief for the rest of it. Fast-paced, action-packed, and full of life, laughter, and such brilliantly created characters, this is a sci-fi series I’d recommend to everyone. One page can have you sniggering, and the next moment you’re tearing up and cursing the authors. This series also has the added impact of the non-prose led narrative, the story told instead through accounts, images, recorded conversations, and other various pieces of information to create the ‘files’. I already miss this series and its unique way of telling a story, and can only hope that these authors collaborate more in the future.

Next, I listened to everyone, falling to peer pressure (and I am so glad that I did) to pick up Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Clearly I wasn’t ready to let go worlds such as those created in the Marvel film Black Panther, and this book definitely filled that void. Similarly fast-paced, the world-building was stunning and had such a action packed plot that I could barely catch my breath from one scene to the next. This is fantasy at its best, with challenging characters, adventure tales that keep you guessing, and a world you want to sink into. I loved it.

The final book I read in April was The Bone Season, the first book in a series by Samantha Shannon. I’ve been so intrigued by this author and her writing, and I’m glad that I picked up The Bone Season. This is definitely a book devoted to world-building, set in a dystopian world that has an alternate history with the addition of people with certain abilities. In the end, I really enjoyed the writing and the storyline, the world clearly heavily developed and researched. My only issue was that, whilst it was flawlessly researched and hugely developed, the first third of the book felt like an information-dump. An overload of facts and points and info that, frankly, I couldn’t keep up with. I’d read snippets during commutes only to have to go back and re-read the next time I picked it up. Whilst I enjoyed the book, it felt like a battle before I could be fully immersed into the story. Still, it has definitely not put me off reading more from this clearly talented author.

So all in all April was a good month, filled with fantastical stories and brilliant characters that I’m sure I’ll want to go back to and re-read one day. May so far has been a similarly good month, and equally filled with plenty of fantasy. Let the days continue to be warm and sunny, so I can continue to laze about and read in the park on my weekends.

Reading and Social Media

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the affect social media has on my reading, in terms of what books I buy, which books I decide to read next, and which books I write off, be it from bad reviews or a lack of online presence.

To put this into a bit of context, the book I’m currently reading is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – a book that has had so much attention on social media that it would have been impossible for me to have missed it. There are my reasons why I would have normally picked up this book; for one I was at a launch where the UK Publisher announced it last Summer, and the bookshop I used to work at featured it as one of their books of the month. The book is high fantasy, my all-time favourite genre, so of course there are many reasons as to why I may have picked up this book on my own. However, I know without fail that the reason I’m reading it right now is due to all of the attention it has been getting on social media. Readers around the world are picking up this book, adoring it, and immediately going to Twitter and Instagram to announce it to the world. The hype and excitement that has been built has only increased – the book reaching the number 1 bestselling slots in so many charts was really only the beginning. So from all of that attention, along with the nagging of one of my best friends, I went out, bought the book, and decided it was going to be moved to my ‘to be read now‘ pile.

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My experience with choosing to read Children of Blood and Bone isn’t an unusual one, as I’ve come to realise. I am very aware that I will rarely go into a bookshop, pick up a random book, and read it (to clarify, when I say ‘random’, I mean walking around, reading various blurbs, and going with the one that I think I’ll enjoy the most – not just strutting up to any old shelf, blindly selecting a book, and going with it). What I read is normally determined by what I’ve heard about the book, and my main source of information is social media. Yes, my friends play a big part, but even when I think back to something everyone has told me to read (such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), I was still very much aware of how the book was being received due to online platforms. If I see a negative review on Twitter, Instagram, or even Goodreads about a book I’m planning to read, quite often I’ll push it back on my list of what to read next because of that review. Similarly, if I watch someone talk about books on Youtube and they mention a book I have and gush non-stop about it, I’ll likely bump it up on my list to read it sooner.

There are positives and negatives of this kind of approach to reading. On the negative side of things, it does mean that maybe I’ll miss out on a book I would like, simply because I’ve seen other people dislike it. I do feel a sort of nostalgia when I think back to how I picked my books when I was younger, walking into a bookshop and drifting around, selecting two or three books all of which I’d never heard of before. Sometimes this would work out fantastically, and sometimes it would be a disaster, but I’d still read a wide selection of books that I probably wouldn’t pick up now.

Yet equally, there have been plenty of times recently where I’ve picked up books that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for social media. Take Eleanor Oliphant, a book I really wouldn’t glance at twice, except there was so much press and positivity around this one title, not to mention the sometimes melodramatic proclamations of adoration, that I had to pick it up just to see what the fuss was about; and I couldn’t be happier that I did. There’s also another recent read of mine, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, which I mainly liked the look of because of the cover, but I’d heard so many things about it that I decided to read it sooner rather than later. Whilst reading is a solitary sort of activity, social media creates a community of readers who can gush to each other to their heart’s content. Whilst working in a bookshop, I was never at a loss for who to talk to about the books I was reading, and even though I still work in a book-focussed environment, the presence of the online community is a great one to have. Sure, you may have similar tastes with someone, but there’s nothing like finishing a book and finding someone else who has also finished, just so you can scream about how it ended, be it good or bad, and have a discussion.

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Reading is considered a more traditional sort of hobby, and despite the upsurge of technology-related reading products, there’s nothing quite as organic as cracking open a fresh, physical book and turning it’s pages. Still, this doesn’t mean that technology doesn’t have a place within the realm of books. Clearly, social media is now one of the main ways we market a book and get the attention of potential readers. Social media, no matter what you think of it, is a powerful tool, and one that we are starting to utilise in so many ways. As much as I am an advocate for the physical book, I cannot deny that ebooks and audiobooks and the like have brought in a whole different group of people to reading – and what could possibly be bad about bringing books into someone’s life? The same, I feel, is with social media. Sure, there are negatives, but the positives far outweigh them, and I for one am grateful that no matter what, someone out there has a book recommendation for me that, 9 times out of 10, I’ll end up loving.

March Reading Wrap Up

So March came and went, completely passing me by. One day I think of a nice review to write on this blog, and the next thing I know it’s April 4th and I need to do a wrap up of all the books I read last month.

For the first time, I actually set a TBR (to be read) list last month – normally I don’t like having them, as I quite like having the freedom to um and ah over what I’ll read next with no plans in mind. However, I thoroughly enjoyed having one. It’s great to look back and see what changed, as of course a TBR isn’t a set, permanent fixture that can’t be moved around a little. It’s also nice to have something to work towards, whether you’re determined to achieve something or just see how much you can read in one month. So, the books I had hoped to read, of course anticipating I wouldn’t read them all, were:

 

 

 

  1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  3. Eat, Sweat, Play by Anna Kessel
  4. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon and/or Dreams of Gods and Monstersby Laini Taylor
  5. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof

I did indeed pick up Orlando first, and boy what a book that was. I have to say that I was excited as well as cautious to read dear Virginia, but I can say that I did like it. Whilst I took a long time reading it, I definitely could appreciate the quality of the writing and I found the plot, as mad as it was, incredible interesting. The fact that Woolf was challenging gender norms all those years ago is incredible to me, seeing as I feel the world is only really starting to have an open conversation about gender being fluid. As an introduction to her work, I thought it a fantastic one.

At the beginning of the year I stated that I’d like to read more non-fiction, so before facing the mammoth of a book that is The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, I decided to read Eat, Sweat, Play. I loved this book so much that I wrote a blog about it on my other site (you can read it here). I’ve been getting back into exercise over the last couple of months, and this book truly spurred me on. Discussing women in sport, it covers everything from how we talk to young girls about sport to how we advise women about exercise during pregnancy. It’s the kind of book that will definitely stay with me for many years to come, and I know that if I ever have daughters one day I will use this book like my bible to make sure I encourage them to enjoy sport in every way possible.

Next up, I decided I’d pick up the beast that is The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, but as it is such a heavy (and pretty) book I knew I didn’t want to carry it in my bag or read it on the tube. That’s why I picked up one of the new Penguin Vintage minis, and the one I read was called The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier. Despite it being my designated tube read, I ended up making time one evening to finish it just because I was enjoying it so much. Whilst I may not have enjoyed it had it been 200 pages long, this short story was perfect for me – the writing style was beautiful yet precise, the characters seemingly fleshed out in a few mere sentences, and a plot fast paced enough to keep me hooked without feeling dazed. It has certainly convinced me to pick up some more of her writing, so I’m definitely going to read more of these Vintage minis in the near future.

I ended up finished three books in March, even though I spent most of it reading Orlando and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. I finished the latter a couple of days ago, so technically that has to come under my April Wrap Up. Still, I’m happy with what I read in March, and can happily say that I’m reading Obsidio now, which was number 5 on my TBR list.

For April, I’m planning to have a mini sci-fi and fantasy-a-thon, as it feels like I haven’t read any for a long ol while. The books I have in a pile by my bed, ready for this month, are:

  1. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof
  2. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
  3. Dreams of Gods and Monstersby Laini Taylor
  4. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  5. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Again, there is no chance that I’ll be able to read all of these in April (unless I have an absolutely incredible month), but I’m so excited to read all of them at some point. As I said, I’m reading Obsidio now (and of course loving it), but I think I’ll have to read the Adeyemi next due to all the incredible press that it has had, and unbelievably positive reviews. High fantasy that has everyone on social media going wild and a fantasy book that finally has a majority non-white cast and a book that’s said to be like Black Panther? Sign. Me. Up.

February Reading Wrap Up and March TBR

Whilst January seemed to drag, like an unwanted, uninvited guest who just won’t leave your house despite your many hints, February was gone in a flash. One second I was celebrating the fact that I’d made it through January, and the next I’m wondering why it’s March and snowing.

Despite the very short month, I managed to fit in some brilliant books – and, quite aptly, started off with Winter by Ali Smith. I have to say, I’m never sure whether I really like Ali Smith or if I’m just confused by her writing – and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s both. I far preferred Winter to Autumn, and I’ve started to get used to her style. Usually I tend to prefer great plots, but with Ali Smith’s books I have to leave that view point behind and just let her lead the way. There are time jumps, narrative changes, and almost no plot to speak of – instead you have these incredible characters, beautiful writing that flits between prose and a more poetical style, and insight into the world around us. Definitely the kind of writing that you would savour and read slowly, as a fast-paced read is not what you’re signing up for with Ali Smith – or, at least, that’s how I feel when I read her books.

Then, I had the delight of reading the short story collection by Jen Campbell, The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night. The way this author’s mind works is unbelievable, and the stories that she creates are as beautiful and charming as they are mad. With darker elements mixed in with the magical, this collection dipped into so  many different subjects, like love, deceit, relationships, friendship, and more. Each story was so vastly different from the next, but they all contained that thread of the fantastical. Not quite magic, but more of a suspense of disbelief, as the collection takes you on an adventure you won’t want to end.

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If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I ended the month reading the most wonderful, charming, heartbreaking, uplifting, beautiful tale of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I’m linking in my review of it here, just because I needed a whole post just to work through my feelings about this book. I can honestly say that it’s by far the best book I’ve read in 2018, and even though we’re only in March, this book will definitely stay with me for years to come.

As this is a very short recap of the three marvellous books I enjoyed in February, I wanted to talk a bit about my plans for March. With International Women’s Day coming up, I thought for March I wanted to make sure that I only read books by women. Though, as I say this, when I look back at what I’ve already read this year, everything I’ve read apart from the short poetry collection by William Blake has been written by a woman. Still, I’m going to continue this trend for March.

Whilst I don’t expect to get through all of these, as well as half anticipating that I’ll change my mind for what I’m going to read, these are the books I hope to pick up in March.

  1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  3. Eat, Sweat, Play by Anna Kessel
  4. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon and/or Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
  5. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Ok, so the last one is half written by a man, but I’ve been looking forward to the finale of this trilogy for what feels like years. Jay Kristoff can stay.

Hopefully by the time April swings around, the weather will have improved and be warmer (one can only dream) so that I won’t have to read either curled up in a thousand blankets or on the tube whilst wearing gloves. Honestly, it’s so hard to turn a page with gloves on. Anyway, here’s to March and reading words written by wonderful women.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while – or even if you’ve read one or two posts – will know that I love fantasy. The adventure, the different worlds, wonderful characters that have been imagined – but, above all, one of the main reasons I love fantasy is because I can read it so quickly. Not because the writing is easy to skim over or that i can rush through without needing to savour – the opposite, actually. Usually it’s the fantasy genre that has me hooked, has me reading late into the night, vowing to just read one more chapter, or even setting aside hours (or even a whole day) just so I can read it. The thrill, the excitement, the cliffhangers…those are things that I’ve usually only really felt with fantasy.

Then, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine came into my life.

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Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than fine?

There has been a lot of hype around this book, especially from some of my friendship circles. I had wanted to read this book last year, simply because it would have worked with my challenge to read a book that has a character with my name in it. Then, this book completely blew up, winning prizes and adoration from all over the world. I decided to pick it up when I was in a bookstore last month, and last weekend thought it would be a good time to start it.

Honestly? When I started reading it, I wasn’t so sure that I’d like it. I didn’t really like the main character, couldn’t see myself connecting with her, and read the first few chapters very slowly over the course of three days. Then, it hit me. One evening, I decided to read for a bit, only to find that I wanted to keep reading and reading and reading. Soon enough, I was staying up late to read it, and cleared my Sunday of all plans so I could read all day.

Eleanor Oliphant, the character, first comes across as a pretentious, snobby arse, one that no one would like. She’s treated poorly by the people around her, which is the only thing I originally sympathised with. Then, she started talking about her damaging relationship with her mother, snippets of her upbringing, and the negativity she faces from her appearance as she has visible scars. Ever so slowly, I began to sympathise more and more. Her life is regimented; wake up, go to work, eat a meal deal for lunch, wait for work to finish, go home, drink, then sleep and repeat. The loneliness that echoed between the pages was too loud to ignore, and the more you lose yourself in the world of Eleanor Oliphant, the more you feel that suffocating sadness that she seems to perceive as normal, that that was her lot in life.

Eleanor, and the other characters you (and her) are introduced to over the course of the novel begin to steal your heart. I found myself tearing up on more than one occasion, and felt completely swept up in this world. With a deep discussion on mental illness and the effects loneliness can have on a person, never before have I realised how important basic human interaction is. Sure, I have fantasies of reading all day and not leaving my bed, but if I had no one to talk to? That would be crippling in a way I can’t really imagine, something I’ve never before thought about having to go through.

This book is so important, if just to show you how even a little bit of kindness can go such a long way in making someone’s day so much better. I loved this book, and would highly recommend it to everyone and anyone. Yes, it’s sad, but it also makes you feel so incredibly grateful – at least, that’s what it did for me. It made me grateful for the people in my life, the friends I see frequently, my flatmate, my family, even my dogs (although I’m always grateful when it comes to my dogs). It served as an important reminder about what truly matters in life, and all I want to do is return to the world of Eleanor Oliphant, if just for a few chapters to check in, and hope that she’s doing alright. I’d read a sequel in a heartbeat, so beautifully crafted were Gail Honeyman’s characters, and so great my love for them all.

January Reading Wrap Up

Buckle up kids, it’s the first reading wrap up of 2018. I’ve set myself a target of 45 books on Goodreads, but I’m not planning to get so caught up in numbers this year – instead, I want to connect with the books I read more. I’ve already started writing my mini 2018 book journal to keep track of what I read and what I think as I’m reading it. So far, so good, and I’m looking forward to what this year will bring. For now, a summary of what January brought me.

First up was Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, the second book in her trilogy which I am thoroughly enjoying. Since finishing it, I’ve decided to save the third and final instalment for a little bit so that I don’t have the same problem I had last year when reading series in one go, and become bored. I think I enjoyed this sequel more than the first, or at least I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first half of book one. Laini Taylor is an incredible storyteller, and she somehow makes every book seem unique with new ideas and unthought of tales, which makes reading even more enjoyable. If you’re looking for something fantastical, this is the series for you.

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To make sure that I didn’t go from one fantasy to the next and have some variety in what I read, next I picked up Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake. I really enjoyed this collection of his poems, and it’s definitely made me want to keep discovering more poets and their different styles. A strange reading experience, as although I’ve never sat down and read any Blake before other than snippets, I wasn’t expecting to know a lot of his works. Yet so many of his poems triggered so many different memories, knowing that I’d heard snippets and refrains of his before now. As someone who feels like they don’t know that much about poetry, I truly enjoyed reading Blake.

Then, my guilty pleasure of the month, Brave by Jennifer L Armentrout. I adored her books as a teenager, which managed to blend fantasy with comedy with the pure fun that exists in teenage literature. Whilst her books are now classed as Young Adult, I’m so glad that they have that element of fun that make reading her books such a delight. It’s interesting to see the development not only of her writing but her ideas, as I’ve noticed the darker themes she has taken on over the years in her work – I, for one, think she does it fantastically well, especially as she still incorporates laughter and lightness in her stories.

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My fourth and final read of the month was my first piece of non-fiction of the year, and what a good one it was. Bitch Doctrine by Laurie Penny was utterly wonderful, and I’m so glad that I’ve made a pledge to read as much non-fiction as possible this year. Each chapter of Bitch Doctrine felt like a rallying cry, and I wanted to answer every one. I wanted to discuss this book with everyone, and I nearly did. Penny manages to tackle so many different ideas and themes, and not once do you feel like any point they make lacks substance or depth. What I especially appreciated was that this was by no means a ‘white feminist’ book, and instead made such an effort to look at intersectional feminism, and how race, gender, sexual orientation, and more comes into play – and why each of them have feminism in common. Strong arguments, persuasive points, and just brilliant writing – this is definitely a book that I’ll remember.

And those are my January 2018 reads! I’m currently reading my second ever Ali Smith novel, and also have such a huge tower of a TBR pile that I’ve given up being daunted by it. I’m so excited to start all of these wonderful books, and my only concern is that I won’t be able to get to them all this year.

A good problem to have, I think.