September Reading Wrap Up

Well, September was quite the month. I read what will most likely be one of my favourite books of 2018 – possibly two of my favourite books of 2018 – along with a book that has taken me over a year to finish. Halfway through the month I thought I’d only finish 2 books, and it got to the end of the month and I somehow realised that I’d read far more than anticipated.

The first book I finished in the month of September was an 800+ page beast of a book, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Thanks to very good friends and the lovely world of publishing, I managed to get my hands on an early review copy. As we all know, I adore all things fantasy and dragons – and this tome did not disappoint. Sweeping landscapes, extensive character lists, and intricately intertwined plots made this standalone epic a true delight. I truly hope that Shannon has a chance to write more in this world, as it’s probably the first 800+ page book that I’ve ever finished and wished for more. Highly recommend to any fantasy lovers, or those looking for a fresh, feminist take on typical fantastical tropes found in legends and lore.

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The next book I read was On Writing by Stephen King – an unexpected gem. I’ve been desperately trying to get back into a good writing habit, and thought a little bit of non-fiction writing wisdom from one of the greats might inspire some motivation in me. This book did that and more – it told the story of how Stephen King became, well, Stephen King, along with the tools and habits that he picked up on the way. There are snippets of advice, hints, and tricks to guide you on your way, along with incredibly poignant and moving episodes and anecdotes that came as a complete surprise to me. I found myself wanting to highlight passages like it was a textbook I needed to study, and now that I’ve finished it I know I’ll be dipping back into its pages to try and unlock even more.

Then came the book that I’ve been literally reading for over a year. It’s no secret that I’ve been trying to get through the Harry Potter books on audiobook, and I was enjoying listening to them so much that I thought it would help me get through other, very different, titles. After finishing The Order of the Phoenix, I decided to listen to something else before continuing my listening journey with Harry and the gang – what a mistake. A year and several months after starting, I have finally finished listening to 36 hours of Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I can’t quite collect my thoughts on this book just yet, so thrilled I am to be finished, but it is finally, finally, over. Goodbye Esther and Jarndyce, it’s been quite a ride.

The last book I finished this month was a sequel I never thought I’d get to a book I never thought could get better – Vengeful by V.E Schwab. Honestly, Vicious was one of my favourite books when I read it, an incredible reimagining of the Frankenstein myth in a new, superhero format with dark edges, twisting plots, and brilliant characters. Vengeful was like Vicious at 100 miles per hour. The characters were even better, with new characters that definitely fit the current mood of the world where all women want to burn everything to the ground (which is exactly what we got with Marcella). Schwab has a great way of setting up lots of different plot lines and little details, some that she’ll use later and some that she won’t, and drawing all of them together in a huge, climactic finale that has you reeling. Beautifully written, gripping all the way through – it is no surprise that I finished this book in just a few sittings.

And that was my September. It’s going to be a struggle to top it in October, but I suppose with the cold nights drawing in and the increase in evenings spent curled up in blankets with candles lit, I’m sure I’ll get some good reading in.

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August Reading Wrap Up

Plot twist: I did not read four books this month, like every other month. I read fewer books, but in my opinion more pages as last night I finished an 800+ page fantasy book that I adored – stay tuned until next month to find out what that was, or just look at my Instagram where I’ve already told everyone about it.

The first book in August that I finished was the incredibly powerful and moving Almost Love by Louise O’Neill. This is my third book by this author, and I still don’t know how I don’t seem to realise beforehand that, like all of her other books, this one would also wreck me in its own, gutting way. In some ways this one was similar to Asking for It, in the way that the main character isn’t immediately ‘likeable’. She’s a tough character to stick with, I’ll give you that, but mainly because you’re watching a woman who has been abused push everyone she loves away – and the worst part is, something you see from page 1, is that they let her. This is a story split into two narratives – the present, and the past. In the past you watch the main character in a ‘relationship’ with an older man, and in the present you see how the abuse from that affects her still, especially with her current partner. I didn’t read this quickly because I felt it difficult to read in long periods of time – not because it was a bad book, more the opposite. It was so well written, so poignant and close to real life that I found it difficult to stay in that ‘world’ for long.

After that tornado, I went to my happy place: fantasy with dragons. This time I picked up Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman – I read Seraphina a few months ago and really enjoyed it as a very differently written fantasy. Tess of the Road was no exception, but this time I far preferred the main character and her journey. Tess, our heroine, is sister to Seraphina – but unlike her esteemed sister, Tess is the opposite. From a past mistake, she is a disgrace to her family and destined to forever be a nun or a maid to her sister. One day, she decides to take a risk and runs away from home to find her own happiness elsewhere. A really enjoyable read, this was exactly the kind of book that I was after following the heartbreak from Louise O’Neill gave me.

The last book I finished in August was Fen by Daisy Johnson. This was an unexpected book, one that was sensual, dynamic, and pointed – far closer to the themes of Almost Love than Tess of the Road, for sure. Haunting as much as it was illuminating, this short story collection shows the contrast between the routine, everyday life and dark, magical wild that lives close by. I read a review of this that talked about the themes of Otherness, desire, and loss – and that’s exactly what these stories encapsulate in every line. It is twisted, dark, and exists on a very different plane. Some stories I loved, others I struggled with, but overall really enjoyed the full experience.

And that was my August. Unlike last month, I’m sat here in a jumper not even thinking about ice cream, so it definitely feels like Autumn is on it’s way. Although I’m sad to see the hot sun leave once more, I can’t wait to bundle up in scarves and jumpers, light candles every evening, and restock my bath bomb supply – and, of course, read some fantastic books.

 

July Reading Wrap Up

Every time I try to sit down and write this wrap up, I keep having to abandon all progress I make because it’s too bloody hot to be sitting down with a laptop and all I really want to do is lie in the shade with an ice cream. But, here I am, ready to bash out this wrap up post in a prompt fashion so I can go back to finding ways to keep cool.

It seems my average books per month this year is the nice, even number 4, and July was no different. I was off to a flying start in this month because I picked up a fantasy novel I’d been meaning to read for a while, which only fed my fantasy addiction so I picked up another straight after. The first was Beyond a Darkened Shore by Jessica Leake, a fantasy set in a historical Ireland where the main threat consisted of Nordic Viking invaders. You follow the heroine Ciara, who has strange and powerful gifts to control the minds of people in battle, as she is forced to partner up with her enemy to defeat a greater threat. There are great elements to this story, blending two different folklores such as The Morrigan with Norse Mythology, and doing it very well. I loved the opening chapters, with these engaging storylines and well paced plot – any book with Norse mythology in it will obviously keep me very happy, but I think there was definitely more that could be done.

On the whole, the book was paced well, but scenes towards the end seemed cut short – a huge battle that is essentially the ‘boss fight’ lasted no more than two or three pages. And let’s be honest, I love a good bit of romance and I liked the two leads, but I was the complete opposite of invested which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a fun fantasy adventure. Overall a good book and a fun read, but definitely think there was more room for development – especially in the second half of the story.

Whilst I was still in the high of whizzing through that fantasy, I dived straight into Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett. And, again, I finished this in two or three days. A really enjoyable, quick read – which was exactly what I wanted from it. For me, I think whilst I did enjoy the book it definitely needed some more worldbuilding and explaining of magic systems, religions, and the actual reasoning behind some parts of the story. There are also more YA fantasy cliches and tropes than you know what to do with, which can be a bit of a slog if you’re fed up with similar plot ‘twists’ and character traits. I’m hopeful that the world will develop more in the sequels, and maybe the following books will give answers to elements not covered in the first book. Overall, I found it gripping up until the last quarter, where the end felt forced and rushed. Still, I would recommend for a light, fun read if you’re not too worried about large world building elements and rich detail.

Deciding that I needed to make sure July wasn’t a fantasy-a-thon, the next book I picked up was I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. Wow, is all I can really say. An incredible memoir of Maggie’s near-death experiences, from reckless childhood behaviour to illness to giving birth. There are accounts of encounters with strange men on deserted paths, being robbed on holiday, and ending with protecting her daughter from a condition that leaves her vulnerable to the world around her, for who the book is written for. I honestly could have read this all in one sitting, but it was the perfect book to read on the tube, dipping into one episode after the next on each journey. A truly fantastic, powerful read.

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Finally in July, I ended on a bit of a slog with The Idiot by Elif Batuman. Despite all the acclaims, praise, and recommendations, I just couldn’t get into this one. I really struggled to pick it up and read, and so ended up talking half the month just to finish it. In comparison to the fantasy I read, this was the exact opposite where I had to force myself to find time to read it, and felt like I’d read 50 pages when I’d barely got through 10. It is very well written, but unfortunately wasn’t for me.

And that was my July! Four books, all memorable and different in their own ways. I’m on track for my Goodreads reading target for the year, but since leaving working at a bookshop my TBR pile has really shrunk – hurrah! This means I’m on the hunt for reading recommendations, so if you have any definitely let me know. I’m also on the hunt for a proof of Samantha Shannon’s new book The Priory of the Orange Tree, but I have a feeling I’ll have to wait a long while for that one.

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.

May Reading Wrap Up

And just like that, we’re approaching the half-way mark for 2018. Mad, exciting, worrying, and ever so slightly terrifying, this year has flown by – which I know I probably say every year, but at least I’m consistent.

Reading wise, May has been my best yet with 5 books devoured. The first of which was particularly monstrous, as I finished the Laini Taylor Trilogy with Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Breathtakingly creative, this series has been one that is as inspiring as it is impressive. There are moments of hilarity as well as heart-wrenching sadness, with characters that are diverse, charming, and well-crafted. Laini Taylor has had be won over as an author since reading Strange the Dreamer last year, and I’m so glad I decided to read this imaginative, fantastical series.

Somewhere during my reading of Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I went to an incredible talk by Louise O’Neill, an author who manages to deliver books that punch you in the gut and leave you reeling, wanting to change the world. You can see my review of Asking for It here, a book that I’ve thought about often since finishing, so I knew I had to pick up her latest book The Surface Breaks. A feminist retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’, this treasure of a book is one I’d recommend to anyone in their early teens – as I wish I had had it when I was that age. Closer to the original story rather than the Disney version, this tale is of a young girl who is paraded around as a commodity and something to possess rather than an individual with her own voice, her body something to be used and decorated and belonging to the men around her. This is a story of her reclaiming her body and her voice, despite losing it. The Sea Witch is an incredible character, one who I want to have her own story, and never before is it made so painfully clear that the heroine goes from one abusive relationship to the next, her life dictated by the men she tries to love, until she finally wakes up and sees the world for what it is. Buy it for your daughters, nieces and sisters, and especially buy it for your sons, brothers and nephews. A powerful, important book.

After thoroughly enjoying the new Marvel film, I decided to keep that love going by picking up Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. He is such a clever writer, and more and more I find a more suitable title for him is wordsmith. He crafts sentences and stories in a way that sweep you to another place, and definitely makes his mark on these myths – some well-known, and others less so. I honestly could have read this in one sitting, but managed to pace it out with various tube-journeys. Would highly recommend to those who are new to Norse mythology, and even old hands who want to revisit the grand stories told in a different style.

Clearly not over my onslaught of fantasy, after that I delved into Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. I’ve seen this book several times over the last few years, and always thought it would be something I’d enjoy (hello, dragons). A very different kind of fantasy book, this one is set in an old-fashioned world and written in a language to reflect this setting. It’s a world of court and dragons, and a girl stuck between the two worlds. Well-told, this was definitely a slow-burner for me but definitely worth the wait.

Then finally, I read ‘The Custard Heart’ and other stories by Dorothy Parker, all wrapped up in the new beautiful Vintage covers. Along with two other tales, ‘The Custard Heart’ was a well-told short story with a strong female lead and interesting side-characters. Each had a loud, boisterous heroine and tackled various themes and topics. Whilst they didn’t have my heart soaring, I did enjoy them as short reads and am glad to have had a taster for Dorothy Parker’s writing style. A great way to finish off the month of May.

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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.