June Book Haul

It’s been a while since I’ve let myself go crazy with buying books, but after my birthday last month I not only received money to buy some books, but also received plenty of actual books from friends. It seemed apt to have a little post to commemorate the 21st birthday book haul, and maybe introduce you to some books you may not have seen.

First: the stack.

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This, ladies and gentleman, is the mighty stack of books that make up this haul post. Seven of them were gifts and the rest were picked up by me, so we’ll go from top to bottom.

You can see that the first four books are much smaller that the others, and these are from the new Vintage Minis series from Penguin. The series is made up of books on subjects, everything from Babies and Swimming to Drugs and Death. They look beautiful as a collection and each one is written by an incredible author – and they’re all £3.50 each, so win-win. The ones that I decided to pick up were Liberty by Virginia Woolf, Desire by Haruki Murakami, Love by Jeanette Winterson, and Death by Julian Barnes. These are perfect insights to an array of subjects and will also give you a taste for the writing from these unbelievable authors. I’m especially interested in reading Winterson’s Mini, as I’m a fan of her Weight which I did for my dissertation, as well as reading something from Murakami, a very popular author who I’ve yet to read anything from.

Next on my pile is American Gods by Neil Gaiman which, spoiler, is not the only book that I’ve picked up from him. I absolutely adored Neverwhere, and have been thinking about reading something else from Neil Gaiman for a while. As there is now a TV show on the book, one that everyone adores, I figure that American Gods should be the next one I try to delve into – despite it being one hell of a chunky book.

I then picked up two books from J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye and Franny & Zooey. I’ve never read the first, a classic that everyone has heard of, and the latter has been recommended to me by some colleagues who say it is one of their favourite classics. As someone who is trying to read more classics, I thought these two would be good to pick up and have a try.

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Moving on to the books that were gifts by my brilliant friends who have excellent tastes (which is to be expected, as most of them are also booksellers). I received Hotel World by Ali Smith, an author I have been desperate to read something from for ages, so couldn’t be happier with this pick. The same friend also bought be Chess by Stefan Zweig and Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest, both of which I have already finished. Coming from someone who sometimes struggles with ‘classics’, which for me is not the same as ancient classics which I adore, Chess was perfect. As a novella, it was easy to digest and get through without feeling bogged down at any moment, but it by no means lacked in description or character development. Exquisitely crafted, this is definitely one I’ll be recommending to others in the future. If you read this blog, you’ll know that I recently tried milk and honey and didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Reading a poetry collection from Kate Tempest, however, showed me everything that I wanted from poetry and more. Especially considering that I adore ancient mythology, this collection is framed around Tiresias, a character from Greek mythology, and the messages and themes that it depicts were just stunning and perfect. I have definitely been won over.

Then we have How To Be Parisian, the perfect coffee-table book which I received, and I’m hoping it will make me more stylish (though I’m not holding my breath). I was then given another clothbound classic, which was Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys to add to my ever-growing collection.

After that, something I’m very excited about, is The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which was given to me – pretty much all of my colleagues and friends outside of the book industry have told me how amazing this book is and how much I’m going to love it, so I’m at once excited and nervous about picking it up. The final book I was given was Insomniac City by Bill Hayes, and whilst I’m usually not too good with non-fiction I have heard nothing but good things about this one, so I cannot wait.

Then, last but not least, I bought Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. As we all know, I absolutely adore all things mythology, but I haven’t had a chance to delve into norse mythology – until now. Considering how much of a fantastic writer Neil Gaiman is anyway, I’m sure that this book will be as entertaining as it is informative, so I can’t wait to start it.

And that brings me to the end of my June book haul! Let me know if you’ve read anything in this pile, or even if you have any more recommendations (preferably for books, but I’ll take what I can get).

If you haven’t already, you can always follow me on Goodreads if you’re interested to see what I’m reading (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/25185380-eleanor). Currently, I’m reading I Love Dick by Chris Kraus and the novelty has worn off, so I now feel very anxious reading it on public transport.

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The Power by Naomi Alderman

Most of my comments about this book stem from a discussion we had in a book club meeting last week – something which I want to talk of in itself as it’s such a great experience, but will do that in it’s own post. One thing the group definitely helped with was developing my thoughts and feelings about this specific book, and hearing the varied responses from everyone.

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In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

The Power is a very, very interesting book to read. Looking at a reversal in the ‘power dynamic’ between genders, it explores what would happen if teenage girls everywhere woke up one day with immense physical power and how it would change our world. Overall, I gave this book 3.5 stars because, looking back, it is a very clever book and what the author was trying to achieve was indeed very good. It explored several various issues and topics and dealt with most of them well, but there are definitely some areas in which it lacks. This discussion I will keep as spoiler free as possible for those of you wishing to read it in the future.

First off, there are four main characters we follow: a man called Tunde from Nigeria who chooses a career in journalism to document the changes in the world, a foster girl called Allie whose religious parents abuse her, a local American politician who wishes to advance in her career, and a girl from London who belongs to a family on the wrong side of the law. We follow these characters and watch as each of them are changed and affected by this phenomenon. It turns out that, whilst initially being interested in all of them, I ended up only really caring about the narrative of one towards the end. Whilst it depends on what interests you, I personally struggled to keep interested in certain character plot developments.

The opening and first third of this book is brilliant, and I devoured it rather quickly. It’s dealt with very well, from initial reactions that really don’t surprise you (the overwhelming response from some of the male population to section off these girls from the rest of society) to the small details of how boys are told not to be out too late or go out on their own. This initial section is what I found really gripping, and it is very striking in how society is presented – mainly due to the fact that the usual, commonplace phrases that girls hear all the time are switched to boys.

Yet, I find that I kept thinking – in the narratives that followed – that this book would work far better as a collection of short stories. It felt like the author was taking on far too much, and it would be better to have more focused individual stories, as there are moments when some things are mentioned in passing to the point of being worryingly underdeveloped. A few of these instances was brought up in our discussion, and one that I want to mention is the discussion on sexuality – or lack of. There is a character within the novel whose power is noted to be ‘defective’, and it just so happens that she is also mentioned to be one of the few queer characters. It also just so happens that, for a time, she dates a boy who has a chromosome deformity, which grants him the use of this power. On top of that, they meet online in a group for delinquents and, in it’s name, it uses two derogatory words that were closely associated with the gay community. Unfortunately, comments on people’s sexuality are not developed, which leaves us with evidence for anti-LGBTQ thought. For the only character who is said to be specifically queer to be ‘defective’ and not develop that sentiment sets a very dangerous precedent, and one that we overall could not support without further knowledge of the author’s intentions.

Again, without spoilers, the ending of the novel was hit and miss with us all – the general consensus being one of bewilderment and confusion. The final pages demonstrate exactly what the author is trying to do, and her final lines are brilliant, and it was those final few pages that bumped up my rating as it is a very clever idea, but perhaps one that is just not executed as well as you might want it to be.

There are a few other downfalls of the book – plenty of stereotypes of classes and accents, not to mention a main character who is said to be Nigerian at one stage but then there is no other mention of his background or culture, like he is a completely blank slate before the novel begins, and it feels as if the author had checklist with ‘black character’ on it. Besides these details, which really only stand out when you finish the book and discuss it in full detail with others, this is a very interesting and important book to read. Whilst I’m sure the author was trying to write a sort of feminist dystopian, much like the Handmaid’s Tale, it doesn’t quite come up to the expectation I held. There is also a worrying notion that this book could be used to support the argument for and against feminism, which I am 99.9% sure was not the author’s intention.

So really I leave it up to you to decide whether or not this book is one that you like. Again, overall, I did enjoy this book and would encourage others to read it – one thing’s for sure: you’ll have something to say about it. Whilst my review doesn’t sound particularly enticing, I do stress that I did end up giving it 3.5 stars, 4 on Goodreads, and there are more than plenty of people who absolutely loved this book. As always, these opinions are my own and they by no means dictate what you will or will not feel – and I’d love to hear what you think about this striking Baileys Prize nominee.

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

We all know I’m a fan of a pretty book, but Strange the Dreamer was at a whole other level on the scale of book porn. My specific edition is a gorgeous hardcover with these beautiful illustrations on the title page, signed, and has blue-sprayed edges. And to top it all off? It was a fantastic book as well.

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photo credit to my own instagram (plug plug) as I’m usually terrible at taking pretty book photos

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

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I knew almost nothing before going into this book, but had seen a lot of hype about it on social media. All I knew was that it was a beautiful book that was fantasy, so imagine my sheer delight at finding it was about gods, goddesses, magic, and a protagonist who is a hardcore bookworm. I imagine most of us who like to think themselves bookaholics and writers would proudly accept the epithet of ‘the dreamer’, so to have your main hero be a lover of books and fairy tales? A joy to read.

‘His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales on the first day of the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange:head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy’ 

High fantasy at its best, this is a book that I just didn’t really expect. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but it’s definitely on my TBR list now. Her writing flows so beautifully, and her descriptions are inspiring, poetic, and, without doubt, pretty darn magical. I didn’t expect to get invested so quickly, and as a wannabe fantasy writer myself I kept on thinking “How can this be so good?”. I kept on having to put it down and sigh, wondering why I even allow myself to fantasise about writing something myself, but then had to pick the book back up again because I really needed to know what happens.

A great start to a new series, and although there was some serious world-building that Taylor included, I can only hope she was just laying the foundations of what is to come as there is so much more of that world that needs exploring. It’s the kind of book that completely transports you into a different world and you soon forget that you’re reading, devouring word after word until you’re on the edge of your seat because of the drama going on. There were several plot points and ‘twists’ that I personally found slightly predictable, but the only reason they were predictable was because the author gave you the hints to reach that conclusion only moments before the other characters did.

Enjoyable, fun, endearing characters, and a fantastic, fantasy tale that will leave you ready to read the sequel as soon as you finish it – and once you do, you can join the rest of us in the waiting game, which I’m sure will be the best kind of agony.