Recent Reads

I spent my summer either lounging in the sun reading, or crammed on a train reading. In short, I did a lot of reading.

I went through a sad phase where I couldn’t seem to pick a good book, but fortunately that has passed. I’ve been making a real habit of hitting 4 stars on Goodreads lately. Not quite 5, because 5 is a really big deal. But 4 is pretty good too. And today I’m going to share all of that reading love with you.

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*The Forgetting Time, Sharon Guskin: I picked this up because I saw adverts for it on the tube. Genuinely, I was that low on reading inspiration. And a good job too, because it was great. It’s about children remembering previous lives and ideas about reincarnation (quite heavy for the morning commute). 4 year old Noah can remember a previous life, and the story centres on what exactly happened to the previous personality. This book could be a thrilling page-turner, but strangely it isn’t. The author doesn’t throw you any red herrings and you don’t have to work for the answers, they simply get revealed as the story moves along. That said, it is hugely enjoyable and manages a big topic without getting too mind-boggling about it.

*I See You, Clare Mackintosh: Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go was one of my favourite books from last year, a page turner to wear the skin off your thumbs. This is her follow-up, based around women doing their daily commutes and how the predictability of their movements can allow men to stalk them, rape them, murder them…(which makes for slightly alarming reading when you are doing your own commute). It follows one woman at risk during her commute, and a police officer investigating the case. Mackintosh was a policewoman herself, so the insights into how the force works are some of the best bits of the story. I didn’t find this as believable as I Let You Go, and there are so many red herrings that I feel it stops being clever and just annoyingly masks what’s actually going on. That said, I still loved it. Even though I can’t quite relax on my commute anymore…

*Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling: I was so sceptical about this. I’d go as far as saying I was mildly appalled by the whole idea. There can be no eighth Harry Potter. It stopped at seven and we should leave it at that. Also I hate reading plays (just what is the point? You’re meant to see them, not read them, I mean honestly). But in the end I (predictably) got a bit curious and picked it up. And I’m so glad I did. No, it’s not the same as the books. But it’s still a great story line in itself and it’s fun to see our favourite witches and wizards all grown up. I’m desperate to see the play now but seeing as tickets are sold out up to December 2017, it’ll take a small miracle for that to happen…

*Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson: This summer I have fallen in love with Bill Bryson and his travel books. He is hilarious, and reading about his travels makes the morning commute that bit more exotic. I’ve read almost all of them, but I particularly enjoyed his jaunts to Australia. My mum is Australian and I had to keep relaying back to her all of the many ways you can die a horrible and painful death in Australia (as if she didn’t already know).

*Little Lies, Liane Moriarty: I loved this. Liane Moriaty has this incredible way of drawing characters. By the end of the story, I felt like they were all my friends and I was part of their small community. Little Lies is based around a primary school and three of the mothers. At the beginning of the story, you know that someone has died – but you don’t know who or anything about it. You just know it happened on the school charity night. The story builds and builds and the tension is increased as you know when you’ll find out what happened, but you have to keep waiting for that critical moment. Liane Moriarty also doesn’t have the annoying habit of throwing a million red herrings your way. Everything is relevant and it all comes together so cleverly.

*The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman: I was a bit disappointed by this one, mainly because I thought it would be like The Night Circus and it wasn’t. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a sideshow of ‘natural wonders’ (or freaks) in Coney Island. It follows the daughter of the leading showman, as she becomes a mermaid for the show, and a photographer, who takes to New York’s underworld and records everything that goes on there. It was fine, but not extraordinary, as the name would have you hope. And, to be honest, I don’t remember much about it which I always think says a lot.

*The Bridget Jones Omnibus, Helen Fielding: I’m twenty years late to this bandwagon, but better late than never. Who doesn’t love Bridget Jones? I have seen the films a million times, but the books are far better and much, much funnier. I sat on my sun lounger giggling away at this, reading out the best bits until I annoyed everyone. If you haven’t read Bridget, read it. And go see the new film while you’re at it.

*Ctrl, Alt; Delete: How I Grew Up Online, Emma Gannon: This memoir is for all of us who grew up putting on cheap make-up just for webcam chatting, sharing the ‘luv’ on Bebo and having enormous fights over MSN. And making complete fools of ourselves while we were at it. Emma Gannon’s honest and completely hilarious stories from her time growing up online are so recognisable and relevant to all us nineties and early noughties babies. And after all of the horribly cringey moments, her insights into the role of the internet and social media today are really interesting and so well put. I don’t often read memoirs, but this is definitely one to add to your reading list.

A March Reading List

Supposedly spring is on its way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still freaking freezing outside. There may be daffodils and even some lambs about, but they are hardly basking in the spring sunshine. So I’m continuing my winter hibernation and, if you are too, these are the books I suggest you occupy yourself with…

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*For something a little special: When God Was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman. I’ve just finished Sarah Winman’s new book, A Year of Marvellous Ways, and to be honest I didn’t love it. The prose is completely beautiful, to the point of being poetic, but the story was lost in the words and I didn’t feel anything for the characters. Happily though, I was reminded of how much I loved her debut – When God Was a Rabbit. Set in two halves with the protagonist Elly as first a child, and then an adult, it follows the lives and loves of her, her brother and their family and friends. The story is  beautifully told and completely captivating, Elly’s voice will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

*For a slice of history: A Dangerous Inheritance, Alison Weir. Anyone searching for historical fiction will be directed straight to Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen. I love Philippa Gregory, but after devouring her entire Cousin’s War series, I was left wanting more – which lead me to Alison Weir. A Dangerous Inheritance follows both Lady Katherine Grey, rival to Queen Elizabeth I’s throne, and Kate Plantagent, bastard daughter of Richard III, who are linked by history’s most famous murder mystery, the Princes in the Tower. It’s a completely absorbing story and you just might find yourself learning something along the way.

*For a bit of excitement: The Bones of You, Debbie Howells. I have just finished this new(ish) psychological thriller and I’m still reeling. Set in an idyllic village, The Bones of You is told from the point of view of Kate, a local mother, as she comes to know the Anderson family following the disappearance of their eldest daughter. Debbie Howells creates and tears apart her characters in a complex story of twisted minds and destructive relationships set against a beautiful landscape. The cleverness of the story and her characters is what makes it such a thrilling read, rather than constant action. But, believe me, there’s still plenty of fast-paced action to keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Book Reviews: Young Adult Fiction

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Now, before I start this book review (or in fact any book reviews), I have a confession to make. I am a book snob. It’s what spending three years doing an English Literature degree does to you.

I used to be a real snob, and would only read classics. I got over that once I went to uni, but still completely avoided the ‘Young Adult’ section of any book shop that I went into. I don’t care what other people choose to read, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pick any YA up and take it seriously. I read so much of it as a young teenager that I simply felt too old for it.

I then finished my degree. The one thing that an English Literature degree does is completely exhaust you of reading. The summer began, the time that I usually read as many books as I can squeeze in, and I just couldn’t read anymore. So I went on a hunt for an ‘easy’ read and this finally pushed me towards to YA section.

My first stop was Amy Alward’s ‘The Potion Diaries’. To be honest, I was attracted by the cover (it’s just so pretty!) This was an unusual choice for me because not only was it YA, but it’s also fantasy. The story follows a young alchemist called Samantha Kemi, who joins the kingdom’s Wilde Hunt to find a cure for the princess, who has poisoned herself with a love potion.

It’s a fun read and the tale bounds along, keeping up a high pace but it’s nothing major. I found the characters to be a bit flat and there’s no real sense of time – they just jump from one expedition to the next. However, it was exactly what I was looking for. While the conclusion isn’t exactly surprising (three guesses for how the love interest part of the plot turns out…) it’s an easy read and the story line bursts with imagination. I really enjoyed the magical parts of the plot and the fact it was focused on alchemists – I don’t usually read books like it so that made it really fun and a bit different.

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Next up, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Another YA of course, but this one is more realistic and takes place in a school. It follows the love of Violet and Finch, who meet on top of the school’s bell tower as they both consider taking their own lives. As the front cover says, it’s ‘the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die’.

This book was amazing. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so strongly about a book, and felt really sad when I finished it (that’s when you can tell it was great!) While I thought Violet was a bit of a drip, Finch’s character really made this book for me. He was such a well written character and I could really imagine interacting with him in real life.

I’ve seen really mixed reactions to this book, as it deals with mental illness which is always a tricky and emotionally charged subject. I can see other people’s points that Finch is defined by bipolar, suggesting that he is his illness which is a terrible way to consider people that actually suffer from it. I tried not to get too caught up in this though and just enjoyed the book and Finch for what they were.

So there was my experimentation with YA this summer. I really enjoyed both but I can’t decide what to read next… I know that The Fault in Our Stars is the really obvious choice, and I’ve never watched the film but I’m not really one for super sad books. Once I’ve made up my mind, I will keep you posted!