Monday, 9 May 2016

So far this year I've read...

Over the last 6 months or so, I've spending a lot more time reading. Not that I didn't read before, but ever since I started working in a bookshop and pretty much left my blog to wither away, I've been reading a lot more than I had since Uni finished (and I was no longer required to go through thousands of pages of text each week). Partly because I get my hands on so many books, partly because I'm surrounded by so many books and people who love books, partly because I just wanted to go back to losing myself between the pages without the stress and expectations that there were during my studies.

So, since I've read a lot of books I enjoyed since the beginning of the year, I thought I'd compile a little post about them. Book blogging is currently appealing to me (vlogging even more so, but I'm sans camera with recording properties so we'll leave that for now), so I thought doing a collection of mini reviews would be a nice start. Some of these are from as early on as January, so do excuse me if (and when) I can mostly just tell you that they were great. I basically just want to tell people how good these books are.

Here's my pile! A mixed bag, shall we say. We've got non-fiction, YA, sci-fi, thriller, contemporary... And I feel quite good about that. I always thought I was quite stuck in reading the same old stuff, but clearly I'm more varied than I thought I was.

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

First of all, let's ignore the tacky cover (the US cover is considerably more sophisticated). I would not have picked this up had I not read a comment from a fellow bookseller basically telling everyone to ignore the cover. And I'm so glad I did, because it really surprised me with how good it was. The Dark Days Club is a YA fantasy novel set in Regency London, following a young lady called Helen. A rather "slow" to start, in the sense that nothing much really happened until about a hundred pages in, but without actually feeling slow. The amount of research the author has done is clear and makes this a very mature YA novel. Not necessarily in terms of content, but definitely the tone of writing. It stays true to the era, but also raises questions about gender roles and the expectations of young women in that era, and the feelings they would have gone through if they did not fit the roles they were expected to. This is a first part to a series, and I have a feeling it will only get better. I hope I'm right!

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I picked this up at work from with absolutely no expectations whatsoever, just needing something to read on the bus home since I'd finished the book I had with me. It turned out to be one of the best contemporary YA novels I've read. Up there with Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (which is my favourite, shhhh). This was absolutely gorgeous. The novel follows a set of twins, Noah and Jude, and their life from children to late teens. There's jealousy, grief, love, self discovery and art, and the whole thing is just so beautiful and sad. The plot is so full of little twists and turns of life that I don't really want to say much about what actually happens, since I think it was better for the fact that I didn't know anything about it when I started reading it. Just trust me. If you like art and YA, pick this up.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Talking about Rainbow Rowell... When this came out, I bought it the same day, dropped everything else I was reading and finished it in no time at all. If you're not familiar with Rainbow Rowell, then let me explain. In Fangirl, one of her other novels, one of the protagonists, Cath, is obsessed with her world's Harry Potter-equivalent, and she is writing fanfiction about it (hence the name 'Fangirl'). Carry On is that fanfiction. The Goodreads blurb puts it better than I can: 'Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters'. It is basically everything I wanted in that particular state of mind.

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

This was a lot like watching a kinda cheesy feel-good teen film. And sometimes, you know, that's what I want. At 25. No shame. Add in the message of body confidence, I'm on board. It was entertaining and fun, and ticked all the boxes for me, in terms of what I like in a contemporary YA. Willowdean (aka "Dumplin'", as her mother lovingly calls her) was sometimes a little frustrating, but that's okay. It made her more realistic and also relatable. Because who, as a teen, is always sensible and never annoying? It never got to the point of being cringe-worthy, which a lot of contemporary YA does for me, so I basically loved it.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

We've left the YA territory! Still contemporary though, and I always thought I was a fantasy reader! But never mind. Let's talk about this wonderful debut of a novel. I could not believe this was a debut — it is so well and so maturely written, and way better than almost any similar contemporary adult fiction I've ever read (not that it's a genre I read very widely). The Versions of Us begins in Cambridge in 1958, when Eva and Jim meet in Cambridge. The novel follows three different courses that their lives could take from that moment on, spanning over decades, and it does so incredibly well. They are all distinct enough that they are easy to keep track of, but the characters are clearly the same; what changes are their circumstances and the choices they make. It is a little heartbreaking, very beautiful and quite moving.

The Martian by Andy Weir

One of my colleagues was absolutely obsessed with this book in the lead up to Christmas and when I finally read it, I wish I hadn't waited so long. This was amazing. I lean far more towards fantasy than science fiction, but this is definitely one of the best books I've read this year. And I read it in January. Not only was it exciting, but it was funny. From what I've read on Goodreads, some people find this to be a flaw. They want harrowing survival drama. Which I do understand. But I found this enormously entertaining (I actually laughed out loud a couple of times), and for that, five stars.

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Something you probably don't know about me: I like really macabre stuff. Graveyards. Crime shows. Serial killer stories. Not sure why, because I'm terrified really easily (my boyfriend thinks it's hilarious to take me to see a scary film, because I spend most of the time covering my eyes and twitching). I couldn't even finish watching The Shining. But I like reading about serial killers. Who knows. This caught my eye in hardback last year, and I was very excited when it was chosen for one of our books of the month at work (because I got to read it for free!). I am pleased to say that it did not disappoint. The novel follows Tessa, the only surviving victim of a serial killer whose victims were called "Black Eyed Susans" because of the wildflowers that grew above their grave. She begins to wonder whether the man her testimony sentenced to death nearly 20 years ago was truly the killer, as the day of execution is looming closer, but someone keeps planting black eyed susans around her house. The whole story was well paced, and utterly addictive. The changing of narrative voice works really well, and seeing the differences between the Tessa right after the events and Tessa present day, nearly 20 years later gives great depth to the story, as well as making it more realistic. The ending was also totally unexpected and all the better for it.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

I had to include both. I'm sure most people are familiar with Kondo's manifesto on tidying and decluttering by now. Was it life-changing? Not quite. It did make me want to get rid of large quantity of my possessions, so perhaps if I had followed her method, it would have. But I like stuff, and her stark minimalism doesn't quite appeal to me. It was still very eye-opening and definitely a book I will go back to. I already folded my clothes Kondo-style before reading the book though, just so you know (sans socks, but now I have seen the light). I'm pleased I'm not the only one who feels strongly about folding.

Now, the Knight title. Funny. Rude. Dare I say it, liberating. I care far too much about what people think, despite telling myself and a lot of other people that I don't. I do. I confess. And I still do, after reading this book. But I do it a little less, and it's made me feel a lot better. It took me maybe an hour or two to read, and it was most definitely time well spent. I particularly enjoyed the space to fill your own lists of things to give or not to give a fuck about.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

This took me so long to start, and when I did, I was slightly disappointed to find out that it was also very slow to get through. Why is it on this list then, you might ask. Despite its slowness, and the fact that it was not what I expected it to be, I did enjoy it and more importantly, it has stayed with me. My mind keeps wandering back to it, so clearly there is something that captured my attention and has not let go. Whether it was the elements of quest romance and links to Arthurian legends, fantasy, or the theme of memories, I am not sure. 

I rarely read books where the protagonists are old, but perhaps I should do it more, as it felt like a very different perspective to take on. I do think that their oldness was a contributing fact to the slowness of the beginning, but perhaps that only means that I am used to too much action.

And so that concludes my list of Books I've Enjoyed So Far This Year. Expect more bookish posts in the future, if I can manage to spend a little more time on my laptop (never thought I'd say that!). In the future I might manage photos that are less dark as well. Spring has sprung, after all.

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