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Updated: My Long Long List of Books

Here you can see the updated long list of books I want to (and intend to) read, and possibly review (now with new books that got in the way!):

Currently Reading: The Fever – Megan Abbott 

 

Time to scrape around in my head and write some reviews before they all blend into one!

Comment below your thoughts on my list & let me know if you’ve read any of these books!

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The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this thanks to the wonderful Sam Eades, and just in time for the paperback release making this book appear everywhere at the moment! I think it’s Waterstones Birmingham’s Book Club Book of The Week and on Richard and Judy’s Spring List for their WH Smith Book Club promotion, and lucky them to have it on their lists!

This book is right up my street: I love a ‘non-traditional’ narrative, and this is one in three concurrent timelines. Though the multiple timelines can be confusing at first, this narrative style is so engaging and compelling that the novel becomes three stories in one.

The novel tells three versions of Eva and Jim’s lives and how a split second determines the rest of their lives: one in which they meet and fall in love, one in which they don’t and lead almost separate lives, and one in which the former happens but an accidental pregnancy tears them apart.

This is the ultimate question: fate or chance? Were Eva and Jim always destined to be together or was it a pure coincidence of meeting on that day on the streets of Cambridge? The novel traverses almost 6 decades of their lives both together and apart and navigates just what kind of effect one person has on another. The novel will take you not only through time but through space as Jim and Eva’s narratives traverse the globe, which makes the novel a lot less insular than it could be in a romance about a couple told three ways.

Of course three narratives also offers three perspectives on the same two people. There are subtle differences between the Eva and the Jim of Versions One, Two and Three, making the argument for whether people do affect us in almost unnoticeable ways. Still, underneath it all, Eva is introverted, compelling and quietly strong and Jim is impulsive and loving, making their actions insightful and entertaining.

It is a thoroughly emotional read, something that I feel is almost guaranteed in a story that spans so many years – there will always be births and deaths in a 60 year story. But Barnett offers unexpected twists throughout the stories, which will both break your heart and make you smile.

Outside of the text itself, Barnett is an exceptionally skilled writer. I think it takes a very accomplished writer to be able to weave three narratives seamlessly together and tie them up in a way that actually, one doesn’t feel like one narrative was superior to another – though I’m sure we all have our preferred narrative. The Versions of Us is a highly captivating read with characters (even those that only appear in one narrative) that are beautifully developed and fleshed out.

For anyone who likes a love story, I would thoroughly recommend this book: it’s something that on paper seems quite simple – a love story three ways, though in practice is rather complex. Barnett manages this exceptionally well and creates a synonymously complicated and yet uncomplicated love story. For though there are other characters and lovers throughout the tale, this novel is undoubtedly, irrefutably, all about Eva and Jim.

My secret Santa post from Sam! THE VERSIONS OF US & SHTUM.

My secret Santa post from Sam! THE VERSIONS OF US & SHTUM.

The Versions of Us is published by the Weidenfeld & Nicholson imprint of Orion books, with both hardback and paperback out now.

 

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl is a 2013 contemporary young adult novel by Rainbow Rowell about coming of age, fiction narratives and dealing with balancing the real world with the world of stories.

I hope Rowell won’t mind me saying that this was an easy read, that was swallowed in about a day and really broke up my recent trend of reading heavier books (both weight-wise and depth). It was a refreshing look at growing up and dealing with change and I liked that it was a coming-of-age novel that wasn’t set in high school, because actually some people do come-of-age afterwards.

Cather and Wren are identical twins (Catherine (!!) which is so great and funny and emphasises the inseparable nature of the twins) who have spent their childhood as one and the same, but when they head off to college Wren begins to distance herself, engaging herself in what might be considered typical freshman behaviour of going out every night and drinking with her cool new roommate.

Meanwhile, Cath is left behind to deal with her own social anxiety and her brash roommate Reagan and Reagan’s overly charming boyfriend Levi, with only her Simon Snow fan fictions to keep her sane. Even her advanced Fiction-Writing Class is becoming an added stress as she struggles to balance her love of fan fiction with her professor’s demands to write original fiction.

I thought the novel was very well-written with some beautiful sentence structures, but I really struggled with the Simon Snow sections. I understand that Simon Snow is inevitably meant to be synonymous with Harry Potter (without even mentioning that it’s a world of wizards and spells and Watford is basically Hogwarts, it goes right down to the author being Gemma T. Leslie – or GTL – or JKR – right??) and the Simon/Baz fan fiction is Harry/Draco slash fiction. But the problem was it was nowhere near as engaging or interesting as Harry Potter, it honestly all felt a little clumsy and desperate to appear as majestic as Harry Potter. So then, you must think that Cather’s world is one where HP doesn’t exist. Except Levi (Reagan’s ‘boyfriend’) mentions Harry Potter directly! The Simon Snow world felt forced to me and I found myself skipping over the sections of Simon extracts or Simon fan fiction extracts that were interspersed in the novel, because they didn’t add anything to the narrative.

I think instead of peppering the novel with pointless Simon Snow extracts that did little to explain how great and important it was supposed to be, Rowell could’ve used those sections to show interactions between Cath and her readers, to show rather than how important Simon Snow was in life, how important Cath was to Simon Snow fan fiction.

I initially found Cather hard to warm to but I think that’s because I identified more with Wren initially and couldn’t sympathise with Cath’s anxieties, which at some points were completely ridiculous – like she can go into a class of strangers and even talk to one of them – Nick -, but couldn’t face the dining hall. I just wanted to shake her and tell her to stop being ridiculous, so I’m glad Reagan did it for me.

However, having said all of that, I actually really enjoyed reading the novel and I think when Rowell focuses on her own writing instead of trying to imitate a fictional author, she writes really beautifully. And when Cath starts to open up she’s got this fierce, snarky wit that makes her a strong character without her sister. I really loved her interaction with Nick at the end (no spoilers) because it showed that she wasn’t a doormat anymore and she could stand strong.

All the characters are so fully developed and distinct from each other that they’re impossible to not like. I found Levi just so wonderfully charming (probably the point) but what I loved was that he didn’t seem perfect to me, like the Augustus Waters Young Adult Prototype (though I know AW isn’t perfect, but you get my point. Maybe Troy Bolton would be a better example). Levi had his own imperfections and awkward moments, and I could feel his smile radiating off the page.

From reading other reviews, it feels like people either love or hate this book. I think I’m in-between. I loved Rowell’s development of characters and her ability to construct some really beautiful images and sentences. I guess I just wanted more from the world, and I think if she was going to write a book about fan fiction, writing about an imaginary fandom that was so close to Harry Potter was a little silly.

The beginning of the novel was so well developed and the climax with Wren/Laura/Art/Levi was great, but the ending needed more: I needed to know how Cather went from being ‘only good at fan fiction’ to having her original fiction in the school magazine, I needed to know how Carry On turned out, and though I think it was answered that Cath finally found balance, I think it just needed to be more explicit.

So it’s a good read, it’s an easy read, and I do recommend it. But let me make it clear that Rainbow Rowell is not John Green (who I consider to be the YA writer to aspire to) and she still has a way to go to get to that level of character and plot depth. But she is a solid writer and this novel is definitely worth reading, if you like books and reading and have had some kind of interaction with any fandom, you’ll like it.

Fangirl is published by Macmillan Children’s Books. 

Shtum – Jem Lester

I must start this review by thanking the wonderful Sam Eades for sending me a proof of Shtumalong with The Versions of Us by Laura Barnet, which has been added to my expanding ‘To Read’ list, as part of a Secret Santa giveaway.

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I had heard so much about this book: on THE Book Club on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the general book world. Since diving into the book world myself on my unwavering hunt for a job in a publishing house, I have become more eager than ever to read proofs before the book is publishing so that I too can rave about them upon publication. Therefore, I knew I had to get my hands on Shtum, if not to see what all the fuss is about really.

And it’s completely worth the fuss.

Shtum tells the story of Ben and his autistic ten-year-old son Jonah, who are forced to move in with Ben’s father Georg in order to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal. Thus, three generations of Jewells are thrown together and a tale of family, history, identity and crisis unfolds.

I found the novel initially, not so much challenging, but challenging in its simplicity, in that I kept waiting for the bomb to drop and for it to to become the incredible novel I had read about. I did however, enjoy the opening sections for Lester’s writing similarities with Jonathan Tropper. I found his depiction of Ben to be quite similar to Tropper’s Judd from This Is Where I Leave You, though the two characters are on paper rather different. The way Lester plays with family dynamics and the meaning of family – in that family does not necessarily have to be blood – is incredibly reminiscent of Tropper’s writing, and Lester achieves that same casual elegance in his development of character and character relationships as does Tropper.

The wit and humour in Ben and his father Georg in times of hardship is what keeps the novel afloat and really makes up the heart and the emotion of the novel. The way the three generations interact and share their lives is simply charming and effervescent,

However, once the bomb dropped, and the bombs continued to drop, with more and more punches and twists to the tale that strike right at the heart, I realised just how fantastic this book would really be, and how it exceeds Tropper in so many ways. There is an emotional depth and an authentic sentiment to the closing chapters that really makes you root for the Jewells, despite their, at times, negative qualities, such as Ben and Emma’s dissolving relationship and their own individual demons.

The very end of the novel packs a serious emotional punch, that I was not expecting and really shook me as I read it. I don’t wish to spoil it here, but I will say that I felt it was slightly rushed, and though there were hints of it throughout the novel, I would have preferred a different narrative style, perhaps interweaving the close of the story throughout the novel in a dual narrative style.

I have seen much success with this kind of narrative in the past, though at the same time as it is a common narrative move, I can understand why Lester would choose not to write his story as such. But I really do feel that as impactful as the final note of the story is, it would benefit from more attention throughout.

I have no doubt that this will be a huge seller in 2016, and the success of it is truly down to Lester’s incredible ability to write compelling but relatable characters that really tug on your heartstrings, as well as packing a punch at the end of the narrative. I read it in approximately four hours, and have no doubt that with the right amount of hours in a day, you could too.

 

Shtum is published by Orion books on 7th April 2016 and again, all thanks go to Sam Eades for sending me a copy of this much desired first novel. 

My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal

Another book that I was so lucky to be given during my work experience this summer at Penguin. I feel guilty that it took me this long to get around to reading it, but then, I did manage to read it before it was even published, so I guess I still win? It took me a mere three days to read, in between essays and journals for uni, it was so nice to dip into under my duvet as the rain poured.

My Name is Leon is a touching, heartwarming story about little Leon who lives with his mum, Carol, and his new baby brother Jake, who only he can really look after. Because Carol is unfit to look after her sons, Leon and baby Jake are taken to live with Maureen, where the adults speak in low voices and make Pretend faces. And one day, Jake is taken to live with strangers whilst Leon gets left behind – because Jake is white and Leon is not.

The story is beautifully written through Leon’s eyes as he struggles to understand the changes in his life, why Jake was taken away from him and why he can’t see him or Carol anymore. de Waal perfectly captures the mind of a 9-year-old, without it becoming too cloying at times; it is perfectly balanced between awareness and imagination, set against the backdrop of racism in 80s England.

It is a truly thoughtful novel and a wonderful debut, which takes a delicate and potentially bleak subject and injects it with enough heart to make it light and warm and perfectly endearing. It is an easy read with simple language, but sensitive prose and descriptions, which for me, as well as a solid and engaging story, is the mark of an excellent writer.

I am so pleased to have read this novel, particularly before the masses, because it means that when everyone else gets around to reading it I can gush and say ‘Oh yes, I’ve read that and it was wonderful!’ I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and immediately recommended it to friends to put on their TBR 2016 list, which I would recommend to all of you as well!

Let me know if you think it sounds good in the comments below and if you’ll be putting it on your TBR list!

My Name is Leon, by Kit de Waal, is published by Viking in June 2016. 

Summer Reads Vol. II

Returning to my summer reads! If you need a reminder, this will be a blog post that recaps a number of books in succinct reviews rather than in depth ones. Because my life is dedicated to university reading at the moment (currently reading: NOT The Shock of the Fall, rather A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare – don’t be too jealous) I’m recapping the rest of my summer reads here.

I would’ve loved to review some of these books in far more detail but I feel it’s more important to get the reviews down on the page whilst the memory of reading them is still fresh. Forgive me, but hopefully you find these useful!

Summer Reads Vol. II

1. This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper

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This is Where I Leave You is a story of a family brought together by tragedy. When Judd’s father dies, his last wish being that the family comes together to sit the Jewish tradition of shiva, Judd’s world becomes the suffocating circus that has been his life with his family.

This was a lovely, easily read book that really gives an insight into family dramas and relationships. It is a story about love, life, loss, faith, faith in people, and above all, family. I love the multiple character threads that all tie up nicely together. Judd’s ending is a little predictable, but the ensemble ending is definitely an unforeseen delight.

What’s really great about this book is the family dynamic, and showing how family don’t always have be blood relations. Tropper is a master of casual writing: none of the text seems forced or tries too hard, it sits comfortably within the pages and calmly unpacks the characters giving due attention to them and their needs.

It is tender and it is dysfunctional and it all comes together to make an extremely satisfying read.

2. The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak 

What’s firstly so fabulous about this book is that it has just been reproduced as part of the Penguin By Hand collection by Penguin General, which means the cover has been re-made with a beautiful craft-inspired jacket, in this case, a tapestry. I think we can all agree that artwork is simply stunning.

I found the book a little harder to get my teeth into; with complex language and subject matter that does not necessarily prescribe to my own interest, it was a book I ploughed through without my usual vigour. The novel (again) has two parallel narratives: the first of the unhappily married Ella in Massachusetts who whilst working for a literary agency is instructed to read the novel that makes up the second narrative. “Sweet Blasphemy” tells of the wandering dervish Shams’ life and his interaction with the Sufi Rumi.

Interestingly, within the novel Ella herself originally struggles with the second narrative, but soon grows to become deeply attached to it and its author. I, myself, preferred Ella’s narrative, though the multiple perspectives of Shams’ story were certainly an interesting addition to perspective.

This book has been wonderfully celebrated, and thus I do encourage reading it. Though for me, it just wasn’t my favourite.

3. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins 

What a novel. As soon as I got stuck into this, I certainly knew why it was one of the most popular and talked about books of the year. It is full of frustrating stops and starts and twists and turns, with a huge killer twist at the end. Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every morning stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost with her ex-husband Tom, who happens to live just down the road from “Jess and Jason”, with his new wife Anna.

Through a series of events, Rachel finds herself in the middle of “Jess and Jason”‘s lives and dramas and turns everything upside down as the tangled web she weaves gets more and more messy.

What’s great about this novel is that the narrator and main character, Rachel, isn’t really the most likeable person in the world. In fact, she’s pretty unlikeable – she’s a drunk, she’s a mess, and she doesn’t help herself with her obsessive personality. There were multiple times whilst reading that I just wanted to scream at her, ‘Rachel, get your act together!!”

It was an incredibly unsettling book, frustrating and times, compelling at others but the mystery at the heart of the novel is what keeps the book alive. Hawkins’ combination of relationship drama with criminal possibilities illustrates the dark secrets behind the facade of perfection, and how this perfect mirage can break down to reveal horrors underneath. It’s a totally gripping novel that I would thoroughly recommend to any reader who enjoyed Gone Girl and wants more of that sticky, interesting drama.

4. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes 

I loved this book. I could tell, as I read it and immediately afterwards, that – like Cecelia Ahern novels – it would be a book that I would return to again and again (though I will have to buy it first, as my kind best friend let me read it on her Kindle!). Like Cecelia Ahern, Jojo Moyes has the ability to create captivating and relatable characters and she certainly punched me in the gut with the ending.

This was actually the first book I’ve ever cried at. I’m a cryer, but my tears are usually reserved for films. This is definitely a testament to Moyes’ writing, her beautiful words and her wonderful, wonderful characters. The story tells of Lou, an out-of-work 26-year-old, whose only option left to support her family is to take employment as a carer for Will, whose successful, glamorous life has been ripped away from him in a motorcycle accident and left him as a paraplegic.

The story in itself is basic rom-com narrative, going back as far as Much Ado About Nothing: Lou and Will are mismatched, don’t get on and are frustrated with each other, but eventually they find a way to work together and find that their lives before each other are nothing compared to their lives with the other in it.

What truly makes it special is the navigation of relationships between family, between lovers, between employers and employees and how that really comes alive on the page through Moyes’ deep, complex and entertaining characters. I’ve always loved the kind of sarcastic bad-boy that Will brings to the table (seen in characters like Finnick Odair – coincidentally also played by Sam Claflin in The Hunger Games, and who plays Will in the upcoming film adaptation).

Lou and Will’s relationship is at the heart of the novel, and the development of their progression from uncomfortable employer/employee to friends really fuels the narrative and made the page ever turning for me.

I read it in one sitting and wouldn’t be surprised if you did too. Grab it now before the movie comes out and you won’t regret it.


So that’s the end of my summer reads (even though it’s now November) – I hope you enjoyed them! Do let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any of these (I’m sure you have) and what you thought of them.

 

Elizabeth Is Missing

What a novel. Elizabeth is Missing is the debut novel by Emma Healey, broken by Penguin General in 2014 to rave reviews, incredible debut sales and went on to win The Costa Book First Novel Award . I myself swallowed it in half a day and couldn’t read it fast enough.

Simplistically, it tells of Maud, a charming old lady suffering from dementia who can’t remember buying food, never mind where her friend Elizabeth is. As her dementia worsens, so too does her determination to discover what happened to dear Elizabeth and even more dramatically what happened to her sister Sukey when she mysteriously disappeared after the Second World War.

Having a narrator who can’t remember her own daughter’s name sometimes adds a depth unexamined in previous literature. Not only is the narrator unreliable and questionable, one can never guarantee exactly what is happening in the novel.

The novel comes alive with Maud, her characterisation and Healey’s flair for language. The beautiful way in which she constructs Maud’s past and interweaves it with her disjointed present allows you to really feel for Maud and her snatching attempts to grasp at something to answer her questions.

Whilst she fails to obtain more answers, the reader begins to have more questions. I thought I had guessed the ending about three quarters of the way through the book, but unfortunately, I found that by the time the ending had come around, I actually preferred the one I had invented in my own head.

Perhaps this novel is an example of exactly that: the life and stories in our heads are more interesting and more obtainable than those in real life. Is Elizabeth really missing? Or is Maud just missing some marbles?

I found it an incredibly satisfying read and rather refreshing from the usual crime thriller. Healey’s unreliable narrator is comparable to another unreliable narrator of another novel I read on holiday, The Girl on the Train. Though Rachel in the latter is a drunk forgetful, whilst Maud is merely forgetful, both delay the progression of the novel by forcing the reader to ask questions of the narrator, rather than just the story.

Despite my misgivings about the ending, I was wonderfully impressed by Healey’s narrative and her skills as an author. The book was funny, warm, heartbreaking at times, and had an element of old Hollywood drama in the flashbacks to the past, which I thought were beautifully constructed.

Maud is a refreshing voice in the canon and as I said, not often do we get a narrative from an elderly lady, especially one who can’t even remember her own daughter at times.

I would indeed recommend the novel, though do take it with a pinch of salt. It’s a fabulous debut from an author with much promise, and if you are disappointed by the end as I was, remember the beauty of the middle. The construction is an art in itself.

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