Tag Archive | literature

Best Books of 2016 – aka, I Am A Terrible Person

So firstly, I am ashamed, ASHAMED, of my lack of blogging since my Journey to Employment post – my only excuse being my employment. With how busy my first two months of work have been and keeping up with the PubInterns account, and attempting to have a social life, I just haven’t had the time or inclination to blog as much as I used to. SHAME CHLOE, SHAME.

But I’m making a quick return, and though I can’t promise my blogging will be better in 2017, at least I’m ending 2016 on a high note, with a run down of the best books I read this year (totally my opinion, probably not the mainstream or what everyone else thinks, but whatever, this is my blog, not theirs). Incidentally, I am currently reading The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and loving it!!!

No particular order, just wonderful books, and I can’t even remember all the books I read this year (there were lots okay) but these are the ones that stood out to me.

Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t? 

Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all. 

And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend. 

But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…

I loved this book, such a brilliant, humorous read, that made a difficult subject honest and real and entertaining without taking away from the severity of it. Shappi is a fantastic writer and this was definitely a stand out this year – Nina is a great character and I wish she was my friend.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. 

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

This is a book that I felt really and truly affected by after I read it. It has stuck with my long after I read it and I am itching to get my hands on Jennifer’s next book, Holding Up the Universe to enjoy her writing again. I wrote a longer but still ‘mini’ review of it here but to repeat the most important thing from that review – this book is not afraid of the hard stuff, of real life and unhappy endings. And that’s what makes it special.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one – beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way. 

Until that night . . . 

Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing.

And those pictures – those pictures that everyone has seen – mean she can never forget.

This is the kind of book I just want to throw at people and force them to read it. Again, longer review here but in essence Louise O’Neill teaches a valuable lesson about the blurred lines between consent and rape, victim blaming, and the painful after effects of rape. What’s really quite special is that Emma is not a hugely likeable character but that still is no excuse for what happens to her.

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible . . .

Controversially, I actually prefer Fangirl to Rowell’s more celebrated novel, Eleanor and Park. (I’ve done reviews of both here and here, and state why I prefer Fangirl in my E&P review.) I felt really connected to Cath as a character and really enjoyed seeing her different relationships: with Wren, with Reagan, with her parents, and with Levi. How each relationship added personality to Cath and developed her as a person was so great to read and I loved seeing her grow. However, this book is certainly not without its problems.

Every day I am someone else.

I am myself – I know I am myself – but I am also someone else.

It has always been like this.

Each morning, A wakes up in a different body. There’s never any warning about who it will be, but A is used to that. Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And that’s fine – until A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – every day . . .

Such an interesting idea for a novel, and so well written. For a character whose body is constantly in flux, A manages to have such a complex and solid personality and development. My longer review is here and I have re-read it since then and still love it just as much. I love that it explores loss of identity in quite a bold way by actually having A lose their identity repeatedly.

They were the victims of separate massacres. Three strangers bound by similar traumas grouped together by the press.

When something terrible happens to Lisa, put-together Quincy and volatile Sam finally meet. Each one influences the other. Each one has dark secrets. And after the bloodstained fingers of the past reach into the present, each one will never be the same.

Is this cheating if it isn’t out until next year? Whatever, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a proof copy and devoured this novel. It was so well written and so great for a debut, I will encourage everyone to read it if they can next year! A total page-turner that keeps you guessing throughout. Definitely a must-read in 2017.

Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close – until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don’t realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

You can see my longer review here and see that I do love Jandy Nelson as a writer and think she is so talented. What is great about I’ll Give You the Sun is that, like Fangirl, it understands that relationships other than romantic ones are so formative in your teenage years, especially ones between siblings. Also the dual narrative is absolutely brilliant – two different characters and two different timelines that manage to complement each other so well.

What if you had said yes . . . ?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

I love, love, love this book! It’s such a clever idea by Laura Barnett and I wrote a nice long review of it here. It was such a gift to receive it as part of a competition I won, that I had no pre-conceived ideas of it and was allowed to fall in love with the purity of a great story and brilliant writing. This is a love story that goes beyond the norm. It’s one for the ages.

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

It’s no shock that this was on my must-read list this year and that it gained so many good reviews. It is superbly written, compelling and exciting. Clare Mackintosh does a brilliant job of keeping the reader’s attention and focus and the book zags in places where you expect it to zig which I love. I wrote a full review here and still maintain that it was the best thriller since Girl on the Train. 

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realizes, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

I just finished this last week and am so pleased to write a review of a book with NO ROMANTIC INTERESTS. This book passes the Bechdel test on so many levels and pages which gets all the applause. Caddy reminded me so much of me at 16 though without a Rosie or a Suzanne and it was so easy to see how she could get swept up in the danger of someone a little bit more exciting than her. It was a beautiful representation of life after a trauma, how tragedy affects the victim and damages them even after they are supposedly saved.

In this historic romance, young Elizabeth Bennet strives for love, independence and honesty in the vapid high society of 19th century England.

Shock horror but I hadn’t actually read Pride and Prejudice until this year. But then I found myself addicted to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which if you haven’t watched you really really need to) and decided it was about time I actually read the most famous novel in the English language. Plus, now that I knew the story from LBD, I would be able to keep track of what was going on and focus more on Austen’s words. And I have to say, I totally understand why it’s so popular and beloved (aside from Colin Firth coming out of a lake sopping wet). It is a great narrative, with the original boss bitch Lizzie Bennet and a brilliant representation of 19th century high society.


So, what were your top books of 2016? Any recommendations?

Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes & Between You and Me – Lisa Hall: Comparative Review

Doing something a little different with the blog this week! I recently read two books that I thought were quite similar in premise: a domestic abuse story, so I decided to do a comparative review of the two (even though at this stage, I’m still not really sure which I preferred).

The two books in question are Into the Darkest Corner (IDC) by Elizabeth Haynes and Between You and Me (BYM) by Lisa Hall, and they are terribly difficult to review without giving spoilers away, which I will aim to do.

Blurbs 

Into the Darkest Corner

Catherine has been enjoying the single life for long enough to know a good catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic, spontaneous – Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell. But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape. Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything. This is an edgy and powerful first novel, utterly convincing in its portrayal of obsession, and a tour de force of suspense.

Between You and Me

They say every marriage has its secrets.
But no one sees what happens behind closed doors.
And sometimes those doors should never be opened…

Sal and Charlie are married. They love each other. But they aren’t happy. Sal cannot leave, no matter what Charlie does – no matter how much it hurts.


What I like about both books is that they have a compelling dual narrative; IDC uses a dual-time narrative, whilst BYM has a dual-persepective narrative. I think this keeps the reader on their toes and keeps the story engaging at all times.

I felt that the abuser in IDC was more frightening and more cleverly crafted, making them more believable and making the story more gripping and powerful. In BYM I felt that the abuser was more of a caricature of what an abuser should be and thus less subtly dangerous.

Both novels had a really solid and engaging ending, which kept the pages turning and kept me focused until the end. BYM‘s ending had me stop for a moment and made me go back and re-read some of the novel to see if I could get my head around it, whilst IDC‘s ending felt a little more satisfying.

I think the premise of BYM was incredibly clever and very well written, to the point that I fully believed what the author intended and was shocked by the ending.

However, overall, I feel that IDC was much better written with more interesting and complex characters and secondary storylines.

I would definitely recommend reading both these books (and Between You and Me is only 99p on Kindle at the moment) and then you can make your own comparisons and decisions on which you prefer.

I think the whole concept of abusive relationship fiction is so gripping and really allows for a deep look into the psychology of characters. What I particularly like about IDC is that through the dual-time narrative it showed the aftermath of abuse on a formerly outgoing, extroverted character, which was a really nice comparison.

So do read these books and prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster in each, and when you get to the end, do come back here and let me know what you think!

The Summer I Turned Pretty – Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty is a lovely book by YA wonder Jenny Han, who also wrote To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is about Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin and her life measured in summers at Cousin’s Beach, spent with her mother, brother Steven, mother’s best friend Susannah (who she sometimes feels closer to than her own mother), and Susannah’s two sons Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly has been in love with Conrad forever, but as the novel starts, Con and Jere finally start to realise that Belly is a girl, not their silly little friend.

It was a sweet little novel; not as strong as Han’s other YA series, but I would still be interested in reading the rest of the trilogy. It’s a coming-of-age novel, but the problem was, I felt like Belly never really grew up. I completely understand that at that age, boys are the centre of life, but her relationship with her best friend Taylor was more interesting and more disappointing. Not to mention her relationship with herself.

I needed Belly to have more self-respect, and stop being so pathetic, and need Conrad to validate her. And maybe that’s because she was the baby of the group, that she began to treat herself like the baby, but she really needed to grow up. Boys are fun, but they’re not everything.

I love a love story, but this felt really half-hearted. Like Belly loves Conrad, but then she loves Cam, but then she loves Jeremiah, but then back to Conrad. Which I know happens when you’re a teenager, completely, but it felt like she loved them because they loved her, not because she really truly did. I didn’t find myself rooting for any couple really, and the conclusion felt so rushed.

I definitely remember finishing it and thinking there were parts I would change or rewrite, but overall it was an easy read, swallowed in an afternoon and that summer novel that is kind of a YA staple. But as beach books go, We Were Liars is infinitely better.

Maybe I’m too old for this kind of book now, but I don’t think I’m too old for good YA. There are some YA books I’ve read this year that were absolutely fantastic, and brilliantly written.

I just don’t think this was necessarily one of them.

So there you have it… The Summer I Turned Pretty – a quick, light, read, that really needed more depth.

What are your views?

The Fever – Megan Abbott

“Chloë, why haven’t you done a book review in FOREVER??”

Well readers, the fact is I’ve been super busy (even though it doesn’t feel like it because I am still uNEmployED) and kept reading and not reviewing. But I am here and I am ready to review.

The Fever by Megan Abbott was the very last book I read on holiday (which was 2 months ago now, bad Chloë bad Chloë) but since I hadn’t finished it by the time I got home, I didn’t include it in my holiday reads. It is now completed and ready to be reviewed.

And my Amazon account just reminded me that I bought it on the 30th of November last year. LAST YEAR. But at least I read it, right?

Deenie, Gabby and Lise are best friends – a tight girl-unit negotiating their way through the troubled waters of their teens, a world of sex, secrets and intense relationships.

When first Lise then Gabby falls prey to a mysterious illness, hysteria sweeps their school and, as more girls succumb, Deenie finds herself an outsider, baffled by the terrifying illness and scared that it could all be because of something she has done.

Suffering with Deenie are her dad and her brother, both protective of Deenie, but each with secrets of their own . . .

This was a really interesting read for me. It was quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before, but definitely had elements of The Crucible by Arthur Miller which is one of my favourite plays.

I love the idea of the mass hysteria sweeping a school and girls becoming more and more agitated by the idea of this unknown disease, all the while with parents pointing fingers and become accusatory.

For me, I actually found Deenie (the protagonist) the least interesting character; whilst I was so intrigued to know what was causing the illness, I found the parents and the other girls far more developed and interesting characters, particularly Gabby and Deenie’s brother, Eli.

The many different theories for the cause of the illness are the centre of the novel, from the mysterious dirty lake that has plagued the town for years, to the HPV vaccine administered to the girls. All these proposed theories highlight the hysterical nature of word-of-mouth, rumour, and parental anxiety. As the characters latch onto the various theories, Abbott reveals a commentary not about illness and disease, but about reaction and fear.

Ultimately, though the premise was very strong, I felt that the conclusion of the story was a little disappointing and by the time I had finished the book, I didn’t really care that much about what happened.

I think Abbott really could’ve ramped it up further, like in The Crucible and had the accusations be more dramatic, isolating and incriminating, which would have amplified the theme of female sexuality and the way in which it stigmatises young girls, which if I’m not mistaken, was a key concept of her novel.

It was interesting how Abbott made it relevant for the 21st century, including technology to transmit the drama, but again, this could’ve been emphasised even further.

I do believe Abbott is a strong writer and I am intrigued to read her other works, but for me, this novel didn’t live up to the excitement the blurb stirred in me.

 

 

Musing Mondays – Monday 8th August

 

 

Wooee, welcome to August! Here’s another Musing Monday, courtesy of Books and a Beat.

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme that asks you to choose one of the following prompts to answer:

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: Name a book that you hope to re-read some day.

 

I’m currently reading Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg, which I was lucky enough to receive at an interview last week. Though I didn’t get the internship, I think it was so generous of HC to give me a couple of books just for coming to interview with them.

We were the Family, and Foxlowe was our home.

There was me – my name is Green – and my little sister, Blue. There was October, who we called Toby, and Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg. There was Richard, of course, who was one of the Founders. And there was Freya.

We were the Family, but we weren’t just an ordinary family. We were a new, better kind of family.

We didn’t need to go to school, because we had a new, better kind of education. We shared everything. We were close to the ancient way of living and the ancient landscape. We knew the moors, and the standing stones. We celebrated the solstice in the correct way, with honey and fruit and garlands of fresh flowers. We knew the Bad and we knew how to keep it away.

And we had Foxlowe, our home. Where we were free.

There really was no reason for anyone to want to leave.

Make sure to check back in in a couple of weeks and see if I’ve reviewed it. Though no immediate promises as I still have three other books I haven’t reviewed yet. It may end up that they come in another Mini Reads.

Also, slightly cheating but I had to put in a plug for my previous blog post, so this past week I blogged about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Check out my review here and please note, it’s NOT spoiler free.

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: Name a book that you hope to re-read some day.

I am a huge fan of re-reading. In fact for great article on re-reading, have a look at this NPR article on ‘The Transformative Joy of Re-Reading.’

So because I re-read so much, I don’t really hope to re-read too many because they’re always there. I think for me books I hope to re-read are the classics where I feel like you don’t get the most out of them the first time.

I never quite got around to finishing Tender is the Night (Fitzgerald), but I’d like to re-read it/finish reading it. I also think Catcher in the Rye deserves a second reading, because it’s still sticking with me almost a year after I read it and I’m sure I can even more from it a second time.

 


And that closes up Musing Mondays for this week! Check out all the other responses on Books and a Beat’s page!

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!

‘Oh The Places You’ll Go’, or – I Finished My Degree!

Cue a very big sigh of relief.

It’s been four years – which I’m finding terribly hard to wrap my head around – but I am now officially a graduand of the University of Birmingham. Note not a graduate yet, but a graduand. When I get my degree on the 6th of July, then I’ll be a graduate.

This week, I’m jetting off to sunny Corfu where I’ll get to spend some quality time with my Kindle, which I’ve really missed in the last few weeks of Spanish grammar and end of uni festivities.

I’ve got a great reading list so far, including Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North. Also think I’ll finally be getting around to reading Asking for It by Louise O’Neill, which if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I’ve been super-keen to read.

Check back here when I’ve returned from my holiday and you’ll find some reviews of the above and more!

So what can I say about my degree, and indeed finishing it?

It’s been a tough few years, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel or give up altogether. These last few weeks have been some of the hardest to get through, especially because I’ve been applying for jobs at the same time. In between revision and rejections, I was pretty down and frustrated.

But there is light, there is an end. And I will be forever grateful that I have my degree and that I pushed myself to do it to the best of my ability. I know these days that having a degree isn’t the be-all and end-all of life; it’s true that you can succeed perfectly without one. But to me, having a degree doesn’t just say that I spent four years waffling about Shakespeare and (occasionally) drinking.

It says that I know how to apply myself and how to change myself when necessary to suit what one piece of work requires whilst another might require someone totally different (that’s the beauty of a joint honours degree: writing about Spanish Cinema is a completely different discipline to writing about Chaucer). It says that I know how to read large quantities of work and articles and select the most relevant details; it says that I can discuss my achievements and work with passion and enthusiasm (after all, I am most proud of the two pieces of work I spent the longest on – my dissertations).

My degree says that I am hard-working, flexible, analytical, able to multitask, capable of balancing numerous tasks, and able to do all of this whilst having fun and doing the extracurriculars that uni students deserve.

So the day I get up on that stage for my graduation and become a graduate, not a graduand, will be the happiest day of my life. Not because my degree is over, but because my life with a degree is just beginning.

Who knows where it will take me? Let’s look back next year and find out.

Dr. Seuss knows best.