May Reads

May was a fantastic month for reading, ticking off nine books across a number of genres – from sci-fi and YA, to literary fiction and murder mystery.

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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – 5*

A modern retelling of Antigone, Home Fire is a timely, relevant novel that I urge you to read. I knew relatively little of Antigone and it was only afterwards, that I started looking up the storyline that I saw the clever parallels with it between Home Fire. Shamsie has woven an intricate thread that unravels on the last page – a proper tour-de-force of an ending!

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michele McNamara – 4*

Published posthumously, this is the tale searching for The Golden State Killer – a man who committed a proliferation of murders and rapes across California in the 1970s and 80s. McNamara’s writing style is more crime-thriller than true crime, which absorbs you into the story. Full of meticulous detail and reports, this is such an interesting tale. Although be warned, it’s definitely creepy – I live in a single storey house and it left me feeling on edge.

Clean by Juno Dawson – 3*

A young adult novel, which definitely erred on the side of adult than teenage fiction. The story follows teen socialite Lexi into a rehab facility where she is treated for heroin addiction. It was a compelling and easy read – particularly given the heavy subject matter – but I felt it lacked diversity and depth, and was a little predictable in places. I wouldn’t rush to recommend this one.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – 4*

A cross between Agatha Christie, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and a real life game of Cluedo! I’m in awe of Turton’s plotting skills – it takes a real mastermind to be able to write and execute a story like this. A mind-bowing and unique concept.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – 3*

This one didn’t really hit the mark for me – I was expecting to be scared witless, but instead I was left a little defeated. Perhaps it was because I read it on a sunny May commute with lots of hubbub around me, rather than a candlelit winter night with storms raging outside.

Everything I know about love by Dolly Alderton – 3*

An ode to growing up, growing old and navigating all types of love. Enjoyable, laugh-out-loud and sad in places, but perhaps not the mind-blowingly good book I was hoping it would be.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively – 3*

I think this was a case of right book, wrong time. It took me quite a while to get into the writing of Moon Tiger, which is saying something as it’s a relatively short book. It tells the story of Claudia who wants to write the history of the world whilst in hospital during her final days. There were bits that I thought were fantastic, but I don’t think I was really in the mood to read this at the time – I might revisit it in the future. 

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem – 4*

This was such an intelligent, complex and haunting sci-fi read. It reads as if it’s just been written, rather than 40 years ago. It’s vague in places, but the way Lem writes allows you to imagine the depths of Solaris – it focuses on alien life and the way humans communicate and understand it. It’s esoteric, leaving you with more questions than answers but well worth a read. Next up, I’m going to watch the films.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – 5*

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If you knew the date of your death would you live your life differently? The Immortalists follow four siblings through their life. Chloe’s writing is immersive – the world she has constructed and the characters within it are just beautiful. I’ve seen mixed reviews of this one, but I couldn’t rate it highly enough. It will stick with me for a long time.

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COMPETITION: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Last week saw the launch of the brand-new Mike Newell film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, starring Lily James and Michiel Huisman. Based on the book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, it tells the story of the WWII occupation of Guernsey, and a secret literary society set up by islanders to help them through their ordeal.

A bit about the book

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It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.

About the Authors

Mary Ann Shaffer was born in 1934 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She worked as an editor, a librarian and in bookshops. She became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1976. On a whim, she decided to fly to Guernsey but became stranded there as a heavy fog descended and no boats or planes were permitted to leave the island. As she waited for the fog to clear, she came across a book called Jersey Under the Jack-Boot, and so her fascination with the Channel Isles began. Many years later, when goaded by her own literary club to write a book, Mary Ann naturally thought of Guernsey.

Mary Ann died in February 2008 – she knew that this, her only novel, was to be published in thirteen countries. Before she died she wrote, ‘I must tender special thanks to my niece, Annie, who stepped in to finish this book after unexpected health issues interrupted my ability to work shortly after the manuscript was sold. Without blinking an eye, she put down the book she was writing, pushed up her sleeves, and set to work on my manuscript. It was my great good luck to have a writer like her in the family, and this book could not have been done without her.’ Annie Barrows is the author of the Ivy and Bean series for children, as well as The Magic Half.

The competition

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Lily James in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

To celebrate the launch of the film, Condor Ferries is offering the chance to win a VIP prize for 2 worth over £1,000; including a high-speed trip to Guernsey by sea, to stay in one of the island’s finest hotels and have a private tour of the island, visiting all of the historic sites the film is based on! How amazing does that sound? As a lover of both history and books, I know I’ll be very envious of whoever wins!

The prize also includes:

  • A copy of the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, signed by co-author Annie Burrows, who completed the book after her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer fell ill whilst writing it.
  • Return upgraded ferry travel with your car, plus meet the Captain on the bridge
  • £100 duty free voucher to spend onboard
  • Luxury 2 night stay including breakfast at the Old Government House Hotel and Spa
  • Potato Peel Pie cookery lesson and dinner at one of the island’s top restaurants, Pier 17 Restaurant

To enter the competition, all you need to do is head over to the Condor Ferries Facebook page, tagging the person that you would like to take with them. Then just share the post, and you’re done! The competition closes 30 April 2018, with travel by 31 May 2018, exclusion dates apply.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about the film from other fellow book lovers – I’m hoping to get to my local cinema this week, I’ll let you know what I think.

Good luck!

 

Blog Tour: The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl

Another day, another blog tour – today, I’m here with The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl, published by the wonderful Orenda Books.

About the book

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The Oslo Detectives are back in another slice of gripping, dark Nordic Noir, and their new colleague has more at stake than she’s prepared to reveal…When a dead man is lifted from the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour just before Christmas, Detective Lena Stigersand’s stressful life suddenly becomes even more complicated. Not only is she dealing with a cancer scare, a stalker and an untrustworthy boyfriend, but it seems both a politician and Norway’s security services might be involved in the murder.

With her trusted colleagues, Gunnarstranda and Frølich, at her side, Lena digs deep into the case and finds that it not only goes to the heart of the Norwegian establishment, but it might be rather to close to her personal life for comfort. Dark, complex and nail-bitingly tense, The Ice Swimmeris the latest and most unforgettable instalment in the critically acclaimed Oslo Detective series, by the godfather of Nordic Noir.

Publisher: Orenda Books
Paperback: 276 Pages
Translated by: Don Bartlett

A brief overview of my thoughts…

The Ice Swimmer is a wonderfully written Police Procedural, fronted by Lena who is a whip smart and strong female detective. Gripping from the start, it works wonderfully as a stand alone novel – this was the first book I’d read in The Oslo Detective series and I didn’t feel lost, or like I was missing any information.

Full of plot, twists and tales this kept me intrigued from the first to last page – I wanted to keep going until I found out what had happened. If you’re into your Nordic Noir, I’d recommend this clever, twisty tale.

About the author

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One of the godfathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjovik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frolich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

You can keep up with the other posts on the blog tour, here:

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As ever, a HUGE thank you to the wonderful Anne for organising another wonderful A Random Things Tour.  

March Reads

I would say ‘how has another month passed?’ but I seem to say the same thing every month, so I’ll save the spiel.

I had a real bumper month of reading and got stuck into some amazing books, so without further ado here’s an update

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – 4/5

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This one is nominated for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction and is such a memorable read. Loneliness, depression and friendship are all explored through Eleanor’s wonderfully quirky and bereft character – Gail Honeyman has created such a complex, deep and believable character in Eleanor, one who is set in her ways until one small accident changes everything for her. There were bits of this book which weren’t perfect, however overall I absolutely loved it and would heartily recommend it to friends and family. 

An Unremarkable Body by Elisa Lodato – 4/5

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When Katharine is found dead at the foot of her stairs, it is the mystery of her life that consumes her daughter, Laura. The book highlights that although, as we discover from her autopsy, Katherine has an unremarkable body she’s had a life full of hidden secrets. This book is a trip down memory lane, Laura longs for her dead Mother as she tries to figure out if she ever really knew her at all.

The F Word by Lily Pebbles – 3/5

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A modern-day tale of female friendship and its complexities, written by YouTuber Lily Pebbles. This was an easy read, but felt more like one long journal entry, than a study on friendship and was a little repetitive in places. For me, it lacked real substance and I think  it is probably better suited for a younger audience.

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper – 4/5

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An absolute powerhouse of a book. These Dividing Walls starts as a cosy look at the people behind four walls in Paris and ends up being an explosive look at race, politics, terrorism and relationships. I’m not going to say much about the topic, or what happens, as I implore you to read it. Fran Cooper’s second novel – The Two Houses – is out now and I’ve made sure I’ve requested it at my local library.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – 4/5

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Denmark is officially the happiest nation on Earth. When Helen Russell is forced to move to rural Jutland, can she discover the secrets of their happiness? This book is split into months of the year, with the writer exploring one element of Danish life in each chapter – covering everything from traditions to the harsh Danish winters. This was such an enjoyable, cosy read which made me question what makes me happy in my life, but most of all it made me want to move to Denmark. Sign me up, when do I leave? 

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

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A lyrical, literary crime story. – a poetic ode to the sea. At times I struggled with the flow of this book – it has a certain lilt to it and a very distinctive voice rhythm and style. Unfortunately, on this occasion I just think it was the wrong timing for me to read this.

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth – 4/5

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Described as a female version of Withnail and I, Animals is a raucous read from start to finish – it leaves you tired from Laura and Tyler’s high-octane escapades. However, underneath the drink, drugs and whirlwind lifestyles, it questions how we want our lives to pan-out, asking us when is the right time to grow up, as well as understanding what we might need to leave behind to achieve a happy life. A tale of female friendship, love and belonging.

Wellcome Book Prize 2018: Shortlist

I’ve been meaning to post about the Wellcome Book Prize for a while now – if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a fascinating prize that celebrates the many ways in which literature can illuminate the breadth and depth of our relationship with health, medicine and illness.

I absolutely love the Wellcome Collection – it’s one of my favourite places to visit in London. They host incredible special exhibitions – covering off the brain, death, dirt and Indian medicine. It’s such a fascinating place, so naturally it’s a prize that interests me.

In 2017, the price was won by Maylis de Kerangal for Mend the Living (translated by Jessica Moore) – a heartbreaking piece of fiction that explores medical ethics and organ transplantation. This year, the shortlist comprises of six books – five are written by women and five are debuts:

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From the list I’ve read Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Canongate Books), which ended up being one of my favourite reads of last year. The others that particularly appeal to me are Mayhem, A Memoir and To be a Machine. I’m hoping I’ll get around to ticking these off my TBR list soon.

This year the prize is being judged by: Hannah Critchlow, Bryony Gordon, Edmund de Waal, Sumit Paul-Choudhury and Sophie Ratcliffe, and the winner will be announced on 30th April, at a ceremony at the Wellcome Collection.

First impressions of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 longlist

The longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced last week – Wednesday 8th March, at midnight. I wanted to take some time to absorb and digest the list, laying out plans for my reading, so a week later here’s my initial thoughts on the books that made the cut.

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Image courtesy of the Women’s Prize for Fiction

Looking at the longlist this year, overall I’m happy. There’s a mix of books I’ve read, books I thought would appear, books I’m longing to read and also books – and authors – I’ve never even heard of. Honestly, there’s also a few books I’m surprised to see, that I thought maybe wouldn’t be longlisted because there’s already loads of hype around them. That’s not to say they don’t deserve recognition and an (even) wider audience, but I prefer it when I discover new, hidden talent. And that’s really why I love the WPF – it gives me a kick up the bum to read the books I’ve had on my list a little to long and also allows me to discover new gems that might have gone unnoticed.

Out of the 16 longlisted books, I’ve already read two:

Both were impeccable, enjoyable and memorable reads.

Out of the 14 remaining books, I already have five on my TBR list:

  • Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal

Looking at the last nine books, I’ve heard of – but don’t really know anything about – five:

  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • Sight by Jessie Greengrass
  • Elmet by Fiona Mozley
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

So that leaves four that are completely shiny and new to me:

  • H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker
  • Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
  • When I Hit You: or, a portrait of the writer as a young wife by Meena Kandasamy
  • A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert

One of the first things I do when I see the prize each year is to assess what I’ve already ticked off reading during the previous year, as well as what I already own. Then I go through the rest of the books on the list picking out the ones that interest me the most, reserving them from my library in the hope that I’ll get them out before the shortlist for the prize is announced.

This year, I’m most excited to read The Trick to Time, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Manhattan Beach and Miss Burma. I’m really into reading historical fiction at the moment, so I think the latter three will help scratch that itch. There’s a couple I’m not too fussed about (I won’t name names at the moment), but if I can get them from the library and have some spare time I’ll try and give them a go.

Femmeuary Reads

I had such a great month of reading in February – I stuck to my pledge of only reading books by women, as part of Lauren and The Books’ Femmeuary (see this post if you have no idea what I’m on about). I managed to read five four star reads and one five star books – I’ve felt more motivated to read than I have in a long, long time. May this reading streak continue! 

How to be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax (Penguin) – 4/5  

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This is a warm and witty look at mental health; accessible and informative it discusses twelve elements, from evolution to addiction. In tone and content, I found this quite similar to her previous books Sane New World and Mindfulness for the Frazzled, however I thought the structure of it was great and really enjoyed the discussions between the monk and the neuroscientist. At the end of each chapter, each topic is dissected, looking at how the mind works, mindfulness and more scientifically, the brain. If you’re looking for a light-hearted book at why we behave in certain ways, this one is for you.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain (Vintage) – 4/5

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A book about courage, belonging, determination, love and family. I was nervous going into The Road Home, as last year The Gustav Sonata by Tremain was one of my favourite books and I hoped that this would live up to expectations. I’m pleased to say it did – I absolutely loved it. Rose Tremain creates characters that are intricate and three-dimensional, ones that you care about and also ones that at times you hate. There was only one plot point that jarred with me – no spoilers here, but on reflection I can see why Rose Tremain included it, however the point in question seemed so out of character for the book’s main man (Lev) that I thought I was a little unnecessary.

Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand (Bloomsbury) – 4/5

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Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was heir to the Kingdom of the Sikhs, one of the greatest empires of the Indian subcontinent. My Mum got me this book for Christmas and I’d saved it to read to coincide with it being 100 years since (some) women got the vote and woman’s suffrage. At times this is quite dense, but never unenjoyable, to read – it is rich with description and character, so much so that you get a true flavour of what Sophia was like, her priorities and her lifestyle. I learnt so much from this book. Ultimately it is about a strong, independent and revolutionary female that I’d previously not heard of.

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray (Aster) – 4/5

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A fresh look at alcohol addiction and the joy sobriety can bring, as well as understanding why society has a negative view of staying sober. This was in no way condescending, or preachy, instead Catherine Gray provides information – and her story – and lets you make your own mind up. It tells the tale of her booze-fuelled twenties and how hitting rock bottom allowed her to start living her life again. It is a super quick, and enjoyable read, which definitely made me question my health and my alcohol consumption. 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Blackfriars) – 4/5

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This novel opens with such a punchy first line – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” after reading this, I was hooked and raced through this novel in two short sittings. Everything I Never Told You is about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio; it explores family dynamics, racial tension, and the pressures children can face from parents. Ultimately, it is about discovering who we, and our families, really are and why we behave the way we do. Ng’s writing is beautiful, filled with tension and tenderness – I’ve now got her second book, Little Fires Everywhere high-up on my TBR list.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore (Windmill Books) – 5/5

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Where do I start? This was, without doubt, my standout novel for the month. It follows Ada Sibelius, an intelligent young girl who has been raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab. Set in multiple eras (1980s and 2009), early on in the novel Ada realises David is forgetting things – the book is her quest to discover her father’s past and piece together his life. It is emotional, quirky and intense – it won’t be for everything, but for me it was incredible. A full review will follow shortly, once I’ve managed to put how much I enjoyed it into words.