My Month in Books: March and April 2023

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

When a novel ends with a character proposing quite literally going to hell and back again to rescue a friend, it’s more than a little cruel to keep your readers waiting nearly four years for a follow-up. However, I am willing to forgive Leigh Bardugo because Hell Bent is worth the wait. Building on the delightfully creepy world-building from the first book in this series, Alex Stern is back and in even more trouble than ever as she and her allies must race against time to rescue Darlington from the pits of hell, wrangle the (literal) ghosts that haunt them, solve a mysterious string of murders and face up to the darkest secrets of their past. I love how this book fleshed out many of the characters who surround Alex and gave them fuller backstories while also giving her the space to develop into a richer character in her own right. I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here but I imagine I’ll have a few more years to wait to find out.

Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King

Thank you to NetGalley and PanMacmillan for providing me with an ARC of this short story collection. This is a collection of stories that centre on characters across the spectrum of genders, ages and socioeconomic status but are united by a shared focus on heartache, longing and loss. The experience of reading this collection feels oddly nostalgic, with almost all of the stories feeling as if you’re looking back on a different time through the forgiving haze of memory. The stand-out stories for me were definitely the eponymous Five Tuesdays in Winter, in which a gruff bookstore owner slowly falls in love with his employee and works up the courage to make his move, and North Sea, in which a recently widowed woman takes her daughter on holiday for the first time since her husband’s passing. Although both stories seem very different, they both have a strong, hopeful undercurrent running through them as the protagonists begin to move forward from their past disappointments and losses. This is an uplifting, beautifully written collection and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a serotonin boost that will still challenge them.

Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel

I hate when the blurb of a book promises a complex, gritty psychological thriller and what you get instead is a plodding and confused tale of sad millennials numbing their pain in an artsy way before everything goes absolutely batshit in the last 150 pages. This book was trying very very hard to be ‘twisty’ but instead just felt incoherent and unsure of where it wanted to go. It was an absolute mishmash of buzzy tropes, including ‘intense/homoerotic female friendship’, ‘extravagant partying to cope with pain’, ‘weird relationship with older woman the protagonist works for’ and ‘making the most self-destructive choice possible at any given moment.’ After pages and pages, of artsy angst we finally get to the juicy/murder-y parts and I nearly get whiplash from how often the story flips itself around and not in a good way. I wish the author had condensed the ‘depressed white girl in her early twenties’ section into a some sort of literary montage and actually spent time fleshing out the more thrilling parts of the book. Definitely do not recommend.

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter

This book was a bit of a weird one and not really in a good way. Centring around three women who seemingly have it all together, O’Porter dives beneath the surface to illustrate how even the people who look the most perfect can be falling apart inside. Part of me however feels that her purpose might have been better served by having her characters have slightly less bizarre problems (though I will admit, having one of the big dramatic reveals being that one character just had lots of body hair was truly surprising, though not really in a good way). The ‘big twist’ could be seen coming from space and while all of the characters coming together to support each other at the end was interesting, I can’t say that their actions were particularly coherent. For a novel that purports to be about looking below the surface, all of the characters felt too shallowly drawn to really care about.

See What Can Be Done: Essays, Criticism and Commentary by Lorrie Moore

I love getting to read books that make me feel as if I’m getting smarter as I’m reading them and See What Can Be Done is absolutely one of those books. Lorrie Moore is best known for her short fiction but is also a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, writing essays on literature, film, television and current events. Although I wasn’t familiar with every topic that Moore was writing on, it was still a treat to read her thoughts as she has a wonderful way of talking about culture. It was a real pleasure to spend some time wandering around in her brain and I feel I now have plenty of new things to add to my read and watch list as a result of her reviews!

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

I was initially a little bit nervous picking up this book as I’m not a fan of reading narratives of slavery that veer too far into ‘misery porn’ and focus only on the relentless suffering of their protagonists rather than portraying them as fully-realised human beings. Imagine my delight when I found that The Confessions of Frannie Langton seems to be a direct rebuke to precisely those kinds of narratives, with Frannie expressing disgust at the white abolitionist cliques in London who salivate over hearing tales of the horrors of slavery and deny her any agency and ownership over her own life. The novel opens with Frannie, a mixed race ex-slave, imprisoned and accused of the murder of her employers and her odds of avoiding the hangman’s rope look pretty dire. Her lawyer pleads with her to give him something, anything, that he can turn into a defence to save her neck and so Frannie begins to tell him the story of her life. It is full of tragedies and joys, love and loathing and underpinned throughout by a thirst for knowledge and frustration at her circumstances. Ultimately this story is a furious scream at a world that would try to erase and ignore the lives of women like Frannie and I would highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

I’m Glad My Mom Died is a memoir of a childhood lost to fame and abuse and a slow journey towards recovery and self-love. In the hands of most storytellers, this story would be hard to get through but it is a testament not only to McCurdy’s talent as a writer but also her resilience and sense of humor that she somehow makes a harrowing tale into a darkly funny page-turner. Jennette McCurdy was a child actress on the popular Nickelodeon show, iCarly, and to the outside world it looked as if she had everything going for her. But what no one realised (or cared about) was that this was not a life she had chosen for herself. Dragged to her first audition at six years old by her abusive and overbearing mother, McCurdy’s childhood is a blur of acting classes, home makeovers, forced calorie restriction and a huge amount of emotional manipulation whenever she tries to resist. For years she is trapped in a cycle of addiction, unhealthy relationships and disordered eating, until her mother dies of cancer and she finally is able to examine their relationship and her mother’s impact on her life at a healthy distance. I’m not usually much of a fan of memoir, but McCurdy’s is compulsively readable and captivating, I hope she goes on to write more.

Fix the System, Not the Women by Laura Bates

In a world where it feels as if we’re constantly being bombarded with news stories about women being harassed, attacked and killed, I’m so grateful that we have Laura Bates on hand to highlight the systemic problems that lurk unseen behind every incident. Drawing heavily on her work with the Everyday Sexism Project, Bates exposes the prejudices and biases that lie at the core of five key institutions; Education, politics, media, policing and criminal justice. She rails against the lack of creativity or urgency behind previous attempts to address systemic misogyny and demands a society in which the safety of women is considered to be of equal importance to the comfort of men. An excellent and succinct primer on institutional sexism and a powerful rallying cry for change.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking is a beautifully written and heartrending account of the strangeness and trickery of grief. When Didion’s husband dies suddenly of a massive coronary episode while their only child is in a medically induced coma, she is thrust into the chaotic and subjective land of the grieving. Her memory is fuzzy, she cannot write and she finds herself keeping her husband’s shoes in case he needs them when he gets back. On top of all of this, while her daughter initially recovers, a mere two months later she suffers from a massive subdural hematoma, requiring extensive brain surgery and weeks of slow recovery. Being Joan Didion, of course she manages to turn experiences that would have broken anybody else into an insightful and empathetic walk through the process of grief, blending her prose with excerpts from psychological studies, great works of literature, poetry and music. This is a deeply human and personal story about how it feels to lose a someone and reading it will prompt you to hold all of your loved ones a little bit closer.

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

My Monticello is a novella centring around Da’Naisha, a young descendent of Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemmings. When her neighbourhood is attacked by violent white supremacists, Da’Naisha, her family and her neighbours take shelter in Monticello, Jefferson’s historic home. Here, as she and her companions try to come together to survive a much wider white supremacist uprising than they initially anticipated, Da’Naisha must also grapple with the burdens of her inheritance and the future of her family. With Monticello standing in for a country that is Da’Naisha’s by right but that many are desperate to shut her out of, this brief but powerful story makes a worthy contribution to the war currently being waged over who owns America’s history.

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories edited by Jay Rubin

While I was lucky enough to be travelling through Japan, I decided that it was the perfect time to expand my knowledge of Japanese literature. This is the perfect book with which to do that. Jay Rubin has collected a series of stories that span genres and centuries to create a captivating and varied collection that gives the reader a glimpse into the spirit of the country. Unusually rather than being ordered alphabetically or chronologically, the stories are arranged by themes such as ‘Nature and Memory’, ‘Modern Life and Other Nonsense’ and ‘Dread’. My personal highlights were The Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga by Jun’ichiro Tanazaki, which provides a surreal but engrossing gateway into the collection, Patriotism by Yukio Mishima, which is a stunningly beautiful story about two heartbreakingly futile deaths, The Tale of the House of Physics by Yoko Ogawa, a tale of memory, longing and nostalgia and Hell Screen by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, a slow-burning horror story of artistic obsession. A special mention has to also go to Hiroshima, City of Doom by Yoko Ota, which I read on the bullet train to Hiroshima itself and provided a timely reminder of the enormous human cost of the the Hiroshima bombing and the terror of those who experienced it firsthand. If you’re not lucky enough to be visiting Japan soon, I recommend this collection as a way of transporting yourself there much more quickly and cheaply!

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Another novel I read while in Japan and my first time reading Banana Yoshimoto. I was completely swept up into the emotional and warm world of love, found family and grief that Yoshimoto created in both Kitchen and its companion story Moonlight Shadow. Both stories are written in spare, simple prose and feature young female protagonists grieving a loss but eventually finding closure and reading them truly felt healing. Although the stories are short, you feel as if you are on a journey and by the end of the novel you are left with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and wholeness. Because they are both so short, the whole book can easily be consumed in one afternoon and so there is no excuse not to treat yourself to reading this next time you’re feeling down.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

While I acknowledge that Stephen King is a master, I normally don’t read his work because I’m the biggest wuss of all time when it comes to scary stories. So imagine my delight when I saw his latest book was less horror and more epic fantasy. The first third or so of the book introduces us to our young protagonist Charlie Reade, a star athlete and all-around good guy with a tough home life. When he intervenes to save his reclusive, elderly neighbour after he falls off a ladder, Charlie strikes up a friendship with the old man and falls in love with his ancient but spirited dog. But when his neighbour dies, Charlie finds himself not just the guardian of the dog and the old house, but also a mysterious portal to another world hidden in the back garden. Left with a dangerous mission and armed with nothing but a good heart, strong legs and a loyal dog, Charlie must rescue this new world and his own from the evil forces that seek to choke the life from it. King has captured all of the strange magic of a classic fairy tale while creating something entirely original and this is a must read for fantasy fans.

Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca

For me, the fantasy in this romantic comedy revolves less around love and more around the idea of quitting my job to run away with a Renaissance Fair. Our protagonist is overworked and under-appreciated lawyer, Lulu, who opens the novel having a mental break down at a Renaissance Fair and throwing her work phone in a bucket of water. While she figures out her next move, she opts to travel along with the fair and finds herself falling for local ladies’ man, Dex. What I did enjoy particularly about this book was that the central conflict between the two lovers was less about improbable feats of miscommunication and more about the fundamental incompatibility of their two lifestyles. What I liked even more was that neither of them sacrificed their passions for the other, but rather communicated and worked together to find a compromise that would require some sacrifices but ultimately make both of them happy. It felt more grounded and realistic than similar novels I read, which I wasn’t expecting from a novel in which the administrative needs of travelling psychics are a major plot point but hey, I love to be surprised!

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

A very good friend of mine has headed off to travel the world (If you’re reading this, hi Sam!) and in lieu of going with her, my book club has decided to read along with her travels. Her first stop was Thailand and so we cracked into this collection of short stories which are in equal parts insightful, amusing, devastating and triumphant as they paint a picture of a country struggling to define itself against the backdrop of an encroaching tourist industry. The absolute highlight of this collection for me was Cockfighter, a novella which tells the story of one man’s desperate fight for fairness and dignity against a local gangster as told through the eyes of his daughter. The reader is caught between rooting for his victory but fearing for his life and the life of his family if he doesn’t cut his losses and surrender to the inevitable victory of the local gang. I was completely engrossed in this story, anxiously flipping pages to find out what happened next. This story is worth buying the collection for on its own but the other stories that sit along side it are also an excellent read.

My Month in Books: February 2023

The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin

The City We Became was one of my absolute favourite reads of 2020 and I was buzzing with excitement to hear more from the five avatars of New York City and explore the other living cities of the world. Jemisin, as always, delivers a gripping and creative novel full of breathtaking world-building. However, my only critique is that the whole thing does feel somewhat rushed. This makes sense once you learn that Jemisin originally intended for Great Cities to be a trilogy rather than a duology but I still found myself feeling as if the pacing was a bit too fast for me. I’m also left wanting to know more about all of the other living cities who Jemisin gives us a tantalising glimpse of. Basically my main critique of this book is that there isn’t more of it, so I shall have to content myself with devouring the rest of Jemisin’s extensive oeuvre.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad is a tightly woven collection of short stories that broadly revolve around music producer Bennie Salazar and his assistant Sasha. Although their lives and pasts are largely hidden from each other, the reader is plunged into an array of vivid snapshots of the lives of their friends and associates, from Bennie’s high school friends to Sasha’s strange uncle to the children of Bennie’s reckless mentor. I found myself particularly moved by Great Rock and Roll Pauses a short story told from the perspective of Sasha’s daughter entirely through the medium of a Powerpoint presentation. You might think it sounds like a strange thing to be moved by a Powerpoint presentation, but such is the power and vulnerability of Egan’s writing. While the subject matter is varied and could have felt chaotic if written by a lesser author, Egan instead creates a symphony where all of the different, interlocking parts come together in perfect harmony to tell us a story about longing, art, self-destruction and redemption and the way that time comes for us all.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

When life gets a little bit much, it’s always nice to be able to retreat back into an old favourite. Revisiting the romantic travails of the Dashwood sisters still evokes all the passionate responses of the first time (namely a strong desire to shake Edward Ferrars, slap Lucy Steele into next week and condemn John Willoughby to a life of appropriate child support payments) but because this story is so familiar I have the comfort of knowing that in spite of all the tortured silences, the fraught letters and the dramatic walks in the rain that a happy ending is just around the corner. Sense and Sensibility is bursting with Austen’s signature wit and whether it’s your first time reading this or your fifth, you can’t help but be delighted.

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino

Summarising this book will be extremely difficult because it is less a story and more an experimental treatise on what it means to be a reader. The novel opens with a direct address to the reader, asking them to sit down and make themselves comfortable as they settle in to read a new book by Italo Calvino (so far, so meta). But after a few pages, the reader discovers that there is a printing error and the book just endlessly repeats the first section. Desperate to finish the story, the reader returns to the book shop to purchase a replacement but instead is given another book entirely and meets a mysterious and intriguing other reader. Thus begins a cycle of starting brand new stories only to have them cut short and find them replaced with another story entirely, leaving both the fictional reader and the reader themselves flitting through romances, comedies, thrillers, erotica and horror with each one mulling on what it means to read and why we do it. While I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this book (honestly I was hoping for more of a story) I think that Calvino has unquestionably produced a fascinating and innovative novel.

Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade

All good things must come to an end, including Olivia Dade’s extremely fun Spoiler Alert series. Centring on the cast of a wildly popular big-budget fantasy TV series with a terrible ending and useless show-runners (totally not Game of Thrones), this series has provided a fabulous source of warm and fuzzy feelings as well as copious nerdy fanfiction nostalgia. However, I found this last instalment a little underwhelming. I think the reason for this is that the main characters are isolated from the rest of the cast and so we don’t get as much of the characters we’ve grown so fond of over the course of the series. I also have a funny feeling if I was Swedish that I would hate this book because the sheer volume of national stereotypes and Swede jokes floating around would have probably driven me insane. Ultimately though, this was a fun, light read that still delivers plenty of good vibes, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

This was actually a reread for me but I wanted to refresh myself on the story ahead of the sequel finally coming out (you’ll have to wait for next month for that review!). This is a gripping paranormal thriller that centres around Alex Stern, a young woman who can see dead people, is understandably pretty messed up as a result and whose life has taken a few wrong turns. When she wakes up in a hospital bed after being found as the sole survivor of a brutal mass murder, she is offered an escape – a full ride scholarship to Yale. However, everything comes with a price. In exchange for this golden opportunity Alex must monitor Yale’s eight infamous secret societies to ensure they aren’t getting up to too much mischief. But this isn’t just supervising frat parties. The societies have been practicing magic for centuries and Alex’s natural gifts make her a perfect fit for making sure that their rituals don’t go too far. She struggles to adapt to New England, her classes and her new mentor in all things magical but when a local girl turns up murdered on campus, Alex, ironically, comes alive. Dealing with death is something she is familiar with and she’s prepared to square off against the privileged society members to make sure this girl gets justice. Full of twists, turns and spooky surprises, this book is perfect for fans of dark fantasy.

My Month in Books: January 2023

Red Comet: The Short and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark

Many would ask how it is possible to write a 1300 page biography about a woman who only lived for thirty years. Those people clearly don’t understand just how much incredible and ground-breaking writing Sylvia Plath managed to produce in such a tragically short period of time. Clark paints a vivid and human portrait of a gifted artist who struggled with the restrictions and expectations placed on her by her society, going into tremendous amounts of detail about her family life, her early relationships, her struggles with her mental health and her traumatic experiences at the hands of psychiatrists. Clark draws on huge volumes of Plath’s personal writing including diaries and letters to bring this often misunderstood figure to life as a real living, breathing, brilliant and flawed woman. She affords similar generosity to other polarising figures from Plath’s life, including Ted Hughes, Assia Wevill and her mother, Aurelia Plath. Where others have demonised these individuals in the wake of Plath’s suicide, Clark also shows them compassion and presents a balanced portrait that acknowledges their own strengths, struggles and flaws along with Plath’s. While many previous Plath biographies have scried though her poems to find signs that make her tragic end seem like the inevitable conclusion of a life possessed by a powerful poetic spirit, Clark’s work feels as though it does the opposite. Reading it I was overwhelmed by the sense that her death was deeply preventable. Had the freezing winter not left her isolated and miserable, had the medication she was on been better monitored, had in-patient mental healthcare not been such a terrifying prospect, there might have been a very different outcome and she might have lived decades more. The loss to the literary world is incalculable and the loss to her many many friends and loved ones immeasurable. For anyone who loves Plath’s poetry, Red Comet is an undertaking that will leave you devastated, but it is worth every page.

Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire

Having been thoroughly depressed by the life of Sylvia Plath, I needed a dose of fantasy ASAP. Once again, Seanan McGuire’s wacky world of wayward children who have travelled to other worlds and are now struggling to readjust to life back in the ‘real’ world’ ticked all my boxes. But on this occasion there is an edge to McGuire’s work as Where the Drowned Girls Go shows us a frightening alternative to Eleanor West’s accepting and welcoming academy for heroic youngsters. This novel largely takes place at the Whitethorn Institute, a school that seeks to force children to forget the magical worlds that they travel to through a harsh regime of repression, gaslighting and bullying. Traumatised by her encounter with the Drowned Gods in the Moors, Cora turns to the Whitethorn Institute hoping for a reprieve but instead finds herself forced to confront and conquer the darkest parts of her past and save her fellow magical children from the villainous Headmaster. As per usual, this is an extremely readable fantasy novella that speaks to the deeply weird and away with the fairies kid who still lives inside me and I will never be able to review it objectively because it taps into too many of my feelings.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami has the most incredible talent for making the most insane situations not only readable but also plausible within the world that he has created. The plot of this novel is extremely difficult to describe succinctly and without giving away huge swathes of the plot, but in essence it covers the year in the life of two seemingly unrelated individuals as they unwittingly fall into a dystopian parallel world. Although it’s a fairly massive book (over one thousand pages), it packs in a lot with religious cults, assassinations of abusive men, literary conspiracies, a ghostly TV licence fee collector and, of course, the mysterious ‘little people’ who seem to be the driving force behind many of the novel’s events. It’s bursting with magical realism and the interplay of the fantastical and the mundane is one of the major appeals of the novel. 1Q84 is always going to be divisive and you’ll either love it or hate it, but if you’re prepared to embrace all of the insanity and go along for the ride, you’ll be richly rewarded.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Continuing on my surrealist dystopian kick, I finally got around to reading Brave New World. Huxley has created a world in which pain and distress have been completely eradicated with drugs, constant consumption of material goods, readily available light entertainment, lots of casual sex and a healthy dose of genetic engineering. While most humans have grown up in this highly controlled environment, there are still a few reservations where ‘savages’ live unregulated lives with all of the highs and lows of human emotion and experience that we have come to expect. When one such ‘savage’ is brought to the civilised world as an object of scientific interest, the distinction between ‘lack of distress’ and ‘happiness’ becomes apparent as he looks with horror upon a world with no true feeling. Although Huxley wrote Brave New World ninety years ago, his prescient warnings about mankind’s worship of mindlessness still feels incredibly relevant in the era of smartphones and wellness.

All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King

I’m not normally much of a fan of autobiographies, but then again, most people haven’t lived a life like Billie Jean King. Not only is she a world-class athlete and one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, but she is also a tireless campaigner for social justice and played a key role in making women’s tennis the hugely popular sport it is today. King (rightly) spends plenty of time on her sporting achievements but it seems clear that the accomplishments that she is most proud of are the ones that took place off the tennis court. Whether it was setting up the first professional women’s tennis tour, being a founding member of the Women’s Tennis Association, her triumph over Bobby Riggs in the infamous ‘Battle of the Sexes’ or her activism around LGBT+ rights after she was forcibly outed by an ex-lover, it seems like there is no challenge that King couldn’t conquer. She is an absolute inspiration and I would recommend this book to anyone, even if you aren’t a big tennis fan.

My Month in Books: December 2022

The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkein

Sometimes when the world gets a little bit busy and all feels a bit too much, you just want to curl up in a cosy little Hobbit hole and enjoy the comforting familiarity of a world you know well. The run-up to Christmas always feels like the perfect time to revisit Middle Earth and The Hobbit never gets old. If you haven’t already followed Bilbo Baggins on his big adventure with the company of Thorin Oakenshield to defeat the dragon Smaug and reclaim the lost treasure under the Lonely Mountain, I advise that you rectify this immediately. Bilbo is such a loveable character, just a hobbit who loves the comforts of home doing his best to get by in a world filled with wizards, trolls, goblins and dragons and you can’t help but root for him every step of the way. I could never choose favourites out of Tolkien’s works, but The Hobbit will always have a special place in my heart as my ultimate comfort read.

Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid is so good at writing immensely readable novels and Carrie Soto is Back is no exception. The novel centres around the titular Carrie Soto, one of the greatest female tennis players the world has ever seen as she comes out of retirement to reclaim her record number of grand slam victories. This novel deals with heavy themes such as the cost of greatness, misogyny in sport and complex parent-child relationships, but Jenkins Reid handles them with such a light touch that the book never becomes weighed down and remains a highly entertaining read. While this novel definitely wasn’t earth-shattering and the plot was often quite predictable, it was still and engrossing read and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking to break a reading slump.

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

Just when I thought N.K. Jemison couldn’t ruin me any more than she already has, she hits me with this. This is the second book in the Broken Earth trilogy and picks up more or less exactly where The Fifth Season left off, with Essun in Castrima, working with Alabaster to understand the origins of the cataclysmic events that kicked off not just this Season but all of the ones that proceeded it and how she can potentially harness the power of the obelisks to save the human race. These sections were immersive and gripping but felt mostly like set up for the final novel in the trilogy. The sections that really pulled me in were the chapters from the perspective of Nassun and Schaffa. It was fascinating to get outside of Essun’s viewpoint and start to understand who Nassun really is and how she has been developing as a person since the start of the Season as well as the impact that Essun’s trauma has had on every member of her family. I cannot wait to see what the reunion between mother and daughter eventually looks like. I don’t know what is coming in The Stone Sky but I am ready to be an emotional wreck by the end of it.

My Month in Books: October and November 2022

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So part of the reason why it has been so long since I updated this blog is I was a bit busy getting married (woohoo!). Naturally one of the most stressful elements of this was choosing which book to be reading in the run up to the wedding and eventually I chose my favourite book of all time (yes, I know I’m basic). Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know that Pride and Prejudice is a much-loved novel about two very different people who make awful first impressions on each other. However, after a disastrous initial proposal, both of our protagonists are forced to reflect on their behaviour (their pride and their prejudice, if you will) and strive to make amends as they realise that perhaps they wouldn’t be as poorly matched as they initially thought. I felt like the themes of love, forgiveness, perseverance and giving others the benefit of the doubt were useful things to be reflecting on as my partner and I prepared to tie the knot and in the midst of all the chaos of organising, it was nice to come back to a familiar favourite. Whether you’re new to Austen or a dedicated Darcy lover, P&P can always be counted on to be the perfect read.

On The Way To The Wedding by Julia Quinn

Naturally after the wedding comes the honeymoon and I had resolved to spend the entire holiday only reading nice, fluffy books with happy endings. So what better way could there be to kick off the holiday than with the final book in the Bridgerton series, in which youngest son, Gregory Bridgerton, is finally married off and the long-suffering Bridgerton matriarch can rest at last (presumably only for as long as it takes for her grandchildren to reach marriageable age). Even by the standards of Bridgerton books, On The Way to The Wedding was absolutely bonkers, from the kinda-sorta love triangle to the last minute wedding objection to absolutely everything about the last 15% of this novel (no spoilers but I would have previously comfortably bet a large sum of money that no one was ever going to pull out a goddamn gun in a Bridgerton book outside of a duel). Am I smarter for having read this series? Absolutely not. Am I happier? Maybe? Am I going to be insufferable to people who have only watched the Netflix series because I know what’s going to happen next? You bet your ass I will. And isn’t that what reading is all about?

Watermelon by Marion Keyes

I started the Walsh Family series slightly out of order with Rachel’s Holiday but I fell in love with Keyes’ light touch that brought the humour out of dark situations. So I was excited to go back to the first book in the series and continue getting to know the Walsh family through different eyes. Watermelon opens with our protagonist, Claire, on the edge of a breakdown. Having just given birth to her first child (literally, she is still in her hospital bed), her husband has informed her that he has been cheating on her and that he is leaving her for another woman. He promptly vanishes without any further information, leaving Claire to stumble through new motherhood alone and heartbroken. I know this doesn’t sound like a comedy, but I promise you, it does get there! Claire returns to her family home in Dublin, moving back in with her parents and sisters as they help her to raise her daughter and slowly but surely, surrounded by the loving support of her chaotic family, she starts to gain her confidence back and takes control of her life back from her insufferable ex. This is a perfect, light-hearted holiday read but you’ll be so invested in the characters that you’ll be flipping the pages like it’s a thriller to try and find out what happens at the end.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

One thing that really makes Emily Henry’s romance novels stand out from the pack is her awareness of the genre in which she is writing and her subversion of tropes. In Book Lovers she plays with the archetype of the ‘cold-hearted, workaholic city person’ girlfriend that usually gets dumped for the heroine of romantic comedies. Our protagonist Nora fits this stereotype to a T and she has no interest in living out a cliche love story which is what makes this novel genuinely engaging. Because Henry is not overly-reliant on well-worn tropes, she pushes herself to create well-rounded characters whose attraction to each other makes sense, whose relationship is well-balanced and whose problems are grounded in reality. The result is a sweet romantic comedy that doesn’t talk down to its readers but will still leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore

Next on my list romantic novels is a foray into historical fiction and the most recent instalment in Evie Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women series. Set in the late 1800s, the series follows a group of female Oxford scholars and suffragists as they fight for women’s rights and occasionally find love along the way. Portrait of a Scotsman centres on Hattie, a wealthy, sheltered and artistic young lady with dreams of securing the vote for women and being swept off her feet by a gentleman (emphasis on the gentle). So when she finds herself thrust into a compromising position with the distinctly ungentlemanly Lucien, a financier with a mysterious past who half the wealthy lords of London seem to be in debt to. Seeing marriage to Hattie as a chance to start ingratiating himself with the aristocracy, Lucien seizes the opportunity with both hands. However, after an unplanned journey to Scotland, the unlikely couple both find that there is more to their new spouse than meets the eye. The love story itself was fine but what was more interesting was the way that Dunmore wove in facts about the history of British socialism, the labour rights movement and in particular the intersection between these two movements and that suffragist movement. It’s always nice to come away from a novel feeling like you’ve learned something and while picking up a history book would probably be more efficient, it wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining.

The Importance of Being Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen

A ‘complete Aisling’ is a recently coined phrase amongst Irish women of a certain age, that refers to a young woman who has moved to Dublin (‘the big smoke’) from the countryside but still travels home every weekend to check in on her mammy and abhors anything that could be described as ‘notions’. This book is almost impossible to describe to anyone who is not Irish or at least Irish adjacent because the humor in it is so specific it will seem absolutely insane to anyone not familiar with our ways. However, if you’re Irish abroad like me and you find yourself missing the old country, this is almost as good as a trip home and is nearly as cheap as a Ryanair flight.

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

Look, if I’m reading a romance novel I know I’m going to have to suspend my disbelief. Our protagonist, Catalina, has lied to her whole family that she has a boyfriend so that they’ll stop pitying her for being single? Okay, sure, I’m with you so far. She has committed to bringing this imaginary boyfriend to her sister’s wedding on another continent. Uh-huh…a choice, but okay, still with you. Catalina is unable to come clean to her family because her sister is marrying the brother of Catalina’s shitty ex-boyfriend and the ex-boyfriend is going to be the best man at the wedding and has also just gotten engaged. Ooof okay, a lot going on there but I can see why that would be awkward. A man who Catalina works with and actively dislikes volunteers out of nowhere to travel with her to another continent to pretend to be her boyfriend at her sister’s wedding and save her from being humiliated in front of her ex. Fine, bizarre, but it’s a romance novel, I can guess where this is going. The bit that I cannot get my head around is that it took Catalina another few hundred pages to cop on to the fact that this man fancied her. We are expected to believe this protagonist is an intelligent and competent woman whereas only someone with the IQ of a boulder wouldn’t realise that maybe, just maybe, the person who is being incredibly nice to you and is visibly attracted to you fancies you. Also the fact that he didn’t just come out and say ‘Hey, by the way, I know I’ve been kind of a jerk but I really fancy you, can we start over?’ instead of engaging in a series of weird semi-dates pushed even my very elastic boundaries of belief. Definitely do not recommend this one.

All The Feels by Olivia Dade

Continuing on the romance train, I picked up the second instalment in Olivia Dade’s very online and fan-fiction conscious Spoiler Alert series. The series focuses on the love lives of the various stars of a hugely popular fantasy TV series whose final season has gone down the toilet after lazy writers threw away hard-earned character development and plot in favour of shock tactics and misogynistic tropes (Yes it’s a scarcely concealed Game of Thrones stand-in and I love that). All The Feels takes place at the same time as the first book and gives us insight into what happened after fed-up actor Alex publicly slated the final season of the show in front of hundreds fans. Accompanied by his long-suffering minder Lauren, who he happens to have an enormous crush on, Alex hits the road to figure out his next move and to see if he can convince Lauren to stick with him in a non-professional capacity. This book was funny, light-hearted and bursting with nerdy goodness. Perfect for those of us who grew up with fan-fiction and are looking for some easy reading.

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

Normally any book with witches in it is a win for me but I just couldn’t get into The Ex Hex. It opens with young witch Vivienne Jones jokingly cursing her shitty ex-boyfriend in the midst of a vodka-fuelled crying fit. Little does she know, that her curse is all too real and will have potent effects on the very source of her own magic. When aforementioned shitty ex-boyfriend returns to town years later, the power of the curse becomes apparent and Vivienne must work with her ex, who naturally she never got over and who is obviously not over her either, to save him, her hometown and her magic. I feel like this novel was trying to be too many things at once and both the magical world of the story and the central romance could have done with more building out and so ultimately the whole thing felt a bit paper thin. Definitely an inoffensive read but I won’t be pursuing this series any further.

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The eagle-eyed among you will probably identify this as the moment I got back from my honeymoon, as Farenheit 451 could hardly be classified as nice or fluffy. But it was my book club read for October and so I leapt into it as soon as I got home. It is set in a future dystopia in which books have been outlawed and ‘firemen’ are responsible for burning any remaining books that are found. Instead of reading, people are encouraged to watch copious amounts of television, drive recklessly and self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. One fireman, Guy, finds himself questioning the order of things after he meets a precocious young woman on his walk to work and sets off a chain of events which brings his entire world crashing down. This is a short but powerful novel that contemplates our most fundamental freedoms of thought, painting a horrifying picture of a world so stuffed with outside distractions that no one can hear themselves think anymore and any kind of introspective thought is out of reach. Farenheit 451 is a dystopia that dances tantalisingly close to reality and will provide plenty of fodder for discussion at any book club.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

Nothing quite hurts like when a series starts out so promising only to let you down at the final hurdle. I absolutely loved the detailed world-building of A Deadly Education, the first instalment in the Scholomance series, and couldn’t put it down. I found the second book, The Last Graduate, a bit meandering and less focused than the first but I had hopes that this was just ‘middle book syndrome’ and things would pick up in the final instalment. Imagine my disappointment when things continued to go down hill. Now that El and her friends are out of the Scholomance (for the most part), it felt like there was nothing driving the plot forward and El just lurched from place to place with no real objective. El’s goals seemed to change every five minutes and honestly I got whiplash trying to keep up with her. Unfortunately what The Golden Enclaves lacked in cohesive storytelling, it made up for hammering us all over the head with the message ‘ENCLAVES TERRIBLE, EVERYONE IN THEM TERRIBLE’ and painfully detailed world-building that felt like Novik was trying to ensure no single detail she had conceived for this world would be left out, no matter how irrelevant it was. This really bummed me out because I’ve loved Novik’s previous books, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get into this one.

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ministry for the Future tell the story of a UN agency founded to advocate for the world’s future generations in the efforts to fight climate change. Although this book is fiction, at times it felt scarily close to non-fiction, as Stanley Robinson presents a vision of what our extremely near future could look like through a series of eye witness accounts. The first chapter is absolutely harrowing, immediately setting the stakes for the rest of the novel, but Stanley Robinson doesn’t just focus on the devastation climate change has the potential to wreak. This novel is bursting with a range of radical ideas for tackling the climate crisis, from geo-engineering to economic incentive schemes, and the way Stanley Robinson blended policy development with story was fascinating (at least for a wonk like me). The Ministry for the Future is one of those books I just wish everyone would read, both for how it paints a brutal picture of the reality of climate change but also for the constructive and creative solutions it posits.

The Virago Book of Witches by Shahrukh Husain

After being so deep in existential fear for the future, I just wanted something a bit more weird and wonderful and boy did this deliver. Shahrukh Husain has compiled a strange and enticing collection of stories from all over the world featuring various iterations of witches. The full spectrum of witchy behaviour is covered within these pages, whether it’s luring children to their doom, dispensing wisdom to heroes, stealing the virility of handsome princes or turning themselves or others into animals. These women are dark and powerful and their stories are thought-provoking. A must-read for any fellow aspiring witches.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a short story collection exploring the lives of various of black women and girls as they follow their desires and reckon with the pressures and hypocrisies of their churches. Although the stories deal with complex themes of sexuality, trauma, family and, of course, religion, this is an immensely readable collection that will keep you hopping from story to story right until the last page. My particular favourites were How To Make Love To A Physicist which details one woman’s slow journey to self-love, as well as eventual romantic love and Peach Cobbler in which a young girl observes her mother’s ongoing affair with their married pastor and the impact this has on her attitudes towards love and her own sexuality.

Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’m ashamed to say that the first time I heard of Biafra was when I picked up this book, but Ngozi Adichie paints a vivid picture of the brief life of this small republic in this masterful novel. Set in 1960s Nigeria, this novel brings together the lives of three very different people to bring to life the stark class, ethnic and racial divides that characterised life in this time and place. Ugwu is a young, eager to please house boy for an eccentric university professor, Olanna is the beautiful, wealthy and well-educated lover of the same professor and Richard is the white, British lover of Olanna’s fiercely independent twin sister. Although these three seem to have little in common, their lives become inextricably intertwined as Nigeria moves towards a civil war. This is a devastating but beautiful novel full of the bitterness of once-cherished but now broken ideals, the resilience of humanity and the horrors of war.

Lud-In-The-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

This was an extremely strange but fabulous little novel that is a cross between fantasy, mystery, fable and tragedy. It is set it the titular city of Lud-In-The-Mist which sits at the convergence of two rivers, the Dawl, which originates in the mortal world, and the Dapple, which originates in Fairyland. Although once the people of Lud-In-The-Mist had a close relationship with Fairies, now such things are forbidden and anything related to Fairyland is taboo, particularly the consumption of fairy fruit. However, when the Mayor of Lud-In-The-Mist himself, Nathaniel Chanticleer, begins to suspect that his only son may have consumed the forbidden fruit, he is forced to abandon his comfortable and unchallenging life to probe deeper into the mysteries that fester at the heart of his city. To say anything more would risk spoiling the fun but this is an absolute gem of a book which has proved to be hugely influential on fantasy as a genre. This is definitely a must-read for any fans of The Lord of the Rings, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Stardust – without Lud-In-The-Mist I’m not sure those books would exist!

The Secret Place by Tana French

Usually when I read a book from the Dublin Murder Squad series, I find myself transported back to Dublin but honestly this time it felt a little bit too real. This isn’t because a teenage boy was ever mysteriously murdered at my school, but because Tana French absolutely nails the extremely specific experience of being a teenage girl in Dublin in the late-noughties/early-tens and all of the horrors that come with it. When the Murder Squad are called back to a posh South Dublin girls’ boarding school to re-investigate a murder after a new lead arises, they have to deal with not only a killer being on the loose but also the machinations, lies and manipulations of two warring gangs of female friends and the young men that surround them. Honestly this was so real I could nearly smell the fake tan and hear the hiss of the GHD. This book is as close as I ever want to be to being sixteen again but Tana French as always does a masterful job of dialling up the suspense and crafting a compelling and page-turning mystery with a great set of partners at the centre of it. I look forward to the next instalment, which I hope will be starring Antoinette!

My Month in Books: August and September 2022

Fire and Blood by George R.R. Martin

If there’s one author I feel like I’m trapped in an abusive relationship with, it is George R. R. Martin. Yes he treats his female characters like garbage, kills off every character I love in increasingly brutal ways and has kept me waiting for over a decade for him to just finish The Winds of Winter already but goddammit when things are good, things are good. The world-building, the politics, the attention to detail, the dragons! It’s enough to melt even my cynical heart. But after the shitshow that was the Game of Thrones finale (#JusticeForDaenerys), I swore I wouldn’t let this man hurt me again. I resisted the siren call of Fire and Blood for years before the first trailer for House of the Dragon broke my resolve into pieces. I was ready to be hurt again. Fire and Blood pulled me right back to Westeros and it felt like I never left. All my favourite warring families were still there doing terrible terrible things to each other but the scope of this was even bigger than the Song of Ice and Fire series had dared to tackle. Spanning hundreds of years, it acts as a history of the Targaryen family, right from the first wars of Aegon the Conqueror. Martin pulls from dozens of disputed ‘historical sources’ to paint an epic, bloody and lurid portrait of Westeros’ most unhinged family (and oh boy is that saying something). He covers wars, dynastic squabbles, sex, plotting and (briefly) good governance and the installation of sanitation services in Kings Landing. However, as I got further and further into the book, I started to get a sinking feeling in my gut. Although the book was quite the tome at 700 pages, at the pace we were moving I just couldn’t see how we were going to cover the entire history of the Targaryen family right up to Robert’s Rebellion. Dear reader, this is because it didn’t. This is only volume one of the Targaryen histories. Now I am waiting for Martin to finish two bloody books. It really is the hope that kills you in the end.

Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and a Battle for the Truth by Elizabeth Williamson

I was absolutely fascinated by the premise of this book, which examines the conspiracy theories and lies that sprang up in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which twenty-six people were killed. These lies were not organic, but were created and driven by those who were ideologically opposed to the idea of gun control, willing to make a profit from tormenting grieving families or both (conspiracy grifter and con-artist Alex Jones being an excellent example of someone who sits firmly in the middle of this most depressing of Venn diagrams). Williamson draws a straight line from the networks that perpetuated lies about the Sandy Hook shooting to those who spread misinformation during the 2016 US election, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election which ultimately led to the storming of the US Capitol Building by Trump supporters who believed that the election had been rigged against them in spite of all evidence to the contrary. This book provided fascinating insight into the people who believe in conspiracy theories and the way the social media companies enable them. But what I wasn’t ready for was the absolute gut-punch of reading about the tragedy itself. The details of the lives lost, their final moments with their loved ones and the nightmare that the families had to go through in the aftermath absolutely wrecked me. The empathy and sensitivity of Williamson towards these families who have already suffered so much is a beautiful model for modern journalism. She expertly tells a huge story of the battle for truth in American society while never once losing sight of the human beings whose suffering sits at the heart of the issue.

The Sandman: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman

I want to live in Neil Gaiman’s head so much. After the premiere of the television adaption of The Sandman on Netflix, I’m now finally getting around to reading his critically acclaimed comic book series of the same name, which follows the adventures and trials of the Lord of Dreams, one of the Endless prime deities who monitor the goings on of mankind. After being trapped by a human sorcerer for a lifetime, Dream must set about recapturing dreams and nightmares who have escaped his realm during his long absence. Gaiman deftly explores the darkest and brightest parts of the human psyche, creating a story that at once feels fresh and new and yet old as time itself. I can tell that this is a series that I will have to ration, lest I devour them all too quickly and then regret that I have none left to read!

Across The Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

The Wayward Children series continues to be a portal fantasy nerd’s dream. In this instalment, major horse-girl Regan finds herself transported to the Hooflands, a magical land populated by various fantastical equine species such as centaurs, unicorns and kelpies. The Hooflanders seem to think that Regan has been sent to them to be a hero but Regan’s not feeling so confident in her ability to be a saviour after having a seriously rough time at school lately. But living among a centaur herd makes her feel more herself than she has ever felt before and what ensues is a story of self-love, friendships that cross worlds and species and, of course, the importance of collapsing corrupt structures of government. I love Seanan McGuire and I have already downloaded the next book in this series onto my Kindle.

This Much Is True by Miriam Margolyes

For those of you not familiar with British national treasure Miriam Margolyes, this clip should give you a pretty good idea of who she is. Margolyes is not a lady disposed to mincing her words and so her autobiography This Much Is True provides a frank, no-holds-barred and hilarious account of her life and long career on the stage and screen. Bursting with mad anecdotes and a prodigious amount of name dropping, Margolyes holds nothing back, giving her opinions on Monty Python (sexist twats), Harry Potter (doesn’t care for it, in spite of famously playing Professor Sprout in the movies) and Winona Ryder (stole her Oscar). She also dwells seriously on matters of life, love and faith, providing particularly moving accounts of her family history, her relationship with her parents and her experience of therapy. Although the book can be a touch repetitive (I say this without a hint of judgement, only awe, but Margolyes has sucked off a truly astounding number of people), ultimately the book is utterly and quintessentially her and so this is a must read for fans of hers.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I’m on a serious Neil Gaiman binge at the moment and so it felt like a perfect time to reread one of my favourite books of all time, American Gods. It follows the adventures of Shadow Moon, freshly released from jail and mourning the death of his beloved wife as he becomes inexorably entangled in the power struggle between gods. One one side, we have the old gods of myth and legend – Odin, Anansi, Easter, Czernobog and many many more – who are fighting for their very existence against the relentless rise of the new gods of media, technology and globalisation. Shadow has been sought out by the old gods for reasons unknown and has the novel progresses it becomes clearer and clearer that nothing happens by accident when all powerful deities are involved. Expertly blending folklore from across the world into an epic story about America, power, love, life and death, this is Neil Gaiman at his absolute best.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

This book was fine and there’s really not much I can say beyond that. It was a fairly standard thriller/whodunnit that was very readable but otherwise quite unremarkable in terms of interesting plot, characters or themes. If you’re looking for some easy reading for a holiday, this would be a good choice but otherwise I wouldn’t particularly recommend it.

Concerning My Daughter by Kim Hye-jin

This novel was sent to me via the book subscription service Books That Matter. The subscription was a gift from colleagues at my old job and it’s been a real treat getting a new book every month! Concerning My Daughter is a slender novel about a middle-aged Korean woman who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that her daughter is a lesbian. When her daughter is forced to move back in with her mother, along with her long-term girlfriend, tensions run high and our narrator is being eaten alive with confusion, anger and worry for her daughter and her perceived ‘choice’ to live such an untraditional life. In parallel, the narrator finds herself looking after an elderly childless woman in the nursing home where she works. When she finds herself being instructed to neglect her patient due to the fact that she has no children who will complain about her mistreatment, the narrator finds herself on a collision course with her employers, her society and everything she ever thought she understood about whose life has value. This impactful novel explores big issues of ageing, complex family relationships and individualism in just over a hundred pages. Read this in an afternoon and thank me later.

The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson

Warning: Only read this book if you are already incredibly into Homer. Casual fans of Greek myths who are looking to learn a bit more about the Iliad and the Odyssey will find this book completely and utterly overwhelming. Halfway between paean to epic itself and autobiography, this book is a treat for fans of Homer who need a safe space to just geek out. This book is dense and wordy but it is bursting with obvious passion for its subject matter and so never becomes dry. If you are a Homer-obsessive like me, this book with make your heart sing and remind you of why you love Homer so much in the first place.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

A more modern take on the Greek epic, Middlesex is simply stunning. Our narrator is Cal, an intersex man who lived the first fourteen years of his life as a girl. But this is only part of the story. Middlesex is an intergenerational saga, beginning with Cal’s grandparents in their small Greek village, just before their make their journey to America and capturing their lives, the lives of their families and friends and the history of the city of Detroit, all of which come together to create the very specific set of circumstances that led to Cal being born. We see Cal’s childhood, his first loves and heartbreaks and his journey towards accepting who he is, rendered in vivid detail, surrounded by a huge, vibrant and lovingly drawn cast of characters. By the end of the novel you feel as though you really know all of these characters and, whether you personally like them or not, saying goodbye to them almost hurts. Eugenides has such a gift for being able to create such a detailed world that feels fully lived in, I cannot recommend this novel enough.

My Month in Books: June and July 2022

Nothing But the Truth: Stories of Crime, Guilt and the Loss of Innocence by The Secret Barrister

The Secret Barrister is one of my very favourite legal commentators but the only drawback to their writing is that it can sometimes seem not particularly accessible to the average person. Given that I am personally a huge criminal justice nerd, this isn’t really a problem for me but I often think that the people who would most benefit from reading the Secret Barrister’s work might be put off before they even start. Nothing But The Truth seems like an explicit effort to counter this issue, as it charts the Secret Barrister’s journey from innocence to experience, starting with them as a passionate young law student who firmly believed that ‘hang ’em and flog ’em’ was the way forward and ending with them as the empathetic, reasoned, but no less passionate campaigner for a better and more humane justice system that they are today. The lack of awareness and understanding of the criminal justice system in the U.K. today never fails to astound me but this is an excellent, accessible starting point for anyone who wants real insight into the problems that face Britain’s justice system and what is needed to fix it.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Long-time readers of this blog (hi Mom) will know that nothing gets me excited like a reinterpretation of ancient mythology and the Percy Jackson series really fanned the flames of this lifelong obsession when I first stumbled across it in an airport bookstore when I was ten years old. Inspired by the fact that a TV adaption of this fabulous series is in the works, I decided to embark on a re-read. For those who aren’t aware, the Percy Jackson series (unsurprisingly) focuses on a child named Percy Jackson who discovers that not only are the Greek Gods real, but they have moved to the United States of America, have continued their favourite hobby of having torrid affairs with mortals and that he is one of their children. He is subsequently sent to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp and training ground for demigods as they grow into mighty heroes. But trouble is brewing amongst the Olympians and Percy must undertake a quest with his best pals Grover the satyr and Annabeth, daughter of Athena, in order to save the world from a devastating war. Rick Riordan has done so much for popularising the study of classics amongst young people with these brilliant, funny and exciting novels. His love for the ancient world is bursting off the page and it’s impossible not to catch his enthusiasm. Knowing that he’s involved with the production of the new TV series, I have extremely high hopes!

Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido

Brother of the More Famous Jack is one of those books where if you were asked to describe the plot it would sound incredibly dull. A young girl is introduced to an eccentric, intellectual family and becomes utterly infatuated with them à la Laurie in Little Women. She begins to date the eldest son of the family and when they break up she becomes estranged from the whole lot of them. After time spent living abroad and significant trauma, she reconnects with the family and falls in love with the younger son. However, this sparse summary captures none of the magic of the characters of this book. Everyone is so fully, beautifully realised and the writing is so sensual and funny and earthy and real that if by the end you haven’t also fallen madly in love with the Goldman family then I’m not sure that we can be friends. Just trust me and give it a read, it’s a short book so you have nothing to lose!

1984 by George Orwell

If I had a pound for every time I heard someone describe something as Orwellian when it was simply complicated, annoying or something the person in question didn’t understand, I’d probably have enough money to quit my job and read full-time. But nonetheless, I was delighted when my book club decided to read one of the most iconic (albeit misunderstood) works of dystopia there is. I won’t say that it’s a pleasant read, but Orwell’s simple, brutal picture of a world of no freedom, no individualism and no joy continues to haunt and send a shiver down the spine. I thoroughly enjoyed a long conversation that it prompted with a good friend of mine about whether there was anything of hope to take from the novel and, in hindsight, I think the message of hope is that people continue to have access to this novel and will surely debate it and its various interpretations for years to come.

Modern Tarot by Michelle Tea

I mean come on, no one can possibly read as many fantasy books as I do without low-key believing that they are a witch. I’ve been into the tarot ever since I was a child, fascinated by the symbolism and mysticism held in such an inconspicuous packet of cards. I lost touch with it somewhere in the morass of being a teenager, when I didn’t want to be seen as believing in childish things like magic. However, I am now grown and completely out of fucks to give so I’m re-embracing my inner witch. Michelle Tea’s guide is a fabulous entry point for people looking to deepen their practice and perhaps even expand it beyond the tarot. It fully embraces queer, post-colonial and feminist interpretations of the cards and is bursting with anecdotes that will help you start connecting the cards to your own daily life. A perfect gift for the budding sorceress in your life.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

I put off reading Shuggie Bain for a long time because I assumed it was going to be incredibly depressing. Please don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly depressing but I loved every second of it. It tells the story of a young, gay boy, the titular Shuggie, growing up in the poverty-stricken Glasgow of the 1980s and dealing with deprivation, abuse and homophobia (internalised and otherwise). In spite of this, Shuggie’s biggest struggles relate to his mother, Agnes, a beautiful, vivacious woman in the grip of alcoholism. Shuggie adores his mother and struggles to care for her as she alternately succumbs and fights against her illness while battling his own demons. Shuggie and Agnes’ struggles will break your heart and you will feel every loss and every setback right alongside them from beginning to end. Don’t be afraid to let this book devastate you, it is absolutely and completely worth it.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Whenever I’ve read something particularly depressing, I always seem to turn to Terry Pratchett as a palate cleanser and few books have the ability to invoke as much unfettered joy inside me as the Tiffany Aching series of the Discworld books. In this instalment, Tiffany finds herself in over her head when the spirit of winter himself becomes obsessed with her after a Morris dance gone horribly wrong. Pratchett’s gift is telling really simple stories in complex and fantastical ways. Wintersmith at its heart continues Tiffany Aching’s coming of age as she learns to rise above petty squabbles, stand up for herself, deal with death and grief and ultimately become a responsible and powerful young witch who is capable of protecting her home and family from all manner of magical. And along the way she must contend with a number of eccentric witch mentors, minor deities and her own personal bodyguard of rude and rambunctious pictsies. Wintersmith really sees Tiffany not only embracing her witchiness but deciding the kind of witch that she wants to be. She remains one of my all time favourite protagonists in literature and her journey into adulthood is a must read for all wannabe witches.

Burning Questions by Margaret Atwood

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Random House UK for providing me with an ARC of this excellent essay collection. Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite voices in non-fiction and it was a real treat to get to experience nearly twenty years worth of her non-fiction essays on topics as diverse as climate change, debt, feminism, the art of storytelling, conservation and grief. No matter the subject, Atwood has something intelligent, nuanced and prescient to say and this collection is an absolute gift to fans and a wonderful entry point for those looking to know more about one of the greatest living authors of our time (as she explicitly clarifies, she’s not dead yet!).

Rough: How Violence Has Found Its Way Into The Bedroom and What We Can Do About It by Rachel Thompson

I like to think that fate brought this book found into my life, because I found it sitting forlornly, having been abandoned in the park near my house. I’m glad I found it, because it provides some really interesting analysis of the ‘grey areas’ of sex that legally wouldn’t be considered sexual assault but can still leave people feelings hurt, uncomfortable and even traumatised. She discusses the rise of non-consensual choking, spitting and slapping in casual sexual encounters and goes out of her way to highlight how the prevalence and specifics of this violence can intersect with existing societal problems such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and fatphobia. I appreciated that Thompson went out of her way to make this book sex-positive while still highlighting a growing but underdiscussed issue. Rough provides its readers with the vocabulary to have much needed discussions about the ways that this kind of behaviour impacts people and provides concrete solutions for how society can tackle it, including (gasp) treating the people you have sex with with kindness and humanity!

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Netflix’s new adaption of the Neil Gaiman’s critically-acclaimed and much-loved comic book The Sandman finally prompted me to crack into the first instalment of this series. In it, we meet Dream, a god-like being who rules over the realms of dreams and nightmares. When an arrogant occultist attempts to capture Death and hold her for ransom, he instead catches Dream by mistake. Thus Dream is held in silent captivity for over a century, his kingdom crumbling in his absence and humanity besieged by terrible sleeping sickness and madness. In this first volume, we see him escape and take revenge on his captors before setting out on a quest to reclaim his articles of power; a bag of sand, which has fallen into the hands of mortals, his helm which resides in hell in the ownership of a demon and, finally, his ruby which has been acquired by a deranged villain and is being used to create nightmares in the waking world. The Sandman is a beautifully illustrated, epic tale of a fallen god out to reclaim his power and I’m very excited to see where fate takes him next.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

This book reduced me to incoherent screaming. N.K. Jemisin is nothing short of a genius for being able to create a fantasy world so ambitious, so coherent and so massive while still being able to hold a deeply human and emotional core to her story. The book opens with the world ending (a bold start) and then zooms in from that huge beginning on one particular woman, Essun, who has just discovered that her husband has killed one of their children and run off with the other. To say more would risk spoilers but suffice to say that I simply could not put this book down and I cannot wait to devour the next one. If you have yet to encounter the brilliant, visionary and original writing of N.K. Jemisin, this is a fabulous place to start.

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder and Stoughton for providing me with an ARC of this book. When I opened Just Like Home I thought I knew what I was getting into, I was expecting a novel in which a young woman returns to a site of childhood trauma to confront the metaphorical monsters of her past. I was technically right if by ‘confront’ you mean ’embrace’ and by ‘metaphorical’ you mean ‘completely fucking real’. This book was twisted, horrifying and full of unexpected magical realism. I’m not sure I enjoyed it per se but if you love a creepy family horror story then you should definitely check this out.

My Month in Books: May 2022

Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis by Grace Lavery

I’m a simple girl who likes puns and giggles at the word penis so the title alone was enough to make me pick up this book. The blurb which promised a revolutionary queer memoir and described the author as an ‘omnisexual chaos muppet’ sealed the deal. However, I’m happy to hold up my hands and say that in spite of my high hopes as I opened this book, I simply did not get it. I get what the author was doing, and they were doing it very successfully (I think?) but I am simply neither well-read enough nor clever enough to really get the most out of it. I think there are probably around seven people in the world who are though and I hope they find this book. If a friend or loved one is a queer academic who specialises in Dickens and loves Little Shop of Horrors, this may be the ideal Christmas present.

The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers by Mark Gevisser

The Pink Line is an ambitious and meticulously researched exploration of LGBTQ+ rights around the world. Although never before has a social movement brought about so much change so quickly, attitudes to queer people across the world are still variable with some countries celebrating LGBTQ+ people and with others strengthening laws to criminalise homosexuality and gender non-conformity. Indeed, even within nations attitudes, freedoms and safety varies from region to region, town to town and even house to house. Mark Gevisser explores this ‘pink line’ which has been drawn through the modern world, mixing chapters which provide detailed analysis of the geopolitical and social factors at play with personal stories of people living at the edge of the pink line. This includes a trans Malawian refugee living in South Africa, a lesbian couple running a gay cafe in Cairo, genderqueer teens living in the American north-east and a Kothi community in an Indian fishing village. This book is absolutely fascinating and is an excellent addition to any Pride Month reading list.

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

I’m so glad that Seanan McGuire 1) Exists and spends her time writing sensational portal fantasy novellas 2) Chose to revisit Jack and Jill’s story. When last we encountered the Wolcott sisters, Jack was carrying Jill back to their horror-movie homeworld, The Moors, with plans to resurrect her and prevent her from becoming a vampire. However, fans of the series will know that Jill is happy enough to kill to get what she wants and soon Jack is forced to enlist her friends from Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children to finally put a stop to her sister, once and for all. Jack is such a special character for me and Jill is so believably terrifying and seeing the two of them finally square off head to head to each fight for their version of a happily ever after was everything I needed. It’s going to be hard making myself wait to read the next book in this series but I know something this good is to be savoured, not rushed.

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

This book was not good. I don’t want to be a snob about books that are ‘TikTok sensations’ because I think anything that gets people reading is wonderful but this book honestly felt more like a collection of ‘dark academia’/’aesthetic’ buzzwords than an actual coherent story. Having written this, I now feel ancient and like I need to yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbor was the first Dublin Murder Squad book that I felt apprehensive about reading, as when Mick ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy appeared in the previous instalment in the series, Faithful Place, he was a total jerk. It is a testament to Tana French’s skill as an author and her empathy towards her characters that within a few chapters, Scorcher had totally won me over and Broken Harbor now stands as my favourite (so far) in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Broken Harbor focuses on a murder on one of Dublin’s infamous ‘ghost estates’ during the 2008 recession. Patrick Spain and his two young children have been brutally murdered and Jenny Spain, his wife, is in intensive care after being found bleeding out and clinging to the body of her husband. While initially this looks like a straightforward case of family annihilation, there a few things that point to something stranger going on that can’t seem to be explained. The result was a gripping and thrilling mystery with plenty of twists and turns, another great addition to one of my favourite detective series.

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favourite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman

Confession: I don’t go in much for reality television and I’ve never watched a single episode of the Bachelor. However, I find its cultural pervasiveness fascinating and this book is a well-researched study of why this show has captured the hearts and minds of so many. Starting with a history of the televised dating show and following the development of the series through time, Kaufman interviews former producers and contestants to understand how the show has repackaged a tale as old as time, the ‘marriage plot’, into a modern phenomenon that captivates millions. My main issue with the book was the chapters written by various celebrities about why they were fans of the series, which I found repetitive and not particularly insightful. Honestly I’d just advise skipping over these sections as they add very little to what was an otherwise interesting book.

Book of Night by Holly Black

I loved the Folk of the Air series so I was super excited to see how Holly Black’s first foray into non-YA literature would turn out. The whole premise of shadow magic and the world-building was really cool and well-developed but the whole thing just felt a little hollow and it didn’t grip me the way that her previous books have. I’m not normally a person who minds swearing, hard-drinking and sex (either in literature or in life) but it felt as if Black was trying really hard separate herself from her YA fairy story past and emphasise that now she writes gritty books for grown ups. I mean, it’s still essentially a make-believe book about wizards so I’d prefer a bit more revelry in the magic and wonder of it all, but if you’re into the more gritty-realist side of fantasy, you might really enjoy this.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Sometimes in times of trouble you need to bust out an old favourite. Memoirs of a Geisha is one of my favourite books of all time and reading it honestly feels meditative at this point. I will never get tired of reading about Sayuri’s journey from destitute orphan to geisha, drawing on wells of inner strength and achieving control and independence in a world set up to keep these things from her. The language is stunning and the picture of a hidden jewel of a world on the brink of destruction is preserved like a fossil in amber. Is it an orientalist mess? Absolutely. Will I always have a special place in my heart for this orientalist mess? Absolutely. Sometimes the heart wins out over the head and that is no bad thing.

My Month in Books: March and April 2022

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Open Water was my book club’s pick for March and, after nearly five years of meeting, it was one of the first books that we all enjoyed reading. It’s a beautiful, lyrical story of two young black artists who fall in love and are driven apart by the anxieties and pressures brought on by the racist world that they live in. Although it’s a short novel, it is impactful and creates visceral feelings of love, heartbreak, fear and longing in the reader. Azumah Nelson’s writing is absolutely gorgeous and effortlessly sensual. This is the kind of book that you can just let wash over you and sweep you away with the poetry of the writing. An absolute pleasure of a read.

Unequal Affections by Laura S. Ormiston

Just when you all thought I’d run out of new takes on Pride and Prejudice to review, my mum came through with a cracker of a recommendation. Unequal Affections is a Pride and Prejudice retelling starring all the original characters, with one key point of divergence. Instead of epically telling Mr. Darcy where to go after his first, unbelievably rude, proposal, Elizabeth is so shocked by his unexpected declaration of love that she chooses to accept him, although she is clear that she does not yet return his affection. And so we are left with a cast of beloved characters taking a different route to the same happy ending. It is a testament to Ormiston’s knowledge and love of the original text that this feels like a credible alternative to Austen’s story rather than a shoddy imitation. While, of course, this can be no substitute for the original, it is a delightful homage for those whose dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice needs a break so that it doesn’t fall to pieces.

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood is a hilarious, smart and deeply, deeply weird writer. She is also the daughter of a married, Catholic priest who wanders around their home in a perpetual state of semi-nudity playing electric guitar at ear-splitting volume. Priestdaddy is her memoir. Look, Lockwood’s writing isn’t for everyone but it is definitely for me. I spent this entire book laughing, cringing and generally feeling my feelings and by the end I wanted to take up permanent residence in Lockwood’s brain so I wouldn’t have to read anything not written by her ever again. The chapter in which she and her mother find semen on the sheets of their hotel bed is legitimately one of the best things I have ever read. If that last sentence confused and frightened you, do not read this book. It’s not for you. But if it intrigued you, you may be one of my people and you need to read this book urgently.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Two years ago I read The Guest List by Lucy Foley and I did not enjoy it. At the time I said ‘In The Guest List the focus seemed to be in cramming in as many ‘shocking twists’ (that were actually fairly predictable) as possible at the expense of the actual mystery plot.However, because I’m an optimist at heart, I decided to give another one of Foley’s books a go. Guess what? In The Hunting Party the focus seemed to be in cramming in as many ‘shocking twists’ (that were actually fairly predictable) as possible at the expense of the actual mystery plot. I have now learned my lesson. I need to trust myself more when I think an author is not for me!

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler

I’ve got a real soft spot for ‘extremely online’ books and the premise of this one was too intriguing for me to resist. Fake Accounts centres around a young woman who finds out that her long-time, seemingly normal boyfriend is an anonymous, hugely popular alt-right conspiracy theorist. As she mulls how best to end the relationship, a series of further twists in the tale cause her to flee to Berlin where she descends into her own pattern of ruthless but petty deception and manipulation via her own online personas. Ultimately this is one of those books where ‘nothing really happens’ but Oyler’s musings on how the casual cruelty and dishonesty of the internet makes psychopaths and narcissists of us all is still an entertaining and gripping read.

Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon

Oh Diana, I love you so much but you’re starting to lose me. No one could ever accuse a book in the Outlander series of being tightly plotted but this was taking it to some serious extremes. Where the hell was the editor? It was only because I am so devoted to the character in this series that I didn’t give up around six hundred pages in when someone went on yet another very long, very boring journey to some distant town for very contrived reasons. Will I read the next Outlander book when it comes out? Absolutely, I am now now approximately 10,000 pages into this series and I don’t give up easy. But am I anticipating it in the same way I did with the earlier books in the series? Unfortunately not.

It’s In His Kiss by Julia Quinn

We have now reached the seventh Bridgerton child to be shipped off into marital bliss with an unlikely suitor! My quest to read all of these books is nearly at an end! This instalment focuses on Hyacinth, the youngest and sassiest of the Bridgertons as she finds her true love in Lady Danbury’s equally sassy nephew. It’s In His Kiss managed to skirt being unintentionally horrifying (see: the rape scene from The Duke and I, Eloise falling in love with a guy who neglected to mention he was in the market for a live in housekeeper/nanny rather than a wife in To Sir Philip, With Love) and being unintentionally hilarious (see: Anthony trying to suck the bee venom out of Kate’s boob in The Viscount Who Loved Me, Benedict spending a whole book not recognising the alleged love of his life in An Offer from A Gentleman). However, that meant it was generally pretty unremarkable compared to its more outrageous siblings. Rather a disappointing story for one of the more interesting Bridgertons but I’m sure it will satisfy long time fans of the series.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Another book club pick, this time revisiting a book that some of us had read as children. Unfortunately I missed the Garth Nix hype train when I was a kid, but luckily Sabriel is definitely still engaging for fantasy-loving adults. It centres around Sabriel (shocker) a young necromancer in training who is next in line to take on the title of Abhorsen. For generations the Abhorsens have protected the Old Kingdom from evil by making sure that the dead stay dead but when Sabriel’s father is unexpectedly killed during her final term of school, Sabriel finds herself thrust into the role much earlier than she ever expected. Thus she embarks on an adventure to find out what killed him, save the Old Kingdom from a terrible evil and maybe, just maybe, find a way to resurrect her beloved father. This book is equal parts suspenseful and gripping high fantasy, complete with edge of your seat fight scenes and a wickedly cool magic system, and a coming of age novel about taking responsibility, striking out on your own and coming to terms with death. Highly recommended for readers of all ages.

Life Ceremony: Stories by Sayaka Murata

Thank you to Netgalley and Granta for giving me an ARC copy of this book. I’ve loved Murata’s previous novels, which combine a surrealist sense of humor with a fiercely individualistic streak. Her novels usually concern characters who have their own way of looking at the world and are rebelling against the arbitrary boundaries that society has placed around them. In Life Ceremony, Murata continues to ruminate on these themes and these short stories touch on controversial and taboo topics such as eating the bodies of the dead, choosing to have a platonic marriage and cultivating multiple contradictory personalities for different groups of friends. Murata is a very original thinker who handles all of these topics with a light touch, a keen eye for the bizarre and incredibly sensual writing (sometimes stomach-turningly so). if you’ve enjoyed her previous work, Life Stories should continue to satisfy you.

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina

I’ve had this book sitting on my Kindle for a while but the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine made reading this memoir of rebellion against Russian state tyranny feel urgent. Maria Alyokhina is a member of Pussy Riot, a radical Russian activist collective known for its eye-catching protests against Vladimir Putin’s authoritariansim. Her memoir of her time spent in a Russian penal colony is a mix of stream of consciousness, poetry, political theory and ‘you have to laugh or you’ll cry’ insight into the relentless and petty cruelty and unfairness of the Russian penal system. Ultimately this is a story of a woman who endured the unendurable and not only emerged with her spirit intact, but also won rights for her fellow prisoners. A brutal and inspiring read for bleak times.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Yes, I lived twenty seven years on this earth and hadn’t read anything by Patrick Rothfuss and yes, I now know myself to be a fool. We find our hero, Kvothe, long after his days as the most infamous and powerful wizard in the land are behind him. For reasons unknown he is now living as a humble innkeeper, keeping a low profile and seemingly showing no interest in returning to his old life of heroism and daring deeds. But when an enterprising young Chronicler tracks him down and pleads with Kvothe to give him the true story of his life before the lies and the half-truths that swirl about him become the accepted version of events, Kvothe finds himself agreeing to tell the Chronicler his story. And so our unreliable yet charismatic narrator takes us through the story of his early life, from his idyllic childhood wandering the land with his family’s theatrical troupe, to their brutal slaughter at the hands of mysterious, magical forces, to his years spent living as a feral orphan on the mean streets of Tarbean, to his eventual acceptance into the University where he learns the magical arts, becomes a bard of great renown, finds first love and makes friends and enemies for life. You will be utterly under Kvothe’s spell from start to finish and, as much as you know him to be a cocky little shit with entirely too high an opinion of himself and a penchant for chaos, you’ll be rooting for him every step of the way.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Prior to publishing this book, Brodesser-Akner was best known for her brilliant celebrity profiles and that background is strikingly apparent in her writing. She has crafted a vivid, searing portrait of a man, Toby Fleishman, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, but this ‘profile’ actually serves as a Trojan Horse to write about the significantly more interesting women in Toby’s life. Toby is a recently divorced father of two and after years of feeling emasculated by his ambitious and high-earning wife Rachel, Toby is finally free to hop on the dating apps and live life on his own terms. But when Rachel mysteriously vanishes without a word, Toby is forced to juggle his children, his job, his dates and his increasingly fragile state of mind. As the reader gains more insight into Toby, the reasons for the breakdown of his marriage become clearer and they are not as simple as they initially appeared. This is a dense, layered but immensely readable novel filled with colourful characters. Perfect for reading on a holiday or if you’re looking for something to get you out of a reading slump.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Summerwater is a slender novel that packs a lot of punch. It’s effectively a group of short stories, each focusing on different families who are holidaying in a group of cabins by a remote Scottish lake. While this might sound pretty dull, Moss imbues a sense of impending doom from the very beginning, creating a sense of unease and danger through the wild and untamed landscape, the dramatic weather and the vulnerability of the characters to its dangers. As the stories progress, we gradually see the inhabitants of the cabins turn against a group of perceived outsiders and Moss gradually ratchets up the unease before an explosive finale. Moss is an author who is gifted at weaving tension into the seemingly mundane and while her books are always short, they leave me wanting more.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

For the end of April I thought I’d shake things up a little and read a graphic novel. Persepolis is the memoir of Marjane Satrapi, a young woman who grew up Tehran at the height of the Islamic Revolution. Marjane comes of age surrounded by a loving and supportive family who encourage her to think for herself and protest against injustice but they all live in the shadow of political upheaval and the arrest and executions of family and friends. As her parents grow increasingly concerned for her safety, they are forced to send Marjane away from home. The book deals with Marjane’s time living as a refugee in Austria, alone and fending for herself at just fourteen years old, and her eventual return to Iran as a young adult and her struggle to reintegrate after having been away for so long. The stark black and white panels add a grim humor and humanity to what is often a decidedly bleak story. Persepolis is an emotional and fascinating insight into the history of Iran, with a strong focus on the resilience and bravery of the Iranian people.

My Month in Books: February 2022

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

One of Capote’s most famous novels and a pioneer in the genre of true crime, In Cold Blood, tells the story of a vicious murder that shook a community to its’ foundations. In the tiny town of Holcomb, Kansas, the Clutter family are popular and well-loved pillars of the local community. So when they are all found dead in their home after being tied up and shot at close range, no one could think of who could possibly have a motive to kill them. With painstaking attention to detail, Capote sets the scene of the murder and recounts the investigation, capture, trial and eventual execution of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith for the murder of the Clutter family. These two men are at the centre of the narrative and while Capote never shies away from the horror of their crimes, he still paints a startlingly empathetic portrait of two men who are capable of unspeakable violence and yet are as human as the rest of us. In Cold Blood is a poignant reminder of the capacity for evil that lurks within all of us and how little it may take to bring it to the surface.

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Seven Days in June centres around the relationship between Eva Mercy and Shane Hall. Eva is a popular supernatural romance author, successfully juggling her career with single motherhood while managing a chronic illness. Shane is a literary critical darling whose gritty novels have won him plaudits and awards, but behind closed doors he has been struggling with addiction. As two successful Black authors, they move in the same circles but no one knows that twenty years ago the two of them spent one week madly, chaotically and passionately in love. However, now a newly sober Shane is back in town and keen to make amends for the wrongs of the past and as he and Eva reconnect old traumas start to resurface along with old romance. This was a funny, warm book about healing from trauma, motherhood and motherlessness and the struggles of living a creative life with plenty of romance mixed in. Perfect for anyone looking for something that will bring a smile to your face while not shying away from real issues.

Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

After watching the excellent adaption of Kay’s first book, This is Going to Hurt, on the BBC, I just couldn’t stop myself going back for more heartbreaking and sidesplitting dispatches from the frontline of the NHS. As you may have guessed from the title, these stories from the life of a junior doctor centre around what it’s like to be working on the hospital wards over the festive period (spoiler alert: it’s bonkers). Kay’s stories abound with blood, guts, humour and, above all, heart. I appreciate I’m not being very seasonal in recommending this but it makes excellent reading any time of the year.

Behind Closed Doors: Why We Break Up Families and How to Mend them by Polly Curtis

It is a secret to no one that the care system in the U.K. leaves a lot to be desired but I must admit to being shamefully ignorant of the full extent of the mess the system was in prior to reading this book. Behind Closed Doors begins with the startling fact that in the U.K. we are currently removing more children from their families than ever before and that our rates of family separation are much higher than other similar nations. Why is it that this is happening? As you might expect, there is no easy answer but Curtis interviews a range of individuals who have contact with the care system, from parents who have had their children removed, parents who have narrowly escaped having their children removed, social workers and family court judges and lawyers. All of these individual stories paint a picture of a system struggling to do its best in the face of insurmountable societal issues, lack of funding and lack of support available for families to enable them to do their best for their children. This is a must read for anyone looking to develop their understanding of the problems that currently plague British society, as basically all of them have a role to play in why more and more families are finding themselves unable to stay together.

Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun is a beautiful novel narrated by an intelligent, solar-powered ‘Artificial Friend’ named Klara. Klara has uniquely sharp observational skills and because of this, she is purchased to be the companion of a young, extremely ill teenager named Josie. Josie and her mother live isolated lives in the middle of nowhere and so Klara’s world revolves around Josie and her needs. Klara grows to love Josie, desperately wanting her to recover from her illness and proves willing to go to increasingly drastic lengths to find a way to keep her alive. Ultimately this novel is a meditation on what it means to love someone, expertly told from the perspective of someone who is deeply human while still technically being non-human. I’d give anything to know how Kazuo Ishiguro comes up with such original ideas and still manages to execute them with such stunning simplicity.