Challenge Update (AKA I Am A Big Failure)

This is my first full year of book blogging and I started with lofty ideals of winning at all the challenges. I have just checked my original posts about these challenges and realised that I am a terrible, terrible person.

Goodreads Challenge
This, at least, is one that I have well and truly nailed. I gave myself a target of reading 151 books and have currently reached 190. This one was, perhaps, slightly disingenuous; I read 151 books last year so I set myself the same target in 2016, despite being fully aware that I’d beat it. And, no, I am not increasing my target, because I really enjoy logging into Goodreads and being told that I have exceeded my target. It makes me feel like I’ve achieved something.


2016 Classics Challenge
Sigh. I probably have managed to read a classic each month, but my initial intentions of reading The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch have somewhat fallen by the wayside. I originally voiced my intention to read Hard Times, which I did, and it was horrible. I diverted from my own plans slightly by re-reading Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility, as well as some modern classics, like Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, all of which I class as modern classics. I also read Matilda for the millionth time, as well as Winnie the Pooh with my daughter, and children’s classics count. However, I need to read George Eliot or feel like a failure forever.

Flights of Fantasyflightsoffantasy-2016
This is where I’ve truly excelled (yay for me). I planned to read V.E. Schwab’s 2016 releases (A Gathering of Shadows and This Savage Song) and have done, and I’ve demolished Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series. I also read Magonia, An Ember in the Ashes and The Sin-Eater’s Daughter, all of which were on my sign-up post. I’ve started to seek out more diverse fantasy novels too, and have recently read Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor and Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova.

This is my grand failure; because of my disgraceful inability to stop buying books, pretty much everything that’s been knocking around my bookshelf forever is still there, including David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and Sandra Newman’s The County of Ice Cream Star. I wanted to read The Raven Cycle and, woohoo, I have, so I think I get a gold star for that. I originally intended to read some of the books I had piled in my Kindle, which I did, like Undermajordomo Minor, All My Puny Sorrows and The Girl in the Red Coat. Unfortunately, I also planned to read last year’s Booker shortlist; Satin Island was horribly boring and I didn’t manage to get past page 50 of A Brief History of Seven Killings, although I did read The Year of the Runaways. Sadly, I can only count this challenge to be a success if I rename it Constantly Add to My TBR, in which case I am a big winner.

This experience has probably taught me that I shouldn’t bother signing up for challenges, but I doubt this will stop me next year.

Did you sign up for challenges this year? How are you doing? Are you failing on a grand scale like me?

ARC August Update: If Only I Had Self-Control…

At the start of August, I set myself the target of reading 5 of my ARCS; halfway through the month, I’ve read 3 and become a little waylaid, as I will explain…

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
This was completely wonderful and I am now obsessed with it. You might know Safran Foer from his previous novels (Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but Here I Am is a big step up in terms of length and scope. It focuses on a Jewish family in the USA, set against the backdrop of a huge crisis in Israel, and it is brilliant. My review will be over on Fourth and Sycamore in September.

Notes on Being Teenage by Rosalind Jana
A guide to surviving adolescence, this combined useful advice with personal anecdote, as well as interviews with ‘real life’ teens and celebrities, in order to provide help in navigating the teenage years. Although I am far too old to worry about most of what is covered here myself, a lot of it resonated with me based on what I see as a teacher of teens, as well as filling me with fear that one day my daughter will be a teenager. I had a few books like this when I was a teenager and I know I found them helpful and informative, so I think teens would feel the same way about this.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
This is a YA fantasy set in Brooklyn (to be begin with), featuring a multitude of witches  and demons. I enjoyed the aspects of it which represented a different culture, although the fantasy itself was a bit generic; my full review will be on Fourth and Sycamore in September.

Flushed with a sense of achievement at having read 3 of my ARCs, I got a bit click-happy on NetGalley and ended up with a load more. This is probably false economy or something. Anyway, in addition to the 3 books above, I’ve read:

Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz
A YA contemporary about immigration, this provides something quite different in terms of combining politics with romance. My review will be up in November.

As I Descended by Robin Talley
YA retelling of Macbeth, with lesbians, in a boarding school. What’s not to like? My full review will be up in September, but suffice to say I really enjoyed this.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas by various UK YA authors
I was so happy to receive an eARC of this; I’m always on the lookout for good short stories to use at school and there were plenty here. It’s also a really good introduction to UK YA authors for a reader new to the scene, featuring Juno Dawson, Lisa Williamson, Holly Bourne and Benjamin Zephaniah, among others. I really enjoyed the whole anthology and I’ll be posting a review (and buying a copy of the book) soon.

So this leaves me with Simon Mayo’s Blame, which I’ve already started, and Tim Lawrence’s Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor to read in order to fulfil my original goal. Not wanting to sound arrogant, I am fairly confident they’ll be read by the end of the month. If reading was in the Olympics, I’d be sitting with Claire Balding right now, wearing a gold medal and talking about how sexist John Inverdale is (apologies to non-Brits who have no idea what all this means). I’ve picked up a couple of other ARCs, like The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and The Wangs Vs The World by Jade Chang, but I think these can wait till next month.

Are you taking part in ARC August? How are you doing and have you read anything amazing?

book review

Review: Dietland by Sarai Walker

dietland.jpgRegular visitors to this blog will know that I am a big fan of snarky feminist novels, and I can now add Dietland to my list of these. It’s a really interesting novel which is ostensibly about Plum, an overweight woman contemplating drastic surgery in order to more readily fit society’s expectations of beauty. In the background, but becoming increasingly linked to Plum’s story, is an aggressive campaign of attacks against men and patriarchal structures, with the elusive Jennifer fighting back against rape and objectification.

Earlier this year, I really enjoyed Julie Murphy’s Dumplin‘, which, like Dietland, used an overweight narrator to show the isolation that it creates. There are some interesting differences; for one thing, Murphy’s Willowdean owns the word “fat,” meaning that it can’t be used against her as an insult, whereas Plum is offended when others use the word and chooses not to use it herself when it’s avoidable. Both books are about learning to love the body you have, rather than making yourself miserable yearning for the body you’re meant to have, which I think is a really empowering message. Also in Dietland’s favour is the cast of fascinating female characters, which makes it both unusual and refreshing; some of them are clearly slightly unhinged but really intriguing nonetheless.

Walker does a great job of skewering aspects of society which will be familiar to all humans with functioning eyes and ears; it’s hard not to cheer on the mysterious Jennifer when child rapists are being punished, vigilante-style, and there’s a very witty and well-observed short section which sees Page 3, that delightful institution of the British tabloids, gender-flipped. I smiled wryly as the book told of poor, delicate men who suddenly felt too uncomfortable to go in a newsagents’, lest they feel objectified by the appearance of male genitalia in a mainstream newspaper. I like books that make me have big, moral discussions with myself (I like them even more when someone else reads them so I don’t actually have to discuss them with myself); Jennifer’s actions of righteous revenge go pretty far, and in a real-world situation, I don’t think I’d have been whooping quite so loudly.

I’ve seen Dietland described as “Fight Club for women,” which, firstly, is very sexist because it clearly suggests that Fight Club isn’t for women, but, aside from that, I would describe it more in terms of another Chuck Palahniuk novel; Dietland, for me, is a more successful satire than Palahniuk’s Beautiful You, which was essentially a quite horrible book about the breakdown of society as a consequence of women becoming addicted to sex toys. Where Beautiful You was just offensive, Dietland manages to hit its targets in terms of misogyny (and, it’s worth pointing out, the ways in which women hurt other women; it’s not like it’s some unrealistic utopia of pyjama parties and makeovers), using shock tactics as well as a believable and relatable story. It’s a really interesting and refreshing read and I recommend it.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Lost in Space

This week’s TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is all about books set in a particular place. Due to my recently conceived obsession with space-set stories, here’s a list of some of my favourite interplanetary tales.

Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
One of my favourite books of the last year (maybe ever?); Illuminae was the book which made me seek out more books set in space, with its high-speed chases and AI villain. I really don’t know if I can wait until October for Gemina.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This is one of my dad’s favourite books and he lent me his copy to read when I was a teenager; I swiftly wolfed down the whole series and have reread them a couple of times since, finding them just as hilarious each time. Marvin the depressed robot and the Vogons with their terrible poetry are highlights.

The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
This YA space fantasy came out earlier this year and is well-worth a read; it has a really interesting premise in which a whole society exists on a spacecraft, having taken on a mission generations ago, meaning the younger residents have never seen life off the ship.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This has a distinctly Hitchhiker’s-esque air in terms of humour, with a crew consisting of both humans and aliens on a mission across the galaxy. I did wish there had actually been a proper ending, but I’ll be picking up the next book in the series to see what happens next.

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
An intriguing novel about another planet, populated by the descendants of a crew from Earth who crashed there. It’s slow to start with, but the exploration of a strange planet makes this an interesting read.

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
I love this author; his books are hilarious and the kids I teach have enjoyed studying both this and Millions. Cosmic is about a primary school boy who accidentally goes into space when his height means he’s mistaken for a grown-up. It’s both silly and touching; FCB’s trademark.

Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire
This graphic novel focuses on AI and features further exciting whizzing through space. I really enjoyed the artwork as well as the story; I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger
If you weren’t a teenage girl in the 1990s, you might not have heard of Paula Danziger, in which case I feel deeply sorry for you. Just writing her name makes me want to reread all her books (they are very short, so I might). This one is about a teenage girl who is forced to move to the moon with her family. Of all Danziger’s brilliant books, this was always my favourite.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
This and its follow-up, This Shattered World, are both excellent space-set romances; These Broken Stars is my favourite of the two because it’s more space-oriented and, obviously, because of the relationship between Tarver and Lilac, both of whom I love . I’ve not yet read the third in the series, Their Fractured Light, but I’m looking forward to doing so.

Winnie in Space by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
My daughter is a big fan of Winnie and her bemused cat, Wilbur; in this one, Winnie magics a spaceship which is inconveniently eaten by space rabbits.

Honourable mentions go to the section of Max Brooks’ World War Z which is set on the international space station (the best bit in an extraordinary book), Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day and Marcus Sedgwick’s If Only In My Dreams, a contribution to the UKYA anthology I’ll Be Home for Christmas, all of which are awesome representations of space in literature.

If you have any space-set recommendations for me, I would love to see them in the comments.