Rock My TBR: Time to Finally Read ALL the Books

Dear internet, I have a problem. A compulsion, you might say. A terrifying addiction, others might argue. It is the one thing that could potentially tear my family apart and cause my husband to leave me.

I can’t stop buying books.

Seriously. I have tried to stop and it doesn’t work. As evidence of this, I received at least 20 books for Christmas. This was 5 days ago. Since then, I have ordered one a online, bought 2 in Waterstones and downloaded 8 onto my Kindle. The last of these, at least, can be kept a secret, so perhaps my marriage will survive.

Because of all this, I am very grateful for the Rock My TBR Challenge, ROCK.pnghosted by Sarah at The YA Book Traveler. The aim is to read at least 1 book per month which you already own; if I read at this rate and do not buy any more books (haha, I do amuse myself sometimes) I will beat this challenge while flying on a hoverboard in the year 2054.

So I will be trying to read at a slightly higher rate than 1 per month, but we’ll see, as there are lots of new books on the way which I urgently need to read the exact second they arrive in bookshops.

I’m also participating in the 2016 Classics Challenge, which I posted about here, and this will assist me in Rocking My TBR, as I have an addictive need to buy beautiful Penguin English Library editions of Victorian novels. So this year I’ll be reading the following classics: The Mill on the Floss, Hard Times, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Cranford Chronicles, the Brontes’ juvenilia, Under the Greenwood Tree and, if I’m feeling really brave or become housebound or something, Middlemarch.

grishaAnother challenge I plan to participate in during 2016 is Flights of Fantasy, which is hosted by Alexa and Rachel and which you can check out here. I’m planning a post about my newfound love of fantasy writing which I’ll link to when it’s done, but 2015 has been the year in which I’ve developed an overwhelming love of fantasy, particularly YA, and I’ve been accumulating more books than I know what to do with. In 2016, I’ll be reading Magonia, These Broken Stars (and the sequels), A Thousand Pieces of You, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. And that’s just the books that are already published; in 2016, I’ll be looking forward to sequels to some amazing books I read in 2015, as well as debut novels like The Girl from Everywhere.

atwoodAmongst the enormous pile of books next to my bed, which will fall over and kill me in my sleep one of these days, are The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (along with the rest of the Booker shortlist – and they’re all massive, so that’s not intimidating at all), The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon, Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins and The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Additionally, there is a pile of books which I have tried to read and not managed to finish, generally just because I wasn’t digging them; I’d really like to be less of a wimp and finish these in 2016. The currently-DNF culprits are The Bone major.jpgClocks by David Mitchell, The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, Under Major Domo Minor by Patrick DeWitt, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Finally, because this isn’t sounding daunting enough, I have become an obsessive collector of short stories too; they’re amazing for school (I teach English in a secondary/high school) and great for dipping in and out of. I’ve accumulated collections by Flannery O’Connor, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury and O. Henry, and read bits of them, but I want to commit to these collections more fervently in 2016.

I feel exhausted just thinking about all these books but contemplating the Rock My TBR challenge, as well as Flights of Fantasy and the Classics Challenge, is making me feel very motivated to get all these books finished. Will you be reading any of these in 2016? Buddy reads, anyone?

Brighter than Anything Else in the Sky: A Review of ‘Orbiting Jupiter’ by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (Andersen Press, January 2016) follow26836003._UY200_s a similar vein to Emma Donoghue’s Room in choosing a child as its narrator; in this case, Jack is a twelve year-old who suddenly gains a brother when his parents foster Joseph, a troubled boy two years his senior. Jack’s innocent narration is a more compassionate execution of Hemingway’s iceberg theory; at such a young age, he is only able to hint at much of what is happening, given his limited understanding.  There is much of this iceberg beneath the water’s surface: Joseph has allegedly tried to murder a teacher, been imprisoned and, most significantly, has a daughter he has never seen: the Jupiter of the title.

He really could have been any other eighth-grade kid at Eastham Middle School.  Except he had a daughter. And he wouldn’t look at you when he talked – if he talked.

If all of this sounds melodramatic, Orbiting Jupiter defies this expectation; despite the serious subject matter, Schmidt employs a lightness of touch through the voice of Jack, whose instinct to trust and love Joseph, in spite of the warnings issued, is deeply endearing. Don’t get me wrong; Jack is not a cutesy kid and Joseph is not some kind of romantic, misunderstood hero.  Despite the dramatic subject matter, Schmidt’s characters are never less than believable – sometimes heartbreakingly so, for example when Joseph’s father appears and much of Joseph’s behaviour makes sudden and devastating sense. Joseph’s backstory is genuinely tragic and would most likely lead a curious younger reader to ask questions of the nearest grown-up; most of the references to incarcerated life will be familiar to adults with Netflix, but would probably shock some young teenagers.

Aside from the subtly emotion-inducing storyline, there were a few other touches in Orbiting Jupiter which I particularly enjoyed. Joseph’s experiences at school are marked by teachers, some of whom fear and loathe him; others, however, show the qualities which the best teachers possess, seeing Joseph’s potential and sensitively encouraging him to fulfil it. As a teacher myself, I recognised more of the reality of my profession in Orbiting Jupiter than I do in most YA fiction.

Schmidt’s prose is often beautiful, despite or, perhaps, because of its simplicity. Jack has a palpable innocence which only serves to emphasise the comparatively idyllic childhood he has enjoyed, and of which Joseph has been deprived. This extends beyond the development of the plot, to the depiction of Maine in winter (I hate snow but the descriptions here almost made me rethink my lifelong aversion). I compared Orbiting Jupiter to Room in its narrative earlier, but Schmidt’s Jack is older and less annoying than Donoghue’s, providing an innocent but not saccharine perspective on events.

Around and around, and I wondered if he was skating in the silver moonlight with Maddie. Around and around, and I didn’t want him to stop, no matter how cold it got, or late. Around and around, and the sharp stars watched. And the low moon. And Jupiter over the mountains.

Orbiting Jupiter could have been a heavy-handed chore of a read, but instead is something of a YA/middle-grade masterpiece. There is enough here to retain the attention of a 15 year old, while at the same time the plot and characters would engage a younger reader ready for more challenging subject matter. I can personally testify that it makes 32 year olds cry; with a last act twist that pulls your heart out of your body before shoving it roughly back in, I dare anyone not to be claiming to have something in their eye at the end of this book.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Most Anticipated Releases of 2016

This week’s TTT, hosted as always by The Broke and The Bookish, is all about the most anticipated book releases of the first half of 2016. I am technically cheating on at least one of these. I couldn’t find it in my heart to put these in any kind of order apart from chronological. I don’t want to make any of them feel sad.

cover74280-mediumThe Glorious Heresies by Lisa Mcinnerney (December 31st)
Technically this comes out in 2015 but on literally the last day of the year when I am probably the only person nerdy enough to be at home reading books, so I am counting it as a very, very early 2016 release. Although I have already read The Glorious Heresies and reviewed it here and now I want everyone else to read it so I can obsess about it with other humans. It is amazing.

The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry (January 26th)spilt.jpg
This is something else that the whole social media world except me has read. I believe I have seen it compared to The Time Traveler’s Wife, which presumably means it is going to be a book I lose all emotional control over and which is then made into a mediocre film.

AlltheBirds-cover.jpgAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (January 26th)
I haven’t read that much about this book, but I’m seeing the words “post-apocalyptic” and “sardonic” bandied about and this excites me. As far as I can gather, it involves magic, time travel and San Francisco, all of which excites me. It’s out on January 26th (just in time for my birthday, so I will be needing vouchers, thank you kindly).

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (February 23rd)shadows.jpg
I finished A Darker Shade of Magic a couple of days ago and really loved it; the whole Red/White/Grey London thing really grabbed me and I am hoping this second book will delve a little more into Black London because it sounds super-creepy and intriguing. Although I am starting to get very confused by all the YA series involving magic, I eagerly await the release of this book in February, by which time I will hopefully have unravelled this particular fantasy series from Red Queen and the Grisha books in my poor brain.

Everywhere.jpgThe Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (March 3rd)
I eagerly anticipate reading this book, a) because it sounds awesome and b) because I am the last person on Twitter not to have read it already. This makes me feel very rejected but also special because, unlike all these poor unfortunate souls who receive ARCs, I will have the immense fun of going to an actual book shop and actually buying it, thus knowing that I am contributing to the ongoing success and very existence of the publishing industry. Which is obviously loads better than getting free books.

The Trees by Ali Shaw (March 10th)trees.jpg
This book appears to be about a forest suddenly sprouting out of the ground and changing the whole world. It has a beautiful cover and sounds weird; consequently, I can’t wait to read it.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran (March 10th)
Caitlin Moran has basically been my hero since I read The Chronicles of Narmo as a child and I firmly believe everyone should be made to read How to be a Woman (although the childbirth bits are probably best left till you’ve actually done it and can’t be scared off). She is very clever at using her name to come up with great titles (see also: Moranthology) and I will be reading this intently.

wink.jpgWink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve (March 22nd)
This book has a very cool cover and sounds highly mysterious. The description on Amazon compares it to We Were Liars and The Virgin Suicides, both of which are amazing, so Wink Poppy Midnight must be astounding too, yes?

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw (April 19th)Scarlett.jpg
I clearly have to read this book because it is being compared to Daria, which is one of my favourite things of all time, and Scarlett is described as “snarky” which is both my favourite personality trait and one of my favourite words. So, when this comes out in April, I am going to be ALL OVER IT.

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss (May 26th)
tuesdayI have managed to procure this book through NetGalley and I am excited about reading it soon; it is set in New York on the eve of the 1980s and sounds very cool. The description makes it sound a bit like City on Fire but, hopefully, it is about half the length because life is short, man.

The 2016 Classics Challenge: My Evil Masterplan (insert supervillain laugh here)


In 2016, I’ll be taking part in the Classics Challenge, hosted by Stacey at The Pretty Books. As an English graduate and English teacher, I am always happy to indulge in more classics, particularly lovely Victorian novels, which I did a lot of in 2015, as I discussed here. So I am hoping that the 2016 Classics Challenge will encourage me to read lots of lovely books, whilst also discussing these lovely books with other participants.

mill.jpgMy main target for the Challenge is George Eliot; I read The Mill on the Floss as a teenager and remember finding it very hard work, and I’ve tried Middlemarch on a couple of occasions and just can’t get into it. For these reasons, I always thought I just hated Eliot; however, in 2015 I discovered that my previously similar view of Thomas Hardy was completely and utterly wrong, so I hope I will middlemarch.jpgdiscover that I was just put off Eliot by my very boring and misogynistic university professor. I have the pretty Penguin English Library edition of both these books, so at least I can stroke the covers lovingly if I need a break from reading.

Also on my hit list is Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Cranford Chronicles; I love Gaskell and have read her major novels, so I anticipate enjoying this. I was inspired by Lena Coakley’s Worlds of Ink and Shadow (a novel reimagining the childhoods of the Brontes, interwoven with their juvenilia) to buy a copy of the Bronte’s childhood writings, so I’ll be reading that too. My Thomas Hardy binge of greenwood2015 meandered to an end when I found myself overdosing on Victorian novels, so I’ll be revisiting Under the Greenwood Tree in order to qualify as a proper Hardy expert. If anyone else is considering some Hardy for 2016, please allow me to recommend Far From the Madding Crowd for its accessibility and Tess of the D’Urbervilles for pure heartbreak.

A few years ago, I binge-read 19th century French novels bovary.jpgfor a bit and I still have a few which I didn’t get to; Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses will be top of my reading list. Sadly, my French skills are probably no longer adequate for reading whole novels in the language, so I’ll be reading translations, but I will look up the occasional passage in the original to make myself feel intellectual.

poohcolourFinally, I’ve recently started reading classic children’s books to my daughter; you can only read Cat’s Cuddles so many times before you start losing your grip on reality, so I cunningly snuck The Wonderful Wizard of Oz onto the bedtime story list a few months ago, and I’ll be continuing this campaign in 2016. The tiny person has developed an alarming obsession with Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile (“Mummy, it’s not okay to eat children, is it?”) so I’ll be introducing Matilda and The BFG, along with Winnie the Pooh and Black Beauty, although the latter does feature some unfortunate names (Blackie and Dick) which I will have to surreptitiously change to avoid them being repeated in company.

Are you participating in the 2016 Classics Challenge? I’d love to know what everyone else is going to be reading, and if indulging in too many Victorian novels makes anybody else talk like a 19th century nobleman.  I’ll be blogging about my reading here and Tweeting too (@wildeonmyside).