Monthly Reading Round-Up: May

Edging ever closer to my Goodreads target (I’m now on 122 of 151 books), here is my May reading:

  1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
    This was a re-read and I enjoyed it just as much as I did when I was 18; it’s such a funny book, which I think is what people most often forget about Austen.
  2. Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldovsky
    This was a surprisingly entertaining read; I reviewed it here.
  3. The Umbrella Academy Volume 2: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba
    I really like this series; as with the first, the plot didn’t make that much sense but the artwork was amazing and it was all very entertaining.
  4. Ruby by Cynthia Bond
    I am still traumatised by this book, which was in no way what I expected based on the blurb. If the back of the book had said this, it would have been far more appropriate: “this book is cover-to-cover rape, incest and horrific violence. Enjoy!”
  5. Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige
    This was so disappointing; the first half was set in a normal high school, i.e. NOT OZ and then when they finally made it back there, the story went straight into a massive battle which didn’t seem to be about anything. Mainly, I am annoyed that I will have to buy and read the unexpected fourth book (why is this not a trilogy?) next year to complete the set.
  6. Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
    Obviously, this was WAY too long, but very exciting and action-packed and everything. I still don’t care for that faerie dude (whose name I have completely forgotten) and will forever be Team Chaol.
  7. The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
    My review of this will appear over at Fourth and Sycamore in a few weeks, but suffice to say I am completely mystified by the glowing reviews this has been getting on Goodreads.
  8. Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard
    These two novellas give a bit of background to Red Queen and Glass Sword; the first, Queen Song, is about Cal’s mother and was quite engaging, but the one about Farley just echoed what happened in the main novels which was absolutely pointless.
  9. The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
    I loved this space-set YA; my review will go up in a couple of days and I’ll link back, but you really should read this.
  10. Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield
    Review here: I was sucker-punched by this and still feel emotionally vulnerable when I see the cover.
  11. You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour
    This was fun and light; I liked that it was about gay teens who’d already come out, which made it quite different to a lot of the LGBTQIA fiction I’ve read. I’ll be reviewing soon.
  12. Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw
    Another Fourth and Sycamore review to come in June. This featured an enjoyable level of snark, as well as a really funny line about Coldplay.
  13. Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
    I didn’t completely love this as it had a bit too much boy-craziness for my old and boring sensibilities. However, the focus on friendship between girls and their discussions of feminism were really refreshing, and the ending made me veer towards emotional.
  14. The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan
    Even more nonsensical than the Umbrella Academy books but equally enjoyable. I liked the ways in which the story paralleled the My Chemical Romance album of the same title.
  15. The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas
    I am officially in love with Scarlett Thomas’ writing. This was so vibrant and complex, with fantastic characters. The sprawling and dysfunctional family at its heart and the central mystery of what happened to the family members who went missing looking for a rare plant were massively enjoyable. I can’t wait to read more of Thomas’ books.
  16. How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne
    I loved Amber in Am I Normal Yet? but here she was a little too drunk and not as entertaining. The book sees her spending the summer in a Californian camp, which I found baffling; why separate her from her friends when they were what made the first book so good?
  17. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
    I have now read this approximately 7 million times and I still love it. Every time I read it, I find myself nodding along at Hornby’s sage and insightful points. If you’re a football fan and you haven’t read this, seriously, what are you doing with your life?
  18. Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman
    This was fascinating; I assumed I knew everything about the Brontë family but Harman includes some stories which were new to me, like Emily feeding the best cuts of meat to the dogs. It’s an excellent biography, even for Brontë-heads who feel like they know it all.
  19. All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
    This was so weird but good. I think. Told in two narrative strands, the book focuses on Jake, a woman with a mysterious past living alone in a remote part of Scotland. After finishing, I still wasn’t entirely sure what was going on but it was definitely an intriguing read.
  20. All of the Above by James Dawson
    I wanted to really like this, as I enjoyed Spot the Difference, but all the adolescent drama was a bit much for me, and it was one of those books where every conceivable issue occurs in the same group of friends, which seems statistically unlikely to me.
  21. Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss
    New York setting: check. Arty characters: check. Complex relationships and interconnected stories: check. Yes, this was my kind of thing.
  22. Broken Sky by L.A. Weatherley
    I’m conflicted about this. On the one hand, it was an interesting take on a dystopian future and the ending was brilliant. On the other, it was 500 pages long (500 pages!), not particularly well-written and would anyone seriously run a country using astrology as their manifesto?
  23. Matilda by Roald Dahl
    I read this by accident on the last day of the month. My daughter was quite happily entertaining herself for a few minutes, so I started reading Matilda, and the next thing I knew I had finished it and was feeling all warm inside. Someone on Goodreads gave this 2 stars. 2 stars for Matilda! This is treason.
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A Review of Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

EveryExquisiteThing_Cover_314blI don’t entirely know how to feel about Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. I really liked the opening chapters, in which Nanette is given a copy of The Bubblegum Reaper, a weird, anti-establishment cult novel, and it quickly comes to influence every aspect of her life. I really dug the whole concept of finding that book that just speaks to you in every way; I also like books-within-books, and I found myself really wanting to read The Bubblegum Reaper, which is a shame because it isn’t real.

So Nanette gets obsessed with this book, which was given to her by her teacher, and meets the author, who is a standard weird, reclusive writer, refusing the discuss much about the book and rejecting appeals to publish it again. The writer becomes something of a father-figure to Nanette at a time when she feels increasingly distant from her own parents, and introduces her to Alex, another devotee, with whom she begins a romance.  And then some crazy stuff happens.

I don’t really know what my problem was with Every Exquisite Thing, but I definitely had one. I didn’t particularly love the writing style, and this wasn’t helped when Nanette suddenly started narrating and talking about herself to other characters in the first person. I get why it was used as a device to show Nanette’s detachment from her own life, but it felt a bit obvious; it’s the kind of thing I’d point out to my students and they’d roll their eyes about it. So many contemporary YA novels focus on senior year, with college on the horizon, so it is refreshing to see a protagonist who isn’t sure about their future, and it’s certainly done in a more subtle way than another recent YA novel which also covered this ground, where I felt like I was being lectured by the author, rather than the characters; that’s not the case here.

I keep sighing while I’m writing this, because I really wanted to like it and sort of assumed that I would, and my overwhelming feeling of indifference at the end has annoyed me. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Maybe it’s called ‘being 33.’ Ultimately, I feel like I would have preferred to read The Bubblegum Reaper, which sounds a bit like The Catcher in the Rye, rather than Every Exquisite Thing, which just wants to be like The Catcher in the Rye.

Review: Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

paper butterfliesIt is fair to say that I feel quite traumatised by Paper Butterflies, in ways which I should have anticipated, having read Heathfield’s Seed a few months ago. Paper Butterflies tells the story of June, treated horribly by her stepmother and not helped by her apparently blind father. An example of the cruelty June endures: the book opens with her stepmother, Kathleen, forcing her to drink glass after glass of water, then refusing to let her use the toilet, in order to guarantee that June wets herself on the bus to school. This is on the first page, so it’s not like Heathfield sneaks up on you with the themes of abuse and neglect.

June’s miseries aren’t confined to home, as she also has no friends at school and, despite frequent visits to the school nurse and chats with teachers, nobody seems to notice that she’s being badly treated by her family. To add further misery, June’s mother died in suspicious circumstances and Kathleen only stops tormenting her physically to use this as further ammunition against her stepdaughter. The first chink of light in June’s story is her friendship with Blister, whose chaotic but loving family is perhaps too overtly in opposition to June’s, but nonetheless provides her with respite.

The story is told in flashback form, with sections titled ‘Before’ and ‘After;’ it’s quite a while before we learn what it is that splits the past and present, and I was not prepared for it; Heathfield accomplishes a real shock which makes the last section of the novel very different to the rest. The book is also deceptively slight; I read it in one sitting, but it is far from a light and easy read. I found it so frustrating that nobody noticed that June was being abused, but perhaps that is Heathfield’s point; Kathleen is also frighteningly sneaky, forcibly overfeeding June when the adults around her would probably be more alert to weight loss than weight gain. It all adds up to a novel which is necessary reading.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Changing Bookish Feelings

This week’s TTT topic, brought to us by The Broke and The Bookish, is books which we’ve felt differently about after time has passed. I am very obstinate and don’t change my mind about things very often, so let’s see if I can think of 10.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
I read this last year and thought it was fine; it just didn’t grab me in a strong way. A few months later, I met Lisa Williamson at a signing and her complete niceness and passion for her characters completed by 180 on this book.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
My opinion on this one hasn’t changed that much; I hated it when I first read it a few weeks ago and I still hated it when I reread it last month, but this time around, I at least managed to find a couple of things not to hate. I also felt really smart for the amazing theory I developed about the ending (which I then Googled and discovered quite a lot of people had already thought of it).

Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
I read Hardy at university and hated him; Jude the Obscure was a particular source of boredom and I fell asleep in my seminar about it. Flash forward 13 years and I am now obsessed with Thomas Hardy and Far from the Madding Crowd, which I think I read “for fun” before going to uni, is my favourite. I don’t know what was wrong with me before.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Obviously I loved this book when I first read it and I still love it now, but I find new things to love about it every time I reread. My most recent experience with Offred made me an emotional wreck; my first reread as a parent made me focus on the pain Offred feels at losing her daughter and I was basically unable to cope. I’m really interested in how our feelings about books change based on how our lives change between readings, hence…

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
This has been one of my favourite books since I was 13 and my dad forced it into my hands as part of my initiation into the world of football. I’ve reread it every few years since, including this weekend, when I was newly struck by everything Hornby has to say about masculinity and how football and obsessions in general are at the heart of it.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Illuminae has inspired me to seek out more books with a space setting, and I really enjoy them, but none of them are as good as Illuminae, which only makes me love this more. I must reread while I’m waiting for Gemina.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
I was obsessed with this book as a child, but somehow managed to miss all the creepy stuff which I noticed when reading it to my daughter; like, what’s with the creepy town made of china, and the scarecrow breaking the necks of the birds the witch sends? It’s weird that this is such a children’s classic when it’s so frigging frightening.

Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book; the whole concept of a group of teenagers getting powers of ESP from a flu jab was silly but fun, and the book was entertaining. A few weeks ago, I read the sequel, Think Twice, which was so bad and vacuously pointless that it ruined Don’t Even Think About It.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The first time I read this, obviously I was touched by the friendship between George and Lennie, blah blah, but Of Mice and Men is a classic example of how no good comes from teaching a book too many times; I used this book as class text probably 4 or 5 times and ended up hating it. Seriously, John, we get it: Lennie is like an animal so you keep saying “paws” instead of “hands.” You didn’t need to use it 76 times.