The Monthly Round-Up: June

In news that is of no interest to anyone, I have completed my Goodreads Challenge! Yes, dear reader, I have, for no obvious reason, read 151 books this year, despite there being a whole 6 months remaining. I guess I have no excuse not to read Middlemarch now.

Here’s what I read in June:

  1. Dumplin‘ by Julie Murphy
    I completely loved this; Willowdean is my new idol and the whole message of the book is empowering and lovely. It’s also incredibly quotable and will make you sing Dolly Parton songs. What’s not to like?
  2. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
    This had a bit of a Rebel of the Sands vibe but became much darker. I was mainly fascinated by the creepy school for crazy assassins; how come I never got my Blackcliffe letter, hmm?
  3. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
    Although I complain all the time about books being too long, this one was a little too short to really grab me; it was interesting reading about a trans character, post-transition, however, especially from a writer who has gone through that experience herself.
  4. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
    This was crushingly disappointing; I’ve really enjoyed a couple of Thomas’ other books but this was basically all about maths and nothing really happened. It does have a beautiful cover though.
  5. Civil War by Mark Millar
    My investigation into whether or not I can actually read graphic novels properly (i.e. by remembering to look at the pictures) continued with this, which I thought I might as well read as actually seeing the film seems a distant dream until it’s out on DVD. Ahh, the parenting life. Anyway, this was pretty good; I’m a fan of Captain America and, having seen how he’s drawn here, Daredevil. Hello.
  6. Little Bits of Sky by S.E. Durrant
    I read a few middle grade-type books this month in my search for new material to teach next year. This story of a young brother and sister in care was really touching and I’ll be recommending it to my youngest students.
  7. Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman
    I really liked how weird this was; set in a creepy, isolated settlement, with people randomly speaking French and freaking out about monsters, it was an intriguing and unpredictable read, although seriously can people start just writing ONE BOOK rather than stupid trilogies? Thanks.

  8. The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest
    This was excellent; gritty but also sometimes gorgeous, economical with description but detailed in its depiction of the lives of its characters. I strongly recommend.
  9. This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab
    I feel like I waited about a thousand years for this and it was so worth it. It’s scary and violent with no romance whatsoever,¬†showing obvious stylistic similarities with Schwab’s other brilliant books, but at the same time creating an entirely original world of monsters and horror.
  10. Perijee and Me by Ross Montgomery
    This was really funny and sweet, and has won the impressive accolade of being my class text for year 7 next year. It’s the stuff that all authors dream of.
  11. We Are Giants by Amber Lee Dodd
    This was a decent, quick read: a middle grade story about a girl whose mother is a has dwarfism.
  12. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
    Another book I’d been eagerly awaiting; this was a bit like Wink Poppy Midnight in its weirdness and ethereal nature. I’m not sure I entirely understood what was going on, but I really liked it up until the magical realism stuff started and then my head broke.
  13. The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
    This was ok; I’ve seen it get great reviews and comments on Twitter but I wasn’t that into it. It reminded me of The Girl from Everywhere (another hyped book I didn’t love), and although it has beautiful pages, I didn’t find it very memorable.
  14. Hotels of North America by Rick Moody
    This was really entertaining; written in the form of hotel reviews by the fictional Reginald Morse, the book is very funny on irritations like bedbugs and free cookies, whilst also being touching when dealing with Morse’s relationships. It’s a book that’s very different and just about sustains your interest.
  15. Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence
    I can see this appealing to teenage boys; the gang stuff and dialogue didn’t fully convince me but I did end up getting quite involved with the story.
  16. Harley Quinn, Vol 1: Hot in the City by Amanda Conner
    This was disappointing; what I’ve read about the Suicide Squad film had made me interested in Harley Quinn, but this collection is all over the place, both tonally and thematically. The first part, in which Harley argues with the artists who draw her, is cleverly meta, but the rest of it was a mess.

  17. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    This was a favourite of mine as a teenager and university student, but I’ve not read it for a few years. This time round, I was a little more understanding of the less positive responses to Holden, but I still love the book; I was in a really bad mood when I picked it up and young Mr Caulfield is perfect company in that situation.
  18. The Wicked and the Divine, Vol 1: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen
    Another graphic novel, but, this time, one that I really enjoyed. The premise of gods taking over human bodies ever 90 years is pretty out there, but the story was exciting and I was fascinated by the characters. I impulse-bought the next two books straight after finishing.
  19. The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder
    This was just pure, unadulterated loveliness; set in New York, it follows Pen, a slightly nerdy and weird teen who falls for an obviously horrible boy while ignoring the very nice one she already knows. It’s predictable in the best way; like a really good teen movie that makes it really easy to guess what’s going to happen but is a delight while you wait for it to happen. I’ve not felt so warm and fuzzy about a book since Simon Vs.
  20. Nina Is Not OK by Shappi Korsandi
    I really struggled with this and do not harbour happy memories of reading it. There are obvious similarities with Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, but that was compelling where this was just unpleasant. I need to order my thoughts properly to review it, but I’m still working on that.
  21. Low, Vol 1: The Delerium of Hope by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini
    Oh, let’s make all the women naked; that will be fun. I’m pretty sure this was the sole bit of planning that went into this graphic novel, which made no sense and was pretty offensive in its representation of women.
  22. Ways to Stay Alive by Sally Nicholls
    This was deeply sad, which was pretty inevitable given that it’s about an eleven year old boy with leukaemia. Nicholls manages to make it uplifting too though, through the lovely central character.
  23. Lions by Bonnie Nadzam
    Not very much happened in this short book about a one-horse town and its inhabitants, but I really enjoyed the style and mood; it reads like an Annie Proulx story, which can never be a bad thing.
  24. This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
    I read this in one sitting and really enjoyed it; it’s a deceptively easy read considering the seriousness of the subject matter (seventeen year old forced to care for her younger sister when their mother abandons them).
  25. The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie
    This was excellent; really quirky and odd, but with relatable characters and dysfunctional families. And people talking to squirrels.
  26. Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Myers
    This was a bit too short to fully develop anything but made its point about the challenges facing black teenage boys effectively.
  27. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon
    I finished this last night and am still processing it; it’s a remarkably powerful work of non-fiction, with Laymon’s essays detailing a range of formative and adult experiences. It doesn’t beat you around the head with its agenda, but is hugely effective and brilliantly written.

So that’s June. I finish school for the summer next week, so I’m hoping to take advantage of some lie-ins and being able to stay up a bit later to read some hefty books; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americannah is on my TBR, along with recent biographies of Ted Hughes and Marys Wollstonecraft and Shelley. I’m also planning to reread Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which I loved at uni but haven’t read since.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Non-Fiction

This is a freebie week on TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I’ve decided to use this as an opportunity to talk about some of my favourite non-fiction books; I have some very specific obsessions which crop up in my non-fiction reading, as you will see. On a side note, a couple of years ago, I was deeply offended when I mentioned my love of non-fiction to a friend and her response was, “oh, I might read non-fiction when I’m older.” She is 8 months younger than me.

Anyway.

Here’s my top ten:

10. Retromania by Simon Reynolds
Reynolds is the author of another music-related book which I really enjoyed – Rip It Up and Start Again – so I knew I’d like this investigation into retro culture. Reynolds takes his critical eye to diverse topics like the revival of vinyl as a format and the current trend for bands to reunite and play decades-old albums as a moneyspinner (on this subject, I do have to object; watching the Manic Street Preachers play Everything Must Go a couple of weeks ago was basically a religious experience for me).

9. Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson
This is a really technical history of football tactics; it sounds like quite a weird thing to read but it’s very enjoyable. Wilson is truly a font of knowledge; I was a fan of his from his contributions to the Guardian football podcast, and the book is punctuated with his signature dry humour as well as enthralling explanations of how the W-M formation went out of fashion.

8. Gig by Simon Armitage
In case you don’t know, Armitage is a poet and beloved heart-throb to female English teachers (and probably some male ones too). He’s extremely funny and affable, which comes across perfectly in this book about how he really wanted to be a rock star. There are some very funny anecdotes, some of which he talks about in his public appearances or which are mentioned in his poetry, like the bit about his dad’s reaction when Armitage got his ear pierced.

7. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
I know this isn’t a universally popular book, with some people taking issue with Dunham’s inclusion of certain incidents, but, as a whole, it’s an entertaining and relatable book. I’m a big fan of Dunham; I’ve always enjoyed Girls and felt that she and I would be best friends if we actually met and she wasn’t freaked out by how much I’d be shrieking.

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6. I am Zlatan by Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic’s autobiography reads exactly how you’d expect it to if you’ve ever seen him play; about 50% of it is about how brilliant he is and the rest is him slating Pep Guardiola or headbutting people. It’s gloriously entertaining.

5. The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing
This brilliant and really affecting book looks at high profile writers whose lives were affected by their alcoholism; Laing intersperses this with her own experiences of living with an alcoholic and her reflections on Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway are particularly fascinating.

4. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
I’ve read a lot of music memoirs, and this is the best by approximately 8 million miles; I raved about it for Fourth and Sycamore a few months ago. Brownstein, guitarist in Sleater-Kinney, is whip-smart and hilarious, with fascinating insights into the reality of life in the music industry, particularly as a woman in an all-female band.

3. Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett
I’m not sure how I ended up with an obsession with the Spanish Civil War, but it happened, and this book is one of the best I’ve read on the subject. Tremlett guides the reader through Spain’s major regions, detailing how they were impacted by the conflict and its aftermath, and it’s incredibly absorbing.

2. Psychotic Reactions and Carburettor Dung by Lester Bangs
Coming across the music journalism of Lester Bangs 15 years ago basically changed my life; I wrote about him for my masters dissertation, he inspired me to write about music (sadly, this did not help me achieve my dream of a job at the NME) and his writing introduced me to a whole load of amazing music. If I could resurrect one dead celebrity for a drink, it’d be him.

  1. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
    I blogged about this a few weeks ago after my most recent re-read; it’s one of my favourite books of any genre, let alone just non-fiction. Hornby’s account of his life as a football fan resonates very deeply with this obsessive nerd.

So that’s my Top Ten; honourable mentions must go to Louise Wener’s Different for Girls, anything Caitlin Moran has ever written and the journals of Sylvia Plath, all of which I have also enjoyed a lot. I’m planning on reading Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America this week, with some lovely literary biographies to come too, including Jonathan Bate’s biography of Ted Hughes and Romantic Outlaws, Charlotte Gordon’s biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.

Review: The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder

museum of heartbreakYou! Yes, you. Do you like extremely lovely books that make you feel all warm and snuggly inside, but without making you want to vomit in your own mouth? Do you want to read something that will make you smile until the people around you think you have been drinking? Of course you do. Who wouldn’t? And with that having been established, let me introduce you to your new favourite literary work of adorableness: The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder.

A quick synopsis before I explode in a mess of little hearts and glitter: Pen is a cool, slightly quirky girl with cool, slightly quirky friends with equally cool and quirky names (Audrey and Ephraim). Pen meets Keats, who is a teenage boy, not the Romantic poet, and falls in love. Keats is a bit of a knob. Of course he is: his name is Keats. In amongst all this, Pen does awesome things like working on a literary journal and spending lots of time wandering around New York and drinking hot chocolate. These are all things I like doing too, although, sadly for, I don’t live in NYC so I have to make do with drinking hot chocolate in the staff room at school.

Here are all the millions of things I loved about this book; Pen is super-cute in a completely non-nauseating way. She’s a bit immature but¬†really this is just because she likes her friends and is resistant to change (hi, Pen! We are the SAME PERSON). She’s very funny so the first person narration is basically scrummy. Leder masters a brand of teen-speak which is convincing as well as entertaining and I really liked al the conversations between Pen and her friends. Eph is a delight. Yes, the development of the romantic storyline is predictable, but in that really nice way that a good teen movie is predictable; The Museum of Heartbreak reminded me of the feeling I get from watching Clueless, Get Over It or Pitch Perfect, when I know exactly what’s going to happen but it’s so right and perfect that this actually works gloriously.

I deeply envy anyone who got to grow up in New York and The Museum of Heartbreak made this problem about a billion times worse; Pen and her friends ping about on the subway, casually going to watch Frank Miller give a speech or buying perfect boots in a vintage shop, mooching around flea markets in Brooklyn and every bit of this made me green. I loved the way New York wasn’t just an incidental setting; it was a part of the story that received as much attention as the characters.

This book just really made me smile (and laugh. And almost cry a little bit). It’s a really feelgood story which made me heart sing a bit; I’ve not had this sort of reaction to a book since I read Becky Albertalli’s Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and I hope The Museum of Heartbreak goes on to receive as much deserved love as that book has.

Review: This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

this-savage-songI am unapologetic about my love for V.E. Schwab’s work; I am devoted to A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, and also really enjoyed Vicious. Her writing combines an enchanting yet sinister kind of fantasy with a sharp, often witty style, the anticipation of all of which made This Savage Song a book I was desperate to read (hence my aggressive emails to the retailer from whom I had pre-ordered it when it hadn’t been dispatched two days after release; I don’t think they really understood my consternation).

This Savage Song takes place in a new and different landscape, with Schwab opting for dystopia rather than magic this time. The bulk of the action takes place in Verity, a city in a mysteriously divided United States; various terrifying-sounding events are alluded to as the cause of these new divisions, and a backdrop of violence and terror is effectively created through the alternating perspectives of Kate, daughter of a borderline psychotic leader, and August, the sort-of son of the other controlling family. I feared a kind of Romeo and Juliet situation when the feuding clans were introduced, but This Savage Song is refreshingly free of cliched teen romance. Kate and August are thrown together when both are sent to high school in the warring city, where August tries to seem human and Kate, ironically, tries to construct her own monstrous reputation. Schwab raises some interesting questions about what it means to be human, which explains This Savage Song‘s crossover status, being marketed as both an adult and a YA novel.

Replacing the magical aspects of my beloved Shades of Magic series are monsters. I don’t know how much to say about these without dispelling the glorious and creepy mystery, so I will just leave it there, but This Savage Song acts as a perfect allegory of violence and its effects. It’s all very clever and very creepy. Parts of this element of the novel reminded me of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha novels, which is no bad thing because they are excellent too.

It’s a dark story with obvious but clever parallels with real-life acts of violence, but Schwab’s characteristic wit is in evidence, with the relationship between Kate and August developing in entertaining and compelling ways. I liked both characters in the same way that I like real people; if they were purely nice and sweet, I’d have found them boring, but their darknesses made them appeal to me more.

I already can’t wait for the next book in the series, for which I will presumably actually have to wait a million years, although at least A Conjuring of Light will appear in the meantime to give me my Schwab fix. If you’re already a fan, you should definitely read This Savage Song, although it’s also a really engaging and entertaining novel in its own right. I wolfed it down in two days and then cursed my own speedy reading skills.