ARC August Sign-Up Post

I am very pleased to have discovered the existence of ARC August, hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat (which, by the way, is a brilliant name for a blog). I have been a bit slack with my NetGalley reading recently, mainly because I massively prefer reading actual books to reading on my Kindle, and also because of the financially catastrophic book-buying habit which I struggle to shake off. I mean, mainly because I don’t want to.

Anyway, I’m on school holidays so it seems like an excellent time to plough through my ARCs. I think there was a period of about 7 seconds when I had a 100% feedback ratio on NetGalley and I want to relive those magical moments.

So here’s what I’m going to try to read in August:

Notes on Being Teenage by Rosalind Jana
I’ve seen a lot of talk about this on Twitter; I requested it primarily because I thought it could be a good non-fiction book to use with my younger classes in the next academic year. Because, yes, I am always thinking of my students.

Blame by Simon Mayo
Simon Mayo is also a DJ and presents a film programme on the radio which I love, so I was intrigued to read his writing. I’ve read the first few pages and then had to attend to some crucial matter like making a cup of tea or playing My Little Pony or something.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
I will definitely read this in August because I have a review scheduled for Fourth and Sycamore. I am a big fan of his previous two novels so requesting this was a n0-brainer.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Another September review for Fourth and Sycamore, so another book I will definitely read in August. It’s a fantasy YA novel and I’ve been seeking out more diverse YA titles, so I’m looking forward to reading this.

Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980-83 by Tim Lawrence 
A slightly random choice, but I’m fascinated with anything to do with New York and this focuses on the period just after the explosion of punk music, which is another big area of interest for me. I’ve had this on my Kindle for a while but I’m looking forward to finally getting to it.

So that’s 5 ARCs; sounds pretty manageable, doesn’t it? I’ll try to write a quick post at the end of each week to force myself into actually making progress, and then write full reviews to be published near the release date for each book. I like having firm plans like this; it makes me feel like a proper grownup.

If you’re participating in ARC August, are you reading any of these books? And, more importantly, good luck!

Review: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

the book of memory.jpgPetina Gappah’s debut novel tells the story of Memory, an albino woman in a Zimbabwe prison, having been convicted of murder. Sentenced to the death penalty, she writes to an American reporter about her case and her life, and this narrative forms the novel.

I was initially attracted to this book because I want to read more African literature and that feeling has only increased after reading this. Gappah crafts an intriguing mystery as Memory presents her side of the story; even in doing so, the character questions the extent to which she remembers things accurately. It would be unfair to call her an unreliable narrator, but she’s certainly a narrator without full possession of the facts.  Much of Memory’s story takes place during her childhood with her parents and sisters, and later with Lloyd, the white man to whom she believes her parents sold her and with whose murder she is accused; inevitably, her recall of events some twenty years ago can be questioned. What cannot be questioned is the effectiveness of Gappah’s storytelling and characterisation; Memory is a fascinating, intelligent and witty creation and I would happily have read a book twice as long with her as the protagonist.

There’s much about The Book of Memory that is quite heartbreaking, but it’s not a depressing novel. Memory’s childhood is afflicted by more than one tragedy and, even when adopted by Lloyd and living in greater luxury, her life still isn’t perfect. Her descriptions of Chikurubi prison are absorbing and vibrant, with a fascinating cast of characters, both Memory’s fellow prisoners and the guards. Memory is isolated in many ways in the novel; firstly as a result of her albino skin, but also as the only woman in the prison on death row. It’s impossible not to sympathise with her, although the narrative is remarkably free of self-pity, in spite of the injustices she has suffered.

I was particularly fascinated with the political backdrop to The Book of Memory; I previously had only the most basic understanding of the transition from white minority government to the rule of Mugabe in Zimbabwe in 1980, but this book taught me a great deal about that period and made me want to learn more. Due to her imprisonment, Memory’s account of the political tumult outside is peripheral but historical events still play a part in the narrative. The fact of Memory being albino is equally interesting, and different to anything else I’ve read.

The Book of Memory is one of the best books I’ve read this year; it’s not new, having first been published in 2015, but I felt compelled to write a review in the hope that someone who hasn’t read it will pick up a copy. It’s a really extraordinary book.

Review: Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi

nina is not okSometimes it’s really important to actually read the blurb of a book before you decide to read it. Sometimes recognising the author’s name and thinking, “oh, I like her; she’s funny” is not actually a guarantee of your enjoyment when reading. Of course, sometimes a book cover says things like “richly comic” and “likeable” and those things are complete lies. So there’s that too.

I really struggled with Shappi Khorsandi’s Nina is Not OK. From the opening chapter, in which Nina is so drunk that she cannot remember what happened in an alleyway with two older men, to the multitude of demeaning things Nina goes on to do as she comes to rely more and more on alcohol, it’s not a cheerful book; whoever provided the quotes on the cover probably needs some kind of mental health evaluation if they genuinely found this “comic” and “likeable.” The book has its moments of redemption, as Nina finally recognises her problem with alcohol, but this is short-lived; reading this book was a little like watching the news during a particularly dark time, with every development making you want to bury yourself more deeply under a pile of cushions.

The thing is, I completely recognise that books about alcohol abuse in teens are necessary; if I’d read this as a teenager I would probably have never have touched alcohol in my entire life. The themes of sexual assault are obviously hugely important too; a book that deals in the rape of a character could never be pleasant and shouldn’t attempt to be, but there were many things about the treatment of this subject which made me feel uncomfortable. Nina’s friends, with one notable exception, are astonishingly insensitive; Beth, who calls herself a feminist, seems to delight in denouncing Nina as a slut, while the actions of Zoe, another supposed friend, are unconscionable. Perhaps I am just naive, or am lucky to have been blessed with good friends, but I found it really hard to believe that anyone could behave the way these two do. And as for Nina’s mother… how could leaving the country while your daughter is clearly in the midst of some kind of breakdown possibly seem like an acceptable plan? I’m not opposed to flawed characters and everything I read seems to involve crappy parents, but these ones seemed so abhorrent they were almost caricatured.

For me, a problem is the book’s similarity to Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It. That book has haunted me since I read it last year; it was horrific to read, of course, but completely compulsive, because O’Neill successfully skewers everything that’s wrong with how rape victims are treated, both by the media and in society as a whole. There was a political purpose to the pain involved in reading Asking For It, which, now that I think about it, is perhaps what made it vital where Nina is Not OK was just arduous

I was naive in reading Nina is Not OK, assuming it would be funny; when I now think of all the novels by comedians that I’ve read, they’re all actually far darker than you’d expect (I’m thinking of Ardal O’Hanlon’s Talk of the Town, for one). I’m not sure how coherently I can express the discomfort I felt while reading Shappi Khorsandi’s book, but I can definitely say it’s a troubling read.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Nearly Had to Eat

This week’s TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is ‘books that have made me want to do or learn about something.’ My spin on this is to make a list of all the books in which people talk about food and this, consequently, makes me hungry. This is why reading without snacks available is such a bad idea.

Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul
I read this a long time ago, long before blogging, but my abiding memory of it is that barbecue food is central to the plot (about a reformed felon who opens Kansas City’s best barbecue joint) and it made me really need ribs.

The Year of the Runaways by Sanjeev Sahota
Although the characters in this book can’t actually afford much food once they’re in England, every time they made roti it forced me to visit my snack cupboard.

Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Just thinking about this book makes me want to eat Oreos. I actually may have to go and get one now.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (and sequels)
Celaena Sardothian is many things: ruthless assassin, closet bookworm, clothes fanatic, to name but a few. But she is also always hungry and, reading these books, so am I.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
This book was extremely weird and the second part put me off food altogether, but the first part, in which the annoying narrator’s wife becomes vegetarian, had the contrary effect of making me want to have a barbecue.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Everything about this book is luscious, but the frequent references to Alaskan eating habits and fish camp had me craving salmon.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Although this book is technically about relationships between humans, a key relationship here is that between Ansari and food. There is one section in which he says ‘ramen’ so many times I nearly had to go on an emergency mission to Wagamama.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Is it me, or is Blue literally always eating yogurt? As yogurt is one of my favourite things anyway, this made reading The Raven Cycle very challenging for me.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Even the title of this (very strange) book makes me want cake; it’s about a young girl who develops an ability to taste the feelings of whoever made the food she’s eating. Also, lemon cake is extremely delicious so what is there to be sad about?

Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo by Boris Fishman
I didn’t completely love this book about a family of Russian immigrants living in New Jersery, but the main character once harboured dreams of becoming a chef, so there are many, many descriptions of food. Luckily, this was an eARC, read on my Kindle so there was no way I could try to eat the book.

Are there any books that make you hungry? Or am I just extremely weird? Please feel free to share your thoughts and TTTs below.