Because I am a ridiculous person, I set my Goodreads challenge at 200 this year, with the stupid aim of actually trying to complete it by halfway through the year. Don’t ask me why: I have no idea. Anyway, with June’s 33 books, I’ve got tantalisingly close with 198. Why couldn’t I just have read 2 more books this year? I will never get over the disappointment.
- A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe
This YA about a girl who survived the sinking of a ship of migrants didn’t quite grab me; the magical realism confused the plot, which otherwise was very hard-hitting.
- Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Possibly too snarky even for me, which is really saying something.
- Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
I’ve read a few of these adaptations of Shakespeare plays for the Hogarth series; this was a generally light-hearted spin on The Taming of the Shrew.
- Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
This was inventive and wild; a teenage boy dealing with confusion over his sexuality at the same time as an apocalyptic invasion of giant bugs is a fairly original plot, I suppose. It used the word “horny” about 75 billion times though which annoyed me.
- David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music by Darryl W. Bullock
Probably the best title I’ve seen all year; this is a chronicle of the lives and impact of LGBT artists, both well-known and obscure. It’s really fascinating.
- Rat Queens, Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth by Kurtis Wiebe
I enjoyed this even more than the first volume. I love the Rat Queens, the artwork, the language – it’s an awesome series.
- The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
This has been on my Kindle for ages and I read it as part of my resolution to actually read the books I’ve accumulated. I liked it; it’s a sweet story about a man who collects lost things and the woman charged with reuniting them with their owners.
- Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle
I loved The Accident Season so I was excited to read this and it didn’t disappoint. Fowley-Doyle writes in such a mesmerising and magical way, very like Alice Hoffman, and it works so beautifully.
- The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
This was far less serpent-based than I expected, and while I actually really hate snakes, this was a bit of a disappointment. There’s some nice character stuff and I enjoyed the Essex setting (being from that illustrious county myself) but it was a bit too slow-paced for me.
- Behind the Song edited by K.M. Walton
A YA anthology of writing inspired by songs, I really liked parts of this, mainly the short stories. David Arnold is in it, so it’s a win.
- Troublemakers by Catherine Barter
I enjoyed this YA novel about a teenage girl wrestling with her discoveries about her activist mother set against the backdrop of political tension in London. It’s an interesting and ambitious set of ideas for a YA novel and it works.
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
I liked this a lot; the mix of magical realism (doors that open into other countries) and all-too-real political conflict makes this a really special and intriguing book.
- Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge
This is a really cool verse novel about a teenage boy who takes up poetry when mono forces him out of baseball for a while. I’m determined to teach this next year.
- Black Bazaar by Alain Mabanckou
Much like Broken Glass by the same author, this follows a misfit in his encounters with a select bunch of weirdos. This time it’s set in Paris, but otherwise Mabanckou’s quirks remain.
- The Bombs that Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan
Very topical (refugees, bullying governments) and something I’ll be adding to my ‘recommended reading’ lists for my students, but not a book that I loved.
- Macbeth on the Loose by Robert Walker
It’s that weird time of year when I read a million things to come up with new ideas for next year’s teaching. This is a play about a school play of Macbeth. It’s quite clever but a bit too consciously school-y for me.
- Reading as Collective Action by Nicholas Hengen Fox
A massively inspiring academic book about the idea of reading as a tactic for understanding or promoting social change; this is a brilliant and fascinating read.
- Free? Stories Celebrating Human Rights edited by Amnesty International
My second collection of Amnesty-curated stories, this is for readers younger than the target audience of Here I Stand, and I’ll be using it at school next year. The writers cleverly interweave hard-hitting social commentary into stories which never seem hectoring or laden down with issues.
- Red Rising by Pierce Brown
I was so disappointed with this; I found the story far too reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but far more boring. I can’t see myself continuing with the series, even though I’ve been told it gets better.
- Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
Disturbing and brilliant, this is a feminist dystopia in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale, set on a creepy island in a world that appears to have been otherwise destroyed. When I say “disturbing,” don’t assume I’m just over-using that word. I was, and am still, disturbed.
- Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot
A graphic novel focusing on a real movement through the eyes of a fictional creation, this covers a lot of the rivalries between different branches of the campaign for female suffrage. It’s informative and interesting.
- Family Life by Akhil Sharma
A brief but affecting story of a family that leaves India for the US, only to have their lives impacted by tragedy.
- A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
The follow-up to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, this is lovely and very character-driven; much like the first book, not much happens and it’s all about the characters.
- Noughts and Crosses (play version) adapted from Malorie Blackman’s novel by Dominic Cooke
I was on the hunt for a topical and modern play for teaching year 9 next year, and I found it. I can’t remember why, but I didn’t really love the book when I read it a few years ago; I think, however, that my students will get a lot out of reading this.
- The Girls by Emma Cline
What a massively over-hyped book! This was really dull. I was intrigued by the idea of the Manson Family-esque cult, but the story is told from the viewpoint of an annoying girl who’s barely involved, so it was all very disappointing.
- Dear Boy by Emily Berry
Smart and sophisticated poetry with plenty of arch commentary on modern life. I liked this a lot.
- Our Dark Duet by V.E. Schwab
I’m not really sure how I felt about this. It seemed to go on for a long time before a central plot emerged, and my engagement wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d inevitably forgotten what happened in the first book. I really like the world of Verity, but this didn’t quite live up to expectations.
- Search Party by George the Poet
Once again, here I am reading interesting things in the hope of finding gems for inspiring my students from September, and this was another success. I need to listen to George’s performances of these poems, but even on the page, they’re virbant and hard-hitting. It’s a brilliant collection.
- Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher
A slightly weird YA book: a teenage girl writes to a man on death row in Texas, slowly revealing her role in a terrible accident. I didn’t quite connect with it; the idea is intriguing but the narrator is really immature and quite annoying.
- Moonrise by Sarah Crossan
If there is one thing in life guaranteed to make me nearly cry, it’s a Sarah Crossan book. This is another verse novel; it’s about a boy whose brother is on death row in Texas (it is a weird coincidence that I read two books about this in quick succession – I’m not obsessed with death row or anything) and it’s predictably excellent. And heartbreaking.
- O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
This short classic about pioneers on the prairies reminded me a lot of Annie Proulx. I was, however, annoyed that Penguin have brought this one out in the pretty Pocket Classics range but not the other two books in the trilogy. This creates a dilemma.
- Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy
I read this sitting on the floor in the school library and it’s lovely; I’ve been trying to slog through Duffy’s The Bees for ages and not got very far, but this collection is far more gorgeous and cohesive.
- No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein
Really compelling explanation for Trump’s victory, the problems it represents and how it can be resisted. I’ve not read any Klein before but I’ll definitely be looking up her other books.