Six Degrees of Separation: From Fates and Furies to Allegedly

It’s time for Six Degrees of Separation again: a monthly post I now spend way too much time thinking about. It’s hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best; check out her post and next month’s starter book.

This month we’re starting with Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – a book I absolutely loved. Groff pulls off a right master stroke with the switch to Mathilde’s narrative halfway through; I spend the whole second half shouting “oh my GOD” and scaring my family. Lotto, the annoying husband in the book, is a failed actor turned playwright and general impresario. It’s this theatre link which leads me to my first link, which is Margaret Atwood’s modern retelling of The Tempest, Hag-Seed, in which a humiliated actor/director finds a new lease of life (and an outlet for vengeance) directing Shakespeare’s works in a prison.

Sticking with the prison theme for the next two links, I’m moving on to The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, one of the best books I read last year. The main character, Memory, is an albino woman in a Harare prison, convicted of murdering the white man who, she believes, bought her from her parents. It’s a really outstanding book; if you haven’t read it, you should. Staying with prisons, my next link is a bit of a shift in tone: the graphic novel Bitch Planet, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro and Robert Wilson IV, in which “unruly” women are dispatched to a prison planet and forced to fight for the entertainment of those on Earth. It’s bonkers, but cool.

I’ve developed a real love of space-set literature, most notably in the case of the mind-blowingly wonderful Illuminae, a YA sci-fi novel by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman; it’s brilliantly and innovatively written, with transcripts, interviews, emails and reports instead of a traditional narrative. It’s really fast-paced and completley superb.

Illuminae also features a frighteningly powerful AI, AIDEN, who yields a little too much power over the ship. Also in possession of some scary technology is Ray Bradbury’s story, The Veldt, in which spoiled children enjoy their interactive playroom a little too much for their parents’ liking. I have recently acquired both massive volumes of Bradbury’s stories and have the lofty aim of reading one a day.

The Veldt‘s children are slightly too keen to get rid of their parents, and my last link takes me to another book about terrifying kids; Tiffany D. Jackson’s very recently released Allegedly focuses on Mary, a fifteen year old just released from prison for the murder of a baby six years ago. Jackson does a tremendous job of keeping the reader guessing as to just how disturbed Mary actually is.

So there are my six links; I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with this month. Have you read any of these books, or have I inspired you to do so? Please let me know in the comments so I can feel like my existence has been validated.

The New York Times Book Tag

I saw this tag a long time ago and, finding myself with an inexplicable amount of free time, I decided to finally do it. If anyone knows who started the tag, please tell me so I can give them gratuitous praise and good vibes. Also, I have never read the New York Times, so I have no idea what the significance of these questions is. If anyone wants to enlighten me about that, feel free.

What book is on your bedside table right now?
I keep my TBR books on my bedside table, so there are currently about a million books on there, including Jonathan Bate’s biography of Ted Hughes, Natasha Farrant’s Lydia and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings is still there too, despite me having finished it last week. I am just too lazy to take it to my book room.

the book of memoryWhat was the last really great book you read?
The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah was wonderful. Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am, which comes out in September, is also excellent; sweeping and yet intimate, with characters you want to shake and hug in equal measure. I read a lot of books I think of as ‘good,’ but not that many which I would call ‘great.’ This makes me a bit sad.


If you could meet one author (living or dead), who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’d like to meet Shakespeare and obtain from him some kind of incontrovertible evidence that he really did write all his plays, just to shut up all those annoying people who think it was actually Francis Bacon or a cleaner or someone. As for living authors, I’d like to meet Chuck Palahniuk and ask him some psychologically probing questions to try to deduce whether he is as weird as his books. I’d love to meet Margaret Atwood but would probably be far too starstruck to ask anything.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelf?
I’ve recently started reading graphic novels, which people I know seem to find quite strange. So you might see all three volumes (so far) of The Wicked and The Divine and think I had gone mad. You may also be surprised (and confused) to find that I have loads of books in Portuguese, given that I cannot actually speak Portuguese.

How do you organise your personal library?
Non-fiction, adult fiction, YA and children’s books all separated. The adult novels are alphabetised by author but everything else is a bit more random. I have a whole shelf for books about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes as well, but who doesn’t?

What book have you always meant to read but not got to yet?middlemarch
I have spent this whole year saying I am going to read Middlemarch but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet; I think I read it as a teenager, but I may well be confusing it with The Mill on the Floss. I am a failure. I studied English literature at university, when I read a lot of the books I might otherwise now torment myself for not having read.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel like you should have liked but didn’t?
I read I Love Dick by Chris Krauss, assuming from all the feminism-related buzz on Twitter that I’d love it, but it just didn’t work for me. It didn’t fit with my own, personal ideas of feminism and I thought everything that happened in it was just extremely weird.

What kind of stories are you drawn to?
Anything involving dysfunctional families; anything set in US states that aren’t used in 99% of books (so, places that aren’t California or New York); anything to do with the Spanish Civil War. I have also developed a love of books set in space or Africa. If there was an African book about space, that would make my life complete.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
Although I don’t think it’s a perfect book, I would like the US president to read Sex Object by Jessica Valenti; for Obama and whoever comes after him (hopefully not Trump as I’m not sure if he can actually read and I don’t think there’s a colouring book version), it raises a lot of really important issues about how women are treated in society as well as the vile ways in which some people use social media. As I’m actually English, I’d like our PM, Theresa May, to read Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism as a reminder of some of the issues still being faced by women over here, as well as some topical dystopian novels to serve as a cautionary tale of policy gone bad; Orwell’s 1984 and Simon Mayo’s new YA novel, Blame, should do nicely.

What do you plan to read next?
I’m reading spooky stuff in September to prepare Halloween-themed October reviews, so I’ll be reading the YA short story anthology Slasher Boys and Monster Girls, a pile of Point Horror books and Joyce Carol Oates’ The Accursed.

If you feel like doing this too, consider yourself tagged!

The Bohemian Rhapsody Book Tag

I saw this tag somewhere and became a bit obsessed with it, so here is my version. Also, I can sing the whole of Bo-Rhap in all the voices, as well as doing a damn fine version of the guitar solo, just so you know.

  1. Mama, just killed a man – A fictional character’s death that really upset youtime traveler.jpg
    I’m slightly embarrassed about this, but the first time I read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, my mum had to sit next to me and hold me hand because I was basically dying of emotions (and my husband was sitting on the other side of the room laughing at me). Everything about that book makes me too sad to go on.
  2. Carry on, carry on – A book that was hard to keep reading but worth it in the end cityonfire.jpg
    I read City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg last year, and that was hard work; not because it wasn’t good but because it was so bloody long (911 pages, since you ask). The last 200 pages were a bit more action-packed, and I really enjoyed all the punk references throughout, so it was worth it. Just.
  3. Sends shivers down my spine – A book with a beautiful spine/cover
    Obviously I have to mention the beautiful Penguin English Library classics which I collect. Aside from them, I have serious love for the Six of Crows cover; it appeals to the emo girl within.
  4. Goodbye, everybody; I’ve got to go – A book you couldn’t finish 
    I’m still hoping to get back to The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell; it wasn’t grabbing me when I started it last year, but, hopefully, I will be able to miraculously remember the first 200 pages and pick it up again soon.
  5. Thunderbolt and lightning; very, very frightening – A book you found very, very frighteningdaughters.jpg
    Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics is a book I haven’t seen talked about very much, which can only be because a) people haven’t heard of it or b) they have read it but were too terrified to discuss it. It was extremely good but absolutely bloody horrifying.
  6. Bismillah, no!/We will not let you go – A book/series you wish there was more of
    In recent times, it’s hard to choose something because so many books are part of a series anyway (sometimes without making this clear when you start reading the first one, which is VERY SNEAKY INDEED). I read Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire recently and, although I believe it is the first in a series, it was so short – only about 160 pages or something ridiculous – and I enjoyed it so much I’d have loved it to be longer.
  7. Mamma mia, mamma mia – A book/series which should be made into a musical
    If Les Miserables can be a musical, then why can’t all great 19th century novels? I think, if I had loads of money and little sense, I would be inventing a Thomas Hardy musical; probably Jude the Obscure, because it contains a level of misery that far exceeds The Grumps, and would be horrific and unwatchable and epic.
  8. The head banging bit – A book that made you face-palm
    Paper Towns was, for me, enjoyable in the middle bit because stupid Margo wasn’t there; I really hoped Q would never find her because she was so incredibly annoying. Every annoying thing she did (who actually hides stupid treasure hunt clues in door hinges?) made me hit the book against a wall.
  9. Oh baby, can’t do this to me, baby – A moment from a book when it felt like the author was being mean to youmosquitoland.jpg
    I have spent my whole life feeling personally victimised by authors, so I could give about a billion examples here. The one I will choose is David Arnold’s Mosquitoland, a book I love more than is healthy; there’s a bit at the end when Arnold makes you think something crucial and heartbreaking has been revealed, and you want  to cry and throw things, but it turns out to have been a false alarm. It is an extremely cruel trick, but an effective one, because here I am talking about Mosquitoland again. Authors are really mean.
  10. Nothing really matters – which character(s) did you not care about?heir of fire.jpg
    I read Heir of Fire recently and there is no trick Sarah J. Maas could pull that would make me care about those witches. Even if they do have iron teeth and dragons. I assume they’ll become really relevant in Queen of Shadows and avenge Yellowhead or whatever her name was, but it was seriously annoying that they actually had no purpose in Heir of Fire.

Who actually invented this tag? It is genius. If you haven’t done it yet, consider yourself tagged.


The Book Love Tag

Anette at Anette Reads, who actually invented this tag, tagged me for it and I have spent an inordinate amount of time since then wondering if someone as pathologically unromantic as I am can actually complete a love-based blog post. Let’s find out…

I have been staring at these questions for 10 minutes now and still can’t think of anything.

I liked Lilac and Tarver in These Broken Stars. They were endearing without being a massive cliche. Also, space.
Probably my favourite ever is Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene from Far From the Madding Crowd, because Gabriel is an astounding creation of the male gender and is good at putting out fires.

Oh dear. If these are all from Victorian novels does that make me look weird? Like that professor I had at uni who clearly thought she was in some kind of romantic relationship with Henry James?
Obviously, my beloved Gabriel Oak. Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion, all day long. I am also currently quite the fan of Chaol from the Throne of Glass series, but, if you’re reading this and are feeling commenty, please be sensitive to the fact that I’ve only read the first two books, so I don’t want to know if he’s about to die or turn into a talking doorknob or something.

I remain somewhat obsessed with Simon and Blue from Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I like to think their delightful engagement and wedding would be entirely collaborative affairs, probably soundtracked by Elliott Smith and featuring an Oreo cake.

Is Twilight a really obvious choice? Does anyone actually like Edward and Bella? Obviously that one was super-creepy. On the subject of creepy, I also wasn’t a fan of literally any of the supposedly romantic pairings in A Court of Thorns and Roses. Feyre and Tamlin: can you say Stockholm Syndrome? And that creepy dude who turned up at the end to fix her arm and claim her for a week every month or something; that was grim too. Was all this stuff meant to be romantic? I really just thought someone should call the police.

I like couples who seem real: who have banter and do normal things and don’t call each other “babe.” I don’t know if that counts as a trope but I’m having it.
As for least favourite, I don’t know. I don’t like angst, which is very hypocritical of me because I learned everything I knew about relationships in my youth from Wuthering Heights, so angst was my calling card until I was about 23.

I think I am too old to ship anyone. I think I’m too old to even use the word “ship.”
WAIT! I have come back to this three days later and I have thought of one. In Dracula, I think Mina should marry Quincey. She’s way cooler than her actual husband seems to realise, and Quincey is from Texas. YES I DID IT!

As a general rule, I am not a fan. I think they’re fundamentally unrealistic; seriously, how often have you been aware of an actual real person being actively pursued by two people, and unable to choose between them? I don’t even particularly like them when they’re “done well,” as so many people seem to say. I am just really mean.

I don’t particularly like the love triangle (square? whatever it is) in Red Queen; I fail to understand why Mare would be even slightly attracted to Maven, and, although I get the Cal thing, it is pretty obvious to me that Kilorn is the best one. I was also fundamentally traumatised by the weird love triangle in Fans of the Impossible Life, which was all kinds of messed-up.
Do I have a favourite love triangle? Erm, no. Oh, wait! There was actually a good love triangle in Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin. Livvy, the girl involved, was kind of avoiding choosing either boy, for all kinds of quite sensible reasons. So that one.

I liked the friendships in Not If I See You First, which all seemed real and authentic. I also just read The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, which comes out in March, and the friendships in that book are genuinely very touching as well as genuine.

Wait, what? Is an OTP a couple who were actually together in a book? Assuming this is indeed the case, I’m going for Simon and Baz in Carry On. But the book is all the way upstairs so I can’t think of a scene. I’m going to say the end of the book. Because… look, just because, ok? I’m an adult: sometimes, “just because” is all I have.

I would like to think none of my favourite characters would be excited about Valentine’s Day, because I am a hater and consequently I think they should be too.

That was extremely hard. If my heart wasn’t so black and cold, perhaps I would be able to answer these questions more sensibly.