The Monthly Round-Up: February

February is short but my TBR list is not, so I’ve been reading like a demon this month. Here’s what’s been occupying my attention in February.

  1. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    This book about what ensues when all girls develop electromagnetic powers really freaked me out. I am not over it.
  2. A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
    This was sweet; it’s about a selective mute girl and a deaf boy and the obstacles that face their relationship.
  3. Radio Sunrise by Anietie Isong
    A quick and easy read about corruption in Nigeria.
  4. March: Book 2 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
    I am obsessed with this series and treated myself to the trilogy in a beautiful slipcase. Book 2 carried on with Lewis’ role in the Civil Rights movement. I’m learning a lot from these books.
  5. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
    Obviously this was always going to be lovely, coming from the author of Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It’s the story of never-been-kissed Molly and her crushes, her relationship with her twin sister and all the romantic happenings around her that make her feel left behind. Features guest appearances from Simon characters too!
  6. Jane Austen, The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
    I really enjoyed this revisiting of Austen’s novels from a more political perspective. I didn’t agree with all of Kelly’s readings, but it’s so pleasant to see Austen treated with proper critical consideration.
  7. Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
    This is the delightfully weird follow-up to the equally bizarre Binti. In this one, Binti travels back to Earth, with her weird tentacle things. I love it.
  8. The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino
    This weird tale of gods and the underworld and odd rituals started really well but I lost a bit of interest when the main character turned into a wasp.
  9. Ms. Marvel, Volume 1 by G. Willow Wilson
    I’ve not particularly enjoyed the superhero-centric graphic novels that I’ve read, but I loved this; Kamala is a brilliantly normal heroine and I loved how the cultural aspect was embedded in the story.
  10. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
    I was on a right roll at this point in February because I really liked this too. It’s a really good sci-fi novel, with time travel and futuristic tech, as well as confusing parallel dimensions and general craziness.
  11. Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit
    I was expecting this to be a bit more feminism-focused than it was, but this is, nonetheless, an interesting collection of essays. The title essay was the one that resonated most; it reminded me of the time a few months ago when a middle-aged dude explained to me what feminism really was. That was an enlightening conversation.
  12. Giant Days, Volume 1 by John Allison
    I bulk-requested a load of graphic novels at my local library and they didn’t let me down; this was excellent too. It was a very realistic but entertaining depiction of university life. I really want to read the rest now.
  13. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
    Almost unbearably poignant at times, this is Fisher’s memoir of her time filming Star Wars and the impact it had on her life. Obviously, the big news in the book is her affair with Harrison Ford, and the way it’s dealt with in the book is simultaneously affecting and hilarious. I loved the writing.
  14. A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta
    This was firmly within my Nigerian-set-novels-written-by-women comfort zone, and it was good, but didn’t grab me particularly. I think I was unfairly comparing it to other books, which is silly as it’s a good book in its own right.
  15. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    Really powerful account of race in America, told through a letter from Coates to his son.
  16. History is All You Let Me by Adam Silvera
    You can read my review of this here at Fourth and Sycamore should you feel that way inclined. It is very sad.
  17. Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, edited by Kelly Jensen
    I really liked this scrapbook-style feminism primer, with lots of intersectionality and inclusive insights. I recommend.
  18. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
    I had a big issue with this book; early on, one of the characters, at the age of seventeen, has an abortion, and it’s as if this means she can then never be happy. There’s a lot of language relating to this in the book that I objected to. It ruined the book for me, which is a shame as I’d really been looking forward to reading it.
  19. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
    My love affair with Jackson’s writing continues. I’d read a couple of these before but most of the stories were new to me and I loved them.
  20. What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford
    It’s that time of year when I start reading shiny new children’s books in preparation for the next school year. This was fun; there was a lot going on beyond the whole invisibility thing.
  21. I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1 by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
    I’m having a great run of graphic novels at the moment. This was demented and hilarious; the contrast between the ultra-violent content and fairytale visuals was brilliant.
  22. Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton
    I will admit to being a little bit disappointed by this; I loved Rebel of the Sands for all its action-packed excitement, and that was pretty much lacking from the sequel. Fingers crossed for a frenetic and fast-paced end to the trilogy.
  23. American Housewife by Helen Ellis
    I really enjoyed this collection of short stories, generally focusing on the rivalries and dramas of bored women. It’s darkly funny with some Palahniuk-ian twists.
  24. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
    Yes, yes yes. Although I thought this was excessively long (as I feel about all books that go over 400 pages), it had everything I wanted in a series-closer; all the characters I’ve loved so much, all together rather than split off in separate narratives, satisfying developments and plenty of action.
  25. Rotten Row by Petina Gappah
    More short stories, this time set in Zimbabwe. I loved Gappah’s novel The Book of Memory and really enjoyed these stories too; I liked how certain characters kept popping up across the collection and Gappah’s writing is immersive and enthralling.
  26. And Then There Was Me by Sadeqa Johnson
    A slightly soap opera-y family drama, focused on a woman about to give birth to a baby for her husband’s cousin. Full review on the way.
  27. Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios
    Here ends the run of excellent graphic novels. I have literally no idea what was going on here.
  28. Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou
    I really enjoyed Mabanckou’s Broken Glass earlier this year so I was pleased to find this in my local library too. Like Broken Glass, it’s very weird and features minimal punctuation and, again, I really liked Mabanckou’s dark humour. It’s narrated by an actual porcupine. Yes, really.
  29. Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
    This was an excellent YA, split between a modern-day, mixed-race Tulsa teenage girl and a 1920s teenage boy. In the modern narrative, construction work at Rowan’s house reveals a dead body, and the historical chapters gradually reveal the mystery. It’s a really compelling and enthralling story; I highly recommend.

Have you read any of these? Or have I inspired you to with my immense words of wisdom? Please let me know.

 

The Monthly Round-Up: December

Despite my lofty ambition for December of reading all the books I acquired this year and didn’t read, I just read whatever I wanted and kept acquiring more books. Oh well.

  1. Armada by Ernest Cline
    Too geeky for me. I reviewed it here.
  2. The Wicked and The Divine Vol.4: Rising Action by Kieron Gillen
    A return to form; volume 3 was awful, but this was excellent. Great artwork and interesting character arcs.
  3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
    I loved this; the Prague setting, the creepy fantasy elements, the stuff with angels – it was all good. Now I need to get the second and third books.
  4. Angel Catbird Vol.1 by Margaret Atwood
    I love Atwood and this was an interesting development in her work. Aside from the animal-merging of the main character, I was baffled by the little fact boxes about domestic cats. It was weird.
  5. The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis
    This was brilliant; a historical novel with an anachronistically badass female protagonist. Here’s my review.
  6. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
    I am still not over this one; set in Nigeria, with an Adichie-esque combination of relationship drama and cultural idiosyncrasies. It’s out in March and I strongly urge you to buy it.
  7. Saga Vol.3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    Hurrah, more Gwendolen. At the time of writing this list, I am halfway through volume 5 which has rendered me incapable of remembering anything about this one. Whoops.
  8. Silver Stars by Michael Grant
    The sequel to 2016’s Front Lines, Grant continues with the story of his female GIs in WWII. My review will be up in February when this comes out, but suffice to say it’s violent and Frangie isn’t in it enough.
  9. Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick
    Set in a Mexican border town ruined by drugs and gangs, this is a dark and depressing story but features some amazing writing.
  10. The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Muhajan
    My review of this will be on Fourth and Sycamore in January. It’s a compulsively readable account of a bomb blast in Delhi and its short and long term impacts.
  11. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
    YA f/f love story; this was funny and touching at the same time. I really enjoyed the time I spent reading it.
  12. We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
    You might know Crossan from her verse novel One, which remains one of the best YAs I’ve read. This is also in verse, telling the story of a troubled teenage girl and a Romanian migrant boy who meet in community service. It’s out in January and it’s excellent.
  13. Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy
    I really enjoyed some of the poems here, particularly the one about the laughing school girls (my copy is all the way upstairs so that’s all the detail you’re getting, folks).
  14. The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams
    All young people I know rave about Walliams; while I’m not the biggest fan of his TV persona, I can confirm that he can write a funny children’s book. Although the Dahl-esque demonisation of the big-boned is not necessary, dude.
  15. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
    This was ace; starting with narrator Darling’s childhood in Zimbabwe and transporting to America later on, it’s a brilliant representation of contrasting cultures.
  16. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
    I loved Fuller’s last novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, and this was excellent too. It’s a family drama in which the mystery of a long-disappeared mother is unravelled.
  17. American Savage by Matt Whyman
    Not as funny as The Savages, but still entertaining, with some bizarre plot twists.
  18. The Global Novel by Adam Kirsch
    A short consideration of how novelists have reacted to globalisation in their work. I’ve not read all the books mentioned here, but Kirsch’s discussions of Atwood and Adichie were interesting.
  19. Saga Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    I enjoy this series more and more as it goes on, although I do need to read the books closer together to avoid forgetting everything that happens.
  20. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie
    I am officially obsessed with Adichie. I’ve written a raving, nonsensical review of this collection of sublimely good short stories which you lucky people will be able to read later in January. You’re welcome.
  21. Saga Volume 5 by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    Yes, I am still reading this series.
  22. Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe
    Making a late play for my favourite non-fiction of the year, this was funny, touching and made me want to punch the air and shout “CRUSH THE PATRIARCHY.”
  23. Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
    The sequel to Passenger, this was good in all the ways that book was (time travelly goodness, numerous locations) with added familial complications. Also, it turns out it’s a duology, which I did not know.

And that’s 307 books read in 2016! Woohoo. Now I need a sleep.

The Monthly Round-Up: November

23 books read this month, although the beginning of November seems so long ago that I basically don’t remember reading at least 5 of these. I’ve reached 284 books on my Goodreads challenge (originally set at 151 – I may have set this deliberately low to maximise my sense of achievement); 300 books read in 2016 is looking very doable. I am proud.

Here’s what I’ve read in November.

  1. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
    As my daughter and I continue to plough through Dahl’s works on audiobook, I am struck by how bloody weird this one is. I have read that he enjoyed a G&T with his lunch before returning to his writing shed; I can only assume The Great Glass Elevator was written after a really large glass.
  2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
    This was very strange too; the strange dialogue and focus on setting gave it much in common with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I loved. I didn’t connect with this to the same extent, but it still served as a good, post-Halloween read and I’ll be continuing to read as much Jackson as I can.
  3. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
    I’ve read really mixed reviews of this and I had quite conflicting feelings. I loved the premise (every generation, triplet queens are born, only to fight to the death when they come of age), but the execution was too plodding for my liking.
  4. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
    This was excellent; set in 19th century Ireland and focusing on what’s really going on with an 11 year old girl who is said to have eaten nothing for 4 months. It’s a really good mystery as well as being very twisty.
  5. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
    This was extremely weird; twins, a creepy house, psychological problems and chalk eating kind of sums it up. The chalk eating thing made it an interesting book to read after The Wonder, which was about not eating at all.
  6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
    I read this to see what all the fuss was about. It’s definitely compelling (I read it in one sitting, staying up way past my bedtime to finish it) but I guessed the plot twist so it wasn’t as shocking at the end as it might have been.
  7. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
    Another audiobook listened to with my daughter, James is a very strange but sweet book, with lots of themes shared with Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator but less of the social judgement. I liked the earthworm.
  8. The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla
    I really recommend this; it’s a very recently published anthology of essays by BAME writers about what it means to be an immigrant in Britain today. God only knows what this book would look like if it was published a year from now; post-Brexit, there’s some disturbing madness happening over here.
  9. Deadpool Killustrated, Vol 1 by Cullen Bunn
    This was the first Deadpool I haven’t really enjoyed; although I thought the concept of Wade traveling through the world of fictional characters to kill them all and, hopefully, bring about his own end interesting, the story just wasn’t as well-executed (haha, hilarious pun) as the other Deadpool comics I’ve read.
  10. Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor
    I’ve not seen much talk about this rather lovely YA series-started; it’s set in 1950s America, focusing on a young girl who wishes to escape her abusive father, and a homeless boy who cares for a group of orphans in a subway tunnel. It sounds far more miserable than it is.
  11. Set the Boy Free by Johnny Marr
    Sigh. I’ve been looking forward to reading this for months, having pre-ordered it about 6 months before its release. Sadly, it didn’t really live up to my hopes; when I read a music autobiography, I probably already like the artist, so I don’t really need them to so frequently proclaim the greatness of everything they’ve ever done.
  12. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
    This is set in an Australian refugee camp and was really quite heartbreaking. Told mainly from the perspective of a young boy who was born in the camp, it’s a really strong indictment against the system in Australia and how refugees are treated.
  13. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
    A late contender for best book I’ve read this year, this ticked some key boxes for me: firstly, it’s partly set in Africa and, secondly, it follows generations of a family over the course of 200 years. I absolutely loved it.
  14. More of Me by Kathryn Evans
    I think I may have misread a synopsis somewhere, because this book was not what I was expecting. Sixteen year old Teva lives with her mother and a dozen younger versions of herself, none of whom ever leave the house. It seemed to be about one thing, then seemed to be about that thing but with a twist, then turned out to be about something else entirely and was very weird.
  15. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
    Another audiobook listen with my daughter: this is the point when Dahl’s presentation of parents really started to worry me. Seriously, Danny’s dad leaves him alone at night, makes him work in a filling station and then allows him to be an accomplice to an actual crime? Oh bravo, those are parenting goals right there.
  16. Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman
    I’ve had this in my sights for ages and I was so disappointed. I thought I was going to be reading something adventurous and pirate-y and what I got was a vaguely boring bodice-ripper. Boo.
  17. If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here by Sarayu Srivatsa
    I can’t decide how I feel about this book; having given birth to twins but seeing one of them die soon after, a mother treats her son as a daughter, giving him serious identity issues. Parts of it were excellent, but it did drag a bit.
  18. Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest
    Tempest’s latest poem is another masterpiece of the modern age, skewering the concerns of life in the 21st century. There are some bits in it so good I shrieked.
  19. The Blazing Star by Imani Josey
    Gloriously demented time travel, ancient Egypt craziness. I didn’t always understand it, but I did enjoy it.
  20. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
    I’ve been reading this with a class at school and got to the end this month. I really love this play, especially the potential it has for spawning brilliant theories and the opportunity to teach 15 year old boys about toxic masculinity.
  21. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
    I’ve wanted to read this for ages and it was so worth the anticipation. It’s a brilliant depiction of mental illness that all people should read.
  22. The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler
    Something else I’ve had my eye on for a while, this is an excellent take on the Vietnam war, from the perspective of an enlisted Marine with anger problems and his sister in California left to try and deal with them.
  23. In the Dark, In the Woods by Eliza Wass
    I was very disappointed with this; I was expecting some seriously dark and disturbing weirdo religious stuff, and actually what it offered was more in the realm of adolescent drama. Boo.

I’m having a very bad spell at the moment with starting books I’ve been wanting to read for ages and then finding it impossible to get into them. I don’t know if it’s that the books aren’t great or whether the amount of work I have to do is distracting me. I have also spent an inordinate amount of time this month stressing about my daughter’s birthday cake, which is ridiculous and should not be distracting me from reading.

My plan for December is to finally get to all the books I’ve bought this year and not read yet. So, hopefully, December’s round-up will include Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, Darkness Follows by L.A. Weatherly and Armada by Ernest Cline. I might even go crazy and finish The Mill on the Floss.

The Monthly Round-Up: October

How is it the start of November already? Stop this madness.

I’ve now read 259 books this year, having whizzed past my Goodreads target about a million years ago. I’m going for 300 for the year now. Because I am a machine.

This is what I read in October.

  1. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
    Part of my mission to read the Man Booker shortlist, this was a interesting and beautifully written account of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: a period I knew very little about. Review here.
  2. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
    Post-apocalyptic nightmare of an infection that has killed nearly all the women and most of the men. It was harrowing but brilliant. Review here.
  3. The Graces by Laura Eve
    This witchy YA has been hyped but I only thought it was ok. Entertaining but not groundbreaking.
  4. Girl Up by Laura Bates
    Laura Bates is my hero and this book is brilliant. I would like to have enough money to buy a copy for every girl I know but, sadly, have had to settle for buying one spare to keep in my classroom.
  5. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
    Another Booker nominee but, in this case, a terrible one. I was horrified by the prospect that it might have won. Review here.
  6. Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin
    I completely love Wolf by Wolf so I was hugely excited about this and it did not disappoint at all. A superb conclusion to the story of Yael.
  7. The Sellout by Paul Beatty
    The eventual winner of the Man Booker and it’s a worthy one. I didn’t completely grasp the satire of a black man reintroducing slavery as a means of reasserting his identity, but the writing is very zingy and it’s definitely worth reading. Review here.
  8. The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics
    Another terrifying YA horror from Lukavics, author of Daughters Unto Devils. This was a slowburner but had a very eventful conclusion.
  9. Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
    I have a lot of time for All the Bright Places but this didn’t have the same impact on me. If anything, I thought the whole face-blindness/seeing the inner beauty of the overweight girl thing was a bit laboured.
  10. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
    For some reason I had bought this last year and not managed to get through it, which is pitiful and stupid. Now I have read it and loved it, I need to read everything by Jackson.
  11. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
    I got a signed copy of this at an event where Atwood was talking about the book. She was brilliant and the book, a modern reworking of The Tempest for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, is superb.
  12. The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
    This is a particularly crazy book and I loved it. Southern gothic (even set in Ohio) is life.
  13. The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates
    Should be renamed The Doll-Master and Other Stories in Which Nothing Really Happens Until a Really Obvious Twist at the End. Really dull and disappointing.
  14. Night of the Living Deadpool by Cullen Bunn
    Deadpool is a strong contender to be my favourite comic book hero. I find him really hilarious and I enjoyed this spoof of the classic horror movie.
  15. The BFG by Roald Dahl
    Having listened to Matilda last month, my daughter opted for The BFG as our next in-car audiobook. It’s read by David Walliams and we both really enjoyed it. If there’s a better sound than your three year old daughter giggling hysterically to Dahl’s wordplay, I haven’t heard it.
  16. His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnett
    This is what I hoped would win the Booker; Burnett’s ‘found’ materials linking to a murder in a remote Scottish village in the 19th century create a compelling and entertaining story. It’s the most obviously enjoyable on the shortlist.
  17. All That Man Is by David Szalay
    My final Booker read and what an anticlimax. This was plodding and dull, comprising of short stories which had barely anything to do with each other. It made me think men are actually really boring.
  18. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
    Not the best book to read just before getting on a plane, but an entertaining account of a black girl ‘passing’ to become a WWII pilot.
  19. Deadpool’s Art of War by Peter David
    Another Deadpool spoof, taking on Sun Tzu’s hints and tips about fighting and stuff. I found this one very funny too.
  20. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
    This is out in November. It’s not my favourite Smith, with its somewhat unbalanced mix of fascinating childhood in London and slightly boring adult life as the PA to a Lady Gaga-esque pop star.
  21. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
    Brilliant semi-historical account of slavery and the dangers of escape, with some less accurate elements added. I thought this was superb; Whitehead gives a very real sense of the horror of life on a cotton plantation, as well as excitement as the main character, Cora, escapes. I highly recommend.
  22. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
    This has been on my shelf for ages; I decided to take a couple of long-unread books on holiday to force myself to finally read them and this was one of them. I loved it; the idea of the water horses and the strange island on which they appear and race fascinated me.
  23. Faithful by Alice Hoffman
    I’m a big fan of Hoffman so I was excited when this popped up to ‘Read Now’ on Netgalley. It wasn’t as heavy on magical realism as her other books, but did make me nearly cry several times.
  24. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
    I have been annoyingly quoting this book for the last week and now want to abandon my career and study geopolitics. Marshall’s explanations of how geography dictates policy are detailed but clear and filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the world.
  25. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
    Having bought this ages ago and forgotten about it, I took this on holiday too. It was okay; not too exciting but a serviceable enough story of a young woman leaving Ireland for New York.
  26. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
    Another long-unread book, I wonder whether I would have been better off leaving this on the shelf. I can’t decide if it was dementedly brilliant or actually terrible. The plot is extremely random, with weird things happening for seemingly no reason. Maybe it was just bad.
  27. The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild
    This was nominated for the Baileys Prize and has been sitting on my Kindle for months. Quite a lot of it seemed irrelevant and pretty dull, while the main plot caught my attention and kept me reading. The painting narrating chapters was a little bit odd, to say the least.
  28. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
    This is what the little one and I moved on to after The BFG. I loved revisiting it but it did remind me how judgemental Dahl is about so many things, like television, obesity and parental responsibility. The audiobook is narrated by Douglas Hodge and he is BRILLIANT at it.
  29. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
    Easily my most anticipated read of the year and MY GOD it did not disappoint at all. I loved Illuminae and I think this was just as good.
  30. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
    This was my second attempt to read this book and I rather wish I’d left it on the ‘unread’ pile; I’ve loved the other two Chabon novels I’ve read and I was intrigued by the alternate history premise of this one (i.e. Jews sent to Alaska instead of Israel after World War II, but with time running out on the agreement), but the main murder mystery plot just didn’t grab me. It was hard work.