After taking a bit of a break from blogging, I’ve come back with fresh ideas and a plan for the year ahead. I’ll be doing a two month round-up of books I’ve read, starting with January and February. Last year I set my Goodreads reading challenge at 48 books and read about 36 – this year I’m aiming for 50, and have already managed to read 9 books so far.
I ended 2017 reading a brilliant book by Stephanie Butland, Lost For Words, set in a second-hand bookshop in York (where I went to University and got married), and began this year reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Both of these books have inspired me and introduced me to two different ways of telling stories, and how to do female protagonists well, in all their complicated glory. I would read both of these books again, not least because though they are different they are both about characters coming to life – healing past hurts and learning to understand themselves better.
Here are the nine books I’ve read so far this year:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
I loved reading this. After taking a little while to warm up, when it gets a third of the way through, there are things that you start to notice about the way Eleanor lives her life that slowly creep up on you and make you understand why she does what she does. Eleanor is a likeable, offbeat, and occasionally funny character that you want the best for. It seems like an unassuming novel, but honestly, it’s been playing on my mind since I read it – I will read it again one day. A novel about coming to life, starting again, and learning to thrive.
The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy.
I’d been waiting for months for this book – and received it as a Christmas present from my parents. This is a life-changing, life-affirming book. Everybody needs it. Jayne Hardy is the founder of The Blurt Foundation, one of my favourite places for knowledgeable, kind, and awareness raising information about living with mental illness, anxiety, and depression. Blurt is also the home of the Buddy Box, a monthly box of goodies related to self care that you can send to someone who needs it or to yourself. The Self Care Project is a kind, compassionate, and practical book about the basics of self care, all the way through to deeper, life changing practices that will give you the tools to cope with whatever life throws your way. Self-care has become a bit of a ‘buzzword’ over recent years, but at it’s heart, it is an essential thing so that we are full, whole individuals who have the energy and love to give to others. It’s an important thing for everyone to learn how to practice.
How To Stop Time by Matt Haig.
I’d been saving this book since I bought it last summer – I tend to do that with books I’m excited about! I read Matt Haig’s The Humans a couple of years ago and loved it, so I had high hopes for this. It didn’t disappoint – perhaps the ending was a little rushed and neat, but the story was great. All about Tom Hazard, a man born with a condition that means he ages extremely slowly – over centuries. By the time we begin the story, he has been alive since Elizabethan England. Tom craves an ordinary life, after having experienced the extraordinary. Matt Haig’s stories tend to connect with the humanity within all of us – this is a story about losing and finding yourself, about the ties that bind us, connection, and learning to truly live.
Strange Magic by Syd Moore.
Strange Magic is the first book in a series set in Essex and surrounding the Essex Witch Museum. Rosie Strange inherits the museum from her grandfather and her first thought is to visit the museum to value it for sale. Instead, she finds herself transported on an adventure with the curator to search for the missing bones of Ursula Cadence, the original Essex Witch. I don’t often read fun, irreverent reads like this, but I was intrigued by the description, and I’m a sucker for anything with the hint of the supernatural. I enjoyed reading this because Rosie is a matter-of-fact, smart, and logical character, and the book works to dismantle stereotypes of the ‘Essex girl’. Definitely worth a read!
The Power by Naomi Alderman.
The Power has had a lot of buzz around it over the past couple of years, and for good reason. The Power is the story of what happens when girls wake up one day and discover they have ‘the power’ – the power to inflict pain and even death with their fingers. What follows is a reversal of the existing world order – patriarchy flipped on its head, taken with force by girls and women. This book is in turns, infuriating and exciting to read. It exposes the tricks that our current world order uses in order to keep us ‘in our place’, so to speak. The conundrum is that considering the epidemic of sexual and gendered violence the world over, naturally it would be good if we could defend ourselves, and yet – meeting violence with violence isn’t the answer. How far is too far? Do intentions matter? The threat of violence is no way to change the world. It’s painful to see the world flipped around like this but also fascinating. I have a lot of thoughts about this novel – it asks more questions than it answers.
All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.
Maggie Stiefvater’s books always have this dreamlike, compelling quality to them, almost lyrical in the way she uses language, and often comforting. She tells stories in a way that only she knows how to tell them. I loved reading The Raven Boys quadrilogy, a tale of magic, of sleeping Arthurian kings, love, and loss. All The Crooked Saints is set in an imaginary place called Bicho Raro, Colorado, where in the midst of the dusty, unforgiving desert, miracles are performed by the Saint of the Soria family. This is a tale of ‘dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.’ If it has a book that it makes me think of, it might be close to Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Read this if you need something comforting and beautiful all at once.
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.
I reviewed this a little in my last post – And This Above All – because it was a good read for people who mainly work at home or have more flexibility in their working. It was a little elitist in areas – a lack of examples of women who attained harmony between working and rest, probably because the bulk of emotional and home labour still falls on women no matter whether they have a career or job or not. Having thought some more about it over the past month, I’ve come to understand that work-life balance is generally something that isn’t attainable, unless you’ve been to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We muddle through how we can, we find things that work for us, and things that don’t, and we have to be kind to ourselves. I was inspired by a lot of the messages in this book, and would recommend it, but it isn’t a practical guide as such, more focused on a philosophy of work-rest in life.
Becoming by Laura Jane Williams.
Becoming is Laura Jane Williams memoir of how she overcame heartbreak in order to fall back in love with herself and life. After being dumped by the man she thought she would marry for her best friend (who he then proceeds to marry), she spirals into depression and meaningless sexual encounters, until she decides, in a moment of clarity, to take a vow of celibacy for a year, in order to heal herself. This was a raw and honest account of healing, how Laura learnt to care for and respect herself, and how to trust her heart again. Worth a read, and especially good if you’ve ever been heartbroken, and needed a dose of healing.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.
Another book that I’ve been putting off reading – I like my delayed reading gratification! Granted, I felt I read this book at the wrong time of year for me. It would have been better read either in summer or in early autumn, when the atmosphere of the story would have taken hold over me. I read it instead when we were having our snow days. I had dreams about having consumption and the horror of the serpent looming over everything. At its heart, the novel is about a strange time in history when science and religion seemed both at odds and married in a strange partnership of superstition and enlightenment, the 1890s. Scientific and medical discovery was accelerating. When small town superstition comes up against scientific naturalism. The protagonists – Cora Seaborne, a young recently divorced widow, with a young son, and William Ransome, the devout yet logical local parish vicar of Aldwinter, where rumours of the Essex serpent abound. Cora is a keen amateur naturalist and when she hears these rumours, she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. The novel is about what happens when a meeting of minds occurs, a meeting of minds that are wildly different. This is a beautiful novel but I couldn’t quite connect with it in the way that I wanted to.
I’m currently reading The Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare, and Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults by Laurie Penny. There are a lot of exciting books lined up to read and review over this year, so I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts here. Happy reading – I hope the books I’ve discussed above are interesting!
‘I was looking for a miracle, but I got a story instead, and sometimes those are the same thing.’ – Maggie Stiefvater, All The Crooked Saints.