Five favourite books of 2020- so far

I always find it so hard to narrow things like this down haha. I reread lots of books and over the past couple of years I’ve actively been trying to read more new books- as of the end of June I have read 49 new books and 11 rereads, I’m improving! 😊 Since I only reread books that I love (or terrible yet nostalgic books ie. Twilight), I don’t count them in my midyear and yearly favourites. I don’t really have a particular order, but my five favourite new reads of 2020 so far are:

The Crimson Petal and the White- Michel Faber

Welcome to Victorian London as you’ve never seen it before. Amongst an unforgettable cast of low-lifes, physicians, businessmen and prostitutes, meet our heroine Sugar, a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can. Be prepared for a mesmerising tale of passion, intrigue, ambition and revenge.’ (The Crimson Petal and the White synopsis)

I read this in January and writing about it brings me back to a Wintery Christmassy feel with blustery, rainy nights- the perfect setting to read a about a Victorian time period (I’m so excited for Winter, I love it!). This is a long, long book with such intricate detail. Whilst they take a lot longer to read, I can’t resist long, character driven stories that really take the time to set the scene and envelop you in the world. Due to the subject matter, this is also quite a dark gothic novel that can be difficult to read at times. I heard about this book when both Jen Campbell and The Personal Philosophy Project talked about it on youtube- I love getting book recommendations on booktube, please recommend some of your favourite channels that discuss books! I often enjoy books that they recommend, and I was very interested in hearing that this book is loosely based on Jane Eyre. They also mentioned an abrupt ending that leaves you wanting more and I’m always very intrigued by endings like this. Jane Eyre references/parallels are apparent throughout, however, this does not ruin the story or make it easy to guess what’s going to happen, and the story and characters were very original- I loved the balance. There are characters that are definitely not likeable, and characters that I loved, particularly Sugar and Agnes. I love reading from the perspectives of the morally ambiguous characters and I found them all very interesting (although at times during the Rackham chapters I was excited to get back to other’s stories, which I think was intentional in the writing). I’d really recommend this book, although I wouldn’t recommend going into it if you are in a negative mental state, and I’d beware of themes of abuse. The narration within this story is also incredibly interesting as Faber breaks the fourth wall to talk to the reader- almost as though we are watching a Victorian play (the narration and themes remind me a little of Moulin Rouge, one of my favourite films). Whilst writing this I’ve been swept back into such a Wintery mood and it’s really made me remember how much I loved this book! I’ll definitely look into reading more of Faber’s books if they are written as intricately and beautifully as this one! (I’ve just paused writing this to buy another of his books, oh dear haha)

Girl, Woman, Other- Bernardine Evaristo

‘Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood. Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.’ (Girl, Woman, Other synopsis)

Apart from The Crimson Petal and the White I think my four favourites have been lockdown reads! This means that I’ve already written about them in some detail in blog posts, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. I don’t always like books that follow lots of perspectives (apart from ASOIAF) so it’s a credit to Bernardine’s writing and the vivid, engaging characters that I loved every chapter and perspective- I do feel that Amma and Yazz were maybe my favourites. I loved the opportunity to read about discussions of social justice issues from different perspectives and engage in very deep moral and philosophical thinking whilst reading, the relationships and integration of social justice issues in this book are so interesting! Like Faber, I’ve never read any of Evaristo’s other books so this is something that I’ll definitely try to do in the future (writing this blog post was a mistake hahaha, I’m going to end up buying even more books now).

Song of Sacrifice- Janell Rhiannon

The heart of the Trojan War belongs to the women. Mothers and daughters; wives and war prizes all whisper to us across time.. praying they be remembered alongside the mighty men of myth. As the Age of Heroes wanes, the gods gamble more fiercely with mortals lives than ever before. Women must rely on the inner strength and cunning if they’re going to survive the wars men wage for gold and glory. They struggle for control on their own lives. Rise from the ashes of brutal assaults. Fight to survive.. by any means necessary. In a world where love leads to war and duty leads to destruction, it is the iron hearts of these heroines that will conquer all’. (Song of Sacrifice synopsis)

I knew some mythology would end up being in this list somewhere haha, I just love it. Rhiannon is relatively unknown which is such a shame as this book was an incredible depiction of the events leading up to the Trojan War, with numerous interesting perspectives of the characters who aren’t often given a voice (all three books I’ve mentioned so far cover multiple perspectives, I must have been wrong in thinking that I don’t like these sorts of books haha). I would recommend this book if you’re interested in learning more about the Trojan War or reading from multiple perspectives, particularly the women involved- this is a long book, however, it is very easy to read and I was interested throughout. I wish this series was more widely known, and I hope that Rhiannon’s books will become more popular with time, I love her Greek mythology retellings and think they stand up to many that I’ve read- for example, I’m sure this is an unpopular opinion, but I don’t really like Natalie Haynes writing style, I feel like the characters lack something and I far preferred a Song of Sacrifice (although my favourite mythology author is still Madeline Miller).  

Percy Jackson- Rick Riordan

‘Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek God. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. Now I spend my time battling monsters and generally trying to stay alive. This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks I’ve stolen his lightning bolt – and making Zeus angry is a very bad idea.’ (Lightning thief synopsis)

As of the end of June, I had read three of the five books in the Percy Jackson series and it’s hard to pick a favourite- maybe the second as I loved the storyline- so I’m going for the series as a whole. These books are so full of humour, sarcasm and light-hearted fun and friendship, whilst discussing heavy important topics and tackling deep issues. I love the bond between Percy, Annabeth and Grover, the portrayals of family and identity and I love Grover’s interest in the environment. The depiction of the Gods and Goddess’s are so funny, and I love all the characters. I’m very fussy with children’s books I read as an adult (I’m reading potential books for my class just now and they are not always the best haha) but this series really works for all ages 😊. As I mentioned before, the three friends remind me of the Harry Potter golden trio and I love that Percy is a normal sarcastic, friendly, sassy young person like lil Harry- although, sadly the Harry Potter series has been tainted now. I’m excited to see what happens next. 😊

Queenie- Candice Carty-Williams

‘Meet Queenie. She just can’t cut a break. Well, apart from one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That’s just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Stuck between a boss who doesn’t seem to see her, a family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested), and trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her, it’s no wonder she’s struggling.’ (Queenie synopsis)

I read this in May so it was very recent and I loved it! I love when an author can cover heavy themes and create realistic dimensional characters that you are connected to within a funny book that’s quick and easy to read, I think I read Queenie within a day! She’s such an amazing character and I felt connected to her throughout the story. I loved learning more about Jamaican culture through the perspective of someone who is from London and cannot necessarily relate to her family’s perspective. This book is primarily about family and friends, relationships, identity, and mental illness, all of which are themes that I love to read about and are frequently found in my favourite books. Trigger warning for abuse, gaslighting and mental illness although they are handled in a very mature and positive way. I have so much more to say about this book but I don’t want to repeat myself from previous blog posts in case you’ve read them (thank you if you have and you’re still here! 😊) so I’ll let it at this but I cannot recommend this book enough!

It has been such a fun experience looking back at the year so far and remembering how much I loved these books- it makes it worth it when you read a few books in a row that weren’t for you. I think they are all quite different, however they are all character driven with similar themes that I am often drawn to. For this reason, I’m not sure if I’d recommend them all to everyone, but hopefully you’ll find something that you like 😊 I’m so interested in learning about other’s favourites, please let me know you’re favourites of 2020 so far! Also, despite really not needing any more books I’m always looking haha, so please let me know if you’ve read other books by these authors and if you’d recommend them 😊 (especially Faber, I’m intrigued to know if all of his books are so amazingly written). I hope you’re well, thank you for reading!

Weekly books June 22nd to June 30th

Again I am behind, I really feel like the lockdown lack of motivation has started- fair enough as it has now been four months hahaha. I hope you’re all doing well, how are other countries doing in terms of lockdown or getting back out and about?

An American Marriage- Tayari Jones (physical/audiobook, new read)

‘Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit.’ (An American Marriage synopsis. I only took part of the blurb because the full synopsis genuinely ruined the entire story haha!)

I was really interested in the premise of this book, however, whilst this was a really interesting plot and had realistic, intriguing characters, I didn’t really enjoy it. I think this was partly timing as I’ve been in such a reading slump recently and finding it hard to concentrate (I’ve been half reading around six books at a time), and partly because I tend not to like books that fast forward large periods of time. I find it hard to really engage with the characters and get to know them due to the passages of time and rarely read books with this writing style. For this reason, I listened to the second half of the book on audiobook to help my concentration (the narrators were really good!) The message of this book is extremely important and there continue to be devastatingly similar examples of racism and prejudice in the world today. I would recommend this book and I’m sure that readers who do not mind time skips will find this an incredibly engaging and moving (I was moved by the characters and storyline despite my issues with the writing style).

Favourite/meaningful quote:

Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.”

But how you feel love and how you understand love are two different things

Eclipse- Stephanie Meyer (physical book/reread)

Eclipse is the third novel in the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. It continues the story of Bella Swan and her vampire love, Edward Cullen. The novel explores Bella’s compromise between her love for Edward and her friendship with shape-shifter Jacob Black, along with her dilemma of leaving her mortality behind in a terrorized atmosphere, a result of mysterious vampire attacks in Seattle.’ (Eclipse synopsis)

When I said I was in a reading slump, I meant it. There’s something about the shockingly cheesy, ridiculous, at times boring and eye-rollingly bad Twilight series that draws me in when I’m finding it hard to focus, or when I’m feeling a bit stressed. It’s just the mixture of nostalgia, familiar (if ridiculous) characters, and the books ability to cheer me up by allowing me to laugh at Bella being ridiculous (although she deeply enrages me). I almost enjoyed this reread in a strange way, but not enough to relive it through a ‘review’. I think everybody knows what to expect and for anyone who has been spared in your childhood/teenage years, this delightful book involves an extremely whiney teenager who is obsessed with a lil 110 year old vampire, who as a couple are involved in an unnecessary love triangle with a wolf- and if you reach the exceptional conclusion in Breaking Dawn, said wolf later imprints with his ‘soulmate’ who is none other than the human/vampire combos baby.

Breaking Dawn- Stephanie Meyer (physical book/reread)

‘To be irrevocably in love with a vampire is both fantasy and nightmare woven into a dangerously heightened reality for Bella Swan. Pulled in one direction by her intense passion for Edward Cullen, and in another by her profound connection to werewolf Jacob Black, she has endured a tumultuous year of temptation, loss and strife to reach the ultimate turning point. Her imminent choice to either join the dark but seductive world of immortals or pursue a fully human life has become the thread from which the fate of two tribes hangs. Now that Bella has made her decision, a startling chain of unprecedented events is about to unfold with potentially devastating and unfathomable consequences.’ (Breaking Dawn synopsis)

There are no words. Somehow this is the book with the most interesting premise, but the one I struggle through the most.

Weekly books June 15th to June 21st

White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism- Robin Diangelo (audiobook, new read)

‘Antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo first coined the term “white fragility” in 2011, and since then it’s been invoked by critics from Samantha Bee to Charles Blow. “White fragility” refers to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors including argumentation and silence. In this book, DiAngelo unpacks white fragility, explaining the underlying sociological phenomena. She’ll draw on examples from her work and scholarship, as well as from the culture at large, to address these fundamental questions: How does white fragility develop? What does it look like? How is it triggered? What can we do to move beyond white fragility and engage more constructively?’ (White Fragility synopsis)

DiAngelo eloquently explains why systemic racism still exists and addresses the microaggressions within society. Prior to reading this book, I understood that these are definitely still prominent issues within society- all around the world, whilst the book is based on America there are unfortunately still definite similarities and examples of racism in Scotland. ‘White fragility’ will, however, help me when it comes to explaining that racism still exists and discussing microaggressions- I have been sickened and saddened by the number of people who ignorantly argue that all lives matter or that racism is a thing of the past whilst choosing to remain ignorant. I now feel more able to address these issues and become actively antiracist as a result of DiAngelo’s eloquent and educational writing- that said I have lots more to learn and will continue to educate myself. DiAngelo highlights that merely by choosing not to question the structures of society, we are allowing racism to continue by maintaining structures that create a state of white fragility. White people will often avoid discussions of racism as we do not want to accept the part of white fragility, however, this stops us from listening to the voices of black people and educating ourselves to address our white privilege and change for the better. This is an incredibly important book and I would really recommend it. I do, however, feel that it’s more important to also read from the own voice perspectives of black people who experience racism rather than relying on antiracist white authors.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

“I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. I define a white progressive as any white person who thinks he or she is not racist, or is less racist, or in the “choir,” or already “gets it.” White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetrate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.”

“I was co-leading a workshop with an African American man. A white participant said to him, “I don’t see race; I don’t see you as black.” My co-trainer’s response was, “Then how will you see racism?” He then explained to her that he was black, he was confident that she could see this, and that his race meant that he had a very different experience in life than she did. If she were ever going to understand or challenge racism, she would need to acknowledge this difference. Pretending that she did not noticed that he was black was not helpful to him in any way, as it denied his reality – indeed, it refused his reality – and kept hers insular and unchallenged.’

Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse- Rick Riordan (physical book, new read)

‘It’s the last Friday before the winter holidays but Percy Jackson isn’t at school, he’s battling the fearsome Manticore (half human, half lion), which in itself isn’t ideal …but with Annabeth missing and the goddess of the hunt held captive, things get a whole lot more serious.’ (The Titan’s Curse synopsis)

I’ve been finding it so hard to concentrate on books for the last couple of weeks, it’s maybe just because lots going on (and I’ve read so many books during lockdown haha), so I thought Percy Jackson might help with the reading slump. Even this book took me a good week to finish, but as usual I did really enjoy it. I love that each book loosely follows the format of a hero’s story, and this book focused on Hercules (which I liked because for some reason I can never remember the majority of his story). These books are such a fun, light-hearted way to learn about mythology and in a way experience childhood again even if, like me, you are reading them for the first time as an adult. I’m excited to get to the next two books and finish the series whenever my ability to concentrate hopefully reappears. 😊

Favourite/meaningful quote:

“Love conquers all,” Aphrodite promised. “Look at Helen and Paris. Did they let anything come between them?” “Didn’t they start the Trojan War and get thousands of people killed?”
“Pfft. That’s not the point. Follow your heart.”

Weekly books June 8th to June 14th

I don’t know what happened haha, but I accidentally disappeared from here. I went in to visit my new work and I’ve started looking at flats, so I think I’ve just been finding it hard to concentrate recently (on reading and everything else haha). I hope you’re all well anyway and have been reading lots of good books 😊

Don’t Call Us Dead- Danez Smith (physical book, new read)

Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a ground-breaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality – the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood – and an HIV-positive diagnosis.’ (Don’t Call Us Dead synopsis)

After thinking that I don’t necessarily like poetry, this is my second poetry book of the month. I think in the past I haven’t necessarily read poetry with themes that I’ve been particularly interested in, therefore they weren’t very powerful. This collection is, however, extremely powerful- and traumatic. The ease of the writing flow conflicts with the often-painful subject matter to create a truthful and harrowing complete story. This is an incredibly important collection that portrays themes of police brutality, racism, sexuality and HIV with great depth and power.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

‘think: once, a white girl

was kidnapped & that’s the Trojan War.

later, up the block, Troy got shot

& that was Tuesday, are we not worthy

of a city of ash? Of 1,000 ships

launched because we are missed?

i demand a war to bring the dead child back.

i at least demand a song.        a head.’

When the Adults Change Everything Changes: Seismic shifts in school behaviour- Paul Dix (physical book, new read)

‘In When the Adults Change, Everything Changes: Seismic Shifts in School Behaviour, Paul Dix upends the debate on behaviour management in schools and offers effective tips and strategies that serve to end the search for change in children and turn the focus back on the adults.’ (When the Adults Change Everything Changes synopsis)

I don’t think this will be interesting to anyone unless you work with children haha, I was in teaching mode reading this book. I would say though, this is well written, easy to read and a lot more interesting than some books on education that I’ve read/skimmed.

My favourite was of course Don’t call Us Dead. Again, I’m sorry I disappeared (not that it’s a big thing, it’s not like I am a sought-after blog with 1000000 readers hahaha, but I am thankful for everyone who does read and comment😊)

June books- 1st to 7th

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race- Reni Eddo-Lodge (audiobook, new read)

Please continue to have discussions about race, educate yourself, sign petitions and donate if you can. Protests and petitions are beginning to make a change and it’s important that this momentum continues to get people in power to listen. It is also important that we use our white privilege to become actively antiracist.

‘’Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent. This book is an attempt to speak.’ The book that sparked a national conversation. Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today.’ (Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race synopsis)

This book is extremely well written, Eddo-Lodge’s perspective and experience is incredibly insightful and this is an excellent book to read whilst learning more about systemic and structural racism in the UK- which is particularly important as a number of ignorant people perceive racism to be a problem in America due to police brutality, and yet struggle to understand, or refuse to accept that racism takes place everywhere. I listened to the audio-book which was very enjoyable and I would recommend this format as it is voiced by the author and therefore adds to the emotion and depth as Eddo-Lodge recounts her personal experiences of racism. This book addresses the need for white people to address our privilege and the structural racism that creates discrimination and prejudice in order to make positive change. In addressing the title, the author has expressed the difficulty and frustration she has experienced in trying to have conversations with white people who refuse to educate themselves or choose to remain ignorant. It is the responsibility of white people to educate ourselves and listen to black people- I have observed several white people asking black people what we can do to make a change. This is unfair and it is lazy- education is everywhere and this book is evidence of this. We have to do our own research and read these books, and we need to become actively antiracist. We must keep learning and do this through our own lifelong efforts, it is selfish to burden black people by asking them to teach us and it is lazy; there are countless resources and I would highly recommend this book as a starting point. The book is split into several interesting sections, and I found it particularly insightful and interesting to read about relations between race and feminism.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

‘If you are disgusted by what you see, and if you feel the fire coursing through your veins, then it’s up to you. You don’t have to be the leader of a global movement or a household name. It can be as small scale as chipping away at the warped power relations in your workplace. It can be passing on knowledge and skills to those who wouldn’t access them otherwise. It can be creative. It can be informal. It can be your job. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re doing something.

Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.’

Milk and Honey- Rupi Kaur (physical book, new read)

‘Milk and Honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.
The book is divided into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. Milk and Honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.
’ (Milk and Honey synopsis)

Occasionally I go online and buy a good few books that look interesting but that I don’t know very much about. This is an example of one of these times because I always think of myself as someone who doesn’t like reading poetry (I like individual poems, but I’ve never really enjoyed books that I’ve read). I love music and I think I prefer lyrics in the format of a song. However, in saying that, I ended up loving this book, the poems are interesting and beautiful, and I enjoyed the short length and the flow of the overall story. The drawings are also beautiful. I loved this book because it made me reflect on my own feelings and think more abstractly- I enjoy thinking about the big questions and I’m quite an introverted reflective person so I really enjoy media that brings this out in me, especially music. Kaur addresses everyday experiences and discusses her experiences of feminism which were very interesting, for example:

‘you tell me

i am not like most girls

and learn to kiss me with your eyes closed

something about the phrase- something about

how I have to be unlike the women

i call sisters in order to be wanted

makes me want to spit your tongue out

like I am supposed to be proud you picked me

as if I should be relieved you think

i am better than them’

I would like to mention that there are themes of abuse which may be triggering to some. Overall, I’d recommend this book if you would like to read more poetry and you are looking for a place to start. 😊

Favourite/meaningful quote:

‘to be

soft

is

to be

powerful

‘i do not want to have you

to fill the empty parts of me

i want to be full on my own

i want to be so complete

i could light a whole city

and then

i want to have you

cause the two of use combined

could set it on fire’