Books I read in July 2021

This is posted so last minute, mainly because this month I found out that I’ll be working from home for a year which is always something I’ve said I would absolutely hate hahaha. So, I took a while to process, but now trying to make the most of it and be thankful in a time where so many are struggling for work. In book related news, I remembered that libraries are a thing and once again opened, and I got so many good books to read! Honestly such a good resource, good for the planet and also a much-needed money saver, I love libraries! Also, looking at the list there are probably a few trigger warnings for most of the books I read, so please look them up before reading these books!

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (physical book, new read)

‘’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

I always love reading new Scottish literature and I don’t shy away from harsh realities or bittersweet stories: I love Irvine Welsh’s writing for example. This story was so poignant and moving, made more impactful by the fact that I’ve been to most of the places. Whilst I’m lucky enough never to have lived in poverty, I recognise some of the elements of this Glaswegian lifestyle even in some of my older family members, as well as direct parallels to the lives of some of the children I have worked with. My favourite stories have themes of family, love, loss and grief and it felt so important to read a Glaswegian book with these themes. Whilst I’m extremely lucky never to have experienced the poverty so many Scottish people face, I related to Shuggies unconditional love of his family after losing my dad at a young age, and the impact of mental health, grief and love on family dynamics. I also enjoyed the interlinking LGBT themes and like to think that Shuggie will live a true and fulfilling life as his story continues. Such a poignant Scottish story!

Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow by Banana Yoshimoto (physical books, new read)

‘’Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan’s brightest young literary star and is now a cult film. When Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1987 it won two of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the bestseller lists, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of modern literature, and has been described as ‘the voice of young Japan’ by the Independent on Sunday.’’ (Kitchen synopsis)

I love Japanese literature so much, honestly can’t even explain what it is about it but it’s so dreamy yet so focused on almost mundane details. This book focuses on themes that I’ve found to be key in the Japanese stories I’ve read- grief and relationships, but whether it’s the writing, translation or philosophies surrounding these books, such common themes just feel so different, magical and new compared to a number of British or American books I’ve read. This book is quite sensory as we follow the main character around at their daily pace, for example, hearing her slow thoughts on the weather, things she’s eating, furniture she sees, but I never felt bored because I felt immersed in her story and surroundings. I don’t think some of the terms used to describe the transgender character are now appropriate at this time, but I loved the interactions between the characters and ways in which the themes were explored.

As this book is so short, it featured another novella at the end called Moonlight Shadow, which again focuses on themes of grief. I actually think I preferred this story. I loved how dreamlike it was and the characters written- it almost felt like the episode of Black Mirror called ‘Be Right Back’ which I also loved. Sadly, I read it a while ago now and can’t remember more (need to stop being so lazy with blog posts haha) but I usually hate novellas and short stories, so the fact that I loved this so much sums up how I feel about Yoshimoto’s writing. I’d love to read more from her, if you have please recommend any of her books that you like! 😊

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (physical book, new read)

‘’It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…’’ (On Chesil Beach synopsis)

Before I start, since reading this I’m sure I’ve heard something about Ian McEwan having a transphobic past? I’m not sure what happened, but it’s definitely not something I condone or want to align myself with. As with so many others, this will sadly have to be a case of separating the art from the artist. I think I’ve read three of his books now and enjoy the themes of morality/ethical questions, and the way that these are weaved throughout the story we’re learning so that we reach the end of each book contemplating our own stances and opinions. With sex and sexuality as a key theme of this story, I’ve read reviews where it has brought up interesting discussions and reflections surrounding asexuality; some readers believe that the main character is asexual, some believe that past trauma has instead impacted her reactions, and others discuss the point that for some (not all, of course!) a person can experience trauma and be asexual. Trauma and asexuality definitely don’t have to be linked, and this link can be very damaging for what is already a very misunderstood sexuality. I’m finding it hard to really vocalise what I mean here; I think what I’m trying to say is that unfortunately lots of people who dismiss other sexualities than their own often reject asexuality (or being gay) as a real sexuality and assume that it is a ‘choice or response’ as a result of trauma. I think this results in these sexualities being dismissed or diminished, and I also think that it can make it difficult for asexual people who’ve experienced trauma to discuss their trauma without fear that ignorant people will state that this ‘explains’ their sexuality. Asexuality is real and valid, and definitely not a ‘problem’ or ‘trauma response’.

Anyway, I really hope I articulated what I meant to say properly there, I did not mean to ramble but I like books that make me think and that evoke strong discussions. Other than that, however, I found this book quite boring and didn’t really connect to/like the characters. I’m honestly starting to think I should avoid books set in this time period haha because I always seem to be complaining! I would like to see the film though, I love Saoirse Ronan as an actress and feel like she would bring the character to life 😊

The Returnees by Elizabeth Okoh (physical book, new read)

‘’After a bad break up, 25-year-old Osayuki Isahosa leaves behind everything she holds dear in London to return to Lagos, Nigeria: a country she hasn’t set foot in for many years. Drawn by the transformations happening in the fashion industry in the city, she accepts a job at House of Martha as their Head of PR. While waiting at Milan airport for her connecting flight to Lagos she meets Cynthia Okoye and Kian Bajo. After the plane lands at the Lagos airport, they all go their separate ways but their lives will intertwine again and change the course of their lives forever.’’ (The returnees synopsis)

This book was very fast paced with fairly likeable characters, so for this reason is was a quick and easy read. Unfortunately, though I got bored quite quickly and felt like the story lacked something. I can’t tell if this is YA or pitched at adults, maybe that’s why I felt this way (although, some YA books are incredibly detailed and interesting). I really enjoyed learning more about different parts of Nigeria and Nigerian culture, something I knew very little about before. I think, however, what frustrated was really interesting elements were touched upon but never given depth or detail; for example, the characters mention the stereotypes they perceived about Nigeria before living there, and the ways in which people of colour can experience negative perceptions or isolation on returning to their birth country after moving and being perceived as being ‘Westernised’. I’d love to have read a book focusing on these issues, however, a lot of the story instead focused on some elements that I never really like such an insta love, relationships that feel co-dependent and some twists that were not very surprising. I’m sure lots of people loved this book and enjoyed the main themes but sadly I am always very critical of insta-love tropes, maybe because I am a cat lady hahaha. If you have read any books focusing on the elements that I did find interesting, please let me know! 😊

Georgia Nicholson books 1 and 2 by Louise Rennison (e-books, reread)

‘’Brilliantly funny, teenage angst author Louise Rennison’s first book about the confessions of crazy but lovable Georgia Nicolson. Now repackaged in a gorgeous new paperback and looking even fabber than ever. Louise is an international bestselling author and her books can’t fail to make you laugh out loud. Follow Georgia’s hilarious antics as she tries to overcome the dilemma’s that are weighing up against her, and muddle her way through teenage life and all that it entails: how to replace accidentally shaved-off eyebrows; how to cope with Angus, her small labrador-sized Scottish wildcat; her first kiss with Peter – afterwards known as Whelk Boy; annoying teachers; unsympathetic friends and family, and how to entice Robbie the Sex God! Phew – she’s really got her work cut out!’’ (Angus, thongs synopsis)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again- sign of my impending breakdown: childhood books hahaha. These, like many others of the time have not aged well, but I love the nostalgia and the way these books bring me back to some of the funny times me and my friends had in our early teen years (although I was very shy and awkward, my diary would not have made a good book series!). I read these through the kindle app, and if you haven’t I’d honestly recommend reading some of the silliest books on public transport through the inconspicuous comfort of your phone haha (this is how I got away with reading 50 shades in public when I was about 15).

I always leave these blogs too long and think I’ll have no thoughts then I end up absolutely rambling hahaha. I think my favourites this month were Kitchen/Moonlight Shadow and Shuggie Bain. I hope you’re well, please let me know what you’ve been reading or what you’d recommend- I genuinely love reading comments and learning about more books haha. Also, if you do comment, I’d be interested to know where you live (in a non-creepy way, more of a how far across the world are those of you I’m talking to hahaha).

Books I own and haven’t read yet (please help haha)

Over the past year I’ve actually done really well in my goal to read lots of new books and try to read lots of the books on my shelves (giving away the ones I don’t like). I have a bad habit of buying books- I do try to buy lots from charity shops- and whilst I read roughly 100 books a year, I LOVE the comfort and experiencing of rereading, so it can take me a long time to get round to all of my new books. I’d love to end 2020 with some reading highs (given the riot that the year has been otherwise hahaha), so I’m going to list the books that I own and haven’t read yet and I’d love your opinions on what books I should priories. 😊 Please, please let me know if you’ve read any of these and why you’d recommend them (or why you absolutely hated them). I have 20 books left to read to reach my yearly goal! (I’ve made the books that I’m currently most interested in reading bold).

  1. N-W- Zadie Smith
  2. Blonde Roots- Bernardine Evaristo
  3. The Remains of the Day- Kazuo Ishaguro
  4. The Mothers- Brit Bennett
  5. Calypso- David Sedaris
  6. The Sellout- Paul Beatty
  7. Northern Lights- Philip Pullman
  8. The Book of Dust- Philip Pullman
  9. Morbid Relations- Jonathan Whitelaw
  10. Theology and Works and Days- Hesiod
  11. The White Boy Shuffle- Paul Beatty
  12. Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian- Rick Riordan
  13. The Book of Strange Things- Michel Faber
  14. Under the Skin- Michel Faber
  15. The Republic- Plato
  16. Jesus: A Life- A. N. Wilson

Books that I’ve owned for at least a year (some are honestly 5+ years old hahaha):

17. George Harrison: Behind the locked door- Graeme Thomson

18. The Light Between Oceans- M L Steadman

19. The Wasp Factory- Iain Banks

20. The Understudy- David Nicholls

21. Lanark- Alasdair Gray

22. Them- Jon Ronson

23. The Trial- Franz Kafka

24. Being Elvis- Ray Connolly

25. The Post Birthday World- Lionel Shriver

26. The Secret Garden- Francis Hodgson Burnett

27. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- Stieg Larsson

28. Horns- Joe Hill

29. I am the Messenger- Markus Zusak

30. School Daze- Elaine McGeachy

31. The White Queen- Philippa Gregory

32. The Lost Books of the Odyssey- Zachary Mason

33. The Bluest Eye- Toni Morrison

34. The Miniaturist- Jessie Burton

35. David Bowie: A Life- Dylan Jones

36. The Lie Tree- Frances Hardinge

37. Casting Off- Elizabeth Jane Howard

38. All the Light We Cannot See- Anthony Doerr

39. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy- Douglas Adams

40. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- Ken Kensey

41. Not the Life Imagined- Anne Pettigrew

42. Utopia for Realists- Rutger Bregman

43. American Gods- Neil Gaiman

44. The Elephant Keeper- Christopher Nicholson

45. The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales- The Brothers Grimm

Oh dear, 45 hahaha. Although it was genuinely about 100 a couple of years ago. There are some on the list that I really should just give away, but I’m quite the hoarder and don’t want to miss out on a potentially interesting read. Also, I’ll definitely take into account any comments, but I’m such a mood reader so please, please don’t be offended if I end up reading completely different books haha! Also, I rarely know anything about authors so please let me know if any are a bit dodgy/controversial for any reason. I hope you’re well and have read great books so far this year! 😊

September books (15th to 30th)

Here the world entire by Anwen Kya Hayward (eBook, new read)

After being accused of desecrating Athena’s temple and subsequently cursed with monstrousness, Medusa lives alone on the outskirts of the world, secluding herself from everyone so as to keep both herself and the rest of the world safe. When Perseus comes to ask for her help, Medusa tries desperately to make him leave, but no matter what she does, Perseus stays. As the days wear on and she reveals more about the events that led her to the cave, it becomes obvious that there is a choice to make: stay safe and alone, or re-enter the world with Perseus. One question still remains, however: what does Perseus want?’ (Here the World Entire synopsis)

This was a really interesting and beautifully written myth retelling, focusing on the story of Medusa from her own perspective. I emphasised with the character, and I’d recommend this is mythology interests you, however, I don’t have too much to say because I typically like long books that give you lots of time to connect with the characters and this is a novella. That said, I did feel connected and emphasised with Medusa given the length of the book. Trigger warning for themes of abuse.

Favourite/Meaningful quote:

To behold is to be held, and my hands are empty. For fear of being seen, I have never looked’.

Sleepovers by Jacqueline Wilson (physical book, reread)

Amy, Bella, Chloe, Daisy and Emily are friends at school and have their own Alphabet Club (just look at their initials!). Daisy is the newest member and is desperate to fit in, even though Chloe is very unfriendly to her at times. When the girls begin planning sleepover parties for their birthdays, Daisy is dreading her own – she doesn’t know what her friends will make of her rather special older sister.’ (Sleepovers synopsis)

After realising that my class had never heard of Jacqueline Wilson (although, sadly they don’t seem to like reading in general), I bought a few of her books for them as I love them and think they are still very relevant, even if elements of pop culture may be slightly outdated. She is an excellent children’s writer, exploring heavy themes whilst maintaining humour and a quick pace. Sleepovers, for example covers bullying and the stigma surrounding disability. It’s aimed at very young readers and wasn’t as fun to revisit as others, however,  it was so nice to feel a bit nostalgic and remember the enjoyment these books brought me the first (and second and third) time I read them.

 Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson (physical book, reread)

Violet has always been in the shadow of her mesmerising, controlling brother Will, and when a shocking secret about Will’s past is revealed, things get even worse. Violet retreats further into her own fantasy world, built around the fairy characters created by her favourite author, Casper Dream. The arrival of a new girl at school, Jasmine, seems like it might change Violet’s life for the better. But is Jasmine a true friend? And will Violet ever manage to break free of Will’s spell?’ (Midnight synopsis)

I remember being really young when I first read this hahaha, my mum didn’t know that some of her books were aimed at teens and I just read them all happily. This is one of Wilson’s darker and more gothic stories and I remember always getting a very intrigued but strange almost unsettling vibe when I read it that I couldn’t explain- I now know (and unconsciously did then) that this is due to the lesbian subtext that can be found in this story. I don’t think it’s ever been explicitly stated that Violet is gay, but I definitely feel the vibes and related to it a lil bit. I think given the (judgemental) time that this book came out and the fact that Wilson herself kept her sexuality private can explain why no interviews hint at the lgbt themes. Anyway, I love the gothic witchy vibes, this book is very different from her others. This covers themes of family/identity/adoption and (I think) sexuality.

Carol/The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (audiobook, new read)

Therese is just an ordinary sales assistant working in a New York department store when a beautiful, alluring woman in her thirties walks up to her counter. Standing there, Therese is wholly unprepared for the first shock of love. Therese is an awkward nineteen-year-old with a job she hates and a boyfriend she doesn’t love; Carol is a sophisticated, bored suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce and a custody battle for her only daughter. As Therese becomes irresistibly drawn into Carol’s world, she soon realizes how much they both stand to lose.’ (Carol synopsis)

This book covers interesting themes and I’m always glad to see LGBT representation, but I honestly found it really boring. I understand that the pace is slow to build tension and atmosphere, but I couldn’t maintain interest. Again, I feel that the strange tone of the book is due to Therese’s introverted nature and lack of self-confidence, but whilst I usually love similar characters, I felt very disconnected and felt that a very strange atmosphere surrounding this book (if that makes any sense haha). I understand what the book was trying to do and convey, but for me personally it didn’t work. I also tried watching the film to see if that format worked better for me, but again I felt bored and distant, so I only watched around 10 minutes. Please let me know if you did like it though! 😊

September reading felt a bit up and down, but I did read some amazing books, my favourite being Mr Loverman. I also loved my Jacqueline Wilson nostalgia and I’m undoubtedly going to end up rereading some more of her books. Thank you for reading, please let me know what you have been reading recently. 😊

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins

If you’ve read this book and loved it, I would maybe suggest reading another blog post hahaha. I wrote a blog post last week about how much I absolutely love The Hunger Games trilogy, that’s a far more positive post about one of my favourite series’. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same way at all about this book. I’ll say in advance, I tend not to like books out with the original series and often I don’t read them, for example, I hate the Fantastic Beasts films and I refuse to even read The Cursed Child, it doesn’t exist in my mind haha. It’s probably unfair for me to write about this book knowing this, however, I did find the premise intriguing, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’ll also say, I don’t think I’ll go too in depth, but this will probably spoil parts of the book if you haven’t read it yet.

I’ll start with a positive; while rereading the Hunger Games last week I was happy to note that it is consistently amazing regardless of how many times I’ve read it, and the impact it has on me never fades. If anything this book made me appreciate the Hunger Games and Katniss as a heroine even more in comparison, Katniss is an exceptional character (I won’t talk about her though, I did enough of that in my dissertation-like hunger games blog post ramble). My favourite books are character driven stories (as I’ve mentioned many times haha), and while I don’t necessarily have to like the main character, I like characters to feel complex or show development or be written in a way where I love to hate them (ASOIAF is excellent for complex characters). I didn’t really connect Snow as being the same character as in the Hunger Games and whilst I despise his character, I didn’t find him very compelling throughout this story or really feel anything at all. I feel Lucy Grey is supposed to intrigue us and balance some of Snow’s more horrible instincts to drive his character development and allow us to see a ‘softer’ side of him. Unfortunately I didn’t really connect with Lucy either as I found her character to be quite cheesy and she was not given enough time to feel like a real person, she felt like a caricature at times (these are all my own opinions, and I probably feel strongly about this book because I’m so connected to the Hunger Games). I think the songs felt forced at times and I found Lucy’s character to be a bit one dimensional and annoying. I feel that the pacing of the book caused a lot of the issues I had with it; this story is missing my favourite elements of Collin’s writing in the Hunger Games trilogy. There is a strong sense of Katniss’ personality and identity coming through her narration, and the love story elements with Peeta feel very realistic and make sense within the book’s context. The Ballad of Songbird’s and Snakes feels like an ‘insta-love’ in comparison and I found it quite jarring:

She was his girl, she had saved his life, and he had to do everything he could to save hers’. (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, pg. 190)

The characters had only met a few times, and whilst the heightened circumstances may have developed their feelings more quickly, I just didn’t believe their ‘love’. The pace of this love story is entirely opposite to the slower development in the Hungers Games and felt very rushed. This book felt a bit vague at times, as though trying to cover too many events, yet I paradoxically felt bored. After around 200 pages I considered not reading the rest, but I feel it’s only fair that I finish a book if I’m going to discuss it or write about it. There were elements of the story that I personally didn’t like such as the circus theme and the way Dr Gaul rhymed constantly; her character just annoyed me overall, as did many. I feel that the ‘vague’ plot may reflect Snows uncertainty around his own character and future, however, it resulted in a lack of character development. I’d be interested to read a review by someone who has never read the Hunger Games, to observe how this book reads as a standalone; it may be an interesting concept, however, in knowing what Snow becomes, I felt that anything ‘decent’ that he did lost a lot of it’s meaning. This did not work (for me) as a character driven novel because I know how Snow ‘turns out’. I’ve also just realised that the Hunger Games are first person whereas this story uses a third person narrator, which may be a reason for the disconnect I felt.

On a positive note though, I did enjoy Collin’s attempts to show the moral ambiguity felt by some people who lived in the Capitol, or even some of the mentors, with discussion around the morality and purpose of the games. I also found the concept of the design of the games interesting: how the games were constructed to become an ‘entertainment’ form that appeared to alter the purpose of the games. For those who read Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes first, I think it will be very interesting (if dark and horrifying) to read about these changes and read about the modern games from the perspective of Katniss as a tribute. Overall, I think that this book would probably be more interesting if read prior to reading the Hunger Games.

Despite the overall tone and pace of this book feeling very different to the Hunger Games, some of the little phrases were very similar and I found this to be a bit jarring, for example, the consistent use of the phrase ‘rooting for you’ and ‘put as much distance as you can between you and the others’. I feel that I’m being very picky and probably wouldn’t have found this as annoying if I hadn’t just read the trilogy, however, it stuck in my head whilst reading and took me out of the story. I feel that the inclusion of the hanging tree song and the meadow song are referencing the Hunger Games in a nostalgic way, and some comments are made in an ironic nod to the reader of events to come in the Hunger Games, which many readers will love. I, however, appear to be in a moaning mood haha, and I didn’t really like these references. They felt almost like breaking the fourth wall in a way and I didn’t really like how self-aware this book was, for example, when discussing the mockingjays:

If they can, what’s one more songbird?’ She said. Coriolanus agreed they were probably harmless. (pg. 417)

Some people call them swamp potatoes, but I like Katniss better. Has a nice ring to it.’ (pg. 436)

I’d like to end on a somewhat positive note, so I’d say I liked Snow’s internal dialogue surrounding identity; it nicely parallels the identity theme I rambled on about in my Hunger Games blog post:

‘And what on earth would they do with themselves, when the challenges of obtaining food and shelter had been met? Her with no music. Him with no school, military, or anything. Have a family? It seemed to bleak an existence to condemn a child to. Any child let alone one of his own. What was there to aspire to once wealth, fame and power had been eliminated? Was the goal of survival further survival and nothing more?’ (pg. 495)

I find it interesting that Snow and Katniss’ environment, upbringing and personality result in entirely opposite perspectives of life and meaning. The woods and running away represent freedom and happiness to Katniss, whilst Snow associates this ‘freedom’ as feeling trapped and losing out on the life of structure that the capitol can offer. There is also an interesting disconnect between Snow’s experiences, emotions and the choices he makes in later life. He acknowledges the innocence of children, the terrible experience of life in the districts, he himself has experienced the sever punishment and corruption within the capitol and has been in the games himself. However, these experiences are not enough for Snow to care about those suffering, and when he is in the most powerful position rather than making a positive difference, he uses his position as president to maintain this state of oppression, inequality, cruelty and suffering (what kind of president would do that?!).  I think we are supposed to make our own decisions as to the factors that led Snow to become such a terrible man and think about the age-old debate of nature/nurture.

I’m so sorry that I was no negative towards this book, as I’ve mentioned, these are only my opinions and I am biased towards prequels. Please let me know how you felt about this book and don’t let my rambling put you off if you’re interested😊 I love how different the experience of reading is for everyone and I hope you enjoyed this book. Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well. 😊