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 (May 15th to May 21st)

Convenience Store Woman- Sayaka Murata (audiobook, new read)

‘Keiko is 36 years old. She’s never had a boyfriend, and she’s been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years. Keiko’s family wishes she’d get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won’t get married.
But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she’s not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store…’
(convenience Store Woman synopsis)

This is one of those books that I have no idea how I found haha, I just remember reading about it somehow and I listened to the audiobook straight away. I like to read translated books every so often to learn about different environments and cultures. The main character Keiko is by self-definition- or rather by definition of those around her- unusual and does not conform to the norms of societies. The plot covers Keiko’s time working in the store; however, this book is a social commentary on the pressures of society and expectations based on factors including age and gender. Keiko is a very interesting character; she absolutely does her own thing despite a lot of pressure to conform. She is very black and white, literal and at times appears to lack empathy with a preference for logic. The plot itself is not necessarily very interesting but I loved the unusual presence and interesting discussions. I love books that focus on elements of diversity and discrimination of difference, and I think everybody universally has at some point felt pressure to ‘fit into society’ or feel some sort of time constraint. I turned 24 at January and I have to remind myself how young I am because I instantly felt extreme pressure from friends and family (extended family, my close family are amazing), social media and society in general to ‘get my life together’. I am already constantly asked why I’m single or feel in some ways ‘odd’ for enjoying being single, and this pressure definitely comes from the expectations of society. I think it can be difficult (and these are first world problems, I am very privileged compared to some people) not to compare yourself to others, not to think about age and time and ‘what you’re doing with your life’, but it’s important to remember that our life is our own and there are so many people who feel the way we do.

I loved reading about the relationship between Keiko and her sister, it cleverly addresses that way that even those closest to us feel the need to understand us or ‘fix’ things that we are not doing right according to their own value of a meaningful life. This may be explicit as is the case in this book or can be an unconscious desire or pressure that we place on those around us. If we do not think about these expectations, it is likely that we are deciding what makes someone happy and therefore assuming that they must be mistaken if their ideas do not align with our own.

“She’s far happier thinking her sister is normal, even if she has a lot of problems, than she is having an abnormal sister for whom everything is fine.”

Feminism is also a theme throughout this story, addressing negative gender stereotypes; specifically, that men and women should get married and have children, men should have high earning jobs and women should support their husbands as a homeowner. This is not to say that choosing to marry, have children and take on these roles as a couple are in anyway wrong, but it is wrong and shocking that these are still the expectations and often deemed the only ‘acceptable’ way to life your life. Interestingly, a male character in this story acts as though he is countering such stereotypes, however, he is doing this in an attempt to manipulate Keiko into becoming a woman who can ‘serve’ him in a way that he deems to be appropriate. I think this book raises some very interesting points and whilst it is a short book with a basic plot, I will definitely be thinking about the social justice issues in Convenience Store Woman for a long time. This would be such a fun book to analyse in depth, but I think I’d need to spend more time thinking about it to do this. I strongly believe that if an individual has free will to make their own choices and is not hurting anyone, they are doing absolutely nothing wrong. The world is incredibly judgemental, and we spend so much time comparing ourselves that we cannot truly focus on being happy.

I suppose the message to end with is do what you want to do and remember no matter how different you feel, someone else is feeling this way. 😊

Favourite/meaningful quotes:

You eliminate the parts of your life that others find strange–maybe that’s what everyone means when they say they want to ‘cure” me.”

This society hasn’t changed one bit. People who don’t fit into the village are expelled: men who don’t hunt, women who don’t give birth to children. For all we talk about modern society and individualism, anyone who doesn’t try to fit in can expect to be meddled with, coerced, and ultimately banished from the village.”

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan (physical book, new read)

‘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)

I never read this series as a child so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel reading them now as they are middle grade, but decided to give them ago for the mythology (and I know that those who’ve read the books hate the film so I thought it’d be an injustice to never give the books a try haha). I loved this! I needed something quick and cheerful after Mockingjay and this was really entertaining and funny. The characters reminded me of the golden trio in Harry Potter– in a very positive way, they still felt original, and I loved the nostalgic feeling that only middle grade Harry Potter style books bring. I forgot how much I love reading characters who are slightly younger than the typical 16-year-old YA protagonist, Percy is funny, cheeky and sarcastic and reminded me of how much I love sassy young Harry. I also loved the innocent friendship dynamic between the three characters (although I assume something will happen between Percy and Annabeth at some point). The three are very strong characters, I love Annabeth’s kindness and wisdom that never borders on arrogance. I also loved the depiction of a satyr, Grover’s hippy nature and the environmental elements were one of my favourite parts, I’d love to see more of them throughout the books. Riordan is very good at simple messages such as kindness to animals, acceptance of difference, environmental issues, and I really liked the way he touches on ADHD and dyslexia, I think children experiencing either of these will relate to these characters,

I also felt that the myths fit into the story naturally and didn’t feel forced or too ‘educational’. I enjoyed the balance of traditional Greek tragedy and comedy, and Percy’s complete confusion at all times in the world that the other half bloods accept as normal (again reminds me of my favourite lil Harry, they’re very similar in the best way). Before reading I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the story, however, the humour and elements of pop culture (such as Grover playing Hilary Duff which is even now slightly outdated but funny) make these stories fun to read for children and adults. This joke gives a good example of the humour:

The surfer screamed something about bad mushrooms and paddled away from us as fast as he could.’

I complained that I didn’t like the cheesy representation of the Gods in Lovely War, however, I enjoyed their ‘human’ portrayals in this book because this was a funny light-hearted representation. I feel that Lovely War tried to portray cheesy characters within a serious book which didn’t work for me. Overall, I’d really recommend this book for people of all ages! 😊

Favourite/meaningful quote:

Once I got over the fact that my Latin teacher was a horse, we had a nice tour, though I was careful not to walk behind him. I’d done pooper-scooper patrol in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a few times, and, I’m sorry, I did not trust Chiron’s back the way I trusted his front. ”

“Percy, meet Gladiola. Gladiola, Percy.”
I stared at Annabeth, figuring she’d crack up at this practical joke they were playing on me, but she looked deadly serious.
“I’m not saying hello to a pink poodle,” I said. “Forget it.”
“Percy,” Annabeth said. “I said hello to the poodle. You say hello to the poodle.” The poodle growled.
“I said hello to the poodle.”

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters- Rick Riordan (physical book, new read)

‘You can’t tell by looking at me that my dad is Poseidon, God of the Sea.

It’s not easy being a half-blood these days. Even a simple game of dodgeball becomes a death match against an ugly gang of cannibal giants – and that was only the beginning. Now Camp Half-Blood is under attack, and unless I can get my hands on the Golden Fleece, the whole camp will be invaded by monsters. Big ones..’ (Sea of Monsters synopsis)

Again, this was a great book! I did start to think about Percy and Annabeth halfway through though. Initially I worried that they are cousins (because I’m sure something will end up happening between them) but after looking it up (I’m still bad at remembering lots about the titans haha) I learned that Athena is Poseidon’s niece therefore Percy and Annabeth are removed cousins or something? So I guess it’s fine but I wonder if they’ll address that at some point (unless they do just remain friends or one of them dies, it’s a miracle that I’ve lived my life having none of this spoiled haha). Anyway, I found the story is this book really interesting as they kind of replicated Odysseus’ journey in a way and I love parts of that story, particularly meeting Circe and the sirens. I’m honestly like a child reading these, I was so excited to figure out who Medusa, Chiron, Dionysus and Circe were before being told hahaha. I love that Percy is not the original Perseus and that the characters are able to use the myths and his namesake to inform their quests and get out of danger, I think it makes the story more interesting and gives Percy his own personality (kind of sounds like a pun). I also enjoyed learning more about Jason and the golden fleece because this is a myth I am less familiar with; I’d say I now have a good knowledge of the trojan war, Odysseys and Circe but my memory is still not great with a lot of the Gods and stories prior to the War, which is something I aim to change in the next year or so. I also liked the introduction of Tyson and discussions surrounding difference and discrimination.

I would say I liked the first book more in the sense that everything was new, and I liked being introduced to the half blood camp and reading about the Underworld, but I enjoyed elements of this story more. I will say though, I’ve mentioned before that I’m very lazy when it comes to action scenes in books and I really can’t be bothered with Luke haha. I like the mini plots and encounters with monsters, but I’d be happy if Luke would just disappear hahaha. I know this is just my own strange problem though, and a book series does need to have an overarching plot. I’ll definitely keep reading this series (I will have a break to read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes whenever it comes).

Favourite/meaningful quote:

“You weren’t able to talk sense into him?”
Well, we kind of tried to kill each other in a duel to the death.”
I see. You tried the diplomatic approach.”

Mockingjay- Suzanne Collins (physical book, reread)

I’ve written a whole rambling blog post about this series, I love this book. 😊