Books I read in February 2021

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (physical book, new read)

‘’When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.’’ (Norwegian Wood synopsis)

This was just such an intriguing and atmospheric book. I was so incredibly happy to find my exact type of reading style- long detailed character centred books where pages can go by describing minor things in great detail. I loved the writing (and translation as I can only speak English sadly). I would strongly recommend that everyone read this book, it’s beautiful, however, please check the trigger warnings before it as there are many. The characters intrigued me as well as the depictions of Tokyo, I felt enveloped in the setting whilst reading and I’d love to travel there one day. I’d like to learn more about the history of Japan, as I don’t know very much about this country and there were definitely references in the story that went over my head a little bit (although they weren’t central elements). This could obviously be perceived as very stereotypical and is only reflective of the books I’ve read, but I’ve loved every book I’ve read by a Japanese writer. I feel such a shift of focus, tone and atmosphere to more Western books I’ve read, and something about it really appeals to me. I feel that Murakami will discuss elements and include themes in a way that a lot of American writers, for example, may shy away from. It was just incredibly interesting and powerful. I also bookmarked one of the letters near the end of the book as I believe this message is one that everyone can take something from, and that really provided a frame for me to think about my own grief and loss (grief is a strong theme throughout). I’d recommend this to everyone, and I think it will be a favourite read this year. I’ve already started another Murakami and now plan to get to all of his books, however, I’m slightly worried that I won’t feel the same as I have heard it said that he doesn’t write women very well.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

”My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”

Rage of Queens: The Homeric Chronicles book 3 by Janell Rhiannon (e-book, new read)

‘’After years of fighting, the fate of Troy hangs precariously in the balance. Rage and revenge rule the final days, as the heroines and heroes come face to face with their fates. Some will be victorious. Some will die.’’ (Rage of Queens synopsis)

The third book in a retelling of the Iliad. I read the first two last year, and the first was in my favourite books of the year. 😊I’d recommend the series, especially as a starting point to Greek mythology as the books as so detailed but incredibly easy to read! At times, I felt that this book was a little slower, however, this one focused more on the war itself and I’m always a bit lazy when it comes to reading action sequences haha. I think at times the writing was a little bit cheesy, especially some dialogue, as this was maybe due to the pressure to focus on ensuring chapters emphasised the powerful women of the Trojan War, as this was Rhiannon’s aim. Overall, though, I’d really recommend this series! 😊 Especially as it is relatively unknown, I don’t think it’s been given the credit it deserves yet!

A Series of Unfortunate Events books 4-9 by Lemony Snicket (physical books, reread)

Continuing the childhood nostalgia reread. As I said in the January blog, these books are gothic, eccentric, unusual and a bit pretentious at times but they feel so nostalgic and bring me back to childhood times (although I remember even then being annoyed by some of the pretentious elements hahaha). They are so unsusual, I’d recommend these books for children as something a little bit different 😊 (and the mystery like elements are woven through the books so well). I’m not really going into individual books; however, I would say book 9 features a carnival where the main characters are disguised as ‘freaks’. These books are set in times where carnivals and circuses of this nature still existed, and the characters themselves frequently reference how disgusting and wrong freak shows are, with the author obviously trying to educate children around the importance of treating everyone equally. I don’t however, feel that this excuses the representation of disfigurement. I felt uncomfortable reading this book and do not believe the characters moral discussions make the setting okay.

I feel like this blog would have been a lot better if I wrote it earlier in the month and remembered more about the books haha, but online teaching involved a lot more planning that you would think and I honestly couldn’t bare to look at a computer screen anymore hahaha. I hope you’re well, please let me know what you’re reading. Also, please let me know your favourite Murakami book if you’ve read any! 😊

My five favourite books of 2020 (and honourable mentions)

Happy new year! When I started writing this blog I wasn’t sure what kind of stuff I’d write, if I’d keep going or lose motivation. I’ve found this to be such a fun place to really reflect on books I’ve read, read others posts and get to interact with those of you who comment- thank you so much for reading, following and commenting. Writing has particularly given a bit of structure and a sense of a community throughout the lonlier lockdown stages of 2020. As we head into another UK lockdown- a more positive one I feel, with a vaccine available- I’d like to say I hope you’re all doing as well as you can, and I hope to keep writing here 😊 I managed to read 100 books last year (thanks lockdown) and I wanted to round off the year/start the year with my favourite books of 2020. I will, however, be using my written thoughts for previous posts as I read some a long time ago and my memory is not the best haha. Hopefully you’ll find something that you might enjoy in this post 😊. Ps. I only include new reads here because I know that I’m going to love rereads.

Mr loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

Barrington Jedidiah Walker is seventy-four and leads a double life. Born and bred in Antigua, he’s lived in Hackney since the sixties. A flamboyant, wise-cracking local character with a dapper taste in retro suits and a fondness for quoting Shakespeare, Barrington is a husband, father and grandfather – but he is also secretly homosexual, lovers with his great childhood friend, Morris. His deeply religious and disappointed wife, Carmel, thinks he sleeps with other women. When their marriage goes into meltdown, Barrington wants to divorce Carmel and live with Morris, but after a lifetime of fear and deception, will he manage to break away? Mr Loverman is a ground-breaking exploration of Britain’s older Caribbean community, which explodes cultural myths and fallacies and shows the extent of what can happen when people fear the consequences of being true to themselves.’ (Mr Loverman synopsis)

I love finding an author and liking every one of their books, I’m excited to read all of her books eventually. This book is emotional but equally funny, lighthearted and charming. There is a very British humour and sarcasm to it, which as I’ve mentioned before, I love. Barrington and Morris are very warm, likeable characters whilst feeling 3-dimensional. I enjoy the layers in Evaristo’s writing and I really liked the way that this book explored the fact that you be gay with internalised homophobia, and that being gay and LGBT friendly does not automatically make you a ‘PC’ person- Barrington is flawed and has some sexist characteristics that are explored throughout. I feel that this is more realistic than some stories, where characters in a minority group are automatically thought to support every minority group, even ones that they are not part of, and I find it interesting to read about characters who experience marginalisation and yet can marginalises others with their views. Barrington is a very layered, interesting character and I felt really warm whilst reading Mr Loverman. I think this is the exact balance required for a book with such heavy themes and I’d really recommend it, I loved it 🙂

Favourite/meaningful quote:

‘In that moment, I wanted to tell this stranger, this Merle, this girl from the tiny island of Montserrat, that I had commensurate preferences too, but I couldn’t be a brave warrior like her.

I wanted to tell her about Morris.

I wanted to sing his name out into the night.

His name is Morris. He is my Morris and he always been my Morris. He’s a good-hearted man, a special man, a sexy man, a history-loving man, a loyal man, a man who appreciates a good joke, a man of many moods, a drinking man, and a man with whom I can be myself completely.

Yes, I was in the throes of a Malibu-and-Coke-soaked madness, a madness that could lead to the demise of my life as I’d hitherto known it. But I was on the verge.’

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 last 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!

Girl, Woman, Other by 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)

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book because whilst I love contemporaries, I tend not to like short stories, however, I very quickly got into the unusual writing style and I loved this book! I think the ways in which the characters were interconnected kept a flow and helped to make the book feel like a whole story rather than short stories. I loved the way that Evaristo raised discussions around feminism, gender and race through the perspectives of the characters- I began to think deeply about these issues and the discussions that the characters were having. The way in which these issues were interspersed felt very natural and I feel that the different opinions voiced through the characters multiple perspectives allow the reader to form their own opinions. Through this writing style the reader can be part of the discussions without the authors distinguishing a ‘right or wrong’ perspective- that said it is important to note that there are a number of issues raised within this story that are clearly wrong such as examples of racism and domestic abuse. I found the conversations about race between Amma, Dominique and Nzinga and Morgan’s feelings surrounding gender as a construct to be particularly interesting:

Amma thought she was accusing them of being too white or at best, in-authentically black, she’d come across it before, foreigners equating an English accent with whiteness, she always felt the need to speak up when it was implied that black Brits were inferior to African-Americans or Africans or West Indians’ (Amma)

women are designed to have babies, not to play with dolls, and why shouldn’t women sit with their legs wide open (if they’re wearing trousers obv) and what does mannish or manly mean anyway? walking with long strides? being assertive? taking charge? wearing ‘male’ clothes? not wearing makeup? unshaved legs? shaved head (lol), drinking pints instead of wine? preferring football to online makeup tutorials (yawn), and traditionally men wear makeup and skirts in parts of the world so why not in ours without being accused of being ‘effeminate’? what does effeminate actually mean when you break it down? (Morgan)

This book was engaging and fast paced; I would say by the last quarter I read it a little more slowly as there were so many new characters, but overall I felt that every character was interesting (although Amma and Yazz are maybe my favourites as the ones I got to know first). I would recommend this book- although I’m sure you’ve heard of it already haha- I loved it 😊

Favourite/meaningful quote (there were many):

… ageing is nothing to be ashamed of especially when the entire human race is in it together

white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race

Song of Sacrifice by 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 their inner strength and cunning if they’re going to survive the wars men wage for gold and glory. They struggle for control of 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 hadn’t heard of this book until I listened to Rhiannon’s podcast on spotify Greek Mythology Retold (which I found in 2020 and love). This is a retelling of the events leading up to the Trojan War based upon the Iliad, with an emphasis on the different perspectives and experiences of the main characters throughout. This is a long book, but I really enjoyed it and the detail allowed the author time to think about how each character would have felt and dealt with their different fates throughout- in her podcast, Rhiannon emphasises her interest in the perspective of the women in the war and the relationship between humans, fate and the Gods. This book is easy to read with interesting characters and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read the Iliad but would like to learn more about the Trojan War- I’ve read the Iliad but I built my way up by reading about 20 myth retellings first and without doing this I would have no clue what was happening hahaha. I think mythology is one of those things where it will always take a long time to get to grips with what’s going on, but I do think this could be an interesting starting point (with the help of Google or a map of the million characters haha). 😊 I think the author is planning for this to be a series known as the Homeric Chronicles with around four books, there are currently two out just now.

Queenie by 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 knew nothing about this book going into it, but I instantly loved Queenie as a character and found this very quick and easy to read. This book emphasises the more ‘every-day’ elements of systemic racism and Candy-Williams highlighted the ignorance of white people in denying racism through the dismissive nature of the white characters; Queenie experiences lots of gaslighting from her relationship and there are several examples of her ex-boyfriend supporting the racist statements and assumptions made by his family. As a result of this gaslighting, Queenie often doubts herself and the racism or sexism that she faces throughout this book- I loved the nuanced way that this is addressed as the writer effectively emphasised the doubt that people can feel whilst standing up for what’s right, and the way that dominant assumptions and meritocratic discourse create an environment where racism and sexism can go unchallenged. Queenie will be a very relatable character for readers in her actions and inner monologues. I will note here that there is lots on consent, power and abuse which is extremely well written but may act as a trigger for some readers.

I also enjoyed the realistic and positive depictions of mental health and illness, and Queenies relationships with her family and friends. Themes of reliance on others and the need to work on yourself and learn to love yourself can be seen throughout. It was very interesting to read about the cultural elements of mental health discussions in this book; Queenie and her family reflect upon the often-dismissive reaction to mental illness within Jamaican culture, and reluctance or shame surrounding accepting help.

Important/meaningful quote:

It’s not putting black lives on a pedestal, I don’t even know what that means,” I said, my heart beating fast. “It’s saying that black lives, at this point, and historically, do not, and have not mattered, and that they should!”

I looked first at Gina, then around the room to see if anyone was going to back me up. Instead, I was met with what I’d been trying to pretend hadn’t always been a room full of white not-quite-liberals whose opinions, like their money, had been inherited.

Honourable mentions

  • The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (this book and Queenie are even to me, it was hard to decide)- See ‘Books I read in October’
  • Six Tudor Queens: Katheryn Howard by Alison Weir- September books 1st to 15th
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • The Hate u Give by Angie Thomas- see May books 22nd to 31st
  • The Iliad by Homer

Thank you so much for reading, please let me know your favourite books of 2020, I love these kind of lists! 😊

P.s. I don’t use Goodreads, but I do record books on List Challenges and I’ve made a list of all the books of 2020 if you want to see how many you’ve read:

https://www.listchallenges.com/books-carly-read-or-reread-in-2020

Books I read in October

Autumn/Winter time in general- and more specifically the very strange 2020 vibes- have made me want to go back to rereading and the comfort it brings, something that I’ve been making a conscious effort to do less of for a couple of years due to the never ending pile of new books I have, hahaha. I just love the welcoming atmosphere of rereading an old favourite, even better if it’s a childhood book on a cold Winter’s night. In October I read two new books and reread four childhood favourites (I also meant to read some spooky Halloween books but I just wasn’t in the right vibe)

The Black Flamingo- Dean Atta (Physical book, new read)

‘A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.’ (Black Flamingo synopsis)

I didn’t know what to expect from this book because I often don’t really like young adult unless I read it as a teen, just because I often find it cheesy, however, this book is beautiful and I ended up absolutely loving it. It was real, poignant and even made me cry a lil bit. I appreciate that it doesn’t overdo any of it’s themes, but will be very beneficial to a number of people. The prose also makes it very quick to read which I always love as I want to keep going and really engage with the characters. I’d highly recommend this book for everyone. I also love family themes where you can feel the love and connection coming through, please recommend any books that come to mind.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

To have a loving family is to feel afraid and yet believe you are going to be all right.

Don’t.
Don’t come out unless you want to. Don’t come out for anyone else’s sake. Don’t come out because you think society expects you to.
Come out for yourself.
Come out to yourself.
Shout, sing it.
Softly stutter.
Correct those who say they knew before you did.
That’s not how sexuality works, it’s yours to define
.’

Meat Market- Juno Dawson (new read, audiobook)

‘Jana Novak’s history sounds like a classic model cliché: tall and gangly, she’s uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she’s unexpectedly scouted and catapulted to superstardom…But the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous. And there are unexpected predators at every turn.‘ (Meat Market synopsis)

I enjoy/get very enraged reading books about the fashion industry because I feel very passionate yet mixed about the messages associated with the industry. Fashion can be exciting, interesting and obviously has a part to play in everyone’s lives. I have respect for models who are very hardworking and have to spend lots of time in what I can imagine would be a very isolating job at times. However, I am extremely passionate about ensuring that children and young adults do not have to grow up in a world that condemns people for what they look like, promotes weight loss, eating disorders and a negative perception of self image; again, I am not condemning models who are naturally slim, it is not wrong to be skinny and there is too much body shaming concerning tall, slim individuals, however, it is disgusting that the people who work behind the scenes in such industries, and in magazines promote only one image and imply that everybody should have a slim body type that is only natural to a few people. Not only are diets promoted and disordered eating encouraged (obviously not by all), but the fashion industry is also extremely racist, ageist and in many cases transphobic. I went on a lil rant there, I’ll get onto the book now.

This is a young adult book (this is the first month in ages that I’ve only read YA!) and it does well to tackle some of these themes, as seen from the first hand account of the narrator, who herself is growing and learning as the story progresses. It has a number of stereotypical tropes associated with fashion and YA, and at times I felt like it dragged a little bit, however, for the most part it was very interesting with an important message. Trigger warning- this book includes themes of assault and one of the main themes in the second half of the book is the me too movement. I felt like this subject matter was handled well. There are also themes that may be triggering for anyone recovering from an eating disorder or substance abuse. I’d recommend this book if you are interested in the themes, I enjoyed it.

‘Girls’ series- Jacqueline Wilson (reread, physical books)

Back at it with the Jacqueline Wilson books, this is definitely my favourite series of hers, I still find these books incredibly interesting and love the characters (most of them). I find them so readable and they have Wilson’s typical ability to touch on heavy themes in an engaging and almost comforting way. Ellie is such a lovable (if angsty) character and I feel so at home and comforted every time I revisit these books. P.s. I swear I read these when I was about 9, my mum just saw Jaqueline Wilson and assumed they were fine, but they really are more for teens hahaha, please beware of this.

Girls in Love– focuses on the pressure to be in a relationship as a young teen, with darker themes of grooming.

Girls under Pressure– discusses eating disorders and image, background themes of grief and loss in family

Girls out Late– first relationships and pressure with changing friendships. (I hate Russell, good lord what a character).

Girls in Tears– again pressure to have sex, relationships, grooming, friendships and jealousy.

This has been a month where I’ve felt like I’ve read nothing, but I’ve actually read some pretty lovely (and in many cases comforting) books 🙂 I hope you’re well!

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. 😊

September books (1st to 15th)

I have returned. I now have a new flat, a new job and despite these positive things, I also have a mindset that has not been the most positive hahaha, my anxiety/changed based depression has been thriving recently. However, I feel positive that I can change this and make some real progress in terms of managing my anxiety, and that is the aim of this year 🙂 I hope you’re all well! My mindset is not really what I’ll be focusing on in this blog post, but it does reflect why I haven’t really felt like writing (although every time I do write, I realise how much happier it makes me feel) and why I’ve been away (not that it’s too noticeable as this is just a fun side thing that I do. Anyway, I feel settled enough in my new job (if not my new flat yet) that I’d like to start writing on here again, and I’m hoping that for the days I don’t feel so good, writing on here will be a comfort or distraction. P.s. I have wifi again after a month of none, so that again explains my disappearance.

I just checked and I haven’t written about any books that I read in July or August- I didn’t read very much in August and I don’t have the best memory to write full ‘reviews’ but I’m going to consult my list challenges list and let you know what I did read July/August because it’d be a shame not to share any books that I’d recommend:

Hot Milk- Deborah Levy (this book is, like all of Levy’s, surreal and a lil bit mental. It took me a while to get into it but I ended up really liking it. I’d recommend reading it in large chunks over a short period of time. It has themes of identity, guilt and dependency in relationships and has a few small Odyssey parallels. It’s mainly a kind of atmospheric book focusing on language and imagery, I think it’s the kind of book that’s a bit love it or hate it).

The Children of Jocasta- Natalie Haynes (it’s strange because I love mythology books and I know Natalie Haynes is really popular, but I haven’t really liked either of her books that I’ve read for some reason. I never really feel connected to the characters.)

Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth- Rick Riordan– I love this series, I wish I’d read it as a child.

The Vanishing Half- Brit Bennett (this is a character driven book which is my favourite kind and I found it really interesting throughout, I loved it! I’m sure most people have heard of it by now so I won’t say much about the plot, but I was interested in every characters perspective (although I liked the characters to varying degrees). There are interesting, uncomfortable and educational themes of colourism throughout, with the characters reflecting upon the ways that social constructs surrounding race can impact a person’s own identity and the way they are perceived. This was an important and interesting story and I’d really recommend it :))

The Boy at the Back of the Class- Onjali Q Rauf (I read this children’s book as a potential class novel, and although it wasn’t the most interesting to read as an adult, there are great themes for children! It’s an important book that talks about family, refugees and gender sterotypes)

Wonder- R.J Palacio (again a potential book class, although I’m not sure how I felt about it and how well it deals with disfigurement, I think I’d research how people with disfigurements felt about this book before introducing it to the class).

Girl, 15, Flirting for England- Sue Limb (you can tell that this is when my mental health went down the drain hahaha because this is a complete comfort read)

Girl, 15, Charming But Insane- Sue Limb (these books are genuinely quite funny)

Get a life, Chloe Brown- Talia Hibbert (this has some more interesting themes than ‘typical’ romance stories, but I get bored of cheesy romance half way through so I found myself losing interest at parts).

September:

Anyway, back to this months books :). I’m going to start with videos every two weeks and see how my reading goes because I’m not sure how much of a reading mood I’ll be in. Please let me know if you’ve read any good books, talking about and hearing about books really motivates me 🙂

Mr Loverman- Bernardine Evaristo (physical book, new read):

Barrington Jedidiah Walker is seventy-four and leads a double life. Born and bred in Antigua, he’s lived in Hackney since the sixties. A flamboyant, wise-cracking local character with a dapper taste in retro suits and a fondness for quoting Shakespeare, Barrington is a husband, father and grandfather – but he is also secretly homosexual, lovers with his great childhood friend, Morris. His deeply religious and disappointed wife, Carmel, thinks he sleeps with other women. When their marriage goes into meltdown, Barrington wants to divorce Carmel and live with Morris, but after a lifetime of fear and deception, will he manage to break away? Mr Loverman is a ground-breaking exploration of Britain’s older Caribbean community, which explodes cultural myths and fallacies and shows the extent of what can happen when people fear the consequences of being true to themselves.’ (Mr Loverman synopsis)

I love finding an author and liking every one of their books, I’m excited to read all of her books eventually. This book is emotional but equally funny, lighthearted and charming. There is a very British humour and sarcasm to it, which as I’ve mentioned before, I love. Barrington and Morris are very warm, likeable characters whilst feeling 3-dimensional. I enjoy the layers in Evaristo’s writing and I really liked the way that this book explored the fact that you be gay with internalised homophobia, and that being gay and LGBT friendly does not automatically make you a ‘PC’ person- Barrington is flawed and has some sexist characteristics that are explored throughout. I feel that this is more realistic than some stories, where characters in a minority group are automatically thought to support every minority group, even ones that they are not part of, and I find it interesting to read about characters who experience marginalisation and yet can marginalises others with their views. Barrington is a very layered, interesting character and I felt really warm whilst reading Mr Loverman. I think this is the exact balance required for a book with such heavy themes and I’d really recommend it, I loved it 🙂

Favourite/meaningful quote:

In that moment, I wanted to tell this stranger, this Merle, this girl from the tiny island of Montserrat, that I had commensurate preferences too, but I couldn’t be a brave warrior like her.
I wanted to tell her about Morris.
I wanted to sing his name out into the night.
His name is Morris. He is my Morris and he always been my Morris. He’s a good-hearted man, a special man, a sexy man, a history-loving man, a loyal man, a man who appreciates a good joke, a man of many moods, a drinking man, and a man with whom I can be myself completely.
Yes, I was in the throes of a Malibu-and-Coke-soaked madness, a madness that could lead to the demise of my life as I’d hitherto known it. But I was on the verge.’

Six Tudor Queens: Katherine Howard, the Tainted Queen- Alison Weir (audiobook, new read):

Bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir tells the tragic story of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, a nineteen-year-old beauty with a hidden past, in this fifth novel in the sweeping Six Tudor Queens series.‘ (Six Tudor Queens synopsis)

I was so excited when I saw that this was out, I love these books! I’m really interested in history and this time period although I don’t know the most about it. These books are engaging and easy to read, so I find them perfect to start with in understanding the Tudor period (please do not read Wolf Hall if you don’t have a lot of background knowledge like I tried to, that was a difficult read haha). I love the first person narrative and as I like routine and familiarity in books, I enjoy the similar format throughout the series. Reading historical fiction also feels like more an ‘achievement’ in a way because I like to feel like I’m learning. I’d definitely recommend this series if you like the time period and would like to learn more about the Tudors. 🙂

Mary Queen of Scots- Antonia Fraser (audiobook, new read):

‘Antonia Fraser’s biography, four years in the writing, enters fully into the life of an historical figure who continues to capture the popular imagination, and provides a moving answer to the question, `What was Mary Queen of Scots really like?’ (Mary Queen of Scots synopsis)

I wanted to continue my history lesson and I’ve always been interested in Mary Queen of Scots (need some Scottish history in my life). I enjoyed this biography and found it to be very informative, although it was more of a traditional biography and therefore less imaginative and engaging than Alison Weir’s story. This book helped me to understand Mary’s life and death a wee bit more, but I still struggle to retain information from this time period, it’s so frustrating! If you have seen any interesting programmes about her, please let me know 🙂 (I’ve seen some of Reign but I have a very up and down relationship with that show, the characters are really very annoying). Also, if you know a lot about history and enjoy similar books, please give me recommendations, I’d love to keep learning! 🙂

One to Watch- Kate Stayman-London (audiobook, new read):

‘Bea Schumacher is a devastatingly stylish plus-size fashion blogger with amazing friends, thousands of Insta followers – and a massively broken heart. Bea indulges in her weekly obsession: the hit reality show Main Squeeze. The fantasy dates! The kiss-off rejections! The surprising amount of guys named Ben! But Bea is sick and tired of the lack of body diversity on the show. Since whenis being a size zero a prerequisite for getting engaged on television?’ (One to Watch synopsis)

This is another fairly fluffy contemporary romance with some interesting themes. I enjoyed the concept of a book that explores the behind the scenes of a love island/bachelor type programme, as I do get sucked in to Love Island as a guilty pleasure whilst simultaneously finding it to be very flawed. I enjoyed the exploration of the themes of inclusivity and body shaming in this story and I was fairly interested throughout, but as usual I chose to read a cheesy romance story whilst claiming that I do not like cheesy romance stories, so there were times where I felt a bit bored or felt that the dialogue was a bit cringey. I would recommend this book if you enjoy this genre 🙂

I’m happy to say that I haven’t read any books that I really disliked in a while! 🙂 I’d love some more recommendations- especially for good audiobooks as I find these easier to concentrate on when I’m not feeling the best- and I’d like to know how you are doing as one of my favourite parts of writing is reading any comments I get 🙂

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. 😊