4 Books I Really Should Have Read by Now

Hi everyone! As 2019 draws to a close (how is Sunday the 1st December? Where has the time gone) I am reminded of the books that will have gone unread for another year. Yep, the books mentioned in this list have been on my TBR for years. One I have had for 8 years. 8 whole years. If it was a kid it would have started school by now. A couple of them are classics, some are by authors I really like but for whatever reason, I have just never picked them up. Hopefully, by listing them on the blog for everyone to see, it will give me boost to finally take them off the shelves and crack open the pages. Maybe.

4. The Paying Guests Sarah Waters

This one I have technically started – in the sense that I have read the first 15 pages and put it down. I can’t remember why I put it down – I suspect a more interesting book caught my eye – but it has never been picked up again. It seems a book that would have appealed to me; it’s historical fiction written by Waters, whose Little Stranger was my top book of 2017. But, admittedly I wasn’t captivated by the opening. I know I never really gave it a chance, but those 15 pages were a bit of a struggle to get through. Critics have raved about it though, and I have heard it becomes absolutely unputdownable by the end, so perhaps I should just soldier through the opening.

3. Dracula – Bram Stoker

This is the 8 years old one. I bought it in 2011, the same year as the final Harry Potter movie, because I needed to read it for a class at university. Yet I still never opened it, choosing to discuss and write my essay on Frankenstein instead (both had been assigned the same week). It’s a very famous classic, with countless TV and film adaptations, and I have never read a single line. I would like to get to it eventually, but the thing that puts me off is that I don’t particularly like horror. It’s not a genre I’m familiar with and I’ve never been good with violent scenes. But hopefully in 2020 I will pick up Dracula.

 

2. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour, an Introduction – J.D Salinger

When I was in secondary I read The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger and really liked it. But clearly not enough to pick up anything else he has written until earlier this year, when I saw this bind-up of two novellas. Despite being only 152 pages, it has been lounging on my shelves for nearly a year. There’s no reason why, other than I bought books I really, really wanted at the same time. Now they’ve all been read and I am left with Salinger. There’s always one book I forget to read, and this is one of them.

1. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

This the big one. The one I really want to have read in 2020. I used to use the excuse that it was so long, but that is out the window as last year I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as well as Gone With the Wind, both of which are huge. I’m still a little wary because it is dealing with a period of history I know very little about, and I’m worried I might not fully understand parts of it. So I’m tempted to read more about Russian history and the Napoleonic era before tackling it. But I am definitely starting War and Peace next year, probably January or February.

And that’s it. The TBR of Shame. It doesn’t help that where I normally keep my laptop I can see all these books on the shelves, mocking me. Which means as I write this blog post about having not read them, I can still see them still sitting there unread. If you’ve read any of the book I’ve mentioned let me know in the comments. As you can tell, I’m thinking of starting with War and Peace but if one of the others is better then I’m open to changing the order. Hopefully by November 2020 none of these books will make this list. Fingers crossed!

Top 5 Books of 2019 So Far

Hi everyone! It’s hard to imagine we’re nearly halfway through June and 2019 already. It seems to have flown by. Last year, I did my top 10 books of the year so far, and because I really enjoyed it I thought I would do one for 2019 too. However, looking back over the last six months gave me a bit of a problem. For my top 10 lists I never include rereads (or rewatches in the case of films) so I can’t include The House on the Strand which I adore. A lot of the books I’ve read so far in 2019 have been good but not great, and I have been struggling to create a top 10, a list of books which I have had a great experience reading. So, I have decided to do a top 5 for books instead, with me doing a separate top 10 for books and films at the end of December. It still gives an indication of my mid-year reading but I’m not recommending books I only felt ‘meh’ about. But without further rambling on, I shall start with my top 5 books so far, as always I’ve linked my review so you can check that out if you want more information:
swan song   5. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Swan Song seemed to have divided book bloggers. I fall into the ‘loved it’ camp as it contains pretty much all the stuff I like reading about. It is set in the 1960s and 1970s American (tick, with bonus points for being set in NYC) and follows the talented but morally ambiguous Truman Capote (tick) and his relationships with various socialites he has nicknamed his ‘Swans’. I really enjoyed how Greenberg-Jephcott explored these women through a sort of Greek chorus and gave them their voices back after Capote exploited them. I found all the nods to other famous people, such as Lauren Bacall, Ernest Hemingway, and Bennett Cerf really fun and made the whole story seem more realistic. I know some people found the multiple names confusing but I didn’t notice that at all. Overall, I’m really excited to see what Greenberg-Jephcott writes next.
The Skylarks War   4. The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

I never thought the one book that would make me cry in 2019 would be a children’s book but there you have it! We follow Clarry and Peter, siblings who love visiting their cousin Rupert in Cornwall. They also befriend another brother and sister, Vanessa and Simon. However, the shadow of the First World War looms, threatening everything they have ever known. McKay cleverly examines the horror of WW1 through the gaze of children, which I found worked really well. Everything seemed so much more heart-breaking, perhaps because you’re witnessing the loss of innocence. She also captured a child’s voice really well. I believed Clarry when I was reading her inner thoughts and feelings; it never felt like an adult pretending to be a child. There was something so natural about it. I think fans of Private Peaceful will definitely enjoy The Skylarks’ War, as both deal with one of the darkest periods in human history seen through the eyes of ordinary people.
Circe  3. Circe by Madeline Miller

This was my favourite to win the Women’s Prize as I adored it so much. Miller’s novel tells the story of Circe, a witch who plays a minor figure in The Odyssey. I loved how Miller structured the novel to be a little like The Odyssey. It is a series of adventures which follow a main character, and what a main character Circe is! At first I wasn’t sure if I would connect to her, as she is a goddess or witch who can turn men to pigs or conjure up lions. Yet Miller imbues her with human qualities which make her incredibly endearing, and places her in situations which the reader can relate to. Everyone can identify with the idea of unrequited love for example. Circe’s character arc as well was a joy to read. Seeing her evolve from an insecure girl to a capable, intelligent woman was delightful and empowering. You don’t need to have read The Odyssey to enjoy Circe as the novel stands up very well on its own.
My Sister the Serial Killer  2. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

At first, I wasn’t sure if Braithwaite’s novel should have made the Women’s Prize shortlist. I did really enjoy reading it, but I felt that more novels on the list were more experimental and perhaps boundary-pushing. But My Sister, the Serial Killer has since grown on me, and I bloody love it. It focuses on two sisters; Korede, who works as a nurse and has a crush on a doctor, and Ayoola, the prettier, younger sister and serial killer of the title. The novels with Ayoola killing her third victim and her sister helps her dispose of the body. However, when Ayoola and Korede’s crush fall in love, Korede has a decision to make. Does she hand her sister into the police, or risk the life of the man she loves? The novel has been described as a thriller, and I can see why critics would describe it as such. But I found it more a study into this complex relationship between the sisters; certainly I found their dynamic to be the most interesting aspect of the book. There are also flashbacks to their childhoods which may provide some clues as to their behaviour. The chapters are short and sharp, and Braithwaite has written some darkly humourous moments into the narrative, making My Sister, the Serial Killer a fast, enthralling read. It is hard to compare it to anything as I’ve never read anything like it.
Blonde   1. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

My love of Marilyn Monroe (and again, set in America in the 1960s) trumps all. Blonde is a fictional account of the actress, starting with her childhood all the way to her death in 1962. Oates has done an incredible job researching Monroe’s life, I’m currently reading a biography on her and the majority of events from the novel match it. Oates doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of Monroe’s life, especially her career and the sexual assaults that happened in Hollywood. In some ways it is hard to imagine that Blonde was written in 2000, before Weinstein, before MeToo, it just feels so current. I also loved how Oates played around with language, for example she includes actual quotations from Monroe throughout, blending the fact and fiction really well. When Monroe starts to break down so does the language, often seen through the use of repetition and ellipses. Not only is it a brilliant, creative, intelligent novel but also a celebration of a remarkable woman who fought to take control of her work and image away from the men who treated her as nothing but a warm body. Fans of Monroe will get more out of this book, but anyone who hasn’t seen a single movie of hers will also enjoy it.

And there you have it! Like I said, I will be returning to the top 10 format in December. I reckon quite a few books I’ve got on my TBR will make it; the ones that jump out are the aforementioned Monroe biography, Daisy Jones and the Six, The Radium Girls, and The Five. But we shall see in another six months whether these live up to their hype. Fingers crossed they do!

5 Poems to Read for National Poetry Month

Hi everyone! So most people probably already know this, but April was National Poetry Month in the US and Canada. Despite being from neither of these countries and missing April by two days (blame the Women’s Prize!), I still wanted to join in and recommend some poems that I really enjoy. Hope you do too! A couple of these poems have been mentioned before on my blog but some I’ve not yet had the chance to mention here, which is a shame because these are some of my favourite poems. I will leave links to them so if you fancied reading them you can. Most of them are from Poetry Foundation which is a great website for exploring poems and their writers. But without further ado, I’ll jump into the poems:

Ae Fond Kiss – Robert Burns

Not technically a poem but a song. Off to a good start. However this is my favourite work of Burns, and can be read as a tribute to lost love. It is a sad and poignant piece, but there is so much love and passion that radiates off the page it never becomes maudlin or self-indulgent. Everyone has been in a relationship that has ended or had their heart broken, so ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ is quite a relatable poem, despite being written in 1791. Burns really captures the rawness of those early days. If you haven’t read any Burns then this is a good place to start.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – T.S Eliot  

Prufrock devastated me when I first read it as an undergraduate, and it still moves me to this day. Eliot nails down the feelings of loneliness and never being good enough, and it really connected with me. His imagery is also stunning, evoking these beautiful and sad segments of a life yet also hinting at underlying themes. In particular I love the phrase: ‘In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo’. It’s such a wonderful encapsulation of the poem. Eliot’s use of repetition and intertextuality also help to make Prufrock an incredible piece of poetry.

My Last Duchess – Robert Browning 

This is what happens when a  thriller meets poetry. And it’s wonderful. The premise is a Duke is showing a gentleman a portrait of his last wife and begins to talk about what happened to her. Browning’s language is so rich; conveying so many different interpretations that you notice something new each time you read it. The use of rhyming couplets is also brilliantly done; it almost lulls you into a false sense of security with the rhythm before you realise what the Duke is inferring. He is also a really unreliable narrator which works perfectly for this poem. Robert Browning is one of my favourite Victorian poets and ‘My Last Duchess’ is definitely my favourite of his.

Goblin Market – Christina Rossetti 

The longest poem on this list but well worth the effort. Sisters Lizzie and Laura live alone, hearing goblin merchants selling fruits during the night. Laura consumes some of the fruit, despite her sister’s warnings, and slowly begins to deteriorate. It is up to Lizzie to save her. Whilst ‘Goblin Market’ has these magical and fairytale-esque elements, it really is a poem about familial love. The relationship between Lizzie and Laura is wonderfully drawn and is the heart of the poem. It can be read as a feminist critique of Victorian society, capitalism, or an exploration of drug addiction. But I shall leave you to your own interpretations of this brilliant poem.

Medusa – Carol Ann Duffy

‘Medusa’ comes from Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife and I would highly recommend any of the poems featured in it. This poem is told from the perspective of Medusa, and it is implied that she is talking to Perseus. Duffy, in a similar way to Madeline Miller’s Circe, takes a female figure from Greek mythology and gives her a voice. Medusa is quite a sad, lonely figure; unable to look upon anything without it turning to stone. The reader feels sympathy for her. That is, until the last line. It is so ambiguous that it leaves the entire poem up for interpretation which I really enjoyed. You are never quite sure what you have read.

 

And those are my 5! What are some of your favourite poems? Let me know – or if you’ve read any of the ones mentioned above, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Top 10 Books of 2018 (so far)

Hi everyone! Since we’re now in the middle of June – no idea where the time has gone – I’d thought I would look at the last six months and see which books have been my favourites. It’ll be interesting to compare this list to the one at the end to see the changes (or at least I think so anyway).

All the books mentioned I’ve read for the first time in 2018 (sorry Rebecca but I still love you!) though they may not necessarily have been published this year. I’ll keep this short and sweet as I’m sure you don’t want to hear me repeating myself, plus I’ll leave a link to the individual reviews if you want to find out more.

So without further ado, here are my top 10 books of 2018 so far:

 

10. A Dash of Flash by Millie Thom

 

A really sweet collection of flash fiction, filled to the brim with hilarious and touching stories. I had never read flash fiction before this and believe this is an excellent book to start with. Thom succinctly writes, every word is used to the fullest with no fat still clinging to the narratives.

Review of A Dash of Flash

 

9. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

My last review so it will be interesting to see how I feel about it in a few months. First impressions: loved it. It tells the story of Jojo who lives with his grandparents, drug addict mother Leonie and younger sister Kayla. When his father Michael is released from prison Leonie takes the kids on a road trip to meet him.

Lyrical, visceral and haunting, Ward successfully combines gritty realism and magic to discuss topics such as race and drug abuse. It is obvious to see why it has had such high acclaim.

Review of Sing, Unburied, Sing

 

8. Gary, the Four Eyed Fairy and Other Stories by Frank Mundo

My favourite short story collection so far, Gary the Four Eyed Fairy is a group of connected stories following the (mis)adventures of security guard J.T Glass.

Warm and witty, Mundo captures Glass’ voice completely that it sings off the page. Mixing humour with touches of pathos makes this an impressive collection and Mundo a writer to watch.

Review of Gary, the Four Eyed Fairy and Other Stories

 

7. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

My first ever Pym novel but certainly not my last, Excellent Women follows thirty something Mildred Lathbury whose live is turned upside down when she meets her new neighbours the Napiers. She has a particularly soft spot for Rockingham.

This novel cheered me up, a refreshing change from the more dramatic novels I read (and who may be making an appearance later). Pym’s eye for detail is wonderful and her descriptions of post-war English society made me laugh. If you need a good book to curl into on a rainy day; this is it.

Review of Excellent Women

 

6. Ponti by Sharlene Teo

This one has lingered with me for months, it felt like an injustice to not have it here. Teenager Szu lives in Singapore with her mother Amisa, a once horror film star, and her aunt. A bit of a loner at school, she feels isolated until she is befriended by Circe. We trace the lives of these women from the latter half of the 20th century to the 2020s.

Teo successfully weaves complex characters into an intriguing and thrilling plot, and it is hard to believe this is a debut. The characters of Amisa, Szu and Circe are still with me after months of putting the book down. Another author to watch.

Review of Ponti

 

5. The Waves by Virginia Woolf

The Waves follows a group of friends from childhood to middle age, and we watch them grow, struggling with love and loss. Told through multiple perspectives Woolf allows the reader a glimpse into the mindset of each character.

This is my favourite of Woolf’s novels that I’ve read.  It seems odd to call this a novel as at times it feels poetic. As always with Woolf the language is beautiful and evocative, and your heart aches for these characters as they try and make their way through life.

Review of The Waves

 

4. Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr

I don’t think this small volume of two of Dr King’s works needs any introduction. A searing account of race relations in 1960s USA; yet what elevates this is King’s refusal to give up hope and believe in a better, more equal society. A fascinating, tragic book and one that sadly is still relevant in the world today.

Review of Letter from Birmingham Jail

 

3. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

The well-deserved winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this month, the novel is a retelling of the Greek play Antigone. Set in modern day London, we follow the lives of siblings Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz. While Isma and Aneeka study at University, Parvaiz is drawn to darker forces and ultimately joins ISIS.

Like Dr King’s book previously, this is highly topical for today, discussing the experience of being Muslim and how people can be radicalised. Shamsie never tells you what to think; she only provides you with what happened and it is up to you whether to forgive or condemn.

Review of Home Fire

 

2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I read this all the way back in January but it is still seared into memory. It also has the dubious honour of being the only book this year to make me cry (seriously don’t read this while in public. It’s embarrassing). Lincoln’s young son Willie dies after suffering an unknown illness. He is interred in the cemetery where he meets a group of ghosts who refuse to acknowledge that they are dead.

Combining the heart-wrenching sorrow of losing a child with dick jokes, Lincoln in the Bardo certainly isn’t for everyone. Saunders’ structure is odd too; as the novel reads more like a play, giving an intimacy and urgency to the story. One that isn’t easy to forget.

Review of Lincoln in the Bardo

 

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Does this one really need any explanation? Tolstoy’s masterpiece follows the eponymous Anna as she begins an affair with Count Vronsky; much to the scandal of Russian society.

And if you’re thinking; ‘How has it taken you this long to read Anna Karenina?!’ My only response is that I’m a total moron. It has everything; love, loss, despair, humour that it is obvious why it is considered a classic. And Anna is probably one of my favourite characters of all time, with the supporting characters all well-developed.

Review of Anna Karenina

That’s it! If you made it through the list, well done! I tried to keep the waffling to a minimum.

Let me know down below what your favourite books have been so far.

My Top 10 Books of 2017

Hi everyone! I still can’t quite believe we are in the final days of 2017. The year seems to have flown by. After reading other top 10 lists, I decided that my final post of this year will be a look back at my favourites and I can start 2018 with some new reviews.

Before I start I should mention that the books here are ones I read for the first time in 2017, and were not necessarily published this year. I also started my blog in May meaning there is one book on this list that doesn’t have a review and, finally, the numbers 10 – 2 are randomly ranked as I just couldn’t decide between them. However number 1 is my favourite book of 2017.

I will shut up now and dive into the books!

10. Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

This is The Daily Show’s host reflecting on growing up in the final years and immediate aftermath of apartheid. He tackles serious issues, such as racism and domestic abuse, yet there are other stories of happiness and hope. His mother is a very admirable woman and their relationship seems to be the driving force behind the book.

I found the memoirs incredibly readable, with Noah successfully explaining the laws of apartheid in a clear and concise way. Even if you are not familiar with South African history it is still an easy book to follow. Despite the horrors depicted within, it is also incredibly funny and witty. If you have seen Noah’s stand-up you may know some of the stories here, but there are plenty of new ones so it doesn’t feel like a regurgitation of his set. Overall I found Born a Crime a very enjoyable read.

9. All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

Set in the Deep South our protagonist is teenager John Grady Cole. Hearing that the ranch he has lived on all his life is to be sold, he runs away to Mexico with his best friend Lacey Rawlins. Along the way they befriend another boy, Jimmy Blevins, and the novel follows the three of them and their adventures in this new, strange land.

This is probably one of the most beautifully written books I read in 2017. The final image in particular was stunning, and I remember rereading that last paragraph a few times before finally putting the book down. I also admire how McCarthy evokes the sadness of a passing of a way of life but doesn’t make the novel mawkish. It seems more of a tribute to that lifestyle than anything else. The beautiful language and imagery catapulted All the Pretty Horses to my favourites this year.

Full review here

8. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

Capote’ famous novella centres around a brownstone apartment building in 1940s New York. Our narrator is reminiscing about his time with his downstairs neighbour, the vivacious Holly Golightly.

Again the language used here is beautiful. The word choice appears so simple but there is plenty of meaning and depth when you reflect further. It is a well-crafted novella with not a word wasted. The characters as well I found really well done, in particular Holly Golightly. She could so easily have slipped into the trope of Manic Pixie Dream Girl however Capote gives her enough personality that she never does. While I was not particularly enamoured with the short stories in my edition, the novella more than makes up for them.

Full review here

7. The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau by Graeme Macrae Burnet

In a sleepy backwater town in France the waitress Adele Bedeau goes missing. Assigned to track her down is Inspector Georges Gorski, who is still plagued by an unsolved murder years previously. We also follow Manfred Baumann, a regular at the restaurant Adele works for and who may know more than what he tells Gorski.

I found this a very gripping literary thriller. Macrae Burnet has written so many twists and turns into the narrative it is hard guessing what has happened. Yet the disappearance of Adele seems to act as a simple plot device, as a way for us to read about Baumann and Gorski. The characterisation of the two of them is brilliant, and you start to notice the parallels between them. The ending as well I thought was great. This was an excellent first novel for the Gorski series to start with and hopefully I will pick up the sequel in 2018.

Full review here

6. Lara – Anna Pasternak

My most recent read and one I think will probably go up in my estimations the more I reflect on it. Anna Pasternak tells of the affair between her great-uncle Boris and Olga Ivinskaya, who would become the main inspiration for Lara in Doctor Zhivago. Yet the novel, due to its ‘anti-Soviet’ nature, places their families in danger, with Olga being sent to labour camps in Potma twice.

I think Anna Pasternak has written a very touching tribute to Boris and Olga. Despite all the horrors described in the book, their love is the main force in the story and certainly the thing I remember most. Pasternak also successfully blends in quotes from the people who lived through this period, as well as facts and her own observations. Therefore you get a very well-rounded view of the events taking place, and the thoughts and feelings of those in them. Even if you have never read Doctor Zhivago, this book is still worth checking out.

Full review here.

5. Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Our narrator is Thomas McNulty who has emigrated to America from Ireland. Here he befriends and falls in love with John Cole, and the novel follows their life together. They start off as dancers at a local bar before joining the army and fighting in both the Indian Wars and later the American Civil War.

I will never understand why this didn’t make the Man Booker shortlist this year. It is simply stunning. Barry tackles a lot of big themes e.g. war, sexuality and love and successfully weaves them into an incredible narrative. His word choice and imagery are extremely evocative, especially when depicting warfare and the aftermath. The characters, particularly Thomas McNulty, are really well-written. You care about these characters and their plights. It has made me want to check out more of Barry’s work.

Full review here.

4. Montpelier Parade – Karl Geary

This is a debut novel following Sonny Knolls who lives quite a downtrodden life in Dublin. He works part-time at a butchers and occasionally helps his builder father. While they are fixing a collapsed wall Sonny meets Vera, a beautiful older woman. The two of them quickly form a relationship but it soon becomes clear that Vera has secrets of her own.

This book nearly had me in tears. I found it an incredibly emotional read. Sonny was such an interesting, sympathetic character that even if he did something wrong you still rooted for him. There was also a frustration that people seemed reluctant to help him better himself. Geary’s writing style was simple but so effective. He also nails the classist attitudes prevalent in society and that is shown through the characters of Sonny and Vera. I’m delighted that the novel is started to receive more attention, and I can’t wait to see what Geary writes next.

Full review here 

3. The Dark Circle – Linda Grant

Set after the Second World War, twins Lenny and Miriam are sent to a sanatorium in Kent after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. There they meet a whole cast of characters of differing age and class. Word starts to spread that a potentially life-saving drug is around the corner, and both the patients and their relatives outside are desperate to get their hands on it.

I think this is my favourite out of all the Bailey’s Prize shortlist books that I’ve read (sorry The Power fans). The characters of Lenny and Miriam have stayed with me since I first read it. In particular, I really loved Lenny’s character development. You watch him go from a teenager to a young man and Grant conveys it brilliantly. You connect to the characters and hope that they can survive their illness. While I’m still unsure about the ending, the characters more than make up for it. There are still passages that I go back and reread.

Full review here.

2. Solar Bones – Mike McCormack

Told in a single sentence, we follow Marcus Conway as he reflects upon his life. He reminisces about his father, as well as his relationships with his wife and children. He also looks back at the political landscape of Ireland, such as elections and the economic crash.

Again I think this was robbed of a place on the Man Booker shortlist. McCormack tells the story of an ordinary man through extraordinary prose. I never found it boring, though I can see why its critics think that. Not a lot happens. But I really enjoyed Marcus’s reflections on his life. He is a very complex character, someone you like and dislike at various points, but his thoughts are always fascinating. I found myself reflecting on my own life and relationships after I had finished.

Full review here.

1. The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

One day Dr Faraday is called to the crumbling Hundreds Hall to attend to a sickly maid. While there he meets the owner Mrs Ayres and her two children, Roderick and Caroline. The maid warns him of a sinister presence in the house and he laughs it off. However increasingly bizarre and spooky events start to occur, events that Faraday struggles to find a reasonable explanation for.

I loved this novel. I don’t know what I have been doing putting off reading it. Waters does a wonderful job of creating suspense, leaving you finishing one chapter and wanting to instantly jump into the next. The characters are also a joy to read. Dr Faraday is a fantastic unreliable narrator and the Ayres family all felt like individuals. There wasn’t a bum note here at all. My praising of this novel probably verges on cringy, which you can read down below.

Full review here.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoy the rest of festive season and I will see you in 2018 for more bookish chat.

Books to dip into this St. Andrew’s Day

Hi everyone! Today I thought I would do something a bit different. As it is the 30th November aka St Andrew’s Day here in Scotland, I thought I would share some of my favourite books written by Scottish authors or set here. I have a mixture of novels, poetry and plays so hopefully there is something here for everyone. I have linked all the texts I talk about at the very end if you wanted to find out more, though sadly I couldn’t find publishers for some of them. Instead I have either linked to Amazon or a review so you can still get a bit more information. So grab an Irn Bru or even a wee dram and let’s get going.

Novels

Joseph Knight by James Robertson

If you like your historical fiction you should definitely check this one out. Set between Jamaica and Scotland, the novel tells the true story of Joseph Knight, an enslaved man who is bought by John Wedderburn, a Scottish plantation owner. When Wedderburn decides to return home to the outskirts of Edinburgh, he takes Knight with him. When there Knight files a freedom suit against his owner. The court case that ensued would be a significant landmark in Scots law.

The novel darts back and forth between Wedderburn as a young man and when he is much older and becomes curious about what happened to Knight after the trial. The revelations unveiled by this way of narrating reveals a horrifying account of Scotland’s participation in the slave trade, as well as presenting a gripping court drama and literary mystery. Robertson paints this world so vividly that you feel you are with these characters, whether they are in the high street of Dundee or on a sugar plantation in Westmoreland. It is such a fascinating, though sadly largely forgotten, part of our history. If you haven’t checked out this author’s work I would really recommend it.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

I know this book and Logan’s short story collection, A Portable Shelter, were quite popular on Booktube, so I imagine a few people will know this one. It is set in a future where the majority of the Earth has flooded, with only a few pockets of land left where the privileged stay. Everyone else, known as ‘damplings’, live on water. Gracekeepers are isolated individuals who perform the burial rites for damplings. The novel follows two protagonists, North who lives and works with her bear in a travelling circus, and Callanish, a gracekeeper who is harbouring a dark secret.

I think this book has something for everyone. There are romance, adventure, fantasy aspects woven into the narrative so flawlessly by Logan, that even if you’re not a fan of one of those genres you will still get something out of it. There are plenty of twists and turns that you never know what will happen next, and you’re left at the end of a chapter desperate to read the next. Also Avalon, the wife of the circus ringleader, is one of my favourite villains of the last couple of years. Her ambition and ruthlessness makes The Gracekeepers such a thrilling read. I think Logan has a new book coming out next year and I can’t wait to pick it up.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

A slim book (despite the mouthful of a title) that really packs a punch. Published in 1824, the story follows anti-hero Robert Wringhim, the (supposedly) illegitimate son of the Laird of Dalcastle. Shunned by the Laird, he lives with his mother and a Calvinist reverend, who claims that Robert is one of the few predestined by God to enter heaven. Not long after hearing this revelation, Robert is befriended by a young man. Gil-Martin (an old Scottish term for the Devil) persuades Robert that given he is going to heaven no matter what, he can surely do whatever he likes. Including murder.

This book is absolutely, brilliantly bonkers. I have reread it numerous times and studied it at University, and still find something new when opening the pages. Is Gil-Martin real or a mere figment of Robert’s imagination? Is Robert an unreliable narrator? Can we even trust the fictional editor who is in charge of Robert’s diary? The reader is left to figure these out for themselves. The dialogue, written in Scots, is incredibly witty and clever. Hogg’s turns of phrases at points seem inspired. Despite the sometimes difficult language however it is very readable. Reading about Robert and Gil-Martin is so thrilling, and there is so much stuff crammed into here, that The Private Memoirs… is impossible to put down. Lovers of Gothic stories will find plenty to enjoy here. Part crime fiction, part religious satire, this book is a fascinating read, and one of my favourites.

Poetry

The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

Moving from one of my favourite novels to one of my favourite poetry collections, this is the first themed collection by the current Poet Laureate. As you can guess from the title, each poem centres around a famous wife or lover in history. They are all named after the woman in the poem and Duffy has used a mixture of real and fictional people. So for example we have people like Anne Hathaway and Mrs Darwin, to Mrs Lazarus and even Queen Kong.

I love this collection of poetry (obviously). I think it is such a clever idea. You are seeing famous men portrayed in such a different way than normal, and the often forgotten women beside them finally gaining a voice. To read about their perspective gives you another way to approach these famous figures or stories and I found it really refreshing. Duffy also switches between drama and comedy very well. One poem can be a very sombering experience, whilst the next can be very witty and charming. Despite the differences in tone, the collection still holds up under Duffy’s deft hand. My two favourites are complete opposites and illustrate my point; ‘Medusa’ and ‘Mrs Darwin’. The World’s Wife is a clever, fun read and one you should definitely check out even if you’re not a massive fan of poetry. In fact, I would say this is perhaps a good starting place if you would like to get into poetry.

The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay

Another debut collection which feels much more personal than the last. Rather a new narrator for each poem there are only three; a black girl adopted into a white family, her adoptive mother and her birth mother. As the collection unfolds, it is like we gain little snippets of their thoughts and feelings. I imagine Kay is drawing on her own experiences here, as she was adopted by a Glaswegian couple when she was a child.

This is a very raw collection. Kay’s prose is beautiful, very lyrical and at points almost dream-like. Her word choice is incredible. Yet there still feels like there is an anger bubbling away beneath the surface. That may sound a bit strange to say, but I think Kay pulls it off remarkably. While the main theme is adoption and the effects it has, there is plenty more to discuss in the collection. Kay touches on what it means to be Scottish, what it means to be black and living in Scotland and to come from a working-class background. She combines all these themes of nationalism, class, race and sexuality and does so effortlessly. The collection never feels muddled or trying to say too much. Kay handles these complex topics really well, and it is hard to believe this is a debut. I don’t know if I can necessarily single out one poem, as I think they work much better as a whole, but the last one broke my heart.

Drama

In My Father’s Words by Justin Young

Set in Canada, our protagonist is University Classics lecturer Dr Louis Bennett, whose elderly father Don has dementia. When Don’s speech turns to gibberish, Louis hires a carer Flora to look after his ailing father. However Flora discovers that Don isn’t speaking gibberish at all, it is in fact Gaelic which she can also speak. This comes as a shock to Louis; he didn’t know his father spoke Gaelic or even came from Scotland. As we watch the three characters struggle to cope with the worsening dementia, Louis reflects on his turbulent relationship with his father.

Warning: you will need tissues for this one. This is a heartbreaking story, from Don’s illness to Louis’ revelation he never really knew his father. However nothing feels ‘in your face’. The topic of dementia is sensitively handled and it is clear that Young researched and put a lot of thought into the topic. It isn’t a melodramatic or maudlin portrayal; just a painfully realistic one. The theme of language and its significance also plays a large part in the play. The discovery of Don’s return to Gaelic, his mother tongue, is a powerful moment; instead of talking of nonsense as Don suspected, he is in fact reliving his past. Don himself also struggles with language; not just in trying to communicate with his father but also in his work, as he attempts to translate Homer. Young contrasts these two really well, with Flora acting as a go-between the two men. I saw this play performed when it first opened in Scotland and found it incredibly moving. If you ever get the chance to read or see it live then I highly recommend you check it out.

The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil by John McGrath

If you want to know a wee bit more about Scottish history then this is the play for you. Set in the Highlands from the 1700s to the 20th century, the play opens with crofters being banned from wearing tartan or speaking Gaelic, and later being ousted from their land to make way for Cheviot sheep farming. Over the course of the narrative we witness the changing landscape of Scotland. The sheep farming and gentry’s stag hunting take over acres of land, with many working-class people living in slums. Then we have the oil boom of the east coast.

The play does have an unusual structure, which appears odd at first. Whilst the timeline is linear there isn’t really a plot per se. Instead there is a series of sketches, capturing brief moments of a period of time. It is like watching a history documentary spent up. However once you get into it, there is a lot to enjoy. It is fast-paced and McGrath’s way with words is such a joy to read or listen to. It also includes elements of a ceilidh, so there is plenty of dancing and traditional music, which works as a contrast between the grim subject matters. Like I said history buffs would enjoy this play immensely, but even if you don’t know anything about Scottish history I think you will like it. The Cheviot…deals with themes such as class, dispossession and the question of identity which I think anyone can relate to.

And there you have it! My favourite stories linked to Scotland. I can already hear half the nation screaming at me. Where is Rabbie Burns? Why no How Late It Was, How Late? How could you have missed Sunset Song, you complete moron?! To be honest I considered talking about all of these, but I figured no one wants to read a blog post the size of a Game of Thrones novel. Perhaps I’ll save those for next year, or even Burns Night.

The reviews will return early next week so keep your eyes peeled. Until then, let me know in the comments which Scottish novel/author is your favourite.

Happy St. Andrew’s Day!

Links

Joseph Knight
The Gracekeepers
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
The World’s Wife
The Adoption Papers
In My Father’s Words
The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black OilThe Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil