Category Archives: Books

End of Year Reading Wrap Up – November

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Before we fall too far into 2016, it’s time to update you on my November and December reads and wrap up the year with a few reading stats!

I started November with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. After deciding it was about time I read some Christie, I headed to Foyles. I was completely overwhelmed by the choice but figured the bestselling mystery novel of all time was probably a good place to start! I definitely was not disappointed. And Then There Were None follows the story of ten individuals who are mysteriously invited to a remote private island and are murdered one by one. With nobody else on the island, it is the ultimate whodunit! We ended up reading this at our work book club and not one of us had correctly guessed the identity of the murderer before the big reveal. Christie is so clever in quickly changing your mind as soon as you are on the right track. The BBC’s recent adaptation is definitely worth a watch too, whether you read the book first or not. Despite the addition of sex and drugs to spice things up a bit for the screen, it remains faithful to Christie’s intelligent story.

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After all that crime, I turned to one of the best “women’s fiction” or “chick lit” (if we must use that term) authors out there and devoured Paige Toon’s The Sun in Her Eyes. Paige always pulls me in and draws on my emotions when I least expect it. It often takes a few chapters, but by the end I am completely addicted. The Sun in Her Eyes is one of the best of Paige’s novels I’ve read (up there with One Perfect Summer!) and tells the story of Amber Church, who survived at age three the car crash that killed her mother and is about to discover her mother’s dying words that may change her life forever.

My final read of November was Emerald Fennell’s Monsters, a recent YA release from Hot Key Books with one of the best cover designs this year (look closely!). Emerald Fennell, who is best known for her role in Call the Midwife, has created a fantastically dark murder mystery, set in a seemingly perfect seaside town, with some very sinister children at its heart. This is YA at its best, with no fear of nastiness. Do not underestimate the brilliance of this book.

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I will continue the end of year wrap up with my December books later in the week. Until then, happy reading!

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October Reading Wrap-Up

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I started the month with a short free ebook of Jim Smith’s My Dad is a Loser by Barry Loser. The Barry Loser series is really popular with children 7+ and I hoped this promotional ebook would give me a taste of it. Unfortunately, it didn’t really enthuse me to check out the rest. These free ebooks are so difficult to get right though, and I imagine it might not be entirely representative of the series as a whole, which has previously won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. I would take a bet that it would be a good addition to the shelves of any child who has already made their way through The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Mr Gum, and who enjoys the series format.

My second children’s book of the month was an absolute favourite of mine: Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death. This is the second in the Goth Girl series, which follows the adventures of Ada Goth, daughter of Lord Goth, in their enormous and mysterious home, Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Riding on the Great British Bake Off bandwagon, this installment of Ada’s story sees celebrity cooks, from Nigellina Sugarspoon and the Hairy Hikers through to Mary Huckleberry and Gordon Ramsgate, arriving at the hall for the Full-Moon Fete and the Great Ghastly-Gorm Bake Off. It is witty and full of clever references that will inevitably appeal to parents reading along with their children. Chris Riddell’s illustrations bring the story alive and the incredible production of the book, with shiny red sprayed edges, beautiful gothic end pages and a ribbon, make this a stunning object to own and a fantastic gift.

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Later in October, I picked up the third in the series, Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright, at a Waterstone’s event with Chris Riddell and Emily Gravett, and I can’t wait to read it. The event was fantastic. Chris Riddell is constantly brimming with enthusiasm and ideas, which he willing shares with everyone. I got the impression that he has been a great mentor to the wonderful Emily Gravett (author and illustrator of Wolves and many other picture books) and, after hearing him speak, I am more pleased than ever that he was appointed as Children’s Laureate.

Moving on to some YA, we reached a momentous point this month… I finally finished The Hunger Games! I am incredibly behind the times, but I felt Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay was a fitting end to the series. I gradually became more annoyed by Katniss’ ongoing Peeta/Gale dilemmas, but it was still a very enjoyable and addictive read. It even infected my dreams for a couple of nights. I think I was on a mission to kill President Snow!

My graphic novel of the month was This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, which I picked up at Gosh! Comics in Soho. I bought it primarily because it is one of the first graphic novels aimed at the teen market that I’d really heard people talking about. On an initial flick through, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me where the buzz surrounding this book had come from, but I was pleasantly surprised. On the face of it, it is a classic coming of age story: two young girls who have spent many summer holidays together at the beach discover secrets, boys, heartaches and family breakups. Once you dive in, however, it is an incredibly realistic portrayal of teenage friendships with some surprisingly dark subject matter and a healthy dose of feminism thrown in. I found the characters annoying and infuriating at points, but it only added to how real they felt.

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I picked up I’ve Lived in East London for 86½ Years by Martin Usborne at the Photobook Weekend in Shoreditch, where lots of small, independent and local presses were selling their photography books. I’d had my eye on this one, the first in Hoxton Mini Press’ East London Photo Stories series, for a while. It is a beautiful book full of photographs celebrating both East London and a man, Joseph Markovitch, who lived there for 86½ years. His wonderful character comes across in the photos and his select words which are scattered throughout: “I like to walk because I see things that I would never see, like boats and ships and strange people’s faces. I would like to walk in the rainforest but I’d have to be careful of the snakes and the spiders, it’s very dense over there.”

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Finally in October, I read some non-fiction. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science is a fascinating look into the study of sexual physiology. Mary Roach is a truly brilliant writer who made this book addictive reading with hilarious stories of her research (which took her to pig farms, sex toy labs and inside an MRI scanner) and insights into the aspects of sex most people have never even thought to ask about. I would particularly recommend this to anyone who is just getting into reading more non-fiction or anyone who enjoyed the recent Institute of Sexology exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London or the Masters and Johnson drama on Channel 4. I warn you though, you will get strange looks if you read this on the tube, which only goes to show how much time commuters spend reading over other people’s shoulders. Perhaps they wouldn’t be so nosy if they thought to bring their own book. Don’t they know they are wasting valuable reading time?!

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September Reading Wrap-Up

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As the clock struck midnight on 1st September, I was tucked up in bed reading Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods, a set of five intensely creepy graphic short stories. These spine-tingling tales had me turning on all the lights and checking for monsters under the bed before I could even think of attempting to sleep. It is an incredibly impressive piece of work that rewards repeated readings. The more time you spend with each image, the creepier they become; trees turn into spindly hands and deep reds melt into blood. With very few words, Emily Carroll’s haunting illustrations brought a cloud of terror over me. I wasn’t really sure what I was frightened of, and that is, of course, the most frightening thing of all.

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In need of some light relief, I turned to YA contemporary How to Be Bad, a collaboration between E. Lockhart (author of the fantastic We Were Liars), Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski. The basic premise of this book is that three girls, the stereotyped good girl, the wild-child and the posh new girl in town, take a road trip and discover the true meaning of being ‘bad’. It’s a fun take on the classic coming-of-age road trip novel and, despite it taking a good few chapters to properly get into it, I became really invested in the characters quite suddenly about halfway through. Definitely an enjoyable, easy read for the end of summer.

My third book of September was the fantastic Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, which I read on my Kindle. This is a YA novel about Evie, a sixteen year old with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is one of the best, most realistic, depictions of OCD I’ve ever read. I was really glad to see that it went beyond simply presenting the well-known hygiene related obsessions and compulsions and gave a true insight into the thought processes of an individual with OCD, for example by showing Evie’s belief that if she touches all the lampposts on the way home six times, her evening will go really well.

I visited Penguin’s Pop Up at BOXPARK in Shoreditch this month. It was part of Penguin’s 80th anniversary celebrations and they had a small selection of their titles on sale, as well as a fun post-it note wall of messages from visitors describing what books mean to them and a live action mural by illustrator Toby Triumph. I picked up The Lottery, a 99p short story by Shirley Jackson. Originally published in The New Yorker, it caused outrage amongst readers in the 1940s. I read this short story in one sitting and absolutely loved it, apart from the fact that I found the ending quite predictable. Sadly, I put this entirely down to the small quote on the back cover which drew my attention to an aspect of the story at the very beginning that might have otherwise passed me by. This made it quite obvious from the start what was going on, but I did still enjoy this incredibly well-written and shocking story. Next time, Penguin could probably just stick the endorsements from Neil Gaiman and Donna Tartt on the back though. As if I would ever turn down a book with those two names by it!

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My next read of September was the first in Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum series for children 7+, You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! This is a hilarious tale of a very nasty man, ‘an absolute lazer’, with an ‘absolutely grimsters’ house, who takes against the village’s favourite dog when it makes a mess of his garden. We follow a little girl, who has ‘a smile as happy as the Bank of England’, as she tries to rescue Jake the dog. Andy Stanton’s wacky and absurd writing style is really appealing and it took a lot of effort not to laugh out loud on the tube while reading this. You never quite know where the sentence is going to go: ‘She ran past big trees, little trees, tiny little trees, and tiny tiny little trees so small they were more like pebbles, in fact they were pebbles.’ This is a definite recommendation for fans of Roald Dahl and David Walliams.

My third and final YA read of September was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, which has just been made into a film. You can see the trailer here. I’m still not sure what I made of this one. It’s the story of Greg Gaines, a seventeen year old whose mother forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. The best part of this book is that is doesn’t try to follow the ‘Fault in Our Stars’ model of a romantic story about cancer, but, for me, the worst is that it is so in-your-face about it: ‘So if this were a normal book about a girl with leukemia, I would probably talk a shitload about all the meaningful things Rachel had to say as she got sicker and sicker, and also probably we would fall in love’. The narrative voice grated with me and was a little bit too Holden Caulfield-esque for my liking. Many people do absolutely love this book though, so maybe give it a go, especially if you enjoy different narrative formats as the story is told in bullet point lists and scripts, alongside the standard narration. I will still make an effort to see the film – I can definitely see that it would translate well onto the screen and it has already won awards at Sundance.

Finally, a shout out to Mike Medaglia’s One Year Wiser, a collection of 365 beautifully illustrated meditations. I work with Mike at JKP and was lucky enough to go along to his book launch at Gosh! Comics in Soho earlier this month. Whilst I haven’t made my way through the whole book this month, I have enjoyed dipping into the September pages whenever I feel like taking a breather or finding some inspiration. It’s a very beautiful object and would make a lovely gift (for those of you looking ahead to Christmas already!) You can see sample pages from the book here.

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Alexa Chung – It

When I handed over my £20 to pay for Alexa Chung’s It and this week’s copy of NME in Watermark Books earlier today, the bookseller looked at me as if to say “really, are you sure?” I like to believe that after months of working around the corner from Kings Cross, this particular bookseller has come to recognize me, and to know my literary tastes. More likely, I was merely projecting my own uncertainties onto his face. Because I wasn’t sure. And, to be honest, I’m still not.

But alas, the beauty of this clothbound object and its glorious end pages drew me in, and there was no escaping it. It had to come home with me.

It is perhaps inevitable that Alexa Chung’s debut in the publishing world would be attacked by critics, but most of the criticism is not unfounded. This strange selection of photographs, artwork, and half-autobiographical, half-mundane ramblings, with only very occassional moments of wit, is one of the most bizarre publications I’ve seen in a while. It makes very little sense, jumping from one thing (the art of exiting a car or dressing like a groupie) to another (the beauty of Twiggy or the badass brilliance of Winona Ryder in Heathers), and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is only one way to describe it: it is in fact Tumblr in book form, but with fewer cats and a disappointing lack of Benedict Cumberbatch.

And to me, there’s something appealing about that. It’s a vaguely curated Tumblr, in higher quality, and with a sort of permanence that can’t be found in the realms of the dashboard and rapid reblog.

So, Mr Watermark Books, I am not wholly disappointed. But next time, do please try to sell me the book full of Cumberbatch looking like an otter.

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