Hi folks! I’m back again. There’s been lots of activity here, hence my absence around the interwebs, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things now that my Major Stress Moment is over.
To kick back into gear, let’s go for a wrap-up! And this one is a bit of a big one, as I have two months to cover and some epic reads to discuss. So, I recommend you grab a cup of tea before we get stuck in.
The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox
I’ve had this book on my shelves for a very long time (like, years), and I am so glad I’ve finally read it. Quiet and with a dark edge that leaves you with an unsettled feeling throughout, this short novel looks at love and faith through the relationship between a man and an angel over several years. It is beautifully written and strangely moving in a way I wasn’t expecting.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I admit, this took me a really long time to get through. I think I can conclude that crime/thriller novels just aren’t my thing. So, I slogged through this one. I did find it interesting, and I can see why so many people love it, but in the end it’s not the kind of novel I like to read.
The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
This one had so much potential. The cover is one of the most stunning I have seen (please can we have more copper foiling on covers?!?!), the premise sounded fascinating – dark gothic setting and storyline with an LGBTQ+ element. But it just fell very flat in the end. The ‘gruesome’ things that were supposed to be ‘gothic’ seemed pretty tame, and the writing didn’t frame it well enough to give it that undercurrent of fear that all great gothic novels twist into life. A lot more could have been done with this story.
The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan
Logan’s short story collection is certainly an interesting and mixed array. I actually much preferred this slightly dark and twisted collection over The Gracekeepers, and hope to pick up further collections of hers. Looking at love from many different directions, the collection covers a diverse spectrum of emotions and themes that make it both endearing at times and disturbing. Highly recommend.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m not crying, you’re crying! Once again, Miller has written an extraordinary novel retelling Greek myth, this time following the story of the witch Circe. Rich, three-dimensional characters fill the pages and give life to the ancient original, with Miller’s impressive blend of the traditional bardic style and contemporary prose. The feminist slant is subtle and beautifully done, with an ending that – alright, I admit – left me in tears.
The Wicker King by K. Ancrum
I thought I’d enjoy this one for the unique layout and intriguing premise, blending mental health and fantasy – what is real? As the pages literally get darker, you are further pulled into this brilliantly confusing mess of a story that fully encapsulates how it feels as your mind and the mind of your best friend slowly slips away. I read this in a day and absolutely adored it. Gut-twisting and heart-wrenchingly good. More people should be picking this one up.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
And, as if I hadn’t had enough of teenage boys with mental illness, I picked up this odd, contemporary-with-a-bit-of-sci-fi that has had a lot of positive reviews for good reason. The prose is beautiful, hilarious and poignant, with some stunning lines that leave you simply staring at the page in wonder. The unfolding of the whys and whats of what came before the novel begins are revealed slowly and carefully, carrying you along. I did find it a little repetitive in places, and I think one of the characters could’ve been given a little more time and space to really get to know what he was going through, but otherwise this is another one to definitely pick up if you haven’t already.
The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
On the one hand, this is a book with its feet firmly in the 60s and 70s. On the other, it is truly terrifying how Atwood is able to see things as they are so that they resonate to the modern day. Full of sharp wit and satire, this is a book that gets to the heart of feminist discourse in an everyday context – the shaping of ourselves, our personality, our lives based on the actions, words and thoughts of those around us. Connecting the life of the protagonist with food and consumption is brilliant and suitably unnerving.
Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
Another book I’ve had on my shelves for years, this is considered a classic of Japanese fiction. It has a quiet, ruminating pace and, for a Western reader, illuminates the Japanese mentality and heart (kokoro) to relationships between friends, family and lovers. There’s also a balance between age and youth, and a melancholic air throughout that comes from regrets and paths not taken.
A Line Made by Walking by Sarah Baume
This is an interesting novel, centring around an artist and the photographs she takes of dead animals that are shown in each chapter. It is very much a book about mental health, and it resonated with me quite deeply. There isn’t much of a plot, so if that’s what keeps you hooked on a story, this isn’t for you. But the understanding and framing of loneliness, self-imposed isolation and the feelings of inadequacy that come with depression is exquisite and thought-provoking. It’s a very internal book: well-crafted and intriguing.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
A classic, and one I’m glad I finally picked up. This is another book that gets to the heart of mental illness and shows the terrifying responses society has and had for people suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. Carrying the beauty of Plath’s poetry with the harshness of her own struggles with mental health, it really is an extraordinary read.
Love Without Resistance by Gilles Rozier
Another long-time shelf filler, this short novel is set during the Second World War when a young woman helps a Jewish man escape into her basement. The most interesting part of the book is the insight into the linguistics of German and Yiddish, all framed through poetry and literature. The narrator is not the most likeable of characters, and at no point did I feel particularly sympathetic to her as she seemed to have no sympathy for anyone else in the book. The relationship with language is central to the novel, and I would’ve liked to have seen that explored in much more detail and intimacy than anything else.
A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J Maas
A little break from the more hard-hitting books and literary style with some YA fantasy romance in the next instalment of the ACOTAR series. I love these books for the escapism and wonderful characters teaming up to fight the bad guys. There’s less of that in this novella, as it is only a kind of epilogue for the events of the last book and a set up for what’s to come. I’m a teensy bit concerned about some of the directions the series could take, but I’m still very much looking forward to the next one. What can I say, I like me some fairy fluff…
Head On by John Scalzi
I was so pleased to find out the follow-up to Lock In had just been released and instantly got the audiobook – once again narrated by Wil Wheaton. Not quite as good as the first, but still fun and an interesting take on the future. As I’ve admitted, not a great crime fan, but these are something a bit different, and the audiobooks really are fantastic.
Lost Connections by Johann Hari
A non-fiction read about Hari’s research into the causes and potential solutions for people suffering with depression and anxiety. There’s a lot of interesting insights here (and some slightly terrifying things that will make me think twice about healthcare in the future), and it is a book that definitely invites you to explore and understand these things for yourself. Hari gives an overview, with his own personal revelations and what he sees as possible changes we can make in society and our personal lives to reduce depression and anxiety. It’s not a self-help book, and the first half of the book looking into the potential causes is more well-rounded and clear than the second half (potential solutions), so the Holy Grail to curing mental health problems, this is not. But it is deeply interesting and has certainly given me a lot to think about for my own well-being.
Enigma Variations by Andre Aciman
And finally, in preparation for my visit to the Hay-on-Wye literary festival this weekend, I picked up another book from the author of Call Me By Your Name (yes, I am still obsessed with it). Originally, I wanted to read this more than CMBYN, but after seeing the film I’ve read them this way round. There are certain parallels in terms of both style and content (the opening chapter, First Love, very much echoes the early part of Elio’s obsession with Oliver), but this feels like a more mature novel, interweaving the protagonist’s understanding of his own sexuality (in every sense of the word) with a kind of melancholy through the six chapters, each representing profound moments of desire in his life. The writing is gorgeous, and I continue to be in awe of Aciman as a writer and observer of sexuality and human longing.
Phew! We made it to the end. Let me know what you’ve been reading down below!