Summer Reading List

What makes the perfect summer reading list?

You want books that transport you to exotic places, adventures, maybe some summer romance. Whether you are into mysteries or fantasy, there are definitely certain types of books that are perfect on the beach, or a rainy British summer indoors!

Checkout my picks for this summer:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Released at the beginning of June this will be the hot topic of the summer – I read a lot of it on my first really hot day off. I have also just moved near to the beach which was the perfect place to read this.

The Girls

The cover of this screams summer and makes you think of Polaroids, aviator sunglasses and road trips in pastel blue cars – like pretty much every summer music video ever. Even better the book takes us back to the summer of ’69 – I feel a soundtrack coming on.

How to Stop Time 

Haig’s book is released on 6th July and sounds like the perfect holiday read – who doesn’t wish they could stop time over summer? This book will take us on a heady journey through all the best moments of literature and history and is all about losing and finding yourself – one for the traveller perhaps?

Pride and Prejudice 

This summer is the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death so you really need to read an Austen novel this summer – and with all of the garden walks and country picnics what could better represent the British summer? I will be listening to Rosalind Pike’s narration of Pride and Prejudice and possibly perusing Lucy Worsely’s new book Jane Austen at Home.

The Final Girls

A college girl goes on vacation and comes back alone. This could well be the thriller of the summer. Watch out for its release in July.

Treasure Island

Shame on me. I have never read this classic adventure. But it is the book featured by this season’s Happy Reader magazine so I figured I can set sail on the high seas and try both the book and magazine. And my new coastal location gives me the perfect setting to be reading this in.

Big Little Lies

The TV series has been making waves so it seems to be the perfect time to catch up if, like me, you haven’t read the book. All of the promo for the series screams summer to me – bright colours, shots on beaches – I’m imagining soccer moms holding pitchers at BBQs, I may be wrong but this feels like a pretty summery read.

Burning Girl

Released in August, this is a coming of age tale about two girls in a quiet town in Massachusetts. When you are a teenager summer can feel like time is on pause before you grow up, and so the release of this book could finally signal that September is here.

Sing, Unburied, Sing 

This has been described as brining the archetypal road trip novel into the 21st Century which makes it a perfect late summer read when it is released in August. The burnt orange and ice blue hues on the cover make me think of the relief of ice cream and swimming pools in scorching summers.

Are you struggling to make your own summer list? Feel free to steal mine or check out my top tips for picking summer reads.

Man Booker International Prize Round Up

The Man Booker International Prize winner will be announced tomorrow. While my TBR has taken over and I haven’t read much of the shortlist, here are my final musings on those in the running.

Fever Dream

Read with Book and Brew as a Shadow group for the prize, I am obviously a bit biased towards this one. We loved it, it garnered so much discussion, we all found it creepy and for such a short book, it really packed a punch, covering a lot of issues. Check out my review to see what you think.

The Unseen

This book sounded intriguing and is next on my shortlist TBR. When a book is set on an island, you don’t expect it to be off the coast of Norway and feature a family saga. With the interest in Nordic fiction this could prove a worthy competitor.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal

A 40-plus woman is learning to drive for the first time – it doesn’t sound like compelling novel material but when you consider how it is all about shifting gear and taking control of your life this could be a pretty inspiring offering from the shortlist.

Judas

Oz’s newest novel explores politics, love and the age-old story of the traitor. I imagine this will be a complex read and will need a fair understanding, or some frantic Googling, on the  Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

A Horse Walks into A Bar

Despite being about comedy, this book has been described as ‘not remotely funny’ and as a difficult read. However, the setting in Israel and themes that are particularly relevant at this moment in history, it could be be a potential winner – reflected in its high odds.

Compass

Mathias Enard’s exploration of ‘Orientalism’ appears to be more academic musing than plot and as the longest book on the list, could prove a challenging read.


Overall, I am definitely rooting for Fever Dream alongside my book club, although it seems likely that Horse Walks into a Bar or The Unseen might pip it at the post.

GE17: A victory for progressive politics

A lot has happened in 24 hours but, in all practicality, not that much will actually change. Theresa May has refuted calls to resign and it is likely that by the end of the day she will have made a deal with the DUP – whether as a minority government, or part of a coalition, we don’t know.

However, last night was an achievement for millions across the UK. An ‘unelectable’ leader did what no-one else has managed to do and has achieved what was considered impossible two moths ago. He delivered the Youth Vote, which turned out to be decisive in undermining the Conservatives. May called the election to increase her majority, with many commentators predicting a Tory landslide. To have run a campaign which engaged young voters, won back seats and ultimately broken the Tory majority is nothing to scoff at – Corbyn has achieved some momentous strides for progressive politics.

There will be dark days ahead. A Tory-DUP pact will likely deliver a hard Brexit, and will likely continue policies of austerity and cuts. Hopefully, a small majority will be blocked on bills such as Fox Hunting and a repeal of Human Rights. The important thing is that with an increased number of progressive seats, the MPs we have elected can challenge the Conservatives and better represent us. But we cannot grow apathetic again. We must stay engaged, keep campaigning and promoting a more positive, inclusive and hopeful politics. And whether the next vote comes in 5 months or 5 years, we have to make sure that we build on Corbyn’s success, making the Youth Vote a powerful force in politics.

This article was originally posted on Voice Mag

 

Bailey’s Prize Round Up

Tomorrow evening will see the winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction announced and the book community is buzzing with excitement. Now that I’ve read a handful of the shortlisted books, let’s take a final look at the contenders and who my money is on to win.

The Dark Circle

Linda Grant tells the story of two Jewish teenagers confined to a Sanatorium for tuberculosis in the late 40s/early 50s. Unfortunately this book really wasn’t my cup of tea, I couldn’t get on board with the style, which was odd and jarring, or the plot, which seemed non-existent as not much happens. Perhaps its just individual taste, as grant is a previous winner of the prize, however for me this definitely doesn’t compete with some of the others on the shortlist.

The Sport of Kings

Morgan’s epic is a multi-generational saga of the American South.  I didn’t get the chance to read this one but from the book chatter that I’ve heard it seems interesting, however looking at the odds and the lack of people raving about it, I feel like it seems unlikely to win.

Stay With Me

I loved this book. The story is of a Nigerian woman and the pressure she faces, from herself, her family, and society, to have children –  and the consequences this pressure has. It was beautifully written, emotive, harrowing and heartbreaking. Odds-wise it is also high in the running and I would be happy if this won.

First Love

The story of a woman’s marriage to an older man, First Love is one I actually chose not to read, based on a some not-so-great responses, and some reviews which really didn’t sell it to me. The premise seems interesting but it sounds like it wasn’t brilliantly executed and so I think it probably isn’t likely to be a winner.

The Power

This is my favourite book. Not just on the shortlist, of all time; it has pretty much usurped The Great Gatsby (the ultimate English Grad cliche) and I have been raving about it to anyone who will listen because it is amazing, radical, revolutionary and I think everyone needs to read it. This isn’t just me on my soapbox – the buzz around this book is huge.  I’m excited that it has the best odds to win, and I would be ecstatic if it does because it truly deserves to.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

At the time of writing I’m still reading this, but it is a truly beautiful, engaging and expansive novel. It is simultaneously wonderfully written and also very easy to ready – which are two things that don’t often go together. it is incredibly immersive and the elements of Chinese culture, history and language are fascinating. Again,  I definitely wouldn’t be disappointed if it won.

If you haven’t yet guessed my favourite to win it’s The Power, and while I would be pretty disappointed if this doesn’t win, I would also be happy if either Thien or Adebayo’s books did. Thankfully, the two main contenders according to the bookies are The Power and Stay with Me, so my fingers are crossed for tomorrow night! Don’t miss the announcement tomorrow to find out who the winner is.

Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

4-stars

Arundhati Roy’s second novel has been long awaited, coming 20 years after her first. This highly anticipated book will have garnered high expectations from fans, and for me it didn’t disappoint.

This novel is expansive, exploring geographical issues surrounding Kashmir, the religious tensions in the region, ideas of revolution, gender identity, and identity politics in general – all issues which couldn’t be more relevant or important in 2017.

Anjum is a ‘hijra’ a term used to describe transgender women in South Asia. The novel depicts her life and struggle, and where her life intersects with others who are outcast, alone or in need of a home.

Anjum bridges the gap between Muslims and Hindus, between old and young, men and women, Indian and Kashmiri, through Jannat’s Guest House, which she gradually builds from a tin shack in a Delhi graveyard. The novel seems to be haphazard, jumping in narrative voice and focalisation. However, eventually these strands do pull together to meet, making the novel complete, whole and rewarding.

Roy’s prose is utterly exquisite, and the presence of India behind the novel isn’t just a ‘character’ in the way we sometimes metaphorically speak of the depictions of countries and cities in books. Roy very literally makes Delhi real, living and breathing; a ‘thousand year old sorceress, dozing but not asleep, even at this hour.’ Passages such as this one are the kind of literature that takes your breath away, which you reread over and over.

Despite being 20 years in the making, it feels as though the novel lives in the here and now. It preaches tolerance in the light of religious and transgender persecution, something which has never been more relevant with the rise of extremist politics in the last year. It presents an India in the age of video and selfies – with the videos on phones that characters obsess over mirroring an age obsessed with live streaming and on the go access.

For me the only fault lay in that the multiple narratives and wide-ranging nature made the book feel less polished than it could have and a bit like hard-work, to keep track and keep up with all the different strands of the story. But even this didn’t ruin such a beautiful novel, which not only evoked a sense of India, but managed to balance the death, suffering and misery, that features all of the way through, with kindness, tolerance and hope.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness couldn’t have arrived on our shelves at a better time and I hope Roy’s novel inspires some of the sentiments that she achieves in her novel.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

Review: Miraculous Mysteries

4-stars
Miraculous Mysteries is a wonderful little collection of impossible crimes by some of crime fiction’s best loved writers.

The collection is varied, with all sorts of mysteries which all have one thing in common – they are seemingly impossible to solve. The book opens with a gem from Conan Doyle ‘The Lost Special’ which was probably the best story of the whole book. Other highlights included ‘Diary of Death’ and ‘Death at 8.30’ by relatively unknown authors.

Impossible Crimes are perfect for mystery lovers because of the challenge they offer and the intelligence and wit that goes into them. Think Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and it is easy to understand why these stories are popular.

This mix of authors, some of who were lesser known,  and their different styles was refreshing. The stories were fun, with some that were completely impossible and others which you could have a good stab at working out. This is the perfect combination, as you don’t want to have to be working things out constantly as you go, so it allows you to sit back and relax and just enjoy the novels too.

My favourite stories were the ones that built up more context and scenario around the crime, allowing me to get a little more caught up in the action, for example like in ‘Too Clever by Half’. I also enjoyed having a bit of background about the writers as this helped me learn a bit more about them, or even recognise them from characters that I am culturally aware of.

The thing that did grate on me slightly was that despite the effort to include a few female writers in what is clearly a white male dominated genre – none of the ‘detectives’ whether officially in the role of detective or not, was female. I felt like there surely could be a good Miss Marple or other witty female out there solving impossible murders, however as they were classic short stories they are drawn from a time period where such stories were in short supply.

Overall I did really enjoy this book, and it is absolutely perfect for when you want a quick crime to solve with a cuppa and some cake – because that is the only way you should read these stories.

 


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

Review: The Dark Circle

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 2 stars
Two teenagers are admitted to a sanatorium with TB in the 1950s in Linda Grant’s newest book The Dark Circle. Grant is a previous Women’s Prize for Fiction winner and the buzz suggests she is a contender on the shortlist.

Lenny and Miriam are admittedly far more interesting characters than I expected from the initial blurb, and I particularly love how they fall in love with literature, and connect with other patients during their stay at the ‘Gwendo’. The novel explores the phenomenon of TB from a number of perspectives, and looks at postwar life from the experience of the Jewish protagonists, to the implementation of the NHS. I really enjoyed how the novel transported you to a forgotten past, and felt that it did really evoke the early 50s.

However, for several reasons, I still didn’t really get on with this book. While Lenny and Miriam’s experiences are significant, and a story that needs to be told, the whole book felt like their experience in the sanatorium – stifled, monotonous and slow. Nothing really happens over the course of 320 pages. The switching points of view made it difficult to focus on which character was focalising at the time, and occasionally the prose just felt odd, with jarring metaphors. I couldn’t tell whether this was an attempt at originality or quirkiness to avoid cliches – however there was more than one turn of phrase which didn’t really make sense or made me question what it meant.

I could identify and sympathise with some of the characters, though others just felt flat and not fleshed out enough. I like the idea of the novel, in terms of the exploration of how the patients were not just medically treated, but socially, politically and on an individual level. It explored a range of human emotions with great nuance and it really did make me feel for the patients. However, because of the lack of pace and plot, and the writing style in general,  I struggled to immerse myself in it or really enjoy it.

The Late Shows

The Late Shows are a series of arts and culture events that happen across Newcastle and Gateshead over two night ever May. Dozens of venues in different locations participate, opening their doors later than usual to invite the public in to see, listen, make create and participate in any number of different activities.
There is literally something for everyone, whether you are a music lover, a fine art buff, or like to get stuck in. I’m the latter kind so my first stop was to Newcastle City Library which was hosting some glass painting upstairs, while a range of performances were going on downstairs.
I arrived a bit early and got caught up in the prep so ended up staying here a lot longer than planned. The glass painting, which was a communal effort, with everyone doing sections of a large Angel of the North, was really fun, and the classical performances on in the background were actually super relaxing, even though it isn’t what I would normally listen to.
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When I finally finished up here I popped next door to the Laing Art Gallery where there was music in the bar and watercolour painting. Obviously I dived straight into painting, getting experimental with the effects of clingfilm and salt on the paint, and making friends with the lovely student who ran the session.
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From here I hopped on a very handy shuttle bus over to the Biscuit Factory where I had a look round their new Summer exhibition. This gallery specialises in textile, sculpture and jewellery so it feels more like browsing a fancy shop than serious art, but it is all exquisite.
Stepping across the road took me to their sister venue, The Holy Biscuit, where there was a printmaking exhibition and demonstrations. Obviously I tried this out, making a gorgeous print whose design was based on two sycamore seeds.
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A wander further down into Ouseburn took me to my last spot of the night, Northern Print. It was the first time I had ever been in and it was wonderful! I browsed the shop, and the prints around the studios, and took part in two activities – one was letter press printing and the other was drypoint etching. These activities were all based around ourselves – portraits and how we define ourselves, which was a lovely touch to the takeaways.
I probably still had time to visit another venue after Northern Print however, it was getting late and with a journey home still to go, I called it a night. However, it was a fantastic night, and I came away with loads of things I had made and new experiences which were so much fun.
I met tons of different people on the way, from kids, to students, to older couples out for the evening. It was heartwarming to see so many people engaging in arts and culture across my city, and it was amazing that I did all of this, in four hours, for free!
Here’s to a great Late Shows 2017, and looking forward to next year already!

Review: Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Have you ever wondered what happens to minor characters in a play when they aren’t on the stage? Ever dreamed of a bit of back story?

Tom Stoppard’s Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead does exactly that –  but with a bit of a twist. The two minor characters – who serve minor purposes and achieve nothing in the play, exist only for the play. So rather than backstory, we get existential crisis and a whole lot of comedy.

Radcliffe was made for the stage and is a hilarious presence as the Rozencranz who is so lost and confused that he doesn’t even remember which one of the two he is. Along  with a similarly statured Joshua McGuire, the two men are dwarfed by the expansive stage, compounding their smallness and insignificance.

This production was the 50th Anniversary production of the original play. I can’t vouch as to whether it has done it justice, because it is the first time I have ever seen it. However, for a play that is so clever, intellectual and complex, it was abundantly clear in its purpose and it’s comedy – with the fast-paced interactions between the two eponymous characters always witty, humorous and never missing the mark.

The hammed up production of Hamlet in the background was incredibly effective in achieving the meta-theatre the production aims to, and the ‘play-within-a-play-within-a-play’ was superbly achieved by the travelling players who acted out the fates of the poor protagonists. You might expect such complex, high-flying ideas to be mind boggling, however there was an accessible and easy simplicity in the comedy of these scenes.

You will need a working knowledge of Hamlet to really get anything out of this play, but that is just the nature of the beast. However, there is enough comedy in the physical acting and dialogue to allow you to relax, and enjoy it rather than treating the whole thing as an intellectual exercise.

The play equally has its elements of tragedy – these characters, who have no lives outside of the story they are confined to, face a not dissimilar crisis to anyone else who may feel they are trapped in a certain kind of life, or simply just lost without clear direction. The idea then that they are doomed to repeat this tragedy forever is almost heartbreaking – I nearly condemned Shakespeare for such callous treatment of the two men. Of course this is Stoppard’s crowning achievement – that his play is so emotive he draws such reactions out through a story which you know is not real, and which constantly tells you it’s not real. And hats have to be tipped to the two leads here who so brilliantly achieve this in their performance also.

Overall, this play does what all the best tragedies should: it makes you think. It also does what all the best comedies do: it stops you overthinking and makes you simply enjoy it. As a combination of the two it is the quintessential tragicomedy and this anniversary production is truly worthy of that title.

Review: Fever Dream

mbi2017-logo Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), and translated by Megan McDowell (US), is a Man Booker International Prize 2017 nominee.

4-stars

Fever Dream is more like a novella than a novel, but for its brief 151 pages it still packs a punch. The writing style is experimental and intriguing and it deals with some pretty big themes.

The novel opens with a women in the Emergency Room talking to a child although this is not immediately clear – the conversation allows their identities and the events that led to this moment. The style is unique, with the ‘child’s’ voice in italics, giving it an ethereal quality – making us question whether it is real.

It is difficult to review without giving away key details that make the novel so important, so here is as few spoilers as possible in looking at what the novel is about. The woman has taken her young daughter on holiday to a rental home where she meets Carla whose son was poisoned. This poisoning sets up a theme of environmental damage and also that of caring for children.

Schweblin evokes exactly the feeling that the title gives – like a feverish dream. The atmosphere is oppressive, with the interview-esque conversation being directed and redirected over small details. The nature of the conversation itself is a dream-like and as readers we constantly question the reality of it – is it a dream, can it really be occuring? Paired with the magical realism so popular in Latin American literature which the book employs, this truly makes the book feel illusive.

The book is uncomfortable and really makes you think and question about what you would do, or would be able to do in a similar situation. My only issue with the book was that it was so brief, I feel like perhaps it could have been fleshed out a little more to add dimension to the story. But it is also possible that the style would have been difficult to sustain over a longer book.

I very much enjoyed this book and I think it could be a real contender for the Man Booker International Prize.


I am reading Fever Dream with Book and Brew as one of the official Reading Groups for Everyone shadowing groups.