August Wrap Up 2017

I seem to finally be catching up with my wrap ups, although I’ve failed to review anything in months and I’ve probably half forgotten most of the books I’ve read in that time. Oops!

August was a month dominated by His Dark Materials; I wanted to reread the original trilogy before the release of the first part of The Book of Dust (although during the process of rereading them, I was forced to conclude that I did not in fact get to the end the first time around) and was scheduled to chair the discussion group we were holding at work, so I raced through the three novels.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
I 100% get the hype with this. It absolutely delivers on both all the praise I’ve heard about it over the years and my own memory of what it was like over a decade ago when I first read it. It is a brilliant, innovative, magical adventure and I was as addicted to it this time as I was the first time.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Over the last year or so, I feel like my feminism has become a more passive thing. It’s just a constant in my life, and my only real engagement with it, intellectually speaking, is listening to The Guilty Feminist. I want to learn more about feminism and examine the way I think about gender and sexism properly. To that end, I finally bought a copy of Bad Feminist. While I didn’t necessarily agree with every point that she makes, I think it was really valuable to me to read about someone whose experience of being female is so entirely different from mine.

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
I have to admit that I didn’t love this as much as I loved Northern Lights, but there is still a lot of good in there. It just lacks structure, and it feels like our protagonists spend most of the book walking with no particular reason for them to be doing so. I do really like Will though, so I was glad to be reading about him again (although I am 100% sure that I stopped reading around two thirds of the way through because the end of the book was a complete surprise to me).

The Gender Games by Juno Dawson
I read this in advance of the Banging Book Club event in London, where they were talking to Juno about the book. My friend Laura and I both said after the event that we liked the book more having heard her talk about it. I think it just helped us understand her voice and the way specifically that she talks about gender: the book is very much written as she would speak. It’s informative and interesting, but I would maybe suggest listening to the audiobook because I found that the tone didn’t translate super well.

Emma by Jane Austen
This was yet another Jane Austen reread via audiobook, and as much as I love Emma and therefore had fun listening to it, I didn’t love Anna Bentinck’s narration – specifically the nasal, snooty voice she does for Mr Knightley. (That said, I’ve since listened to her narrating Mansfield Park, and she does the same voice for Edmund and it works pretty well for his uptight, lecturing priggishness.) (I don’t like Edmund.)

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
This book is a damn mess. I loved it, actually more than The Subtle Knife, but I have pretty much no idea what happened. Something I learnt at the discussion group is that apparently Philip Pullman doesn’t really plan, he writes like an investigation, uncovering how things work

Longbourn by Jo Baker
Because I am a snob, I had it in my head that this was going to be pretty lightweight, but it turned out to be really great, and very well written. I’m a massive Austen fan, particularly of Pride and Prejudice, so in some ways I’m hesitant to read different takes on that story (I was badly burned by Death Comes to Pemberley) because the characters just read as wrong to me. But because this comes from the point of view of the servants, the differences in the original protagonists are totally understandable, because they are different with the servants than they are with their equals.

Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman
This is one of two short stories Pullman has published set in Lyra’s world, and it was a fun, quick read but I could not tell you what happened. It involved some kind of alchemist and a witch?


July Wrap Up 2017

July was a slightly odd reading month. Which I’ve read pretty much the same number of books I normally would, it wasn’t until I picked up Birdcage Walk in the last few days of the month that I was actually feeling compelled to read. I just didn’t seem to be motivated to read, and while it wasn’t a slump, it certainly felt like one. It also marked the point at which I hit a slump on blogging, hence this post going up at the beginning of September

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
This was our Waterstones Loves title for July and August, and Penguin very kindly sent the shop a copy along with a packet of Skittles. Having eaten the Skittles, I felt morally obliged to read the book. That said, I really enjoyed it. It’s a graphic novel for the 9-12 age group and centres around a young girl getting into roller derby. It’s about finding your friends, understanding other people, doing your own thing and persistence.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Next up in my Austen rereads/listens was the big one. This was maybe the tenth time I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, and my second go around listening to this Rosamund Pike narrated audiobook. I love her performance of it, and obviously I adore the book.

Certainty by Madeleine Thien
Having totally adored Do Not Say We Have Nothing, I had super high expectations for this, which of course weren’t met (are they ever?). I did really like it, but the characters weren’t as vivid and the story felt altogether less coherent. As many strands as Do Not Say We Have Nothing contains, they still feel like one story, albeit a huge, sweeping one, where this had a lot of strands that lacked that flow, maybe because it jumps around in time a lot more.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
This is maybe the Austen novel that I remember the least from my previous reading. It’s said to be her most mature work, and that definitely rings true for me: I took a lot more out of this book at 23 than I did at 17. It’s a love story, of course, but it stands apart from her others. I find the description more vivid – while Austen is never overly descriptive, she really knows how to put you into a scene and this is probably the best example of that – and has a strong sense of how precarious her characters situations are, in their financial state, in the love lives, in their relationships with their families. If you think you don’t like Austen, a) you’re wrong and b) read Persuasion.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
I bought this book in hardback when it came out, and I have carted it with me through multiple house moves, to France and back, and yet I had never read it. I think it just got over hyped and I always get put off when that happens. This is one of the few over hyped books I’ve ever read that I genuinely really enjoyed. It’s an unusual look at a potential apocalypse, more nuanced than you normally see in that genre and ultimately, I think, more hopeful. It also has the most realistic depiction of violence that I’ve ever seen in a dystopian novel. I blame the weird reading month I was having for the fact that I liked it rather than loved it.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
I’m beginning to wonder whether I actually like Margaret Atwood all that much. I adore The Handmaid’s Tale, but of the other three of hers that I’ve read, I hated The Edible Woman and am pretty meh about Surfacing and now The Penelopiad. I got what she was doing, giving Penelope (wife of Odysseus) her own voice, but the problem was that it’s told very conversationally and casually, so she’ll just say X used to happen a lot rather than there being a scene in which X happens, which is just the absolute opposite of the show-don’t-tell rule. It’s just not very exciting, although it is quite funny in places.

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore
FINALLY. I raced through this book, I could not put it down. You know sometimes, you read a book that reminds you why it is that you read at all? This was one of those books for me. It’s kind of sold as a psychological thriller, which it is sort of, but it’s also intensely political, as many of the characters are deeply involved in the anti-monarchy movement in England at the time of the French Revolution. It revolves primarily around the marriage of the daughter of a radical writer to an abusive, terrifying man. Its only real flaw was that it does that thing where there is a character who discovers some piece of information in the present relevant to the historical story, which I always think is an outdated technique which serves basically no purpose most of the time.

Often I Am Happy by Jens Christian Grøndahl
This is pretty much an old woman, Ellinor, reflecting back on her life after the death of her partner, who used to be married to her best friend, Anna, until she died in a skiing accident which also killed Ellinor’s husband/Anna’s lover. That sounds very soapy, but honestly this is a fairly slow moving, quiet book which is more about forgiveness and what constitutes a happy life than high drama. The scandal is there, but it is decades in the past and I think the point of the novel is that events like that don’t define a whole life. It’s also translated from the Danish by the author himself, so fair play to him.