#SixForSunday

#SixforSunday is a meme started by the lovely Steph at A Little but a Lot, and this week’s prompt is favourite tropes:

I have a large tbr pile.  It’s a bookcase.  A 7 foot tall bookcase.  That is full.  With 5 shelves double-stacked.  I have a problem (not enough time to read, obviously).  Anyway, within the groaning shelves of my tbr mountain, there are some recurring themes.

1. MAGIC!

Yes, I’m still sulking that I didn’t get a Hogwarts owl.  Harry Potter is one of the first universes to spring to most people’s minds when books and magic intertwine, but I’ve enjoyed many magical worlds including the recently discovered Skullduggery Pleasant, and I’d particularly like to read more Pratchett.

2. Superpowers

I adore Marvel movies, and have recently begun to dip my toe in the waters of comic books.  Books in which some or all of the characters have superhuman powers intrigue me.  Last year I read ‘Don’t even think about it’ by Sarah Mlynowski, in which an entire class of students gains the ability to hear thoughts, and it was fascinating.

3. Societal Segregation

Divergent, the Hunger Games and Flawed are YA series which I have loved, and there are many others on my tbr which arrived there on the basis of societal segregation.  Noughts and Crosses, Red Rising, Red Witch are amongst those vying to be read next.  For some reason we humans seem far more focussed on our differences than our similarities.

4. Dystopia

Mention dystopias, my ears prick up and the book is already halfway to my shopping basket.  Many of my favourites also fall into the above category.

5. LGBTQIA

Representation matters.  I often pick up books with either LGBTQIA characters or authors, not just because they are an under-represented group, but also because I throughly enjoy reading well-written view points and experiences that differ from my own.  My current read is Noah Can’t Even, which I’m looking forward to reviewing as it’s delightfully hilarious.  I’d love to read Juno Dawson’s Gender Games.  Gracefully Grayson was a beautiful book I read a few years ago in which a transgender child is grappling with their identity.

6. Plot twists

I discovered Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay some years ago and they are GODS when it comes to plot twists.  Just when you think you’ve finally crossed the final hurdle and learned everything, they throw in another and you’re reeling all over again.  Any time I see a book by either of these two gents I snag it because I know I’m in for a good ride.

IMG_4045.JPGThose were my favourite tropes, and a stack from my tbr to represent them.  What guarantees you’ll put that book in your shopping basket?

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January Round Up

I struggled a little with my reading mojo during 2017 – I got married, my husband opened his brand new business, and I was quite ill at the end of the year, so there was a lot going on!  That being the case I was pleased to find myself impatient to get cracking with the #40bks40yrs challenge, and excited to plan which novels from my monstrous tbr mountain would fit certain categories.

I’m currently hedging my bets and not necessarily setting in stone which category each book will fulfil – I find if I have the flex of choosing a book I’m definitely in the mood for, I make better progress and enjoy my reading time more.

Here’s my progress at the end of month 1:

Three Men and a Maybe – Katey Lovell

As the deIMG_4042signated driver, Cerys is expecting a quiet New Year’s eve. Except when the clock strikes, she receives not one, but three proposals of marriage!  The writing style wasn’t my cup of tea, but I liked the structure of the story. We begin with the proposals, then have 3 separate flashbacks giving the history behind each, and end with Cerys’ ultimate decision.  It’s a short novella that I nipped through in an evening, and I’m fairly sure will be my holiday-themed book read around the time of the holiday, although it’s also an author I haven’t read before, and a book with a number in the title.

James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl

IMG_4044This is a children’s book I didn’t read as a child, a title beginning with the first letter of my name, and given the heavy nature theme, a green book.  I remember reading and loving The Witches as a child, but by and large Roald Dahl passed me by during my childhood, and I’ve given him something of a wide berth as an adult because I don’t like his books.  I know, I know, I’m swimming against the tide of popular opinion here!  But he’s creepy!  That man’s head is a disturbing place that I don’t enjoy peeking inside.  I figured however that I was on fairly safe ground with a story about a peach, and for the most part I was right.  An odd story, but I quite enjoyed it.

A Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

IMG_4043.JPGThis is another author I’ve not read before, but also a book that was recommended by a friend, and a book that’s been on my tbr for over a year.  Several friends have enjoyed it, and one hated it, so I was intrigued to see which camp I would fall in.  Apart from one extremely tedious chapter in which Wilde pontificates at great length about all the expensive items Dorian is buying, I really enjoyed the plot.  A friend recently set up a book group, and this was the first book chosen.  I think I got more out of the book as a result of the group, and as you can see from the stickies, I found several quotes that I want to discuss.

How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

IMG_4041This ticks off #21, a book with the illustrator credited on the cover.  I have been itching to buy this book for months, and had to exercise an iron will to hold off buying it before the illustrated edition was released!  I’ll review it at a later date, so I’ll simply say that I was not disappointed.

I finished How to Stop Time in the small hours of February 1st to make 4 books read in January.  Given my difficulty making time to read last year I’m quite pleased, since I’m currently on track with my challenge, but couldn’t help a sneaking disappointment that I hadn’t read more.  So many books, so little time!

How did your January reading go? What’s your favourite book of the year so far?

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Time is running out…

Farway McCarthy is a time traveller.  With nowhere to call home and nothing to anchor him to the present, Far captains a crew on a dangerous mission into the past. 

When he collides with Eliot – a mysterious, secretive girl, whose very appearance raises questions about time itself – Far immediately distrusts her. 

But he must take a leap of faith, following Eliot on a race against time, if he is to protect everything he’s ever loved from disappearing forever…

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As soon as I finish a book I make some notes, since I don’t always write my review immediately.  My opening note for Invictus is simply “O. M. G.”!  This book is both engrossing and exhilarating.  Ryan Graudin not only perfectly creates multiple worlds, but weaves complex threads throughout them.  I was as gripped by the characters as by the plot itself.

The time machine hops between numerous locations and epochs:  ancient Rome, the Titanic, Las Vegas, ancient Egypt, the year 2371: each is as riveting as the last.  The settings seem accurately depicted and are immersive.

Eliot is mysterious and enigmatic, yet has moments of vulnerability that soften her outward harshness.  Her eyes help us see the rest of the crew more clearly.  Farway is at times frustrating, but is enriched by his relationship with Priya.  Priya represents the ‘love interest’ but has great strength and compassion. Gram is an adorable nerd, whilst Imogen is as bold and vibrant as her hair chalks.  The characters do represent certain stereotypes, yet they are far from 2-dimensional.  They are all well written, with depth and complexity and I frankly longed to be in the time machine along with them.

An absolutely thrilling ride through space and time.

5-Star

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Caddy and Rosie have always been inseparable but that was before Suzanne.

Now Caddy wants to be more than just the quiet one.  She wants something to happen.

I WAS BRAVE.

Suzanne is trying to escape her past and be someone different.  Someone free.

SHE WAS RECKLESS.

But sometimes downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

WE WERE TROUBLE.

And no one can break your heart like a best friend. 

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Beautiful Broken Things is both a debut novel by Sara Barnard, and the first of her books that I read, and I fell instantly in love with her writing style.  It is incredibly natural, and very readable, if you understand me.  It’s as comfortable as a conversation with your bestie on the couch over a cuppa.

So few books deal purely with platonic relationships:  Inevitably, somewhere in the story, romance creeps in.  One of the refreshing and captivating aspects of this novel, for me, was that it centred on the tribulations of platonic friendship, and the author paints platonic relationships beautifully.

Rosie presents as a forthright, confident girl, who is honest in the way real friends should be able to be, whilst remaining lovable all the while.  Caddy is lovable yet exasperating in equal measure.  She is surprisingly self-aware in some ways, yet blind to her own strengths.  She has a touching loyalty to her friends and so often knows the ‘right’ thing to do…..but seemed so rarely to do it!  Viewed from the side-lines, she is frustratingly relatable throughout!

Suzanne…is beautifully broken.  And thus a ‘platonic love triangle’ is born.

As an advocate of breaking the stigma surrounding mental health issues, I was delighted to see a fringe character’s bipolar disorder represented in a matter-of-fact light, while Suzanne’s issues were tackled head-on and sensitively portrayed.

The plot glides on an escalating helter-skelter towards an unknown yet obviously looming disaster, and much like the metaphorical train wreck, I simply could not look away.  An enchanting novel to the end.

4-5-Star

2018 Reading Challenge #40YRS40BKS

Happy New Year from Hey, good bookin’!

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I always do every year is set myself a reading challenge.  Often it’s been as simple as ‘x number of books this year’, but occasionally I’ve made it more complex, specifying genres or attempting a fun challenge I’ve seen on twitter.

This year my lovely bookish friends and I are turning the big 4-0, and together we have devised our very own reading challenge in celebration.  Each of us created 10 categories to combine to form a #40YRS40BKS challenge.  The beauty of this challenge is its flexibility – you are free to interpret each category however you wish, and one book can fulfill multiple categories.

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We’ll be using the tag #40YRS40BKS to let each other know how we’re getting on with the challenge, and we’d love for you to join us and let us know which books you chose, and if you enjoyed them.  What are your reading goals for 2018?

Blackbird by N.D. Gomes

Olivia disappeared the night the blackbirds died.

It was New Years Eve the night that dead blackbirds descended, hours before fourteen year old Alex McCarthy’s sister Olivia went missing from a party.

Committed to finding out what happened to her sister, within the previously safe walls of their subarctic Orkney village, Alex knows that dishevelled, sometimes intoxicated Detective Inspector Birkens is her best shot.

Yet as they uncover the secrets behind Olivia’s last night, Alex starts to find things she may be better off never knowing…

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I was lucky enough to receive a proof of Blackbird at YALC.  The cover alone was sufficient to enthuse me, but once I had read Dear Charlie, N.D. Gomes’ debut novel, I bumped Blackbird even further up my to-be-read mountain (I jest not.  It’s a full floor-to-ceiling bookcase awaiting me).

The novel opens with the glorious spookiness of a news article detailing the sudden, mysterious death of 5000 Blackbirds in America.  This is also the night that Alex’s beloved sister goes missing from the tiny island of Orkney.  I was greatly looking forward to unearthing a spine-chilling link between the two, and was rather disappointed that the blackbirds aren’t mentioned again.

We follow closely in Alex’s footsteps in the immediate aftermath of Olivia’s disappearance experiencing, through her eyes, the differing ways in which she and her parents deal with their confusion and grief as the search continues.  The book is an enchanting portrayal of sisterhood, with the girls’ love for each other shining through.

Another point of interest is the friendship which develops between Alex and Birkens, the detective leading the search, who clearly has baggage of his own.  To an outsider this friendship would probably seem peculiar, yet we witness an unlikely comradeship develop which endeared them both to me.

The depiction of the setting was beautifully evocative, and the whole feel of the novel was that of a mood piece.  The pace feels fairly calm and there are relatively few momentous plot events, the focus being more emotive, yet I found the book utterly captivating, and finished the entire novel in a few hours.

4-Star

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian Carter is fed up.  Fed up with a school administration at her high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong.  Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class.  But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules. 

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ‘90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates.  She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond.  As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realises that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution. 

(Novel content warning:  There is no graphic content within the book, but there is discussion of rape as well as instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault)

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I was lucky enough to get hold of a proof copy of Moxie at YALC this summer and was excited to get my paws on what promised to be a rousing feminist read.

I was expecting a full-throated feminist roar from the get-go, but Moxie had a much slower start and more insidious build than I had expected.  The novel is set in a small Texan town in which ingrained sexism has proliferated virtually unchallenged for generations, therefore any uprising would naturally build traction gradually (if at all), and it was both intriguing and frustrating to me (being surrounded by feminist friends of both genders) to have the fear and doubt of the ‘protesters’ so genuinely depicted by the author.

There are few ethnic minorities within this town: one could argue that this is underrepresentation, but lord knows I, as a white woman, wouldn’t stay in that town long, and so I think underrepresentation was realistic given the setting.  There is one black teen of note within the novel who asks if ‘anyone can be a Moxie girl’.  Her friend states the question more baldly ‘She means is it just for white girls?’  I found it exceptionally clever of the author to underline so profoundly, with one simple sentence, that within this community, a hierarchy of bigotry exists.  In some respects I was disappointed that this issue was not really explored further.

Given the prolific small mindedness of the community as a whole, any member of the LGBTQ community would undoubtedly fear openness.  I was thrilled to see that the author included a closeted couple, who were necessarily apprehensive upon their discovery.  This is again a lower representation than one would like to see, but appropriate to the setting of this novel.

I didn’t connect to Viv as a protagonist much as I wanted to.  I adore the clandestine feistiness that lead to the creation of Moxie, and want to hug her for persisting despite a discouraging reaction from her best friend.  On the other hand I found her reaction to her Mum’s boyfriend somewhat childish and unfounded.  I also struggled to understand why, given the close relationship with her mother, she was not more open with her regarding Moxie.  I felt her secrecy with Moxie went endured beyond necessity, but that is perhaps easy to say from my less bigoted upbringing.

Seth is a loveable character representing the male feminist who at times struggles to understand the issue from women’s side, yet is always willing to listen, and learns as a result.  The kinship within the novel is beautiful to behold, and one of the overwhelming messages was that solidarity overcame other divides.

4-Star