Book Blog!

I’ve decided to shift all my book-related mumblings to their own little blog. It’s called California Reading (do you see what I’ve done there?!), and there’s a link below.

California Reading

Give it a quick squizz, if you fancy.

I’ll still be popping stuff on here, and hopefully continuing my 26 Foreign Films project (I let that one die quite quickly, didn’t I? Awful).

Bye!

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My Favorite Books of 2015

I’ve felt extremely fortunate for various reasons this year. Not only have I been granted the rare luxury of free time, I’m also lucky enough to live across the road from a ridiculously well-funded library.

At the time of writing this, I’ve read 99 books this year, and working my way through two others. I’ve collected an interesting batch of stats on what I’ve read, but we’ll save those for another day. Below are my literary highlights of the year, in no particular order. Some were published in 2015, some were not.

Patrick Ness
2015 was the year I finally got around to appreciating the genius of Patrick Ness. I’ve got through three of his books this year, two of which I completely adored.

A Monster Calls may be the book that made me cry the most this year. It was so beautiful and so human; it just ripped a hole in me. On the surface, it’s a story about a young boy dealing with his mother’s cancer, but the story is completely unconventional. It will take you about two hours to read it, and the illustrations are beautiful. Just brace yourself to be quite severely moved.

If that doesn’t convince you, here’s a trailer for the forthcoming movie.

Ness’s 2015 release was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which is a fantastic spin on the onslaught of sub-par zombie, vampire, werewolf movies which have popped up over the last decade or so. Except this book focuses on the “normal” people in these crazy scenarios, and how supernatural warfare can effect “the rest of us”. It’s insanely brilliant and very clever.

Horror

I devoured A Head Full of Ghosts (Paul Tremblay) in a single day. It was like Ghostwatch meets The Exorcist, but with a very modern twist. It was absolutely terrifying for various reasons.

The Loney (Andrew Michael Hurley) is such a perfect British, unsettling novel. The whole thing is just tinged with a sense of unease that you can’t really explain. It’s been nominated for various awards, for good reason.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters (Keith Donohue) has been on my radar since last year, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. It’s so bizarre, and I couldn’t really work out what was going on most of the time. But when things became clearer, it was just so perfect. And one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Haunting.

I’ve also been reading a lot of Shirley Jackson, and the short stories of Daphne du Maurier. Du Maurier’s story, The Old Man, instantly became my favorite short story ever. Seek it out if you can.

Graphic Novels
I’ve read more graphic novels than I normally would this year, largely due to the fantastic selection at the library. Highlights have been Wilson by Daniel Clowes, who I have loved since I was a teenager. Clowes’ sense of humor is just so bleak. I appreciate him more than older I get. I’m very excited for his new book, Patience, which will be released in a few months.

I have also discovered the wonderful artist Lucy Knisley, and have managed to get hold of three of her books this year. Displacement, about a cruise she took with her grandparents, was very sweet and honest. And An Age of License is about Knisley’s travels around Europe. Knisley’s illustrations are colorful and clean, and she’s a hell of a writer.

Offbeat

IMG_0183I’m drawn towards odd fiction. If a book review contains the words “unsettling” or “unnerving”, there’s a chance it will make it onto my “to read” pile at some point. Here are my favorite weird books of the year.

Whilst reading Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh), I spent a lot of time not really knowing where the book was heading, but very much enjoying the ride. The eponymous character is such an enigmatic misfit that I was happy to follow her.

I’d attempted to listen to the audiobook of Wolf in White Van (John Darnielle) a few times, but for some reason found myself tuning out. So I’m glad I was finally able to give it my full attention. It’s like a dramatic monologue, requiring your full concentration to follow the twisting plot. The intentions of the protagonist aren’t always very clear, but it’s one of those books where everything just falls together, and you want to go back to the start and experience it all over again.

Our Endless Numbered Days (Claire Fuller) is about a young girl, Peggy, who is kidnapped by her survivalist father to go and live in the forest. Peggy’s father convinces her that the world has been destroyed, but Peggy soon finds evidence to the contrary. It’s very weird, and quite similar to Room, and I still think about parts of it now.

The Best of the Rest

IMG_0184A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara) – Epic, heartbreaking, completely engrossing. The author created a world I didn’t want to leave. Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely worth the effort.

Redshirts (John Scalzi) – I almost described this as a Star Trek parody, but I think that devalues the beauty of this book. It’s funny, with lots of sci-fi references, but very moving in places.

Not My Father’s Son – I’m not too keen on autobiographies, but I made an exception for cheeky Scot Alan Cumming. Plus, it was about two quid on Audible, so definitely worth a punt. It’s such a shocking and intensely personal account of Cumming diving into his uncertain family history. It’s incredibly well-written, and consistently surprising.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Eimear McBride) – Poetic, disturbing, vital. I have a quote from this saved in my phone because it’s just so beautiful.

What a fantastic year. What have your favorites been?

Spooky Special!

I bloody love Halloween. Probably more than I like Christmas. So it’s pretty cool to live in a country where they completely embrace it. Look at this house, just down the street from where we live.
imageAmazing.

The main reason I love Halloween so much is that I’m slightly obsessed with the supernatural. I prety much always have been. I think I got it from my Grandma, who is convinced she’s seen at least two ghosts in her life. My Grandma also introduced me to the wonders of Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise. In short, she’s an absolute badass.

Anyway, the point of this is to share with you a few recommendations for reading, watching and listening for Halloween. Please feel free to share any obscure terrors with me!

Bewitching Books

IMG_0160The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley

No, that’s not a spelling mistake. This book really is called The Loney, the name of the mysterious location where this book is based. A teenage boy, Tonto, goes on a pilgrimage to this strange location with his family, a priest, and other strange characters, in the hopes of healing Tonto’s brother, Hanny, of his learning disabilities. Throw in a few weird locals, an unnerving local ceremony, and you can almost hear Edward Woodward’s cries of “Oh Jesus Christ!” on the wind.

For fans of: The Wicker Man, Kill List

imageA Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

I thought I’d already mentioned this in the blog, and frankly I can’t believe I haven’t. This is one of my favourite books of this year; I devoured it in a day. A Head Full of Ghosts is about the Barrett family, as they struggle to deal with their oldest daughters mental health problems. When the word “possessed” is mentioned, father of the family John sees a quick money-making opportunity, and the family find themselves the subject of a reality TV show. And then, of course, shit goes bananas.

For fans of: Ghost Watch, The Exorcist 

imageThe Silent Land – Graham Joyce

I will be eternal grateful to Neil Gaiman for recommending this book on his blog. I first read it about four years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. It’s about a couple who go on a skiing holiday, and get caught in an avalanche, they somehow manage to survive. However, the ski resort is now completely empty, and weird things are happening. I think it’s probably the one book I actively had to put down because I was so scared (I should have followed Joey’s advice and put it in the freezer). Joyce died last year of cancer, and I was absolutely heartbroken. I can’t express how atmospheric, terrifying, and ultimately beautiful this book is. It’s wonderful.

For fans of: Neil Gaiman, beautiful fiction

Spooky Sounds

imageThe Same Dog – Robert Aickman (read by Reece Shearsmith)

This story is taken from Aickman’s short story collection, Cold Hand in Mine. I struggle with Robert Aickman. I find some of his “short” stories a little long, and too short on terror. However, this one is incredibly disturbing. It’s a story about a man recalling his youth, and a strange girl he made friends with. When he tries to revisit the place where they met as an adult, things get very peculiar indeed. It’s one of those stories that willl have your bloody running cold by the end, and Shearsmith’s narration is just perfect. It’s available in its entirety on Soundcloud. Click here if you dare!

Radio 4 Fright Nightimage

You can’t really beat Radio 4 for spooky radio plays. Over the years they’ve done amazing adaptations, such as The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, The Exorcist, and a terrific series of scary shorts (which I still regularly listen to) called Fear on Four.

Anyway, this year we’ve got two cracking new adaptations to look forward to. First up is Ring, based on a film that you’ve all hopefully seen already. If not, don’t fear. Yet. The captivating premise of Ring is that there is a video tape that can cause you to die within a few days of watching it. So, of course, people try it, don’t they? What can possibly go wrong? Anyway, I won’t spoil it, but you should definitely listen in on Halloween.

The next adaptation you may not be so familiar with; Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape. This was originally a TV play (remember those?!) that was broadcast in the 1970s. It’s about a team of scientists who discover that stones can “record” bits of history. Unfortunately, some bits of the history they discover aren’t very pleasant. I bloody love Nigel Kneale, as he’s a bit of a hero of mine, and this adaptation looks very promising indeed. Both plays will be on BBC Radio iPlayer (available worldwide, thank god) for a month or so after the Halloween broadcast.

More info on Fright Night

Link to the original Stone Tape TV play – worth a watch. Incredibly good.

Vile Videos

imageThe Signalman

The BBC used to do this bloody brilliant thing in the 70s called A Ghost Story for Christmas. And rather than them being full of laughable CG ghosts and pointless jump scares, they were properly horrifying. My personal favourite is The Signalman, based on the Charles Dickens ghost story, and starring the delightful Denholm Elliot. Elliot plays an isolated railway signal worker, who is visited by a man who immediately unnerves him. They eventually warm to each other, and our eponymous hero shares a few disturbing stories concerning the railway.

If you watch this, and like it, I’d recommend Whistle and I’ll Come to You (the 1960s one, not the recent one), A Warning to the Curious, and Lost Hearts. There is a lovely box set including some great extras if that’s your bag too.

Link to The Signalman

imageGhosts on the Underground

This is probably my favourite documentary of all time. All the information you need is in the title. There are some seriously creepy stories contained in the film, so if you ever want to travel alone on the tube at night again, you might want to steer clear. But I love it. The one about the weird photograph is especially unnerving.

Link to Ghosts on the Underground

imageThe Woman in Black

No, not the one with Harry Potter. This is another Nigel Kneale masterpiece, based on Susan Hill’s incredible novel. No CG, no happy ending, just out-and-out terror. You probably know the story already; Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer, is sent to the mysterious Eel Marsh House to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased client. Things go bump in the night, there’s a curse on the village, it’s all very horrifying. But this film mentally scarred me as a youth. There’s a particular scene (and you’ll know it if/once you’ve seen it) that gave me nightmares for years afterwards. My English teacher made us watch it in our second year of high school. And I’m eternally grateful for it.

The whole movie is available on YouTube, link below. Settle in.

Link to The Woman in Black

What I’m Reading – October 2015

Brace yourselves, September was quite a big reading month!

Graphic Novels

imageYep, still reading the comics. Still getting strange looks for being a seemingly grown woman in a Batman t-shirt reading what is essentially a picture book on a Wednesday afternoon. Not really, I don’t think they let people into Livermore library if they aren’t lovely.

I’ve read many graphic novels since my last post, so I’ll do a very quick breakdown (you can click on the links if you fancy a more in-depth look).


The Guild
– Written by Felicia Day, she of internet fame. The Guild is a sweet, short graphic novel about a girl liberating herself from her awful musician boyfriend and finding joy in online gaming. I’m aware it’s based on the TV show, which I haven’t seen. To be honest, after reading this, I don’t feel particularly inclined to check it out. Make of that what you will. Not earth-shattering, but quite enjoyable. And Felicia Day seems pretty cool.

Y: The Last Man – This was interesting. It focusses on young Yorick (as in, alas poor), who is literally the last man on Earth. This first volume sets up the scenario and the characters nicely, including a monkey called Ampersand, Yorick’s only fellow male. I really enjoyed it, and wanted to read further, but the library only has volumes 1,3 and 4. Doh!

The Arrival – This book is beautiful. Through gorgeous illustrations, it tells the story of a man leaving his native land to seek employment and money to support his family. It beautifully conveys the problems that come with emigration, such as language/cultural barriers, and trying to establish yourself in new surroundings, all without written dialogue. Highly recommended for fans of unconventional storytelling.

Beautiful Darkness – Don’t let the vibrant watercolours fool you, this book is bleak. This one is about a group of little creatures that make up the personality of a little girl. Except, the little girl is dead in the woods, and these little creatures have to fend for themselves. Like if the Brothers Grimm wrote Inside Out. Very weird, with lots of dark humour, this was another hit with me.

Displacement: A Travelogue – Lucy Knisley’s memoir of a cruise she went on with her declining grandparents. I appreciated Knisley’s honesty about how it can be frustrating to deal with aging family members, especially when you love them so much. Knisley also includes sections of her grandfather’s war memoirs, which was a wonderful addition. A genuinely interesting story, and I was completely engrossed.

Tomboy – Another graphic memoir, this time by Liz Prince, about visual expectations of femininity. I could completely relate, as I am perfectly capable of covering myself in make-up and sticking a dress on to conform to traditional expectations of how a woman should look, but most of the time you will find me in jeans and the aforementioned Batman t-shirt. There wasn’t too much a narrative in Tomboy, so it wasn’t as strong as Displacement, but still a good read.

I read some other graphic novels, but they weren’t too amazing. Black River, Sloth, and It Never Happened Again, if you’re interested.

Fluff

imageI’ve read a couple of lighter books this month, because why not? Surely any kind of reading is good, right?

Many moons ago, a good friend recommended Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I made a mental note of it, at the time not enquiring what the book was about. Recently, I learned it was about a young woman, Lou, who gets a job as a carer to a man, Will, who is recently disabled. The book is about their initially uneasy relationship, and how eventually how they bring out the best in each other. Possibly a little more chick-lit than my usual tastes (sorry, I hate that term, but you can’t argue that the genre doesn’t exist), but this was still an enjoyable read. The characters were realistic, and mostly likable. I’m sure the movie will be great, as Emilia “Daenerys” Clarke is playing Lou. I don’t agree with the casting of Sam Clafin as Will (too young), but what do I know, eh?

I also read a book called Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, which is actually by celebrity ghost-writer Hilary Liftin. The book is about a young Hollywood starlet who is seemingly selected to fall in love with an older actor who is involved with a mysterious quasi-religious organisation. IN NO WAY IS THIS BOOK BASED ON THE LIFE OF KATIE HOLMES. DEFINITELY NOT. What does it matter that the main character was in a popular teen-drama, completely different from Dawson’s Creek, when she was younger? Or if this religion is highly secretive and makes people disappear? This is a work of fiction, my friends. Yep. It’s also pretty entertaining. If you want something for a flight, or a few hours by the pool, this might be the book for you.

The Good Stuff

image

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler – I worked my way through this inspirational, funny, and powerful book within two days. Put it this way, when I begin to have negative thoughts about myself, I now imagine a tiny (tinier? She’s the same height as me) Amy Poehler beating up my inner demons for me. And it works too! She’s badass.

Seriously, this book is great. I love Poehler. If you can get through that difficult first season of Parks and Recreation, it is a very rewarding series. Poehler’s section about her favourite memories of the show and the cast are wonderful, and frequently reduced me to tears (much like the show does). But my favourite parts of this book are when Amy is sharing her very personal experiences, and passing her wisdom onto the reader. There is also a very moving chapter written by her friend Seth Myers, where he (rightly) sings Amy’s praises. (Self-indulgence time – it reminded me of the time a dear friend wrote something similar for me.)

Yes Please is now up there with Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman in terms of a survival guide for me. It is such a wonderful book. Everyone should read it. Or listen to the audiobook like I did. Hearing Patrick Stewart read haikus about plastic surgery is like an instant injection of joy.

Hangmen, by Martin McDonagh – I probably miss having the opportunity to nip to London to randomly see a play more than I miss Manchester at the moment. Martin McDonagh is one of my favourite playwrights, and his play Pillowman is in my top four plays of all time (along with Blackbird, Orphans, and The Last of the Hausmanns, since you asked). So I was gutted when I saw Hangmen was opening at the Royal Court once I’d already left the country. Especially since of my heroes, Reece Shearsmith, is in the cast.

Anyway, I did the next best thing, and read the script. It’s fantastic, I knew it would be. It’s about a group of ex-hangmen dealing with the abolition of their “trade”, amongst other things. And of course, it’s full of McDonagh’s sharp, hilarious dialogue, and beautiful devices that keep the reader/audience exactly where the playwright wants them. Luckily, the play is transferring to the West End just in time for my brief Christmas visit to the UK, so I may get chance to see it yet. But Shearsmith won’t be in the cast. Arses.

Pretty Is, by Maggie Mitchell – Another book following my strange fascination with child abduction (see Room, Our Endless Numbered Days, Tiger Tiger, to name but a few), this is about two girls who were kidnapped by a stranger when they were 12, but were rescued six weeks later unharmed. As grown-ups, Lois has written a novel based on the incident, and Carly May is an actress who has been cast in the movie adaptation. The two girls fell out of touch over the years, and mentally revisit their experiences in anticipation of their upcoming encounter. The two female characters are interesting, and the book is okay, but it ended a little abruptly for me. I got the sense that things weren’t fully resolved, but I guess that reflects the fact that the girls never found out why they were selected to be kidnapped by this strange man. If the theme of this book appeals to you, I’d recommend the three books I mentioned earlier over this one.

Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh – I spent most of this book having no clue where it was going, but thoroughly enjoying the ride. And when everything was revealed, it was extremely exciting. A definite “holy shit!” moment. I won’t say too much about this one, but if you enjoy the work of Shirley Jackson, or any novel with a strange, insecure female protagonist, please pick this up. One of my favourite books of this year.

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin – I’ve saved the best, or certainly the most personal, for last. Eilis, an Irish teenager, is given the chance to leave her small-town life to start an exciting new chapter in America. Once she arrives, she falls in love, makes new friends, and has limitless potential. But when a family tragedy brings her back to Ireland, people assume she will resume her former life as if she’d never left. They also think she gives the impression that she’s now better than the people she left behind. She has to decide whether she wants to continue the stagnant life of her hometown, or resume her exciting life overseas.

Like the graphic novel The Arrival, the book is about establishing yourself as a new person in unfamiliar surroundings. It is also trying to ignore any jealous attempts by the people you’ve left behind to devalue your new experiences. Given my circumstances, it spoke extremely loudly to me. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has ever attempted to change themselves, but felt dragged down by people who have never taken any steps to change themselves in a positive way. Alternatively, there’s a movie adaptation by Nick Hornby coming out in November, which looks great.

So that was September! At the moment I’m making a start of the Maus graphic novels by Art  Spiegelman. I’ve also got Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees, although after the trauma of A Little Life, I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready for it! I’ve also got Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, as well as The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. And I’m still listening to Carsick, by another one of my heroes, John Waters.

Free Horror Audiobook!

imageAudible have done an audio adaptation of Joe Hill’s graphic novel series Locke and Key, and it is FREE for a limited period. No catches, you can just log into Audible with your Amazon details. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I enjoyed the graphic novels, as well as Joe Hill’s work in general, and the cast includes Kate Mulgrew, who is a phenomenal voice actor (as well as Janeway and Red). Click here to have a look!

What I’m Reading – September 2015

September? Already? Madness. Just madness. Anyway, here are a selection of the books that have been getting me through these awful, awful sunny California days.

Graphic Novels

imageNow that the youths of Livermore have returned to school, the graphic novel section of the library is looking a little healthier. So I’m continuing to make my way thought most of it.

Some of you may already be aware of Alison Bechdel, she of the Bechdel test, which tests the merits of a piece of fiction on whether it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Alarmingly, few things pass this test. The musical adaptation of her graphic novel, Fun Home, is also currently running on Broadway, and gaining positive reviews. On the strength of this comic strip, I decided to check out the graphic novel.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed. It’s a very personal story, covering Bechdel’s relationship with her parents, her sexual awakening, and how she dealt with her father’s (apparent) suicide (no spoilers here;it’s addressed right at the beginning of the book and throughout). It’s an interesting story, but not particularly entertaining. Maybe it’s not meant to be. From what I can gather, the musical is quite different.

I also read a similar autobiographic novel (see what I did there?), Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. This one I very much enjoyed. It’s about Chast dealing with the decline of her elderly Jewish parents, and the difficulties that come when one’s parents essentially become dependant children. Chast tells the story beautifully, with a great deal of humor. I found it genuinely moving, and the artwork was beautiful. The inclusion of photographs and original poetry by Chast’s mother add to the book authenticity. I loved it, but it did make my cry a bit.

image

Our Souls at Night – Kent Haruf

Not sure where I discovered this one. It was probably in Entertainment Weekly, where most of my popular fiction recommendations come from (now you know my secret!). I bashed through it in an afternoon. Elderly widow Addie Moore is lonely, and so asks her neighbor, Louis, if he will consider sharing her bed with her once in a while. Nothing dodgy, she just wants to sleep next to someone. He agrees, and they begin a very strange but powerful relationship. It’s a really beautiful book, with lots of messages about the power of gossip, and the sometimes negative (and unrequested) opinions of family members. I highly recommend this book, it’s a lovely but often infuriating way to spend a couple of hours.

Among the Ten Thousand Things – Julia Pierpont

The concept of this book was very interesting to me. A scorned woman prints out all the racy emails from her adulterous paramour, and sends them to his wife. Only his young daughter finds them first, thus opening up a whole bag of worms. Unfortunately, after this initial burst of tension and excitement, things go a bit stale. It’s essentially a book about family and fidelity, but I found it very hard to care about any of the characters. The only person I did connect with was the young daughter, Kay, who is a bit of an outcast and writes her own racy Seinfeld episodes. I wouldn’t recommend this one for your “to read” list. The writing is fine, but there just isn’t enough plot to go around.

In a Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware

I love Gone Girl. It’s amazing. I even enjoyed the film adaptation. And there’s no denying it’s been very successful. Which means publishers seem to be determined to find “the next Gone Girl”. Because if there’s nothing the reading public love more, it’s a “more of the same” attitude, right? Anyway, this books seems to fall into the category. And while I enjoyed In a Dark, Dark Wood, it’s a bit bonkers. Nora is invited to Clare’s hen party, a woman she hasn’t seen in ten years, which is to be held in a grand house in the aforementioned wood. It transpires that Clare has invited Nora to explain that she is, in fact, marrying Nora’s ex-boyfriend from when she was sixteen years old. But things are a bit strange, and Clare’s maid of honor, Flo, is a bit highly strung. Oh, and is that rifle above the fireplace really not loaded?

The whole book is a little absurd, but enjoyable. The thing that I found the most unbelievable is how Nora is still obsessed with this boy she literally hasn’t spoken to since she was sixteen. Do you remember who you were even dating at sixteen? I barely can, and I see it as a bullet successfully dodged, let alone a meaningful memory.

Again, I wouldn’t rush out and buy this, but if you’re going on holiday or something, it would be a good, light, beach read.

On Writing – Stephen King

This is the one, guys. This one. I know, I’m a bit behind, but I was so impressed with this book. I unashamedly love Stephen King, which is a fairly recent thing. I’ve obviously seen my fair share of adaptations of his books, but it’s his short stories that I especially love (and Doctor Sleep. That book is badass).

On Writing is split into three parts. The first section is a brief autobiography about how King became of the world’s most successful authors, the second contains some indispensable, practical writing advice, and the third is about how King nearly died, and how he forced himself to start writing again. Again, I bashed through this one really quickly, mainly because it’s so fantastic. If anyone is giving this whole writing thing a try, and statistically some of you are, I urge you to pick this book up. It genuinely addressed something that I had been grappling with days before, and solved my problem in a reassuring, practical way. Plus, the sections about King’s life are genuinely interesting, and a pleasure to read. It’s gained a place of my bookshelves for the foreseeable future.

So, that’s been my past few weeks. I still need to finish Armada, among other things, but a lot of the stuff I’ve been getting is from the library, so I feel I have to prioritise those. My travelling book is Echoes from the Macabre, a short story collection by Daphne du Maurier (which contains Don’t Look Now and The Birds). I’ve also started Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, after falling in love with the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation. And I’m about halfway through Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, which is very strange and Shirley Jackson-esque. I’m at that delicious point where I don’t really know where the book is going, but I cannot wait to find out.

Oh, and another tip, Louise O’Neill, who wrote the frankly stunning YA novel, Only Ever Yours, has a new book out called Asking For It, which is currently £4 on Amazon Kindle. Haven’t read it yet, but Only Ever Yours was incredible in a kind of Stepford Wives way, so I’m expecting great things.

Let me know what you’re reading, and if there’s anything I should be looking out for. Until next time, Constant Reader!

Oh, and if you’re on Goodreads, feel free to add me.

What I’m Reading – August 2015

Haven’t done one of these for a while, and I’m cracking through a fair few books at the moment, so thought I’d share. Be aware, two (possibly three) of these books get the highest acclaim one can achieve from me – “Yes, mate.”

imageOur Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller

This is the first “yes, mate”. Yes, indeed. The more I think about this book (which is a lot; it has definitely stayed in my head), the more I appreciate it.

Young Peggy Hillcoat lives with her concert pianist mother and less-successful, survivalist father, James, in London. One day, James taken Peggy on a little holiday. Only it becomes clear that they’re never going to return home, and Peggy has essentially been kidnapped. Together, they find a hut, a tip from one of James’ bonkers survivalist chums, and set up home as best they can.

The book flashes between the present, where Peggy is now an older teenager, back with her mother and an eight-year-old brother she has never met, and the past kidnapping. So the reader gets a good idea of how previous event affected Peggy, and how she is struggling to adapt back to the “normal” world.

I don’t want to give too much away, as there are so many interesting plot turns in this book. If you enjoyed  books like Room (Emma Donohue), or Tiger, Tiger (Margaux Fragoso), you may appreciate this. It’s fantastic.

imageDietland – Sarai Walker

I spend bloody ages looking for this book, and could never find it. So typically, the day after I finished reading it after purchasing it from Amazon, the bloody thing turns up in my local library.

And no, it’s not a book on dieting, I haven’t gone mental since moving to California.

Anyway, I finally got the chance to read it, and it’s a semi “yes, mate” (just a “yes, then. Or a “mate”.) Plum is a larger woman. She knows this. She has saved for gastic band surgery, and is waiting for her operation when she is enducted into a strange women’s commune, a member of which is the daughter of a woman who founded a now-defunct dieting empire. This woman tries to convince Plum not to go ahead with her life changing surgery, by setting her a number of strange tasks and offering her $20,000.

Meanwhile, a feminist guerilla group called Jennifer are killing porn stars, throwing rapists from planes, and campaigning for naked men to replace the heavy-chested women in tabloid newspapers.

Is there a link between Plum’s commune and Jennifer? It all seems a bit mad. And it is, but it’s pretty enjoyable. The parts describing the acts of feminist terrorism are very entertaining. I probably enjoyed them a little too much. It’s a fun book, with some interesting messages about feminism, but not earth-shattering.

imageAbbot’s Keep – Benedict Ashforth

This book wasn’t amazing. But fortunately, it wasn’t very long. It’s a ghost story, and feels quite similar to The Woman in Black (to the point where there is even a plot-lightening dog).

The book is told in a number of letters. The basic gist is that Clifford receives a letter from his estranged brother Simon. Ex-architect Simon, who has turned to drink following an incident where a building he designed killed two people, is house-sitting at Abbot’s Keep. Simon discovers the place has a dark history, goes mad, etc etc. Clifford is disturbed by the contents of Simon’s letter, and goes after him. Cue letters from Simon to his wife about how he can’t get hold of her on the telephone, blah blah blah, mysterious circumstances, etc.

Actually, I’m possibly being a bit hard on the book. It was quite entertaining, and really creepy in some parts. It’s hard to evoke a spooky atmosphere where essentially nothing happens, and Ashforth has done that quite well. However, if you want something really creepy, I recommend The Silent Land by the late, great Graham Joyce.

imageRedshirts – John Scalzi

YES. MATE.

This book is yet another fantastic recommendation from my brother. It won’t appeal to everyone, but I absolutely loved it.

If you’re aware of Star Trek, you’re probably familiar with “redshirts”, the expendable members of the ship’s crew, often dressed in red uniforms, who are sacrificed in the name of drama, so the main characters can escape unharmed. This books begs the question, what if these characters noticed the patterns in these frequent deaths, and tried to break the cycle?

On the surface, Redshirts seems like quite a niche book, but I think the ample humour in the novel gives it wider appeal. And best of all, it’s a very exciting book. There’s time travel, battles with alien worlds, human folly, all the good stuff. Plus, the characters are just wonderful. And they swear. A lot. Always a plus point for me.

Tip – after the main novel finishes, Scalzi has added what he calls “codas” to further explore some of the smaller characters. These are just beautiful. So touching. Don’t skip them.

So, what’s next? Well, I think this week I’m going to make the time to finish Ernest Cline’s Armada, which my brother reliably tells me is awesome. I think I might also try Stephen King’s On Writing, as he’s always good value. I’ve also got Disclaimer (Renee Knight) and Landline (Rainbow Rowell) staring at me from the shelf.

What are you reading? Let me know!

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

My life in California is very different from my old life in the UK in a lot of ways. Some of it is due to location, but I think it’s partly due to getting older, and not really being arsed about tiny things anymore.

Work

While I can’t say I miss working (because I’m not an idiot), it does feel a little weird not having to go and sit in an office for a good eight hours every day. I guess you could argue that a job should give you “purpose”, but I don’t feel like I was defined by my past career in Higher Education. There were times when I loved it, and times when it was unbearable, but it was never a crusade for me. I guess the only times when I’ve felt what I was doing had a purpose was when I “worked” in arts journalism. Reviewing and promoting theater, and music before that, I felt like it was something worth doing. In a small way, I helped people achieve their dreams, and enabled them to continue doing what they loved. Plus, free tickets to stuff, and getting to speak to some of my idols didn’t exactly hurt either; I’m not completely altruistic.

So, with this new-found luxury of free time, I’ve started volunteering. This week, I began my training to become a Literary Tutor at Livermore Library. This will basically entail spending a couple of hours a week with an adult learner, helping them to achieve whatever literary goals they may have, whether that be enabling them to help their kids with homework, passing their high school equivalency exam, or just generally giving them more confidence with the written word. During the training, we’ve been faced with some pretty scary statistics regarding adult literacy in the US. Apparently one in four young adults drop out of high school. Madness. So I’m happy to be doing my bit. Plus, I’ve met some lovely people from the local area, who I will hopefully stay in touch with.

Make-Up

In Manchester, it would just be part of my daily routine to shove a bit of eyeliner on before even contemplating leaving the house. Here, I just don’t bother painting my face on. Okay, I’ll make a bit of an effort if we’re going out drinking, but otherwise, I don’t really feel the need (apart from drawing my eyebrows on. I don’t want to scare children). Plus, I have some pretty awesome freckle action going on.

And you know what? The world hasn’t crumbled, I don’t get abused on the streets, MAC hasn’t gone out of business, and Will hasn’t left me. I know there’s a certain sense of self-confidence that comes with “looking your best”, but if you’re at your best all the time, doesn’t that then just become normal?

Saying that, my barnet is in desperate need of attention.

Mental Health

For various reasons, my mental health suffered in the few months before we left the UK. It was a very stressful time, and given the pace at which I had been both living and working for the past couple of years, something had to give.

Out here, my mind isn’t exactly quiet, it’s just filled with good stuff. I’m not really worrying about the tiny minutiae of conversations I have or have not had, nor letting out my valuable headspace to negative people. Instead, it’s been replaced with thoughts about writing, the books I’m reading, what I want to do with my time, and all the other exciting stuff Will and I have to look forward to.

I’ve also taken to going on daily walks, which feels fantastic. I’ve found a nice route in the park near where we live, and do just over three miles a day. I’m slowly working my way up to running, but let’s not go mad.

Reading

Ah, time to read! It’s brilliant. I’ve gone a bit mad. Here’s what I’m on at the moment:

A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara) – Still working my way through this one (it’s a whopper). It’s brilliant though, and the characters are amazing. But it’s so harrowing. Just when you think it can’t possibly get any worse, it does. But it’s incredibly gripping. Can someone else read it so we can talk about it, please?

Locke and Key (Joe Hill) – Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he’s a brilliant author (I constantly recommend his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, and N0S4R2 is fantastic as well). Locke and Key is his graphic novel series, with illustrations by Gabriel Rodriguez. I’ve just read the first book, and really enjoyed it. Really creepy.

Armada (Ernest Cline) – Ready Player One is my jam, I absolutely love that book. Armada is Cline’s second novel, and I started reading it as soon as it landed on my Kindle app yesterday. I’m three chapters in and I’m already in love. If you’ve never read Ready Player One, just do it now. It’s fantastic. Then pick this one up.

Love, Nina (Nina Stibbe) – £1.99 in the amazing Amazon Kindle summer sale. I’ve been wanting to read this one for ages, and it hasn’t disappointed. The book consists of letters from Nina that she sent home to her sister while she was working as a nanny in London in her twenties. Alan Bennett pops up in it quite a lot. It’s hilarious.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke) – I was absolutely gutted to miss this when it was on TV, as we left the UK after the first two episodes. No doubt I’ll see it at some point (the blu-ray comes out over here next month), but I’ve had this book sitting in my Audible account for literally years, so thought I’d make a start while I’m on my walks.

I did also start David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, but wasn’t giving it the attention it deserved, so I’ll come back to that one. Although there was a great line:

“I’ve never met a Tracy I didn’t like.”

I can forgive the misspelling of Tracey as the intent is quite lovely.