What I’m Reading in 2015

It occurred to me a couple of days ago that 2015 is probably the first year ever that I haven’t had to read any books. Certainly within the last decade, every year of my life has involved some sort of reading list.

Now I’m not really complaining about this because I’ve been “forced” to read some books that I actually loved, and even those that I didn’t probably improved me as a person in some way or another. But it is nice to be able to read literally whatever I want, whenever I want.

My commute to work isn’t really long enough to get much reading done, but I’ve been trying to make time on the weekends and evenings and I’ve read some good stuff. I’m pretty sure I’ve read more than 3 books so far this year, but the ones that stand out to me are:

Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham

I picked this up for half price on New Years Eve (it’s the kind of book you have to own in real life, not on a Kindle) and kicked off 2015 by promptly devouring it. Lena Dunham is my very favourite 21st century icon and her book only made me like her more. She is just a wonderful genius and this compilation of essays/memories/thoughts etc made me want to be her very best friend.

American Dream Machine, Matthew Specktor

I’ll read anything that’s about disillusioned young men in gritty LA, especially if the book cover has a quote from Bret Easton Ellis on it, so this was an easy purchase. It follows the sons of some of LA’s biggest talent agents, tracking both the three boys’ lives and delving into the histories of their fathers, and is surprisingly actually very easy to follow. This book did exactly what I wanted it to and I’d recommend it to any fellow Easton Ellis / LA fans!

Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead

Again, I’ll also read anything about rich families in the Cape Cod area so this was also right up my street. It’s about the Van Meter family descending on their summer island home for the eldest daughter’s wedding, and told largely from the POV of the father, Winn. I won’t lie, it was fairly predictable, but the characters were well drawn out and I found myself picking up my kindle to get through this whenever I could, which is always a good sign, and I was disappointed when it ended (not because the ending was disappointing, though!). In the back was a satisfyingly long excerpt from Shipstead’s next novel, Astonish Me, and now I definitely want to read that too!

Currently, I’m reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (on the kindle), and also The Deaths by Mark Lawson, which I picked up in my local Oxfam book shop for a cool £2.50.

I’ve been wanting to read Freedom for ages but I’m not really loving it as much as I thought. In fact, I’m completely sure that I have already started it before because the first section was extremely familiar to me, but I have absolutely no memory of where or when and that is unusual for a girl who remembers basically every book I’ve ever read. I’ll get through it but I’m not completely convinced – it’s just a bit angsty and I can’t warm to the protagonist, Patty, at all. Which I guess is the point. I’ll probably finish it but I don’t think it’ll become a favourite!

The Deaths, however, I am already enjoying much more. I’m only a couple of chapters in but it perfectly encapsulates so much of middle class 21st century life and I’m loving the acerbic, slightly tongue in cheek social commentary aspect as much as the mystery. It’s very now – in a way that means it’ll probably be dated in about 2 years – but I can’t wait to find out what happens. I won’t give too much away (in fact I can’t because I’m only on chapter 4) but basically it’s about a mysterious murder case amongst a group of upper/middle class British families – but in the kind of light hearted, darkly funny way that keeps it away from a traditional thriller.

I’m determined to keep up my reading this year so maybe I’ll do regular updates…for now, it’s back to The Deaths for me!

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The Reading List: SUMMER

Maybe it’s cause the rest of me was so relaxed that my brain started working at top speed, but I managed to read an absurd amount of books during the second half of my holiday and I loved almost all of them. Rather than review each of them individually, I’ve done a mass round-up of what I thought… (and sorry, there’s no pictures! I just moved to London and everything is everywhere! Normal service will resume shortly!)

We Were Liars, Emily Lockhart

This is one that I’ve heard the name of a lot and not really read what it’s about. The Amazon description mentioned Massachusetts and private islands, which is what I’m all about, and even though this wasn’t quite what I was expecting I really loved it. It basically follows Cady as she returns to her family’s private island for the summer after a serious accident a couple of summers ago, of which she remembers nothing. The book basically follows her as she deals with the mental issues she has experienced since, and figures out exactly what happened two summers before. I found the style a bit grating at first: it’s simple to the point of sounding harsh, which was a huge contrast to the style of Stiltsville which I finished right before it. But as soon as I got used to it it was absolutely fine and suited the main character/narrator, Cady, down to the ground, and I particularly loved the character of Mirren, Cady’s cousin. I didn’t guess what was going to happen at all either and I’d definitely recommend this!

Stiltsville, Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville was an emergency buy in City airport when my Kindle died five minutes before I got on the plane, but it ended up being probably my favourite book from the whole week. It’s a slow mover, covering protagonist Frances’ life from about 20 (I think) to late middle age as she meets, marries and builds a life with her husband Dennis and their daughter, who was maybe my favourite character of all. It’s definitely more character driven than plot, which meant I fell in love with all the main characters. It was the kind of book I would happily have read forever and ever – and it made me want to go back to Miami!

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

I’ve had this one on my Kindle for ages and to be honest I kind of forced myself to start it because I’d just bought The Lemon Grove and was dying to read that – but I’m so glad I did! I have a habit of automatically dismissing books that get really super popular (it’s the snobby English student in me) but this really lived up to the hype and I ended up staying up till almost 1AM because I honestly could not go to bed before I finished it! It kept me guessing all the way through and I will definitely be catching the movie!

Buying In, Laura Hempthill

This is kind of chicklit with a twist – it’s about a 22 year old, Sophie, and her first job in an investment bank in NYC, 2007-ish. I really liked it, actually, and I definitely related a LOT to Sophie even though there is no way I will be following her career path (and would be even less inclined to do so after reading!). Turns out Laura Hempthill worked in investment banks for 7 years before writing the novel so I guess it’s all fairly authentic – definitely an interesting, light read!

The Lemon Grove, Helen Walsh

I’d heard such a lot about this, I was expecting great things but I have to say I was a bit disappointed. It’s basically about a middle-aged woman (whose name I can’t remember, which says a lot) who starts an illicit affair with her step-daughter’s boyfriend while on holiday. While I liked the stepdaughter Emma’s character, the whole thing all felt a bit melodramatic and I felt like there were a lot of gratuitous sex scenes. I did still enjoy it and it made me wanna swim in the sea so it was a good holiday read, but I feel like I would have enjoyed it way less if I’d read it at home.

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

Technically I finished this while still in the UK, but it was on the way to the airport so it still counts in my book! I enjoyed this while reading it and I’d definitely recommend it, but it doesn’t really stand out to me as one of my favourites. That said, I liked the style and especially the character of Lux, and I’m going to try and watch the film at some point cause Kirsten Dunst is a goddess!

Easy, Tammara Webber

I have a feeling this is a self-published kind of deal and it was all very predictable and a bit melodramatic but I found that I couldn’t stop reading it anyway (and I’m not a girl who has qualms about giving up on a book halfway through). It’s set in college and it’s very much your average boy-meets-girl, but it does cover some interesting stuff about rape, victim blaming, and so on, and it involves frat boys and sorority girls (on a low level) which I’m always interested in. Definitely not a heavy read but enjoyable all the same.

Lastly, I’m currently midway through We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, which was recently been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I wasn’t sure about it at first but now I’m really into it and although I haven’t had much time to read since getting home, I’m eager to finish it!

What’s been your favourite summer read? Have you read any of these or do you want to? Let me know!

Reading Lately

My course hasn’t finished (not by a long shot) but I’m all done with seminars and reading lists so I’ve been finding quite a bit of time to read what I want lately. I won’t bore you with full individual reviews, but here’s a little rundown of my three latests in case you’re looking for summer beach inspiration!

Source: prettybooks

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls, Anton DiSclafani

The Amazon description of this book says that it’s ideally suited for fans of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep and Liza Klaussman’s Tigers in Red Weather. It just so happens that Prep is way up there in my favourite 3 books ever and I think I already mentioned how much I enjoyed Tigers, so this was top of my list to download for our trip to Croatia. Safe to say, I loved it. It follows 15 year old Thea as she is sent to a remote riding camp in North Carolina right at the beginning of the American Depression and it contains all my favourite ingredients in a book: teenage girls, people with too much money, the American South, a good healthy dose of family scandal, and so on and so on. It’s also a really interesting little glimpse at the Depression and how it began and how it affected or didn’t affect various family fortunes…a read I’d highly recommend!

I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe

This is actually one of my main dissertation texts but I’ve been enjoying re-reading it so much that I felt it deserved a mention. It follows Charlotte Simmons, who is from a tiny town in the Appalachian mountains, through her first term at Ivy League-esque Dupont College, and her various encounters with frat boy Hoyt, basketball star Jojo, boarding-school roommate Beverly, and so on and so on. Maybe it appeals to me because everything about it reminds me so much of William & Mary (there is a fraternity formal scene that is so on point it’s untrue) but it’s one of my very favourite American college-life books ever. Mind you, ask me again how much I like it when I’ve finished analysing the life out of the 700 word thing, and then we’ll see how good it is…

The Universe versus Alex Woods, Gavin Extence

Like most of the books I download, I kept seeing this one everywhere and when it showed up cheap on Kindle I went ahead and bought it. It’s quite similar in tone to last summer’s favourite, The Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – actually I’d say it’s like a cross between that and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time: Woods’ protagonist, Alex, is eccentric to say the least but charming nonetheless. It took me a while to read and I wouldn’t call it particularly compelling, so it’s good if you want something you can pick up and read a couple of chapters every now and again, but it did actually get quite emotional at the end!

What have you been reading lately?

 

Book Review: The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

It feels like an absolute age since I’ve read a book that wasn’t for my course, but any free time I have had recently has been devoted to the absolute behemoth that is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

Image from Hachette Website

Tartt’s first novel The Secret History is always on everyone’s favourite books list, but I have to say that I started it and had to give up (although this was mid-third year so maybe I’ll give it another go when I have more time). Anyway, but I kept seeing everyone raving about The Goldfinch and I thought the main character (Theodore Decker) had a great name and then it was cheap on Amazon so I had to buy it. It’s taken me nearly three months but I have finally finished it!

Okay, so first off I was not joking when I said it’s a behemoth – I’m not sure how many pages exactly, but this is one LONG book, and it’s difficult to sum up. On a basic level, it follows the life of Theo Decker from young boy (I think he is 12 or so when the novel begins) to man of approximately middle age. However, there are 2 main subplots: on one level, the impact of his mother’s death (and his own narrow escape) in an apparent terrorist attack, and on another, how his inadvertent theft of a famous painting – The Goldfinch – haunts his life from thereon out.

In terms of subtler themes, I think the book has quite a lot of say about terrorist culture, “art terrorism” and the presence of art and history in general culture. The sheer length of it allows Tartt to delve in and out of an array of subplots, each with their own respective array of involved characters. Through Theo’s various travels, Tartt gives us a pretty expansive cross-section of modern American society, from the Gossip-Girl-esque Upper West Siders and antiques dealers of NYC to the fast-moving & drug fuelled world of Las Vegas gamers. This means there are a fair amount of characters to keep track of, but every one of them is deep and well drawn enough that it’s near impossible to get them mixed up. Boris in particular is one to look out for, and I have been inspired to name my future daughter Kitsey.

It’s difficult to really class The Goldfinch alongside anything else. I’ve seen it compared to Great Expectations and I suppose I kind of agree, although maybe only due to the length and the fact that one of our major characters is named Pippa – I think I’d be quicker to call Theo a sort of anti-Pip than anything else. Either way, it’s a fascinating look at America today and a really compelling read so if you haven’t already, I would highly recommend this and I am off to check out The Secret History once more!

Review: The End of Everything, Megan Abbott

I’m not sure how long it is exactly (hashtag kindle problems), but I finished The End of Everything in a day. I honestly couldn’t put it down. This came as a relief, because I’d been struggling to really get into the other two books I was reading (Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, and The End of Alice by A.M Homes – apparently I am obsessing over endings at the minute) and was beginning to panic that I’d lost all interest in books altogether.

The End of Everything is, on the surface, about 13 year old protagonist, Lizzie, and how she deals with the disappearance of her best friend/soul sister/next door neighbour, Evie. However, it’s also about Evie’s father, Evie’s sister, Evie’s relationship with her sister, Lizzie’s relationship with Evie’s father, and so on and so on. For a book with a preteen protagonist, this is by no means a light read – actually, by any standard, it’s not a light read. Lizzie’s voice is young, but not grating or overly child-like, and her misconceptions are obvious, but not unfounded – which makes them all the more painful. Clearly, Abbott remembers being 13.

Abbott also perfectly captures the closeness of an American suburb. The state is unnamed, although mentions of Canada suggest that it is in the North East, but it could be anywhere, and that, of course, is why it works so well. Like The Basic Eight, it’s timeless and undated while at the same time very familiar.

I rarely do this, but immediately after finishing Everything, I immediately downloaded another of Abbott’s books, Dare Me, which I enjoyed just as much, if not more. I can wholeheartedly recommend The End of Everything – it might possibly even beat out The 100 Year Old Man… for my favourite read of the summer!

With my course starting up again and various other developments, I’m struggling to find time to fit in “fun reading” again – boooo! What are you guys reading right now?

Review: The Basic Eight, Daniel Handler

I’d never heard of The Basic Eight before and picked it up super cheap on the kindle, but it turned out to be the sort of book I get absolutely obsessed with. Books about high schools, cliques and privileged teens are amongst my very favourites if they’re done well (or even sometimes if they’re not). Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my all-time favourites and a book I would recommend to anyone, and this is in a similar sort of vein. I wouldn’t say it’s a feat of literary genius, exactly, but it is extremely compelling: I absolutely couldn’t put it down.

On a basic level, the novel is about a group of friends – “The Basic Eight” – in a San Francisco high school, the particularly gruesome murder that they are involved in (not a spoiler, I swear!), and the events of the year leading up to said murder, all told retrospectively by our hero (or anti-hero?), Flannery.

I actually didn’t realise this while I was reading it, but The Basic Eight‘s author, Daniel Handler, is also Lemony Snicket. I was never really into the Series of Unfortunate Events books which is probably why I didn’t realise the link, but now that I know I can see that the tone is quite similar, albeit older. Handler’s protagonist Flannery has a tone that you won’t forget for a while: she’s sarcastic without being annoying and just funny enough for the subject matter. Handler mixes the mundane with the incredible very easily and it makes for a great read – his characters move from French lessons to extravagant evening soirees to absinthe-fuelled parties with total ease.

One of my favourite things about the novel was the fact that it is entirely undated. I was completely and genuinely surprised to find, when I looked it up halfway through reading, that it was actually written in 1998 – you could have told me it was released last month and I would have believed you. Usually “teen” books are, by necessity, very of the present moment, but this seems basically timeless. It doesn’t seem jarring at all that the characters aren’t using Facebook or Twitter or even texting, which is refreshing when a lot of novels today are crammed full of twee references that seem awkward and out-dated a year after publication.

The Basic Eight is deeper and darker than your average high school novel, and it has a perfect twist: the sort of twist that you sort of see coming, but not really (or maybe I’m just naive), and one that makes you want to immediately go back and re-read the whole thing. Along those lines, this book also made me really want to talk about it. There are a lot of little things that Handler does that inspire discussion, from the faux-discussion questions at the end of each chapter to the apparent media treatment of Flannery to unreliable narrator issues to general conspiracy theories about the whole novel. It’s very post-modern and self aware and I thought it was fab.

I’ve since seen The Basic Eight compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which I tried to read last year and failed, but maybe I will give it another go. I’m certainly going to try Handler’s other adult novels. If TBE is anything to go by, he has a style and a knack for detail that is right up my street. I’m not sure if it’s still reduced on Amazon, but this is a novel that I’d even consider paying full price for, so if you’re even vaguely interested I’d say give it a go!

Review: The Dinner, Herman Koch

It’s no secret that I am more than a bit food-oriented. I’d seen The Dinner in Waterstones a while back and was drawn in just by the title, and then by the blurb. I’ve since read good things about it: the Wall Street Journal likened it to Gone Girl, which I haven’t read but is one of THE books of the year so far. So when I saw it pop up for ridiculously cheap on the Kindle store, I snapped it up.

I have to say, though, I was a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed it well enough, but I didn’t find it really that compelling. This might be because it has been translated from its original Dutch (apparently I’m into European literature this summer), but at times I found it a bit stilted. The structure was also quite hard to follow – lots of unannounced jumping around. Obviously this isn’t an unusual literary technique and it doesn’t usually throw me, but something about Koch’s structure just didn’t grab me.

I also thought that the novel seemed to try quite hard to Deal With A Lot of Issues. This wasn’t particularly subtle: there was overt commentary on family dynamics, fame, politics, even dining habits (which I did actually find very interesting). Again, this isn’t something I’m particularly averse to but it felt a bit hardgoing and relentless.

In terms of a moral dilemma, Koch does present an interesting one. It’s difficult to know who to side with throughout the novel, which is always a good sign that each character is nicely rounded and fully “fleshed out.” Like I said, I felt that the flashbacks sometimes took away from the tension he was building. I much preferred the scenes that actually took place at the dinner table, which balanced the tension between the life of a public figure, the etiquette of and social minefield that is fine dining, and much much more, very well. I can see why he needed the flashbacks, but like I said, the structure just didn’t really work for me. It is a great what would you do kind of read, though, and it’s definitely thought-provoking.

If you want to read it, The Dinner is currently featured in Amazon’s Summer Sale so you can get it for 99p for your Kindle. I would recommend it at that price for sure ’cause it’s an interesting read – it just wasn’t all that I really wanted it to be.