It’s Bookshelf time! I haven’t reviewed any books for ages, so let’s do a quick round before I forget all about them. It’s been a good year for reading so far – even though I’ve been spending a lot of time on my new workout routine, I’ve managed to set lots of time aside for books. Happiness all around.
Adventures, weirdos, tattoos, gods, satanic cats and potential spoilers after the break.
PS: I’m ditching the Amazon links. Explore your local bookshop!
Kamikaze Girls by Novala Takemoto
A charming book in which nothing much happens, except for one girl obsessing about her Lolita outfits and her friend’s bad chavvy style. And then it goes all crazy and bikers beat each other up. Ok, that’s probably being overly cynical. It’s actually a very lovely coming of age story about an unlikely friendship and what it’s like being a teenager in a village where absolutely fuck-all happens and where you’ve got absolutely nowhere to go. Trust me, I know. (I just wish I’d had a wardrobe full of outrageous Lolita outfits to sweeten my teenage years spent stuck in the province.) If you like stories about growing up and the kinds of big and small dreams you have at that age, I very much recommend this book. It’s also hilarious and will make you giggle like a teenage Lolita.
Pens: 5 out of 5
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Here’s an embarrassing fact about myself: I made it through English GCSEs and four years of studying American culture and literature without reading Mark Twain. I know. Major shame on me. I made up for it by buying a ridiculously shiny copy of Huck Finn – and then realised I needed to read Tom Sawyer first. So I read it, and it’s lovely; it’s everything everybody promised it would be and I will read it again and again, pretending I’m twelve years old. And I will atone for all my sins against literature by reading all the classics I dodged in school and uni (because I’m finding they’re actually mostly amazing and not the dreadful old boring stories I somehow always assumed them to be just because they were on a syllabus).
Pens: 4 out of 5
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
My boyfriend said, “Oh, you’re reading Tom Sawyer? Well, that one’s a bit lame actually. You should read Huck Finn.” He was right – not about Tom Sawyer being lame, but about Huck Finn being a million times more exciting. It’s certainly darker and scarier and more grown up, and such an amazing adventure. I never thought I could ever find myself with such a desire to go down the Mississippi on a raft! I’m actually glad I didn’t read Tom and Huck until now. The are probably super exciting when you’re a kid, but they are also so powerful in transporting you back to childhood when you’re all grown up and sensible and boring. (Not that I’m even remotely in danger of becoming sensible. Not even at almost thirty.)
Pens: 5 out of 5
Dance Dance Dance by Hariku Murakami
Ok, this was weeeird. With major eeeeee. (Actually minor e would more appropriate to the tone. Har har, I made a musical pun!) I still don’t know what the fuck this book was about, and I read the whole damn thing. (Although god knows I was tempted to give up!) So, there’s a very lonely guy and a very mysterious woman and a very supernatural hotel and some people who are probably murderers, and a lot of people who are just generally fucked up. And it’s part murder mystery, part horror story, part I-don’t-even-know-what. Strangely, the ending was quite satisfying – but I’m not sure if that was down to the book or simply me being proud that I made it to the end. It certainly is beautifully written. So I guess I’ll have to read some more Murakami to figure out what I think about him.
Pens: 2 out of 5
Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss
Apparently there’s a trend of non-horror writers giving the genre a go, and this is one of them. Well, as a non-horror reader giving the genre a go (mostly because of the cat content and receiving this book as a present), I have to say that probably suits me fine, as this book wasn’t particularly horrible. I’ll admit that, not knowing what I was in for, and expecting light comedy, I was a little bit horrified when the cats turn out to be satanic murdering bastards, but overall it was just a little too unrealistic to be scary. But I don’t like scary. I like cats. So that’s all good. It was something different on my shelf, and the ‘historical’ bits about Satanism and cats were quite entertaining (although I didn’t believe in any of it enough to actually go fact-checking.
Pens: 2 out of 5
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Among all the genius writers of our day, Emma Donoghue is still and forever my favourite author because she just tells a story like nobody else can. She plucks a grain of dust out of history – a line from an old newspaper, a fragment of a life – and applies her amazing historical knowledge and imagination to weave it into a breathtaking, heartbreaking piece of fiction. Frog Music follows two French women in San Francisco of the 1870s – a fallen woman and an ambiguous rebel who refuses to fit in. Their friendship quickly stirs up trouble – a threat to the men controlling their lives – and a murder happens. The beauty of this book is how Donoghue begins with the murder and from there tells the story, backwards and chronologically at the same time, taking you on a terrible journey through both women’s lives and dropping you off back at the moment of the killing. It’s a clever murder mystery technique and very effective in creating emotional involvement. The first time the murder happens, you don’t care because you know nothing, but as the story takes you back up to the event and you learn about each piece of the puzzle, it leaves your heart pounding with the realisation that you’re heading straight for the inevitable moment – like in a bad dream, where you can’t move but stare in horror at what’s happening right in front of your eyes.
Pens: 5 out of 5
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Sadly, it took the death of Maya Angelou to remind me to read this book – but I guess this happens with a lot of authors. I won’t even go over the story because this is such a classic that it will be forever stuck in our minds (or if not, it should be!) so let me just say as a not very ardent reader of biography and non-fiction, I’ve been absolutely blown away by this beautiful memoir and the masterful writing that draws you into another world and sends you back out feeling like you’ve actually lived that life, just for a brief moment.
Pens: 5 out of 5
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
If there’s one thing I love more than Neil Gaiman’s books in general, it’s Neil Gaiman’s books for children. The same strange and terrifying magic that made Coraline and The Graveyard Book such unforgettable reads is at work again in this story of a lonely boy who crosses the borders between realities and brings a dangerous creature back into his world. Gaiman’s horror for children is a very peculiar sort, it’s not the monsters that make your skin crawl, but the gaping abyss between the child’s world and the adult world, that absolute terror of being eight years old and not being able to communicate your anxieties to your parents, because you just know in your heart they won’t understand. And, unlike the real world, Gaiman’s worlds usually come with a benign creature of great wisdom and power (in the case of this book a trio of witches – or are they? – that absolutely stole my heart) that will protect you from adults and monsters alike. And the kitten. There is always a kitten. This is one of those rare books that make me want to travel back in time and read it when I’m ten years old, and over and over for the rest of my life.
Pens: An ocean full out of 5
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The boy who went out into the world of fairies to catch himself a fallen star, and found more than he bargained for. Well, if anybody should be writing about Faerie, it certainly is Neil Gaiman. This is another gem of a book that I wish I’d had when I was younger – although I’m still not sure whether it’s YA or adult. I guess it works for both, providing a beautifully exciting tale that takes you into another world and at times makes it difficult to come back. This is another one of these occasions where I’ll say, make the effort to read the book and don’t just watch the movie. Or, read the book and then watch the movie because, while nowhere near as magical as the original, the adaptation is really rather good as well.
Pens: 5 out of 5
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Holy mind-fuck. What a book! I’d been intrigued by the topic for so long, and put off by its epicness. So I finally decided to read it and found you can just breeze through all 640 pages of it in a matter of days. Yes, it’s epic and it’s epically weird – but it’s just so smooth, it flows so nicely that you can’t stop turning the pages. The idea of this story is genius. Imagine everybody who went to America (in the old days, ever) brought their gods and their beliefs with them. But over time, people forgot about their gods, so these days Odin, Isis & co are just poor old men on the fringes of society, hustling to make a living, just barely kept alive by the faint remnants of people’s beliefs. But there’s a new generation of gods emerging – the gods of cars, TV and the internet. Naturally, this can only lead to an epic battle between the old and the new. And this is the story of one mortal man who gets drawn into it and spends a terrifying, magical few months walking among gods. A brilliant, wonderful book, not just for people who are interested in religion and folklore and the culture of America.
Pens: 5 out of 5