July 2015 Reads,Or, One Read-A-Thon and Little Else

9:00 am

Honestly, July was a bit of a disappointing reading month, despite #CRAMATHON happening. I seemed to find myself too busy to read by the middle of the month, but there are still a few things I'm really happy I picked up. The first two reads of the month, Lillian on Life and The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster were both engaging, with the latter possibly being my favourite book of the year (so far). A review will be up for it soon, possibly along with something else very exciting! Watch this space. You can read my review for Lillian on Life here if you're interested. 

I've written in detail about what I read during the #CRAMATHON here, but to summarise: lots of middle ground ratings, Swamp Thing Volume One was stunning, and I actually forgot to mention a picture book I read in the original post titled Coco and the Little Black Dress. It's only a handful of pages about Coco Chanel's big break, and was a very sweet read.

The only novels I managed other than the two previously mentioned were in the middle of the month. Firstly I read Rebecca Mascull's debut The Visitors which I was hugely anticipating after raving about Song of the Sea Maid back in May. I'll be reviewing her debut soon, but you can read an interview with here I did here to keep you going until then! After that I sped through The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly which was utterly quotable and a real joy, despite the subject matter.

Hoping August has some good books in store, but it's also the month before my dissertation is due in so we'll either get nothing read or everything read as procrastination! I'm feeling oddly calm about the whole endeavor so I'm hoping to get it out of the way early. Fingers crossed.

M x

P.S. I'm already only one book off of my reading challenge for 2015! 

P. P. S. If you haven't already filled in by reader survey, you can do so here.

2015 Reader Survey

9:00 am

Yes, the picture is irrelevant, yet amusingly true.

A quick little post just to ask anybody reading this if they wouldn't mind doing a short survey on their experience reading Hepburn's Pixie Crop. Tell me your likes and dislikes, about your bookish loves, and anything else you'd like! The survey link will appear below once it is live.

Thank you in advance, M x



Beautiful Books

5:33 pm

You cannot deny that sometimes, sometimes, you do buy a book simply for its cover. That's what the covers are there for: to make you buy and to give you an idea of what you're getting yourself into. Here are my favourite picks from my bookshelves, read or otherwise, with details on their design and a few comments on why I find some of them so beautiful.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami - 2003 Vintage Books paperback, illustrated by Noma Bar and designed by Suzanne Dean

The Waves by Virginia Woolf - 2004 Vintage Classics paperback, designed by James Jones

The Clocks by Agatha Christie - 1963 Collins 'The Book Club' hardback edition

The Diary of a Nose by Jean-Claude Ellena - 2012 Particular Books hardback, designed by Pentagram

4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie - 2006 Collins 'The Crime Club' hardback edition, designed by HarperCollins Publishers

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor - 2012 Penguin Books paperback, designed by Jim Stoddart - the cover of this has an odd, rubber-like texture that I struggle to describe, but that, along with the typography and the shade of blue, makes a good combination.

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus - 2013 Granta Books paperback, designed by Peter Mendelsund

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick - 2001 Penguin Modern Classics paperback, designed by Faile

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides - 2002 Bloomsbury paperback, designed by William Webb

This Should Be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle - 2014 Harvill Secker hardback, designed by Suzanne Dean - I bought this book just because of the cover.

How to Be Both by Ali Smith - 2015 Penguin Books paperback, photograph of Sylvie Vartan and Francoise Hardy by Jean-Marie Périer - the fact Penguin have republished all of Ali Smith's books with matching covers makes collecting all of these far too tempting.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera - 1995 Faber & Faber paperback, cover illustration by Milan Kundera himself!

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud - 2015 SelfMadeHero hardback, illustrated by Scott McCloud

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer - 2014 Piatkus paperback, designed by Elizabeth Connor, photograph by Allan Amato

Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole - 2015 Orion paperback, designed by Sinem Erkas - probably my favourite of all of these covers. There's something about that yellow colour which is just stunning to me, and I love the idea of the semi-ancient statue juxtaposed with the makeup. Two visions of beauty from two different periods, perhaps.

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - 2012 Penguin Classics hardback, illustrated by Yayoi Kusama - asked for explicitly because of this edition. On every page is a dotty illustration from the wonderful Yayoi Kusama herself. It's a work of art.

M x



10:00 pm

Over the past weekend, between Friday 10th and Monday 13th July, the #CRAMATHON 2015 book challenge took place (hosted by Whitney over at WhittyNovels) and for the first time in my bookish life I decided to take part in a read-a-thon. I don't regret the decision, although I do wish I dedicated a bit more of my Monday to getting some longer works read as I feel I did just go for some easy ones here. However, there are the things I did manage to get through over those four days of cramming and what I thought of them:

The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Anderson - 4/5, a collection of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales, surprisingly lacking good moral messages but cute reads as a whole.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman - 4/5, such a Gilman fan, this collection contained 'The Yellow Wallpaper' which I've read a thousand times, along with some of her other short stories. A very enjoyable read and suitably spooky.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - 4/5, the classic, honestly a little bit of a letdown on the philosophical side but still beautiful and very upsetting at times.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath - 3/5, finally finished reading this poetry collection from Plath, very emotional and definitely easier read aloud in my opinion. Struggled with some of the imagery, connected well with all of the rest.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard - 3/5, another bit of a letdown, but still a very funny read. As a Hamlet fan I was obviously never going to hate it.

Civil War: The Road to Civil War TPB by J. Michael Straczynski and Brian Michael Bendis - 4/5, a re-read (I think, I can't really remember), getting prepped for the Civil War film and surprised by how many crossovers there are going to be with other Phase Three films, especially Thor.

Swamp Thing Volume One by Alan Moore - 5/5, the highlight of this entire experience, absolutely beautiful and perfectly crafted. A very good, tidy story told very, very well. Excited to pick up the rest of the series.

[Not pictured] Pretty Deadly Volume One by Kelly Sue DeConnick - 2/5, I wish I enjoyed this but the art style was such a struggle for me. A promising story by one of my favourite comic writers.

M x


Book Review: Ali Smith's How to be Both

11:05 am

Ali Smith's How to Be Both had been on my radar a while before being presented as required reading for an event I helped to organise last month. It was my first foray into the writing of Ali Smith and I have not looked back since. 

How to Be Both is split into two sections: the present and the past. The present tells the story of George, a young girl dealing with the death of her mother and living with an alcoholic father. Her perspective mainly focuses around art, reminiscing about family holidays with her mother in Italy, and visiting art galleries alone after her death. The past is told from the perspective of Francesco, an Italian artist who tells the reader about their early life and how they came to be where they are. Both perspectives are worlds apart, but incredibly similar in their themes ('how to be both') and the feelings of the narrator. 

The interesting part about the formation of this book is that it was published in one of two orders. Either your book has George's perspective first, or Francesco's. I think this is a fascinating decision on Smith's part, and really reinforces how these stories are so different but so similar they don't have to be read in a particular way. In my edition I had George's story first, and naturally I couldn't imagine reading it any other way. The idea of people experiencing this book in such a different way really intrigues me. 

My overwhelming feeling towards this book is one of love. I adored the character of George and felt a maternal instinct towards her the whole time, listening intently to her stories and trying to understand her actions. I definitely liked George's perspective more and felt more invested in the story, but that may have been different if I had read Francesco's first. To me the natural order is George-Francesco, The overlap of their stories was just wonderful and there are a few interesting reveals that happen throughout that keep the story fresh. Francesco's part was quite slow going for me, but that was solely because it's written in a different, more poetic style that can seem incredibly disjointed. The whole experience is still wonderful.

I'm really excited to read more of Ali Smith's work as this simply blew me away. I've heard most of her writing has this experimental style so I'm not expecting it to be easy, but good writing isn't always simple.

M x


Book Review: Alison Jean Lester's Lillian on Life*

7:47 pm

*I was fortunate to receive a copy of this book via Bookbridgr and John Murray Publishers, thank you very much!*

Lillian is not a young woman. She's lived a long life of affairs, tumbling about in the grass, and exotic jetsetting, and will not be seen to regret it for a second. In Alison Jean Lester's debut novel, she writes as Lillian, sharing anecdotes from her life, events that have taught her, and could teach others, how to make the most of it all.

If I had to pick one word to describe Lillian, it would be sassy. She is the elegantly dressed, made-up elderly lady you see with her dog in the park, telling somebody a story or sloshing down a glass of wine at midday. She begins the novel waking up alongside her married lover and looks back across her past romantic entanglements, taking her across the globe and across the decades. She speaks with great honesty about where her relationships went wrong and how she felt about the men she slept with. It's not an advice book. It reads like a memoir, a memoir of a woman who never existed but probably does in millions of iterations all over the planet. She is fiercely relatable but at the same time someone you wish to be.

I enjoyed reading Lillian On Life a lot, taking only two or three days to work my way through it. It is in no way hugely unique and I didn't find anything about it absolutely world-shattering, but it was fun, poignant, and incredibly charming. Lillian is a character I would be happy to read more about and I did feel sad finishing the last page knowing I wouldn't hear from her again. If anything, this book is the perfect one to turn to for some summer holiday escapism. 

Readers of Lillian on Life are prompted at the end to pick their favourite Lillian-isms, so here is mine:

 'I never tire of the wind when driving, and I love the amazement you feel that it's suddenly so peaceful when you stop. I hope that is what death is like. Peaceful when you stop.'

M x


Alphabet TBR - P to Z

12:41 pm

This is the final part of my Alphabet TBR series, finishing off with titles beginning with the letters P through to Z. Ts and Rs feature strongly in this one which just reinforces how bad I am at picking a variety of letters! 

Triton by Samuel R. Delany - More 1970s science fiction, because there's never enough 1970s science fiction apparently. This is another that has a strong theme of gender and sexuality running throughout, so I'm also drawn to this for research purposes as well as for pleasure.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi - Azar's story of her bookclub in Iran that gathered young female students together to read banned Western classics. Everything about this draws me in. 

Russia's Empires: The Rise and Fall from Prehistory to Putin by Philip Longworth - After studying a fascinating module in A Level History on early 20th century Russia, I picked up this book in order to learn some more. Unfortunately it doesn't have the best review on Goodreads but I'm hoping it'll give me a quick overview of the history of the empire in general.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell - Another one of those that was on and off my university reading list before I had the chance to cancel the order. Fortunately I'm really interested in giving this a read as it's got that typical Mitchell time travel/weird continuum running through it.

Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl - Dahl was saucy one. My mother read this and absolutely loved it, so I'm hoping I do too!

The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull - The debut novel of the wonderful Rebecca who I had the joy of interviewing a little while ago about her latest release The Song of the Sea Maid. This is right at the top of my TBR at the moment as I am craving more of her gorgeous writing.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut - Another modern classic I haven't get managed to sink my teeth into. Seeing as it's such a small book I'll probably speed through it this summer.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov - Another kicked off of the university reading list. I'd advise you look up this book yourself as I don't even want to venture into trying to describe what it is. A poem, a piece of detective fiction, literary commentary?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre - Loved the film, haven't read the book, feel really bad about it.

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman - Picked up from my local secondhand book shop, this book has very mixed reviews and deals heavily with the theme of family. I'm not sure if I'm going to enjoy it but for 95p I couldn't really pass up the option.

This Should Be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle - Picked up admittedly for the cover and title alone. I knew it was a recent release but the story still remains a mystery to me.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard - Everything that has anything to do with Hamlet, give it to me. Also described to have echoes of Waiting for Godot on its Goodreads page so I am there.

M x