Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Some New Books

I would describe my reading this year as sporadic. There are more than a few books sitting in my book cupboard unread, so I've made sure to slow down on the book buying and I've been surprisingly successful at that. I mean, apart from the fact that I may have bought a copy of the new illustrated Chamber of Secrets. But that doesn't count. That's purely me reliving childhood nostalgia, with the promise of a new book being released every year.

But here are a few newish-to-me books that I really wanted to mention.

Fell by Jenn Ashworth

'When Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home on the edge of Morecambe Bay, she despairs: the long-empty house is crumbling, undermined by two voracious sycamores. What she doesn't realise is that she's not alone: her arrival has woken the spirits of her parents, who anxiously watch over her, longing to make amends. Because as the past comes back to Jack and Netty, they begin to see the summer of 1963 clearly, when Netty was desperately ill and a stranger moved in. Charismatic, mercurial Timothy Richardson, with his seemingly miraculous powers of healing, who drew all their attention away from Annette. Now, they must try to draw another stranger towards her, one who can rescue her.'

The blurb manages to make this sound a little bit naff, but it's actually quite haunting.

Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

'Written in startlingly beautiful prose, Harmless Like You is set across New York, Berlin and Connecticut, following the stories of Yuki Oyama, a Japanese girl fighting to make it as an artist, and Yuki's son Jay who, as an adult in the present day, is forced to confront his mother who abandoned him when he was only two years old.
Harmless Like You is an unforgettable novel about the complexities of identity, art, adolescent friendships and familial bonds, offering a unique exploration of love, loneliness and reconciliation.'

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

'Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.'

Kids of Appetite by David Arnold

'In the Hackensack Police Department, Vic Benucci and his friend Mad are explaining how they found themselves wrapped up in a grisly murder. But in order to tell that story, they have to go way back. It all started when Vic's dad died. Vic's dad was his best friend, and even now, two years later, he can't bring himself to touch the Untouchable Urn of Oblivion that sits in his front hall. But one cold December day, Vic falls in with an alluring band of kids that wander his New Jersey neighbourhood, including Mad, the girl who changes everything. Along with his newfound friendships comes the courage to open his father's urn, the discovery of the message inside, and the epic journey it sparks.'

What are you reading right now?

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Postgraduate Life: A Reading List for my MA in English Literature

When I got the email telling me that Postgraduate loans were being introduced, it was as though a new door had unexpectedly opened for me just as I had found the courage to walk past it. Since graduating last year I had been actively trying to figure out how I could afford to do a Masters and still, well, get by financially. I explored almost every avenue and ended up concluding that it was something that I just couldn't do at this point in my life. And so, I took some freelance writing opportunities and told myself to move on.

But as soon as the email dropped into my inbox I was clicking through and beginning the application process. The Open University gave me a second chance when I thought that all the doors that led to passages into education had been firmly closed in my face, so it never even occurred to me to apply anywhere else. And so, as of yesterday, I am officially a part time postgraduate student studying for my Masters in English Literature. Getting here feels like such an achievement and although I have many, many months of hard work ahead, I'm so very proud and feel very lucky to have this opportunity.

The Reading List

A Companion to the History of the Book by Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose
The Handbook to Literary Research by Delia Da Sousa Correa and W.R. Owens
Foe by J.M. Coetzee
Dusklands by J.M. Coetzee
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Antigone by Sophocles
Antigone by Jean Anouilh
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The Major Works of Lord Byron
The Complete Poems of William Blake

I may need reminding of how wonderful an opportunity this is when I'm crying into my laptop trying to write my first essay. I'm currently feeling fairly out of my depth, so I'm hoping that passes soon and also I don't say anything completely ridiculous at my first tutorial. My track record for that is actually pretty strong, and I suppose it'll, at least, break the ice!

- Jennie  

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Released This Month: May 2016

Another month, another cracking array of newly and soon-to-be published books. With the usual mixture of fiction and non-fiction, if you find yourself in need of a new read this month, here are nine that I think could be worth looking into.

Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrad Conley • May 10th 2016, Riverhead Books
The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. When he was nineteen, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. Through an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program heavy on Bible study, he was supposed to emerge heterosexual, ex-gay, cleansed of impure urges and stronger in his faith in God for his brush with sin. Instead, even when faced with a harrowing and brutal journey, Garrard found the strength and understanding to break out in search of his true self and forgiveness. By confronting his buried past and the burden of a life lived in shadow, Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heart-breaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett  May 3rd 2016, Little Brown
When Margaret's fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings, the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec, struggle along with their mother to care for Michael's increasingly troubled and precarious existence.

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman  May 5th 2016, Little Brown 
The story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town's bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live. Unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable. But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it's a secret that will change everything...

LaRose by Louise Erdrich  May 10th 2016, Corsair
North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich. The youngest child of his friend and neighbor, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition, the sweat lodge, for guidance, and finds a way forward.

Following an ancient means of retribution, he will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal. But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole. Inspiring and affecting, LaRose is a powerful exploration of loss, justice, and the reparation of the human heart, and an unforgettable, dazzling tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished literary masters.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler • May 24th 2016, Knopf
"Let's say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge..." This is how we meet unforgettable, twenty-two year old Tess. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she's come to New York to look for a life she can't define, except as a burning drive to become someone and to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a "backwaiter," on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she's pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers, a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan's ardor. These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess's hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-Fiction by Neil Gaiman  May 31st, Headline
The View from the Cheap Seats draws together, for the first time ever, myriad non-fiction writing by international phenomenon and Sunday Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman. From Make Good Art, the speech he gave at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia that went viral, to pieces on artists and legends including Terry Pratchett, Lou Reed and Ray Bradbury, the collection offers a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed writers of our time. 'Literature does not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation' Welcome to the conversation.

Neil Gaiman fled the land of journalism to find truths through storytelling and sanctuary in not needing to get all the facts right. Of course, the real world continued to make up its own stories around him, and he has responded over the years with a wealth of ideas and introductions, dreams and speeches. The View From the Cheap Seats will draw you in to these exchanges on making good art and Syrian refugees, the power of a single word and playing the kazoo with Stephen King, writing about books, comics and the imagination of friends, being sad at the Oscars and telling lies for a living.

Morgue: A Life in Death by Dr. Vincent DiMaio and Ron Franscell  May 17th, St Martin's Press
In this clear-eyed, gritty, and enthralling narrative, Dr. Vincent Di Maio and veteran crime writer Ron Franscell guide us behind the morgue doors to tell a fascinating life story through the cases that have made Di Maio famous. Beginning with his street-smart Italian origins in Brooklyn, the book spans 40 years of work and more than 9,000 autopsies, and Di Maio's eventual rise into the pantheon of forensic scientists. One of the country's most methodical and intuitive criminal pathologists will dissect himself, maintaining a nearly continuous flow of suspenseful stories, revealing anecdotes, and enough macabre insider details to rivet the most fervent crime fans.

Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips  May 31st 2016, Henry Holt and Co.
What if your perfect hermaphrodite match existed on another planet? What if you could suddenly see through everybody's skin to their organs? What if you knew the exact date of your death? What if your city was filled with doppelgangers of you? Forced to navigate these bizarre scenarios, Phillips' characters search for solutions to the problem of how to survive in an irrational, infinitely strange world. In dystopias that are exaggerated versions of the world in which we live, these characters strive for intimacy and struggle to resolve their fraught relationships with each other, with themselves, and with their place in the natural world. We meet a wealthy woman who purchases a high-tech sex toy in the shape of a man, a rowdy, moody crew of college students who resolve the energy crisis, and orphaned twin sisters who work as futuristic strippers. With Phillips' characteristic smarts and imagination, we see that no one is quite who they appear. By turns surreal, witty, and perplexing, these marvelous stories are ultimately a reflection of our own reality and of the big questions that we all face. Who are we? Where do we fit?

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe • May 24th 2016, Knopf
Lucas and Katya were boarding school seniors when, blindingly in love, they decided to have a baby. Seventeen years later and after years of absence, Lucas is newly involved in his daughter Vera's life. But after Vera suffers a terrifying psychotic break at a high school party, Lucas takes her to Lithuania, his grandmother's homeland, for the summer. Here, in the city of Vilnius, Lucas hopes to save Vera from the sorrow of her diagnosis. As he uncovers a secret about his grandmother, a Home Army rebel who escaped Stutthof, Vera searches for answers of her own. Why did Lucas abandon her as a baby? What really happened the night of her breakdown? And who can she trust with the truth? Skillfully weaving family mythology and Lithuanian history with a story of mental illness, inheritance, young love and adventure, Rufi Thorpe has written a wildly accomplished, stunningly emotional book.