What I Read In 2018, Learning (From Books and From Life), My Intentions For 2019

Lessons

(Generally)

  • Ignoring mental illness does not make it disappear, in fact it makes its roots grow deeper
  • Dealing with mental illness rather than ignoring it is just as difficult, painful and exhausting
  • The company you keep and the environments you find yourself in have a big impact on said mental illness
  • You’re rarely as powerless or helpless as that mental illness makes you feel
  • Learning to manage mental illness is possible, but does not come easily or quickly
  • You cannot manage it alone, having a healthy support network is crucial
  • You do not have to explain yourself to those who do not have your best interests at heart
  • It is a million percent worth the pain of perseverance in the pursuit of inner peace and a nourishing life

(Reading & Blogging)

  • There are some very wonderful people in the world of books whose support and kind words have meant a great deal to me
  • There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in a year to read as much as I’d like
  • Reading with a mental illness is a bloody challenge and I’m proud that I read even one book let alone the amount I did, seeing as my mind is either spaghetti junction or a black hole
  • That said, reading has largely been about numbing from other things that have been happening (meaning that is hasn’t always been a healthy habit)
  • I do not enjoy using social media or that side of blogging. I care very little for numbers of likes or followers and my only aim is that those with tastes like mine can discover books that are right up their street
  • I am an honest person, I am honest when I talk about books, I value honesty from others and am distrustful when people say they won’t say ‘negative’ things in their reviews (I want to write reviews, not kiss peoples arses). I feel deceitful when I don’t speak the full truth, although I respect that people should do things however they wish.
  • Above all else, taste plays a more important role than most people realise, and therefore I don’t believe there is such a thing as a bad/awful/rubbish/brilliant/lovely/insert word here book, just books that a person experiences on a scale of pure dislike to utter awe. If you don’t like a book, it isn’t a bad book, you just aren’t the right reader.

What I Read

I refer back to my last point about taste and no such thing as a bad book and the important of a book finding its way into the right hands. My top 10 of 2018 isn’t what I think are the ‘best’ books of the year, but books that I particularly loved or that moved me. They also weren’t all published in 2018, that was simply when I read them. I also read a lot more books than I wrote about. I would have like to have reviewed everything, but mental health issues crept in a lot and is something I will work on next year. There is a mixed bag of books here, some I loved more than others, but those that I did not finish aren’t on this list so suffice to say that everything here has something that I liked. By the way, these are listed in no particular order.

1. An Almond For A Parrot by Wray Delaney (published by HQ)

2. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (Virago)

3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Vintage)

5. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (Vintage)

6. The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer (Faber & Faber)

7. To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo (Bonnier Zaffre)

8. Whistle In The Dark by Emma Healey (Viking)

9. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)

10. Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin (Oneworld)

11. The Poison Bed by EC Fremantle (Michael Joseph)

12. Song by Michelle Jana Chan (Unbound)

13. The Backstreets Of Purgatory by Helen Taylor (Unbound)

14. The Black Prince by Adam Roberts (Unbound)

15. Sex Drive by Stephanie Theobald (Unbound)

16. Sour Fruit by Eli Allison (Unbound)

17. Bones Lines by Stephanie Bretherton (Unbound)

18. Sex, Lies & Bonsai by Lisa Walker (Harper360)

19. Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donaghue (Virago)

20. England’s Lane by Emma Woolf (Three Hares Publishing)

21. Elmet by Fiona Mozley (John Murray Press)

22. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Portobello Books)

23. If Cats Disappeared From The World by Genki Kawamura (Picador)

24. Munmun by Jesse Andrews (Allen & Unwin)

25. Astroturf by Matthew Sperling (riverun)

26. The Beekeeper Of Sinjar by Dunya Mikhail (Serpent’s Tail)*

27. The Psychology Of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (Head Of Zeus)

28. The Way Of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry (Canongate

29. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)

30. This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay (Picador)*

31. Odette by Jessica Duchen (Unbound)

32. Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach by Ramsey Campbell (Flame Tree Press)

33. Good Samaritans by Will Carver (Orenda Books)

34. The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter by Linda Lo Scuro (Sparkling Books)

35. Give People Money by Annie Lowrey (WH Allen)*

36. Killing It by Camas Davis (Picador)*

37. The Story Of Shit by Midas Dekkers (Text Publishing)*

38. The Book Of M by Peng Shepherd (HarperVoyager)

39. Tomorrow by Damien Dibben (Michael Joseph)

40. Elefant by Martin Suter (Fourth Estate)

41. 84K by Claire North (Orbit)

42. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury)* ***

43. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer (Little, Brown)* ***

44. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (Little, Brown)

45. Us by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)

46. Suicidal by Jesse Bering (University of Chicago Press)*

47. All The Little Lights by Jamie McGuire (Montlake Romance)

48. Calm by Fearne Cotton (Orion)*

49. The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy (Orion)*

50. Resilient by Rick Hanson (Ebury)*

51. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero (Hodder & Stoughton)*

52. Tired But Wired by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan(Souvenir Press)*

53. Ultimate Energy by Tricia Woolfrey (Hodder & Stoughton)*

54. The Curious Case Of The Dog In The Nighttime by Mark Haddon (Vintage)

*Non fiction titles **Self help titles ***Audiobook version

My Top 10 Favourites (in no particular order)

Song by Michelle Jana Chan

Munmun by Jesse Andrews

Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin

The Backstreets Of Purgatory by Helen Taylor

An Almond For A Parrot by Wray Delaney

Bone Lines by Stephanie Bretherton

Sour Fruit by Eli Allison

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Intentions For 2019

(Reading & Blogging)

  • To read less books but savour them completely and offer more in my posts about them and hopefully to offer relevant content such as author interviews and other interesting content
  • To continue to do things my way
  • To not request or accept books when I have a stupidly big pile of books already to read ffs
  • To swiftly respond to all messages and requests
  • To seek out more self published books and those from small presses/indies.

(Generally)

  • To always be me.
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And The Swans Began To Sing by Thora Karitas Arnadottir Book Review #ZeroFilterBooks

The premise, in a nutshell: Narrative non-fiction in which the author assumes the voice of her mother, telling her story, which includes childhood sexual abuse and the lifelong impact of it.

The things I loved about it: This book is a compelling, tender memoir and it is beautifully, gracefully written. I’ve read quite a few memoirs that feature childhood abuse and have often been left feeling that the editing has made them as shocking as possible and featured little else of the writer’s life. I like that this account is both tender and hard hitting and does not seek to shock, as the facts are shocking enough on their own. I really admire the honesty in the struggles that she has faced coming to terms with what happened to her, particularly her journey into and through therapy. The word inspirational doesn’t quite seem right but I think that how I feel about this book is somewhere along those lines, in that I’m sure there are many people for whom their own experiences have taken a long time to process, and a reminder that it is a slow and messy thing to endure.

The things I didn’t: The subject matter makes for an incredibly difficult read, although I’m sure that that is no surprise. I would urge caution to anyone who is emotionally vulnerable to read this slowly and in small chunks.

I rate this: 5 stars.

The author: ‘Thora Karitas Arnadottir studied drama in Britain and is best known for the award winning TV series, Astridur, in her home country and for hosting Unique Iceland, a highly popular travel magazine show about Iceland. Thora is currently working on her first novel, which will be released in Iceland in 2019.’ (wildpressedbooks.com)

The swans on the lake began to sing. It was a singing so loud they were almost screaming, as if they were encouraging me to release what I had been keeping inside for so long.

Gudbjorg Thorisdottir has been hiding from the ghost of an ugly secret for most of her life. When she finally faces the truth of what happened in her childhood, the ghost floats away. Painting an evocative picture of life in Iceland, this is the story of a little girl who didn’t know how unnatural it was to experience both heaven and hell in the same house.

And The Swans Began To Sing was published by Wild Pressed Books on 10th January 2019. Thank you to Wild Pressed Books for the ARC.

Sour Fruit by Eli Allison Book Review #ZeroFilterBooks

The plot, in a nutshell: A teenage girl is abducted from her children’s home and wakes up in an eerie new world, an urban hell where it’s citizens are called Voids and are treated worse than rats.

The things I loved about it: It’s a dark humoured dystopian thriller, one of my my favourite literary combinations. The world building is fun but grim, and has a bit of a Hunger Games feel in that it is fantastical but you really wouldn’t want to wake up there. The concept of the book is fascinating, the story being told as part of a transcript in some kind of study, and the ending is obscenely curious, and makes wanting to read the sequel an absolute no-brainier. Gripping and unputdownable, with more twisted humour than a bad joke shop. There are so many things in this book that could be offensive to anyone which is so crude that I couldn’t love it more if I tried. Oh, and Jacob is without a doubt one of my most favourite characters ever and has absolutely brilliant dialogue.

The things I didn’t: Right at the beginning I could not tell what the hell was going on. To be honest, I still don’t think I do now.

The most damning truth… ‘People don’t like looking too closely at mental illness, scared they’ll catch it…It’s offensive, but so is the world we’re living in.’

A reassuring truth… ‘But pressure makes diamonds from dirt.’

The author: Eli Allison, debut novelist who is also a very entertaining tweeter and a very talented artist. (You should check out her blog)

I rate this: 5 big sweary stars! (Definitely not sweaty stars, ffs autocorrect)

Sour Fruit was published on 16th August 2018 by Unbound. Thank you to Unbound (via NetGalley) for the ARC.

Onion is snatched. Which is proper shit because she still had nearly twenty quid left on her Angry Slut Teen Clothing gift card and now she was never going to get those flamingo-pink leather chaps she’d been eyeing up. She wakes up chained to an armpit of a river city, earmarked for a skin-trader called The Toymaker. Surrounded by a creeping rot she has just three days to escape before the sold sticker becomes a brand.

Forced into a knife fight with a world that has just pulled an AK47 on her, all Onion has to fight with is; a sewer for a mouth, a rusted up moral compass and a spanking anger that can sucker-punch kindness at twenty paces. She might survive but probably not.

Sour Fruit is a dark dystopian novel set in northern Britain, in a river city called Kingston; a rotting scrap yard of misery. The VOIDs are forced to live there not by walls or fences but by being invisible in the new digital world. 

The novel explores ideas about what is home, how friendship can come from strange places and the debts we can’t ever pay back.

The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter by Linda Lo Scuro Book Review #ZeroFilterBooks

The plot, in a nutshell: Mary/Maria has a pleasant life with a loving husband and children, from whom she has kept secret her mother’s side of her family, who are Sicilian mafia. They are thrust into her life and she becomes involved in some terrible situations, drawn further and further into dangerous territory that puts everyone she loves at risk.

The things I loved about it: Mary’s identity is formed from drastically different parts of her life, leaving her feeling as though she fits nowhere. It’s not hard to feel that way, in this day and age, and makes for a lot of sympathy towards her character. The plot is fast, and makes for a gripping read. Though the tension grows rapidly throughout, the writing is witty and there are moments that are laugh out loud funny. Though life is extremely tough for them, there are an endless amount of strong women in the novel, with our protagonist having a horrendous start in life. A brilliant, thrilling read about real life grit.

The things I didn’t: The child in me had to giggle every single time the name Humps appeared.

Worst hobby in the history of hobbies… ‘big-time serial tarting’

The author: Linda Lo Scuro is a pseudonym, due to the sensitive nature of the story. I am so intrigued by mysteriously secret identities!

I rate this: 5 stars.

The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter was published on 22nd October 2019 by Sparkling Books. Thank you to Sparkling Books (via NetGalley) for the ARC. Thank you also to the author for reaching out to me, and sorry it has taken me a lifetime to post my review!

Most victims of the mafia are the Sicilians themselves. The role of women both as perpetrators and victims has been grossly overlooked. Until now.

As the daughter of Sicilian immigrants, in her teens Maria turns her back on her origins and fully embraces the English way of life. Notwithstanding her troubled and humble childhood in London, and backed up by her intelligence, beauty and sheer determination, she triumphantly works her way up to join the upper middle-class of British society. There she becomes a bastion of civility.

But a minor incident wakes up feelings of revenge in her like those lurking in Maria’s Sicilian origins. As she delves deeper into her mother’s family history a murky past unravels, drawing Maria more and more into a mire of vendetta.

 

#Odette by Jessica Duchen #RandomThingsTours #ZeroFilterBooks

The plot (in a nutshell)

A swan crashes through the window of a young journalist’s rented flat in what surely must be the most stressful situation second only to paying astronomical letting fees. Kind hearted (and realistic, relatable, not to mention vegetarian) Mitzi helps the traumatised bird but gets a big surprise when the swan turns into a young Russian girl called Odette. True to the fairytale that inspired the novel, Odette must find a man to promise to love her forever in order to break the curse.

My good thoughts

First, the serious stuff. How society treats strangers in a foreign land, repressed desire and hidden passions, homelessness and belonging, the power of stories, the magic of friendship and connection, and the economics struggles of young(ish) people, are all touched upon in this novel. It isn’t an airy-fairy novel by any means, but a novel that it as wholesome as it is whimsical.

And now, for the fun stuff. It. Is. Hilarious. Jessica Duchen has cleverly taken the concept of a modern day reworking of Swan Lake and done a fabulous job. It is the kind of bonkers plot that I love, and the sub plots seamlessly come together. An utterly feel good, festive, feathery tale.

My not so good thoughts

Mitzi Fairweather – I mean, what kind of circa 90s Sex and the City trashy character name is that?

The line that suggests you should pass this to your little sister with caution: ‘But wasn’t this what people did these days? Meet someone, go on a date, shag them? Wasn’t it supposed to be normal?’ 😭

I rate this: 5🦆🦆🦆🦆🦆 (because I cannot find a swan emoji, this very sad)

Odette was published on 29th November by Unbound. Thank you to Jessica Duchen for the review copy and to Anne Cater for organising this Blog Tour.

SYNOPSIS

When a swan crashes through her window at the height of a winter storm, Mitzi Fairweather decides to nurse the injured bird back to health. At sunset, though, it becomes a human being.

This unexpected visitor is Odette, the swan princess – alone, in danger and adrift in 21st-century Britain, dependent on the kindness of strangers. Bird by day, woman by night, with no way to go home to Russia, she remains convinced that only a man’s vow of eternal love can break her spell.

Mitzi is determined to help Odette, but as the two try to hide the improbable truth, their web of deception grows increasingly tangled…

A contemporary twist on Swan Lake, Odette asks – in the best tradition of fairy tales – whether against all the odds, hope, empathy and humanity can win the day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Duchen is an acclaimed author and journalist, specialising in words for, with and about music. Her work has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times, plus numerous magazines around the world. Her first five novels have gathered a loyal fan-base and wide acclaim. Music plays a vital role in her books, and she frequently narrates concert versions of Alicia’s Gift, Hungarian Dances and Ghost Variations.

Jessica is the librettist for the opera Silver Birch by Roxanna Panufnik, commissioned by Garsington Opera and shortlisted for a 2018 International Opera Award. Current projects include the libretto for a youth opera with composer Paul Fincham for Garsington 2019 (an updating of an Oscar Wilde fairy tale) and two large-scale choral works with Roxanna Panufnik.

She was born within the sound of Bow Bells, studied music at Cambridge and held editorial posts on several music magazines before going freelance to concentrate on writing. She edited a piano magazine for five years and was then classical music and ballet correspondent for The Independent from 2004-2016. Her output also includes plays, poetry, biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré (published by Phaidon) and her popular classical music blog, JDCMB. She lives in London with her violinist husband and two cats. She enjoys playing the piano, cookery, long walks and obscure books about music.

Good Samaritans by Will Carver Book Review #RandomThingsTours #ZeroFilterBooks

So, I should have posted this several days ago on 29th November, but, somewhat ironically and rather regretfully, I’m posted this late due to my own shitty mental health. (I am alright, life is just currently pelting me with lots of tomatoes and the occasional bowling ball)

The plot, in a nutshell

Hadley calls Samaritans, hoping to speak to someone friendly and compassionate, a volunteer like Ant. She does get through to someone friendly, except it’s lonely Seth, who had simultaneously dialect her number, and is definitely not a Samaritans volunteer. Their paths soon become a tangled, messy mess.

My thoughts

Yes, it’s deliciously fucked up.

Yes, it talks about mental health, loneliness, suicide and vulnerability and the grim things rarely spoken about.

Yes, there is a massive dollop of humour spread right throughout the novel.

Yes, it twists and turns, and you rarely ‘see it coming’.

Yes, it is fast paced and punchy.

Yes, Detective Sergeant Pace would think that this book is disturbing, even if his IQ seems lower than Mr Bean’s.

Yes, it addresses the ridiculousness of people’s priorities and what they really care about.

Yes, this is the most original, refreshing crime slash mystery slash thriller since Sidney Sheldon (my first love)

But. You just don’t piss around with the image and values of something as valuable and fundamentally necessary to our individual and collective wellbeing as Samaritans is. What I found more disturbing than the warped characters and the graphic descriptions is the impression that this book could leave on potentially emotionally vulnerable people who need to reach out to an organisation such as Samaritans, but think that they will be judged and treated in the same way as certain people in the novel. I’m not being especially sensitive about this, indeed I loved many aspects of this book for its outrageousness and daring nature, but it just left me with so many questions, like how much research did the author do about Samaritans? Were they or any other mental health organisations consulted about the way that the people and topics in this book are presented?

Good Samaritans was published on 15th November by Orenda Books . Thank you to Orenda Books for the ARC and to Anne Cater for the invitation and great organisation of this Blog Tour.

Seth Beauman can’t sleep. He stays up late, calling strangers from his phonebook, hoping to make a connection, while his wife, Maeve, sleeps upstairs. A crossed wire finds a suicidal Hadley Serf on the phone to Seth, thinking she is talking to The Samaritans.

But a seemingly harmless, late-night hobby turns into something more for Seth and for Hadley, and soon their late-night talks are turning into day-time meet-ups. And then this dysfunctional love story turns into something altogether darker, when Seth brings Hadley home… And someone is watching…

Dark, sexy, dangerous and wildly readable, Good Samaritans marks the scorching return of one of crime fiction’s most exceptional voices.

THE AUTHOR

Will Carver is the international bestselling author of the January David series (Arrow). He spent his early years in Germany, but returned to the UK at age 11, when his sporting career took off. He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company.

He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company, while working on his next thriller. He lives in Reading with his two children.

#SexDrive by #StephanieTheobald Review #RandomThingsTours #SexDriveTheBook

What it’s all about: Stephanie leaves a relationship after finding herself unfulfilled and out of touch with her sexuality and, after a trip to New York where a friend offers to put her in contact with ‘a bunch of sex-positive feminists from the 1970s’, she decides to go and explore. We are treated to the wonderful account of what she got up to on her road trip, as well as all that she learnt from the amazing array of characters that she met along the way.

The author: Stephanie Theobald, journalist and author of several books (that are going on my TBR stack)

You should read this if….you don’t know the difference between a vagina and a vulva.

You shouldn’t read this if…you think that weekly croissants in bed (not a euphemism, sadly, which is kind of the problem) is good for a relationship

The good stuff: I loved the honesty. Stephanie is prepared to go where others are too afraid or ashamed to go to, both literally and figuratively. I love a good ‘journey of self development’ tale, and although not particularly described as such, I think this book is a refreshing take on just that – bonus points for literally going on a journey and even sleeping in her car. I loved Stephanie’s story of her experiences but also it is an exploration of sex, pleasure and sexuality and there’s a lot that is educational without being preachy. Yet neither is anything that Stephanie talks about and the way she tells it smutty or slutty, despite not holding back. She celebrates sexuality, acknowledges that we are sexual beings and discusses how we came to view sex and pleasure with such shame. There is much to be found here that is relatable, and I think that it would make for a reassuring read for many people who feel very much alone in their struggles or feeling they have to fight their desires rather than indulge them. With the book being focused primarily on masturbation, she also explores how attitudes towards it have changed over time, and I really genuinely feel like this book is rather beautiful in the sense that it writes a new narrative surrounding these subjects, one that comes from a place of celebration as opposed to shame and seediness and dirtiness. For starters, there are very graphic descriptions of her various experiences on her trip. For the main and dessert, why don’t you pick the book up and treat yourself to the mouthwatering delights of this brilliant book?

Oh, and about breakups…what is it about them that kickstarts journeys of self discovery, particularly in books? Although no animals are being killed on this journey, unlike in my recently review of Killing It by Camas Davis which readers of my blog will no one read. Can we not have a healthy relationship with ourselves if we are in a relationship with someone else? Right, sorry, back to Sex Drive…I am of the generation that grew up watching Sex And The City, with Carrie Bradshaw being the only sex writer I could think of for a long time. I reckon us ladies would have a much healthier view of their bodies and their sexuality if (real) women like Stephanie were given as big a platform…

Bad stuff: As a fellow curly girl, I have major hair envy – see author pic (not actually book related or even sex related, by it’s still a thing, okay!)

Let’s talk epic name dropping…because if this were made into a movie, and really it should because it is all at once inspirational and educational, the list of cameos would be dazzling!

Would I recommend this book? Yes, yes, oh yes, yesssssssssssssss!

Rating 5⭐️

Sex Drive is published on 18th October 2018 by Unbound. Thank you to Unbound for the ARC and to Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours for organising another great tour.

Arriving in New York with a failing relationship and a body she felt out of touch with, Stephanie Theobald set off on a 3,497 mile trip across America to re-build her orgasm from the ground up. What started as a quest for the ultimate auto-erotic experience became a fantastic voyage into her own body. This is her account of that journey. She takes us from `body sex classes with the legendary feminist Betty Dodson to an interview with the former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, who was fired for suggesting that masturbation should be talked about in schools. Along the way, we are immersed in a weird, countercultural America of marijuana farms and `ecosexual sexologists . Sex Drive is a memoir about desire and pleasure, merging sexuality and spirituality, eighteenthcentury porn and enlightenment philosophy. A new sexual revolution has begun and this time round, it s all about the women.

About Stephanie