Flashback to a Favourite: ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver

Flashback to a Favourite is a regular feature where I look back at books I’ve previously given 5 stars and chat about whether the love has wained or lives on.

January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely, and desperate to change his life, so when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, but the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice: stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return–when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…

Thoughts in 2019:  As I mentioned in my recent review of Paver’s latest novel, Wakenhyrst, I still vividly remember how I felt when I read Dark Matter. My slightly tired looking paperback copy has survived many culls because I can’t face getting rid of it and I just want to know that I still own a copy. I read a lot of historical fiction and even more ghost stories and this remains one of my absolute favourites. It isn’t only the sense of the unknown and the creeping unease, it’s the staggering level of detail about the otherworldly environment of the Arctic. I still can’t recommend this book highly enough!

Thoughts in 2012:  Earlier in the year, when my village in Yorkshire was being snowed upon, I had a sudden craving for curling up next to my fire and devouring a book.  I didn’t want to just read, I wanted to be completely immersed in a story and only come up for air when absolutely necessary.  Dark Matter was without a doubt the perfect choice and I read it in a single snowy day.

The story opens with a group of intrepid explorers setting out for the Arctic, jauntily taking photographs of themselves in their special clothing and engaging in the kind o f British public school banter that I have fortunately not had much direct experience of.  As with so many great ghost stories, there’s a pervasive sense of hope and excitement that you know is being crafted so that the ultimate descent into horror is more shocking.  The setting is fantastically mysterious.  I’ve always wanted to visit somewhere like Norway, see the Northern Lights and experience that other-worldliness that this book excels at describing.  So too, do our merry band of scientists.

Of course, where would we be without a few wisened old characters along the way warning of the great dangers lying ahead?  Dark Matter has an ageing sailor tasked with taking Jack and his group to Gruhuken, grimly warning off the dangers hiding in the perpetual night.  From that moment on, the story takes a turn for the creepier and I was hooked.  Honestly, I only stopped reading to make dinner and eat it.  I was fascinated by the setting but most of all I was captivated by the occasional glimpses at the mysteries of Gruhuken.  Snippets of its history and hints at its secret were doled out sparingly but often enough that it feels as though the story is never going to let you go.  When I was finally “in the know”, everything fit together and I was left staring at the pages in shock, with a faint look of disgust no doubt on my face.

Paver has spent a lot of time travelling in the Arctic and it shows.  The environment and the atmosphere are so detailed and breath-taking that you feel as though you can hear the ice creaking around you and feel the crisp, frozen air swirling.  There’s a fantastic article on the author’s website here that describes how much she put into making this book as perfect as it is:

“I went in summer, at the time of the midnight sun, and Jack’s experiences on first seeing Spitsbergen are mine: the sinister, black-faced polar bear who’d been eating the walrus from the inside; the abandoned guillemot chick; Jack’s solo walk to the small, cold lake; and those brief but desperate moments when he thinks he’s lost… All this is what I’ve seen and experienced myself”

The unravelling of Jack’s hopes, dreams and sanity in the icy wilderness is utterly heart-breaking. I desperately wanted him to give up, take his way out and leave the shadows alone and, even with everything else that was brilliant about this book, it was that that kept me reading.  Jack is such a wonderful narrator and his vulnerability is disarmingly charming right from the opening chapters.  As the story is largely told through Jack’s diary entries, there is plenty of time to get to know him.  He is a complex character who is so darn real that it’s impossible not to be sucked in. His naivety and desperation to fit in with his fellow explorers at the outset is tinged with a bitterness that he has to try so hard and his later decisions are constantly coloured by his life experiences.  Nothing he did seemed out of kilter with the character I felt I’d come to know and I wish that more authors knew their characters well enough to make that work.

My only complaint about this book is that it made me agree with the Daily Mail.  No good can come from agreeing with the Daily Mail BUT their reviewer was right, Dark Matter is “a blood-curdling ghost story, evocative not just of icy northern wastes but of a mind turning in on itself”. Read it.

Overall: As a ghost story, Dark Matter is exceptional.  As a description of the dangerous beauty of the Arctic, Dark Matter is also exceptional.  In the end though, the beauty of the novel lies in that age-old haunting question: “What’s waiting for you, just beyond the edge of the light?”

Book Chat: ‘Wakenhyrst’ by Michelle Paver

I first read one of Michelle Paver’s novels seven years ago. I can’t remember how I came across Dark Matter but I could still describe the plot to you and I still vividly remember how it made me feel. I read it in a single sitting on a gloomy weekend day and it remains one of my absolute favourite ghost stories. Since then, I’ve kept an eye on the release of Paver’s novels and although none have quite lived up to that first experience, I’ve enjoyed every one of her ghostly offerings.

It will come as a surprise to nobody then that I loved Wakenhyrst. The story follows Maud as she grows up in Wake’s End, a crumbling old manor house (obviously) sitting on the edge of the Fens. We start the novel knowing that Maud’s father, Edmund, ends up in an institution painting images of demons, having apparently suffered a mental breakdown and killed a man in a horribly violent attack. Maud has remained resolutely silent on what really happened until, as the novel opens, she finds herself in dire financial straits and decides to sell her story to fund much needed repairs to Wake’s End.

Wakenhyrst alternates between Maud recounting her story in her own words and Edmund’s diary entries, which Maud is reading in an effort to get to know her father (at least initially…). I love a good diary entry in a novel anyway but the way they’re used in Wakenhyrst is just brilliant. We first see Edmund early on through Maud’s eyes as a child, then as she grows up and finds him increasingly difficult to live with, she hunts out his diary to try and learn more about him. Often if authors include diary entries, it’s to give readers an edge over characters; Paver uses them to put us firmly on Maud’s side and to let us share in her frustrations and fears. The characters are all so well drawn and so well balanced but Maud has a special place in my heart. By the end, I was so firmly attached to her that I cried as some of her secrets were revealed.

What I adore most about Paver’s writing is how she balances the hints at supernatural with the personal struggles of her characters. In Wakenhyrst‘s case, the uncertainty sits around Edmund and whether he is losing his mind or whether the phantoms that he sees are something darker and more real wafting in from the Fens. It also plays on the religious ideas of the early 20th century and the demons that so many believed might lurk around every corner, and naturally on the folklore surrounding the Fens. The atmosphere is damp and oppressive and looms over everything. Perfect for getting consumed by during the winter.

Death freezes everything. Whatever you did or didn’t do, whatever you said or left unsaid: none of that is ever going to change. You have no more chances to say sorry or make things right. No more chances for anything except regret

All of which isn’t to say that I think Wakenhyrst is perfect. If I’m being picky, it felt a little longer than it needed to be to me, a slight flaw that means I’ve given it 4.5 rather than 5 out of 5 stars. Some of the extracts from Edmund’s diaries run long and can feel repetitive. It works in places, particularly later on in the novel when it really highlights the tangled and dangerous patterns of Edmund’s mind but I was less keen early on when there’s a lot of religious fervour and general academic ramblings. The ending more than makes up for the occasional lull in pace but the lulls are there all the same.

Overall: Who doesn’t like a sinister story set in a crumbling old house with supernatural undertones and secrets galore in the winter?! I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to call it a ghost story but if you like ghost stories, I’m sure you’ll love this.  And if you do pick this up and love it, make sure you also keep an eye out for Dark Matter, because it is perfection and it makes me sad that it isn’t more popular. Two recommendations for the price of one!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Date finished: 07 September 2018

Pictured edition published: by Head of Zeus in April 2019

Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley

Books I Want To Read Before the End of 2019

The end of 2019 has turned out to be a bit of a stinker. The short version – shit happened, there was a brief stay in hospital and now I’m sat at home pretending that I know how to convalesce. I’ve watched a lot of crap on Netflix while I couldn’t focus on books but I’m just about past that phase (hopefully!) and I’ve piled together the books I want to read in the rest of the month. There’s a common theme – relatively easy reads that look like they’ll be good distractions! Not how I thought I’d be wrapping up the year but we are where we are…

A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan // The Wheel of Time is my favourite fantasy series. Objectively I see that it has flaws but it was the first fantasy series I really loved and I’ve never finished it, which is ludicrous. I’m re-reading books 1 to 11 (this one being number 7) so that I can finally read the final three in the series. The characters and settings give me huge feelings of nostalgia and are pure comfort. 100% what I need right now and even though I probably won’t finish it in 2019, it’ll be nice to just spend a few hours with it.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley // “…a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue”? YES PLEASE. This arrived earlier today in my Books Plus Beer subscription and I instantly wanted to pick it up. I’ve been dying to buy this for myself for weeks but have been very bravely resisting as I always try not to buy new books from mid-November onwards. It turning up is about the first lucky thing to happen to me in a while so I will not be ignoring that omen!

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake // I read the first in this YA series what seems like relatively recently but was in fact January 2017 (which is evident from the fact that I forgot which was the first in the series and included that first instalment in the picture above by mistake…). I gave it 3 out of 5 stars at the time on GoodReads but a lot of the details seem to have stuck with me so it clearly had more of an impact than I thought at the time! I’m pretty sure that the series is now finished so it’s time I got back into it and wrapped it up. The series is dark and brooding but hopefully just in a “can’t not look at this” way!

 Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend // Nevermore was a huge deal last year and I jumped on the bandwagon along with everyone else. I’d love to buck the trend but the best way to describe it is by comparing it to Harry Potter. No, the series clearly isn’t that good (yet) but it is pretty bloody great. After blazing through the first book, I did what I almost always do and picked up the next one only to ignore it for months. Is there anything more diverting than a solid children’s book? No. Or at least, I hope not.

A Very Murderous Christmas, collected by Cecily Gayford // Ten classic crime short stories with a festive twist. Explains itself really!

Let me know what you’re reading in the last few weeks of 2019 in the comments!

Book Chat: ‘Nevernight’ and ‘Godsgrave’ by Jay Kristoff

I just finished Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff. Not as in ‘most recently’, as in about an hour ago. I wanted to spend most of this morning reading and I’ve tried picking up a non-fiction book but can’t think about anything other than the ending to Godsgrave so I’m just giving up and wallowing in/sharing my feelings about the Nevernight series as far as I’ve got.

Where to start? Let’s kick off with Nevernight, the first in the series. The basic premise that Mia Corvere has grown up in the shadow of her father’s execution for rebelling against the incumbent government. Her mother was imprisoned in a cruel jail and her baby brother is presumed dead. She’s pretty cross about the whole thing and has sworn her life to killing those she believes were responsible. She also happens to be a ‘darkin’, able to manipulate shadows and communicate with her shadowy non-cat, Mister Kindly (who is fabulous – what’s not to love about a sarcastic sort-of-cat?). Desperate to join the Red Church, an organisation of assassins, she quests off into the desert and pits herself against some brutal challenges and fellow apprentices and our story begins.

I love me a good boarding-school-with-trials story and this was no exception. I adored it. It’s gritty and dark and harsh but as Mia forms friendships and learns more about herself, there’s some light relief too. Be warned though, some of those friendships will break your heart.  Kristoff isn’t shy about killing people off. I’ve cried and stared at my Kindle in shock fairly regularly during both this and the next book. Deaths don’t feel gratuitous but that just makes them all the harder to read. Brace yourself!

Surprisingly enough for a series that’s already about assassins and a pretty vicious republic, Godsgrave manages to up the ante. Shit gets very real. There is much blood and many deaths and it’s not for the faint hearted. Without any spoilers, most of the book focuses on trials of the ‘gladiatii’. Yes, you guessed it. Not only do we have assassins, we also now have battles to the death between gladiator warrior types. The first part of the book (after a very handy refresher on the series so far) is split between catching readers up on how our characters have ended up where they are and in following this new plot line. It was a smidge disorientating at first but a few chapters in, I was hooked. There’s more of the fantastic world-building and character development from the first, with new threats, more political intrigue, more moments to make your heart hurt and twists and turns and…well, everything. It’s bloody brilliant.

There’s a whiff of Terry Pratchett about the series too (albeit very much Pratchett for grown-ups), with a wry, all-seeing narrator chipping in for prologues and epilogues and the occasional footnote. I’ve seen reviews by other readers saying that the footnotes ruined the book for them. I personally like them because they appeal to my fairly dry sense of humour and help expand the world a bit with back stories of towns, myths characters refer to or sayings they use. Read a few and see what you think but if they do bug you, you can skip them and you’ll miss nothing of the main story.

All of which is to say, if you’re a fantasy reader, you really NEED to read this series. If you aren’t usually a fantasy reader, it’s not too heavy on the fantastical side and there isn’t a lot of magic so I wouldn’t say it’s only for the hardcore fans by any stretch – definitely worth giving a try! The hype has died down but it’s one of the best series I’ve read in recent years. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the day I’d bought and started the final instalment (the cliffhangers at the end of the second books are killing me) but I’m trying to hold out for a little while…

The Pages and the Miles: 10th November 2019

The Pages

You know when you have a couple of weeks where you don’t seem to be reading quite the right things and it makes everything drag a bit? I’ve had one of those fortnights.  It started out pretty well. I loosely took part in the 24 Hour Readathon a couple of weekends ago and picked up a YA title I’ve had on my shelves for about 6 years – The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. It was the second book in a zombie trilogy that I started back in 2013. I read the first one, really enjoyed it, promptly bought the next two and then ignored them. The second wasn’t quite as good as the first but it was a quick read full of zombie attacks to get your heart racing and just the right amount of philosophising about the nature of humanity and a dash of vaguely angsty romance. Not lofty literature but good fun. It was an easy 4 stars for keeping me completely entertained for 24 hours.

The ending was a cliffhanger and a half so I decided to make the most of being swept up in the momentum and immediately picked up The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan. That was when the wheels fell off. The perspective changed from the second novel and the angst increased beyond my patience levels. The new narrator has been badly scarred in an accident and spends the whole novel rambling to herself about how ugly she is and generally being an angry person pushing everyone away. There’s a terrible love triangle of sorts and the threat of zombies increases so much that it almost gets boring. I ploughed on for two weeks though and then the last 50 pages just became all kinds of ridiculous. I know that sounds stupid for a post-apocalyptic novel full of zombies but it all became farcical and far too melodramatic. 2 stars for at least having some clever moments about how all round awful people can be and hope in the face of that.

I then started on Non-Fiction November. I read very little non-fiction because reading is so important to me as a way to relax and unwind but I own a lot and I could do a better job of balancing out my fiction and non-fiction reading. I started with Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox, all about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement in the case of Oscar Slater, a Jewish immigrant imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit. Given my job, I was all up for a tale of the famous author’s wrangling with the law and the man at the heart of the scandal. In part, the book was that but I gave up after about a third so I can’t tell you how it pans out. It’s the first book I’ve DNF’d this year so it’s not something I’d usually do but the narrative and the structure just drove me crazy. It was repetitive and winding but, more irritatingly, it felt as though the author was telling me literally everything she’d learned while researching. Mentioning a person in passing? Why not tell me about the history of their surname and how they used to be called something different but changed it? Someone on a boat? Please do tell me about the ultimate fate of that boat in World War II. It was distracting and just not for me. The first book in 2019 that’s really made me think “life is too short for this book”.  Onward and upward.

Currently reading: Eat Up! Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh and The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Miles

I haven’t been updating on running for ages. Predominantly because I haven’t been running. I found out I was pregnant a few weeks ago, which has sapped both my energy and has had me too nauseous for even contemplating the jiggly momentum of running. I’m gradually starting to feel better and although I have bad days sometimes, I also have days where I feel mostly normal and I really want to get back to my usual routine. So from now on, this section won’t chart miles covered (because that number would be LOW) but will be somewhere to keep track of the exercise I’m managing to get in and generally the world of exercising while pregnant. Niche perhaps but the best I can do for the next few months!

Wish me luck…

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon: TBR and Intro

It’s been ages since I’ve taken part in the Dewey’s 24 hour readathon. I need far too much sleep and will be far too busy at work on Monday to read for 24 hours but the weather is truly terrible here in Yorkshire today and just screams ‘stay inside and read’. So until later on this evening, that’s what I’m going to do! I’m out for dinner with my husband but will have plenty of time for reading before and potentially after and tomorrow morning.

My TBR is pretty simple – read The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. I started it this morning and I’m already hooked so I’m sure it’s going to be a fast-paced read perfect for a readathon. I also have a graphic novel (the third volume of Sagaand a book of short stories (The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton) on standby in case I fancy a change of pace.

As ever, I’ll start with a stopwatch and ultimately forget and end up guessing at actually how long I’ve read for our of the 24!  I’ll mostly be updating on Twitter (@SheReadsSheRuns) because updating here will take me too long.

So before I get cracking on my TBR pile, here’s the opening survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Yorkshire, England. Currently being a little less than fine and raining constantly. You can tell I’m also actually British because I’ve already mentioned the weather twice…

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

The Dead-Tossed Waves. It’s been 6 years since I read the first in the series (The Forest of Hands and Teeth – best title ever) but I fancied something action-packed and you can usually rely on zombies for that.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I’m actually going out for dinner this evening to a local vegetarian Indian restaurant and while not a snack, I am VERY much looking forward to the food interlude. The paneer starters are to die for and I’m already starving at the thought of it.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

What to tell? I’m a 33 year old lawyer (I know) living in a relatively small village in Yorkshire with my husband and two cats, Bridget and Molly. I read a lot and I love running and exercise (hence the blog title!). I’m also a massive food nerd and love messing about in the kitchen. Straight-forward stuff, really! What else? I’m super frightened of dogs, cows and birds so not what you’d call “outdoorsy”.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I didn’t participate last time but I have before. The main thing I’m going to focus on this time is updating on Twitter rather than trying to blog and read and chat on Twitter and then just doing very little of anything. So onward to the books!

Are you taking part too? What are you planning on reading?

Holiday Reads: September 2019

Right. I’ve overthought my ‘return’ to blogging regularly for long enough and it’s time to just get writing. I could start by blathering on about all the things that have distracted me and all the reasons I haven’t been blogging but that would be a waste of everybody’s time so instead we’re starting the best way I know how – with books.

For the last two weeks of September, my husband and I hopped our way across four Greek islands – Naxos, Santorini, Syros and Mykonos. I’m planning a ‘She Roams’ post to chat a bit more about the different islands, drop in a few tips that we picked up along the way and generally wax lyrical about how fantastic it all was. For now, suffice to say it was absolutely delightful. Much delicious food was eaten, local wine was drunk and, handily for this post, books were read!

On the flight out, I finished Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kowaguchi. Apparently this was a hugely popular book when originally released in Japan and I hope that it gets the same level of love over here now that it’s been translated into English. It’s a bit of a strange one on the face of it – in a cafe in Tokyo, customers can travel back in time. They can only travel back within the cafe (and so can only ‘visit’ people who have also been to the cafe), nothing that happens in the past will change the future and they can only stay in the past for as long as it takes for their cup of coffee to go cold. I suppose it might sound like it’s going to be quirky and all style and no substance but it absolutely isn’t. It’s sparsely written but beautiful. The exploration of what you could use time travel for if you knew it wouldn’t change anything was perfect – you might not be able to change your present, but you might just change your outlook on a situation and improve your future, for example. I cried on the plane. Twice. 100% recommended and I might write about it a bit more soon because I’m still thinking about it a few weeks on.

I often use holidays to delve into my Kindle back catalogue and pick out random books I’ve had for years. First up on that list was Nemesis by Brendan Reichs. If I’m perfectly honest, I can’t really decide what I thought about this one. It follows Min, a teenager who ha been stalked and murdered by a mysterious stranger every other year on her birthday since she was eight, only to wake up unharmed in a field a little while later. What I can say is that it’s very action-packed – there’s the frequent murders, a local government conspiracy, the impending destruction of Earth by a meteor, general teenage angst and a Lord of the Flies style climax. The plot barrels on relentlessly and it’s an easy read but it’s a bit…well, a bit much. I might pick up the next in the trilogy because I’m intrigued enough about what Reichs is up to but I’m not in a rush. Cautiously recommended to fans of Lost.

Next up, Troy by Adele Geras. I’ve had it for years and I figured what better time to read about Troy and Ancient Greek gods than while I was in Greece occasionally visiting Ancient Greek ruins. Sadly, it was a bit of a let down. I liked the fact that it’s told from the perspective of those within Troy, rather than the usual Greek take, but it was unbelievably repetitive. There are about five central characters, all of whom seem to be in love with one of the others who in turn loves someone else. There are regular visits from gods who give a character (and readers) spoilers for what’s coming up, before ensuring that the characters promptly forget what they’ve heard. It happened at least 10 times and it became super annoying. It isn’t dreadful but I wasn’t impressed. If you want to read about Ancient Greece, go for either of Madeline Miller’s books instead!

After Troy, I wanted a bit of a banker and something fun. Enter Moonlight and Mechanicals by Cindy Spencer Pape. I won’t say a lot about this. It’s the fourth in a loosely linked ‘series’ following various members of the Order of the Knights of the Round Table in a steampunk Victorian London that also happens to feature werewolves, vampires and the like. They might not be top drawer literature but they are a great diversion from the real world and they definitely meet the fun brief. There’s always a strong romance thread and a mystery/investigation of sorts and this was one of my favourites so far on both fronts. I actually would tell you to pick them up if you like your romance a little more adult!

For the second week, I wanted to get stuck into something long that I wouldn’t normally have the time to get into. With the release of the final book fast approaching, I boldly took the plunge into the Thomas Cromwell trilogy with Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Given that it’s sort of a global phenomenon at this point, I won’t labour on about this but, surprise surprise, I loved it. It’s huge and detailed and oh so rich and worth waiting seven years for. I did a Tudor History A-Level (I know, niche) so the events are familiar to me but the colour that Mantel adds is just incredible. I wasn’t prepared for how readable, accessible and funny it would be. I’m glad I read it while I was away because it gave me the time I needed to really get absorbed into Tudor England and Cromwell’s political wranglings. I will obviously be picking up Bring Up the Bodies so I’m all caught up for 2020’s finale.

And that was my holiday reading! Tell me what you’ve been reading lately! Let’s catch up friends.

N.E.W.T.s Readathon: August 2019

I’m very excited about it being August. It’s my birthday month but, more importantly, it’s also the month of the N.E.W.T.s Readathon 2019! I *loved* the O.W.L.s version earlier this year so I can’t wait to get stuck back into the prompts to hopefully chase down my chosen career of Hogwarts Professor of Potions.

As with the O.W.L.s, there’s an amazing introductory video with all of the detail you could want at Book Roast HERE. The list of prompts is as fantastic as I’d hoped and I had so much fun just picking out my TBR! You can only do a N.E.W.T in something that you have an O.W.L. in, and if your goal is to get Outstanding for example, you have to run through Acceptable and Exceeded Expectations first. To teach Potions, I’ll need an O in Potions (obviously), an E in Defence Against the Dark Arts and an A in two other subjects. That’s 7 books, which is a bit of a stretch for my usual reading habits. Still, exams are meant to be challenging! 🙂

Potions

Acceptable: Polyjuice potion – Read your friend’s favourite book: I don’t have any of my friends’ favourite books that I haven’t read so I’m following the intro video’s advice and going with a favourite of what seems like the whole of the fantasy reading world and finally picking up The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin. I’ve been reading this since the 1st and I’m about half way through and I love it.

Exceeded Expectations: House ingredients – Read a book with a cover in the colour of your Hogwarts House: I’m a Ravenclaw so it’s a blue cover needed for me. I’ve gone with Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens because the series looks like it’ll be super fun. Strictly not the right shade of blue but I’m making my peace with that.

Outstanding: Book that starts with a Prologue: I’m trying to read more translated fiction so I’ve chosen White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen. At 136 pages, I’m hoping it’ll help me along the way to reading 7 books in the month! It also sounds like a really moving book about a famine in 1860s Finland.

Defence Against the Dark Arts

Acceptable: Book that’s black under the dust jacket: I actually have very few books that even have dust jackets because I’m not a hardback book fan. I do have Sleeping Giants by Sylvia Neuven though and fortunately (as it’s the only book I have that fits the brief) it comes highly recommended.

Exceeded Expectations: Gilderoy’s memory charm – the first book you remembered from your TBR: Thank goodness the first book I remembered wasn’t a whopper of a tome! Instead it was Nine Man’s Murder by Eric Keith. I love me a locked room mystery and I think that this is one such mystery. I’m excited to finally get to it.

Muggle Studies

Acceptable: Cover that includes an actual photo element: I’ve gone one better and picked out The Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs, the final instalment in the series of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and packed full of creepy old photographs!

Herbology

Acceptable: Mandrake! Quick, put your headphones on! Listen to an audiobook (or if not, a book with a green cover): I’m going through more of a podcast phase at the moment and I’m not fancying audiobooks but I have had The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth on my shelves for a few years and it has a mostly green cover.

Drop me a link to your TBR if you’re joining in too! I’ll be updating on progress here and on Twitter at @SheReadsSheRuns.

Favourite Books of the Year So Far: 2019

I love the middle of the year on the bookish internet! I love seeing people’s lists of favourite reads so far and I love stat chat. I’m also curious to say which of the books I currently think of as my favourites now are still on the list at the end of the year. I actually wrote most of this post a few weeks ago, to actually coincide with the mid-point of the year but work’s been bonkers ever since so it’s a ‘better late than never’ deal today and all of the stats and whatnot are as they were as at 30th June.

I feel like I’ve had a brilliant reading year so far. I’ve been really enjoying working on reading off my shelves and reducing the number of unread books I own. I’ve only bought 28 books so far this year and I’ve borrowed 5 from the library . Now that might actually still sound like quite a lot but at the same point in 2018 I’d already acquired a ridiculous 142 books. A number that’s so stupid, I’m almost embarrassed to write it.

So far in 2019, I’ve read 40 books and 13,517 pages. I’m really pleased with how much I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve been picking up – my average star rating out of 5 for the year is 3.7. There have been more 2 star reads than I’d like but nothing I completely hated. I am a bit disappointed with the diversity of my choices, though. Of the 40 books I’ve read, 21 were written by authors from the US and 14 were written by authors from the UK. I’d hoped for far more than 5 books written by authors from countries and cultures that I’m less familiar with. Something to focus on for the remaining 5 months of the year.

On to the favourites! I’ve picked out my top 5 from the year so far, and even spent far too long putting them in reverse order of preference…

5) The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

This sat on my shelves for a completely ridiculous eight and a half years before I picked it up on holiday in June. My heart still hurts at the memory of what Waters put the characters I loved through. The novel runs backwards, with sections focusing on four characters in 1947, 1944 and 1941. The writing is beautiful without being overdone but it is 100% Waters’ characters that have secured this a spot on my favourites list. I was frustrated by them, rooting for them and completely heartbroken with them. It’s also interesting to get a picture of London and women at home during the war and how their social status was starting to change. There are also chapters featuring characters who have conscientiously objected to the war, which is another interesting angle that I don’t think I’ve read about before. It’s a bit of a chunkster at over 500 pages but definitely one that’s worth the time you’ll invest in it.

4) My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I listened to this on audiobook back in April, after it had secured its place on the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist but before it then made its way on to the shortlist. I enjoyed it at the time – the audiobook is fantastically well done and the plot is a real gripper – and it’s grown on me more and more since. I’m sure everybody knows this by now but it’s the story of a Nigerian woman, Korede, who finds herself cleaning up after the deaths of multiple men at her sister’s hand. When her sister meets the man that Korede loves, Korede is forced to look at who her sister is and to consider how far she’ll go to protect her sister and the man she loves. I particularly loved how the novel tackles the relationship between sisters and family dynamics; how Korede’s fierce protective instinct is challenged and pushed. The ending too was a real sucker punch. If you like a crime novel that offers something a little bit different, you want this in your life.

3) Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

I used to read a lot of YA fantasy. I haven’t read anything like as much this year (74% of my reading has been ‘adult’) but the ones I have read have all been really good. This one in particular was absolutely fantastic. The series’ heyday was back in the early 2010s so I’m hugely late to the party but glad I finally did make it. The series is about a huge war between angels and ‘revenants’/demons. The writing is far better than you usually find in YA fiction. I mean, just look at the blurb for heaven’s sake:

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

The themes are pretty damn dark too. There’s death and necromancy and torture and some truly awful characters. Even the romantic plot at the centre, which can so oftenrender YA fiction predictable or inject a thread that is too sickly sweet, is gloomier and more complicated. It’s just absolutely brilliant. I read this over a couple of sunny afternoons in April and I can’t wait to get to the final instalment.

2) The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

The second historical fiction on this list, and the fourth book I read this year. The fact that this has clung onto its spot for so long should say a lot about The Wicked Cometh. It’s a real gothic treat that I obviously recommend that you pick up but would maybe say ought to be savoured in autumn/winter. It’s set in the gritty streets of 1830s London, following Hester White as she tries to work her way out of poverty. It touches on some of the real dark side of medical treatment and progress of that time and it’s not for the faint hearted. As you’d hope with a gothic, gloomy historical fiction, the atmosphere is incredible – one of those books where you can just feel the fog and grime seeping off the pages. There’s some LGBTQ+ representation that is just beautifully done, and an ending that made me weep. I’m sad that it didn’t get the exposure it deserves so if you do like historical fiction, please do take a punt on this. You won’t regret it!

1) Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Taking the top spot at the middle of the year is Exit West, another of my June holiday reads. I can’t really sum it up any better than I did in my June wrap up:  It’s the story of Nadia and Saeed, starting off in an unnamed, war-torn country. As Nadia and Saeed meet, their country is being subjected to air strikes and an increasingly strict religious military regime. The writing is just stunning. Sparse and simple but absolutely flooring. I know that people say this a lot but I really do feel like Exit West is such an important book. It recounts Nadia and Saeed’s decision to leave their home, their reluctance and the pain it causes them, following them as they struggle to find a new country to call home. The challenges they face in their potential new communities were disappointingly familiar but what really struck me was how well Hamid relays the small struggles that his characters face. The simple pleasure of a hot shower in a private room with a soft towel. The grief of thinking you’ve found a home only to be forced to move on again. The power of the smell of familiar cooking when you’re far from what you know. It’s beautiful and crushing and should be required reading. I have Hamid’s earlier novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and I’ll be getting to it later this year definitely.

Monthly TBR: July 2019

I first picked out a monthly TBR in June. Rather than being a pain, I found something oddly comforting about having a small pile of books to pick from for my first few reads. It was easy and I liked feeling as though I’d achieved goals just by working through that small stack.

I’m sticking with the same categories this month: one ‘diverse’ read, one book I’ve had for longer than five years and one random choice.

July’s pile looks like this:

The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul – This is translated from Danish and published by Peirene Press. I have a huge stash of Peirene novels and I’ve loved the ones I’ve read so far so hopefully this will be another winner. Halland is found murdered and if the blurb is to be believed, we have a small town murder mystery that is also a story of a wife’s grief following the death of her husband. Very excited about this one.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight – My “random” choice!  I’ve actually read 100 pages or so of this one already and colour me INTRIGUED. As it opens, Catherine receives a thriller novel that she is convinced is about her and an event in her past that she was convinced was a secret. The interesting bit is that there are a few chapters told from the perspective of the character who has delivered the novel to Catherine but who seemingly didn’t originally write it. It’s readable and I really want to find out what’s going on!

Sixty One Nails by Mike Shevdon – I bought this in June 2012. I’ve had it so long I actually can’t remember where I heard about it or why I bought it…having a look at it again, though, it looks like an ‘alternate London with the fae’. It’s a bit of a chunkster and the start of a series so the inevitable gamble is that I love it and then “have to” buy the rest of the series but I’m hoping it’ll be worth it!

What books are on your reading horizons for July? Are you trying to read to particular goals in 2019 or just going with your whims?