August Book Reviews

In late 2018, my to be read list was more like a ‘never-going-to-read’ library.  Jane Austen littered my windowsills, Zadie Smith lined by cupboards, Oscar Wilde sprawled over my kitchen and you do not even want to know who was hiding under my bed.  I loved nothing more than receiving novels in the post, picking them up from Waterstones after work, and grabbing a few pre-loved hardbacks from Lending Libraries across town.  Buying these books was so fulfilling but I had much less enthusiasm when it came to actually reading them.  

Naturally, when I moved and had to carry 10 big book boxes up and downstairs, I knew it was time for a buying hiatus.  Two years later (and no more moves) I have invested in a much bigger bookcase, have a healthier bank balance, and only buy print copies on special occasions.  Instead, I prefer to fill up my bottomless Kindle library and optimise my Audible subscription.  It’s a digital girl’s world.  

Because of this digital optimisation and my still ongoing book hiatus, it isn’t very often that I have a reading month like August.  Almost all (albeit two) of my reads were paperback beauties!  It felt so good to bend the spines and dog-ear the pages of His Dark Materials again as well as flip through an account of the Manchester music scene.  I even stuck a bookmark in a murder mystery book!  Isn’t life just so exciting? 

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As always, follow me on Goodreads for every day up-to-date book insights and reading progress, and follow me on my personal Instagram where I am always gushing about books. 

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Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman (1995 + 1997)

Read via physical copy

If I had to pick one author to read forever, there is no doubt of me choosing Philip Pullman.  I find his animated imagination and extraordinary storytelling capabilities simply magical.  Being lost in one of his novels is always an honour.  For me, my favourite of the lot is of course His Dark Materials.  The ultimate comfort blanket; The Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife (I am yet to re-read The Amber Spyglass) offers classic fantasy mixed with realism, wit, and adventure.

A short but saccharine re-dip into the world of Lyra, Will, and Pantalaimon was as stunning as ever.  Pullman gave me goosebumps as he introduced the likes of Serafina Pekkala and described the iconic King Of The Bears showdown.  There was the exciting knife fight, children with murderous intentions, and lots of cats, amongst ghosts, witches, and more.  I found it elating that the world of His Dark Materials will always be waiting for me – unchanged and familiar forever.  This is the sublime and escapism at its finest.  I think I will always have space for His Dark Materials.

 

#GIRLBOSS – Sophie Amoruso (2014)

Read via physical copy

Sophie Amoruso is the founder and former CEO of the fast-fashion label, Nasty Gal.  Amoruso started out by flipping fashion via eBay in 2006 and eventually sold the same company for $30 million less than a  decade later.  This, before I say anything else, is ridiculously impressive.  I wish I could do that.  

#GIRLBOSS, Amoruso’s first autobiography, was written a year before Amoruso stepped away from Nasty Gal in 2015. It is therefore essentially the ‘What It Takes To Run/Work At Nasty Gal’ handbook.  Unfortunately, this makes this non-fiction read very dated, ironic, and definitely not the feminist manifesto we can expect with a title like #GIRLBOSS.

For starters, if you are a woman (or a girl) and you are the owner of a company or are simply referred to as ‘the boss’ then that is what you are – the boss.  You are not a girl boss and definitely not a #GIRLBOSS.  Amoruso gets more problematic as she orders that all Nasty Gals should wear a bra (god forbid you won’t be getting a job at the fashion house if you have saggy tits) and constantly romanticises women working long hours.  I mean, you will NEVER be a #GIRLBOSS if you are only putting in 40 hours a week at your desk.  You should be working from home!  Breaks? Ha! You haven’t got time for breaks!  What’s that, a tuna sandwich?  You will NEVER be a #GIRLBOSS if you eat! I used to only drink chai lattes from Starbucks!  Now that’s a real diet!  Get back to work and put your boobs away!

I am exaggerating but #GIRLBOSS was problematic and highly entertaining.  I originally only picked it up because I enjoyed the Netflix show, Girlboss.  Excellent soundtrack.  Questionable substance.   Still, the book has pretty illustrations which are nice.  Don’t read it.

 

Varanasi – Jae Watson (2019)

Read via physical copy

I’ve been spending too much time in Old England, thanks to the likes of Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  I realised recently that England as a sole setting has really been bogging me down.  The antidote? Jae Watson’s colourful and rich Varanasi entering my life.

Originally put out as Journey in 2007, Varanasi has been re-published with escapism and wanderlust in mind.  An easy-reading, first-person narrative set in India; Varanasi is the definition of a great, gripping holiday read.  It follows the heartbroken Marianne as she escapes England with her mysterious friend Sara.  Embroiled in a series of strange events, Marianne finds herself thrown into drugs, devastation, and an untimely murder investigation.  What are Varanasi and Sara hiding beneath their surfaces?

 

Devil’s Breath – G.M. Malliet (2017)

Read via physical copy

A book series that allows you to pick up and drop into at any given time is hard to come by.  Not having to worry about chronology, backstories of characters, and missing vital information?  A non-complicated dream.  I didn’t think a series like this existed outside of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, until halfway through reading G.M. Malliet’s Devils Breath.  I had no idea it was the sixth novel in an ever-growing collection!

There are five Max Tudor stories that come before Devil’s Breath, but that did not limit my reading nor make it less captivating.  Although there were slight nods to characters present in earlier novels, Malliet made entering his world slick and easy.  I felt like I had been there the whole time.  

Boasting a clever storyline and witty protagonist, Devil’s Breath was a great, easy-reading murder mystery.  Personally, I thought the story was slightly too short and found some of the characters could have been as fleshed out as others.  However, Devil’s Breath was extremely enjoyable and I am in my right mind to purchase the prior Max Tudor novels now.  Another nice holiday read for the holiday I am not going on this year.

 

Killing Eve: Die For Me – Luke Jennings (2020)

Read via audiobook

Luke Jennings has seriously outdone himself on the third Killing Eve novel.  Die For Me is hands-down the best in the series so far.  Villanelle begins to thaw as we see her human side emerge.  She goes by Oxana throughout the entire novel showing character progression and a dynamic change between her and girlfriend, Eve Polastri.  There is fucking and fights, gory murder committed by Eve which made me wince, and a web of schemes and deceit. 

While Oxana has played the hero throughout the Killing Eve novels, Die For Me sees her taking a step back into the shadows while Eve becomes our shining protagonist.  We feel as she feels and we see as she sees as the novel is written completely from Eve’s point of view.  Her adoration and obsession with Oxana are like wildfire; I too experienced the pull and the danger which she brings.

If this is the final Killing Eve novel, leaving the series as a trilogy, then I will be content.  Jennings has potentially ended the books perfectly and I was elated upon finishing Die For Me.  Compared to the sinking ship which is series three of the television series, the Killing Eve novels are prevalent and breathtaking.

 

Sonic Youth Slept On My Floor – Dave Haslam (2018)

Read via physical copy

I moved to Manchester five years ago this September.  I came for university and I genuinely picked Manchester because Oasis and The Smiths were from here.  Yes, I know.  The Manchester music scene (past and present) has always enticed and interested me and now I have an emotional, comprehensive guide to it for me to carry around forever.  Sonic Youth Slept On My Floor by Dave Haslam is Manchester music personified.

Haslam is an Ex-Hacienda DJ; music promoter; writer; interviewer; and the main brain which worked on the New Order Reimagined shows at Manchester International Festival in 2017.  He’s had Johnny Marr giving (at the time) the only recorded account of his decision on leaving The Smiths and has also cooked cauliflower cheese for Morrissey.  His music memoir, Sonic Youth Slept On My Floor, is a comprehensive guide to him navigating putting on shows at The Boardwalk, having a gun pulled on him at the Hac’ and Seth Troxler buying his record collection.

One of the best books I have read this year, Sonic Youth Slept On My Floor made me cry and inspired me to write and dance and listen to my favourite records again.  I seriously urge you to indulge in this fascinating history.

Prince Caspian – C. S. Lewis (1951) 

Read via audiobook

2020 is the year of Narnia.  I have already talked about The Magicians Nephew in `April, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in May, A Horse and His Boy in July and now in August, it is the turn of Prince Caspian.  Relatively simple in its storyline compared to the other Chronicles of Narnia, the Pevensie children come back to Narnia, find it in ruins, and help Prince Caspian to take his rightful throne.

In all honestly, I am pretty indifferent towards this story.  I do not feel it really brought anything other than the idea that time in Narnia does not match that in England and that there is more land with different rules and morals past Narnia itself.  I think I can definitely live without reading this one again.

The Truth and Triumph of Grace Atherton – Anstey Harris (2019)

Read via physical copy

If you enjoyed Elenor Oliphant Is Completely Fine or like to delve into anything by Jojo Moyes then you will love The Truth and Triumph of Grace Atherton.   I was so deeply invested in this novel that I gobbled it in one glorious morning sitting.  That literally never happens.  Expelling empathy and resilience, Truth and Triumph is a book about knowing your worth, facing up to your mistakes, and living for the moment.

Without giving too much away, it follows Grace Atherton – a once-budding Cellist – who is more than content living a double life.  By day, she runs a ‘Cello and Violin shop and by night she travels to Paris to live and love with her boyfriend, David.  However, when a series of events force revelations to come to life, it is up to Grace’s friends and her own self-esteem to keep her head above water.

The Truth and Triumph Of Grace Atherton is surprisingly brilliant.  Anstey Harris has wrapped tragedy, hurt, and elation into a neat little parcel and tagged it with ‘life’.  I really, really loved it.

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