Book Prizes · Reading Horizons

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2019

Womens PrizeGiven how busy I’ve been with university work recently, I’ve tried not to set myself too many reading goals. I get my MA reading done and I keep on top of my blog tour reading but, after that, I read according to whim. As a result, a lot of the book prizes of the past year have passed me by.

That might have to change however with the announcement of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. Because this list looks absolutely AMAZING!! There are so many titles on here that have been lingering on my TBR, calling out for their turn to be read. So, whilst I don’t think I’ll read the whole longlist, I did want to discuss the longlisted titles and the ones that I’m hoping to read.

I already own, or have borrowed, ten of the sixteen shortlisted titles but have only read two of them – Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, a strange but haunting novella that I’ll be reviewing in the next couple of weeks, and My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, which I enjoyed but didn’t love. The characters were fantastic and it’s definitely a quick read with a great narrative voice, but I found the ending a little lacklustre and I was left with a sense that nothing had really changed for the characters, despite the events of the book.

The other books that I own are:

Circe by Madeline Miller

I absolutely loved Miller’s debut, The Song of Achilles, which gave an evocative voice to an over-looked character from Greek myth. I’ve heard only excellent things about Circe so I can’t wait to see what she has done with this complex mythological woman.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Myth re-tellings are having a bit of a moment at the moment. This re-telling of the Trojan War promises to give voice to the women of Troy. Euripides’ tragedy The Trojan Women was the high point of my undergraduate classics module so I am looking forward to seeing what Barker, author of the evocative Regeneration trilogy, does with the story.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney seems to be the author of the moment – is there a shortlist that Normal People hasn’t been on this year? I have to admit to being a little worried that this won’t live up to the hype but I’m reassured by her short story, Mr Salary, which I read and very much enjoyed earlier this year. If Mr Salary is anything to go by, Rooney has a real eye for detail and for capturing the idiosyncrasies of human interaction.

Milkman by Anna Burns

I’ve had this one on my shelf since it won the Man Booker Prize last year. If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ll like it – I’ve heard that the style can be rather inaccessible and it seems to be quite the Marmite book. I’m hoping that the Women’s Prize will give me a push to try it so that I can decide for myself one way or the other.

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenburg-Jephcott

Okay, so this one was a random NetGalley download that has lingered on my Kindle for far too long. I downloaded it after my book group read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which I found fascinating as much for its author’s compelling voice as anything else. So when I heard about a book centred on Capote, and the literary grenade he detonated amidst an elite circle of Manhattan socialites, I put in a request. I freely admit that I’d almost forgotten that I’d downloaded this but it’s definitely one I want to get around too.

Since the longlist was announced, I’ve also bought An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Ordinary People by Diana Evans, as well as Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton (which is currently one of the featured reads for NB Magazine so available for an absolute steal on their website), all of which sound right up my reading street.

Out of the remaining titles on the longlist, I am hoping to borrow Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive & Bernice L. McFadden’s Praise Song for the Butterflies from the library. Both sound like they could be enjoyable but I’m not 100% sure whether the style is going to be for me – they seem like more literary titles and, whilst I do enjoy literary fiction, I do find some books can be a little too ‘high’ in their style.

I have heard amazing things about the remaining longlist titles – Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, The Pisces by Melissa Broder, Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, and Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn – but they don’t immediately grab me and, with eight books to read already, I think I’ve got my work cut out for me as it is!

I would love to hear from any of you who have read any of these books though, as I am open to being persuaded which I should read first. At the moment, I’m inclined to start with either Swan Song or Circe – both have been languishing in my TBR for far too long. So please do drop me a comment down below, or come say hi over on Twitter and, until next time…

Happy Reading!

 

 

Random Bookish Things · Reading Horizons · Reviews

What I Read On My Holidays

Given that I’m currently drowning in a sea of MA reading, and laid low with a nasty bout of Fresher’s Flu (which is an absolute joy at the age of 32 I can tell you), my holiday seems but a distant memory. A mere month ago however and I was enjoying a wonderful, book-filled week on the Welsh coast with the long-suffering husband. I normally do a short post about what I’m intending to read on my hols before I go but, as September was quite busy on The Shelf with blog tours, I thought it might be nice to do a wrap-up and some mini-reviews of what I actually read instead.

36203369I kicked off the week with a book about the Spanish Flu. Holiday reading! Yes, I know it might not seem like the most relaxing of topics but Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney had come highly recommended by a bookseller in my local Waterstones and is exactly the sort of narrative social history that I enjoy hoovering up every once in a while. Although slightly terrifying (it is amazing how much we still don’t understand about the flu virus and how incredibly vulnerable to new strains of flu we remain), Pale Rider was also a fascinating examination of human ingenuity and resilience in the face of a terrible threat. That such an incredibly destructive epidemic has become so little-known about in the modern world is something that Spinney attempts to unpick, as well as evaluating why certain countries and communities fared better than others during the outbreak. Whilst I’m sure anyone well versed on the Spanish Flu epidemic would probably struggle to find anything new here, for a lay reader like myself it was a fascinating introduction and a timely reminder of human vulnerability.

39712864Seeking something a little more light-hearted than viral epidemics, I then turned to my book club’s October choice, Heartburn by Nora Ephron. This darkly acerbic tale of a pregnant woman who discovers her beloved husband is in love with a woman who has “a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb” had me laughing out loud and regularly reading passages aloud to my (considerably less amused) husband. If I’m being completely honest, there is nothing essentially new in Ephron’s ‘comic’ tale of a marriage breakdown and the resulting mid-life crisis it brings about in her heroine. What sets the book apart however is Ephron’s strong voice, which grabs you on page one and doesn’t let up until it leaves you – red-cheeked and sides sore from laughing – on the final page. As a commentary on marriage and relationships, I have issues with Ephron’s conclusions but, as a short, sharp stab of wit and amusement, I think it’s a little slice of delight that would be perfect for fans of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette.

35720337Returning to more sombre territory (my aching sides needed a chance to recover), and inspired by the desolate beauty of the surrounding Welsh landscape, I finally picked up Jon McGregor’s Costa award winning novel Reservoir 13. Unfolding over the course of thirteen years, the novel examines the impact of a tragedy on a small village community, starting with a teenage girl going missing in the hills just before New Year. McGregor writes beautifully about the small, everyday rhythms of country life, alternating between the natural cycle of the years and the unfolding dramas of the village and its citizens. A lyrical, elegiac read, this was definitely a case of right place, right time, right book for me – sitting looking out on the sparse beauty of the Cambrian Mountains, I felt utterly absorbed in McGregor’s slow-moving but vividly painted world. Definitely a novel that rewards considered reading and will leave you reflecting long after you turn the final page.

40236461Throughout the holiday I was listening to The World of Lore: Wicked Mortals, written and read by Aaron Mahnke. If you’re into folklore, legends and superstition, Lore is a bi-weekly podcast that covers the strange and unexplained. Like a good fireside tale told on a dark night, it has an ability to send a shiver down your spine whilst keeping you listening. Wicked Mortals is the second in the World of Lore series; a compilation of some of the best tales from the podcast, this time focusing on some of the chilling individuals who have achieved enough notoriety to become part of folklore. Whilst I didn’t enjoy the tales in this as much as I did in the first volume (Monstrous Creatures), the production values remained high with some beautiful background music and Mahnke’s steady, eerily calm narrative perfectly capturing the chill in his sinister stories.

38355634I finished off by settling into Claire Fuller’s latest novel Bitter Orange, a sinister tale centred on a dilapidated mansion in the English countryside and the events that take place there one hot summer in 1969. Prim narrator Frances is immediately captivated by handsome architect Peter and his wild, vivacious girlfriend Cara. Over the course of the summer they become friends, whiling away their days exploring the lost grandeur of Lyntons. As the three become closer however, secrets and lies abound and the novel gradually unpicks the fault lines in our relationships and the stories we tell about our lives. The pace of Bitter Orange was sedate – nothing much actually happens for a great deal of the novel – but the tension is gradually coiled like a spring page by page and, when it does snap, the payback is ever the greater for it. Not a novel of grand gestures or dramatic moments, Fuller’s writing instead focuses on the small, seemingly insignificant moments that hold the key to our interactions – a gesture, a word unsaid, an over the shoulder glance that could mean one thing, could mean another. It’s a style that won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s masterfully done here, as Fuller takes a thread and gradually pulls at it until the whole intricate web she has woven comes tumbling down around her characters. A measured, sinister read with shades of Patricia Highsmith and Daphne Du Maurier. If we can also take a moment to appreciate that cover which is absolutely stunning.

So there you go, five mini-reviews for the price of one blog post – I do spoil you all sometimes! Please do let me know if you’ve read any of these books – or are intending to read them – as I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can drop me a line in the comments, or say hi over on Twitter @amyinstaffs. I’ll be back soon with more book chat but, until next time….

Happy Reading! x

 

 

Random Bookish Things · Reading Horizons

A Little Update

It feels like I’ve been away from the blog for an absolute age, although in reality my last post was only just over a week ago. However, as I was on holiday the week before that, I’d prepped and scheduled my three previous blog posts in advance so, for me, it’s been about a month since I’ve done any serious writing for The Shelf. So hello again and I hope you’ve all been good while I’ve been away.

And since then so much has happened! Books have been read, new books have been purchased and, crucially, I’ve started an MA in English Literature. Yes, I’ve jacked in the day job (the full-time one anyway; part-time employment still being required to keep bread on the table) and thrown myself back into student life to improve my mind via extensive reading. Mr Darcy would surely approve.

And extensive reading it most certainly is! I may be remembering my undergraduate years through rose-tinted spectacles and with 14 years distance but I’m sure I had far more free time to spend in the pub last time around. I certainly developed a mean enough game of pool to suggest that I spent a great deal of time there. Now I’m up to my eyeballs in reading – novels, plays, critical essays, secondary reading, supplementary reading. It’s both incredibly exciting (which book nerd doesn’t want an excuse to read all day) and mildly terrifying (I’m sure I read slower than I used to. Either that or time has sped up since I was 18).

My course started last week and, consequently, I’ve been going at a million miles an hour since then find a rhythm to study, getting used to not being part of the 9-5 whilst still having the workload of 9-5, and marvelling at how incredibly young all the undergraduates look (seriously, they’re about 12…). Which has left me without a proper post this week, hence you’re stuck with my mad rabblings instead.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying apologies for not having a holiday reading post to share with you today. I did read some excellent books whilst I was away and a review post will be forthcoming shortly to share my thoughts on them with you. I’ve also got some great blog tours lined up for November, as well as a spooky recommendations post in the works for Halloween. And, if anyone is interested, I’ll talk a little more about what books I’m studying this semester as well.

With the autumn colours starting to show and the nights drawing in, it’s the perfect time to be curling up with a book (or a play, or a critical essay!) so do let me know what you’ve all been reading and, until next time…

Happy Reading! x

 

 

 

Random Bookish Things · Reading Horizons · Upcoming Books

A Reading Digest

After a recent run of blog tours, I’ve spent the last week treating myself to some freestyle reading so I thought it might be nice to do chatty round-up post about what I have read, what I’m currently reading and what I’m hoping to read next – a sort of reading digest of my recent bookish life. If you guys like it, I might do them more regularly so do let me know in the comments what you think.

Recent Reads

SevenDeathsIf you follow me on Twitter (@amyinstaffs), you’ll have probably seen me raving about Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which I’ve just finished as part of Simon Savidge’s second Big Book Weekender. It’s a unique novel that defies easy categorisation and, as such, is difficult to summarise without spoiling – the best I’ve been able to come up with so far is Agatha Christie country house mystery meets Quantum Leap body-hopping – but I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Definitely one of my favourite reads of 2018 so far, I shall be doing a full review in due course and wouldn’t be at all surprised if it makes my Books of the Year list.

On the non-fiction front, I’ve also just finished The Time Traveller’s Guide to Restoration England by Ian Mortimer. I made slow progress on this one – not because it wasn’t interesting, but because it was my bedtime book so I was generally only reading a few pages a night before turning the light out. The Restoration has never been one of my favourite historical periods but Ian Mortimer is brilliant at making history relatable and this latest Time Traveller’s Guide is no different – it’s the perfect blend of accessible, interesting and educating, making it perfect for the armchair enthusiast keen to fill gaps in their knowledge of British history.

Currently Reading

The SparrowAfter much gentle cajoling from my best friend (who thinks it’s amazing), I’ve finally picked up The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell which is about – and I kind you not – Jesuits in space. There is, of course, a bit more too it than that – the book involves a doomed scientific mission seeking to establish first contact with an extraterrestrial culture. I’m still pretty early on in the novel (Evelyn Hardcastle a bit took over my life for 3 days) but it’s already apparent that the mission has gone badly wrong so I’m eager to find out what has happened and why.

Following much love for it on Twitter and BookTube, I’ve also just started The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey. I’ve had this medieval mystery story on my shelf since listening to a brilliant interview with the author on the Vintage Books podcast. I’m intending to return to a study of medieval literature when I start my MA in September so the period of the novel – the late 15th century – is of great interest to me, as is the central conceit that examines the certainty of belief amidst an event that causes doubt and mistrust. So far I’m finding the book rather glacial in pace but richly lyrical in tone so I suspect it will be one that rewards patient weekend reading as opposed to snatched chapters on busy weekdays.

On the non-fiction (and bedtime book) front, I’ve now picked up The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, which is a look at the golden age detective authors and their formation of the illustrious detection club. It’s a library book so I’ll have to crack on in order to get through it’s 500 or so pages during my loan period but, so far, the subject matter is proving interesting and the book is broken down into easily digestible chapters focusing on each author.

On the audiobook front, I’m currently listening to Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer. Subtitled ‘The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship’, this is both a personal and a sociological examination of female friendships in the modern era. I’ve been really enjoying listening to it so far – there’s been so many “that’s me and my girl friends!” moments throughout, plus plenty of touchstones to friendship focused fiction, films and TV shows.

Upcoming Books

ButterflyRanchI’m back on blog tour with a couple of titles next month so will shortly need to get cracking on both Gunnar Staalsen’s Big Sister, a Chandleresque PI novel by one of the fathers of Nordic Noir, and R K Salters Butterfly Ranch, a debut novel set in Belize that examines the aftermath of a popular author’s attempted suicide.

I’m also hoping to finally get round to Charlie Laidlaw’s The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, which I was kindly sent by the author. Aside from the brilliant title, the novel sounds like a lot of fun; with a unique take on heaven as a lost, dysfunctional spaceship. If that sounds like your sort of thing too, Charlie has advised that the novel will be free to download on BookBub for a limited period between 13 and 27 June 2018.

And last, but by no means least, I do really need to read Exit West by Mohsin Hamid as that’s my book club’s next pick. So plenty to keep me busy over the next few weeks!

Do let me know what you’ve been reading lately, what you’re currently reading and what you’re looking forward to reading next – you can say hi in the comments below or over on Twitter @amyinstaffs. I’d really like to know if you’ve read any of the above titles – or if you’re interested in picking them up. In the meantime, I hope you all have an excellent week and, until next time….

Happy Reading! x