Favourite Books of 2017

This was a recent Top Ten Tuesday topic, but I wanted to wait until the end of the year in case there was a last minute addition to this list (and there was!) In 2017 I read 69 books, just one (one!) book shy of my goal of 70 books. I read 100 books in 2016 so this was a bit disappointing, but 2017 was certainly a busier year for me in many ways. So, without any further ado…my ten favourite reads of 2017!

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

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Having heard so much about this book before reading it, I wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype, but it most certainly did. A smart yet emotional read that explores relationships, vulnerability and the need to connect with people.

Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

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A collection of 13 dark, witchy fairytale retellings. With a focus on the female body and experience, and diversifying the cast of fairytales, this gives familiar tales a fresh feminist spin. Also, the illustrations and the writing are stunning.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Starr is caught between two worlds – the poor neighbourhood she was raised in, and the posh high school she attends. When she witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil, staying silent is no longer an option. A powerful read, one I cannot recommend highly enough. It is hard to believe such a strong book is a debut.

 

 

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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A great introduction to a brilliant author, I plan to do more catching up on Elizabeth Strout’s backlist this year. A short yet insightful book, more telling in what is left unsaid, about writer Lucy Barton being visited in hospital by her estranged mother.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

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A stunning collection of essays encompassing music, art, heritage, identity and so much more. A book to savour, and one I have marked many quotes from.

Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

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A fiery feminist read about three girls from very different backgrounds, all campaigning for the vote. With memorable and rounded characters and plenty of rich historical detail, this is a very interesting and inspiring read. (This was my Secret Santa gift from a fellow Rick O’Shea Bookclub member, and the late addition to the favourites list)

The Space Between by Meg Grehan

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A tender and beautiful love story told in verse. Beth, suffering with severe agoraphobia, decides to spend a year indoors and alone. However, when a dog called Mouse comes nosing at her window, his owner Alice in tow, her plans are changed.

Spellbook of the Lost & Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle

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Beguiling magical realism, full of secrets and twists. The writing is beautiful, and the plot compelling. Fans of Fowley-Doyle’s debut The Accident Season will love this.

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

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I loved Spill Simmer Falter Wither, but I thought A Line Made by Walking was even better. An almost painful read about loneliness, art and identity with photographs taken by the artist protagonist interspersed throughout the book.

The Break by Marian Keyes

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I adore Marian Keyes, I only started reading her work a couple of years ago but since have devoured her backlist. Her new novel was the longest book I read this year (576 pages) and I loved it. The family dynamics were my favourite thing about it, and how she manages to make me both laugh and cry when reading her books.

I have set a goal of 70 books again this year, and have just finished my first, Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain, about a circus family, which made my little heart soar.

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Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by The Broke and Bookish, combining books and lists. This week’s topic is our favourite new authors from 2017. My best books of 2017 post is coming later this week.

Elizabeth Strout

I read My Name is Lucy Barton in one evening, and was so intrigued by the characters and relationships. I have since read more of Strout’s work, and attended an event in Dublin in which she was interviewed by Sinead Gleeson.

Sally Rooney

Rooney’s debut Conversations With Friends is as brilliant as all the reviews and buzz would indicate. One of my favourite reads of the year, I’m very excited to read her future work.

Meg Grehan

Meg Grehan’s debut The Space Between is a tender and beautiful love story, told in verse. She is definitely one to watch you!

Maria Semple

This year I finally read Where’d You Go, Bernadette and it lived up to my expectations. I loved the memorable characters and sharp wit. Today Will Be Different is on my TBR list.

Mary Paulson-Ellis

The Other Mrs Walker was one of my co-worker’s staff picks, and I am delighted she introduced me to it. This was such an intriguing and gripping read, I was enthralled by it.

Lucy Addington

The Red Ribbon was a very moving historical read that gave me a different perspective on WW2. Addington is a fashion historian, and I am looking forward to checking out her book Stitches in Time.

Alice Broadway

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the Ink trilogy. This was a book I judged by his cover, and I’m glad I picked it up!

Jenny Han

My friend lent me Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy and I flew through it. I loved reading about Lara Jean and her sisters, and look forward to the movie coming out.

Karen M McManus

McManus’ One Of Us is Lying was a real page turner, I couldn’t put it down!

Ayisha Malik

I loved the voice in Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, it was so strong and it was a really enjoyable read.

Leave a link to your TTT post, or comment with some of your favourite authors of 2017.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by The Broke and the Bookish, combining the joys of books and lists. This week’s official topic is Favourite Reads of 2017 but as the year isn’t out yet, I’m putting that list on hold in case any of my December reads wow me. Instead, here’s a list I missed a couple of weeks ago – the Winter To Be Read List.

Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

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To my shame, I have never read the His Dark Materials trilogy. They have been on my TBR list for years, but with the recent release of La Belle Sauvage, I have decided the time is now.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls

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Not only do I love Sally Nicholls’ work, but this book is about the suffragettes! Of course I want to read it! It’s received brilliant reviews, and I just know I am going to love it.

The Taste of Blue – Lydia Ruffles

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I was very intrigued by this book when I heard the author speak at DeptCon and I was delighted to receive a copy at my book club’s Christmas book swap.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black – Emily Barr

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I loved Emily Barr’s gripping YA debut The One Memory of Flora Banks, so I have high hopes for this, her second YA novel. I received an ARC at DeptCon and am hoping to read it over the Christmas.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

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I mentioned Bonnets at Dawn in my post about podcasts, and it has inspired me to explore the work of Anne Bronte, the one Bronte sister I haven’t read anything by. It’s been a while since I’ve read a classic, so this will be a good change.

Tin Man – Sarah Winman

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This book has received high praise from my bookselling colleagues, which definitely earned it a place on my TBR list. It sounds like a moving story of love and longing, and I love the cover.

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World – Lyndall Gordon

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World

This book is right up my street – I really enjoyed Lyndall Gordon’s Emily Dickinson biography, and this subject is one that interests me greatly. I haven’t read anything by Olive Schreiner but I have read works by the other writers and know some of their biographies. It is one of my Christmas picks in the bookshop, and one I will be keen to read myself.

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green

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I am looking forward to reading John Green’s latest offering. It has had excellent reviews, and I like the sound of the plot. The main reason I haven’t bought it yet is that it is in hardback – pricier but also just more awkward to read/carry around!

Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler

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Anne Tyler is another author who has been on my TBR list for some time now. I read Vinegar Girl, her adaptation of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, and wasn’t keen on it. However, I want to give her another chance and have always heard great things about Breathing Lessons!

Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman

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I saw the movie recently and loved it, so I am looking forward to checking out the book. I’d usually go for the book first, so it will be interesting to compare the two versions.

Let me know what’s on your TBR list, or if you have read any of these books.

 

Review: The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

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The Red Ribbon

Lucy Adlington

Hot Key Books, 2017

YA – Historical

When women arrive at Birchwood they are stripped of their clothes, their belongings and their dignity. They are given striped sacks to wear and wooden shoes, their hair shorn and their name replaced with a number. Those who are able are put to work, those who aren’t disappear. Fourteen-year-old Ella is a seamstress, but the workshop she works in is in Birkenau-Auschwitz and her clients are the guards, the wives of the officers and the commander.  Ella’s dresses are her key to extra bread and to items she can barter, but she is also creating couture for the enemy. And at any moment, she could be out of favour.

This is a compelling and moving read. The characters are complex and varied, and show us the different ways people survive, the ways they hold on to their sense of self. Ella, the protagonist, is often quite conflicted. Her best friend Rose is an idealistic dreamer, their boss Marta is a hard-edged fighter. There is also a guard, Carla, who strikes up a complicated friendship of sorts with Ella. Each character is fleshed out and interesting.

This book really made me think about the importance of clothing – in terms of identity, dignity and self-expression. As Ella says, clothes don’t seem trivial when you don’t have any, and are left vulnerable and frightened. Each section is given a different colour, which links to the mood and to material items in the story. The red ribbon of the title is key to the book – a symbol of hope, of wish for liberation and a happier future.

The book is well-researched, and features plenty of detail. I will definitely be checking out Adlington’s book, Stitches in Time, about fashion history.

With its memorable characters, emotional depth and historical detail, The Red Ribbon is an absorbing read. Highly recommended!

Review: Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

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Tangleweed and Brine

Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

Little Island Books (2017)

YA/Crossover

Old stories new, you’ll venture where you will

Tangleweed and Brine is a collection of 13 witchy fairytale retellings.  The book is divided in two, each element of the title being one half. The Tangleweed stories are earthier and filled with ash, while the Brine tales are infused with water. The elemental nature of the stories reflects the way that fairy tales connect to the very core of our being. This collection is no exception, filled as it is with darkness and light, pain and pleasure, fear and longing. Dark, beguiling and feminist, these are haunting tales that will linger in the reader’s memory, stories that reward multiple readings. Sullivan focuses on the female experience in her tales – she allows the reader enter deeply into the minds of her characters, and does not deny the darker elements of these tales.

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Ash Pale illustration by Karen Vaughan

This is illustrator Karen Vaughan’s first book, and she is definitely one to watch. Her intricate pen-and-ink illustrations catch the tone of the tales perfectly, and add an extra layer of richness to the book. Her work shows the influence of Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley, in a way which ties the collection into the long tradition of illustrated fairytale books, yet she has a style of her own. I particularly like how her illustrations, like the tales themselves, make room for other types of bodies in the fairy tales. This book is not filled with dainty perfect princesses, but with women who would be considered too tall, too fat, too small or altogether too much for such tales.

She wasn’t soft threads woven into silk, but thick rough cables pulsing like muscles on the chests of fishermen. Functional.

There is a strong focus on bodily experience, on being a woman. On the body as functional and a source of power, on the body as a trap.

You like your arms that make things, grow things, mend.

Beauty and a womb. That’s all you are.

There are no quick fixes, fairy godmothers or happily-ever-afters in these stories. The endings are often ambiguous and unsettling. The heroines must rely on their own courage and resources. Some tales will resonate with readers, some will empower them, some will linger on long after reading.

With its poetic and beguiling prose, it is easy to become tangled up in Tangleweed and Brine. This is a book to savour and to treasure, beautifully written, illustrated and designed.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Reads of 2017 (so far)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by the lovely ladies of The Broke and the Bookish in which bloggers compile literary lists. This week’s theme is our top reads of 2017 thus far.

Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney’s debut fully deserves all the praise it has been receiving. As in her excellent short stories – memorable characters, sharp observations and emotional complexity.

My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

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I was late coming to this book, but have been enthusiastically recommending it to customers since reading it a couple of months ago. It is a quiet kind of a book, as much about what isn’t said as what is. I had the privilege of meeting Elizabeth Strout at the International Literature Festival Dublin where she was interviewed by Sinéad Gleeson.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

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A book that fully lived up to the hype, Thomas’ debut has a strong voice and brings the Black Lives Matter movement vividly and emotionally to life for her readers without ever seeming preachy or like an issue book. I cannot wait to read her next book. Full review.

The Three Daughters of Eve – Elif Shafak

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An atmospheric book set between Istanbul and Oxford exploring the complexities of faith and God, and the grip the past can have on us. While I was a bit disappointed in the ending, the rest of the book was brilliant and thought provoking enough for it still to be one of my favourite books of the year.

Once and for All – Sarah Dessen

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I always love Sarah Dessen’s books, and this has been one of my favourites. Heartfelt, emotional and entertaining, this is a perfect summer read about wedding planning and love both lost and found.

A Line Made By Walking – Sara Baume

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A powerful book about art, nature and being human by a brilliant new Irish writer. I think it was even better than her debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Full review.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found – Moira Fowley Doyle

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I was utterly enchanted by this book – I loved the diverse cast of characters, the lyrical writing, and the magical elements. Full review coming soon!

The Space Between – Meg Grehan

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Meg Grehan’s debut is a beautifully tender verse novel, a story of recovery and bravery as well as love. It melted my heart. Full review.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

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My most recent read, and probably the funniest book I’ve read this year. Sofia Khan has been described as a Muslim Bridget Jones, and her voice is just as hilarious and distinctive. A truly entertaining read that also explores what it is like being a Muslim in British society.

The Wild Air – Rebecca Mascull

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The cover caught my eye, then the subject matter as Amelia Earhart is a hero of mine. This is a soaring novel about Della, a female pilot in the early days of aviation. I loved Della, and the book is rich in historical detail without leaving the reader overwhelmed with information. An emotional and engaging read.

Do post a link to your TTT below – I’m always looking for new reading recommendations!

Review: Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I am always excited to discover a book that combines my two passions – books and art – and Girl Reading does so exceedingly well. I have been getting into reading short stories more of late, and this is a wonderful collection.

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Katie Ward

Virago Press (2011, this edition 2012)

Short stories – historical and contemporary fiction

This is an intriguing book, it has seven chapters or stories each focusing on an image of a girl or woman reading. I have also seen it described as a novel, but while it does come together at the end, it reads more like a collection of short stories to me. There is a great range in place and time – from early Renaissance Sienna to Victorian England to a futuristic virtual world. Each story is a world of its own, and completely involving at that. I loved how the final story linked the others together, but I also feel each story/chapter was very strong on its own.

Ward creates memorable and compelling characters – the twins who had a childhood career as mediums in the Victorian story are particularly striking, as is her innocent young artist in the Bloomsbury group-esque gathering at Arnault House, and her disillusioned political assistant having a drink in a London bar in the recent past.

I was resilient when I was younger. Headstrong. No one could talk me out of anything or stop me doing something I wanted to do. Recently I have begun to have doubts. Recently I’ve realised that version of myself has gone away.

There is a range of art forms too, from an altarpiece to a sketch to a photo posted on Flickr. The descriptions of the processes of studio photography in Victorian England were very interesting, but doesn’t take away from the story. There is a note at the end of the book (and links on Ward’s website) relating to the artworks that inspired the various stories. However, they work with or without this reference point. Art is central to each narrative, but so is identity, the sitter’s appearance and their inner life.

This is a book I have been thinking about since I finished reading it. The short story is a real art, and Ward succeeded in creating characters who are nuanced and complex, and who seem to live beyond the short page count of their narratives. A book I would recommend to readers with an interest in art, or with an interested in varied and absorbing narratives about women throughout history.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Recommend as a Bookseller

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from the wonderful Broke and Bookish that combines the joys of books and lists. This week was a freebie, letting bloggers chose their own topic…

When not blogging, I work as a bookseller. Like all booksellers, I have my favourite books to recommend. I specialise in children’s/YA but there are a couple of books for adults here too!

Inkheart – Cornelia Funke

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I adore this book. I describe it as a book for book lovers, and I think readers young and old alike should read it. The idea of characters being read out of books is enchanting, and I love the book quotes at the beginnings of the chapters. It is pure magic.

The Goose Girl – Shannon Hale

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I love fairytales, and this retelling is gorgeous. It’s one I love to return to for its magical world and strong heroine. It is the first in the Books of Bayern series, all of which are great reads. But this is the best!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg

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This delightful children’s classic has been a successful staff pick of mine, and I’m delighted that this story is still being enjoyed by young readers as it is a hoot. It’s about a sister and brother who run away from home and take up residence in the Met Museum…

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

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Most people have probably read this book already, but it is so beautifully written that I don’t want anyone to miss out on the experience!

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

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This is a book I think deserves more attention. It’s about a painting being rediscovered and the ripples this sends through the London art world. I was enthralled!

 

One – Sarah Crossan

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A beautiful verse novel about sisterhood, identity and love. I read it in one sitting, I cried and now I recommend it all the time. A very deserving winner of the Carnegie medal.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Dave Rudden

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I recommend this to the many, many Potter fans in the shop looking for a great new  fantasy read. I am delighted that it has been chosen as the Dublin Citywide Read for 2017 and can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Am I Normal Yet?  – Holly Bourne

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If ever there were a series I wish had been around when I was a teenager, it’s the Spinster Club. Great characters, strong voices, humour, feminism, friendship, mental health… Holly Bourne is one of the best voices in contemporary YA at the moment and I love her books.

The Ministry of Suits – Paul Gamble

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For kids looking for a slightly mad and very funny read, this is my new go-to. It’s rare that I will find myself properly laughing out loud at a book, but this did it. Gloriously zany.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

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Fantastic writer, fantastic concept. This gripping novel is one of my favourite YA recommendations. Really anything by Patrick Ness comes highly recommended from me though!

Leave a link to your TTT below, looking forward to seeing what everyone has come up with for Freebie week.

Review: How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

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Samantha Ellis

Chatto & Windus (2015)

Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine (wonderfully subtitled Or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much) is part memoir, part literary criticism. The journalist and playwright charts her relationship with heroines as she grew up, linking them to her own life and her family’s past. She discusses fairytales, classics and modern classics with characters ranging from The Little Mermaid to Elizabeth Bennett and Esther Greenwood. I was delighted to see the Fossil sisters, of Ballet Shoes, discussed. This was a favourite book of mine growing up. Pictured below is my rather tattered paperback copy, and a lovely special edition one of my sisters gave me as a birthday present.

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It is an emotional read, as Ellis revisits and reexamines her heroines. In the introduction she speaks about herself and her friend’s disagreement over which Bronte heroine was their favourite – Cathy or Jane. This leads Ellis to return to some of her beloved heroines and examine what drew her to them in the first place. In some cases, returning to these books as a feminist is problematic, something many readers have experienced. Ellis explores how we can reconcile these issues with our lingering love for these characters. I agreed with many of her readings, and shared her disappointment when Jo March’s literary ambitions were quashed.

‘Though I’m beginning to think all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need from them at the time.’

In considering her life in light of her journey through books, Ellis shows how different characters have helped or inspired her. It is a wonderful demonstration of the power of reading and how heroines can help us be the heroine of our own story. (Ellis quotes Nora Ephron ‘Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.’) It is also a very inspiring book, as Ellis shows her own journey to becoming a writer, and her own struggle with the traditions of her faith. Many of Ellis’ heroines are also writers, and she examines what it is to be a woman and a writer, or a woman working in theatre. Ellis is honest and open about her life – about her heritage, her relationships, her seizures – and her writing is candid and readable.

How to be a Heroine shows the joy reading can bring, how characters can comfort us and give us strength. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to many books I have also loved, and several titles have been added to my reading list.  This book is one voracious readers will enjoy, and it is definitely one I will be lending and gifting to friends.

Review: Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

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Cover image from Goodreads

 

Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Dave Rudden

PenguinRandomhouse, 2016

Fantasy/Adventure, 10+

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan with no information about his origins. He loves reading about heroes, but he certainly doesn’t want to be one. When he is whisked away from Crosscaper Orphanage to meet an aunt he didn’t know existed, Denizen finds himself deep in a shadowy and dangerous world, more terrifying that anything he has ever imagined. Denizen must decide whether he will join the Knights who fight against the Tenebrous, monsters that emerge from the darkness. The Knights wield great power, but this power comes at a terrible cost…

Looking back, it had been a mistake to fill the orphanage with books.

I was hooked from the very first line of this book. The narrative voice is wonderful – just a touch of wryness, and vivid descriptions of the settings. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is an exciting read with a magic and a mythology that has been cleverly and carefully crafted. The world Rudden has created is rich and compelling, with The Cost being a particularly  striking feature of the magic. The monsters are spine-crawlingly creepy. The Clockwork Three are  unique and memorable creations, each terrifying in their own way. Personally, I thought the woman in white was the scariest, and I defy any reader not to shudder when they read the section that begins:

The woman in white was eating light bulbs.

Denizen is a bookish hero that young readers will easily identify with. He is quite an anxious character, and is understandably reluctant to dive into this dangerous new world. He’d much rather read about it instead. Denizen is not a natural hero, and this makes his bravery all the more impressive. He choses to be courageous, to join in the fight against the darkness. He is also wonderfully snarky and has a whole collection of frowns.

The No.13 Questioning Frown was replaced by the No.8 – the I Am Missing Something Important Here, Which Is Unfair Because It Concerns Me.

There is a whole host of wonderful supporting characters. One of my favourites was Darcie, the seer of the group, but all the Knights had intriguing back stories and added to the tale. There is a lot of darkness and violence in this book, but ultimately Rudden shows how with courage, darkness can be overcome.

Rudden is a wonderful addition to the realm of children’s literature, and I know that fans of Rick Riordan, JK Rowling and Derek Landy will love Knights of the Borrowed Dark. This is a cracking fantasy adventure that readers young and old will enjoy.  I can’t wait for the sequel.