Tuesday, 1 April 2014

March: What I Read, What I'm Reading

Another month down, and happily, over the last week or so, I've finally been feeling like I'm getting my reading mojo back!  My general outlook hasn't really improved, not by much anyway, but my passion for books has returned at full throttle so hopefully I'll get plenty of reading done in the coming weeks.  Not only that, but I'm making a real effort to write some proper reviews as well so the blog should be a bit more active again.  It's still daunting to be staring at a blank Blogger post, so instead I've been writing one paragraph at a time in a notebook, in between reading chapters of my book or doing something else.  The whole process feels much easier once I've got a draft down like that!  In the meantime, here's my overall reading wrap-up for the month and what I'm getting stuck into as we careen into April!
~ What I Read ~
 Kiss Me First
by Lottie Moggach
A semi-thriller about online life, obsession, death and ethics, this one piqued my interest way back before the hardcover was released.  I picked up the paperback last month and dived straight in!  Basically it's about a young woman, Leila, who is chosen by a cultish website founder to help a friend of his, Tess, who wants to end her life.  To save Tess's family and friends from heartbreak, Leila will spend time learning everything there is to know about Tess before taking over her social media presence for several months after 'check-out', slowly decreasing the frequency of her communication until she's just... gone.  There are some pretty big themes in this book: it's about the naivety of young people who've spent more time online than in the real world; it's about the ethics of suicide and an individual's rights over his or her own body; it's about how easy it is to become enmeshed in an online world, a life, even a romance that isn't real in any way.  The middle section was a bit slower, and the story arc didn't really play out in the way I expected, but the beginning was fascinating and the ending quite fitting and even a little startling, so I still enjoyed it and found much to think about within its pages.  I gave it 4 stars.

by Laurie Halse Anderson
I first read this many years ago, when I was only around 11 or 12, and honestly, I didn't get what all the fuss was about.  This is definitely one of those YA books that requires you to actually be - or have been - a young adult to really appreciate it.  Although it's simply written, getting to the heart of the novel and reading between the lines of Melinda's story needs a little more maturity and understanding of the world, I think.  This time around I absolutely loved the book, which in case you've been living under a rock, is Anderson's very famous novel about a girl who is raped at a party and spends the next year at her new school slowly working towards finding her voice, expressing herself, and speaking out at last.  It's a very easy read, and very funny, but it also packs a real emotional punch and captures the teenage experience beautifully despite the book now being fifteen years old.  I'll be reviewing this one properly this week, along with the excellent TV movie - 5 stars, highly recommended!

Screen Burn
by Charlie Brooker
I've been hopping in and out of this book since last year, so I was quite glad to have had a little flurry of reading and actually finished it this month.  It's a book of Charlie Brooker's TV columns from The Guardian, dating way back to the early Noughties.  You'd think that they'd be a bit boring to read now, so many years later, but actually Brooker is much like Caitlin Moran in that even if you've never seen the programme he's discussing, you can still enjoy the ride and get a few giggles along the way.  He particularly delights in reviewing bad telly, bringing out his blisteringly acerbic humour at full throttle, which is always fun!  It was a bit of a nostalgia trip too, reminding me of programmes I enjoyed waaaaaay back when I was a teenager - and it made me feel suddenly old, with references to review copies of upcoming shows making the transition from VHS to DVD, and early mentions of brand new series like Scrubs and Smallville.  Wow...  Great for idle moments, 4 stars.

Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian
by Scott Douglas
THIS!  THIS was what I wanted when I picked up Don Borchert's Library Confidential back in 2010.  As a young librarian in Anaheim, California, Douglas provides all the funny stories and strange characters that Borchert does, only he does it with a genuine feeling of affection and respect, and more importantly, a real understanding of libraries and their place in a community.  Whereas Borchert seemed to be trying to shock the reader with scandalous tales of library shenanigans, Douglas's anecdotes are friendlier and he seems to learn from every experience, adjusting his picture of library life and his role within it.  He definitely has a touch of the Bernard Black about him, but always rounds off his gripes with a warm acceptance of the experience and (mostly) generosity towards whoever (or whatever) is on the receiving end.  Oh, and I also loved the funny, self-deprecating and frequently very interesting footnotes and info inserts.  I gave it 4 stars.

The Shock of the Fall
by Nathan Filer
I only bought this book last month, but I was stalking Hanna on LibraryThing and noticed she'd given it 5 stars, and then she urged to me read it via Twitter, and that was that.  Happily I wound up completely agreeing with her: this is a beautifully written, effortlessly smooth and utterly compelling debut novel.  Written by a registered mental health nurse, it's about a little boy called Matt whose brother Simon dies while they're on holiday; writing his story down ten years later, Matt chronicles his family's grief and recovery, and his own quiet descent into schizophrenia.  It sounds really heavy when you put it like that, but it's not at all.  The prose is gorgeous but easy to read, and as he slowly unfurls Matt's history, Filer drops the pieces into place with precise and perfect timing.  I breezed through it in two or three days, thoroughly enjoyed every page, chuckled a few times, and had a little weep or two along the way as well.  It's perfect.  5 stars!
~ What I'm Reading ~

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare and Co. 
by Jeremy Mercer
I've spent a little time this week starting to go through my book boxes again, sorting out a few more to go the charity shop.  At the same time I've been pulling out books I've already read and loved to put up on my bookshelf - and this is one of my absolute top all-time favourites.  This is my third read, and I've fallen in love with it all over again!  Basically 20-something Jeremy Mercer left Canada in a rush after receiving death threats linked to his job as a crime journalist; broke and disillusioned, he ended up in Paris and discovered Shakespeare and Company one rainy day.  Known for its eccentricity, warmth, literary credentials - and for providing food and lodgings for drifters and writers, with beds nestled in amongst the bookshelves - the rest is history.  Mercer spent over a year living there under the watchful eye of the late George Whitman, immersing himself in bookshop life, new friendships, a little romance - and LOTS of books.  This travel memoir is the result, and it's been one of my biggest inspirations and most beloved books ever since!

Aaaaand that was March!