The Book Club: what I’ve read so far this year

I miss my old office book club. It quietly ground to a halt when three of the four or five remaining hardcore members (including the designated organiser) all left within weeks of each other, but we still occasionally meet up to discuss books, watch films or go to the theatre. Still, that regular monthly-or-so community event with its collective nerdery and copious red wine is something I miss.

I’m not going to suggest an online book club, because we all know what happens. There’s a doodle to decide the book, it takes 143 years to decide what it is, half the people don’t want to read it, someone forgets, someone’s on holiday and even though we’re all on Twitter 23 hours a day only two of us turn up to discuss it, half an hour apart. So let’s not.

Instead I thought I’d share highlights from what I’ve read so far this year and then you can tell me about what you’ve read, what you want to read and what I’ve missed out on. I  want to geek out over shared excitement, but I also want to know why my favourite-so-far made you punch the wall with rage or why my reject pile is full of your faves. And then maybe you might do it on your blog, or social media – and maybe I’ll do it again at the end of the year. It’s all contingent on maybes and time and interest so if it doesn’t happen, it’s not a failure – just a happy moment that didn’t need to be repeated.

Read this year, in the order that I read them (now updated to November 2018!):

Made for Love – Alissa Nutting
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin
Song of the Lioness Quartet  – Tamora Pierce
The Immortals Quartet – Tamora Pierce
My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
Protector of the Small Quartet – Tamora Pierce
A Court of Frost and Starlight  – Sarah J. Maas [sequel]
Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker [non-fiction]
Mumboss – Vicki Psarias [non-fiction, author is a friend]
The Trickster’s Duet – Tamora Pierce
The Testament of Loki  – Joanne M. Harris [sequel]
Promising Young Women – Caroline O’Donoghue [author is a friend]
All We Can Do is Wait – Richard Lawson
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
11.22.63 – Stephen King 
Circe – Madeline Miller
Dietland – Sarai Walker
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place 6: The Long-Lost Home – Mary Rose Wood
Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
The History of Bees – Maja Lunde
Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits – Jennifer Romolini [non-fiction]
A Discovery of Witches trilogy – Deborah Harkness
The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood
Logical Family – Armistead Maupin [memoir]
The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
Lethal White – Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)
The Art of the Click – Glenn Fisher [non-fiction]
John Dies at the End – David Wong
Disobedience – Naomi Alderman
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
The Magic Toyshop – Angela Carter
Spells and Oregano (Book II: The Secret Spice Trilogy)  – Patricia V. Davis [author is a friend]
Lullaby – Leïla Slimani

Given that 17 of these books are reduced into 5 entries, I did read more than it looks like I did. 😉

Currently reading (no spoilers!):

Cassandra at the Wedding – Dorothy Baker
Rest – Alex Soojun-Kim Pang [non-fiction]

So, yes, this is the year I discovered Tamora Pierce, through my friends Jen and Caitlin (of library holiday fame), almost thirty years later than I wish I had – but it’s never too late. Her brilliantly complex female characters have flaws and foibles and do crazy things like hit puberty and menstruate even when they’re in disguise as men! They’re tough but they have weaknesses, they succeed in some areas and fail in others and they all have a very, very strong sense of justice. They are, in short, everything a tweenage girl needs in her life. I cannot wait for my daughter to be old enough to read her – though if I recall what a contrary PITA I was at that age, I’ll have to pretend I don’t want her to read them and then just leave them lying about temptingly. I can’t decide which series was my favourite; I think possibly the Lioness quartet which built the world to come, but I’m hugely fond of characters scattered throughout all the ones I’ve read so far. I found Keladry from Protector of the Small particularly interesting as the only protagonist without an innate magical talent (although Alanna largely resents and fears her own) or an immortal guide; following in Alanna’s footsteps she suffers from all the same conservative suspicions – if not more – but without even the grudging respect granted to the first to do anything. She has crushes and relationships without the romantic happy ending that appears in the other series’. And, as a bonus, getting to know Alanna’s grown up Raoul better is a never-ending source of joy. On the flip side, I probably liked the Aly duo least, although I appreciated its head-on and highly relevant tackling of the dynamics of oppression and revolution (even if I felt this might be a tale better told by a writer of colour). Plus I love Kyprioth – no surprise given my weakness for elusive tricksters.

Although I’ve not had a single dud this year yet, if I had to choose a handful of other standouts, I’d probably start with Circe. With my love of Greek mythology (especially The Odyssey), amazing female characters and tales of magic and family, I practically gulped this down. I had misgivings about the ending, which changes the traditional outcome of Circe’s story a little, but I loved the feminist filter through which Madeline Miller told her story and the use of language is stunning. Speaking of language, Little Fires Everywhere makes such elegant and absorbing use of it; it also explores the notions of identity and family roles with razor-sharp wit and clarity. It’s definitely in my top three and I struggle to see anything supplanting it. Made for Love is a mind-bending rollercoaster, somehow simultaneously surreal and plausible – as well as being very, very timely. And The Left Hand of Darkness is a must for anyone who has ever thought about or would ever like to think about the impact of gender roles.

I’ve quite deliberately read mostly female authors for the second year running, and honestly I can’t see that changing any time soon; it’s a conscious decision to support the publication of more female voices, even if some of my all-time favourites remain men. However, I recognise that it’s a very, very white list, so recommendations for substantially widening that horizon are especially welcome. Oh, and yes, I have a lot of friends who are wonderful authors, and have books by Keris Stainton and Patricia V. Davis on ice to read asap. But, as they say at the Haunted Mansion, there’s aways room for one more…

Readers, it’s over to you.


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