The British Books Challenge 2017

bbc-pointed-shaded-510x184

I’ve never signed up for a challenge before but I really liked the sound of this one, so I thought why not give it a go. I read a lot of books by British authors anyway – the trick is remembering to review them!

The challenge has been going for a few years now, and this year is being hosted by Chelley over at Tales of Yesterday. It consists of reading 12 or more books by British authors over the course of the year, reviewing them on my blog and linking them on the monthly link up page. Let’s see how this goes!

Click here for more details, or to sign up to the challenge yourself

Books by UK authors I would like to read in 2017

There are so many books from UK authors I would like to read this year – some of them are below. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble reaching 12!

Follow my progress down below, where I will be linking my reviews as I go (I hope! :))

January

  1. The Last Beginning by Lauren James
  2. The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
  3. Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest
  4. Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson
  5. …And A Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne
  6. The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell
  7. Ned’s Circus of Marvels by Justin Fisher
  8. Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
  9. Forever Geek by Holly Smale
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24 Great Books in 2016: Day Twenty-Four

I made it! I have posted on this blog on all 24 days of Advent. I’m quite impressed with myself actually. 🙂 Today is a cheat post though, because I’m going to talk about more than one book. These are all books that would have featured on the list, but I already had a book by that author on it. They’re still brilliant though.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (5/5)

This is the sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, although you don’t need to  read that one first as this is more or less a standalone. Pretty much my only disappointment with A Closed and Common Orbit was that it wasn’t about the crew of the Wayfarer, but Lovelace, Pepper and Blue were fantastic characters in their own right and I found Pepper and Blue’s backstory fascinating. Highly recommended.

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan (5/5)

So after I read One, I realised I needed to read everything else Sarah Crossan had ever written, and Apple and Rain didn’t disappoint. Apple’s mother walked out 11 years earlier and Apple has been living with her Nan and hoping her mother comes back. One day her wish comes true, but sometimes it’s better if wishes aren’t granted. Apple’s story is heartbreaking and Crossan doesn’t sugarcoat the circumstances Apple finds herself in. It’s brilliant.

Seed by Lisa Heathfield (5/5)

Seed was Lisa Heathfield’s debut book, and as a debut, it was stunning. It’s the story of Pearl, a teenager who has been brought up in a cult based on nature, and what happens when the introduction of a new family from ‘Outside’ causes her to start questioning the beliefs she was brought up with. Some of the events are horrifying, but it’s so well written that you can’t help but be carried along. Also highly recommended.

Planetfall by Emma Newman (5/5)

Planetfall is the book that comes before After Atlas and tells the story of the people who followed their charismatic leader and abandoned Earth to explore the stars and find a new home. I loved that Ren, the main character, suffered from anxiety, which is not something you see explored in fiction very often. The story  itself is focused around the disruption brought by an unlikely visitor to the colony, and the secrets that some members are hiding, and then goes to a completely unexpected place. It’s a really interesting read, and well worth checking out.

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough (5/5)

13 Minutes is a YA book about Natasha, a teenage ‘queen bee’ who somehow ended up unconscious in a river and died for 13 minutes, and her journey to find out what happened to her to get her there. And then it gets very twisty and turny and you’re never quite sure what the truth is. I’m not going to say anymore than that because of spoilers, but it’s very much worth reading.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab (5/5)

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first in the series that A Gathering of Shadows is part of, and it sets up the premise, worlds and characters perfectly. I won’t lie, AGOS is better, but ADSOM is still brilliant. I loved Kell, Lila and Rhy from the moment of first meeting them, and I love the idea of alternative Londons (even if the other Londons are horrific!). I can’t recommend this series enough.

This Savage Song by V E Schwab (5/5)

And another by V E Schwab, completely different to the series above. This Savage Song is set in Verity, a city at war, in which evil deeds make monsters and the humans have to pay for protection. The lead characters, Kate and August, come from the opposite sides of the war, but find they have to work together. It’s such an interesting idea – there are three different monsters, born out of different levels of violence – and there are parts of the book that are just heart-stopping. Also, there’s no romance. You probably thought there would be as soon as I said Kate and August were on opposite sides, but there’s not. They don’t even like each other very much and yet somehow become friends. And they’re also great characters in their own right. I loved this book and you should definitely read it.

So that’s it for my advent list. A teeny bit more than 24 books, but hey, who’s counting? 🙂

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Twenty-Three

Today’s book is a little bit different from the rest of the list for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s actually a collection of short stories, and the other is that it was only a 4 star book for me, while the rest have been 5 star. There’s not a huge amount of difference between the two ratings though, and I really wanted to talk about this book!

home-book-cover

The authors in I’ll Be Home for Christmas were all given the brief of writing a story about ‘home’, however they wanted to interpret that. I loved almost all of the stories in it, and it was really interesting to see how different people had interpreted that one word. The  stories range from very lighthearted to very dark, and cover subjects such as found family, refugees, coming out, divorce and homelessness. That last is particularly appropriate as £1 from every book goes to Crisis, the UK homelessness charity. One of my favourite stories in the book is the one by Lisa Williamson, in which the main character is homeless even though she has a job. This is an issue that is very much in the news at the moment, but until I read this story, I had no idea that it was a problem that is as wide-ranging as it is.

Other favourite stories include Juno Dawson’s about a boy travelling home from university and worrying about coming out to his mum and Cat Clarke’s about a group of people forming their own family for Christmas. Obviously there were some that didn’t work for me, as you would expect in a collection of this sort, but overall this is a very strong collection of stories, and well worth the investment. It’s also nicely Christmassy!

4/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Twenty-Two

Today’s book is the third of a trilogy that I have read in its entirety this year. Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club books are a brilliant introduction to feminism, as well as discussing the issues teens face, and What’s A Girl Gotta Do? is a fantastic end to the main series (there’s a novella that takes place in the Christmas holidays after they’ve all gone to university). Each book focuses on a different member of the club, and this is Lottie’s book.

whats-a-girl-gotta-do

HOW TO START A FEMINIST REVOLUTION:

1. Call out anything that is unfair on one gender

2. Don’t call out the same thing twice (so you can sleep and breathe)

3. Always try to keep it funny

4. Don’t let anything slide. Even when you start to break…

Lottie’s determined to change the world with her #Vagilante vlog. Shame the trolls have other ideas…

I tried to explain what I loved about What’s A Girl Gotta Do? to someone, and perhaps started the wrong way when I said I found it exhausting, but I mean that in the best possible way. I was exhausted because I felt the struggles that Lottie was going through – she was exhausted by them, so I was too. She tries so hard to make a change in the world, and she gets so harrassed for it, in a way that will ring very true to anyone who’s ever expressed a feminist opinion on twitter. Also, the number of things she finds to challenge, even on the first day, is horrendous – but no less true for that. This is what it’s like to be a teenage girl in 2016, and we need more people like Lottie in real life. I want to hand this book to every teenager I come across, because I think it’s important. Exhausting and heartbreaking it might be, but it’s also smart and funny and brings an interesting discussion to the table.

4.5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Twenty-One

A little break from the norm today, as I’m (briefly) going to talk about a book that’s not out until February, and I want to leave the actual review to a bit nearer the time. I only read it last week, (Usborne very kindly sent a box of proofs to the book club I’m a member of, and I practically pounced on a copy!) but it immediately made its way onto my favourite books list, certainly of the year and possible ever. It was wonderful and  I felt that I had to include it here.

unconventional

Lexi Angelo is a Convention Kid – she’s got a clipboard and a walkie talkie to prove it.

Aidan Green is a messy-haired, annoyingly arrogant author and he’s disrupting her perfect planning.

In a flurry of awkward encounters, lost schedules and late-night conversations, Lexi discovers that some things can’t be planned… Things like falling in love.

I absolutely adored Unconventional. It’s smart, funny and the slow burn romance is to die for. I was really looking forward to reading it anyway, and it did not disappoint. As someone who goes to conventions, I loved the setting, and it is peopled with a cast of characters who are so easy to relate to, they seemed completely real to me. The book is out on 1st February, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I will be back with a full review (hopefully) in January. 🙂

PSA: Just found out Maggie Harcourt’s previous book, The Last Summer of Us, is currently only 99p on Amazon kindle. I haven’t read  it yet, but if it’s anything like as good as Unconventional, that is a bargain you shouldn’t pass up.

 

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Twenty

I was late to the party on Frances Hardinge. She was recommended to me by another author in 2014 and as soon as I read Cuckoo Song, I knew I had to read everything else she’d ever written. I’m still working on that one, but it led me to Gullstruck Island this year, and that’s a journey I will never regret.

gullstruck-island

“On Gullstruck Island the volcanoes quarrel, beetles sing danger and occasionally a Lost is born . . . “
In the village of the Hollow Beasts live two sisters. Arilou is a Lost – a child with the power to depart her body and mind-fly with the winds – and Hathin is her helper. Together they hide a dangerous secret. Until sinister events threaten to uncover it. With a blue-skinned hunter on their trail and a dreadlocked warrior beside them, they must escape. Can the fate of two children decide the future of Gullstruck Island?

I’m not entirely sure I have the words to review Gullstruck Island (or any of Hardinge’s work come to that.) You see, Frances Hardinge is a master of world-building, characterisation and prose, and how do you get all that across in a review? Every character has depth and motivation, the world is described so clearly it feels like you’re living there, and I have seldom seen better, more evocative writing than Hardinge’s. She’s brilliant. And then there’s the actual story, with its parallels to our world – the impact of colonisation on native peoples, the deeply ingrained prejudice and racism against  anything or anyone ‘other’, the genocide – and a character journey that means everything. Hathin is just amazing and I love her.

If you haven’t read a Frances Hardinge book, you need to go and find one, and read it now. She is one of the best writers for children and young adults around, and she never disappoints. I promise you won’t regret it.

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Nineteen

How are we at the 19th December already? I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing – after all, 2016 has been a sucky year, I’m just not sure if I’m happy that it seems to have disappeared!

Anyway, today’s book is The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

the-sky-is-everywhere

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey.

But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to centre stage of her own life – and suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two boys. One boy takes Lennie out of her sorrow; the other comforts her in it. But the two can’t collide without Lennie’s world exploding…

So, I really only picked this up because Jandy was doing a signing at my local bookshop. I was only going to get my copy of I’ll Give You The Sun signed, and then I saw The Sky is Everywhere and decided I’d regret not buying it when I could also get it signed. I am very glad I did. I loved I’ll Give You The Sun, but The Sky is Everywhere was even better.

It’s a stunning exploration of grief, and how different people deal with it. The notes Lennie writes to her sister and leaves all over town are beautiful. Lennie is hurting so badly, and it shows. As a reader, you forgive her her bad decisions, because you can see it’s the only way she can think of to cope with the tragedy that has hit her. Her relationship with Toby seems inevitable, because they both know what the other is going through. Being together brings them closer to Bailey, and I couldn’t really hate them for that, even though I read those scenes internally screaming about Joe. Yes, in her grief Lennie is selfish, but she’s also a teenager coping with the loss of her older sister, who was also her best friend, so you forgive her, and you watch her slowly begin to cope in a healthier way. I read it pretty much in one go, and a lot of the words were blurry because of the tears, but I think it’s a book I will be returning to again and again.

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Eighteen

I’m a little bit scared to try and review today’s book, partly because I read it a long time ago, and partly because I know I can’t write about its complexity in a way that makes sense at all. But I also feel that I need to include it on this list, so I shall do my best.

radiance

Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return.

Aesthetically recalling A Trip to the Moon and House of Leaves, and told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.

My main memory of Radiance, by Catherynne M Valente, is the beautiful way it’s written. I was transported to the planets and moons that the story was set on, and it was a jolt to come back down to earth when I finished the book. I still haven’t forgotten how reading it felt, and I think all good books should make you feel that way, to at least some extent.

I loved everything about the setting, and the characters, and the slow reveal of the central mystery. I suspect the majority of people reading this have never experienced a Punchdrunk performance, but reading Radiance gave me the exact same feeling as experiencing Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man (I keep saying experienced, because you don’t watch a Punchdrunk production, you are part of it). It was slightly magical, and it kept me guessing, and it’s definitely a book you should read if you’re interested in Hollywood’s Golden Age, steampunk or Sci-Fi.

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Seventeen

So today is a book I found fascinating because it’s based on incredibly well researched history, and a history I don’t really know that much about. I love learning from my reading!

buffalo-soldier

What kind of a girl steals the clothes from a dead man’s back and runs off to join the army?

A desperate one, that’s who.

World been turned on its head by that big old war, and the army seemed like the safest place to be, until we was sent off to fight them Indians. And then? Heck! When Death’s so close you can smell his breath, ain’t nothing makes you feel more alive.

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman is all the more heartbreaking because you know it’s based in truth. Charley herself may not have existed, but there were others like her, and the strength of character she has to have just to survive the things life throws at her is astounding. A former slave, freed at the end of the American Civil War, she finds herself with no choice but to pretend to be a man and join the army after her friends and de facto parents are killed by disgruntled white men. Slavery may have been ended, but racism runs deep, and Charley soon discovers that she’s swapped one kind of slavery for another.

Buffalo Soldier is a brilliant exploration of what freedom actually means, as well as an education in what life was like for former slaves once they were ‘freed’. It had never occurred to me that they would have just been abandoned and left homeless and starving. Even when Charley joins the army, the white soldiers treat her and her fellow Buffalo Soldiers (all-Black regiments formed to fight the Native Americans) despicably. Landman writes in the first person, from Charley’s point of view, so we feel everything as she does, and my goodness, it is painful. Brilliant, but painful. I don’t think I would have been able to survive the way Charley does, and I have so much admiration for her being able to keep going after so much pain.

This book won last year’s Carnegie Medal, and it was a very much deserved win. I picked it up on the strength of that, and I’m so glad I did. Some books just HAVE to be read, and this is one of them.

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Sixteen

I’m regretting committing to posting every day, just a little bit. There are days when it’s genuinely difficult for me to pull any post together, and I think a posting schedule of every other day would have worked much better for me. However, I have committed to it, so I’m sticking to it. It’s also getting me in good habits for once advent is over, so hopefully I will make this a properly active blog, and I do love seeing the likes and comments from people reading it, so thank you. My next target for myself is to get into the habit of reading and commenting on other people’s posts, which I’m not great at at the moment. Feel free to follow me on twitter @donnamk79 though, where you will have trouble getting me to shut up!

That provides a nice segue into talking about today’s book, which is Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield. For June, the lead character, shutting up is something she has learned to do in order to protect herself as much as she can from her vicious stepmother.

Warning: Contains mentions of child abuse.

paper-butterflies

June’s life at home with her stepmother and stepsister is a dark one – and a secret one. She is trapped like a butterfly in a net.

But then June meets Blister, a boy in the woods. In him she recognises the tiniest glimmer of hope that perhaps she can find a way to fly far, far away from her home and be free. Because every creature in this world deserves their freedom . . . But at what price?

Paper Butterflies was another one of those difficult books to read. June’s life is horrific. There isn’t really another word for it. Throughout the book, June is systematically physically, emotionally and verbally abused. She’s previously tried to tell people what’s happening, but Kathleen, her stepmother, is manipulative enough that everyone thinks June is a liar. Her father doesn’t see what’s going on. The only happiness she has is with Blister and his family, who are the complete opposites of her own family. And then something terrible happens, and she even loses that.

I really liked the way the book was structured with the switches between the before and after sections, and the way we got to see June and Blister grow up, and grow closer. It gave me an excellent understanding of the characters’ feelings, and I even felt sorry for Megan, June’s stepsister and co-tormentor. It’s quite clear that she is also a victim of her mother and I thought Heathfield did well to show that, even while Megan is helping to make June’s life terrible. Blister’s family, on the other hand, is wonderful, and they clearly love June as much as if she were their own. I would have loved to have spent more time with them.

As I said above, the story is hard, so hard to read, but it’s also so worthwhile. You will be filled with rage at what happens to June, and filled with love for Blister, but it sends you off with a feeling of hope, and I think that’s really important.

5/5