Monday, 31 August 2015

August Reads: Part Two

1. Burial Rites was the final book for Alex's Blogging Good Read, so keep an eye on her blog for my thoughts.

2. I bought The Inconvenient Indian in Canada as I wanted to educate myself as to the history and politics of the Native American/First Nations experience both there and in the USA. Written by the award-winning author Thomas King, who is himself Cherokee, it was, despite the subject matter, a witty and enjoyably told tale of the endless horror, exploitation and mistreatment that American Indians have endured - and continue to endure - in the centuries since European conquest. Essential reading.

3. I really loved Jennifer Weiner's first few novels and because of that she's an author who, despite now generally writing about things - motherhood, usually - that I'm really not interested in, I'll always read. Who Do You Lovefollows Andy, an aspiring runner and the biracial son of an impoverished single mother, and Rachel, who was born with a heart defect and suffers her wealthy Jewish parents' over-protectiveness. They meet in a hospital waiting room at the age of 8, re-connect by coincidence on a school field trip at 16, and subsequently move in and out of each other's lives. I liked the conceit of dropping in on both characters across the years (chapter headings - 1997, 2001 - signal to the reader where we are in their lives) and, as always with Weiner's books, it's engagingly written, such that I really invested in the characters and their love story. However, there's some pretty terrible fat phobia at one point in the novel (all the more disappointing as Weiner's first few novels were notable for featuring plus size heroines) and it's also a lot more sexually graphic than her previous books - the post-Fifty Shades... effect, perhaps? - which isn't in itself an issue for me, but some of the sex is pretty terribly written.

4. I found The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants for 99p in a charity shop, so I wasn't too bothered when it turned out to be not very memorable. It follows four best friends - soccer-mad Bridget, artist Lena, fiery Carmen and Tibby, unhappy at being left at home while her friends travel - over the course of one summer. They find a pair of pants that miraculously fit all of their diverse figures (although TBH they don't sound terrible diverse, all being some variation on slim/skinny/sporty) and send them between each other with the promise that good things will happen when wearing the pants. Erm, except generally the pants seem to bring them terrible luck. This was fine but, as I said, it didn't exactly set my world on fire, and I'm frankly baffled as to how it's managed to generate a well-known film plus four sequels.

5. & 6. Now this was more like it: a smart, sweet YA romance, everything I wanted The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants to be. To All The Boys I've Loved Before is the story of high school junior Lara Jean, and what happens when love letters she's written to her crushes over the years accidentally get posted. I loved this book - loved the character of Lara Jean, loved her cheeky little sister Kitty, loved Peter, the guy Lara Jean ends up pretending to date in order to style out the embarrassment of the letters. It's not revolutionary as far as YA goes, but it's very well written and I cared a lot about what happened to the characters. Between this and its sequel P.S I Still Love YouHan looks at issues as varied as growing up biracial, losing a parent, the stud/slut dichotomy of teenage sexual standards, and yet it never feels like an 'issues' book. Instead, the issues are dealt with in a really naturalistic way: sometimes shit happens in Lara Jean's life, as it does in anyone's. In contrast to books 4 & 7, though, it never feels like stuff is crammed in for the sake of it. In case it wasn't clear already, I massively loved these books and would thoroughly recommend them.

7. Mira has missed almost a year of school and is now starting afresh at the exclusive St Francis Prep. Jeremy, a long-time student there, is still emotionally scarred from his treatment at the hands of bullies last year. And Sebby, Mira's best friend, has pretty much stopped going to school all together, a fact he's trying to hide from his uber-religious foster mom. Fans Of The Impossible Lifefollows them over the course of the school year but suffers from splitting the narrative in three directions, so I never entirely believed in or empathised with any of the characters. The topics of mental health, sexuality, drug abuse and the foster care system are likewise kind of rushed through: it would have benefited from more focus on one or two elements rather than an attempt to deal with everything in one book. That said, it's well written (although I could have done without the third person present tense chapters, which felt like a writer's workshop exercise) and it would definitely appeal to teenagers experiencing some of the problems Mira, Jeremy and Sebby face.

8. Oh my gosh, how on earth did I get to the age of 37 without ever having read 84 Charing Cross Road?! This is simply one of the loveliest books ever, and goes straight onto my list of favourites. A collection of letters written between 1949 and 1969 from New York screenwriter Helene Hanff to a London bookseller (and their replies), it's a must-read for any book lover. Hanff is delighfully rude, forthright, but generous to a fault, and the development of the friendships between her and her London-based correspondents is just wonderful to follow.

9. The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street was Hanff's follow-up to 84 Charing Cross Road, and tells the story of her long-awaited visit to London in 1971. Again, well worth a read.

10. Speaking of book lovers, Judging A Book By Its Lover was a bargain find in Toronto, costing me about $2. A collection of pieces about books and readers, from potted guides to cult authors (so you discuss their books at dinner parties without having read them) to humourous essays about her childhood love of reading, it was a pleasant diversion but probably not a book I'd read again.

* These books was kindly provided by the publishers via Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review.