1. The Gardener cousins have a number of things in common, the mysterious disappearance of their parents - the seed collectors of the title - while on a botany trip years earlier being just one of them. Now adults, their great aunt Oleander, guru to the stars, has died and left them each a valuable seed pod. Will it prove a deadly poison or route to enlightenment? The Seed Collectors* was a very modern comedy of manners, touching on themes as diverse as family, desire, academia, and the cult of celebrity, among others. Scarlett Thomas has always been a smart writer, scattering philosophical bon mots and jokes amongst her narratives, and for this reason I really enjoyed the novel. However, my enjoyment was marred by the fat-phobia on display, with one of the main characters, Bryony, being a frankly offensive caricature of a fat person; a glutton who cannot control her appetites, be they food, alcohol or shopping. The ending also had a rushed feeling about it which left me feeling unsatisfied, but overall I'd still recommend this beautifully written, if casually brutal, novel.
2. Station Eleven has been much garlanded with praise since its publication last year, and deservedly so. Moving between multiple points of view and times - both before, during and after a global pandemic wipes out civilization as we know it - the world Mandel creates is enchanting and believable. Largely focusing on a band of players known as Travelling Symphony, who tour Ontario on foot to perform Shakespeare to the few remaining post-pandemic survivors. Each strand of the story is skilfully woven together, with my only complaint being that I felt the book could have been longer.
3. Six days after graduating from Yale, Marina Keegan was killed in a car accident. Her creative writing professor, Anne Fadiman (whose book about books and reading, Ex Libris, is absolutely fantastic) helped to collate and edit The Opposite Of Loneliness, a collection of Keegan's writing, both fiction and non-fiction. Unfortunately, it read as what it was: a collection of fairly accomplished but not outstanding university undergraduate work.
5. Rock She Wrote is an impressively inclusive and wide-in-scope collection of writings by women about music - often (but not exclusively) music made by women too. From Pamela Des Barres on Live Through This-era Courtney Love to a fascinating look at the role of black women musicians in jazz's history, this was the perfect collection to dip in and out of. Published in 1995, it obviously therefore omits anything from the past 20 years but for fans of older music (or older music fans) it makes a great read.
6. I loved Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From The Crematorium, the tale of how the author started working in a crematorium at the tender age of 22 after a lifetime of being fascinated by death. Ranging from addressing the funeral industry's exploitation of grieving relatives, to looking at the ways in which the American and British ways of death have changed over the years, to anecdotes about the grizzly tasks expected of her at work, it's definitely not one to read over dinner but fascinating nevertheless.
7. If you follow My Sad Cat on Twitter then you'll already be familiar with the feline stars of The Good, The Bad & The Furry. Only one to read it you're truly cat-mad, I found there wasn't a great deal of new material here for someone who (like me) has read a lot of Cox's articles and follows him on Twitter, but it's still amusing. Just as in those mediums, this book really comes alive when his loud and eccentric dad comes onto the scene.
8. I needed something quick and easy to read on a school trip to Cambridge - something that would keep my attention whilst I sat at the meeting point, but not so engrossing that I couldn't keep an eye on things. Naomi & Ely's No-Kiss List follows Naomi, who's been saving herself for childhood friend and neighbour, Ely (who's gay and definitely hasn't been saving himself for Naomi), plus a cast of other characters linked to their building. It's not a patch on Cohn & Levitathan's two other collaborations, but to wile away the time in the sunshine, it did nicely.
9. The Good, The Bad & The Undead is the second in The Hollows series about a bounty-hunting witch who lives with a vampire and a pixie. High art this is not, but it's a page-turner that's perfect when I'm not in the mood for anything too serious.
* This book was kindly supplied by the publisher via Net Galley, but all
opinions are entirely my own.
Note: I do not use affiliate links in these posts, but just like to provide a non-Amazon source.