Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

With a lovely bunch og bookstagrammers who form ‘The Big Classics Book Club’, I have just finished ‘Gone with the Wind’. Confession number one: I have never seen the film. Confession number two: I would never have read the book without my lovely book club pals.

‘Gone with the Wind’ is a wonderful story. I realise that some of the attitudes and language may be questionable in our more enlightened times, however, you read it with modern eyes and historical context. The writing is delightful; I was drawn in from page one. The characters are so vividly created, you have images of each in your head as you read. And the drama – I am not sure I have ever read anything so melodramatic (and addictive).

Also, there are some surprises and, for me, that was the strong female leads. Scarlett, although a little Marmite at times, is a fantastic character; an incredibly strong and determined young woman, even in the darkest of times. And Melly, her most loyal friend, has a quiet strength that eventually shines in the story.

In fact, the men are often the foolish characters. Although, Rhett Butler, with all his faults, is quite a romantic hero.

I was honestly blown away by this book. My love of history wants to research all the events and my love of reading adored the escapism and the drama.

So, please, don’t be put off by those big classics – find a buddy and read them. They honestly can be quite surprising.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

This book has been all over bookstagram and I have had my eye on it for ages – so, this pride month I was so pleased to get a copy.

I can totally unerstand why there is so much love for Felix and his story. Felix is transgender, living in Brooklyn with his father and studying Art with a hope of getting into Browns. However, there is quite a journey ahead of Felix – as they are forced to explore his identity and relationships after being deadnamed and exposed by a troll in front of the whole school.

It is a really quite emotional read, as so many themes are explored throughout the story. However, most importantly it teaches that you have to be willing to accept yourself and focus on your happiness and remove those who risk that for you. Even if that can be incredibly hard.

This is a book that I will be recommending to readers because it is not just a story – it is an education. And, as Kacen Callender says in the ‘Author’s Note’, I hope it really helps young people and readers who may find themselves in a similare situation to Felix to feel supported and not invisible. A really beautiful book.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

My fifth read from ‘The Women’s Prize for Fiction’ shortlist was ‘Piranesi’. So, let’s get this out of the way – ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ was a DNF for me. I found it dull and the writing difficult to read. So, I was a little unsure as I started this (especially, as Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse loved it and we rarely agree).

However, my fears were dismissed within moments. I devoured this book in one day – I could not put it down and read past my bedtime to finish it, because I had to know what happened.

Told by Piranesi, through his journals we find out about his life in the House, where he has one friend in ‘The Other’ and has the company of statues. Piranesi believes that this is his world, however things begin to challenge this belief and his memories become fuzzy. Is what Piranesi believes to be true really the truth?

I loved that this book had so much mystery to it and challenged the idea of an individuals reality. What really forms our reality and identity?

This his a book that definitely deserves to be on the shortlist.

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli

I absolutely love the books of Becky Albertalli. She writes the books I wish had existed when I was a teenager, And ‘Kate in Waiting’ did not disappoint.

I chose this to join in with ‘Pages of Pride’ over on Instagram, and it was a lovely way to start.

Kate and her best friend Andy always seem to have crushes on the same boy. And it has never been a problem, until Matt arrives in town.

This book does what Becky Albertalli does best and explores relationships of all kinds in a relatable way. You can often imagine knowing the characters or having a very similar experience to them.

Although Kate doesn’t replace Simon in my affections, she is a fantastic character and her story is a great read.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The fourth title we have tackled from ‘The Women’s Prize for Fiction’ shortlist is ‘The Vanishing Half’, and I can’t believe I have left it on my shelf for so long. This book is beautiful and certainly deserves to be nominated.

I am not sure that I can do this book justice. It is so moving and complex, and handles the idea of race and prejudice brilliantly. Leaving the reader to really evaluate the impact that racial identities and all that comes with that can have on an individual.

Two twins who grow up in the same southern black community witness the tragic consequences of racial prejudice. At the age of 16, they both run away together; however, as time passes, their lives divide – one returning to their childhood home and the other living a ‘white’ life. However, their lives are reconnected – and will that allow Stella to keep her secret?

It may feel uncomfortable to think someone wants to hide their identity as much as Stella – but it is certainly thought-provoking, especially with recent events.

I just adored this book and hope everyone will read it, because it is quite an education. And, identity and prejudice is tackled with each and every character. Just stunning!

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Returning to a novel by Marian Keyes is like catching up with an old friend. So, I do ask myself why ‘Grown Ups’ was left unread on my shelf for so long – I now realise that was a mistake.

I devoured this book, all 656 pages of it, as I could not put it down. This is a book that does what Marian Keyes does best, and examines family relationships in all their complex glory.

Told back from one fateful family dinner and then showing us what happens next, we follow the chaotic Casey family. Each have their secrets and their own journey of self-discovery, which takes them to the dinner and beyond. The glamorous life presented to the outside world is certainly not always as it seems. And, as always, this is handled beautifully by Marian Keyes’ writing style and narrative. There is so much warmth and wit amongst the pages, and tough topics are handled sensitively and with care. And, on the very final page, I shed a tear, as I felt I had been on quite a journey with the Casey family, and for all of those who deserved a happy ending – that was certainly on the horizon.

To put it simply, I adored this book and was not disappointed by it at all. In fact, it has reminded me that there are still some of the novels of Marian Keyes that I am yet to read, and I really must change that soon.

Thursday Thoughts: Graphic Novels

‘Heartstopper: Volume 4’ was recently published and, of course, I had to purchase it immediately. And then of course, I read past my bedtime because I can never leave Nick and Charlie part-way through a story. I absolutely loved the book, as I knew I would.

So, this has made me think about graphic novels. They were something that I had not really considered until the Heartstopper universe because I always thought they were only fantasy and sci-fi books. However, I have slowly started to realise that this is not entirely true. In fact, there is a whole world of wonderful graphic novels out there that cover all sorts of fabulous genres.

Now, I do have to admit that I have only really read the Heartstopper volumes (and my other love, Shakespeare manga, which I know is another genre again), but I have seen so many brilliant books being shared on bookstagram. That means the wishlist has grown.

I guess what I am trying to say is that books and genres should not be judged by their covers and that books full of illustrations are just as wonderful as books full of words, even when you are an adult.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The second title from the ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’ was ‘Transcendent Kingdom’. This has been a great book for a buddy read because there are so many different opinions on this one.

It took me a while to reach any opinions about this book. When I started this novel, I found it hard to get in to – it took a lot of concentration to follow the narrative. However, as I got through the story, I found out more about Gifty, her family and her past. I can see why this book has been nominated for a prize as it is beautifully written and it tackles some tough issues. Especially in a family and community that are not entirely willing to talk about social issues – including addiction and mental health issues. Also, handling well the way our past and experience can influence our future and even challenge the ideas and beliefs that you may have formed about the world around you.

‘Transcendent Kingdom’ is a slow burn (that does seem to divide opinion) and I am still not entirely sure what I think – but I am certainly pleased that I read it. And I do think that maybe I should read ‘Homegoing’, as many people have recommended since.

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

This month’s ‘Tasting notes Book Club‘ pick is ‘Florence Adler Swims Forever’. A really beautiful book, based on a true story and it is hard to believe it is a debut novel.

Florence Adler is determined to swim the Channel and be the best. However, when events take a tragic turn, Florence’s family are forced to face their relationships head on and secrets are revealed and characters are tested as their lives change forever. Set in the community of Atlanta City in the 1930s, it also tackles ideas of prejudice, especially towards the Jewish community, displaced people and the events unfolding in Europe at the time.

It is a beautiful read, as we follow each character as they deal with the events unfolding around them. Each of them with their own ‘secrets’, ideas and ways of handling what is happening. Esther is quiet the matriarch leading the way, but each character has their own way of ensuring that Florence Adler will swim forever.

I would really recommend this book as it is a well-woven narrative; a slow-paced, thoughtful read that will stay with you once you have finished the last page.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

If you want to ensure I read a bookl that I probably should have done already, get Chris Riddell to illustrate it.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is 42 years old and to celebrate that fact , an illustrated edition was released. And it is wonderful; it certainly made me pick it up.

This is another book that I am not sure why I have not read before, especially as I remember it being on a list of recommended reads from my Year 9 English teacher, Mrs Dove. It is also something that my parents have always enjoyed, and my sister has definitely read it. However, now I gave and I really enjoyed it. This is quite a comical adventure, as our hapless hero, Arthur Dent, travels the galaxy with Ford Prefect after the end of the world as he knows it.

It is a quick read, but good fun, and Chris Riddell’s illustrations portray the colourful characters perfectly, bringing the galaxy to life. Although small parts may slightly date the book, it is still a comic tale – even for those of us who are not fans of science fiction.