Monday, 26 December 2016

Best books of 2016

I thought 2016 had a bit of a slow start when it came to books, but some of the books I've read this year are among the best I've ever read, and I'll be talking about my 10 favourite for years to come.

I made a conscious effort to try and read more books by writers of colour this year, something which bears out in my best of 2016 list (even though I still read more books by white writers, could the fact that the majority of my list is books by non-white people possibly show the really high quality of writing by writers of colour who do get published? Discuss).

There were some notable gaps in my reading this year - I failed to get round to Sarah Perry's much-lauded The Essex Serpent, which I'm now saving for a time when I can savour it, and I skipped most of the Man Booker Prize shortlist because it just didn't capture me this year, plus I've not read as much YA as I did in previous years.

Now, without further ado, here are my 10 favourite books of 2016...

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life review - a trash fire with few redeeming qualities

The Gilmore Girls revival - we've all been waiting for it, wanting to revisit Stars Hollow, hang out with our favourite characters (Emily and Paris, for what it's worth), see who Rory ends up (#TeamJess).

Well, I'm here to tell you the wait was not worth it. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life - made up of four episodes by the show's creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino - is a trash fire with few redeeming qualities. It's horrible and awful, and it features terrible characters who act in terrible ways. In short, it's ruined the original Gilmore Girls forever.

Warning, there are spoilers ahead for all four episodes...

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Book review: The Good Immigrant ed. by Nikesh Shukla

Sometimes a book hits at the right time. The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla and crowdfunded on the publishing platform Unbound, is one of those books.

I'm heartbroken over the result of the EU referendum, saddened and angered by the surge in openly racist attacks, and all round worried about the future of the UK. And even before the referendum, who can have missed the discourse around immigrants in recent months, even years? From Prime Minister David Cameron calling refugees seeking shelter from war a "swarm" to Donald Trump's plans to build a wall between Mexico and America and ban all Muslims from entering the US, it can seem like an awful time to not be white.

So The Good Immigrant is both a soothing balm and a fiery call to action against the ugliness of the world today. As the daughter of immigrants, I have a particular interest in this book, but this collection of essays is essential reading for all human beings. It's not a book of essays where non-white people moan about how they're treated unfairly - it's a collection of nuanced pieces looking at the immigrant experience, providing a state of the nation and serving as an eye-opening agent for change. During my reading I laughed, I fought back tears, I nodded in understanding, I got angry, and I also felt inspired.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story - further reading

The People v OJ Simpson. Picture: BBC/Fox
I'm a little bit obsessed with The People v OJ Simpson, and as well as tuning in every week to the TV programme I've been reading a lot around the subject, from pieces of journalism from the time of the trial to think pieces.

If you're as fascinated by me as the case (and you've read the book by Jeffrey Toobin that the show is based on), here is some recommended further reading...

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Book review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a brilliant story told once needs to be retold for a modern audience, and so it is with Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice, which has been retold by Curtis Sittenfeld as part of The Borough Press' Austen Project.

Moving the action to modern day Cincinnatta, we join the Bennet family as the two oldest daughters, Lizzy and Jane, return home to help their father recover from heart surgery. The Bennet household, with all five daughters under one roof, is chaos, and the house itself is falling apart, although Mrs Bennet is more concerned about seeing her daughters married off, and Chip Bingley is more than perfect for at least one of the girls.

This is the Pride and Prejudice we all know and love, brought bang up to date. Bingley is as shy and naive as in Austen's original, but now he is a doctor - one of the ultimate status symbols in the modern world - and a reality TV star after a stint on Eligible where he searched for (and failed to find) his soulmate. His friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, a neurosurgeon, is as haughty as Darcy in the original, while lovely Jane is a yoga teacher and smart Lizzy is a journalist.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Book review: Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett

How entertaining can a novel about a whaling family in a tiny community in Australia be? The answer, I was pleasantly surprised to learn while reading Shirley Barrett's debut Rush Oh! is very.

Mary Davidson, the oldest daughter in a whaling family in New South Wales, chronicles the difficult whaling season of 1908. Drama, misadventure and first love all feature in Mary's telling, as do a pod of whales who align themselves with Mary's father and his crew of whale hunters.

First off, I didn't expect this novel to be funny, but it really is. It's full of little laughs, and that's all down to the wonderful protagonist. Mary's retelling of the season of 1908 is charming, her voice a little like a grown up Anne of Green Gables. Mary is slightly naive, and wonderfully forthright in most things. Her honesty about her family, about the people in her community, and about her feelings for John Beck, the newest recruit in her father's crew, is by turns poignant and hilarious, and always straightforward even when nothing else in her life is. Mary is an optimistic, lively, independent female, who very rarely lets life bring her down.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Book review: Not Working by Lisa Owens

Many people spend the majority of their waking time working, so you want a job where you're happy, and challenged, and where you feel like you're making a difference.

But what if your work just isn't living up to expectations? (If my boss is reading this, I love my job, we're not talking about me here.) If your work isn't working for you, if you don't have an answer to the question 'what do you do?', what, well, do you do?

In Lisa Owens' Not Working Claire Flannery quits her unsatisfying job, determined to grow as a person and ultimately find her calling. But instead of getting ever closer to finding out what it is she wants to do, Claire finds herself distracted with all the little and big things in life, from how to deal with an infestation of buddleia to a death in the family that leads to a breakdown of the relationship between Claire and her mother, to accepting her best friend's (seemingly personality free) new partner.

Everyone knows a Claire, or is a Claire, making Not Working a relatable read when it comes to the issue of work, and what we do (or don't do). Claire has free time, and freedom to pursue what she wants, which seems fine in theory. But when she is faced with friends who all seem to be happy and fulfilled with work, it's difficult for her to see the joy in her situation. It's a classic case of the grass being greener on the other side.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Book review: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

On the day he retires two things happen to Inspector Chopra. The first is that a young man is found dead, his death dismissed as an accident by Chopra's colleague. The second is a little more unusual - Chopra gets home to find he has inherited a baby elephant from his uncle. And so begins The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan.

A lively, dark novel, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is hugely fun to read and full of charm. At its centre is a murder mystery, with Chopra finding himself in more and more danger as he gets closer and closer to the truth. But it's not the crime element, as brilliantly executed as it is, that makes this novel such a joy. It's the way Khan explores what a man does with his life after the thing that takes up most of his time - work - is no longer taking up that time. Khan shows the fear Chopra has of going from respected police inspector to irrelevant old man, and he does it with humour as well as sympathy.

Part of the humour comes, of course, from Chopra's relationship with the baby elephant - Ganesha. But Ganesha is no comic sidekick. Instead, the relationship between Chopra and Ganesha is touching, and the two teach each other things - the elephant teaches Chopra he is still needed and valuable, and Chopra shows Ganesha how to trust and love. It sounds strange to be talking about a man and an elephant, but the relationship is as strong as any detective and their human sidekick.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Book review: Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Sofia Khan has had it with men. She thought she'd found the one, but it turned out he wanted her to move in with his parents (sort of, next door but with a hole connecting the two houses) after they got married, so now Sofia has given up. Or she thinks she has - when she accidentally pitches a book about Muslim dating to her boss, Sofia finds herself having to examine love, life, family, and go on a few weird dates all in the name of research.

Ayisha Malik's Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is brilliantly funny, and put me immediately in mind of Bridget Jones, albeit a more up-to-date version with a Muslim protagonist. Malik's book is full of fun, and if I wasn't smiling with Sofia, I was usually laughing with her. The first truly laugh out loud moment came just pages in, when Sofia, after being called a terrorist by a Tube passenger, leans out the doors to shout: "Terrorists don't wear vintage shoes, you ignorant wanker!" It's the kind of comeback that is both clever and a bit silly, and Sofia Khan is Not Obliged strikes a balance for its protagonist between both those qualities.


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