A Month in Books – September

Month in Books - September

I have devoured novels for as long as I can remember. I was the kid who took two books on family trips, just in case I finished the first one and had to actually talk to my relatives.

What can I say? I guess I like hanging out in a different reality for a bit. Although my original dream was to work in fiction publishing, I’m actually really glad that I ended up in non-fiction, as reading at work inevitably becomes a bit clinical at times and I would never want to lose the love I have for stories.

With this in mind, I wanted to share the books I’ve been reading over the past month in case you’re looking for any new reads. I’m a Waterstones addict (e-readers are so 3 years ago), so I usually stock up one the Buy One Get One Half Price paperbacks that usually last until the next payday.

So here is my first ever book reviews post, with a cheeky ratings system at the end so I don’t spoil the surprise 🙂

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

This was my most recent and probably favourite of the four books I read this month. It’s set between California, New York, and Paris, in the enigmatic world of professional ballet dancing. It starts with the main character Joan, a member of the corps, falling pregnant and leaving the company. She knows she’s not good enough to become a soloist, so she leaves her principle ex-boyfriend to raise her baby in suburbia with her childhood sweetheart, Jacob. Her son Harry then turns out to be extraordinarily talented, so she has to delve back into the world she left behind.

The narrative switches back and forth to different points in Joan’s life, which means you slowly figure out the whole story after a few unexpected twists. Some of the chapters are told from other character’s point of view too, which kind of throws you off balance in a good way.

I really loved this book, mainly because it gave me an insight into the theatrical world that us non-ballerinas know nothing about. As well as the glamour, there was the gritty side of endless rehearsals, putting your body through physical torture, and the intense pressure the dancers face. Maggie Shipstead is brilliant at describing the raw, almost indescribable passion that the performers have, and after finishing it I went straight to Google to book some ballet tickets.

Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant

This book starts in an anonymous British university in the 1970s. The protagonist, Adele, has lied her way in past the admissions officer, and starts freshers term by giving herself a personality makeover to attract cool, new friends. She quickly befriends an androgynous-looking couple called Evie/Stevie, but then a shocking and traumatic event affects the course of her entire life.

We follow Adele and the other friends throughout their adult lives, and it’s really interesting to see where they all go during a time when Britain goes through such a dramatic economic change.

It’s very funny in places, often with a dark humour, and told so well you think it must be based on the authors’ own experiences. She mentions in the postscript that the settings are autobiographical, but the characters and story are entirely fictional. I love how it ends, with the group of friends approaching retirement in the present day – it really makes you think how much society has changed in just a few decades. I won’t spoil it any more!

How to be Both by Ali Smith

I’ll be honest, I mainly bought this book for the cover. I’d lusted after it for ages, and even better it had an award-winner sticker on it, which made me certain that it must be good. However, the truth is that this book literally divided me. It’s set in two halves. The first half I absolutely loved, and the second I sort of hated.

Props to Ali Smith, she is an incredible writer. The way she describes art is extraordinary. And I know that the meaning of art is one of the central themes in the book. The portraits on the cover and the inside flaps are part of the plot-line in the first half, and the second half is narrated by a Renaissance painter. I think what I found difficult was the stark difference between the two plots. The first half was set in the present day, told in the voice of an intelligent 16-year old girl who is grieving the loss of her mother. That it jumps so quickly to a completely different time period was weirdly unsettling. I wanted the first half to carry on for the whole book!

I’m sure a lot of other people who have read it would completely disagree with me and think it’s a masterpiece. I’m sure it is a masterpiece that my university professors would go crazy for, but I guess I have slightly simpler tastes these days.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

Do you ever buy a book and find it takes you somewhere completely and utterly different to where you think it will? That’s what happened with Lucky Us. It’s about two sisters – Iris and Eva, the narrator – who move from 1940s Ohio to Hollywood, where Iris is set to become a big star. It’s difficult to say much about the plot without giving away too many spoilers. It follows their family over 10 years, where all of the characters have secrets, and nothing turns out quite as planned.

Reading this book was like cycling down a very windy road for the first time – basically, you have no idea where it’s going. That being said, it’s not an unpleasant ride, and I like surprises!

My Scores on the Doors…

  1. Astonish Me – 9/10
  2. Upstairs at the Party – 8/10
  3. Lucky Us – 6.5/10
  4. How to be Both – 5/10 (because I only liked half of the book!)
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