June: Catch Up

I am in the process of making a spreadsheet of all the books I own in hopes that it’ll motivate me to stop looking at all the shiny new books online. It has become a long term project since it’s taking a lot more time than I expected to type up, but I have recorded the first two bottom shelves of my bookcase. It alone holds a staggering eighty books, a close mash up of read and unread but still more heavily unread, which scared me away from making my inventory for a week.

That is a problem when you’re a slow reader, which I am. Add to the fact that I think it pointless to read as fast as you can if you’re not going to remember the major points of the novel or nonfictional work in six months. Reading is a pleasure, of course, but it’s also an art I love to study from the viewpoint of an aspiring writer and a lover of the craft. 

This summer I signed up for the Reading Game with my public library, a game I have joined in on since freshman year of high school. The game gives you the chance to log the minutes you read each day, converts them into points of equal value, and each quarter milestone gives you a prize. But the main prize with 1000 points is winning a free novel from the library’s catalogue (and they have fantastic selections every year). 

I don’t remember if you can win a free book with each 1000 points or if they let you win once, but it gave me the idea to adopt this Reading Game into my daily reading life. 1000 points logged into Excel makes me feel I earned a new book, but since that means I can only buy one book every three weeks or so, the ones I chose to buy have to be top tier.

And so I have decided to share the five novels I want, because they bested half a dozen other books through the cut. Let me know if any of them sound intriguing to you, or if you approve of the Reading Game. Feel free to join in of course!


Hold
Kirsten Tranter

In an effort to discover Australian adult literature, I looked up what their literary prizes are because there’s plenty of talk about American and English prizes, but not much about them. Among the most prestigious is the Miles Franklin award, in which Hold is currently longlisted for. The synopsis and the reviews for it are so amazing that it’s going to be the first one I buy with 1,000 points. I will forfeit the opportunity for a free book through my library for it, which is saying a lot because the only available copies of it are over $30 at the moment.

Three years ago, Shelley’s lover, Conrad, died in a surfing accident. Now, still in a state of subdued grief, Shelley has just moved into an old Victorian terrace in Paddington with David, her new partner, trying for a new beginning. At home one morning, Shelley discovers a door to a small intriguing room, which is not on the plans. There is a window, a fireplace and a beautiful chandelier. But nothing else.

When Shelley meets a man who seems to be Conrad’s uncanny double, the mysterious room begins to dominate her world, becoming a focus for her secret fantasies and fears, offering an escape which also threatens to become a trap.

 


Dark Matter
Michelle Paver

I probably don’t have to explain this one too much. Michelle Paver’s Thin Air is one of the few 5-starred books I’ve read since starting this blog. I am also currently reading the first novel in her children’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, which made me decide to put down the first Harry Potter novel in favor of it.

Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, but the Arctic summer is brief. 

As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice: stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return—when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible. 

Gruhuken is not uninhabited though. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…

 


Blue Skies
Helen Hodgman

This novel is an Australian classic, which right there is power enough to best the American classics I had listed. I have enough of those anyways… But a reviewer described the novel as “pure Tasmanian gothic,” as if I’m not obsessed enough with Tasmania at the moment. (Thank you to The Kettering Incident.) What more can I say? Brooding forests and creepy islands are my current addiction. 

A young wife and mother watches a clock that seems forever stuck at three-in-the-afternoon. Her neighbour obsesses over the front lawn, and the women at the local beach chatter about knitting patterns. Her husband didn’t come home last night.

She lives for Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the baby is with Mother-in-law and she can escape to a less humdrum life. Jonathan, man about town, is Tuesday. Ben, a freethinking artist, is Thursday.

But Jonathan is in serious trouble, and Thursdays are turning sour. Very sour.

 


First Love
Gwendoline Riley

I can’t talk about the reasoning behind this one too much in fear that I’ll jinx my future project, but the fact that this was the shortest novel for the Bailey’s prize this year whilst also sounding clever and complex throughout its short length makes it a clear winner. It’ll be the second book I purchase after Hold. That’s how much I want to bask in all its literary themes. 

Catastrophically ill-suited for each other, and forever straddling a line between relative calm and explosive confrontation, Neve and her husband, Edwyn, live together in London. For the moment they have reached a place of peace in their relationship, but past battles have left scars. As Neve recalls the decisions that brought her to Edwyn, she describes other loves and other debts—from her bullying father and her self-involved mother, to a musician she struggled to forget. 

Drawing us into the battleground of this marriage, Gwendoline Riley tells a transfixing story of mistakes and misalliances, of helplessness and hostility, in which both husband and wife have played a part. Could this possibly be, nonetheless, a story of love?

 


Stay With Me

Ayobami Adebayo

An African cultural marriage thriller? A novel in which a married couple actually wants to stay together and grow old with children of their own? A Bailey’s shortlisted novel with near perfect reviews written by a Nigerian woman? This should have been the Bailey’s winner just on those grounds, but then again I wasn’t a judge. It is going to be the third book I purchase with my earned points though.

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage—after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures—Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time—until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant. Which, finally, she does—but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family. 

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