January books

1.Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse- Rick Riordan.

I enjoyed it, although the books in this series are starting to seem a little similar. I’ve learned more about Greek mythology than I ever knew before from these books though.

2. Poppy and the Outdoors Cat- Dorothy Haas.

Okay, this was a little kids’ chapter book so I don’t know if I should really count it, but it was adorable! Poppy is one of seven kids and she really wants a cat but her parents say no animals in the house, so she adopts a little stray. Very sweet story. Emma borrowed it from Mum and Dad’s house and finished it yesterday, and I read it because she really seemed to want to share it with me. It reminded me a bit of Ten Kids, No Pets so I found that and gave it to Emma to read.

3. The Brain that Changes Itself- Norman Doidge.

Amazing stuff. I’d heard about it and had it recommended to me so when I saw it at the library I picked it up. It was really interesting to read in itself, but also had some relevant things to say on autism and OCD type thinking. I feel like I’m smarter from having read it- firstly because I learned things I didn’t know before, but also because it was a more challenging read than I usually go for (hello Poppy and the Outdoors cat, I’m looking at you) so I’m sure it gave all my neurons a workout.

4. The Twilight Saga: the Official Illustrated Guide- Stephenie Meyer.

Okay, this one is just plain embarrassing. I swear I’m not a Twimom, really I’m not! Actually I got this for mother’s day last year, Nicholai picked it out because he’d seen the Twilight books and dvds around and thought I should have this encyclopedia to go with them. He was so proud of his choice that I felt like I really had to read it! I also feel as though I have to admit that it was actually quite interesting- had a long interview with Stephenie Meyer and lots of background info that I hadn’t known, so there you go.

5. It- Stephen King.

I remember watching this movie at a sleepover when I was about fourteen. There were four of us and we all started out sprawled all over the living room and ended up sitting in a huddle on a two seater couch under a blanket and screaming when the birthday girl’s dad flushed the toilet!

As for the book, I think it’s a pretty good story. There are a few things that turn me off it (like the homophobia and the way he writes about women in general) and I sometimes find the gore count to be a bit high for my taste, but it was scary and interesting and made me want to keep reading. Which is a pretty good thing, because it was also insanely long and has taken me ages to read.

6. Pink for a Girl- Isla McGuckin.

An autobiographical book about one couple’s experiences with unexplained infertility. It’s not a book to enjoy per se, since the couple never did actually get their baby despite trying so hard, but it was well written and ultimately uplifting. The protagonist was so likeable I was really hoping they’d get their happy ending, but that’s the thing about non fiction you just have to take what actually happened! The ending was good though, even if it didn’t include a baby, and I think this was a good book to read to better understand the experience of people going through infertility.

7. Faking Faith- Josie Bloss.

The story of a teenage girl with a miserable school life and a cold and unsupportive family who becomes obsessed with the online blogs of fundamentalist Christian homeschooled girls, eventually making up her own fake blog and even going to visit one of her blog friends in her made up character of ‘Faith’.

This was a quick, fun and interesting read. I understand the appeal of the blogs too, I’ve been known to read a few fundie mama blogs in my time. It’s the fascination of the unknown and different, and the appeal of a life in which your path is laid out for you so clearly. The thing is, if you never make choices you never have to make mistakes, or stumble or feel afraid of the unknowns of the future. But making mistakes, and learning and being able to be who you are is what makes life so worth living, and Dylan (the girl in the book) seems to come to much the same conclusion.

The characterisation in the book was pretty good, although I do doubt the plausibility of someone who has been raised completely differently being able to pretend to be a homeschooled, farm raised, fundamentalist Christian in front of people who genuinely ARE those things! I also thought the ending was a bit too happy and things just changed a bit too unrealistically for Dylan at home.

8. Living Dead Girl- Elizabeth Scott.

This has to be the most harrowing and heartbreaking book I’ve ever read. It’s the tale of a child who was abducted and kept, a girl who has lost who she was and through psychological and physical torment and terror is now only what her abuser has made her. To the point that she will go out and find the ‘new Alice’ for him.

It was beautifully written, but it is NOT a comfortable read at all. Not at all an escapist YA book, that’s for sure! It’s powerful and compelling and will not leave your mind once the last page is finished.

I do wonder if my gut reaction to it differs from the general YA audience though in that I am a mother. It wasn’t me that I saw in the story but my daughter, particularly since she is around the age of the abducted child and the girls that Alice is looking at to take her place, and thinking of her in that place just made me want to rip my heart out. As a mother I think there is an extra layer of terror in reading about this subject matter.

If you enjoy gripping and powerful novels this is worth reading. The subject matter is painful and it points a damning finger at the culture of victim blaming and people who look the other way when they know something is wrong. It’s harsh and haunting and terrifyingly real.

For me…well, I wish I’d read it years ago, or left it to read for a few more years. Because all I could see when I read it was my girly’s beautiful face and it left me feeling far more sick and afraid than I want to be after I read a novel!

9. First Term at Malory Towers- Enid Blyton.

After feeling traumatised by reading Living Dead Girl I wanted something to restore my faith in the universe. And what is more comforting than the innocent world of Enid Blyton?

I first read the Malory Towers books when I was about seven, and I still love them. They’re far and away my favourite boarding school stories, and as a child that was a genre that I read a lot of!

It’s interesting to think about the appeal in reading about boarding school really- I think a lot of it comes down to the seeming independence of the girls in the stories. They’re away from their parents and families, but still in a safe, contained world. I also believe the focus on female friendship in boarding school stories is an important element of their appeal.

First term at Malory Towers is about Darrell starting at a new school and settling down there. It introduces the delightfully awful Gwendoline Mary to be the ‘villain’, it has the ‘mystery’ of what is troubling Sally Hope, and of course a great deal of English school story hijinks and hilarity!

10. Second Form at Malory Towers- Enid Blyton.

I couldn’t stop at just one! Second form is just as good as the first term. Sally is appointed head girl, Alicia is jealous, there are three new girls and fighting French teachers to bring the drama!

11. Third Year at Malory Towers- Enid Blyton.

This was always one of my favourite Malory Towers books. I loved jealous Sally kind of fighting with Darrell, and Zerelda the wannabe actress from America, and Mavis the future opera singer. I loved the character of tomboy Bill who loves horses the most though.

It’s interesting to think about the presentation of gender in these books though. Bill is described as being a tomboy, or “nearly a boy herself” because she has short hair, wants to be called by a boy’s name instead of her real name (Wilhelmina) and thinks of nothing but horses. When I consider all the other characters though, none of them are described in noticeably feminine terms and being interested in hair and make up (think Zerelda) is obviously frowned upon and seen as a character flaw. Really, most of the main characters could be classed as tomboys if you think about their lack of interest in stereotypically female pursuits like sewing and their appearance and boys, and their enthusiasm for things such as sports and tricks and academics.

Anyway, I didn’t set out to write a dissertation here, I’m just thinking aloud really. It’s interesting to look at these books from my adult perspective, at the same time remembering how I felt about them and what appealed so strongly to me as a child.

12. Upper Fourth at Malory Towers- Enid Blyton.

This book still rocks. Darrell is made head girl, her sister Felicity and Alicia’s cousin June start at Malory Towers and cause no end of trouble, the form is sitting for their School Certificate exam, new girls Clarissa and twins Connie and Ruth are involved in drama, Gwendoline lies about having a weak heart and Alicia learns a lesson in compassion…so much fun stuff!

13. In the Fifth at Malory Towers – Enid Blyton.

I love this book…after all, everything’s better with singing and dancing! In the fifth book the girls are in charge of putting on the Christmas entertainment and Darrell writes a pantomime, so there are play scandals galore- angst over who gets what part, everyone obsessing over the play to the exclusion of all else, bossy producers and actors flouncing! There is also a new girl Maureen who teaches Gwendoline a few lessons, a shock for Alicia’s first form cousin June, sporting joy for Felicity and the memorable event of Mam’zelle’s “treek”.

14. Last Term at Malory Towers – Enid Blyton.

The last book in the series sees the original crew all nearly grown up. They’re thinking about plans for the future, but they’ve still got one last term to get through first. Darrell is head girl of the school and Sally is games captain, if anyone expected anything else! There’s a couple of new girls to add interest, sporting drama involving Alicia’s cousin June, and some tricks of course. It’s not my favourite book, but it’s a pretty satisfying ending to the classic schoolgirl series.

15. Mockingbird – Kathryne Erskine

This book was beautiful and heartbreaking and funny all in one. It tells the story of a girl with Aspergers, Caitlin, as she comes to terms with the death of her older brother and begins to understand more about herself and the people around her. Caitlin is a sympathetic and likeable main character, and the Aspergers is beautifully drawn.

I’m always drawn to books that have characters with Aspergers or autism, although I sometimes find them hard to read. Reading about these characters stumbling through a sometimes hard and unforgiving world touches that little raw place of fear inside me, because I have my own Aspie that I would shield from all that unpleasantness if I could. My own practical knowledge of Aspergers definitely adds another layer to my interpretation of the story and the meaning I take from it.

This was really a fantastic book though, and definitely one I’d recommend.

16. A Bump in the Road.

This was a story about Clare, a woman in her late twenties who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. While the story wasn’t wildly original it was well written and had some really hilarious lines in it that actually did make me laugh. At first I didn’t really connect with the main character (she just whined too much about not being able to drink!) but as the story went on I found her more sympathetic and likeable. This was a fun, easy read.

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