18-and-then-some books to read in the summer between your senior year and university

A lot of my friends are the same age as me. Some of them are a year, or a few years younger, and so they will be finishing high school soon, and embarking on an adventure: university. So this post is largely for them. Here are the books to read the summer before going away to university, in no particular order.

  1. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

I feel like this book being on this list is the most obvious thing in the world. It’s beautiful captivating and absolutely heartbreaking. The writing style is so, so masterful, and it’s quite obvious why it took the author ten years – it’s absolutely breath-taking in construction. It’s about a young man who goes away to university, and becomes dangerously obsessed with embodying a certain lifestyle and aesthetic, and eventually falling victim to his own lies, and the lies of everyone else around him. My review od it is [here]. Alternatively, for the same beautiful writing, but much less heartbreaking, you can try her more recent novel The Goldfinch, which won a Pulitzer in 2013.

  1. Brutal Youth, Anthony Breznican

A thoroughly harrowing detailing of one year in the life of a school, where violent bullying is considered normal, and is even encouraged by administration as a way for students to release tensions. It’s a very grim, dark story overall. In some ways good does triumph, but in many ways, it’s dissatisfying and rather harsh, like the title suggests. My review of it is [here].

  1. The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater

I just posted a review of this series [here]. If that doesn’t convince you to read it, I don’t know what will. It has MAGIC, you guys!

  1. Boy Erased, Garrard Conley

A touching, beautifully written memoir, written by my own high school English teacher, it’s emotional, heartfelt, and all about reconciliation, forgiveness and family.My review of it is [here].

  1. Oscar Wilde’s Fairytales

Wilde is known mostly for The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is a literary masterpiece, but moving away from that, his fairytales are no less dark, beautifully sensual and gripping. Everything you have loved about the gritty “original” versions of the Brothers Grimm, you will love about these sad stories that aren’t for children at all.

  1. Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente

This is not Valente’s best known book, for whatever mind-boggling reason. It’s written like a fairytale, it’s beautiful, and emotional and touching, and it will leave you heartbroken, but ultimately with a deep sense of having understood something. I will be doing a more in-depth review for it in the future.

  1. Blackwood Farm, Anne Rice

An intersection of her insanely famous Vampire Chronicles series, and her less famous Witches of Mayfair series, featuring beloved characters (Lestat) and characters we barely tolerate (Louis) from both, this is a story written in Rice’s traditionally lush and sensual prose. It stands wonderfully on its own, and it’s a beautifully weaved magical mystery that will take anyone who reads it on a journey through an aestheticised version of the South, where bad things only happen to Evil Doers.

  1. Young Elites, Marie Lu

This is a series that starts like any other YA about a young girl who discovers she has magical powers and must then hide from her cruel oppressive government, while joining up the rebellion alliance. And then it completely flips all the tropes and genre-clichés on you, because it turns out, all along you’ve not been reading a harrowing story about personal growth and defeating the bad guys – you’ve been reading the origin story OF a bad guy. The first person narrative slips you into the mindset of a character you sympathise with, right up to the point where you realise that she isn’t the hero at all, and even then, you still feel sorry for her. Also, it has magic.

  1. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

If you only ever read one boring stuffy, classic book in your whole life, let it be this. You might have seen the musical, or the film, or any of the other adaptations, and trust me, this is even better.

  1. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North

Revisiting this book is too painful in a good way. Absolutely heartbreaking, with a happy ending, emotional and introspective, a story about immortality, without a single vampire in it. My review of it is [here].

  1. Sushi for Beginners, Marian Keyes

This is a good old-fashioned chick-lit, with clever humor, well-fleshed out characters and a realistic storyline. It’s perfect to read at the beach while you wait for that final student finance confirmation letter.

  1. Looking for Alaska, John Green

I maintain that John Green is a man who got famous by writing the same book four times. Well, this is my favorite version. Absolutely wonderful, tragically beautiful, with everything that made you cry in The Fault in Our Stars, and none of the things that annoyed you about An Abundance of Katherines, and all the winning elements of Papertowns (which is also something I’d recommend, because it has a happy ending). I can’t wait until it gets made into a film, I will see it so many times.

  1. Evening in Byzantium, Irwin Shaw

Initially I was suspicious of this novel, as I am suspicious of all books that my father recommends me (The Old Man and the Sea did not have a happy ending, and I will maintain that to the end of my days), but I was pleasantly surprised by the light tone, playful humour and beautiful crafted characters. It’s a funny, interesting read, with a lyrical writing style, that seems like a less melancholy Fitzgerald at times, and a plot that at times reads like a comedy of manners. Definitely give it a read.

  1. The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling

Written by the mom of us all, this is JKR’s first ever grown up book, and it’s just incredible. Slammed and condemned by critics world wide for not being Harry Potter, this book is – not Harry Potter. It’s vibrant, and delightfully British. Perhaps “delightful” isn’t the right word to use here – it’s also very dark, and dare I even say it – gritty. It’s definitely not for you if you’re just looking for a light summer read, because it will make you think. All the same, it’s quite wonderful and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

  1. The Diva Rules, Michelle Visage

Oh what’s that? A fun book on this list? You betcha! It’s Michelle Visage’s memoir about her life as a young girl in the big city, and her journey to becoming who she is today –a fierce and inspiring woman. It’s about finding a healthy way to deal with insecurities, and relying on your friends, and best of all – it’s absolutely a true story. My review of it is [here] and! Michelle liked it!

  1. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie

If you haven’t studied this at school, you have been grossly robbed. I am incredibly grateful to my English teachers who recommended it to me and lend me a copy and encouraged me to read it. It’s a somewhat dark topic, that you might consider a bit removed – China during the Cultural Revolution – but it’s all about reading, the power of books, and growth through literature and expanding your mind. Give it a read, it’s absolutely charming.

  1. The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak

I feel silly putting it on this list, because most people have read it, seen the movie, raved about it and moved on, but to me, this is the quintessential read for anyone who is in school, or leaving school to move on to university. It’s also narrated by Death, which is, as the kids say these days “meta af”. Spoiler: it is, as most books on this list, absolutely heartbreaking.

  1. 18 steps from the sea, by yours truly

Yes, hello, what kind of a book list would that be, if it doesn’t feature my own story? It’s a story about love and a lot of biblical elements that I’ve bastadized for the sake of the Aesthetic. What is it doing on a summer before uni reading list? Well, I wrote it during high school, but perfected it while I was at uni, borrowing from the best advice of my Creative Writing tutors. It’s a heist story, but mostly it’s me saying “fuck you” to Hemingway’s prose style. And the best part – its absolutely free for download in any format.

19. YOUR UNIVERSITY’S RECOMMENDED READINGS LIST FOR YOUR COURSE

If you are, indeed, going away to university this summer, go on your uni website, go on the page for your course, and check the recommended readings. They aren’t “recommended” they’re absolutely compulsory, your lecturers will make references to them in their lectures, and you might even need to know some of them for exams. Alternatively, your university might send you an email/letter with a reading list, and if they go out of their way to do that, it’s ABSOLUTELY mandatory that you read all the books on it.

I hope you enjoy any of these books if you decide to read them, and if you think there are other essential readings before university, let me know in a comment, or if you think any book shouldn’t be on this list, send me an angry inflammatory email, wherein you call me names and insult my intelligence and upbringing.

 

ABVH ReRead-A-Long: Guilty Pleasures

 

In my Bookshelf Tour post [here] I talked briefly about the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K Hamilton. Book 25 is due to come out on October 11 2016, and so a ReRead-A-Long is happening, and you can join in [here]. I will be participating in it, and will also be posting reviews of each book that is currently being read. Since as of this week I am 9 books behind, I will be posting a review every couple of days until I catch up, and then I will just do a review per week (aside from other posts/reviews).

I have been doing an annual ABVH reread every year, since the first time I read the books (aside from just rereading some of them on their own), but this is my first time doing something other than that to celebrate a new book coming out.

Me and Anita Blake go way back to six years ago. The summer of 2010 I had just finished middle school, and was on my way to starting high school. While picking my mandatory summer reading booklist for my upcoming literature classes, I came upon the Bulgarian translation of Guilty Pleasures. I had been aware of the existence of this series, because I’d seen several copies of Burnt Offerings in the vampire sections of other bookstores, and looking at the cover, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. When I handed it to my dad at checkout, with the pile of other books I needed for school, he regarded the cover with raised eyebrows “Is this some kind of dark erotica?” he asked carefully. Outraged I said “No! It’s about vampires, Dad!” Ten books later, I would turn out to be so, so wrong.

I did end up getting it. I took it with me on a trip to Switzerland and finished it on the plane there. It took me the full three hours of the plane ride, and when I finished it, I was hooked. The truth is, I don’t know how to be objective about ABVH, and I certainly don’t know how to talk about the books without talking about my early teenage years. In many ways, they were as formative for me as my education was. I started writing seriously because of these books (meaning, I started writing original, and not fanfiction), and I made one of my first, and most true friends through our shared love of vampires. Looking back to that sunny summer, when I was so young, I can’t even imagine that there was ever a version of my life without ABVH in it.

ABVH is set in a version of the world where vampires and wereanimals and witches have always existed, but have only recently become legal citizens in the United States and some parts of Europe. This might sound similar to the premise of True Blood, but ABVH actually predates it by a few years, and the storylines and characters are vastly different. The titular character Anita Blake is an animator who raises the dead for a living, and is also a licensed vampire hunter, working vampire-related crime cases with her local police unit. She becomes entangled in Saint Louis’ vampire politics (and in Saint Louis’ vampires –winkwink-) and from then on it game on.

Guilty Pleasures is a fantastic read on its own, even if you don’t read the rest of the series. It’s action packed, and fun, and the writing style is absolutely wonderful. Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to LKH’s fast-paced writing, that manages to be both descriptive and full of attention to detail, and move the story along without burdening the reader with things they don’t need to know. The first person narrative works for Anita in ways that first person narrative rarely works, managing to be immersive without alienating the reader. The humor is dry and witty, and so, so relatable.

It’s not your typical vampire romance, which is something I appreciated even then, having freshly come out of my Twilight phase (well, I hadn’t fully left it then. I was still waiting for the last of the movies to come out, before I could close that chapter of my vampire obsession), even though there is plenty of romance in the series, and spoiler: it’s not all heterosexual either (or monogamous, or vanilla). In fact, rereading Guilty Pleasures, I feel like I’m getting to parts of it that teenage me might have glossed over, and being able to appreciate all these fine details gives me a renewed appreciation for the first instalment in the series I so love.

I genuinely hope some of the readers of this blog will be interested in joining the (Re)Read-A-Long, and will discover what a fantastic book series they’ve been missing their whole entire lives.

 

 

 

 

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater | Series Review

 

This review will contain some spoilers for the books, particularly the final part, The Raven King.

 

I started reading The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater in my final year of high school and it gave me a vastly unrealistic expectation of what my summer before university would be like (for example, I didn’t find any dead kings in my basement). As my first year of university comes to an end, it would be only fitting to review the end of a book series that I grew to love so much right before I came to Lancaster.

My journey into TRC began after I saw so much of the books on Tumblr. Finally, I made my mother buy me the first one for Christmas (or rather, I bought it, and told her that I’m counting it as part of my Christmas gifts), then I took it with me to our country house, and put it under the Christmas tree, and on Christmas morning took it from there, and finished it in one sitting. This was the winter of 2014. I can’t do a proper review of The Raven King without going back to that winter. To that first book. I am a speedreader, I finish books fast. And then I want more. I finished The Raven Boys, and I wanted more. But I also didn’t. There isn’t a proper way for me to articulate how finishing that first book felt, satisfying, complete, and at once just – not quite enough.

The Raven Boys was a staggeringly good first book – most book series tend to have a strong beginning. By no means Stiefvater’s first writing attempt (she has another series going on, that’s about werewolves, and that’s just… bit not good. Perhaps it’s just not my cup of tea, I’m a vampire person.) it was something almost entirely complete on its own – it was a complete promise that better things would come. A polished, mature writing style with a prose that managed to be effortless and artful, lyrical, and the subtle shifts of point of view between characters show a kind of craft and mastership of language that most authors can only strive for. The beauty of it is only amplified by the fact that at its core TRC is a young adult series, and is written appropriately for its audience – elevated enough that it doesn’t sound condescending, or childish – perhaps elevated enough that it would entice an adult reader, but also not so overwhelmingly centered on aesthetics that the plot gets lost.

Overall, the premise, and the characters, presented as they were in the first book promised an adventure. The problem outlined in the first pages – a girl surrounded by magic who isn’t magic, and who can’t kiss boys, and boys, and a death curse, and a long lost legend – sound entertaining enough, a clear-cut fantasy-laden coming-of-age that we have seen so many of before, with all the tropes that iron out the lines of the genre – Chosen One, A Very Special Girl, something about kisses, some kind of deep magical secret, some kind of other magic, something very Big and Evil lurking, something about other supporting characters who are almost as main as the main characters, if not more. You don’t read books like that for the plot – it’s archetypal at best. You read them for the characters. For the craft. My Creative Writing course at university repeats one and the same at an almost constant monotony: “Don’t write genre literature.” But if you were to write genre literature – this is how you do it. This is how you start it. This is how you get big.

 

And if I started The Raven Boys nudged gently along by tumblr aesthetics and vaguely written blank verse poetry, I moved on to The Dream Thieves, because I genuinely wanted to see what happens with Gansey and Blue. TDT was a beautiful follow up to TRC that lived up to everything the first part promised – magic, and adventure, and danger, but actually, surprisingly little of Blue and Gansey at all. Surprisingly little, really, of anyone except for Ronan Lynch, and oh, how pleased I was about that. At that point, he was my favorite character.

 

I had already been told that there is a Bulgarian character in book two and as a Bulgarian character myself, was beyond excited. Spoiler Alert: Joseph Kavinsky is my favorite character in the whole series. I finished The Dream Thieves in the middle of one of my last civics classes ever (sorry, Mr. Clapp!). There was some type of discussion going on. I was taking notes with one hand, and holding my phone in the other, hiding it behind a pile of books, and flipping the pages on the PDF. When I reached the ending, I made a noise and dropped my phone, and I distinctly recall it gathering some attention, and I also cried, quite literally, with tears awkwardly gathering at the corners of my eyes, and sliding down my cheeks. Where TRC had been something almost gentle, calm in the way it treated the reader, TDT was violent. Dangerous. Pointless and sad. Now when I reread it, I only enter Kavinsky’s name in the file, and read only the parts that mention him. I can’t bear to read anything other than those parts, and even so, I am left aching and longing. I actually don’t want to talk much about TDT here, because I can’t properly articulate the extent to which I love it, and how painful the ending was. It will always be my favorite book in the whole series (and perhaps one of my favorite books, period), and it will always have a special place in my heart. Let us not forget it also contains the most iconic line in the whole series:

 

hey Lynch I didn’t leave that car for it to sit while you just blow III

 

If you want context for it, read the books.

 

Oddly enough, I don’t remember much of the third book. Blue Lily, Lily Blue was by no means a bad book, definitely not worse than the first two, but compared to them it seemed almost dull, with very little actual adventure happening. Aside from the ridiculous redemption arc given to the middle-aged serial killer/assassin who also Ronan’s father (giving him a pretty bad case of PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation and overall permanently fucking him up for life), but was given the green light on dating Blue’s mother like that is completely normal, and couldn’t at all possibly trigger Ronan, there was very little in it that inspired any particular feelings in me. Generally it was following in the tone of the series, with the same powerful lyrical writing, but I felt like it was lacking something to make it as special as the first two (Kavinsky). It did, however, do one thing properly:

Setting up the final book in the series, The Raven King.

This portion of the review will contain spoilers.

In many ways, we already knew what TRK would contain, as Stiefvater had cleverly set it up throughout the series:

  1. Ronan and Adam will kiss. Check. They did.
  2. Noah will die, this time for good. Check. He di(e)d.
  3. Blue and Gansey will kiss. Check. They did.
  4. Gansey will die. Check. He di(e)d.
  5. In a plot twist that surprises absolutely no one, because we’ve seen it done before in book series about a chosen one who is supposed to die, Gansey will come back to life.

 

All these things happened. No fan expectation was left unfulfilled. Perhaps, even, in a nod to fans, Kavinsky’s death was finally addressed (poorly, hastily, a post-copy-edits add-in). The book was a beautiful, overwhelming finale to her series, matching TDT in its brilliance.

 

TRK combined everything that I at first loved about the series: a writing style that takes your breath away, characters that you fall in love with, page in and page out (except for The Gray Man, a literal actual mass murderer, and Piper Greenmantle for much the same reason, though she is written to be hateful, like a sexier version of Professor Umbridge), a sense of youthful adventure, and – a sense of friendship, and wide-eyed, innocent in its naivete, youthful immortality.

And combining all of that, TRK brings forward one very important thing. The end of an era. Closure. It’s okay for things to finish sometimes. It’s okay to be dissatisfied. It’s okay when things don’t happen how you want them to.

I could talk about this at length. Perhaps I will in a later post. But there is one scene, out of these entire book about magic and lost kings and immortality, and demons that stuck with me.

Adam Parrish going home. In book one we see Adam as a furtive fearful victim, cowering from his father’s fists. In book two we see Adam as the victim – still struggling, running away, hiding. In book three we see Adam still full of anger and fear and self-loathing but also more. In book four, Adam kisses Ronan Lynch. And then drives his car to the home where his father beat him, punching him so hard he lost hearing in one ear. And there, Adam Parrish stands in the kitchen where he once cowered, and confronts his father in a quiet polite voice, and tells him he wants them to heal. Nowhere in the book does it say that Adam has forgiven his father. But what it does say is this: “he forgave the past Adam”.

How utterly simple it seems, written like this. Closure. The finale. Everything is okay now. TRC deals with the storylines of many characters, treats every single one of them as ultimately important. And each storyline receives a resolution. But none so clear, elegant, beautiful and poignant as Adam Parish’s.

 

The final verdict on TRC will always be a definite 5/5. I will always sing its praises. I can say with absolute conviction that TRC is one of the best young adult series out there, with its tentative exploration of what it feels like to be young, and then to have to transition from the wide-eyed youth of a school child, to the responsibility laden minefield of young-adulthood. I wholeheartedly recommend it. As a side note, I would recommend, while reading, that you listen to Halsey’s album Badlands (available on iTunes).

Bookshelf Tour | First Post

 

I spent quite a while wondering what my first post on this blog should be, and after putting it to a twitter poll which reached unanimous results, I figured, why not make a bookshelf tour? I mean, what better way to start a book blog, right?

 

Currently I’m in university in the UK, so this is actually my student accommodation bookshelves, and these are only the books that I managed to ship with me from home- my nearest and dearest, and when I’m back home, I’ll do a much bigger tour of all my book-storage (not just shelves).

 

So the one on the right has the most stuff on it, because I just think that particular corner is neater to put stuff in, and we’re starting there. Shall we?

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First is A Chill Time, which I got from a secondhand book sale, and it’s just an illustrated collection of poetry about the thirties, it’s kind of cute.Behind it is my Broadway Anthology of Victorian poetry and Poetic Theory, which I don’t technically need for school, and a tome of the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I got as a gift from one of my best friends. Next to it is a charity shop copy of Sweeny Todd (in really good condition, and hardcover), and my two most prized possessions on this planet Earth: Dead Ice by Laurell K Hamilton, first edition, hardcover and Prince Lestat by Anne Rice, hardcover, specifically with the UK cover. I will leave my love for these two for a later post (posts? they each deserve their own), but I will say this: I straight up cried actual literal tears out of my eyes when I first got to hold these books. Next to them is a book on religion I got handed to me at Manchester Christmas Market 2015, it’s still in its wrapping and I haven’t looked at it, but it’s a solid hardcover. Then I have The Little Friend by Donna Tartt in Bulgarian, which I got for Christmas and haven’t read yet, and next to it, The Secret History, which fundamentally changed me as a person when I read it the year before last. After the Donna Tartt corner is the memoir section with Diva Rules by Michelle Visage (you can find my review of it on Goodreads) and Boy Erased, by my fantastic friend and English teacher Garrard Conley (you can find my review of it in the Find Me Elsewhere page). Then it’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, The Miniaturist and The Cuckoo’s Calling, which I got together in Blackwells, and which I look forward to reading after exams.

After that it’s just assorted favorites: The Force Awakens Star Wars novelization in Bulgarian, the first two volumes of Captive Prince (keep your eyes peeled for a review), the book that made me cry tears of joy when I first read it, again by the wonderful Laurell K Hamilton, Jason, a Bulgarian hardcover tome of Oscar Wilde’s fairytales from 1953, which I got at a secondhand bookshop in Burgas in 2015, when I was in the city receiving a poetry award, and then a 1938 copy of Anna Karenina (from the secondhand book sale that gave me A Chill Time), which I intend on gifting to my mom for her birthday, and then, possibly the one book that has singularly had the most influence on my growth as a human, Narcissus in Chains by Laurell K Hamilton (I hope you’ve gathered at this point that she will be heavily featured on this blog. We’ve all got our niche interests.)

Next to Laurell is my beautiful edition of Pride and Prejudice, and my illustrated copy of selected poetry by Wordsworth, featuring diary entries from his wife corresponding to each poem, which I got when I visited the Wordsworth museum in Grasmere (also where the beautiful daffodil bookmark and real pheasant quill come from. At least they told me it’s pheasant.)

Also on this shelf: my dioptric sunglasses, my spare glasses, my Darth Vader and Poe Dameron FunkoPops, my wallet (as seen on my header) and my Kylo Ren pencil case, where I have Kylo Ren pencils, Kylo Ren ruler, Star Wars eraser and pencil sharpener, and a Star Wars pen. You will be seeing a lot of Star Wars on this blog as well.

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On the other side, I have a lot less stuff, because initially it was going to be my coursework shelf; ergo, the huge binder. But I also have a third hand 2010 annual Star Wars hardback… thing? I’m not entirely sure what it is, only that the nine year old boy who owned it before me was very certain in his allegiance to the Sith and wanted to kill all Jedi. I almost feel like a proud mom. That’s next to my copy of Dazed magazine featuring the drag queen Pearl Liaison on the cover, with her editorial inside. She is a gorgeous drag queen, and an EDM ?? DJ?? music maker?? person? Yes. One of those. I also have a cardboard box full of change, before that it was the protective wrapping of my House Lannister mug. Next to it – my pile of journals and notebooks, which I use for things. And stuff. I might make a post on journal organization later, if anyone wants to see that.

Then, guarded by two nutcrackers from Manchester Christmas Market are some actual books! Dracula Returns, Dracula’s Guest and Vlad Dracul the Impaler, which I got from that one secondhand book sale (it happened over the course of about 3 weeks on my university campus, and every day I would go by and ask the person if he has anything with vampires, and he never did, and then on the last day he saw me passing and yelled out “Hey, vampire girl!” and he gave me these for about five pounds. What a legend!). Then, from the same book sale, The Romantic Poets and their Circle, Collected Works by Keats, and Men on Men (a collection of gay short stories by gay writers! Ah!), and … the purchase I most regret in my life…

The first three volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire in English, brand new and wonderful. Make no mistake, the only reason I regret it is because I already own the books, in Bulgarian, twice. I also have three more Star Wars Funkos (Han, Luke and Leia), which are getting shipped to my brother as a birthday gift… maybe together with the GOT book… is that an appropriate read for a freshly minted thirteen year old?

I also have a porcelain doll that I got from Keswick, but she’s standing right next to a shameful amount of mugs, so she isn’t featured here. She’s creepy though.

You can also see some of my corkboard with my posters and calendars pinned to it. And print cut outs of my published articles, because I am that kind of person, yes.

I hope that you enjoyed that insight into my bookshelf, and got some kind of idea what books you’ll be seeing more of on this blog.