Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3) – Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third book in the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. This instalment follows a new set of characters in a different place in the universe. I loved the first two books in this series (although I did find A Closed and Common Orbit to be a little heavy-handed at times) and plan to keep reading them. Chambers’ art of focusing on the universal themes of friendship, loyalty and compassion in a futuristic, sci-fi world is heart-warming to read.

A photo of the paperback version of "Record of a Spaceborn Few" on a beige carpet.

The first two Wayfarers books had little plot and focused more on the characters. Record of a Spaceborn Few followed in these footsteps and then some. What is this book about then? It is about people growing and learning and trying to find their place in the universe. We follow several characters who are all linked to each other in some way, although they do not all meet each other. Each character is struggling with the concept of who they are and what they want out of life. We grow with them as they make mistakes, try new things, meet new people, and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to belong.

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The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

I adore The Iliad. It is one of my favourite pieces of literature and holds a truly special place in my heart. In The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker re-tells this myth from the female perspective of Briseis, instead of focusing on the male characters’ stories. The character of Briseis has interested me for a long time, so I knew I wanted to read it at some point. Listening to Jean Menzies’ podcast episode with Pat Barker where they discussed the book (listen here: https://soundcloud.com/user-591915376/women-in-wartime) was the final convincing factor, so I was delighted to receive it as a Christmas gift from my parents.

A photo of Thee Silence of the Girls hardback book on a wooden surface.

Re-telling classical myths with a focus on female stories is a trend that I am all too pleased to see taking place. I hope that it continues. In The Silence of the Girls, Briseis is married to King Mynes of Lyrnessus. When their city is sacked by Achilles’ during the war, she is captured and becomes enslaved to Achilles. His war prize. Having lost everything, we follow Briseis as she learns to live in her new reality. We see her grief and her strength and are reminded that the stories of women are just as important as the stories of men.

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Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Coraline is a delightfully creepy children’s book and I am glad to have finally read it. I’ve not read much of Neil Gaiman’s work, but I’ve been intrigued by Coraline since the film adaptation came out in 2009. I still haven’t watched the film, but at least I’ve read the book now. Perhaps in another ten years’ time, I’ll get around to watching the film.

Coraline and her parents have recently moved into a flat that is part of a large, old building. Coraline discovers that the fourteenth door in their flat is usually locked and only opens up to a brick wall, which separates their flat from the unoccupied one next door. One night, Coraline finds that the door has been left open. She walks through and finds herself in a world that is similar, but also very different, to her own. Here she meets her Other Mother and it initially seems a much more exciting place to live. The food is better, there is more to do, the animals talk, and her Other Parents have more time to talk to her. All is not as it seems though and Coraline learns that she needs to act quickly and cleverly to save herself, her real parents, and the old souls of some lost children.

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The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

When Netflix released its adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House in 2018, I followed the crowd and got hooked. Who can resist a good horror story? I adored this series and it made me think that I should read the book. A colleague at work told me that the book and the show are in no way similar, but that the book is wonderful and I should read it. I can now confirm that both of those things are true.

Hill House

The stage for Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is set at the remote mansion of Hill House, where Dr John Montague has invited some people to spend the summer with him. He believes the house to be haunted and plans to investigate this theory during their stay. Eleanor and Theo are the only two guests to accept the invitation and the character of Luke also joins them, as he is in line to inherit Hill House. At the beginning of the book, you think you’re going to get a simple story about ghosts. As the tale progresses, it twists into a much darker and much more intriguing story. Continue reading

Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Everything Under is Daisy Johnson’s debut novel and was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Johnson is the youngest person to have been shortlisted for the Booker and the book created a lot of buzz online, so whilst browsing my library’s ebook catalogue, I was enticed to give it a go. Everything Under delves into the world of fairy tales and classical mythology to explore concepts of motherhood, loss, memory, nature vs nurture, gender, and the power of language. Set against a backdrop of modern rural England and jumping between various plotlines, it weaves a tapestry that is dark and enticing.

Everything Under

What comes back to us from that long-lost trailing river – a spine against the backbone of the country? What did we summon up there? A wildish girl and her wilder mother, living like demons or animals out where no one could get to them.

When Gretel was a child, she lived with her mother on a canal boat, separated from the rest of society. They communicated in their own language and lived in fear of something that dwelled in the river: the Bonak. As an adult, Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating word meanings in dictionaries. She has not seen her mother since she was sixteen. After years of trying and failing to find her mother, she is re-united with her at last. This reconciliation confronts Gretel with questions from her past that she thought she had left behind. Memories she thought long-gone resurface and the Bonak seems to lurk in the background of her life once more. Continue reading

The Nature of Things – Lucretius

The Nature of Things (or De Rerum Natura in the original Latin) by Lucretius is a combination of poetry, science and philosophy. The poem explores Lucretius’ belief about the gods, humanity, the senses, the world, and the universe, all through the philosophical framework of Epicurus. It was written in the first-century BC and has been lovingly translated by A. E. Stallings into rhyming fourteeners in this Penguin Classics edition. Stallings’ translation cannot have been an easy task, but it is a thing of beauty that elevated the reading experience into something truly special.

The Nature of Things

The Nature of Things is a didactic poem split into six books, which aims to explain the philosophy of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher from the fourth-century. Each book focuses on a different theme and we learn about the concept of atomism (how everything is formed of matter and void), the movement of atoms and how they connect, mortality and the soul, human senses, the beginnings of civilisation and reproduction, and weather and disease.  Reading this poem, I could not help but be struck by how far ahead of its time it seems to be. It can be easy to slip into a mindset where we assume that ancient people just used religion and the gods to explain the world around them. Works such as this remind us that humanity is far more complex than that; it is not just the modern world that seeks to understand the workings of our universe. Continue reading

Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone – James Baldwin

James Baldwin has an innate ability to cut to the core of the human experience. It is rare to find an author who is so articulate at describing the fundamentals of human emotion. I have adored his writing since first reading Giovanni’s Room in 2014 and since then he has become one of my most treasured authors. His writing means so much to me that I struggle to put in to words how I feel about his books, but I shall attempt to talk here about Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone.

Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

First published in 1968, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone is a story about Leo Proudhammer, a black bisexual actor who has just had a severe heart-attack.  Whilst he recovers in hospital, he thinks back over the significant moments of his life. It is through these flashbacks and present-day conversations with his friends that we learn about his childhood in Harlem and his journey to becoming a famous actor. Continue reading

Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper

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The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni

I’d had The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni on my wishlist for quite a while and last Christmas I received it as a present from my Mum. I’d almost forgotten that I had it on my wishlist, but I was delighted to receive it. Perhaps it was the cold January weather, but the beautiful cover and promise of a tale set on a desolate island called out to me. It was the perfect time of year to read this book.

The Lightkeepers

The Lightkeepers was published in 2016 and is Abby Geni’s debut novel. It follows Miranda, a nature photographer in her thirties, who has gone to live in the remote Farallon Islands for a year. The only other humans living on this archipelago are six biologists, each of whom have chosen to live in this isolated world for their own unique reasons. A couple of months after her arrival, Miranda is raped. The book explores the consequences of this trauma against a backdrop of the deadly and beautiful nature of the Farallon Islands. Continue reading

The Inconvenient Indian – Thomas King

The first time I heard of this book was when Mercedes reviewed it on YouTube in 2016. It immediately went on my wishlist and waited there patiently until Christmas last year, when my sister gifted it to me. Now that I owned it, I knew that I didn’t want to wait long before I read it. It became the next book on my to-read list and the first book that I started this year. I’d wanted to read it for over two years, I wasn’t about to let another two years pass.

Inconvenient Indian

In The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King writes an account of the history of Native Americans in Canada and the US. He does not refer to this book as a history, because it does not follow a particular chronology, it has personal asides, and it has biases. All these aspects elevate the work. He also discusses his choice to use the word “Indian” when talking about Native American and First Nation people. He ends this discussion with the pertinent point that “there has never been a good collective noun because there never was a collective to begin with. Continue reading