Read, If You Like: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Is it hugely shameful to have completely missed this children’s classic when I was an actual child? I don’t know how it passed me by, especially as there’s been a copy on my shelf for ages. I’d have loved this story 15 years ago… to be honest I quite loved it now. So let’s not beat about the bush:

Read Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery, 1908), if you like:

  • Chatterboxes
  • Nature
  • Really wonderful descriptions of nature, honestly, A***
  • Gently irritating characters who are well written enough that you they grow on you after a while
  • A look at early 20th century Canadian life
  • A warm feeling of cosiness
  • Slow living, which I suppose was just called ‘living’ a century ago
  • Honestly it is so cosy, it was a perfect January read.
photograph of 'Anne of Green Gables' by LM Montgomery, 1980s TV tie in Penguin Edition
I wanted to add some leaves or suchlike to the photo, but the background – a footstall my grandfather made that I use for propping up my laptop – seemed suitably rustic. Also I KNOW it’s a bit wonky ugh what are you, Instagram.

I’m probably going to give my copy of Anne away for bookshelf space reasons, but I very much hope to return to the world in future. I knew there was a series of Anne books and my instincts with series is to wonder if the author’s stretched things out for money or reputation, but I could live in Avonlea quite happily for years, and I got the impression LM Montgomery felt the same way. Maybe I’ll keep my copy after all…

The only thing part of me wanted more of is general background about Canada. We learn a lot about the world of the Avonlea and its inhabitants, but aside from Murdoch Mysteries (okay, including Murdoch Mysteries) I know almost nothing about Canadian history. The Home Children are mentioned in passing, as well as some political events, but I’m always after more. To be honest I think I’d prefer a list of good history books over a novel with more background: this really was one of those perfectly formed little gems (and it wouldn’t have made sense for Montgomery to spend paragraphs spelling out context, as her audience would have already known it). I also think it’s asking too much to expect a children’s book published in the 1900s to cover the intricacies of the Home Children, too, so I’ll shut my gob and look forward to reading the next instalment.

Other books I’ve devoured lately: Natalie Haynes’ Pandora’s Jar, The Scorpio Races, Brian Jacques’ The Taggerung (another children’s book that was on my shelf for so long that I’d stopped being a child when I read it AND NOW I learn Netflix is turning the whole series into a show. How did the entire universe of Redwall pass me by until the age of 25?). I’m partway through Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen and I think that might be my next Read, If You Like because it’s a really meaty story so far, with absolutely nothing in common with Anne of Green Gables except maybe the book name/character name element. Would you like to see any of the above as a Read, If You Like? I’m thinking of doing two or three books per post, if those books have similar themes. There are so many books to talk about and so few weeks in the year.

Did you read Anne of Green Gables as a child? Did you get the same ~ feelings ~ that I did as an adult?

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


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Read, If You Like: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Welcome back to my occasional book recommendation series! I don’t like to overtly review books, because what I disliked about a novel might be what someone else liked about it, so it feels unfair to the author to write a post moaning about a novel I didn’t like. I also personally try to avoid reading too many reviews before reading a book, in case it doesn’t live up to the hype or I feel obliged to agree with reviewers when I actually don’t. Let me make up my own mind, I guess is what I’m saying. That said, I enjoy doing Read, If You Like because some of the best recommendations I’ve had have been where people have said ‘oh, you like X and Y book or film? Then you’ll probably enjoy this one!’ They are usually right.

So without further ado, the first Read, If You Like for 2021!

Read The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath, 1963), if you like:

  • Candid, realistic depictions of mental illness (note that if you are currently in the depths of depression, you might find that The Bell Jar either speaks to you and gives you hope or just pushes you a further into the depths, so please consume responsibly and also seek out some professional help)
  • Protagonists, like our lady Esther Greenwood, who are simultaneously very annoying and very real. I have met various Esther Greenwoods. I have been a bit of a Esther Greenwood. I think a lot of teenage girls and young women stray into Esther territory at some point, not necessarily in terms of her mental illness but in terms of being frustrating, frustrated and hugely overwhelmed by life’s opportunities
  • A snapshot of 1950s Americaaaa
  • With all of its lovely bigotry, I should add, just as a heads up if you’re not in the mood for casual racism
  • So much has changed
  • Deliberate, easily readable prose (Sylvia Plath was a complicated human being but this book felt accessible. I was expecting to find this A Very Tough Read, given its main topic is mental health, and although I didn’t skip through it, the prose is concise and draws you in. It’s not one of those books where every sentence feels laboured)
  • Irritating secondary characters
  • Some of them are so, so irritating
  • Reading around the subject, to an extent. Adding this in because on the back of my copy, the blurb proclaims that The Bell Jar was published a month before Plath’s suicide. I assume this nugget is on most blurbs. It was impossible, therefore, to read it without drawing parallels between Plath’s life and Esther’s. I studied Plath for a while at A Level so I remembered a bit about her experiences of depression and her death, and I kept thinking, ‘this feels autobiographical.’ To write about depression that well, you really have to have experienced it, which is probably why the book feels authentic. It is authentic. It’s also just a bit sad, you know? It’s hard not to wonder what sort of person Plath would have become had she lived past 30. So if you don’t know much about Sylvia Plath before reading The Bell Jar, except for what’s on the burb/author page of your copy, you might feel compelled to Google her afterwards. And if you did know about her, then that knowledge will colour your experience of The Bell Jar, and then your reading of The Bell Jar will influence how you feel about Plath. They’re always going to be linked in the reader’s mind.
Spine of 'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath, plus a pen and pencil, on lined paper and envelopes.
I tried to do a proper photo of the cover, but it’s so grey and rainy here today that the lighting/shadows made everything very, very ugly. Enjoy this book spine instead!

So, yeah, not the easiest of reads but definitely worth a try if you’re interested in any of the above. I am cleansing my palette, I should add, both with Pandora’s Jar and with The Scorpio Races, which I actually tried to borrow from the library in November but lockdown got in the way. It is a very November book, The Scorpio Races. Pandora’s Jar is about women of Greek myths and how history’s done them dirty, ie by calling Pandora’s jar a box and conflating Pandora with Eve. The Bible’s Eve, not, like, Killing Eve’s Eve. You probably got that. Um. Follow me on Goodreads if you want to keep up with what I’m reading. I think I’m following myself on Goodreads. How is that possible when I only have one account?!

I will see you soon-ish for another one of these, maybe for Pandora’s Jar? With the country in lockdown there’s not much to do except my college work, writing and reading, and you guys don’t need to see my notes for the Effective Business Processes assignment. I drew a diagram the other day that looks like a blueprint for a bathroom’s plumbing. It actually has something to do with ‘critical path analyses’.

Told you you wouldn’t want to know. Leave a comment if you’ve read The Bell Jar, or Plath’s poetry – what did you think of it?

Look after yourselves!


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Read, If You Like: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Steifvater

I wrote a review for The Raven Boys about three millennia ago, so as Call Down the Hawk has been something I’ve looked forward to since Maggie mentioned it on Twitter in 2016, it felt fitting to do my current version of a review, which is Read, If You Like. As with all of the reviews-slash-vague-recommendations I do, there are no spoilers!

Read Call Down the Hawk (Maggie Stiefvater, 2019), if you like:

  • Excellent dress sense
  • Questionable dress sense
  • Art. Traditional, historical art,  I mean. Museum art. The sort that talking about gets you quiet respect at dinner parties or makes you sound like a dick depending on how you talk about it
  • Weird shit magic. Properly odd ‘what the fuck is going on do I understand what I am reading wait yes I do this is fabulously mind-bending’ magic
  • Women with beautiful hair. I can think of at least three and probably six women in this novel whose hair is stunning
  • The Raven Cycle. Call Down the Hawk starts after the end of The Raven Cycle, and you definitely don’t have to have read it to understand or enjoy it. IT STANDS ON ITS OWN MAGICAL MERIT. Certain scenes will be more delicious and/or devastating if you have, though, and you should read The Raven Cycle anyway, for health reasons
  • The sort of anxiety that rips a literal hole in your stomach. I meant this in relation to a character, but to be honest I am now thinking a lot about the sequel BE STILL MY INSIDES
  • Over thinking about how you’re living your early-mid twenties. I am now in my mid (!) twenties and whoever said it’s easier once you’re out of your teens was a damn liar. I mean, 24 is better than 17 was, but does it look like what I thought it might look like? Nah. Call Down the Hawk gets it.

Writing this has reminded me that I almost impulse bought a BMW over the weekend. It was red and convertible. I would love to blame the fact there’s a BMW in Call Down the Hawk, but mostly it’s the car’s fault for being the only vehicle on the entire internet that wasn’t absolutely hideous. Why is buying a car so difficult? All I want is something with medium boot space and an automatic gear shift that doesn’t look as though it was designed for a semi-retired boules enthusiast (it’s time to admit that the Mini is giving me taxi driver’s hip and that my complete lack of ease behind the wheel is mostly caused by the fact I can’t reach the pedals). GIVE ME A CAR I AM COMFORTABLE TAKING ON A ROADS, PLEASE, UNIVERSE. One that doesn’t make me feel like I’m about to start a conversation about annuities and The Archers, please, universe.

What a detour from the original topic. Here is my copy of Call Down the Hawk. There is a bit of gin on it already, and some bathwater. Also butter. Those were mostly unrelated readings. I pulled a couple of tarot cards for the picture, since I don’t have any scented candles or bookstagram accessories. By pulled I mean chose the ones that felt apt, which I guess is spoilery if you know your tarot but haven’t read the book yet? FAIR WARNING LOOK AWAY NOW.

paperback of 'Call Down the Hawk' by Maggie Steifvater next to The Tower and Eight of Swords from Raven's Prophecy Tarot

I’m off to look for a car that looks like that BMW but smaller-ish and with less of a rep. Ish.


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Read, If You Like: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

Full disclosure: I was sent this book by the lovely Nina Douglas, a PR aficionado  I met at YALC a couple of years ago. I used to be a bit uppity about accepting books and things for reviews, but then I decided that a) this blog is a hobby, b) reading is a hobby so, c) LET’S READ EVERYTHING. Also, I’m not exactly the sort of blogger to shy away from blatant honesty just because I got a product for free.

Second full disclosure: I first started reading this book in January. If I had realised that writing a book was going to make it much harder to sit down and read books, I may have started dragonnovel. I suppose I have a reason to hurry up and finish it, ha. Anyway, I really struggled to get into A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars. I could blame the first person narrative, which is not my favourite narrative, or the general writing style which I found hard to follow on occasion, but to be honest I think if I had taken book to a beach holiday and read it in a day, I would have enjoyed it much more. My bad. I need to finish dragonnovel and go on holiday immediately. Right, the review:

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe (2017)

Read, if you like…

  • Circuses
  • First person narrative
  • Ghosts
  • Ghanaian folklore
  • Beautiful book covers. I mean, look at that embossed gold type. I want to frame it
  • Spain
  • Books that aren’t all about white people doing the same white people things you’ve read about in 80 other books
  • Stories about people trafficking, but not like on the news
  • So, humanised stories about people trafficking. Stories where people have names and ambitions and family members and that sort of thing
  • Magic
  • Really shady adults
  • The sort of family you choose for yourself
  • Birds
  • Precocious teenagers
  • POC and LGBT rep, but not in a way that swallows up the whole book. This is a book with people of colour and LGBT people, in the same way as it’s a book with magic and ghosts and circuses. It’s there, but it isn’t preachy and it isn’t tokenism. WE NEED MORE OF THESE BOOKS PLEASE AUTHORS. AGENTS, PLEASE SIGN MORE AUTHORS WHO ARE WRITING THESE BOOKS. THANKS.

No seriously I wasn’t kidding about the cover. I would usually go for some sort of background for #bookstagram goals but no adornment is necessary:

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe cover on white background

I saw online that the novel isn’t available on the US, but I’m not sure if that’s still true (or if it ever was true) so if you want to read it, I reckon you should either hit up Google or ask Ms Badoe about stockists on Twitter.

Read, If You Like: They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera

Read, If You Like: They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera

Sometimes you read a book you weren’t expecting to be anything other than a book, and then it turns into a small piece of your rib cage. I am very pleased for this to have happened with an author I had only vaguely heard of, because now I can devour the rest of his books at breakneck speed and if they are as good as this one, I may need to add a rib or two.

They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera (2017)

Read, if you like…

  • Death (the title is not a metaphor, and that is not a spoiler; I’m mentioning this first because I am aware not everyone has come to terms with their own mortality and if you haven’t you should this book is possibly not the one for you, although you will probably get the most out of it)
  • New York, but not the touristy bits
  • Diverse novels in less of a stock character way and more of a ‘oh, I guess this ticks several diversity boxes but I didn’t notice because the characters were too busy being REAL LIFE PEOPLE THAT I COULD PRACTICALLY SMELL’ way
  • Fiction that is futuristic insofar as it is more like a story about facts we haven’t invented yet
  • Pushbikes
  • Being arty on Instagram
  • That feeling you get when you finish a novel that’s a bit like missing a step
  • That feeling you get when you’re in a crowd at a concert singing along with several hundred other people you’ll never see again
  • Waterfalls

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera UK edition on a map background
The map background is indicative of themes within the narrative etc etc and coincidentally the only thing I could find that halfway complemented the orange-yellow-iridescent blue look

You can get They Both Die at the End from all good libraries and bookshops.

Read, If You Like… Ostrich Boys, by Keith Gray

I could have sworn that I reviewed this way back in the day before I called it Read, If You Like, but I can’t find it so clearly it didn’t get past the idea stage. I’ve had this book lying around for ages, and although it took me a while to get to it, it was one of those that surprised me in the best way. It’s either on the children’s end of YA or on the young adult end of children’s (do we let children read the word ‘tits’? I just saw it when I was flicking through) but I think it’s one of those that, should you be emotionally mature enough for tits, you’ll enjoy it.  Anyway. I meant to blog on Saturday, but I looked up the publication date for Ostrich Boys just now and it was actually published on this exact day nine years ago. So that’s a point for my lack of organisation…

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (2008)

Read, if you like…

  • Groups of kids
  • Grieving kids
  • Kids who kidnap
  • Okay, one of the kids is a dead kid. Not in a ghost way, in a ‘present in our thoughts’ way
  • Day trips (as in one trip over multiple days not multiple trips)
  • Ostrich metaphors
  • The hamlet of Ross in Scotland
  • Honestly, the best thing is the kids read it for them

Ostrich Boys Keith Gray

I was going to give this away but now I think about it, I might keep it on and read it again. I think it’s one of those that you can take something from each time you pick it up. Also, it involves teenagers kidnapping an urn of human ash, so it’s worth reading just for the escapism (if you’ve ever actually kidnapped an urn of human ash, hit me up. How’d it go?). I’m rereading The Raven Cycle at the moment but I think I’ll make it on to something new next week. I’m a bit harassed with Village Green until Saturday – I have an internship to attend, hair to dye and several paper bags to stamp before then – so comfort reading is paramount. A stiff drink may be in order on Saturday night. I should probably go and stamp some paper bags. Any ideas for my to-read list?

Read, If You Like… #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

If any of you are familiar with Sophia Amoruso, the ‘#Girlboss’ movement/Insta hashtag and/or Nasty Gal, you are probably aware that Nasty Gal is a clothing brand, originally on eBay, that enjoyed one of those meteoric rises to fame that puts its founder on the Forbes front cover and wields legions of loyal fans. Said founder, Sophia Amoruso, amid the meteorism, wrote #GIRLBOSS as a part memoir and part ‘this is how a young woman can become a financial success’ guide book. Last year Nasty Gal went bankrupt, and has since been sold to BooHoo. If I hadn’t read #GIRLBOSS before the bankruptcy, I would look at it and think ‘clearly this woman has no idea what she’s doing, why would I read that?’ But I had – it was recommended to me last year – and when I gave it another whirl a few weeks ago, I found it as inspiring and helpful as I had the first time round. Most businesses fail and most within the first five years; Sophia was at the helm of Nasty Gal for the best part of a decade, and the company is actually still going. So with all that in mind…

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso (2014)

Read, if you like…

  • Self help books that don’t require a PhD in Translating Corporate and/or Hippie Bullshit
  • Cute illustrations
  • No-nonsense advice. Sophia does not mince her words and the book’s underlying massage is ‘get off your bum and get to work’
  • Words of financial wisdom that don’t sound like your Careers teacher went off on a rant about Millennials buying avocados
  • A really Instagramable cover and hashtag
  • The occasional slightly annoying almost-cliche. I nearly didn’t include this as a point because I’m aware people have difference levels of tolerance for sage advice wrapped up in snappy, alliterative sentences. My tolerance is very, very low so maybe I picked up on the odd sentence here and there, but the advice itself is solid gold so who cares
  • An entrepreneur who doesn’t tear down the competition or pretend they were born with a company that had already succeeded. Other ‘girlbosses’ have passages in the book, and Sophia is very open about her past lives as a freegan and a petty thief. She started her eBay store as a way to avoid getting a proper job, so she kind of had me at hello

Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso review
That stain? I dropped the book in the sink.

Maybe this is a book too close to home for me not to recommend it. I also run an online shop, swear frequently and dislike being told what to do; I think what I like most about #GIRLBOSS is that Sophia is all of those things and she’s successful. Bankruptcy or no, she’s one of America’s richest self-made women. This isn’t a book about somebody I could never recognise in myself – it’s about somebody I recognise in a tonne of people I know, most of them young women who are usually patronised by people with Sophia’s level of money and influence. So if you’re in the market for something that might improve your bank balance, get this. From the library, obviously.

Read, If You Like… The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars

As you read this I’m probably staring at my newly-carpeted bedroom, sighing in happiness and planning the perfect way to display my MCR CDs. Operation Instagramable Bedroom will be in full swing, ladies and gents, and there will be fairy lights. Anyway, this week’s Read, If you Like… is something I’ve had on my shelf for a good decade. The cover wasn’t interesting enough to pull me in, but it’s a Puffin Modern Classic so I thought it was one I should probably read at some point to score literary brownie points. I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would, so well done Puffin.

The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars (1968)

Read, If You Like…

  • Children’s books
  • Something you can finish in an evening
  • Animal stories
  • Snapshots of Deep Southern ’60s life
  • An author who doesn’t patronise the children she writes for either linguistically or socially
  • Retrospective storytelling (there might be another term for this? The main character is looking back, like To Kill a Mockingbird which I am assuming you have read)
  • Stories about families

The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars, 1968, Puffin Modern Classics
That white smudge is a price sticker, not a special piece of 3D illustration. The fox looks like she’s gazing at it though haha

The afterword in my edition points out that Betsy Byars has written a male main character whom small boys will ‘tolerate’ because the plot isn’t particularly packed with action; I have a good gut feeling that boys, when left to their own devices, do not give a shit, but I like the notion that Byars decided to write a male hero who doesn’t fit Ye Olde Gender Sterotypes. That could explain why the novel is a Puffin Modern Classic with its own afterword.

I’m not sure what I’ll review next week because I’ve not read anything new lately – my books have been in cupboards behind clothes and handbags and other books, and a bed covered in boxes has been in front of the cupboards, so I’ve been reading an old edition of The Economist… as fascinating as the rise of Bitcoin is, I might have to review something I’ve read loads of times, or pop down the library. Any suggestions?