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  • Anouchka Harris

A Year of Books: February

I've read a lot of great stuff this month and would honestly recommend all of it. 100%.

Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Things No-One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker

Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey

Carey is one of the few male authors that I feel writes truly convincing female characters. They’re never fantasies, or cardboard cutouts of what he thinks women should be. His characters are fully formed, three dimensional and as layered and complex as anyone else. It’s a shame that I still find this noteworthy, but there we are. I really loved The Girl with All the Gifts and this new novel really caught my attention. It’s a genre-bending supernatural thriller with heavy elements drawn from mental illness and PTSD. In a similar vein to Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, I’d primarily describe this as a psychic thriller. In the first chapter, we get a snapshot from the life of one of the protagonists, Liz, on the night her abusive ex-husband tries to kill her. Liz defends herself without knowing how she even did it. In the second chapter, we meet Fran, a traumatised teenager, still recovering from her abduction at the age of six by a man who intended to kill her. We also meet her imaginary friend, a fox called Jinx, who protects her.

Firstly, the two protagonists are brilliantly conceived. They’re both engaging and really enjoyable to read. Through Liz, we get a loving mother trying to stay on top of her life as it crumbles from under her. And in Fran, we get a disturbed and isolated teenage girl trying to finally keep hold of some semblance of a normal life. Then enters Liz’s alter-ego. Beth. Another version of Liz from another existence, only harder, more bitter, more ruthless and with nowhere else to go but Liz’s semi-happy life.

Carey keeps the plot tight and maintains its momentum, without compromising character development. He’s able to keep a steady stream of little revelations, realisations and confirmations, finally building to the origin of the main mystery. He handles the balance of mystery and knowledge very well. I was very worried throughout that somehow the payoff at the end wouldn’t quite live up to the high standard set by the rest of the novel. Turns out, I was worrying for nothing. It starts great, it stays great, it ends great.

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

This is the novelisation of a webcomic and part of my husband’s Valentine’s gift to me. It’s an adorable story about Eric Bittle, an accomplished ice-skater (particularly figure-skating) who starts college and begins playing in the hockey team. Oh, he also loves to bake.

This is such a wholesome comic and is kind of perfect for less-than-ideal days. The comic follows his friendship with his teammates, his improving hockey skills, building his confidence, and coming out at college in entirely sweet way. Not only is a really funny comic (I read a fair few bits aloud), it’s another of those comics that never feels like anything could really go too wrong. And that is just part of its charm. That isn’t to say thought that it’s lacking in drama or conflict, they just appear in a way that feels destined to resolve happily.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

This is a very fun, but very strange book. And I mean that in the best possible way. The style is Douglas Adams, the spirit is Ziggy Stardust and it’s pretty obvious from the very first page. The premise is that aliens land on earth in search of a musical representative for the human race to participate in the Metagalactic Grand Prix. Participation is mandatory and the representative must place in anything but last place, or else the entire human race will be deemed non-sentient and politely exterminated from orbit. Just the premise itself made me want to read it straight away.

Valente’s style is quick-witted, funny, but can also be a little dense. There’s so much humorous detail built into every sentence that I found it a little difficult to read very much at a time. I particularly enjoyed Valente’s deviations from the plot in which she simply gives a few pages of historical background about the universe and the number of species which inhabit it. I actually found some of these more enjoyable to read than the main plot, which is can actually feel a bit sparse.

One of the great strengths of this novel is that it’s so strange and funny that it can pull off basically any plot twist. The internal logic of the universe is so peculiar that it actually grants a fair bit of leeway. This said, Valente ensures that she builds on her absurdity rather than introducing it all at once, keeping the reader on their toes and sustaining the level of bizarre humour. It’s another one of those books that when reading I often wanted to stop and read out sections to whoever I was with.

Space Opera is a lot of fun to read, although slow-paced, as long as you get on with the style and are happy to simply accept the strange details.

Thinsg No-One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker

This is first book written by Baker and I’ve already ordered her second, Landwhale. She has been running her blog The Militant Baker since 2012, writing about body image, plus-size fashion or fatshion, and mental health. Her book deals with all the same issues, including a number of a guest essays from other bloggers and body positive activists.

The part of her book that really hit me hard was the section that dealt with the history of misogyny and fat-phobia. She writes about the establishing of farming and how this lead to the commodification of women. She goes on to explain about class dynamics and fashion and how these lead to the fetishization of thinness and dieting in the mid to late 1800s, in direct opposition to expert opinions of the time. Baker also writes about the classism of ‘wellness culture’, which gave me a whole new perspective on the lifestyle trend.

While I really enjoyed reading this, it was also difficult to read large portions of it at a time. This book is so full of information and ideas and new perspectives that there’s actually a lot to absorb in quite a small space. That said, I kept wanting to come back to this book and I kept talking about everything I read in it to anybody who would listen. Highly recommended.

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