If you like… Star Wars

Star Wars DayLess than two weeks to go until Star Wars Day at Central Library Peterborough and then The Force Awakens hits our screens!

If you’re super excited and want something to stop the gap until showtime, how about picking up one of the many books in the Star Wars franchise? I know culturally we tend to look down on tie-in novels (and to be fair some are less than stellar), but most Star Wars books I’ve read have been well-written and tightly plotted.

As a bonus the Star Wars universe is so large that you can pick up a book on a variety of topics. Want to know how the Millennium Falcon is put together? Try the Owner’s Workshop Manual! Want to read the Star Wars trilogy as Shakespeare plays? Start with Verily, A New Hope! And if you want some thrilling fiction then you’ve got a wealth of reading ahead of you.
So where to begin?

Star Wars fiction

Try one of the prolific Star Wars authors or have a look at my Star Wars reading list:

As well as these tried and true authors there are quite a few new Star Wars fiction titles to tempt you too. If you’re not sure where to start with all these novel options give this post from Tor.com “Where to Begin with Star Wars Books” a read first.

Star Wars non-fiction

If that’s not your cup of tea then try some Star Wars-adjacent books like My Best Friend is a Wookiee or the autobiographies of Carrie Fisher (otherwise known as Princess Leia), or try something different again with:

Books for younglings

What about if you’re too young to remember seeing A New Hope at the cinema? You’re in luck, there’s been an influx of Star Wars books aimed at kids and they’re all available at your local library.

Any favourites I’ve missed?

Bookish Books

Cover of The Truth According to UsI confess I picked The Truth According to Us based solely on the fact that Annie Barrows was involved in the writing of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which has been one of the few book club style books that I’ve really enjoyed — it’s light and funny in tone despite its occasionally grim subject (some World War Two anecdotes), and it includes my favourite trope: characters who love to read. Generally this will catapult it onto my list of comfort reads, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was no exception.

12 year old Willa Romeyn, one of the main characters in The Truth According to Us, is obviously a kindred spirit. Throughout the book she surreptitiously re-reads her aunt’s copy of Gone with the Wind several times, and she has to visit the library every day in order to replenish her reading material. Willa is also unspeakably nosy, a trait I’m afraid I share. Being on the cusp of adolescence she is starting to notice the half-truths and lies adults are telling, and she sets about finding out their secrets for herself. (This always ends well, right?)

In 1938 senator’s daughter Layla Beck arrives in the Romeyn household as a boarder, a new member of the Federal Writers’ Project, having been cut off from her allowance for not marrying her father’s choice of husband. Initially she sees her time in the town of Macedonia as an ordeal to be got through until her father relents and lets her come home; however, she is soon captivated by the town, the Romeyn family, and, to her own surprise, the history she is writing.

While it’s not a slim read and the point of view does jump around a bit, Jottie Romeyn (Willa’s aunt and caregiver) won me over. Witty and clever and betrayed by the past, she tries unsuccessfully to protect her family from the judgement of the town. I wish I could invite her over for a big jug of iced tea.

Cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Cover of The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry Cover of 84 Charing Cross Road Cover of The Uncommon Reader

I’m in the mood for another comfort read, so I’ve compiled a list of Bookish Books. Are there any I’ve missed that I should add? Or, if you’ve read The Truth According to Us, what did you think? It reminded me a lot in tone of Crooked Heart, so if you liked that (or vice versa) perhaps try the other.

NaNoWriMo one week on

NaNoWriMo word countIt’s over a week since I started writing this year’s NaNoWriMo, and it’s been rough going. Since my plot has veered markedly off-plan I’ve been frantically trying to keep one step ahead of my typing, but often my brain is slow in coming up with ideas. And the plot holes! My god, the plot holes are so large I could fly a spaceship through them.

One way I attempt to inspire myself into writing is to read books with the same kind of tone that I’m trying to achieve. Since my initial idea involved gothic adventure this has meant a lot of Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Henry James. I might re-read Northanger Abbey next to add some humour.

If you’re also writing this month, what have you been reading? Or are you all novel all the time?

Cover of Northanger Abbey Cover of Don't Look Now and Other Stories Cover of The Haunting of Hill House Cover of The Turn of the Screw

No plot? No problem!

NaNoWriMO participantNational Novel Writing Month started on Sunday, the 1st of November, or for the super keen, after midnight on October 31st. To the uninitiated, this is the month set aside for those of us crazy enough to attempt to write 50,000 words by the end of November (about 1667 words a day).

This isn’t my first time attempting NaNoWriMo — I first joined (and won) in 2003 — but the past few years have been flops, ill thought out ideas quickly dying on the page. This time I’m slightly better prepared, having characters and plot in mind before starting to write. I was all set to write a gothic science fiction adventure — you know, Jane Eyre in space, that sort of thing — but I’ve only written 2,000 words and already it’s heading off in a totally different direction. Sigh.

Never mind; this year my goal is simply to keep writing, no matter what rubbish comes out. While one of my writing buddies is already on 25,000 words (how?!) my style of writing is more like… staring in desperation at the ceiling after every sentence, kind of thing. Hopefully by the end of the month I’ll be more in the groove, but not the grave. Although, thinking about it, being buried alive is very gothic novel, so you never know.

Is anyone else mad enough to attempt NaNoWriMo this year? What are you writing about?

Cover of Bird by Bird Cover of Writing Down the Bones Cover of On Writing Cover of Everything I Know About Writing

A beautiful place to die

Cover of A Beautiful Place to DieI’ve read a couple of books recently at opposite ends of the reading spectrum – one’s funny and character-driven, and one’s dark and atmospheric. The first you’ve probably heard of already — Jojo Moyes’ The One Plus One (not as sappy as it sounds! If you enjoy Liane Moriarty or Raffaella Barker you’ll love it) — but the second I hadn’t noticed before, although that’s probably due to my reading prejudices. And I wouldn’t have picked it up off the shelf, because look at that cover! What is it with all books set in Africa having the same look, whether romance or mystery?! It’s always a silhouette of a tree against the sky, probably with a sunset, maybe a giraffe. Come on, publishers, up your game.

Cover of African SkiesCover of In Search of AfricaCover of Into the Lion's DenCover of Ivory

I’m not usually much of a crime reader — I definitely veer towards the Dorothy Sayers end of the crime spectrum — but after reading a review of Malla Nunn’s first novel, A Beautiful Place to Die, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. A Beautiful Place to Die kicks off a series of four books (so far), all featuring detective Emmanuel Cooper and all set in 1950s apartheid South Africa.

As has happened to me before, and as could probably be guessed from the title, I’ve fallen in love with the setting. The descriptions of the landscape are so evocative, the tension between such a beautiful country and its ugly laws so captivating, I couldn’t put it down. Even a murder investigation is influenced by apartheid laws in so many ways — Cooper is challenged by his superiors when he investigates white suspects, as upholding the institution of racism is deemed more important than bringing a killer to justice. As might be expected there is a lot of violence simmering beneath the surface.

If you enjoy your crime with a bit of armchair travel and racial politics, this is the book for you! Or if you prefer funny stories about dysfunctional families like The One Plus One, please tell me your favourites in the comments. I’ll need something a bit lighter when I finish Blessed Are the Dead!

Young Adult fiction and race relations

Lately my reading has seemed depressingly apropos, given the recent news from Baltimore, Ferguson and Charleston on PressDisplay. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, is being published next month, yet for some not a lot has changed during that time. Don’t believe me? Try the Young Adult books below, or have a look at my more extensive list on Bibliocommons.

How it Went Down, Kekla Magoon

The facts are these: Tariq Johnson, African American, was shot dead by white Jack Franklin, who then fled the scene. Everything else is in dispute. Told through the thoughts of eyewitnesses, family members, and a senatorial candidate cashing in on the publicity, How it Went Down details the struggles of a community trying to come to terms with and understand how, exactly, it went down.

This Side of Home, Renee Watson

As their historically ‘bad’ neighbourhood becomes trendy and increasingly filled with white families, twins Maya and Nikki find themselves growing apart. Maya is filled with indignation at the white businesses pushing poorer African American families out of their homes through increasing rents, whereas Nikki is happy that she can get good coffee from down the street. As they finish their last year of high school, Maya deals with her best friend moving across town, the possibility that she will go to college on her own, and a potential relationship with the white boy across the street.

Lies We Tell Ourselves, Robin Talley

Despite being set in 1959, the issues raised in Lies We Tell Ourselves are clearly not limited to that era. Set in a newly integrated school in Virginia, students are forced to work together regardless of race. When Sarah (African American) and Linda (white, integration opponent’s daughter) are assigned each other as partners on a school project, they both discover that some truths are not universal.

Cover of The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death, Martha Brockenbrough

Love and Death select their players for their latest round of the Game. Love’s player, Henry: white, musical, orphaned but taken in by a friend’s wealthy family. Death’s player, Flora: African American, musical, orphaned and raised by her poor grandmother, and desperate to be a pilot. Set in Seattle during the Great Depression. If you like reading about unhappy people who play jazz, then this book is for you.