Every Christmas, during those cosiest of days snuggled up indoors next to a fire, with nothing on the agenda but relaxing and the occasional dawdle to the kitchen to snack, I absolutely blitz through a reading list like no other. This season I got through four - the four books you see above, and have almost completed a fifth.

Reading does for me what I think shoe shopping does for some other people - it's a kind of self care, but more than that, it's almost a state of meditation. I can disappear into the pages of another world and suspend myself in great writing, find things that I aspire to in beautiful character development, or simply become absorbed in a dialogue in my own mind about the content of the book. Getting lost in this way can mean I'm a little antisocial to be around, and three books deep into my Dubai trip I'm sure I frustrated family members and my boyfriend alike, but what this act does in terms of replenishing my soul is worth the raised eyebrows. I hope these reviews can guide you to your next read!

Winter by Ali Smith

Shocker - I have found an Ali Smith book that I am not going to rave about! Let's start with facts, though - Ali Smith is a singular writer. Her blend of abstract and narrative form is spellbinding and captures my imagination every time. Her character development is (usually!) effortless and wholly believable - and that's where my problem begins with Winter. I had some issues getting into the skin of Art and Sophia, the two main characters. The second book in Ali's Seasonal Quartet, I wasn't sure initially if my hesitation came from missing Elizabeth and Daniel from Autumn so much - the books are unrelated, and surrendering those characters and that story whilst still working within the same themes of a post-Brexit world was a little difficult. The book also did have a kind of heaviness to it - winter, through and through - but I would've enjoyed a little more of the crisp brightness that can come with cold winter mornings, rather than the engulfing solid grey of a snowstorm. I still loved the work and really appreciated Ali's writing, but for your first venture into her work, I wouldn't recommend picking this up. Having said all this, I'm so excited for Spring and the next installment in this series, and absolutely don't regret picking up this book at all.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

A perfect score for a book that deeply, profoundly moved me. The Underground Railroad is a book about slavery through the eyes of a slave - the deep-rooted, painful and ugly history of the slave trade, as well as a fantastical realisation of a world beneath its surface - the underground railroad. I didn't know, previous to this book, that such a thing existed, nor did I comprehend the extreme danger that slaves and abolitionists put themselves in to even contemplate the coordinating of routes and safe houses to smuggle slaves to the free states.

The story focuses around Cora, a fully fleshed out and wholly believable character, and her own, her mother's and her grandmother's life stories, as well as the stories of other slaves, interwoven much like the physical railroad beneath them. This is where book differs from reality - Colson has turned the railroad into a train track - an actual underground railway.

One of the things that struck me about this book was how even characters you only encounter for a few sentences of dialogue seemed so fully realised - so complete was the world that this took place in. I laughed, cried and gasped out loud as I inhaled this novel, and was left sobbing and devastated after completing it. You know when you have to mourn for the loss of a book? This was one of those reads. I'm recommending it to everyone and I can't compliment Colson enough on his triumph of a work.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

This book is tricky to review. Books that are so topical and politically relevant always are, and after 2017, Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo and all of the associated movements, 'The Power' feels like a 'nail on the head' moment. The book meditates in a very real way on a world where women, literally, have all the power. Young women of adolescent age wake up to realise that they can release electrical current from their fingertips, to somewhat devastating effects. It's a bombastic and fantastical book, ambitious in its scale, and for that alone I have to applaud it, as well as being immensely frustrating - as feminism is. It isn't a perfect science or a perfect conversation, and having some very tricky realisations throughout reading that pages you'd put down to being 'over the top' and 'unrealistic' are based in facts and on atrocities that have already been committed to women. It's a conversation starter, an important book to consider, and that lets me forgive some of the slightly sloppier writing and poorer character development. I'd definitely recommend this book to everyone, if only to get a good discussion started! 

The Girls by Emma Cline

If I had to summarise my experience with this book in one word, it would be 'underwhelmed'. The premise of 'The Girls' - the story of a cult that preys on beautiful young women and the tragedy that unfolds as activities within the cult escalate to a point of no return - is almost 'Virgin Suicides'-esque in its character, and throughout the entire read, I could feel Emma Cline trying to strike that balance of effervescent beauty and poignant tragedy. However, for me, the book erred too much towards the later, to the point that it came across a little sulky and petulant at times. There was no joy or lightness at all in the protagonist, and this made it very hard to connect with her as a real character. Totally unlike 'The Underground Railroad', I struggled to find any of these characters believable past a kind of stereotype of themselves. After all the hype and praise this book received when it was first released, I'll admit I was disappointed. I found it predictable, a little stilted, and quite a slog to get through. If you're heading on a beach holiday, want something accessibly written and don't mind a moodier, slightly depressing read, this might be your jam - for me, it was a miss!


WHAT I'LL BE READING NEXT:

FEAST OF THE GOAT

Mario Vargas Llosa

THE LUMINARIES
Eleanor Catton


Is there anything you'd particularly like to see reviewed? I'd love to know!

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