Books You Need In Your Life, October – December 2018

pile of paperback books on white table next to red candle

Okay but seriously, how the heck are we in December 2018?! Just before we dive into my quarterly recommendations for the end of the year, here’s a heads up that you can find all of the books mentioned below on my Amazon Storefront* with Amazon Influencers, along with all my other favourites from this year… perfect for indulging in some new reads for the New Year with your Christmas money, if I do say so myself…

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Flamingo Modern Classics

“’You weren’t there, you didn’t see’, he said. ‘There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing”.

Within pages of this book, I knew it was one that would make a lasting impact on me. Set in a time where reading books is considered a sin, protagonist Montag is faced with difficult questions about the nature of humanity. People have reached a point where they need all their information and entertainment to be delivered in quick, successive bursts, using technology, rather than come from paper and ink. Montag, although working as a firefighter whose very purpose is to burn and demolish the remaining books forever, has to endure and conceal a devious streak to indulge in reading himself, and his consequent actions mean he’s faced with decisions he never could have imagined he would be.

My goodness, this one is a harrowing read. Even though it was written by Bradbury decades ago, his predictions about the future are pretty spot on with the way the world seems to be heading now: a world gravitating towards screen-time and instant gratification, at the expense of all else. This one will really make you pause throughout the reading process and have a good think about these issues themselves, and for me, it all boiled down to this: if I lived in a society where books were banished, I can’t say that I wouldn’t make the same choices Montag did. Intrigued? You MUST give this one a read for yourself.

orange cover of fahrenheit 451 by ray bradbury, on top of pink blanket next to hand holding cup of tea in pink mug

Stronger. Braver. Wiser by Jennifer Potter (Trigger Publishing)

“I’m not willing to just accept things as they are. I’m not willing to waste this precious life of mine, either. We’re here on this planet in this body for actually a very short time and I want to make mine count. I wanted to thrive, not just survive”.

In all honesty, I tend to shy away from books labelled as ‘inspirational’. As a disabled person, the connotations associated with that i-word have completely changed for me, and I reflexively stay away from anything where there’s even the possibility of the ‘anything is possible if you try hard enough’ mentality creeping in. However, it took a book like Stronger. Braver. Wiser to remind me that there’s a way to really harness the meaning of the word inspirational, and Jennifer Potter absolutely nailed it.

The story is a frank and honest account of Jennifer’s experiences of sexual assault, aged just 6 and 17. The narrative doesn’t shy away from the horrors the experience brought upon the author, and takes us through her journey of seeking justice, years later, and the process of finding ways to heal.

Naturally anybody who’s experienced sexual assault themselves should proceed reading with caution, however, as somebody who’s fortunately never had to experience that kind of trauma, I found the book insightful and eye-opening in so many ways: not only in terms of the extreme impact such events can have in every aspect of a person’s life, but also the legal procedure for such cases and its multiple shortcomings. It’s safe to say that Jennifer’s been through more than any person ever should, and I have so much admiration for the way she’s opened her heart and shared her story, in the hope of showing others that there is life after assault.

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shushterman (Walker Books)

“Rock stars plan relief concerts to raise funds. Celebrities promote charities. All the usual self-congratulatory stuff. The only difference is that we’re the victims now, rather than the ones sitting comfortably in our homes, sending five bucks on a charity app and patting ourselves on the back because we’re so goddamn generous.”

Holy cow. To say Dry was an intense read would be an understatement. The story tells of a group of young people living in a town in California, who are hit with life-threatening drought when the taps run dry and the state’s water supply is diminished. Disaster after disaster strikes the neighbourhood, and the once civil neighbours have to turn to extreme measures simply to try and stay alive.

I just love a book where you’re reading with not the slightest idea what could possibly happen next. I felt genuine anguish for protagonist Alyssa and her companions as they struggled to fight the odds and protect themselves in the face of governmental failures, severe personal losses, and most of all, their own bodies shutting down from dehydration. I think the reason this book hit me so hard, and the reason it’ll likely stay with you too is that… an event like this isn’t completely out of the question. This isn’t a completely out-there, impossible dystopian scenario. There’s every chance that a drought like this could occur in the future and catch us all off guard, and where would we be then? Whilst reading this book won’t do anything to prevent that from happening, trust me, it’ll make you appreciate a drop of tap water like never before.

My Mum Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson (Penguin Random House)

“When we were out I sometimes pretended I was walking my own imaginary dogs. I had four: Wolfie, a long-haired German shepherd as big as me, Faithful, a loving cream Labrador, Pom-Pom, a very girly Pomeranian, and Snapchat, a teacup Chihuahua”.

Now, I know this might sound like a bit of a bizarre addition to a 24-year-old’s reading wrap-up, particularly this edition, but hear me out. Jacqueline Wilson and Tracy Beaker were pretty much my entire childhood. I have Jacqueline Wilson to thank for giving me a sincere love of reading at such a young age, and so when I saw there was a new Tracy Beaker release, and that our homegal was a MUM, I absolutely had to read it.

To say this book will hit you with nostalgia is an absolute understatement. Whilst the story is narrated by Jess, Tracy’s daughter, there are such meaningful nods to the past that I would challenge anyone not to feel emotional. It was quite a strange experience seeing much more modern references, like Tracy’s Instagram account, combined with moments that give homage to the past and the people she encountered during her childhood, and all in all it made for such a gripping read. Even though it’s a childrens book, I absolutely love that Jacqueline Wilson, as always, didn’t mess around with any false pretences: the book portrayed a single mum on a council estate, trying to make ends meet, doing her best to escape the past and give her daughter the life and love she never had herself. I’m SO ridiculously glad I read this book and got to relish in all this nostalgia myself; the only issue is that all I want to do now is go back and read the other 100+ Jacqueline Wilson novels too…

hand holding 'my mum tracy beaker' hardback book in front of rainbow bookshelves

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando (Bloomsbury USA)

“People who were gone only lived on in your memory if you had memories. Why hadn’t she held on tighter?”

I first read The Leaving a good few years ago, and despite vividly remembering that once I started I couldn’t put the damn thing down, I couldn’t actually remember the specifics of the plot. It was an absolute joy to read such a captivating tale again, and I know it’s a book I’ll find myself coming back to in the future too.

Six little children go missing on their first day of kindergarten school. Eleven years later, five of them return, with no idea of where they’ve been or what has happened to them, including where Max, the sixth child is and why he didn’t return with them. The story follows the tales of the children as they try to reacclimatise to everyday life, whilst coping with the ongoing investigation and public scrutiny into who took them, and why.

Mystery and thriller novels aren’t my usual-go to, but writing like this make me think they should be. Altebrando’s writing will have you edgy and suspicious towards virtually every character the story presents and I can tell you now, I’d be surprised if you managed to guess who really did it until you get right to the very final pages. An absolutely stunning read that will captivate you and take over your life until you too find that closure these traumatised children have been seeking.

The Negligents by Kate Smith (Valley Press)

“Time elongated itself like caramel in the warmth; she’d had this feeling before, you had to hold onto it for as long as you could, a moment of utter confidence stretching out in front of her. If nothing could go wrong, then just how far could you push your luck?”

I picked up a copy of this book on something of a whim, at the Northern Fiction Alliance event in York. Beforehand, I wasn’t familiar with the work of either Kate Smith or Valley Press, but after reading The Negligents, I know this won’t be my last encounter with them.

The story follows the interwoven lives of Polina and Grace, and their relationships with each other and their fiercely troubled families, as both of the girls grow up and pursue their adult lives. Although their upbringings differ significantly, we see how each of their own experiences shape and influence the other.

Admittedly, the novel introduces many characters in quick succession, and jumps back and forth from various time and viewpoints which did at times make it difficult to follow. However, the unique structure of the book, presented as a judicial framework highlighting themes that reflect various legal constructs, really makes the book stand out as one on its own: Smith’s own knowledge and experience of her law career is evident throughout, too. As soon as I finished the last page, I turned back to the first and reread the beginning, with the understanding I gained throughout the story making me appreciate the depth to it all the more. That said, I think I’ll need to read it one more time through before I can really recognise some of the deeper constructs underlying the story.

It’s a challenging read for sure, but one full of insightful observations and thought-provoking instances. Despite featuring somewhat heavy subject matter, the story is interwoven with impactful moments of light humour, as well as poignant situations that really make you feel for not just the two female protagonists, but all those around them too. After reading this book, I do feel a need to discuss it with someone to really process it all, so do let me know if you give this one a go.

Don’t forget, you can find all of the books mentioned here on my Amazon Storefront* with Amazon Influencers, along with all my other favourites from this year. Do let me know if you decide to give any of them a go and how you find them, as I’m always up for a bookish chat.

As always, recommendations of your own are very gratefully received: if there’s a read that you think should be in my next Books You Need In Your Life series, I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, do browse through my other bookish postscheck out my own charity book ‘Dear Chronic Illness’, and keep up with all my current reads (including the books I’m considerably less enthusiastic about…) over on Goodreads. Happy reading!

Links marked with * are affiliate links: I earn a small commission from any purchase made from following these affiliate links, at no extra cost to you.

I’m also very grateful to receive books from various publishers and authors, some of which are included in my posts. Others are re-reads of old favourites, and most are purchased of my own accord. I’d like to make clear that (unless otherwise disclosed), I’m under no obligation to review any of the complementary books I receive, so do be assured that all of the reads included in this post are genuine favourites of mine that I hope you’ll enjoy too!

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