What we’re reading
Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films we’re watching, the television shows we’re hooked on or the music we’re loving.
Holly Black’s Modern Tale of Faerie trilogy presents stand-alone stories about faerie people - mermaids, trolls, tree people - so they don’t necessarily need to be read in order. (I haven’t read the first book myself and just started at number two - Valiant.) Black’s writing feels like a breath of fresh air for young adult urban fantasy readers. She draws you in and then drowns you in the dark world of faerie, a dirty, gritty paradise. I couldn’t help but feel filthy while I read it. I actually ended up reading it all in one indulgent sitting.
Characters are complicated and well fleshed-out. In some ways they are the most undesirable and unglamorous cast you could imagine, which is something original for what can, at times, be an overwhelmingly cheesy genre. Valiant follows a bandit of homeless kids who live in the train tunnels under New York City, which also happens to house a troll who is equal parts terrifying and captivating. The kids get involved with the troll and become caught up in faerie magic, toeing a fine line between their destruction and being indestructible. Despite the conditions the characters find themselves in (homeless, runaways, thieves) they are entirely relatable and you can’t help but feel for them. I only wish I had discovered them sooner.
If you want a good quality fix of young adult, or have a spare afternoon I cannot recommend the trilogy enough.
Ann is reading Digging for Richard III: how Archaeology found the King by Mike Pitts
I am fascinated by the work of archaeologists. One day I plan to volunteer for the annual September dig at Hadrian’s Wall. My father’s ancestors were connected in some way to Alnwick Castle, the seat of the Duke of Northumberland, and were involved in riding and protecting England’s northern border, so perhaps it’s in my blood. And as you can imagine I was feeling quite excited when Digging for Richard III: how Archaeology found the King by Mike Pitts landed on my desk in time for the long weekend. This book is perfect holiday reading for the armchair archaeologist.
A gripping story of the passion, craft and skill of the people involved in the elaborate project which - astoundingly - unearthed Richard III’s skeleton under the tarmac of a plain old car park in the middle of Leicester. I’m up to page 99 and after being introduced carefully and engagingly to all the significant players, the moment has come. The shiny red digger has removed the tarmac and topsoil in the first trench and Mathew the archaeologist has jumped in to have a closer look.
Spine-chillingly, a skeleton has been found in the very first trench dug.
Chris is reading City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
Do you think it’s because the role of religion has diminished for so many people, that there are now so many books set in dystopian worlds that have a ‘coming of age’ aspect?
I’ve spent the long weekend engrossed in young adult fiction. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is beautifully written, the story of one 13-year-old turning his back on all he knows. Such a powerful story that it took me a day to recover before I was ready to snatch (literally) the exciting finale of the Mortal Instruments series - City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare - from my very own 13-year-old son. He seems to feel no need to turn his back on his existence thank goodness.
Nina is reading The Liars' Club by Mary Karr
I love a good family memoir (evidenced by my recent raving about The Feel-Good Hit of the Year) and The Liars' Club has long been held up as a classic of the genre, so I decided it was time I got around to reading it. I’m so glad I did.
First published in 1995, Mary Karr tells the story of her tumulteous childhood in Texas in the early 1960s. Her mother, father, sister and grandmother loom large on the page - funny, deeply flawed, utterly fascinating characters. But the thing that makes this book so good is Karr’s voice. She perfectly captures her younger self in tone and style. You are right there with her for every horrifying, entertaining moment in the swampy, snake-filled town of Leechfield, Texas.
In her introduction, Karr says when the book was first published she received 400-500 letters from readers a week. Reading the book “seemed to crowbar open something in people”. I can see why - Karr’s family is damaged and difficult, but they survive, they stick together and they matter to each other. This is the kind of book that makes you feel better about surviving your childhood demons and fiercly loving your own flawed family.