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January 11
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

the yellow wallpaper
 

Though only a 6,000 word long story, The Yellow Wallpaper is one that should be on everyone’s ‘to read’ list. A chilling look at oppression, proto-feminism and the descent into madness, this novella drags you unwittingly in to the life of the narrator, a young woman whose husband has convinced her she suffers from ‘hysteria’, an illness that was associated with the womb and made to explain any kind of mental illness in women in the 19th Century.

When the narrator and her husband, John, move to a new house for the summer months, he forces her to sleep in a room with the eponymous, sickly yellow wallpaper, which highlights all the issues that plague their relationship.

Almost like a child, the narrator does whatever John asks of her, while Gilman discreetly goes through all of the typical signs of an emotionally abusive relationship, which has more of an effect on the narrator than she realises. This causes an unsettling feeling throughout the story, gripping the reader and making them question all they know about morality and abuse.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman takes everything that was thought to be generally known about mental illness, women and writing and throws it into disarray in this wildly horrifying look at the treatment of women in the 19th Century.

Submitted by Leona

Available as a book or spoken word CD

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January 11
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

the bad beginning
 

The Bad Beginning is the first of the gloomy yet wonderful 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' books. 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' is a phrase which here means "a number of very terrible things that seem to follow the three Baudelaire children wherever they may go".

After a mysterious fire kills their parents and destroys their entire home, the Baudelaire children (now the Baudelaire orphans) Violet, Klaus and baby Sunny, are taken by banker and friend of the family, Mr. Poe, to live with a “distant relative” – the enigmatic Count Olaf. From their first meeting with the man who was now to be their legal guardian, the orphans find him to be a sinister, unsavory character; from his single eyebrow to the tattoo of an eye on his ankle. Over time, it becomes apparent to the children that this horrible, devious man only cares about the enormous fortune that was left behind by their parents and he would do anything to get his hands on it. Together, they must foil his nefarious plans using their respective skills (inventing, reading and biting). 

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was a staple of my childhood. I fondly remember awaiting each new book and eagerly reading them cover to cover within a few days. A combination of Lemony Snicket's wonderful use of language and frequent alliteration, and Brett Helquist's unique illustrations scattered throughout does well to set the mood and make you feel every trial and triumph that the Baudelaires experience. 

It was a delight to reread the first in the series and indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Although I couldn't imagine my younger years without these books, it's never too late to get lost in the misadventures of Violet the inventor, Klaus the reader and Sunny the biter.

Submitted by Natasha

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January 06
What's A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne


what's a girl gotta do
 
 


What’s a Girl Gotta Do?” is the third in the Holly Bourne “Am I Normal Yet?' series based around a teenage feminist, Lottie. This latest novel sees Lottie battle her biggest Spinster Club challenge against feminism yet.  One month. Hundreds of call outs of feminism. Online trolls and conflict in life. For Lottie and her friends could this be too much to handle? Will it effect her university prospects? 

Now before reading this book I already had a very feminist personality and I saw a lot of unjust things towards both genders. However, after reading thing book my outlook was widened further. I started seeing sexist  slogans, images and so many other things which may not have stood out to me before. In my opinion the way that Holly Bourne has written this novel leaves you as the reader with no other option than to open up your eyes to the world around you. 

The thing I loved most about this book is that it is so relatable to teenagers everywhere. No matter what your background, gender, culture, this book finds a way to shine a light on your reality. I would recommend this book to so many others and I actually think every teenage girl should read this once they reach an age which they are able to understand more. 

I understand that this book is aimed at young adults/older teenagers and this is clear through some of the topics and language used. Despite this I find no faults in either the plot, the writing or the actual cover itself. 

Submitted by Sophie

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January 06
The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

the prisoner of heaven
 

The Prisoner of Heaven is the third novel in the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books' trilogy, a series written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The story continues on with the Sempere Family and is set in the bookshop in which Daniel and his father work – however the main focus is on Fermin Romero de Torrres, who is an employee in the bookshop and a close friend of Daniel’s. 

Zafon tells of how Fermin ended up working in the Sempere bookshop. We read about this time locked up in Montjuic Jail and how with the help of fellow prisoner David Martin he escaped from the prison with a plan inspired by the Dumas novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”.

This novel is a story fraught with jealousy, suspicion, vengeance and lies but it also a story about the search for the truth, transformation, love, family and friendship.  It is a story full of emotion and intrigue and helps to bring together the stories of the “Forgotten Books Trilogy”

Prisoner of Heaven is a very well written book, however for me it’s not the strongest in the series – that would have to be Shadow of the Wind which was the first book and at the time was something new and full of intrigue and mystery, but Zafon is a strong writer and his books can stand alone.

Submitted by Jo Anne

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January 03
All The Little Guns Went Bang Bang Bang by Neil Mackay

all the little guns went bang bang bang
 

Set in Antrim, Northern Ireland, All the Little Guns Went Bang, Bang, Bang tells the story of Pearse Furlong and May-Belle Mulholland, two eleven year olds who became friends even though they have very little in common except for the fact that they both have a shared experience of violent abusive parents.

If you are of a nervous disposition this book may not be for you - it is described as a blackly comic tale but I am not sure if there is any comedy in it, to me it reads like a tragedy. The book disturbed me in the things that these two kids get up to, as what started out as harmless fantasies turns into something much darker with theft, arson, brutality and eventually much worse. 

However dark the book is, it is a sad story an shows how the society one grows up in can dictate how you turn out – especially if there is no guidance from parents – and it does make you feel some empathy towards Pearse and May-Belle, especially having grown up in Northern Ireland and seeing the damage that was done in the past and how it affects the future for the people who have been directly or indirectly involved in ‘The Troubles’.

Submitted by Jo Anne

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January 03
The Fever by Megan Abbott

the fever
 

It is easy to judge The Fever as a short and sweet ‘chick lit’ novel. The high school setting combined with angst-ridden girls seems, at first glance, like any typical teenage tale. However there is one character that makes this novel so much more than a quick entertaining read, and instead, a complex crime thriller. The character is not one of the students or their parents, but the fever itself, an illness that starts to infect the female population of a small-town American high school. 

The panic that ensues makes for a fast-paced page-turner of the best kind. Endless possibilities circulate as to what could be the cause of the mystery illness, such as a polluted lake the teenagers had been swimming in or a recent vaccination the girls had received. But the most intriguing possibility is the one that plays out in the mind of Deenie, whose friend Lise was the first to be struck by the fever. The anxiety-ridden atmosphere of the novel builds throughout the novel as Deenie returns to the same question again and again, was it all her fault? Not because she’d been in the polluted lake with her friends, but because she’d lost her virginity. 

Certainly what I thought was excellent about Abbott’s style was her ability to create suspense through the construction of a teenage girl’s mind. At first the suggestion that Deenie’s sexual activity affected the health of her friend seems illogical, the result of Deenie’s imagination going wild with worry. However Deenie’s fear and subsequent shame about the role of her sexuality in the illness of her peers is actually a brilliantly observed metaphor for society’s attitude towards female sexuality. Heart breaking and enraging, The Fever provides a powerful message about issues within contemporary culture.

Submitted by Michelle

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December 22
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

the essex serpent
 

London 1893. When Cora Seaborne's husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one, and she never suited the role of society wife. Accompanied by her son Francis - a curious, obsessive boy - she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need.

When they take lodgings in Colchester, rumours reach them from further up the estuary that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a previously undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter's vicar.

Like Cora, Will is deeply suspicious of the rumours, but he thinks they are founded on moral panic, a flight from real faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, he and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart, eventually changing each other's lives in ways entirely unexpected.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

Submitted by Pete

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December 22
The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

the last days of jack sparks.
 

Jack Sparks died while writing this book. This is the account of his final days.

In 2014, Jack Sparks - the controversial pop culture journalist - died in mysterious circumstances. 

To his fans, Jack was a fearless rebel; to his detractors, he was a talentless hack. Either way, his death came as a shock to everyone.

It was no secret that Jack had been researching the occult for his new book. He'd already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed in rural Italy. 

Then there was that video: thirty-six seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed - until now. This book, compiled from the files found after his death, reveals the chilling details of Jack's final hours.

Submitted by Pete

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December 22
Barkskins by Annie Proulx

barkskins
 

From Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain, comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world’s forests.

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters – barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years – their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions; the revenge of rivals; accidents; pestilence; Indian attacks; and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

Proulx’s inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid – in their greed, lust, vengefulness, or their simple compassion and hope – that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable and compelling American writers, and Barkskins is her greatest novel, a magnificent marriage of history and imagination.

Submitted by Pete

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December 22
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

the lesser bohemians
 


Upon her arrival in London, an 18-year-old Irish girl begins anew as a drama student, with all the hopes of any young actress searching for the fame she’s always dreamed of. She struggles to fit in. She’s young and unexotic, a naive new girl, but soon she forges friendships and finds a place for herself in the big city.

Then she meets an attractive older man. He’s an established actor, 20 years older, and the inevitable clamorous relationship that ensues is one that will change her forever.

A redemptive, captivating story of passion and innocence set across the bedsits of mid-1990s London, McBride holds new love under her fierce gaze, giving us all a chance to remember what it’s like to fall hard for another​.

After McBride won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction for her debut, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, many wondered if her next novel would sustain that same intensely original, stream-of-consciousness prose style. The Lesser Bohemians is softer in tone and subject matter but confirms McBride as an exciting literary talent. 

Submitted by Pete

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