This year I set myself a challenge to read 50 books. I figured that worked out around one a week, which seemed do-able, and I’m pleased to report I had hit my target by November 8! People often ask me for book recommendations so I thought I would take my blog off-brand and do a little roundup of the best stuff I’ve read this year!
I’ve divided the post up into my 7 favourite new books (ie, books published in 2013-2014) and my 7 favourites published before that (most of which was published a long time before that). Today is the day for new books, and I’ll publish the second installment next week.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I know a lot of people who have read it and I’ve never heard anyone speak of Americanah in anything less than absolutely glowing terms. The mix of a glorious, absorbing story about wonderfully fleshed-out characters and sharp as hell essays on race and gender as an African woman in America combine to form a really extraordinary work. As a clueless white girl, it gave me a lot to think about and I’m really, really glad I read it. This is the first book I read in 2014 and it really got my year off to a strong start. A beautiful reading experience that’s also a learning experience? I felt proper spoiled by Americanah.
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
This is a lovely, lovely book. A real pleasure and extremely comforting. You’ll see I have a natural attraction to thrillers and crime, so for this collection of letters from a nanny to her sister to have made it into my faves, it’s got to be good. I don’t care if Alan Bennett says the anecdotes about him are embellished or untrue, to be honest: they’re so charming and funny I want them to be true. You like Nina a great deal, and really warm to how she sees her friends and the family she works for. You like watching her have crushes and watching her assess the boyfriends of her employer and watching her having to deal with looking after two young boys and occasionally messing up but mostly you just like watching her bumble through work and university and human interactions. It’s the literary equivalent of the perfectly-made cup of tea.
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
Every time anyone asked for a book recommendation this year, I went straight to Apple Tree Yard. I can’t fully explain how much I adored this book, how completely thrilling and compelling and sickening and distressing I found it, so please just read it so I don’t have to justify it. It says so much about lust, womanhood, gender politics, self-delusion, malaise and is a gripping, gripping thriller. I raced through it, loving the writing and wanting to get to the bottom of the central intrigue. For what should be a standard crime thriller, it felt horribly human, especially in how it portrays our cultural contempt for women. To quote Craig David, it’s slicker than your average.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
My second-favourite queer lady tale I read this year (favourite featured in Part II of this series). I had previously read no Sarah Waters, which I now see is probably an oversight (see also: David Nicholls, who we will come to momentarily), because I’m, for whatever reason, prejudiced against ‘historical fiction’ (see also: The Miniaturist, which we will come to momentarily). The Paying Guests, then, was an exercise in my overcoming these arbitrary beefs I’d imposed that were standing between me and quality literature. It is an outstanding thriller, not a whodunnit or howdunnit like Apple Tree Yard and Alex, but a… howtheygonnagetoutofthefacttheydunnit. It’s rich with bleak period detail and harsh reminders that The Past is not a wholesome, romantic place, but also packed with a swoonsome portrait of infatuation. I’m a fan of books about culpability and guilt, such as The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola, so this was a real joy.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
My kind and wonderful literary agent pal Juliet sent me some books this summer to cheer me up after my breakup. One of the books she sent was a debut novel, The Miniaturist, set in Amsterdam in the 17th century. “Hmmm… it’s not my usual sort of thing… it’s historical and seems kind of whimsical… but Juliet’s really into it and… I can’t not read it now she’s sent me it… I’ll just read it and tell her I liked it” – this was the thought process inside my horrible little head. Turns out, as soon as I started reading it, I became obsessed and no such lie was required. It’s properly magical: the plot is dense and seamlessly woven, and Jessie Burton’s writing feels like a tremendous golden gift. I absolutely adored this book when I thought I was going to grudgingly plod through it, and I absolutely cannot wait for her to write more.
Us by David Nicholls
I am the last remaining person in the country who has not read One Day. Until I read Us, I was the last remaining person who had read no David Nicholls at all. I might read some more on the basis that I enjoyed Us a great deal. It’s actually pretty painful to read in parts, and, as my dad grimly informed me when he lent me it, “a bit close to home” in terms of how it depicts the gnawing, grating ebb and flow of interfamily dynamics and affections. It’s also got moments that are so sweet and funny and fun that it reminds you why people put themselves through parenthood and romance and marriage. I also felt pretty inspired to take off and go on a Grand Tour around Europe of my very own, looking at art and eating alone.
Alex by Pierre Lemaitre
The beginning of Alex is not super promising. It seems a bit one-note and you wonder how the plot is possibly going to be sustained. Then, just as you’re about to go ‘nah, I’m over this’ it just lurches off the track and goes down absolutely unpredicted and unpredictable routes at a delicious pace. To be able to completely flip your perception of the plot and characters throughout the story is a difficult thing, which this author achieves like it’s no big deal. Alex is an Apple Tree Yard-level thriller with a similar sense of social conscience and social commentary.
I’ve been feeling pretty inspired by a look I’ve settled on a ‘powerbitch’. It started when I decided to change up my makeup routine and do something different with my hair, and now I’m feeling like it should spread to my wardrobe and accessories. The way I see it, powerbitch is sleek, chic, dark, powerful, and not pretty, not soft, not romantic, just strong and uncompromising. Obviously all these characteristics can happily coexist and intermingle to form an amazing powerbitch, but when looking for inspiration, I find it preferable to go in with something of a single-minded vision. When I wear this stuff, I want to feel like I’m dancing in the background of a Robert Palmer / Roxy Music video, or about to carry off an elaborate heist.
I’m really feeling dark metallic eyes with smudgy eyeliner, finished off with a beige-pink lipstick. On my eyes I’m enjoying the Sleek palette in Storm (linked below), and I’m using Topshop Lip Bullet in Motel pretty much constantly at the moment, but seriously coveting Nars Audacious lipstick in Anita, which is also linked below. Here’s the makeup look that I started with…
And here is my powerbitch wishlist!
Hello buddies, and welcome to my first in a series of posts that will take us all the way round to this time next year! I’m going to be blogging an outfit every month from Junarose, as one of their Junarose Friends. I’m usually cagey about ordering from companies when I don’t know what the fit is like and so stick to the retailers where I know what size to buy and how it compares to my body, so I just had to make the best guess possible when I chose my first items. It turned out pretty well! Unfortunately the beautiful shirt is sold out now, and when I ordered it there was only one size left, which was a size larger than I would usually buy. It’s come up quite long in the arms but fits everywhere else, if a little generous. I love that it has a slightly longer back as it more than covers my a$$.
The shaggy black faux fur gilet is truly wonderful. I got it in an XL and it’s just the perfect fit. It’s going to work so well over so many top/trouser combos that I wear, and I can see it looking great over long-sleeved bodycon dresses too.
On my bottom half I’m wearing Scarlett & Jo wet-look leggings, which felt like the right trousers to go with this outfit. Casual but kind of chic. Altogether I feel like this would make a really excellent date outfit, possibly because I find the mix of textures (fake fur, shiny material, suede etc) really ~sensual~.
Shirt : Junarose
Gilet : Junarose
Wet-look leggings : Scarlett & Jo
Shoes : Dr Martens
Bag : Kate Spade
And a little bit more detail of the perfect beautiful collar, and my slicked-back hair before it got rained on and wilted…
Oh also here is my new lipstick obsession: Topshop lip bullet in Motel. As far as I can establish. it’s only available in the mini set with Wine Gum. It’s the *perfect* beige for me and has been instrumental in the ’80s powerbitch makeup concept I’ve been trialling this weekend. I’m usually all about mascara-only eyes with a bright or dark lip, but I played around a bit and found that dark eyes and a more natural lip colour actually works for me!
I woke up on Saturday, checked myself out in the mirror (naked, obv), thought ‘Bethany, you are a damn fine human being’ and decided that it was going to be a good day. In celebration of this fact, I wore my favourite dress. I haven’t been this excited about an item of clothing for a really long time but my bright yellow leopard print shift dress brings me untold joy. I blogged it when I got it, and my enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed since then. It was also time to break out my excellent shaggy faux-fur coat from last year, which was a perfect companion to the dress. Fake fur forever.
Coat : Simply Be
Dress : ASOS Curve
Sneakers : Superga
Beth was taking photos of my face, but complained that she wanted to get my tattoo in, so I lifted my arms and now you’ve got my face, my tattoo and my truly excellent underarm hair.
As much as I like dressing up and getting frivolous, sometimes it’s nice to keep it chill. I had been thinking how much I wanted that basic but ubiquitous ‘fashion staple’ of a stone-coloured mac: no bells, no whistles, no ‘quirky’ design details, just like nature intended. I hadn’t seen any in plus size retailers and had shoved the desire to the back of my mind, on the pile with ‘holiday to Tokyo’ and ‘wire fox terrier’, the Maybe One Day When Things Are Different pile. But then fate intervened! During a quick dash to the post box in the shopping centre opposite work, I spied a whole rack of the exact item I desired the most, marked with a SALE sign in Gap. Not only were they in the sale, but they were also 20% off the sale price. Ask, my friends, and ye shall receive. So here we are, with me owning a delightful mac for a day at work then taking my beloved Beth for birthday poutine, just like we never left Montreal.
Not sure what my hair is trying to do here… I’m having an ongoing struggle with how to make my hair look normal while growing it. Apologies.