June Round Up! – #20booksof summer

The curse of 20 Books of Summer has struck again!

For yet another year, my reading is going really well, but the reviewing is falling by the wayside.

I swore I wouldn’t do mini-reviews, but I have to face facts. We’re one month in and by my calculations, I should have 6.66 books reviewed. I haven’t. I have managed to review the grand total of three. So, I’m going to do quick reviews of the two books I have read and while they both deserve a full review in their own right, I am afraid they are going to have to be disappointed in me.


No 588: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood is not at all what I expected from my first Murakami. I anticipated something weird, futuristic and challenging, but instead got a beautiful, languorous meditation on youth, love and the power of memory.

When he hears the famous Beatles song as he touches down on an international flight, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki, who committed suicide. The song transports him back almost twenty years to his student days in 1960s Tokyo, a world of faltering friendships, obsessive love, loss and passion, He recalls his consuming relationship with Naoko, conducted mostly at a sanitarium where she has chosen to stay and how their relationship is threatened by Midori, an impetuous and passionate young woman who forces Watanabe to choose between the future and the past.

The novel is set at a time of student unrest and volatile demonstrations, but this only serves as the background to a more delicate love story as Watanabe tries to recall all the details of this emotional time in his life.

What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?

If this were just a straightforward tale of a love triangle, Murakami would give answers, relationships would be cemented. What he presents instead is not a rose-tinted love story. It is an honest, beautifully written coming of age story that explores the difficult transition between adolescence and adulthood, where sanity and self-preservation are constantly under threat and ‘ordinary’ love is anything but ordinary.

”I once had a girl / Or should I say, she once had me,” are the opening lines of the Beatles song and they are an apt summary of this lovely, questioning book. Murakami gives us no resolution, but then this is a book of memory with all the shadows and whispers that memories contain.

Read on: iPad

Number Read: 159

Number Remaining: 587

yellow wallpaper

No 587 The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I did cheat slightly by including The Yellow Wallpaper in my 20 Books, given that it is really a short story. But what a story it is and I would argue, it packs more emotional intensity and vivid imagery into its 30-odd pages than a lot of novels I’ve read.

The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.

The Yellow Wallpaper has become a classic of feminist fiction, a pioneering portrait of the trauma of postnatal depression. Written with a barely concealed fury, this autobiographical horror story scandalized readers on its publication with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.

A century on and The Yellow Wallpaper has lost nothing of its unsettling power. The first person narration, in the form of a diary, gives it an urgent immediacy, and the fact that it was born out of Gilman’s own experience of mental illness, makes it undeniably prescient. The narrator is a nameless young woman who has recently had a baby. She is suffering from a ‘temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency’ as diagnosed by her husband and her brother, both doctors. Treatment for her illness is rest. She is confined in an upstairs room of a large country house and it is in this room, with a lack of anything else at all to occupy her, that she becomes at first disgusted, then enthralled and finally obsessed with the yellow patterned wallpaper.

I never saw a worse paper in my life. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide – plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions… The colour is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

Studying the wallpaper becomes her only self-chosen activity. She is not allowed to look after her child, see friends, read or write – so the examination of the wallpaper becomes a kind of freedom. Before long, she begins to see women trapped within the pattern, jailed just as she is. When she starts to see these women from her barred window, creeping in the garden below, her madness is complete.

I don’t like to look out of the windows even–there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?

The lack of mental stimulation has created a situation where she is literally bored out of her mind and Charlotte Gilman Perkins captures perfectly the eroding of her mental faculties brought about by the actions of the very people who were supposed to care for her. This is an incredibly well-written story, paced perfectly with a growing sense of paranoia and terror. It would be powerful enough without knowing the biography of its writer and as it stands is a stark rejoinder to the treatment of post-natal depression and the repression of the female mind.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 160

Number Remaining: 586

So how is everyone else doing in the challenge now that we are one month in? I am three-quarter of the way through THREE other books, so if I could just get them finished, I’d be close to be on track with my reading.

Do let me know how you are all getting on!

20 books




My 20 Books of Summer List is Finalised!



20 books

I have finally managed to come up with my reading list for 20 Books of Summer – always my favourite part of this challenge. I’m excited to read these books now, but you can sure as hell bet that by August I’ll be sick of them!

From 1 June to 3 September, I’m going to attempt, for the fourth year, to read my 20 Books of Summer. That’s 7 books a month, which is pretty daunting, but I think I can do it. I managed it last year, although reviews were shorter than usual!

As always, I had great fun putting this list together, although, this is about the sixth version since I started planning. I’ve tried to go for a broad range of genres, eras and styles so that there is always something I’m going to want to read! There are factual books, memoirs, short stories, a very short story and some classic and more contemporary novels.

As with last year, I’ve done a page count, so I have 6128 pages to read over 95 days, meaning I have to read 65 pages a day to complete my challenge. If I could just stop playing Jelly Crush and watching Line of Duty that would be completely do-able…

So, here are my 20 Books for summer 2017, you can click on the titles read their descriptions on Goodreads:

the hunters

1. The Hunters by Claire Messud

I adored The Woman Upstairs when I read it a few years ago, so I’m looking forward to this collection of two novellas. And yes, the phrase ‘novella’ is always attractive when putting together my 20 Books list.

blue tango

2. The Blue Tango by Eoin McNamee

I’m a sucker for true crime and really loved Resurrection Man by Eoin McNamee, which is filled with beautiful writing despite the harrowing subject matter. The Blue Tango is a fictionalised account of a real life murder in Northern Ireland in the 1950s.

yellow wallpaper

3. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This one is a little bit of a cheat as it’s a short story rather than a book, but I need to cut myself some slack here! I’ve been meaning to read this feminist classic for some time now, and at 26 pages, this seems like the perfect time to read it!


4. Calf by Andrea Kleine

Calf was a birthday present from my husband, so won’t be one of the 746, however I’m intrigued by the description of it as being a cross between Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret and Taxi Driver. Taking the real life assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan as her inspiration, Kleine fictionalises the story of John Hinckley and Leslie Deveau and tells it through the eyes of a 12 year old girl.


5. No one Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

I’m a fan of Miranda July’s movies, particularly You, Me and Everyone We Know so I’m looking forward to this collection of short stories.

sundance kids

6. Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood by James Mottram

This is one choice I may well regret, as it is a BIG book, but I do love a book about the movies. Here James Mottram charts the rise of the indie filmmakers in the 1990s – Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Stephen Soderbegh – and explores how their work changed the cinematic landscape.

goat's song

7. A Goat’s Song by Dermot Healy

Dermot Healy died in 2014 and remains one of the most underrated Irish writers. His fans included Seamus Heaney, Anne Enright and Roddy Doyle. A Goat’s Song is considered to be his greatest work, as it chars the doomed love affair between an alcoholic playwright and his actress muse.

london train

8. The London Train by Tessa Hadley

I actually know very little about this novel, or Tessa Hadley’s work but imagine I bought this after it was longlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction in 2011.


9. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

I must have about five Alice Munro books in the 746, so I think this is a well overdue choice. A twitter call out suggested this collection of short stories was a good starting point for her work.


10. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Another classic I’ve been meaning to read for several years, The Awakening shocked readers in 1899 with its depiction of female infidelity.


11. The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

Here’s another novel I don’t remember buying and know very little about! Anyone help me out? All I know is it’s an epic love story played out against the backdrop of the Korean War!

bad behaviour

12. Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaitskill

This collection of short stories seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book, but edgy, creepy short stories are just my thing and any book that contains the story that the movie Secretary is based on gets my vote!


13. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Like Alice Munroe, I’ve bought loads of Murakami books and never got round to reading them. I really hope I like this, as I think I’ve got about five more to get through once I’m finished!


14. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

It was a toss-up between Housekeeping and Gilead, but I thought I would go for Robinson’s first book for my first reading of her work. I’ve heard rapturous praise for Housekeeping, and Robinson’s work in general so this should be a good one.

half blood

15. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I started Half Blood Blues last year and gave up after a few pages for no good reason, so I’m putting on the list to try and finish it this time round.

dead stars

16. Dead Stars by Bruce Wagner

I have a feeling this is going to be a strange one. A satire on Hollywood, it sounds less La La Land and more Maps to the Stars. Featuring drug addicted American Idol contestants, failed celebrity photographers and Michael Douglas, I could be in for a treat here, or I could want to throw it out the window.


17. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Is I just me, or has Elizabeth Strout been everywhere for the last few years? Having read all your glowing reviews for My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, I was delighted to find a copy of Olive Kitteridge lurking, forgotten in my iBooks.


18. Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Peter Carey, but have always enjoyed his books, particularly Oscar and Lucinda. As a former Art gallery manager, I’m always drawn to books about art and artists, so should enjoy this tale of an old famous painter whose life is turned upside down by a mysterious young woman.


19. Duplicate Keys by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is another writer I haven’t read for a long time and I like the sound of this character driven thriller.


20. Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock Star Fantasist by Simon Armitage

Anyone who knows me, will know my love for Simon Armitage, so he fills this year’s music memoir slot as he explores the importance music has had on his life and career.

So that’s my 20 books, however this year I’ve allocated two ‘spares’ just in case one of my 20 isn’t working for me and they are:

1. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is getting rave reviews and Zone One has been on my TBR for ages now. I’ve tried to read it quite a few times now, which it why it’s a possible replacement rather than a firm choice. I’m just not sure that it’s for me, although I do love a good zombie story…

2. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson hasn’t let me down yet, from Life After Life to Behind the Scenes at the Museum. The only reason this isn’t on the main list is because I’ve read a lot of Atkinson’s work over the last couple of years and would like to try some other authors this time round.

So, what do you think of the choices? Any I should start first? Any you think I’m mad to include? Does anyone think my spare reads should be in my main list?

I’ll be keeping a pinned Master post on the blog from 1 June, with a Linky where you can share your lists if you are taking part.

Remember, if 20 seems too daunting, then there are the 15 and 10 options also!




Just take the Books of Summer image, pick your own 10, 15 or 20 books you’d like to read and link back to my Master post so I know you’re taking part.  I’d love your support and as anyone who has taken part before will know, I am wonderfully slack with my rules!

I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge as well using the hashtag #20booksofsummer. Do let me know if you will be joining in and don’t forget to link up your lists on Thursday when it all kicks off!



An interview with Martina Devlin, author of About Sisterland


Irish author and journalist Martina Devlin was born in Omagh and her new novel About Sisterland imagines a 22nd century world run by women, following the decimation of the male species in a world-altering war. Men are the inferior sex in Sisterland controlled through the use of testosterone-regulating drugs, denied education, segregated from women and used only for menial tasks and the purpose of conception. Boy children and separated from their mothers at birth and girl children are prized.



Women are carefully controlled in Sisterland too. Emotions (‘moes’) are seen as something that holds women back and so are rationed. Natural moes have become extinct and the world women have created is almost overbearingly ‘nice’. On the surface life seems perfect, yet their flowers are sprayed with a chemical scent, birds no longer exist in the wild and women wear a youthful mask, or ‘skin’ ostensibly to protect them from environmental damage. Women must live according to the rules of Sisterland’s founder, Beloved, handed down by a mysterious group called The Nine and the utopia of a world run by women has given way to a restrictive, monitored existence – a Big Sister if you will, rather than a Big Brother.

The novel follows Constance, who is recovering from the suicide of her friend and ‘other’ Silence, as she forms a risky relationship with her designated male mate Harper and becomes embroiled in a Resistance movement who are beginning to question the values of Sisterland and champion the need for fellow inhabitants to think and act for themselves. About Sisterland is a powerful and thought-provoking insight into the old adage that power corrupts, regardless of the intentions behind it and of how we always need to question what we are being told.

Martina Devlin


I recently asked Martina a few questions about her new novel.

You’ve written two historical novels, The House Where it Happened and Ship of Dreams. Was it your intention to set a book in the future, or did the themes you wanted to explore require it?

Initially I thought I’d set it in the present. But once the writing was under way, I realised I had no choice but to relocate the novel to the near future because I wanted to show what this society would be like after women held power for a century. However, I made a deliberate decision not to have too much by way of futuristic trappings because the book may have a 22nd century dateline but it deals with the present. For example, by making Sisterland cloistered, with citizens forbidden to travel within the state or to leave it, I’m exploring isolationism and its dangers. We have too many barricades keeping one another apart. The mental walls are the most frightening.

You’ve said in interviews that About Sisterland is a book about extremism. I also grew up in Northern Ireland through the Troubles and was interested in how you explored both the distrust of and the fascination with the ‘other’. How influential was the history of Northern Ireland to About Sisterland?

It was the pivotal inspiration for the novel. I’m acutely conscious of what happens when communities are kept apart because of growing up during the Troubles. Segregating people, or to allow them to self-segregate, is a recipe for disaster because the other side becomes reduced to stereotypes at best and demonised at worst. I was also thinking about Palestine/Israel and what happens when the oppressed become the oppressors.

A matriarchal society is often discussed as something to strive for. You’ve taken the traits of femininity that are often seen as nurturing and positive and turned them into something almost overbearing. Would you agree that once a behaviour becomes a rule rather than a natural instinct, it is changed somewhat?

A narrow, rigid set of rules doesn’t allow for flexibility or individuality or self-determination. Of course, laws are needed to give society its structure – otherwise there’d be anarchy. But too many regulations are authoritarian, even if represented as being for the best. And rules become particularly tyrannical when they follow individuals into the privacy of their homes. When I was considering this society, I was referencing countries such as North Korea, to some extent. It will be extremely difficult for its population to transition to a democracy because people are no longer conditioned to make decisions about their own destinies.

There are echoes of Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, which you quote at the start of your book, but About Sisterland also brought George Orwell’s 1984 to my mind. The constant monitoring, the rationing of emotion and the manipulation of memory being some of the more frightening aspects of the Sisterland world. Was this something you had in mind?

Not to begin with. The only element I was clear on from the outset was the totalitarianism, because power always corrupts. I’m amazed when I hear people say, as they sometimes do, that a benign dictatorship or unelected group of public servants would be the most effective way to rule a country. It was suggested by some commentators at the height of the Irish financial collapse, for example. No dictator, irrespective of how benign, ever surrendered power voluntarily.


The role of men in Sisterland is similar to the role of women in many countries around the world – they are the subjugated ‘other’, doing menial work; being unable to participate fully in society; even wearing hoods to hide their faces. Was this something you wanted to draw out?

Yes, the lack of educational opportunities for girls in many countries worldwide is extraordinary in 2015. I wondered how it might be if the male sex was denied schooling, was conditioned to believe it had to cover up in public, and so on. Gender/sexual politics weren’t the only thing on my mind in this context, though. At various stages I was also thinking about apartheid, the male-centric foundation of the Irish state, the Magdalen laundries and religious cults. As the book went on, I was reflecting, too, on the importance of forgiveness for past wrongs.

The use of language in About Sisterland is fascinating and you have created an entire lexicon to tell your story. Himtime, babyfusion, silkenspeak are all very evocative words. Did you create the language of Sisterland before you started writing or did it evolve as the story grew?

The language evolved. Initially I only had a few terms –such as babyfusion and moes for emotion – and others occurred to me over the course of rewrites. With matingplace, where men and women attempted to reproduce (since artificial insemination has a low success rate in Sisterland) I was hoping to convey how sanitised and utilitarian it was. My moe themes are intended to highlight the sterility that develops when emotions are suppressed. I guess because Sisterland is such an unusual world, I decided it needed its own language. Besides, language is contantly evolving. It would have been counter-intuitive to leave it untouched in the novel.

The book leaves the reader asking more questions about your protagonists, do you feel you could return to the story of Constance and Harper in the future?

I’m uncertain about that, because I don’t know what happens to Constance and Harper. I don’t know if they get away from Sisterland or if they are caught. Even if they do escape, I don’t know if they can make a success of life in Outsideland. I’ve never written a sequel to any of my novels, although it was suggested that I do one for Ship of Dreams about my Titanic survivors. Sequels rarely live up to expectations. But I like the speculative fiction format so who knows? And there are some people in Sisterland whose story continues to interest me – the Shaper Mother, for example. I was never entirely sure if she had Constance’s best interests at heart. What would Sisterland be like if she got her hands on the controls.

Can you tell us anything about what you are working on for your next book?

History again, the 1500s, and it might just be a little bit spooky. But it’s early days. I’m still feeling my way.


I’d like to thank Martina for taking the time to answer my questions about her thought-provoking and challenging book. About Sisterland is out now, published by Ward River Press.

You can find out more about Martina’s work at www.martinadevlin.com, or follow her on Twitter @DevlinMartina or on Facebook.