December is the sixth month of Ninja Book Club and as we've systematically meant to blog about each months' book after the twitter chat and failed to do so we thought it was a good time to do a little round up of the excellent books we've read so far.
Unlike the book boxes, titles selected for book club aren't always ones we've personally read. Sometimes they're suggested by our Ninja Readers, the general public, book club subscribers or even the publishers themselves, which means that we get a really eclectic range and it's a really great way to pick up books you otherwise wouldn't have chosen. So far at least three of the titles which have won the poll aren't books I would have picked myself based on synopsis, but they've been some of my favourite books of the year.
We started off with The Clocks in this House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks (published by Salt), which I'm still referring to as 'the clocks book' because I get the words the wrong way around!The book itself however was fantastic, if a difficult read at times. It's set after the first world war when Lucy Marsh is taken into the woods each week to meet the 'funny men', named after Dorothy's companions in the Wizard of Oz, all of whom are disfigured in different ways.
The often bleak and emotionally affecting subject matter is offset by the beauty of the writing and the voice that Xan Brooks gives to Lucy. It's a debut novel which definitely doesn't read like one and although it can be hard to read at times it was one of the stand-out books of the year for me, and has just been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.
Lots of the books we've read so far have been thematically difficult, and personally I've found it much easier to read them as part of a group endeavour than I would have otherwise - it's been somewhat cathartic to talk it all out at the end of each month. In November's discussion about How to Be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill (published by Salt) for example we talked a bit about the profound effects of literature which is about things that have happened in our lifetime but that we don't necessarily know much about. Ninja Book Club has definitely prompted me to find out more about many things, from the Kosovan War to Indian politics and everything in between.
Currently I know what the January title is but we haven't announced it yet (smug face) and I am so looking forward to the discussion we're going to have already. We always try to put forward a varied selection for the four titles we offer in the poll each month, but somehow the one that's eventually chosen always seems to be the perfect book to have read that month.
October's book choice, Masque by Bethany Pope (published by Seren Books) was the book I was most excited to read because I absolutely love and adore The Phantom of the Opera - both the original novel by Gaston Leroux, the previous retelling I'd read, Phantom by Susan Kay and of course the stage show - and it speaks to the quality of the books that we've read so far that it was the book that we as a club had the least strong feelings about. It is a clever reworking of the story and if you're a fan of Phantom I'd definitely suggest reading it for a much more feminist version of Christine than I've ever come across before, and a completely different take on Raoul (which most of us felt made much more sense than other versions we've seen).
The previous months' book was also a retelling and along with The Clocks in this House... and We That Are Young is definitely going into my top books of 2017. Sealskin by Su Bristow (published by Orenda Books) is a retelling of the Selkie myth and is just so beautifully written and such an incredibly told story that I physically hugged the book once I finished. Donald is a fisherman who encounters selkies while out in his boat one night. The novel starts off with violence and explores the way that people can grow and relationships can change. It's a book about love, self discovery and the secrets people keep from each other and honestly if I could only recommend one book to you from my 2017 reading this might well be it (although it's fighting with The Hate U Give - not a book club book but absolutely mindblowing).
Our second title, The Ghost Who Bled by Gregory Norminton (published by Comma Press) was a complete departure for me. I buy a lot of short story collections but very rarely sit down and read one cover to cover as I prefer to dip in and out and often get distracted. However I have to say that not only was this one of the strongest collections I've ever read but it's also definitely one of the most memorable books I've read all year. The stories in this collection are weird and wonderful and about the many forms that death can take but it isn't at all depressing. So many of them have stayed with me ever since and for me that's the mark of a fantastic story.
I just finished December's choice and don't want to talk too much about it ahead of our book club chat on twitter on January 7th. Instead I'll tell you that We That Are Young by Preti Taneja (published by Galley Beggar Press) was included in the Guardian's fiction books of the year, and has also just been longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. It's a reworking of King Lear set in contemporary India and it is amazing. I don't think I've ever read a book like it. I was slightly worried about including it for book club because it's huge but even at my current interrupted by small children every two minutes reading pace I got through it in a week and was totally immersed throughout.
I am genuinely excited to put the poll up each month for the next months' book choice. I love the vast range of indie lit we're discovering together and I've really enjoyed having the chance to bounce thoughts off others - even when the discussions have been low on numbers they have been thought provoking and a lot of fun.
If you've recently read a great independently published book you'd like to suggest for Ninja Book Club we'd love you to - just head here and submit the title via the form.
We also offer subscriptions for the book club, although you can join the discussion whether you go the book from us or elsewhere. You can get them as a one or three month subscription or 13 months for the price of 12. We have one spot left to start with December, but after today all subscriptions will start with or be for January's book.