Reading Challenge 2018!

Back in mid January last year I decided to join some friends in the Pop Sugar reading challenge 2017.  Now, I didn’t quite tick off all of the categories – but I’m quite pleased with what I managed, and you can look at all of my reviews in the ‘2017 Reading Challenge’ category on this blog.

2017 Reading Challenge
A book recommended by a librarian The Unpredictable Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell
A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long The Cows by Dawn O’Porter
A book of letters The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
An audiobook Crackanory – too cracked for TV
A book by a person of colour  …
A book with one of the four seasons in the title One Endless Summer by Laurie Ellingham
A book that is a story within a story The Forever House by Veronica Henry
A book with multiple authors Scummy Mummies by Helen Thorn and Ellie Gibson
An espionage thriller  …
A book with a cat on the cover Family Ghouls by Alex A King
A book by an author who uses a pseudonym The Summer House By The Sea by Jenny Oliver
A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read  …
A book by or about a person who has a disability Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon
A book involving travel The Break by Marian Keyes
A book with a subtitle The Love of the Game:  Parenthood, Sport and Me by Mark Chapman
A book that’s published in 2017 After You by Mhairi McFarlane
A book involving a mythical creature The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile  …
A book about food The Wonder by Emma Donohue
A book with career advice Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
A book from a nonhuman perspective The Bees by Laline Paull
A steampunk novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
A book with a red spine Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
A book set in the wilderness  …
A book you loved as a child  …
A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited  …
A book with a title that’s a character’s name The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey by Rachel Joyce
A novel set during wartime To My Daughter In France by Barbara and Stephanie Keating
A book with an unreliable narrator The Woman Who Ran by Sam Baker
A book with pictures Strong Woman: The Truth About Getting To The Top by Karren Brady
A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
A book about an interesting woman Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
A book set in two different time periods The Party by Elizabeth Day
A book with a month or a day of the week in the title  …
A book set in a hotel The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
A book written by someone you admire There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell
A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017  …
A book set around a holiday other than Christmas A Catered Fourth of July by Isis Crawford
The first book in a series you haven’t read before Watermelon by Marian Keyes
A book you bought on a trip The Postcard by Fern Britton

A friend in the Facebook group we’ve set up to share book reviews and ideas said she’d downloaded the 2018 challenge – and of course, I couldn’t say no – so I’ve had to join in too!  I don’t think I’m going to beat myself up about it so much this year – and will read off piste if I want to. Equally, this year if I’m not enjoying a book I’m not going to persevere! Life’s too short and all that.

You can read more about the challenge itself here – but here’s the summary of topics:

2018 reading challenge

And in a paraphrase of Strictly Come Dancing – keeeeeeeep reading!

 

 

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Book Review: To My Daughter in France by Barbara and Stephanie Keating

This book was recommended to me by a friend in case I was still looking to tick off the category ‘A book with multiple authors’ in my reading challenge – but I’d already got that one sorted – so I used this for ‘A novel set in wartime’ – but it could have slotted into other categories too (a good all rounder!)

To my daughter in France

“”And to my daughter in France, I bequeath the remainder of my Estate.” These words, read from the will of Irish academic Richard Kirwan, come as a complete surprise to his grieving family. In France, 24-year-old Solange de Valnay’s world is equally shattered: she loves the man she calls “Papa” and the Languedoc vineyard in which she had the happiest of childhoods; Celine, her adored mother, is dead. Just as she is about to embark on married life with her fiance Guy, all her certainties are undercut with doubt. She resolves to spurn her new-found Irish half-siblings. But once revealed, the truth of Richard Kirwan’s liaison cannot be so easily buried. The grief and anger of the Kirwan children impels them to ask searching questions – of their vibrant, artist mother Helena, and of Seamus, the saintly uncle whose life in Connemara seems perplexingly loveless. And though Solange might try to run from the past, it lives on in the memory of her remarkable, surprising grandmother, Charlotte. What emerges is an extraordinary tale of an irresistible but impossible love affair, of passion and blind heroism, of sacrifices made for love and honour and of four families whose resistance to the German forces occupying France during Second World War binds them across borders and cultures and through war and peace.”

Having just read a book I didn’t enjoy (The Bees by Laline Paull) – this gripped me from the start – which made a refreshing change, and reignited my desire to read!

It jumps between the present day (albeit the present day is 1970 and thus before I was born!) and the start of the story during the second world war.  However, the change in story keeps you wanting to read on – it doesn’t feel disjointed.  I’m not sure how the 2 authors split the writing – but it doesn’t feel like one wrote one time period and the other another era – it all kind of flows.

Some of it is in Dublin, some in rural Ireland, some in Paris, some in Geneva, some in various areas of rural France and some in prisoner of war camps (I’ve been to visit Dachau and what you see there stays with you forever) – and each of the different locations is described wonderfully.

There are some massive co-incidences – of different people meeting up in random places – and you kind of just have to go with that and accept it’s happened for the story to work!

I have one pet peeve (mostly because I am stupidly anal!) but at one point the story is in Thonon les Bains (somewhere I know well, as my best friend from school lives nearby) and the character in question says that they should return to France – implying it’s in Switzerland, as they’ve gone there from Geneva.  Thonon is actually over the border already in France, and I believe the writers meant Paris rather than France – but careless errors like this in the editing really annoy me.  I should, perhaps, get out more……..

But overall this is a beautiful, well written, interesting book that keeps the reader engaged.  The various different love stories – featuring all different types of love – are fabulously nuanced, and evolve really well.

Definitely a book I’d recommend – whether for a category on a reading challenge or just for an escapist read!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees

Whilst I have admitted defeat this month and realise I am unlikely to finish my 2017 Reading Challenge, I’m still reading some of the books the various prompts have meant I’ve downloaded (waste not, want not and all that!).  This one is in the category ‘A book from a non human perspective’. As you may guess from the title – this is from the perspective of a bee.  Here’s the blurb.

“Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen.

Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous.

Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, meaning her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

Laline Paull’s chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, ‘The Bees’ is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.”

Now, I have to confess for the first 20% of this book I struggled to imagine this as anything other than the set of The Bee Movie – which is a fairly rubbish cartoon film that my kids watched in the back of my car for months on end some years ago.  I am completely sure that Laline Paull did not make wonderful descriptions for me to imagine that – but I really struggled to see it in any different way!

In fact I really struggled to get into this book (probably because it’s not really my type of genre – I’m not good at non human / sci fi type books or films for that matter) and because I’d admitted defeat on the challenge as a whole – so was having a bit of a teenage ‘what’s the point in reading it at all if I’m not going to finish the challenge’ grumpy, shoulder hunched kind of mard!

The descriptions are great – and I am sure the research into the inner workings of a bee hive and the life cycle of different types of bees was cleverly incorporated – but I just didn’t really get the point of it.  I don’t particularly like bees, I had no affinity to Flora, and didn’t really care what happened to her or the hive – which I don’t think helped my love of the book – and the fact it took me so long to wade through it.

I think I need to remember that ‘critically acclaimed’ and ‘award winning ‘ don’t necessarily mean a book I will enjoy!!

Still – another category ticked off – and another author I won’t rush to read again – so not a total waste of time!!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor

The Nothing Girl

I put a ‘shout out’ (that sounds so 90s, but I’ll stick with it) to the ladies in my reading challenge for recommendations for my missing categories – and one friend recommended ‘The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor for the mystical creature category.  (And the aforementioned friend used to be a librarian – so that could have been another category covered too!)

Here is the Amazon blurb:

“Getting a life isn’t always easy. And hanging on to it is even harder…
Known as “The Nothing Girl” because of her severe stutter and chronically low self-confidence, Jenny Dove is only just prevented from ending it all by the sudden appearance of Thomas, a mystical golden horse only she can see. Under his guidance, Jenny unexpectedly acquires a husband – the charming and chaotic Russell Checkland – and for her, nothing will ever be the same again.

With over-protective relatives on one hand and the world’s most erratic spouse on the other, Jenny needs to become Someone. And fast!”

I have to say I really enjoyed this book.  In some ways it reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant – in that Jenny, the main character, isn’t a ‘normal’ heroine of a book and you’re rooting for her throughout.  It cleverly brings in the ‘imaginary friend’ – Thomas the golden horse – which I thought I might find weird, but I soon got used to that idea.

Some bits had me laughing out loud, and other bits made me cry, but it kept my interest with a twisting and turning plot – and you’re never quite sure who’s got Jenny’s back and who hasn’t – until right near the end.

The characters are all very different – and it felt like you got to know them well – but your heart is always with Jenny.

The ending was lovely – and left me wanting more (and I can see there is a 2nd book in the series – I just might have to wait until 2018 when I’m allowed off piste with my reading and have ticked off all of the challenge categories!!)

Book Review: A Catered Fourth of July by Isis Crawford

A Catered Fourth of July

One of the categories in my 2017 Reading Challenge was ‘A book set around a holiday other than Christmas’ – so good old Google came to my assistance and I found this on Amazon. It looked like it would be a relatively easy read – and one of the characters was called Libby!  So this was a deliberate choice, rather than my last book where it came as a shock that I shared a name with a main character!!

Anyway – here’s the Amazon blurb:

“High noon on July Fourth in the quiet town of Longley, New York, and it’s got to be one hundred degrees. Thankfully, sisters Bernie and Libby are setting up their yummy catering out of the sun in the gazebo for the reenactment of The Battle of Meadow Creek—and not baking in those Revolutionary War uniforms with their fellow townspeople …
After a few cheery exchanges of “Moveth” and “Thou speakest treason,” the muskets are fired and the fake battle is over. But the blood on notorious town playboy Jack Devlin looks very real. Is it possible that Jack has had his last tryst? 
When town councilman and resident loudmouth Rick Evans fingers Libby’s beau, Marvin, as the killer, Bernie and Libby know they’ve got to get cooking on the case. But the former Casanova has burned half the town—including the hot-headed politician and his occasionally faithful wife. And what about re-enactor Elise Montague, who is training to be an EMT yet almost fainted at the sight of blood on the deceased? 
Bernie and Libby have their plates overloaded with suspects, and will need to work very fast to clear Marvin’s name. The simmering killer is still out there, armed and taking shots, and unless the sisters quickly get to the bottom of this patriotic pre-meditation…their goose may be cooked!”

It would appear that this is a series of books – but I don’t think that mattered, at no point did I feel I was missing out on key facts – so I think they could all be read standalone.

Early on I was annoyed at the slap dash editing – with the omission of an ‘of’ (I know, I probably need to get out more!) but as the book progressed I realised that this was probably an Americanism in the writing as it happened a lot.

It was a basic read – and not at all challenging – and also not that brilliant.

The ‘mystery’ twists and turns a bit – but I didn’t care enough about any of the characters to be that bothered who was guilty and why.

There were recipes at the end – which might be nice if you were in to that sort of thing – which clearly the author is, as the food throughout the book is described really well.

I definitely won’t be searching out any other books by this author – but at least that’s another one off the list…………

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

 

The Wonder

I have been doing the Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge for, well, 2017 to date!  Sometimes I’ve shoe horned some of my TBR pile into a category – and sometimes I’ve followed up on recommendations from friends.  However, I was struggling for some categories – but a little Google revealed that Popsugar had some recommendations for all of the categories – so I thought that would be a good place to start!

So – for the category ‘A book about food’ I went for The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.

Here is the blurb:

“An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story.

Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the sixteenth century and the twentieth – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.”

First things first I was a bit shocked that the main character, and the person whose view the book is written from – the English nurse sent to investigate – is called Lib – like me. That had to be a good sign?!?

I found this a bit of a slow burner (which looking back I also did with the other book I’ve read by Emma Donoghue – the critically acclaimed ‘Room’).  I kept expecting for it to get going – but it definitely took over half of the book to do that.  There was a lot of descriptions of the Irish Midlands, and the house where the young girl and her family lived.  It all felt a bit repetitive and dull.  Lib wasn’t that nice – and definitely looked down her nose at the family she was ‘observing’ and the other ‘locals’ – particularly their religious faith.  However, most of them did need a good shake – so I can see where Lib was coming from.

I’m not a massive fan of historical fiction (or TV programmes or films) so I guess it’s not a massive surprise I found quite a lot of it a bit dreary (like the Irish Midlands by the sounds of it!)

However, about 70% through (got to love a Kindle!) the book finally picked up – and was a real roller coaster through to the end with numerous twists and turns.  This meant that overall it was an ok book – but definitely just ok rather than brilliant!

I’m not sure how much of it was based on fact – and how much was artistic licence – but terribly sad if this did happen a lot.

In conclusion, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to read any more Emma Donoghue – but that’s another category ticked off the list.  Just 13 more categories to complete in the next 2.5 months #nopressurethen

 

 

 

Book Review: Watermelon by Marian Keyes

Watermelon

I recently read The Break by Marian Keyes and really enjoyed it – so when my 2017 Reading Challenge suggested ‘ the first book in a series’ I thought I’d go back to the start of Marian’s writing and read  the first book in her series about the Walsh sisters.

Here’s the blurb:

“On the day she gives birth to her first child, Claire Walsh’s husband James tells her he’s been having an affair and now’s the right time to leave her.
Right for who exactly? Exhausted, tearful and a tiny bit furious, Claire can’t think of what to do. So she follows the instincts of all self-respecting adults in tricky situations.
. . . And runs home to Mum and Dad.
But while her parents are sympathetic, Claire’s younger sisters are less so. Helen wants to share the new toy (she means baby Kate). While Anna is too busy having out-of her-head experiences.
So when James slips back into her life, desperate to put things right, Claire doesn’t know whether to take a chance on a past she feared she’d lost forever or face an uncertain future of her own.
But is she as on her own as she really believes?”

Very early on in the book I had a wobble.  Claire takes her 2 day old baby and flies from London to Dublin.  I was concerned about the lack of official documentation, surely there are child trafficking issues if the new baby doesn’t have a name, let alone a birth certificate or passport. Anyway, I gave myself a good shake, and reminded myself it was a book and I shouldn’t be so anal.

Slightly further on – Claire, at her parents’ home in Dublin, phones her husband back in London – but he doesn’t pick up.  Why doesn’t she text him?  Facebook or Twitter direct message him?  Send  him a quick Whatsapp or Snapchat message?  I am confused.  I then check when the book was published and it was 1995!!  This is practically a historical novel!  I hadn’t even graduated or been married the first time back then.  So – I went back to the book with a slightly different view point!!

The book is told from Claire’s point of view – and she thinks around facts A LOT.  Sometimes I wanted to give her a slap and get her to concentrate on the task in hand.

I found the character of James REALLY annoying (and not just because he is giving accountants bad press!) – but he was horrible and controlling and not nice at all.  I also didn’t particularly like either of Claire’s sisters that you meet in this book (so I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the rest of the Walsh family books TBH)

A lot of the writing felt quite frantic, and rush rush rush from topic to topic – almost manic at times. I think Ms Keyes’ writing style has definitely improved over 20 years.

Overall it was amusing, emotional, entertaining and not challenging to read – but hasn’t made me want to go through the entire Marian Keyes back catalogue in order (which was kind of my reasoning for starting with the first one).

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Woman Who Ran by Sam Baker

The Woman Who Ran

I feel like I’ve known Sam Baker for years (not in a weird stalkery way – honestly!) but initially as editor of Red Magazine – and now as joint founder and regular contributor to The Pool website.  I’ve read some of her previous books (way back when I didn’t bore everyone with book reviews of everything I read!) but somehow this one, published last year, had slipped through my net.  However I needed a book with an unreliable narrator for one of the categories on my 2017 Reading Challenge – and Helen,  the main character in this book, definitely looked like she’d fit that description.

“What is making Helen Graham so jumpy and evasive? Newly arrived in a tiny Yorkshire village, she finds the locals’ curiosity her worst nightmare.

Looking over her shoulder every day, she tries to piece together her past before it can catch up with her. But with everything she knows in fragments, from her marriage to her career as a war photographer, how can she work out who to trust and what to believe? Most days she can barely remember who she is…

She can run. But can she hide?”

I just want to say up front I LOVED THIS BOOK!  I read it as quickly as I could – even staying up late reading one night (which is ridiculous given how sleep deprived I am at the best of times!!)

It is set in the current day – but then also in flashbacks as Helen recounts her story – or what she remember of it – to a man she meets whilst hiding out in the Yorkshire Dales. He, Gil, is a recently retired journalist – with relationship issues of his own.

The book twists and turns and keeps you guessing.  It’s also beautifully written – quite often in books I spot chapters or chunks that feel like they’re ‘padding’ to up the word count – but at no point during this novel did I think that.  Everything is described brilliantly without being verbose – and it’s really atmospheric.

The descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales are stunning – and it also cleverly intertwines digital footprints, domestic violence, everyday sexism and village life throughout the book.

When I read the interview with Sam Baker at the end – along with the book club discussion suggestions – I realised that it was loosely based around The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. And having just Googled the novel (to check which Bronte wrote it) I’ve realised that the character names of Helen Graham and Gilbert Markham are also the same.   Having never read that classic, I didn’t see that of my own accord, but some of you may – and I suspect there are super clever plot alliances that I’ve missed too!  **  Note to self: I must read the original to compare!! **

I can’t say much more without giving the plot of the book away (and I loathe reviews that do that) but it’s definitely a thumbs up from me!

 

Book Review: Crackanory Too Cracked for TV (Audible)

Crackanory Too Cracked for TV

One of the categories in my 2017 Reading Challenge was an audiobook.  I have NEVER listened to a book before – it kind of feels like cheating??  So – I decided to search on Amazon for an audible book for something a) free and b) short – and decided I could listen to it in the car on the way to and from work. I came across Crackanory – and thought this could be amusing….

Here’s the blurb:

“Imagine if Jackanory was set free from its childish shackles. What twisted, funny tales would it unleash upon the world?

Combining some of the UK’s best and brightest comedy writers and performers, this exclusive to audio edition of UKTV’s Dave Channel Crackanory is a master class in storytelling and features an all-star cast including Toby Jones, Katherine Parkinson, John Robins, Robert Bathurst and Simon Bird.

Episode List:

  • ‘Kill Phil’
  • ‘Mummy Business’
  • ‘The Character Assassin’
  • ‘The IT Man’
  • ‘The Egg That Knew Too Much’  “

 

All of the stories were silly / funny / rude / a bit offensive / sweary / amusing / far fetched  fairy tale esque.  They were in bite sized chunks – so throw in a bit of a traffic jam each way, and they were a car journey each.  I enjoyed them – but would also have enjoyed listening to the radio and singing along to some tunes.

I can see that audio books have a place – maybe if you’re partially sighted, or doing a monotonous task for hours and want a distraction. Perhaps if I was to do a long car journey on my own then it would be a good call (although if I did a long car journey on my own I’d probably just enjoy the silence of not having to referee squabbling children!)

All in all – I don’t think I’m a convert – but wouldn’t be scared to download one in the future.  #glowingpraiseindeed

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan

Earlier in the year I tried – and failed – to read my first Steampunk novel – for my 2017 Reading Challenge.  I struggled with the book I chose – and so a friend suggested this.  Her reasoning for choosing it for this category was it was young adult and so wouldn’t be too onerous or long to read – but she’d actually enjoyed it, and gone on to read the rest of the trilogy.  She and I have similar tastes in lots of things (in fact there’s potentially a whole series of blog posts in that single comment!) so I went for Leviathan so I wasn’t beaten by Steampunk.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“The year is 1914 and Europe, armed with futuristic machines and biotechnology, is on the precipice of war. Prince Aleksandar is fleeing for his life, having discovered that his parents have been assassinated and he is now a target for the Clanker Powers, a group determined to take over the globe with their mechanical machinery. When he meets Deryn Sharpe, an orphan girl who has disguised herself as a boy so she can to join the British Air Service, they form an uneasy, but necessary, alliance. But the pair will soon discover that their emerging friendship will dramatically change their lives – and the entire course of the Great World War…”

So……

It was better than the first Steampunk novel I tried – but still not really my bag.  I romped through it – but because I was desperate to finish it and read something I wanted to, not because I was really enjoying it.

I’d been warned the YA style ‘swearing’ could be a bit annoying – and it was!

The Clankers and the Darwinists – with their traditional machinery and weird hybrid animal machines respectively were all just plain odd.

I quite liked Alek and Deryn as characters – and despite massively different backgrounds – their loyalty and bravery were parallel.

My favourite part was after the book finished (I could just put a full stop there?!)  and there was a section telling you what was based on fact and what was purely fiction – that showed it was quite clever – definitely more clever than I’d appreciated as I was reading anyway!

I also felt a bit short changed, as I did with the penultimate Harry Potter film, it didn’t really stand alone – and felt like a big introduction to the next installment.  The story was not concluded and you need to read on to discover what happens – whether anyone works out that Deryn is a girl, if it ends up being a love story, who wins the war etc etc.  Now I don’t mind a book being the first in a trilogy – but it’s good if you can read it on its own – but in this case, I don’t feel like I’ve finished.  However – I have – and I can finally say I haven’t been beaten by Steampunk – but I know I won’t be venturing into it ever again!

Now – back to a nice thriller or chick lit book for me!!