Amazon 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime – the UK version

Hello Bookworms!

A couple of weeks ago I did the Amazon.com’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime and I was quite surprised at how few books I’d read.

“I’m a reading failure!” I cried. “Will Netgalley take my special virtual badge off me?” (I’m really attached to that badge – I think this is the third post where it’s had a mention).

Thankfully, the wonderful Liz@travelinretrospect saved my bacon by pointing out that the Amazon.co.uk list is weirdly…easier? More relevant? More reflective of UK reader’s tastes? Whatever, I’ve read more novels on this slightly sinister, nudge theory approach to getting you to buy more books (from a company with a terrible history of employment legislation infringements) so with the caveat that EVERYONE SHOULD SUPPORT LOCAL INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERSAND LIBRARIES…off we go!

1. Include a link back to Amazon’s official 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime (I sense this might come back to haunt me in some dystopian future)
2. Tag Perfectly Tolerable, the creator of this meme
3. Tag the person who nominated you
4. Copy the list of books and indicate which titles you have read.
5. Tally up your total.
6. Comment on the post you were tagged in and share your total count.
7. Tag five new people and comment on one of their posts to let them know.

Let’s get on with the list:

1984 George Orwell (oh the irony)

A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking

A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry

A Game of Thrones George R R Martin

A History of the World in 100 Objects Neil MacGregor

All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque

American Gods Neil Gaiman

American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis

Artemis Fowl Eoin Colfer

Atonement Ian McKewan

Bad Science Ben Goldacre

Birdsong Sebastian Faulks

Brideshead Revisted Evelyn Waugh

Bridget Jones’s Diary Helen Fielding

Brighton Rock Graham Greene

Casino Royale Ian Fleming

Catch 22 Joseph Hellier

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

Cider with Rosie Laurie Lee

Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoevesky

Dissolution C J Sansom

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Philip K. Dick

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson

Frankenstein Mary Shelley

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Goodnight Mister Tom Michelle Magorian

Great Expectations Charles Dickens

Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone J K Rowling

High Fidelity Nick Hornby

In Cold Blood Truman Capote

Knots and Crosses Ian Rankin

Last Orders Graham Swift

Little Women Louise May Alcott

Lolita Vladimir Nabokov

London Fields Martin Amis

London: The Biography Peter Akroyd

Long Walk to Freedom Nelson Mandela

Lord of the Flies William Golding

Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie

My Man Jeeves P G Woodhouse

Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro

Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami

Notes From A Small Island Bill Bryson

Noughts and Crosses Malorie Blackman

One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson

Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier

Stormbreaker Anthony Horowitz

Tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy

The Book Thief Markus Zusak

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas John Boyne

The Colour of Magic Terry Pratchett

The Commitments Roddy Doyle

The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank

The Enchanted Wood Enid Blyton

The English Patient Michael Ondaatje

The Fellowship of the Ring J R R Tolkien

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson

The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck

The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Gruffalo Julia Donaldson

The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood

The Hare with Amber Eyes Edmund de Waal

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams

The Hound of the Baskervilles Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Oliver Sacks

The Mill on the Floss George Eliot

The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway

The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde

The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver

The Road Cormac McCarthy

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Sue Townsend

The Secret History Donna Tartt

The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins

The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes

The Stand Stephen King

The Story of Tracy Beaker Jacqueline Wilson

The Tale of Peter Rabbit Beatrix Potter

The Tiger Who Came to Tea Judith Kerr

The Time Machine H G Wells

The Worst Witch Jill Murphy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy John Le Carré

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf

The Wasp Factory Iain Banks

Trainspotting Irvine Welsh

Venice Jan Morris

Watchmen Alan Moore

Watership Down Richard Adams

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Helen Oxenbury

White Teeth Zadie Smith

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China Jung Chang

Winnie the Pooh A A Milne

Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë

Much better; 42 books out of 100. Yay me!

There’s quite a few books on here that I can’t remember if I’ve read or not (Pride and Prejudice – did we study that at school? Lord of the Flies – I have vague recollections but I could be thinking of any number of films/tv series. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – did I read that to my cousins when they were little?) I haven’t included them, just in case. Also, I never know whether to include The Gruffalo – I’ve seen the animated version where the book is literally read out – does that count?

Favourites on the list included Rebecca, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Harry Potter, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and A Game of Thrones. I also have very fond memories of reading The Worst Witch, Goodnight Mr Tom, Peter Rabbit, Little Women and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a child.

Books that bored me to tears (despite being very well written) include The Hare With Amber Eyes, American Gods (despite my undying love of Neil Gaiman and everything else he has written), One Hundred Years of Solitude, Midnights Children (controversial), Lolita (not so much bored as utterly disgusted and angry – I would actually recommend reading this but be warned) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Atonement (found it a bit meh).

Books I’m in the middle of reading/on my immediate TBD include Watchmen, the Handmaid’s Tale, The Diary of a Young Girl, Birdsong and The Poisonwood Bible.

Books I’ve started and not finished (but will do at some point) include Crime and Punishment (heavy going but really good – I must get a copy that isn’t printed in a font designed for hawks) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (think I was too young the first time I tried to read it).

Books I’ve started and will very definitely not finish include Winnie the Pooh (he’s not wearing trousers! All kinds of wrong) The Stand (too scary) and Trainspotting (what are they saying?)

It would be really interesting to see if any US readers fare better with this list than the Amazon.com one – is there really that much difference between us?

I tag everyone that’s had a go at the Amazon.com list!

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Review: The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

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Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

The Toymakers sounds initially like such a good book. Magical realism! The world of the toy shop! Set in the first half of the twentieth century! Romance! Excitement! What’s not to like?

What a disappointment I was in for! My feelings about this book started off great, then descended gradually towards apathy and boredom as it dragged on…and on…and on…yawn. I started off thinking that the novel could be given a five star review but soon changed my mind. Such a shame.

The Toymakers is the story of Cathy, a pregnant teenager. She runs away from home to avoid having her child taken off her for adoption and ends up working at Papa Jack’s Emporium, a magical toy shop in London. She befriends the owner’s sons (Kaspar and Emil Godman) who give her a place to stay and raise her child. However, the First World War strikes and leaves Cathy literally holding the baby. The war changes the Godman family forever, and a rift between the brothers begins a slow decline of their lives together.

At first, The Toymakers is utterly enchanting. The world of the toy shop, the special magic that makes Emporium toys just a little bit more real, the ideas that the family have for creating the most fantastic playthings are all completely spellbinding. The world of the Emporium is beautifully crafted and the magical realism reminded me of The Night Circus or The Paper Magician. There’s a floating castle, paper trees that shoot out of boxes, wind up animals that behave like real pets…I loved the sense of excitement and inventiveness.

However, as time passes and the war begins I began to loose interest in the story. There’s a slow decline in the profits of the Emporium but there’s very little action except for a slow burning resentment between the two brothers. It’s almost as if the author himself began to get bored, as the years begin to turn faster and faster. The lack of interesting plot began to depress me, as none of the characters are happy and things start to fall apart.

I initially liked the gumption of Cathy – the desire to see the world, her resolve to keep her baby and her work ethic all made me warm to her. However, as the book progressed she seemed to get dragged down (along with the rest of the plot) and she became a bit wooden. I hated – HATED – the stupid half love triangle depicted between her and the two Godman brothers, especially when Emil effectively claims Cathy and she doesn’t protest. Neither of them appear to be particularly enamoured with her and Cathy seems to grow out of any feelings she had for either Kaspar or Emil (until the rubbish ending). It seems like a competition between the boys as to who can win Cathy and I thought the book would have been much better without the odd tension.

I really liked little Martha (Cathy’s daughter) and I thought a lot more could have been done with her character. It’s such a shame that she jumped from being a child to a 27 year old woman in the space of one sentence. I would have liked to know more about her life and it could have provided some light relief through the depressing middle section.

The ending to the book is beautifully depicted (although ridiculous and annoying) but I’m afraid that even the breathtaking scenes at the very end couldn’t salvage the storyline. I’ve never read a book that manages to be so good and so bad at the same time.

Overall, I loved certain parts of this book and thought that the inventiveness and creativity was great. I loved the world of the Emporium, the language used and the sense of wonder that was portrayed. Sadly, I felt that the book lost its way and it really dragged towards the end.

Overall rating: 3/5
Inventive, exciting and magical…for the first few chapters at least. All downhill from then on.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

The Nope Tag!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s have a nice alternative to all that mushy hearts and romance crap with…the Nope Tag! Thank you so much to the lovely Orangutan Librarian for tagging me!

The creator of this tag can be found <a href="here!

1. NOPE. Ending: A book ending that made you go NOPE either in denial, rage, or simply because the ending was crappy.

There’s tons of terrible endings to books but I really disliked the way that the Life of Pi finished. I THOUGHT I WAS READING AN INTERESTING BOOK NOT WATCHING DALLAS!

2. NOPE. Protagonist: A main character you dislike and drives you crazy.

Pretty much everyone in the Casual Vacancy was a horrible person. I’ve also just read The Confession by Jo Spain and the main character Julie was totally stupid and wet.

3. NOPE. Series: A series that turned out to be one huge pile of NOPE. after you’ve invested all of that time and energy on it, or a series you gave up on because it wasn’t worth it anymore.

The Paper Magician series. First book was really interesting and novel, second book started to loose its way, third book was just convoluted nonsense.

4. NOPE. Popular pairing: A “ship” you don’t support.

What is a ship I am not a teenager!!! From the previous answer and after a very enlightening Google search I’d say Steerpike and Lady Fuchsia Groan from Gormenghast. As far as I’m concerned the whole book is nonsense but trying to pair the two of them together was just all kind of wrong weirdness.

5. NOPE. Plot twist: A plot twist you didn’t see coming or didn’t like.

The whole “you’re actually a magical mystical person reborn” in Everless, and in the words of the Orangutan Librarian “that’s not a spoiler- you can’t spoil a shit book”.

6. NOPE. Protagonist action/decision: A character decision that made you shake your head no.

“Yes I will go on a date with you Christian Grey, you sexy control freak abuser you”.

7. NOPE. Genre: A genre you will never read.

There’s quite a lot – cozy mysteries, “sexy” fantasy (i.e. fantasy with a sexy element called something like “Lord of Fire Spirits Mortal Lover” or some such nonsense) gossipy celeb memoirs…

8. NOPE. Book format: Book formatting you hate and avoid buying until it comes out in a different edition

I don’t like large print, especially in hardback. My arms ache! Also not a fan of audio books, they take too long.

9. NOPE. Trope: A trope that makes you go NOPE.

The we hate each other so much that it somehow turns into passion trope. Just shut up.

10. NOPE. Recommendation: A book recommendation that is constantly hyped and pushed at you that you simply refuse to read.

I’m just not a fan of classics or Shakespeare. I wish I was but I’m just not. I’m reading Les Miserables at the moment by only doing one chapter a day and that seems to be working well though.

11. NOPE. Cliche/pet peeve: A cliche or writing pet peeve that always makes you roll your eyes.

Characters that could be replaced with a sexy lamp and it wouldn’t affect the storyline. I like all my characters to say and do stuff (I feel like this is a pretty low bar to set, but you’d be amazed at how many authors fail to do this).

12. NOPE. Love interest: The love interest that’s not worthy of being one. A character you don’t think should have been a viable love interest.

I’ve pretty much stolen this from the orangutan librarian but Ron Weasley. There’s nothing attractive about him. And to put him with lovely clever ambitious Hermione was ridiculous.

13. NOPE. Book: A book that shouldn’t have existed that made you say NOPE.

John Dies @ The End. I should have known from that title. I think you have to be on drugs to enjoy it.

14. NOPE. Villain: A scary villain/antagonist you would hate to cross and would make you run in the opposite direction.

Pennywise the Clown. I’m so haunted by him. Terrifying.

15. NOPE. Death: A character death that still haunts you.

Oh Severus, surely you could have taken some snake anti venom or something…

16. NOPE. Author: An author you had a bad experience reading for and have decided to quit.

Some of the super popular YA stuff like John Green or Rachel Cohn and David Levithan – I’m a bit too old and I like a bit more darkness in my stories. I’m still angry that they misprinted the Smiths lyrics in Eleanor and Park.

Done!

I tag: HollyVeronicaKayLiz…and Stephanie!

Review: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

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Wow. Where on earth do I start with this review? White Teeth is such a sprawling, all encompassing tale of life in South London told from a myriad of perspectives that it’s hard to sum up all my feelings about it.

But, I am a book reviewer (Netgalley gave me a badge and everything) so… here goes!

White Teeth is predominantly the story of two immigrant families (except the father of one family is English with a Jamaican wife and the other family are Asian) joined through friendship (except the wives – they have a mutual distrust) and having children of the same age (who are also friends). As the children grow up, they attend the same school (except for one child who is sent to live with family abroad) and the book follows their lives as they find a place for themselves within society.

That is frankly a rubbish description and covers less than half of what goes on in the book but it’s the best I can do. My Netgalley badge is a lie!

I think the main thing that I can say about White Teeth is that I really enjoyed it. I can’t believe that such a sprawling, ambitious novel is also a debut. It’s got so much going for it – there’s a fabulous list of diverse characters, it tackles loads of issues head on and feels really authentic. It’s quite different to anything that I’ve come across before and its really well written and engaging.

For me, the novel’s strongest point is the characterization. Everyone mentioned within the book is well fleshed out with a big personality and tons of their own agency. There’s not one person who could be replaced by a lamp and it wouldn’t affect the story (regular readers will know this is my biggest bugbear). I loved each of the main characters but it was the smaller parts that really made the book for me – everyone from the niece-of-shame (a lesbian – this name made me laugh out loud) to Hortense, the Jehovah’s Witness grandmother riding around London in a sidecar with her young male “friend” from church. There are so many scenes driven by the minor characters that are absolutely brilliant and really add to the main narrative.

I really enjoyed how the book spanned decades so you really got to know each of the characters and understood how their actions in the past had implications for the future – not just for themselves but for their children and grandchildren. White Teeth is a broad, ambitious book but it’s brilliant at focusing on the minutiae of the character’s lives so that you get a real understanding of who they are and where they’ve come from.

I also loved the way that White Teeth is not just the story of working class people. So often when you read a book like this all of the characters are in the same socio-economic category, but the novel also features the Chalfords; a white, liberal, middle class family who, through their attempts to “give back” to the community end up mentoring both children from the two main families. The Chalfords are so brilliantly depicted that I can’t believe that Zadie Smith didn’t base them on a real family. Everything about them is absolutely spot on and although it would be very easy to sneer at their do-gooder attitude there’s not even a hint of this. I think it’s particularly brave to introduce three main characters half way through a book but Smith absolutely pulls it off.

Another thing that’s handled particularly well is the issue of culture. The blending of cultures in interracial families, the bringing of your own culture to a new home, the integration of your culture into British society, the melting of lots of different immigrant cultures together…there’s tons of different examples of all of these things happening (often all at once) and it was really interesting to see both the positive and negative outcomes. It was also great to see how the second generation children were affected by this and how they constructed their own British Asian or Black British culture, and how this intersected with religion, science and societal expectations.

Overall, I really enjoyed White Teeth, although because it’s such a long book my interest did start to wane towards the middle (although it picked straight back up again with the introduction of the Chalfords). I’ve knocked off .25 of a point for this, so I’m giving the book…

Rating: 3.75/5
A sprawling, authentic, hilariously character driven novel.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #38 Read a book set around a holiday other than Christmas.

Review: The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles

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Picture courtesy of http://www.netgalley.com

Um….what was this book about? Seriously, I finished it last night and I just had to flick through the last few pages to remember what happened. Something about an art school…trauma…questionable consent issues…that was pretty much it.

So, in the spirit of turning every negative into a positive, this the perfect opportunity to do my first pared down bullet point review! Here goes!

The Storyline
– A teenage student (Lux) wakes up in hospital with no idea of how she got there; she just knows that she was on a night out then it’s all a blank
– She convinces her parents to let her return to her liberal arts boarding school despite her amnesia, migraines, obsessive behaviour, synaesthesia (where your senses get confused and you hear colours or see smells etc.) and other indicators of trauma
– She does literally no art despite the book spanning her final year of ART school and first job after graduation
– She has therapy where she just repeats “I can’t remember”
– She meets a boy and begins a relationship despite being clearly traumatized (more on this later)
– She’s eventually triggered by a painting (not hers) and remembers what happened
– She gets a job and has a relationship that breaks up
– She goes to see an exhibition made by an old flame
– The End.

Can you see why I forgot the storyline?

The Good Points
– It was quite an easy read
– It was very different to anything I’d ever read before (it’s questionable whether this is truly a good point)
– The was some representation of LGBTQ+ characters (although they didn’t have much agency)
– There was great representation of female friendships – this is probably the strongest point of the whole book
– There was realistic representation of drug addicts who looked like everyday people

The Bad Points
– None of the characters had any agency. They were all acting under other people’s orders
– As the main character, Lux was difficult to relate to. She did absolutely nothing to try to work out what had happened to her – which was understandable but didn’t make for an engaging storyline
– There was literally no point to many of the “interesting” things about the book. The main character had synaesthesia but it didn’t affect the plot in any way. The book was set in an art school but none of the main characters did any art AT ALL. 
– Insta-love
– The big reveal about What Happened That Night came two thirds of the way through the novel. That left one third with no suspense or intrigue

Stuff That Made No Sense
– The storyline. Surely if you can’t remember the night before you ask the people you were with?
– The outcome of What Happened and how it had been handled was fairly preposterous. Lux was deeply traumatised but was left with her friends to look after her and the occasional session with a counsellor?
– There was a photo that taken of the back of Lux outside the big famous building where she was an intern that went viral and yet no-one recognised her.
– This question suggested for a book group discussion of the novel;

“Did you find the book funny? Why is humour important to the story?”

Ermmm… are we talking about the same book? Was this meant to be a humorous take on trauma?

Stuff That Is Too Important To Bullet Point
I found the relationship between Lux and her sort of boyfriend Cal really troubling. Lux is obviously in a state of shock and is trying to process a harrowing ordeal. You can tell this from her behaviour, the way she talks, her physical symptoms, her appearance, the way that everyone is talking about her…she’s clearly very unwell and in desperate need of love and support. So, I think it’s pretty inappropriate for Cal to try to have sex with her, however much she encouraged him.

THIS IS NOT OK.

There’s even a scene where they start kissing (there’s a clear implication that they’re going to have sex) and she disassociates and floats out of her own body to look down on the scene. Thankfully, she stops the situation and Cal gets off her, but it’s the idea that he doesn’t even notice that she’s not actively engaged and enjoying herself that I found disturbing. I also especially disliked the fact that the author noted that Lux had had sex before – which enables her to live up to her reputation – like that has anything to do with it and clearly implies slut shaming. 

ALSO NOT OK.

Conclusion
– The plot was lacking in so many different areas that I wasn’t gripped at all
– The book petered out after the big reveal
– There were lots of things that didn’t make sense
– There was an issue with consent and slut shaming

Rating: 2/5 stars
A meandering plot, a reveal that came way too soon and questionable issues around consent meant that I really didn’t enjoy this novel.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime Tag

Hello lovelies!

I’ve seen this tag doing the rounds and it seemed like a fun and easy one to join in with, so thanks to the amazing orangutan librarian for tagging me!

How to Play:

1. Include a link back to Amazon’s official 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime
2. Tag Perfectly Tolerable, the creator of this meme
3. Tag the person who nominated you
4. Copy the list of books and indicate which titles you have read.
5. Tally up your total.
6. Comment on the post you were tagged in and share your total count.
7. Tag five new people and comment on one of their posts to let them know.

Ok, so I’m sorry about the formatting but I’ve highlighted in bold the books that I’ve read…

1984 George Orwell

A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Dave Eggers

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Ishmael Beah

The Bad Beginning Lemony Snicket

A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle

Selected Stories, 1968-1994 Alice Munro

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll

All the President’s Men Bob Woodward

Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir Frank McCourt

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Judy Blume

Bel Canto Ann Patchett

Beloved Toni Morrison

Born to Run Christopher McDougall

Breath, Eyes, Memory Edwidge Danticat

Catch-22 Joseph Heller

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

Charlotte’s Web E. B White

Cutting for Stone Abraham Verghese

Daring Greatly Brené Brown

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Jeff Kinney

Dune Frank Herbert

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson

Gone Girl Gillian Flynn

Goodnight Moon Margaret Wise Brow

Great Expectations Charles Dickens

Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond Ph.D.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone J.K. Rowling

In Cold Blood Truman Capote

Interpreter of Maladies Jhumpa Lahiri

Invisible Man Ralph Ellison

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth Chris Ware

Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain

Life After Life Kate Atkinson

Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder

Lolita Vladimir Nabokov

Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love Medicine Louise Erdrich

Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor E. Frankl

Me Talk Pretty One Day David Sedaris

Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides

Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game Michael Lewis

Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham

On the Road Jack Kerouac

Out of Africa Isak Dinesen

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Marjane Satrapi

Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth

Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

Silent Spring Rachel Carson

Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut

Team of Rivals Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay Michael Chabon

The Autobiography of Malcolm X Malcolm X

The Book Thief Markus Zusak

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Díaz

The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger

The Color of Water James McBride

The Corrections Jonathan Franzen

The Devil in the White City Erik Larson

The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank

The Fault in Our Stars John Green

The Giver Lois Lowry

The Golden Compass Philip Pullman

The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood

The House at Pooh Corner A. Milne

The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot

The Liars’ Club Mary Karr

The Lightning Thief Rick Riordan

The Little Prince Houghton Mifflin

The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 Lawrence Wright

The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat Oliver Sacks

The Omnivore’s Dilemma Michael Pollan

The Phantom Tollbooth Norton Juster

The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver

The Power Broker Robert A. Caro

The Right Stuff Tom Wolfe

The Road Cormac McCarthy

The Secret History Donna Tartt

The Shining Stephen King

The Stranger Albert Camus

The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway

The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle

The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami

The World According to Garp John Irving

The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion

Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

Unbroken Laura Hillenbrand

Valley of the Dolls Jacqueline Susann

Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein

Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak

I’ve read 28 books, which is ok considering quite a few of these are kids books (I’m not going to go and find a copy of the Very Hungry Caterpillar) and some hold no interest for me at all (I read 100 Years of Solitude and that was enough to put me off Gabriel Garcia Marquez for life). I also have a pathological fear of “classics” so I tend to do badly on these lists anyway, although I am currently enjoying Les Miserables, so perhaps my tastes are changing in my old age.

I think most of you have done this tag already, but if you haven’t then please feel free to give it a go!

So, are there any surprises on here (I know, I still haven’t read the Handmaid’s Tale). Are any of these books on your TBR? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments!

Lucinda x

Review: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

I’m a big fan of Chris Peckham. I have fond memories of him on the Really Wild Show as a child with his blonde mohican haircut and his passionate, borderline obsessive interest in animals and the natural world. As a fellow nature lover, I’ve also enjoyed watching him on Springwatch and Autumnwatch, especially trying to spot when he was  shoehorning The Jesus and Mary Chain or The Smiths lyrics into his pieces to camera. Therefore, I was excited to see that Chris had written his autobiography, “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar”. I was hoping for something exciting, a bit off the wall and just…different, a bit like Chris himself.

Well, this book is certainly different.

Unlike many autobiographies, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a series of captured moments, mostly from Chris’ childhood in the 1970’s. There’s a heavy emphasis on the wildlife he went in search of and the pets that he and his family owned. Interspersed throughout the text are more emotional passages about personal life (bullying, failed attempts at chatting up girls etc.) Every so often, there’s a jarring passage about Chris’ counselling sessions, where it becomes obvious that he had, at some point, been suicidal and had clearly suffered from bouts of depression. It’s clear that Chris’ dark thoughts were related to his inability to get along with other people (the book is full of references to how he simply didn’t fit in with his peers) and it becomes obvious that something else is going on. It transpires that, although not diagnosed until years later, Chris has Aspergers – although I’m not sure if this is made clear in the text or if I just knew that already. It’s so sad to see how much Chris suffered, but also uplifting to see how his focus and attention to detail made him into one of the foremost British naturalists alive today.

The book itself is almost entirely focused on animals. In some ways, Chris had a really idyllic childhood, free to roam the countryside to birdwatch, catch frogs, collect birds eggs etc. Occasionally this obsession with animals can become a bit gross – there’s a lot of examining poo, dissecting dead creatures and putting tadpoles in your mouth to see what they tasted of. In some ways Chris almost came across as cruel when he did things like steal birds eggs from nests, trapped insects in jars until they died and at one point even stole a live bird of prey from the wild to raise as his own pet. However, I think this was just an example of an autistic child trying to understand the world around them and not considering the feelings of others when there was something that he wanted.

Throughout the book, Chris recounts many of his memories involving animals and in particular, a very touching relationship with his pet Kestrel. Much of the book is focused on this relationship, with almost no discussion of his feelings towards his family (I sense that he pretty much ignored them) or friends (I don’t think he had any). It seemed that Chris put all of his emotions into caring for the bird and it was heartbreaking to see what happened when it inevitably passed away.

I did find the way that this book was written quite hard to follow. There’s an approximation of linear progression but the narrative does jump around, making it difficult to imagine what age Chris is and what events have happened previously. It’s obvious that Chris is highly intelligent but he uses very flowery prose to frame each vignette of memory – to the point where his allegories, similies and metaphors were so opaque that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. This made me feel like I was almost being kept as arm’s length as a reader – as if by explaining the scene as poetically as possible Chris could skip the emotive part. As such, I found it difficult to connect to the book and really struggled to get into it.

There’s a TV programme that went along with the book which was shown on BBC2 and went even further into Chris’ life. Even though many of the stories in the book were discussed, the programme also focused on Chris’ personal life and we got to see his sister, his partner and his stepdaughter from a previous relationship. Seeing Chris in the context of his family really helped me to engage with his story and I enjoyed the programme far more than the book.

Overall, this book is a truly honest, brave memoir of a troubled boy/young man and his escape into the natural world as a coping mechanism. It’s sad, funny, disgusting, weird and wonderful – exactly like Chris himself. I just wished I could have engaged more with the writing, as the accompanying TV programme was brilliant.

Rating: 3.5/5
A raw, visceral account of a difficult childhood. Honest, revolting and moving in equal measure, but written in a way that I found difficult to follow. It’s almost like Chris wanted to keep the reader at arms length…

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #6 Read a book about nature.