Reading Challenge Update

Hello lovely readers!

Now that we are over a third of the way through the year (where did THAT go) I thought I’d review the two reading challenges that I’m taking part in to check my progress and also to look at my Netgalley account to see what percentage my feedback ratio is.

Incidentally, does anyone else get a bit obsessed by their reading stats or is it just me? I digresss…

Ok, so first up I had a look at the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This challenge compromises 24 categories, so 2 books a month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

23/24 books identified (with an idea for the remaining novel).
9 books completed.
3 further books started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – winning!

I then looked at the Popsugar Reading Challenge – 40 categories so just under 4 books per month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

35/40 books identified. Struggling to think of a book with career advice and a book from a non-human perspective. Can anyone help?
16 books completed.
1 further book started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – on track.

Finally I had a look at my Netgalley account. Netgalley recommend that you have a feedback ratio of 80% or above. I have 11 books which have already been published that I haven’t reviewed – basically that I’m behind on. I have a further 5 books that are due to be published from June onwards that I’m not worrying about yet but that drags my overall feedback ratio to 54% which is quite frankly rubbish.

Verdict – must try harder. 

So overall I think I’m doing ok, I’ll be concentrating on getting my Netgalley score up which will also mean reigning myself in when requesting new titles *sad face*. On a positive note I’m not going to worry about the reading challenges because I seem to be doing quite well in those *happy face*.

How are you getting on with your reading challenges, Netgalley scores or TBR lists? Do you have any suggestions for the two Popsugar categories that I’m struggling with?

Lucinda xxx

 

Review – How to be Happy by David Burton

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Don’t be fooled by the title – this is not a ‘How To…’ guide, nor is it the story of someone who figured out the secret to living a fabulous, meaningful life. It’s the story of a young man coming to terms with his own insecurities, sexual confusion, depression and general angst that I’m sure anyone thinking back to their teenage years can relate to on some level. The story Burton tells is interesting, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, with periods of pretty severe depression and suicidal thoughts thrown in for good measure. Oh, and the bit about it being a memoir of sex is also misleading – rarely have I read an autobiography where the author is so truthful about how they found pulling someone completely, painfully difficult.

A lot of what I read in this book reminded me of the way that some of my friends seem to be constantly searching for some external thing that will make them happy – whether that’s a hobby, a partner, a successful career etc. when really what they’re doing is projecting their own insecurities. At some points I just wanted to hug David Burton and tell him that it was ok to be sad and confused, and that it would get better. Luckily, Burton comes to this conclusion on his own and How to be Happy has plenty of great examples of how building a support network is soooooo important for anyone who is suffering from depression/anxiety/low self esteem.

Burton is also very honest about his experiences and initial negativity towards therapy. I think it’s incredibly important to discuss this issue because I know that a lot of people still feel that they’re admitting defeat by seeking professional help for their problems. Happily, Burton finds a therapist that he’s comfortable with and the book shows how perseverance with counselling can have life changing results – but only if you’re prepared to really work at it.

The other thing that I really liked about this book was the way that Burton experienced confusion about his sexuality (to the point where he came out as gay to his parents) but then ended up having to rethink this. I’ve never seen this mentioned in a book before and it was really refreshing to see someone being so open about their changing feelings. This is clearly a very emotive topic and I applaud Burton for his honesty in saying ‘this is what happened to me and how I felt at the time’. I guess some people will see it as fuel for the ‘you’re too young to know how you feel…this is just a phase’ argument but I saw it as an example of how nuanced sexuality and sexual attraction can be and how completely confusing and difficult to understand it often is.

I did, however, find How to be Happy a little tedious in places. As a memoir of a fairly ordinary (albeit depressed) teenager/young adult there aren’t any explosions, zombies or natural disasters and the book is set in Australia, not in a post apocalyptic future.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and applaud Burton’s honesty in portraying a very difficult period of his life. I think that anyone suffering from depression could benefit from reading it as it is ultimately an uplifting tale of triumph over
personal demons.

Rating: 7/10

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 2017 #15 Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.  

Review: The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan

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

I hate giving bad reviews when people are obviously trying hard to write a good book. If there’s obvious gramatical errors, or you can tell that parts have been rushed, or lazy stereotyping, or an obvious lack of research, or glaring continuity problems, or no plot then yeah, I’ll call you out on it. But his book is something worse. There’s nothing that was bad about the story or the writing style, or the editing per se. It’s the characters that I found immensely annoying – and as this is a non-fiction account about someone’s world travels with their husband, there’s not a lot you can do about that.

*Deep breath – tries to remain constructive*

If I were to describe this book in one sentence, it would be ‘one miserable woman’s trek around the world’. There are problems with everything. Her marriage seems to fall apart, then magically get better. At no point does she seem to be excited, despite the whole worldwide trip being her idea and nothing really bad happening. This gets a bit tedious after a while. 

I hate to say it, but I really struggled to sympathise with the author, Kim Dinan. She seemed to find the negative in every situation and even criticised others for being too spoilt and self centered (to be fair, she does seem to meet some horrendous tourists) without seeming to recognise that she had also acted pretty ungratefully. I thought it was a bit rich to be acting like a worldly wise hippy who got annoyed with part time travellers when most of the book is about how much she isn’t enjoying herself. At one point she discusses a situation with a friend where a fellow tourist hands out school supplies and takes pictures with local kids – which she criticises him for. Her friend sees it as a man unafraid to get involved, whereas Kim sees it as pushy and self serving. I would guess that the situation was probably a mix of all these things, but again Kim seemed unable to see the positive side for herself. It was this pervasively negative, glass half full approach that really ruined the book for me.  

I also found the title of the book quite misleading. The actual yellow envelope (an envelope of money her friends gave her to donate to others) itself doesn’t make an appearance until nearly half way through the story, and the whole novel seems to be a more introspective account of Kim’s thoughts and feelings about her life and her relationship. I failed to connect with Kim on an emotional level (I didn’t understand her relationship problems AT ALL) so I wasn’t really interested – I really wanted to hear more about the amazing places and cultures that she was experiencing. I simply couldn’t understand why someone would convince their husband to sell everything (house, car, pretty much all of their possessions), quit their job and embark on a worldwide trip (with no plans to ever return home) if they were unhappy in that relationship – especially as her husband wasn’t particularly keen on the idea and she had to spend months trying to get him to agree to it.  

The yellow envelope money is just such an amazing gift but Kim and her husband seem to massively overthink the scheme and don’t really engage with the idea. They do give money away, but they seem to struggle to do so and don’t seem to get much pleasure from it. I thought this was such a shame as the money could obviously make a massive difference to the lives of so many people (many of whom were living in abject poverty) but again there was a negative overtone to the process which turned what could have been such a positive into a negative experience. I also got quite annoyed at a situation where a monastry asked specifically for regular donations not one off gifts – which the couple completely ignored and gave a one off donation. There didn’t seem to be any kind of consideration to setting up small regular payments (even for a defined time period). Having worked as a charity fundraiser myself I know how important regular donations are (imagine trying to budget if you randomly got paid differing amounts every month) and it was this complete lack of awareness that really got to me.

I didn’t like the way that Kim and her husband Brian failed to really engage with the locals. They seemed to keep themselves to themselves and didn’t try to understand what life was like for any of the people that they met. Kim seemed to be so afraid of making a mistake that it really held her back, which for me was understandable, but a real shame. Because the couple seemed to just pass through destinations I failed to get any sense of place from Kim’s writing which to me is the whole point of a book about travel.

Some positives – the writing is well structured and flows easily. Some of the places described (albeit briefly) sound incredible and there are some funny moments. There’s also a happy ending which (I think) shows how far Kim and Brian come as a couple.

However – I just REALLY didn’t enjoy this novel.

Perhaps if I had been more interested in Kim as a person and I could engage with her emotionally then I might have enjoyed the book more. If you’re that type of reader, you may enjoy this more than I did – as I said, there’s nothing wrong with the writing itself, its the content matter that simply wasn’t for me.

Sorry Kim.

Overall rating: 3/10

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 2017 #8 Read a Travel Memoir.

Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

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

Things I Should Have Known is a sweet, unique and funny YA novel set within the slightly dysfunctional Mitchell family. There’s a controlling, no-idea-how-to-deal-with-teenage-girls stepdad, a pushover Mum who has previously been clinically depressed (so JUST WANTS TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY), an older teenage daughter with autism called Ivy and a slightly spoilt, typically stroppy younger daughter called Chloe (the main protagonist). Chloe is one of the popular girls at school, with the jock boyfriend and one dimensional friends. She realises that Ivy has never had a boyfriend and so sets about finding a suitable candidate to date her. Enter Ethan, the adorable, wouldn’t hurt a fly classmate of Ivy’s who Chloe thinks is perfect for her. Unfortunately, Ethan’s brother David goes to the same school as Chloe and is known for being an annoying weirdo. Thrown together by Chloe’s desire to make her sister happy, the unlikely foursome end up coming to some pretty startling realisations about themselves, and each other.

I thought Things I Should Have Known was a great read. I felt that it was such an honest portrayal of what it was like to live with an autistic person, warts and all. It’s unusual to have a story with an autistic character as the sibling of the narrator – everything else that I’ve read in this category is either from the point of view of the parents or the autistic person themselves, which I thought made it unique. It was also nice to see that although the impact of autism features heavily, the book also had another strong storyline (the relationship between Chloe and David) which gave it a bit more variety.

I really liked that there was a bit of everything in this book – LGBTQ+ issues, disability, teenage angst, family problems…all dealt with in a believable and sensitive way. Each character is flawed and to see how they all adapted to a challenging situation was really interesting as a huge range of reactions and emotions were conveyed. I became really invested in the storyline – at one point the main character Chloe makes a huge mistake and I really felt for her.

Unfortunately, some of the comments that Chloe makes about her boyfriend are truly cringeworthy and their relationship seems a little too perfect for two teenagers at high school. Chloe goes from being a bit of a vacuous cheerleader type to a sensitive young woman, who doesn’t care about her boyfriend being the picked on, unattractive weirdo that her friends don’t like. Similarly, David goes from being the weird, bullied, outspoken nerd to the politically correct, feminist, adorkable love interest. Even so, their relationship was very cute and I will forgive the fact that some of the things they said would never come out of the mouths of fifteen year olds because they were just such a sweet couple.

Despite the fact that this was a YA novel it was good to see some difficult issues like full time residential care for autistic adults being discussed. I thought that the issue was dealt with very sensitively, although I expect that in the real world far more problems would have occurred. It also would have been nice for the author to have considered some of the real world implications of long term care, not least the financial element. I guess you can’t have everything, eh?

Despite this, I found myself really enjoying the novel. It’s a nice twist on the standard YA plotline of boy meets girl and it dealt with some difficult issues with sensitivity, even though things turned out to be a little too perfect in the end.

Rating: 7.5/10

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 Popsugar Reading Challenge #13 Read a book by or about a person with a disability.

Review: The Scarlett Letters by Jenny Nordbak

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

First off, I have to warn you that this book is not for everyone. It tells the (seemingly true) story of Jenny Nordbak, a young woman looking to explore her kinky side. Jenny gets a job in an LA Dungeon working as a “switch” – someone who either acts as a dominatrix or a submissive for paying clients in order to fulfil their wildest fantasies. Although there is no penetration and no exchange of bodily fluids the scenarios that Mistress Scarlett (Jenny’s alter ego) acts out are still pretty extreme. This is not a novel for the easily offended.

There will be an obvious comparison between this book and Fifty Shades of Grey. Having read both, the major differences are:

1. The Scarlett Letters features scenarios where both individuals involved are fulfilling their fantasies
2. The Scarlett Letters contains fully consensual sexual scenes
3. The Scarlett Letters is realistic
4. The Scarlett Letters shows how the submissive participant is actually in control
5. The Scarlett Letters is about a woman exploring her sexuality on her own terms, laying down her own ground rules and having fun
6. The Scarlett Letters is about an entire community of people
7. The Scarlett Letters is about trust, honesty, caring for others, communication and respect
8. Both books feature a kinky relationship between the main character and a man who takes advantage of her but in the Scarlett Letters this is minimal, addressed by the main character and results in an amicable break up.

I found the stories that Mistress Scarlett had were absolutely fascinating. Some of the fetishes in the book were just bizzare but what came across was the genuine willingness from everyone working at the Dungeon not to judge and to work as hard as they possibly could to act out the fantasies of the clients. Mistress Scarlett also mentioned that she had played with an A list celebrity with a Prince Albert piercing but didn’t divulge any more information. I’d love to know who it was! I learnt so much about the role of a dominant, including how much effort is needed and how hugely intuitive they need to be in order to ascertain whether the client is enjoying what they’re doing to them – even though they may be screaming in pain and telling them to stop, or providing no feedback whatsoever.

I really enjoyed finding out how Jenny became Mistress Scarlett and laughed out loud at some of the mistakes that she made along the way. It was really interesting to see how she grew as a person and how becoming Mistress Scarlett gave her far more confidence – as well as some excellent techniques for dealing with rude, annoying co-workers in her “vanilla” job! It was also really heartwarming to read about Jenny’s family difficulties and see how her new found confidence allowed her to deal with some terrible family circumstances. I really believe that having the Mistress Scarlett alter ego helped Jenny to confront her father and have a really honest conversation with him, which will hopefully be the start of mending the rift between them.

It’s very easy make assumptions about people who work in these types of professions so it was great to see some of those stereotypes being shattered – Jenny is a professional who wasn’t desperate for cash, didn’t have issues with drugs or alcohol and really enjoyed her work. Personally, I found it amazing that she fitted working at the Dungeon around her day job and (almost always) kept the two worlds entirely separate.

If you’re interested in the fetish scene or just enjoy reading about other people’s bizzare sex lives I’d definitely recommend this book. It was really refreshing to read a kinky novel that was also about female empowerment and had a really positive outcome. The writing was great and the subject matter endlessly fascinating. As long as you’re not easily grossed out (and you’re old enough to read an explicit book) then you should give it a go!

Rating 9/10

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

Review: Nasty Women – A Collection of Essays and Accounts on What it is to be a Woman in the 21st Century

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

Funny, poignant, interesting, intriguing and challenging – there is something for everyone in this collection of essays by women about their lives in the 21st Century. The book covers a range of topics from the female perspective, including intersectional feminism, disabled access and consent amongst many others. Written from first hand experience, the voices are authentic and honest and provide a personal insight into issues which often go unchallenged within mainstream feminist narrative.

Because I hadn’t even considered some of the topics within Nasty Women I did find that a couple of the essays made me a little uncomfortable – which I think can only be a good thing. I know I’ve definitely been at best apathetic to certain problems which I’m now much more aware of. I loved the way that the book made me realise these things without being preachy or judgemental.

My personal favourite essay was about one girl’s love for Courtney Love. I really identified with what she was saying as I grew up in that post grunge Britpop and nu metal music scene. I also have mixed feelings about Courtney Love and I thought that the author really explored the good and bad whilst reminding the reader that Courtney is a woman who has been vilified by the press, was left widowed at a young age with a young child and is an addict with mental health issues.

Throughout the book there is some really excellent writing which is obviously completely authentic. It’s unusual to get a flavour of feminism through a particular lens from the people who are experiencing it all together in one book. It’s a great mix of people and experiences although I did think it was lacking something from the business community. It was a shame that no one talked about the gender pay gap, women at work, female leaders etc. There must be feminist business leaders/economists/HR people out there who have something to say about these issues.

I thought this book was a really good read with plenty of food for thought. It was quick to get through, covered a variety of topics and the first person narrative made it really interesting. I thought it was a good starting point for lots of issues that really need more discussion. A great book for International Woman’s Day!

Rating: 7/10.

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 Popsugar Reading Challenge #15 Read a book with a subtitle and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #21 Read a book published by a micropress.

Note on the publisher: this book has been published by 404ink, a new, alternative, UK based independent publisher. They can be found here. Check them out!

The Roanoak Girls by Amy Engel

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

Wow. This book is incredible. Disturbing – absolutely, upsetting – in a number of ways, but it draws you in so completely that you won’t be able to put it down.

The Roanoak Girls is the story of a young girl (Lane) who is sent to live with her grandparents following the suicide of her depressive mother. When she arrives at their bizzare, sprawling house in the backwaters of America, she meets her cousin Allegra who bears an uncanny resemblance to her. The two become friends, but Lane discovers a dark secret about the family which ultimately pushes her to leave. Years later, Lane receives a call from her grandfather telling her that Allegra is missing. Lane returns to the house and as a result of her hunt for her cousin, begins to uncover even more of the secrets that Roanoak hides, including the reasons behind the freak deaths and disappearances that continue to occur within the family. Written in chapters that alternate between the past and the present day, the Roanoak Girls keeps you on the edge of your seat as you become ensnared in the horrific secrets that hide within the house.

I really had to take a day or two to digest this book before I could bring myself to review it. The novel deals with some awful content matter so should be plastered in trigger warnings for suicide, rape, incest… I don’t want to give away too much but seriously, if you’ve been affected by any kind of abuse then please be warned. In saying that, I was utterly gripped by the story and absolutely devoured it in one day. You really are kept guessing and so much goes on that you have to keep reading to find out what happens next.

The novel has some brilliantly strong characters including the main character Lane and her cousin Allegra. I loved the way that the girls befriended each other and their complex relationships with other family members, as well as each other. It would have been very easy to have Lane run away from Roanoak and never look back but I completely understood her loyalty to her cousin which made her return, despite the terrible secrets that she had to explore in order to find the truth. In terms of Allegra, I struggled to understand some of her decisions but could see that she was obviously deeply disturbed by the events which had happened. She’s a really complex character and although she said and did some things which I found absolutely repulsive I found myself becoming absolutely fascinated by her. By the end of the novel you realise that every single character is flawed which again adds to the suspense – who can you trust?

The way that the Roanoak Girls is written is absolutely brilliant – it’s so complex and the themes covered are so dark that it’s sometimes hard to read but the author doesn’t shy away from exploring their full impact. There are little clues peppering the text which allude to some of the secrets within Roanoak – for example the novel starts with a family tree and a quote from Vladimir Nabokov – if you’ve read his most famous work this should give you some indication as to how the girls might be thought of. In terms of similarities to other books there’s something of the Gillian Flynn about it – it’s that level of creepy/gross/fully crazy characters and uncomfortable reading.

Although I can’t say I enjoyed the book it was an amazing experience to read it. If you think you can cope with reading about the abuse mentioned above then I would highly recommend it.

Rating: 9.5/10

Thank you to By Hook or by Book for writing such a great review of The Roanoak Girls which made me want to read it!

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 Popsugar Reading Challenge #7 Read a book that’s a story within a story.