Reading Challenge Wrap Up

Hello lovelies!

So, with a mere 10 hours to go, I managed to complete both the #read harder 2018 reading challenge and the Popsugar reading challenge 2018. This was after a particularly depressing comment made about a week ago where I realised that I still had two massive books left to read to finish both challenges. So, on the advice of the book blogging community I decided to forego the usual festive tv watching with my family and concentrate on reading instead. 

And I’ve done it. Yay!

I’ve either already reviewed each book, or I will do over the forthcoming weeks, but I thought I’d share a few highlights…

Top five books that I enjoyed the most
Oh, the Princess Bride by William Goldman. I just loved it. Everything about it was wonderful.

Elephant Moon by John Sweeney was a lush, tropical jem of a novel. Very British, very colonial, but still charming and exciting. Plus – baby elephants!

The Roanoak Girls by Amy Engel was a fabulous mixture of sadness, intrigue and suspense that had me hooked from the beginning.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey was brilliant, exciting and was difficult to put down. Despite not being a fan of horror, I absolutely loved this book (possibly because it’s not that scary). It ticked all the boxes for me.

Monstress by Marjorie Liu was an absolutely beautiful graphic novel. I wanted to frame every page and put it on my wall. Definitely one to savour/re-read.

Most surprising novel
Toast by Nigel Slater really shocked me, as I usually can’t stand his cookery programmes. I find there’s something intensely irritating about him. However, his memoir was beautiful, cleverly written and very touching. I fully expected to hate it but I actually really enjoyed it.

Most satisfying book
The Clan of the Cave Bear was a mammoth novel to tackle (and was also one that I left until half way through December to start). Luckily, it was very engaging and I whizzed through it.

Book that was furthest out of my comfort zone
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was a real test to see through to the end. Some parts made me feel physically sick. I don’t think I would have finished it if it hadn’t been part of the reading challenge – I’m kind of glad that I did though.

Novel that you loved, but no-one else seems to know about
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill was a wonderful book, but I don’t think many bloggers picked up on it. On the face of it, it’s not my thing at all – I suppose it would broadly be defined as romance – but it’s a great story with a magical element that I really enjoyed.

Most challenging category
I really struggled to find a book published by a micropress, but I eventually came across Nasty Women by various authors, a diverse collection of essays about what it’s like to be female in the 21st century. I loved reading about this topic from such different perspectives and would highly recommend it for it’s intersectional perspectives.

Most hilarious novel
The Tent, the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy is probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. A great recommendation if you’re feeling down and need a little pick me up.

Books that left a lasting impression on me
Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley actually made me get up and go for a jog. It also helped enormously with injuries, technical details about foot placement etc. It’s a great, funny book in it’s own right but it’s also a useful guide to anyone who runs.

Also, I defy anyone to read the poetry of Primo Levi and not be profoundly moved by it. His descriptions of the horror of the holocaust, his struggle to come to terms with what happened but his ultimate acceptance of the situation was actually life changing.

Least favourite books
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake was just sooooo dull. I didn’t get it at all. I have no idea why people think it’s brilliant.

The Hundred Lives of Lizzie Loveitt by Chelsea Sedoti seems to have been loved by lots of people, but I thought it was total rubbish. I’m probably too old to get it!

The Book of Mirrors by E. O. Chirovia was really badly written, despite having a great opening chapter. Avoid!

Book that introduced me to something new
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie taught me all about the civil war and the founding of Biafra, something that I knew literally nothing about. It’s obviously harrowing, but deeply moving and very engaging.

Book that made me want to read more in the series/from the same author
Again, the Clan of the Cave Bear was super engaging, and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Ayla next.

Similarly, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami just keeps getting better. This year I read book two, and I can’t wait to get stuck into book three.

I would have said M.R. Carey, but I did read the subsequent novel to The Girl with all the Gifts (Fellside) and it was a complete let down. I believe there’s a prequel to The Girl with all the Gifts which I might read, but in all honesty the book was so great that I don’t want to ruin it.

So – did any of you complete any reading challenges this year? Do you agree/disagree with my choices? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine…until you scratch the surface of her life and realise that she isn’t. At all.

You see, Eleanor lives a life of pared down efficiency. Her meals are one pot, one plate. Her shoes are smart but comfortable, with Velcro for quick fastening (none of those inefficient shoe laces). Her role as a finance administrator requires analysis and ordering of numbers, which can be broken down into repetitive tasks and scheduled accordingly. All of this means that Eleanor creates minimal fuss and requires minimal interactions with other people. All perfectly FINE, thank you. Until you realise that Eleanor treats vodka like an essential basic grocery and thinks of a pot plant as her one and only friend.

Eleanor struggles with people, and as the book progresses, you start to guess at what might have happened in her childhood to make her so ill equipped to deal with social situations. Apart from having burn scars across her face and body, Eleanor has a very troubling relationship with her mother (Mummy) who she only contacts via telephone for 15 minutes on a Wednesday (and thank God, because this woman is a BITCH). As the book progresses, Eleanor makes some woeful (often hilarious) attempts to make herself more attractive to her crush and through a freak event is forced to spend time with Raymond, who she knows from work. Through this very off-kilter friendship Eleanor begins to accept herself and explore ways in which she can, ultimately, be fine (no capitals).

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. Eleanor was such a great character and although she is clearly odd and her life is terribly sad, the novel is written in such a way that you don’t ever feel that you’re laughing at her, or at least not in a malicious way. There’s so much darkness in the book and Eleanor is such a bullied, broken individual that you immediately want to defend her, but you don’t just like her out of pity, you want her to be your friend because she’s genuinely funny, interesting and kind. When she acts inappropriately you can see it’s because she doesn’t understand social norms and never because she aims to cause offense – but to outsiders I suppose she seems aloof or downright rude. It’s this constant formality and awkwardness that made me empathise so much with Eleanor – you can’t help but be completely on her side. 

The book is very cleverly written and is such a fantastic achievement for a debut author. The surname Oliphant means a monster or monstrous elephant and the full name of Eleanor Oliphant sounds like a play on the word Elephant. I suspect Gail Honeyman wanted us to think of the metaphor “the elephant in the room” which could often be applied to Eleanor – the strange, silent person that, with her pensioner style clothing and scarred face, is completely obvious but no-one wants to acknowledge.

The ending of the book has a fantastic twist that I half guessed at but the sadness of the whole situation really hit me. I loved how Eleanors past was hinted at throughout the novel and that by the end of the book everything had come to light. It certainly kept me guessing right to the end and I would love to know how Eleanor gets on (although I said this after Me Before You and look how After You panned out).

Overall, I loved the character of Eleanor and seeing how she stopped trying to just survive and started trying to live. I loved how what could have been fluffy chick lit was turned into something much more challenging and emotive by offsetting the lighter elements with something far darker. The book is very well written and is perfect reading for this time of year, when the days are still mild but there’s a bit of a nip in the air.

Rating: 8.5/10
Charming, funny and oh-so heartbreaking, a great debut novel from an author to look out for.

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

Review: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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This book is #3 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a collection of essays.

Wow.

For anyone who has ever been depressed, suffered from anxiety or has had any form of mental illness, this book will make you understand that you’re not alone. The collection of essays covers everything from an autobiographical account of the authors own mental breakdown, their subsequent daily battle with their mental health, what they’ve learnt and what they believe can help. It is funny, moving and painfully honest. As someone who has suffered from mild depression and anxiety I recognised many of the symptoms and behaviours that Matt was talking about that I honestly thought had only happened to me. It made me realise that even though mental health issues are becoming more accepted, it’s still very much a taboo subject for a lot of people.

I thought that as I had had some experience of mental health issues I wouldn’t have any prejudices about the subject. Wrong! The book challenged my own perceptions and made me think about the subject in an entirely different way. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me realise that I am more than my super critical, super anxious brain. It gave me a new perspective on my personality. It made me feel normal. I urge everyone to read it.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Review: The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho.

This book is #14 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a book by an author from South East Asia.

This novella was absolutely fascinating. It takes place in hell where the inhabiting spirits are all attempting to avoid the interest of the bureaucratic demons whose task it is to reincarnate them. For such a short story the descriptions and sense of an entirely different culture are put across so well that I’m really excited to read more by this author. I thought it was incredibly well written and a great little story.

Score: 8/10