Why I’m Not Doing A 2020 Reading Challenge

Hello Bookworms!

If you’ve read my previous New Year’s resolutions post, you may have noticed that there was something missing. Achievements? Stunning examples of my excellent organisational skills? Well, yes… but also something else.

Reading challenges.

You see, I’m oddly motivated by prescribed reading lists (initially, anyway) so for the past few years I’ve undertaken a number of challenges. Popsugar? Check. Book Riot? Completed it three years in a row, mate. I’ve done chapter-a-day read-alongs, I’ve done recommended reading, I’ve played bookish bingo. And I’m kinda… over it.

That’s not to say that I haven’t gained an enormous amount from reading challenges. I love how they force you to read more widely. I’ve had my eyes opened to genres I’d never even heard of and I’ve found some real gems along the way. I’ve found a previously undiscovered love of food memoirs, I am addicted to non-violent true crime and I’ve discovered a whole host of black, asian, trans, queer, feminist and disabled writers/stories that I may not previously have sought out. The thing is, now that I’m more aware of the sheer breadth of diverse offerings out there, I want to find them for myself. I want to read more Octavia E Butler. I want to hear more about Japan and Mexico and New Zealand. I don’t want to be forced to read poetry, or romance (although the Courtney Milan book that I chose was quite enjoyable) or to ever have to read another adult novel out loud. Ever.

I also don’t want to get to October and think “only ten books left!” then realise that they’re the books that I really don’t want to read. The pressure that I feel every bloody year is immense. And of course, after spending hours checking that the books you’ve chosen actually fit within the criteria (the discussion groups on Goodreads can get pretty spicy) you REALLY don’t want to DNF any of them. That means hours of grudgingly progressing through dull novels (“I need to read 50 pages before I can sleep!”) in the hope that there’s a massive reference section in the back that will knock 10% off your target. For example, one of Book Riot’s prompts for their 2020 challenge is “read an audiobook of poetry” (please God no – if there’s anything worse than the majority of poetry out there, it’s slow poetry) or “read the last book in a series” (soooo… read the whole series first? Or just read the last book like an absolute psychopath and ruin the whole thing?)

One of the problems with reading challenges that no-one ever mentions is cost. If I were to buy a paperback for each of the 24 categories in the Read Harder challenge at an average cost of, lets say, £7, that works out to be £168 per year on books that you may not even want to read. Yes, there’s libraries and NetGalley and your already-purchased TBR but with such narrow categories you’re often left with no choice but to fork out. Think of how many amazing, interesting books you could get for £168. Think how many titles you could knock off your TBR if you didn’t feel forced to read around five books a year that you really didn’t want to and inevitably put you into a reading slump.

There’s also an issue with repetitiveness. I often eagerly check a newly released reading challenge, only to find that many of the categories define books that I’ve already read for a previous challenge. There’s only so much diversity out there that still gives readers a good choice of material and you often find that the only books that you want to read for a specific prompt are ones that you’ve already tackled. If you consider that the main point of a reading challenge is to make you read more widely but you’re already aware of the genres/types of books defined, you have to question its effectiveness. Remember how I said that I love a good food memoir? One of Book Riot’s prompts this year is “read a food book about a cuisine you’ve never tried before”. Hmmmm.

So, I am officially Taking A Year Off. We’ll see how long that lasts.

TBR, I’m coming for you!!!!!

 


Are you taking part in any reading challenges this year? Do you enjoy them or have you found similar issues to me? Let me know in the comments!

 

New Year’s Resolutions

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Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Hello bookworms!

Happy 2020! It’s quite hard to be positive when the world is currently on fire/on the verge of war but lets forget about the things that we can’t control and look at our own personal goals for the forthcoming year. Focus!

Firstly, lets check how I did with the resolutions that I made last year. There were ten (TEN! What was I thinking!) of them – clearly I was in a more upbeat mood in January 2019!

Blurb (5)

  1. Make my peace with Goodreads and use it properly. I actually did this one! I’ve logged every single book that I’ve read for the last 12 months on there. Whilst I still hate the site and I don’t understand 9/10th’s of what you can use it for, I have at least accurately tracked my reading. Woo hoo! Gold star!
  2. Smash my NetGalley backlog out of the park. Well, kinda. I did read quite a few books that were on my back list, although there’s still three on there that were released pre-2019 and another five that I’ve missed the 2019 publication dates for. Sooo… half a gold star? I’ll be generous.
  3. Consistency is key, Lucinda. Last year I wrote; “Basically, stop f#*king about with your “unintentional hiatuses” and post according to a proper schedule.” Reader, I failed miserably – to the point where I felt guilty even calling myself a blogger. I have been SO BAD at posting regularly (or, at all). 0/10, must try harder etc. etc.
  4. Keep going with the varied content. I… think I did this? When I posted, anyway.
  5. Branch out into other forms of social media. I’m all over Twitter like a pigeon on chips so that’s a point for me. I tried Pinterest but I just… don’t get it? I’ll have another go this year. I’m not doing Instagram, it’s too depressing!
  6.  Get more involved in other people’s stuff. I started really well with this then tailed off massively… I must get back on it!
  7. Complete Read Harder 2019. TICK!!!!!
  8. Complete the Chapter-a-day Read-along. FAILED MISERABLY DON’T EVEN TALK TO ME ABOUT IT.
  9. Just…try to make a dent in your physical TBR. Well, I certainly tried. Then I started volunteering in my local library and found their bookshop, where all books are 50p and…
  10. Mumbles *something about getting 500 followers*. Achievement unlocked! I currently have 544.

That makes a grand total of… FIVE AND A HALF OUT OF TEN ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!

Soooo… not great. However, I’ve rolled over some of the important resolutions and ditched the ones that I’ve moved on from. Oh well *shrugs shoulders* life got in the way a bit last year so I’m not going to beat myself up over it.

Moving on!

Blurb (6)

  1. Read 100 books. I tried last year with the Goodread’s challenge and read 87, so I think that with a bit more effort I should be able to achieve this.
  2. Get rid of the final three books that have been on my NetGalley since forever and reduce the 2019 backlog. I’ve come to accept that there will always be a backlog, I just want it to be less intimidating.
  3. Blog more regularly. Note, not more – just at a steadier pace. No more three posts a week for a few months then a four month hiatus. Accept that it’s virtually impossible to blog in the summer (my partner has weeks on end off from work and expects us to Do Stuff) so plan accordingly.
  4. Have another go at Pinterest. I mean, I’ll try. Not holding out too much hope for this one though.
  5. Don’t let the physical TBR get any bigger. I’m planning to read three books a month from my physical TBR – that should get it down a bit.
  6. Translate Twitter friends into blogging friends. Find all of the people that you regularly talk to on Twitter and actually follow their blog content.
  7. Keep up with the bullet journal. Hey Lucinda, you know how you stopped using it and then your reading/blogging plans went out of the window? I think the two things might be related…
  8. Continue to read widely without the help of a reading challenge. Reading challenges are great for making you read more varied content but I’ve done them for the past few years and they’re starting to get a bit repetitive now. They also force you to constantly find new books and my TBR is so big that this year I just want to focus on reading the books that I’m actually interested in.

And that’s it! Ten resolutions were just too many so I’m hoping that eight is a more achievable number. Wish me luck!

All the best for a happy and healthy new year,

Lucinda x


So, what are your bookish resolutions? Have you checked what you resolved to do last year? Did you fare better than I did? Let me know in the comments!

 

Review: Love Punked by Nia Lucas

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Genre: That’s a tough one. New adult (is that really a genre?)/ Romance (of the most down-to-earth, realistic kind – as in “I’ll let your kids be sick on me just so you can have a break”/ General fiction (surely this is too realistic to be anything other than autobiographical?)

Similar to: Nothing. See my previous post about Why I don’t like YA because everyone is too well behaved and middle class

Could be enjoyed by: Teenagers – this book would be brilliant for anyone who found themselves in a situation like Erin’s

Publication date: 21st July 2018

Controversial opinion: I’m not a fan of Young Adult or New Adult books (and yes, I know they’re not strictly genres but everyone else treats them like they are – don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about Karen). So, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I agreed to read Love Punked. I was swayed by the idea that the central characters did all of the things that I’ve previously criticised YA books for not having enough of -drinking, drug taking and having irresponsible, contraceptive free sex in a totally relatable and realistic way. Finally!

The novel centres around Erin, a feisty teenager who accidentally gets pregnant after having sex on a sun lounger in her Mum’s garage with someone she’s just met at a rave (we’ve all been there). She brings up her twins (yes, TWINS!) with the support of their father and her family, plus lots of help from her friends. It’s cute, sad, exciting, depressing and often downright hilarious to see the situations that Erin gets into and how she uses her trademark temper to forcefully get herself out of them.

Love Punked feels like it’s an autobiography because it’s so beautifully observed. It was great to read about characters who spoke… like they were teenagers. I am SO SICK of reading books where the young protagonists all sound like fifty year olds, debating the merits of da Vinci vs Michelangelo and saying no to literally everything in favour of doing their homework. Dawson’s Creek, this is entirely your fault.

I really enjoyed the characters – I thought that they were all very well fleshed out, believable and nuanced. No-one was perfect – far from it – and in particular it was really refreshing to see a mother who wasn’t saintly, breezing through life or standing in the background, telling everyone off all of time. Erin absolutely had her own agency and it was great to see her hold her own against some really challenging situations.

I liked the storyline and seeing Erin grow into an amazing Mum, whilst still getting to appreciate how bloody hard it was for her. It’s so difficult to find stories from ordinary working class families like my own and I really liked how you could feel the love that everyone in her family had for each other. Awww. My only criticism is that the book was a tiny bit overly detailed in some areas and could do with a little bit of trimming down but that’s a very minor issue.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Love Punked and would highly recommend it to everyone!

Four “You’ve got this, Erin!”s out of five.

Amazing, funny and hugely entertaining, I loved this book!

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of the author. Thanks to the lovely Nia for sending me a copy and for being such a nice human being!

 

TBR Alphabet Tag!

Hello bookworms!

I’ve been tagged by the awesome Grey at Use Your Words (aaagggges ago – I’m sorry!) in the huge TBR Alphabet tag! All I have to do is list a book that I’ve been meaning to read for each letter of the alphabet. So let’s crack on!

 

A: The Alibi Girl by C. J. Skuse

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After reading Sweetpea and In Bloom and absolutely bloody loving them I’m really excited about this book! I’ve got it as an ARC from Netgalley so I’ll get round to it soon.

 

B: A Bit of a Stretch by Chris Atkins

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I’ve also got this as an ARC from Netgalley because one of the tasks in the #ReadHarder challenge is to read a book that was written in prison. I need to finish it before the end of the year so it’s an imminent current read.

 

I: I Capture the Castle by Dodi Smith

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I always see this book on “Best Books of the 20th Century” list but I’ve never got round to reading it. It looks like everything I usually enjoy – it’s set in the 1930’s, it’s a coming of age story and its main protagonist is a teenage girl, so I have no idea why I haven’t read it yet!

 

D: Dracula by Bram Stoker

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I really wanted to read something spooky for Halloween and since this is the quintessential horror story I added it to my TBR. As usual, life got in the way so I haven’t actually started it yet but it’s an imminent read.

 

E: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott-Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)

I’m a bit dubious about this so called classic because of the views of the author (both homophobic and sexist) and I believe his chauvinism is overtly expressed in this novel. However, I’d like to see for myself so I will get to it when I’m in the right mood.

 

F: Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

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I adore anything by Jeanette Winterson so as soon as I saw this in the library I added it straight to my TBR!

 

G: Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

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Gravity’s Rainbow has been on my TBR FOREVER – I did actually start reading it once but at over 700 pages it’s going to take a considerable effort. Definitely a book for 2020.

 

H: Hunger by Roxane Gay

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I came across Roxane Gay via Hannah Gadsby and I’m really looking forwards to reading it. I love a good memoir – especially a food memoir – so this looks right up my street.

 

I: Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

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I keep hearing about this book EVERYWHERE and it looks soooo interesting – I can’t wait to read it!

 

J: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

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This book WILL NOT DEFEAT ME! I started reading it years ago but the text is so tiny and I kinda got bored. I will pick it back up again, honest…

 

K: Kane and Abel by Jeffery Archer

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True story: I met Jeffery Archer when he’d just come out of prison and he made a joke about it that only I laughed at (in a room full of about 300 people). Awkward. Anyway, I’ve never read any of his work so although he was a bit slimy in real life I’m kind of intrigued.

 

L: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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This is one of those books that somehow doesn’t appeal to me but everyone always says  how brilliant it is, so on to the longlist TBR it goes!

 

M: My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, the Serial Killer

I’ve heard both good things and bad things about this book so I thought I’d find out for myself.

 

N: No Good Deed by John Niven

No Good Deed

This has been floating around my NetGalley backlog for years and I honestly have no idea why I requested it! I will get to it eventually (can you hear the excitement in my voice…)

 

O: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

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Oooh, Zadie Smith. I quite liked White Teeth (even if the ending was a bit weird) but I thought her writing was beautiful so I expect great things from this book.

 

P: The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

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More Jeanette Winterson! I just love her writing so much and I found this in a National Trust bookshop, so I immediately bought it.

 

Q: The Quiet American by Graham Greene

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I love all of those mid-century, middle class authors who write about odd, awkward characters not really doing very much. I liked Our Man in Havana so I’m looking forwards to this.

 

R: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1)

I keep hearing excellent things about Mark Lawrence from some of my most trusted blogger friends but for some reason I’ve never got round to reading him. I’ll get to this once I’ve finished The Priory of the Orange Tree.

 

S: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)

Yes I know, everyone in the world loves this book and I STILL haven’t read it! I’m not always a huge fan of YA fantasy so I’m perhaps not as excited about it as I could be but I will read it just to see what all the hype is about.

 

T: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Tipping the Velvet

I ADORE Sarah Waters and this is another one of those books that’s been on my TBR forever – I literally can’t wait to read this. Why is it taking me so long?

 

U: Unhappenings by Edward Aubrey

UnHappenings

I bought this book last year and… I can’t remember why? Is it good? Has anyone else read it? Let me know!

 

V: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

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This is another one of those books that WILL NOT DEFEAT ME! and yet I can’t be bothered to actually, you know, read it. Maybe if the publishing industry implodes and books stop being written I’ll get round to it.

 

W: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race

In the period between starting this post and finishing it, I have actually begun reading this book and OMG IT IS AMAZING! Highly recommended to everyone.

 

X: The X-Men, Vol 1

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Considering I’ve been “reading” i.e. started then ignored Watchmen for years now I doubt I’ll be getting to this any time soon but it’s definitely something I want to read. I just need more hours in the day!

 

Y: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

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I stupidly bought MaddAddam before realising it was the third book in a series so I will get to this once I’ve read book one. I love Margaret Atwood so I’m excited for it.

 

Z: Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

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I just checked Goodreads and this book appears on both “the most disturbing books ever written” and “I like serial killers” lists so it looks right up my street!

 

And that’s it! Thanks to Grey for tagging me, I tag:

The Orangutan Librarian

NS Ford

Travel in Retrospect

Sucker for Coffe

…and anyone else who wants to join in!

 

So, have you read any of these books? Is your TBR as terrifyingly long as mine? Let me know in the comments!

Blog Tour – Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five Part One by R. J. Furness

Genre: YA Fantasy

Similar to: A little bit Golden Compass, serialised à la The Green Mile

Could be enjoyed by: People who like their fantasy in bite-size chunks

Publication date: 16th March 2019

Blurb (4)

Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Did it vanish as fast as it appeared? Perhaps that thing you saw was lurking in the shadows, and you caught a glimpse of it before it went back into hiding. There’s a good chance, of course, that the thing you saw simply emerged from your imagination. Or maybe, just maybe, it didn’t… Sapphire Smyth is no stranger to rejection. When she was only a baby, her father abandoned her after her mother died. Since then, Sapphire has never felt like she belonged anywhere, or with anyone. To make things worse, her foster carers have now turned their back on her – on her eighteenth birthday. After living with them throughout her childhood, Sapphire has to find a new home. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to trust people? Abandoned by the people she called family, Sapphire is alone and searching for some meaning in her life. Except that meaning has already come looking for her. When she discovers mysterious creatures lurking in the shadows, Sapphire soon realises that her fate is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Blurb (3)Now don’t get me wrong, I love a big epic fantasy novel. The Chronicles of Amber, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time; I’ve really enjoyed them all (actually, I’m only on book four of WoT… so perhaps let’s gloss over that one. Guys it is SO LONG)… Anyway, I adore getting stuck into a huge heavy tome that I struggle to fit into my handbag and gives me backache. So, I was a little concerned about reading a fantasy novella – how would they fit in all the world-building? Surely the first 100 pages of any fantasy book barely scratches the surface of the storyline? How on earth do you build a narrative arc – won’t it end just as I’m getting into it?

FEAR NOT READERS!!!

Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five worked reaaaaaalllly well as a serial. The writing was immediately engaging and fast paced. There was a good narrative arc – the book ended in a *ahem different place to the beginning, which meant that there were some nicely defined boundaries and a natural place to pause. Despite my reservations, I actually quite liked the short novella style – it was different, sure – but once I had got my head round the idea that the story was to be continued, it was much like mentally agreeing to read to the end of chapter four.

EXCEPT YOU CAN’T IGNORE YOUR OWN LIMITATIONS AND READ ON ANYWAY AAAARRRGGHH WHAT EVEN IS THIS

Unfortunately, I did find that the payoff for having such a direct, action filled plot was that the word building suffered a little. I struggled to visualise some elements and thought that in places more detail was needed. I also thought that there were certain parts where a slower build up/acceptance of what was going on would have worked better. For example, Sapphire seemed pretty accepting of certain situations – like her almost comically quick assertion that she was in a different realm – which I felt let the storyline down a little.

However, as a character I really liked Sapphire and her kick-ass persona. I thought that her and Ben’s relationship was great and I’m excited to see how it will develop. I loved the idea of the mythical daemon/patronus/familiar fox that kept appearing and the concept of terrifying shadow creatures was truly creepy.

The only thing I couldn’t get out of my head was the ending on the futuristic transport thing… I’ll just leave this GIF here…

 

Overall, I loved this little gem of a fantasy novella/part one of an epic. The pacing was super quick and engaging, the characters were awesome and the overall idea was really unusual and just the right amount of creepy. I would have preferred slightly more description and perhaps a slower pace in some areas but this was a minor criticism. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

 

Four “What the fox say?”s out of five.

Brilliant writing, an engaging storyline and a fantastic format make Part One of Sapphire Smyth… a winner for me. Can’t wait to read more!

Blurb (2)Author R. J. Furness has been passionate about great stories since he was able to read. At an early age, he would frequently create new characters, worlds and creatures then write crazy tales all about them. However, until now, he has always kept those ideas completely secret. After having a lifelong interest in animals, music and anything spawned from pure imagination, R.J.’s first loves are now his wife and children. Over time, he has also developed an overwhelming desire for mugs of tea and good biscuits to dunk. He lives in Southport, England, with his family, a dog and several fish, chickens and quails.


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Blog Tour – The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

The Gilded King – Sovereign Book One

Genre: Paranormal romance

Similar to: Well, it’s a romance about gentle vampires… (DON’T SAY TWILIGHT!)

Could be enjoyed by: People who have read the prequel

Publication date: 25th June 2018

Firstly, I’d like to say thanks to Dave and everyone in The Write Reads gang for all of the love and support and for including me on this tour. It’s been AAAGGGEEESSS since I’ve published anything on here so being forced to post asked to participate in a blog tour has been a great way to get me back into the swing of things!

Synopsis…

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well. Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside. But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained. Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight. One way or another, the walls of the Blue are coming down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.

My thoughts…

My initial reaction to this novel was “is this self published? Wow!” Now, I don’t mean to have a go at any of the excellent authors out there who have published their own amazing stories BUT The Gilded King feels… professional. It reads like it’s been edited by someone who isn’t a family friend. The narrative flowed well and I was soon hooked into the story. Most importantly… no typo’s.

Unfortunately, as I began to get deeper into the story, I started to get a little confused. I was expecting some kind of world building or backstory… anything to explain all the things going on like The Fall or the location of The Blue or the link between the vaccine, Silvers and the Weepers. However – nada. In fairness to the author, there is a prequel novella (which I haven’t read) which I guess would explain things in a bit more detail but as a stand alone novel I felt that there should have been more explanation. Plus, every time The Fall was mentioned I pictured this:

 

I quite liked all of the characters, even if Claudia was a bit wet and Cameron was often utterly clueless. There was some good, slow building m/m queer representation and I loved Felix – I think his character will really develop in book two. I liked Julia too and thought it was fantastic to have a self-described “plain” looking girl as the main heroine – what a refreshing change!

As far as the storyline went, I really got into the book and read it in only a couple of days. I have to say though, I did get a bit confused by the three different names for vampires, plus the elite vampire guard and I sometimes struggled to work out who the characters were and what side they were on.

Overall, I liked The Gilded King and now that I’ve got my head around the setting I think books two and three will be really interesting. The novel wasn’t without it’s faults but it was a good narrative  – I could just have done with reading the prequel novella beforehand!

Three and a half “they’re VAMPIRES???”s out of five.

Well written, exciting stuff from a genre that I don’t normally read. The scene is set nicely for book two!

 

*PSSSSSST The Gilded King is FREE right now on Kindle! Links here:

Amazon US and Amazon UK

 

About Josie Jaffrey…

I live in Oxford, UK, with my husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for me to wear black, which is largely why I gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, I still miss my old wardrobe.

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Gateway Books Part One

Hello Bookworms!

I’ve fallen down a nostalgia induced Google wormhole today trying to research this blog post – aargh!

*Bonus points for knowing what 90’s music video this is from

Why have I spent the last hour chuckling at images of old Just 17 magazines and frantically trying to place random tv theme tunes? Well, I’ve been looking back through my life to see which books have been the real game-changers… the ones that I’m calling:

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A whole new worrrrrrlllllldddddd….

Ahem.

So, I thought it would be good to start at the beginning, when I first began to choose my own books. I guess at around ten years old I was mostly reading:

Children’s Fiction (unsurprisingly)

257758. sy475 The Sheep-PigCharlotte's Web

I remember reading Goodnight Mister Tom with the rest of the class at primary school and it was so sad but utterly captivating too. Even the annoying kids with poor concentration were absolutely gripped by the story! The backdrop of the war led me to  other books like Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo and Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and when I was even older, books like All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Birdsong by Sebastien Faulks (which I purchased years ago and still haven’t got round to reading, oops).

I also LOVED all of those animal stories written for children like The Sheep Pig by Dick King-Smith (which was made into the film Babe) and Charlotte’s Web, which very nearly made me a vegetarian (but failed at the first sniff of a bacon sandwich). I still love books about animals – I recently read The Bees by Laline Paull which was both super interesting and super-disturbing.

I also read lots of…

Children’s Classics

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I went through a big Enid Blyton phase when I was younger, especially The Famous Five (I wanted to be George, obvs) and Mallory Towers, which made me want to go to boarding school. I can draw a direct line between this book and a later series of books set at a somewhat more magical boarding school… in hindsight these books are pretty problematic but at the time I loved them.

I also loved books like What Katy Did, where naughty Katy got her comeuppance and learnt to be good by following the meek and mild Aunt Helen. I have SUCH vivid memories from this book – the medicine bottles on the shelf, the cracked staple holding up the fateful swing, the menus she would have to write where she complained that every meal had to either be pork, chicken or beef and couldn’t someone just invent a new meat (something I regularly think about when I can’t decide what to cook). The feminist in me shudders at this story now but at the time I couldn’t get enough of it. I have equally fond memories of books by E. Nesbit like The Railway Children and Five Children and It, which led me to the fantastical, magical stories of people like Neil Gaiman.

Finally, I also got very much into…

Humour/Humorous Poetry

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(Aargh why won’t these pictures align????)

I went on holiday when I was about eight or so and, glory of glories, there was a whole bookshelf full of (adult) books for any of my family to borrow. I chose to read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 which, in hindsight, was far too old for me (I think I just skipped over the parts that I didn’t understand) and Some More of Me Poetry by Pam Ayres, which was really funny in a very innocent 1970’s way (or at least, that’s how I remember it). Both of the books were brilliantly amusing and made me love that kind of downtrodden working class sense of humour, leading me on to the rest of Sue Townsend’s works and even into stand up like Victoria Wood and working class folk-rockers like Grace Petrie:

 

And with that solid grounding in literature, I ventured into my teenage years… which will have to wait for another post!

So, what books did you enjoy growing up? How do you think they influenced your reading tastes now? Did they a wider impact on you as a person? Let me know in the comments!

End of Month Mini-Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

I’ve had a terrible months blogging activity so I’m desperately trying to get reviews done for all of the books that I’ve recently read! Thank goodness for mini reviews!

So, in light of the fact that I’ve not really done very much recently, today’s theme is…

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The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

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Eva’s twins have finally been packed off to university and she’s decided that she’s had enough. Enough of the daily drudgery of housework, enough of her tedious husband, enough of being at everyone’s beck and call. So, she decides that it’s time for a well earned rest. Eva takes to her bed and decides that everyone else can look after her for a change. In typical Sue Townsend style this quickly develops into a farcical comedy, with Eva’s husband Brian moving into his purpose built shed-cum-lovenest with his new squeeze Titania (Tit) and Alexander the white van man being left to hold things together.

I liked the easy style of the writing but what this book (and all of the books in this post) suffered from is a lack of robust plot line. Yes, it’s a fun, light book but it’s hardly a page turner. I love Sue Townsend as a writer so it’s still good but it’s nowhere near her best work.

 

Three “It’s not Adrian Mole” out of five

 

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

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Well, this has certainly turned out to be a controversial choice – it’s had accusations of being un-feminist, lacking in plot, failing to follow the basic rules of grammar, being confusing, poorly written… I could go on. And yes (she says, flouting the rules of grammar herself), perhaps all of those things are true – although I don’t think it’s un-feminist to write complicated, emotional female characters – but I still liked it.

Frances is a young, possibly bisexual woman who becomes involved with Nick and Melissa, a slightly older monogamish married couple. Nick begins an affair with Frances, whilst Frances’ ex-girlfriend Bobbi begins a flirtation with Melissa. Frances does very little in the way of work – she’s a performance poet with Bobbi, she lives rent free in a flat owned by her uncle, she states that she never wants a job. Indeed, she’s only forced to get one when her father’s allowance stops, following his descent into alcoholism. Her lack of structure leads to an awful lot of soul searching, in the way that you can only do when you’re young and in love and don’t have to also worry about a million other boring adult issues.

Despite the annoyingly millennial (Gen Z?) characters, I loved the subtlety of the prose, the devastating one liners, the horrid complications of trying to love someone when you don’t love yourself. I could really relate to Frances and her unemotional dialogue which betrayed an ocean of pain and suffering below her bland exterior. I thought that Sally Rooney absolutely caught the aimless horror of being in your early twenties, indecisively drifting between friends, partners and jobs. Urgh. Youth really is wasted on the young.

Four “Not entirely sure how I just enjoyed a book where nothing happened” out of five
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
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An unnamed narrator (I never realise that until I come to write the review) decides that

she needs a rest, so visits a quack “doctor” who prescribes her with ever increasing numbers of sedatives, uppers, downers and everything in-between. The narrator then proceeds to quite literally sleep for an entire year – not going out, not really eating, not menstruating… nothing but popping pills and occasionally buying coffee from the local shop. Whilst I’m sure we’ve all had days where this type of self induced coma sounds rather appealing, it doesn’t exactly make for a page turning novel.

I didn’t like any of the characters in the book (I say any, there’s really only two) but even the peripheral boyfriend and dead parents are incredibly narcissistic, unlovable people. The only vaguely interesting bit of tension comes from your realisation that the “year” is 2001 and the setting is New York City… as you get closer to September you obviously know what’s about to happen but even that gets passed over with very little emotion.

There is something oddly compelling about the writing though. In a weird way it reminded me of American Psycho – that ultra-privileged antipathy, the desire to do something destructive just because you’re bored and you’ve got the money to get away with it. However, murder makes for a far more interesting storyline than sleeping, so I’m only able to give it a Goodreads-unfriendly…

Two and a half “And I thought nothing happened in Conversations With Friends” out of five
AAAAAND RELAX!

 

So, do you think the idea of doing absolutely nothing sounds really appealing? Could you manage to get an interesting book out of it? Do you like books that are more focused on characterisation than plot? Let me know in the comments!

Mid Month Mini Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

Welcome to my a-bit-later-than-planned-mid-month mini-reviews!

I’ve been trying to read more diversely recently and so today I’m focusing on black female authors. All of these books are absolutely excellent and they’ve all made me think about race, racism and privilege (amongst other issues) from entirely different angles. I’d highly recommend them all.

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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I didn’t go into this book with high expectations but I was blown away by it – not only by the sheer force of Michelle Obama’s drive and ambition but by how well written and engrossing it was. As a British person I don’t understand the system that the US uses to elect its politicians so I had hoped the autobiography wouldn’t get too politically technical and thankfully, it didn’t. What it did do, however, was show what a truly inspirational person Michelle Obama is. Her sheer determination to do well in life was astounding – just the lengths that she had to go to just to get a good education were ridiculous and her constant willingness to defeat the obstacles put in front of her was amazing.

I loved hearing about how Michelle took the role of First Lady and made it her own, with her unique blend of optimism, personality and hard work. I also loved getting a behind-the scenes glance at what life in the White House was really like, especially when you’re also trying to bring up a young family. It was great to hear about what a nuisance the Secret Service were when you were trying to organise your daughter’s sleepover or what it was really like to meet the Queen when you’d only a vague idea of protocol!

Overall, I thought this was a super-interesting look at an amazing woman and her incredible life so far. My only criticism would be her cheese on toast making skills – guys, she used the microwave. Whaaaaat???

    

Four “That’s not how you make cheese on toast, Michelle” out of five.

 

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #2 Read an alternate history novel.

Oh. My. God.

I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for this book – especially with that ending – but safe to say that I loved it, even though it was upsetting and graphic and difficult to read in places.

Noughts and Crosses is set in a world where power has been flipped on it’s head – black people (crosses) are the ruling elite over the just-out-of-slavery whites (noughts). Sephy (a cross) has been lifelong friends with Callum (a nought) but when their friendship begins to develop into something more, the trouble begins.

There’s a lot of adult themes in the book – not just around privilege, power and racism but also rape, abuse and murder. These topics are handled incredibly sensitively though and although in parts it’s a difficult read, the writing is so outstanding that you’re unable to put the book down. The characters are multi-faceted, complicated individuals who often act irresponsibly – entirely how teenagers should behave – and this made the story seem all the more real to me.

Overall, I thought this was a great book with a very important message – I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

 

Four and a half “You can’t do that to a main character!” out of five

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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This is an odd book to review. On the one hand, I enjoyed reading it but I found that it was only after I’d finished that I truly understood how great it was. I just couldn’t. Stop. Thinking. About. It. And every time I considered the novel from a new angle, I found a whole slew of other issues hiding behind it.

An American Marriage is the story of a married couple, Celestial and Roy, who become separated after Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Roy goes to prison and Celestial is left to build a life on her own, with just the shadow of her husband looming in the background.

It’s the omnipresence of Roy in Celestial’s life that really gives the book some tension. Their marriage is always there in the background, overshadowing every move they both make. The issue of their legal union binds them together and creates all kinds of questions about freedom – it acts as a kind of metaphorical, socially driven prison of their own making. It really made me think about injustice and how punishment of an individual ripples out to affect the whole family.

There’s many things about the book that mean it shouldn’t work – the characters are unlikable, the plot isn’t particularly dynamic, the ending is a bit disappointing. However, there’s something about the writing that compels you to keep reading. I should have hated it but instead I loved it.

 

Four “those dolls sound hella creepy” out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of these books? Do you make an effort to read from a diverse range of authors? Let me know in the comments!

Calendar Girls May: Favourite Book With A Mother/Daughter Relationship

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls, which I totally forgot to post yesterday! I’m so sorry guys!!!

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Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post.

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

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…and my top pick is…

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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When I first saw the theme of mother and daughter relationships I was initially a little stumped. I don’t read a lot of novels that focus on family ties so I had to cast around on google for a bit to see what I could come up with. Then it hit me – I was looking for positive, healthy Mum/Daughter bonds… but what about toxic relationships? That’s when I knew exactly which book I’d recommend – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

In the book, 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 few interactions with other people. Everything seems to be pretty normal (if a bit lonely) 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 deal with her past… and her mother.

I thought that 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. When she acts inappropriately you can see it’s because she doesn’t understand social norms and never because she aims to cause offence – 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 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 Eleanor’s past was hinted at throughout the novel and that by the end of the book everything had come to light. I really liked 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 a fabulous debut – everyone should read it!

 

Have you read Eleanor Oliphant…? Do you have any favourite books with toxic mother/daughter relationships in them? Let me know in the comments!