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2023 Reading And Writing Challenge Reviews 3/12



Writing Challenge


Progress towards writing goals:


  • Hit 60,000 words on Avonstow Book 2

  • Discussed preliminary cover design

  • Published first book for someone else under the Castle Priory Press imprint

  • Met with the Lido Artists in Residence to plan and organise our Project Workshops for the next few months.

  • Carried out our first workshop for the big Lido Project

  • Formatted the first 1/4 of the Lido anniversary book


Reading Challenge


  • 2 book from my Kindle list

  • 3 books from my bookshelf list

  • 3 books from my 'to buy' list

  • 6 books from my library list

At 1/4 of the way through the year I have left to read:


  • 5 Kindle books (-6 from January)

  • 0 Bookshelf books (-8 from January)

  • 10 'To buy' books (-11 from January)

  • 21 Library books (-12 from January)

  • 1 Audiobooks (-3 from January)


I've been really struggling with writing this month, as I'm having to put my characters in situations I don't really want to and I'm finding it difficult to be mean to them. It's all completely necessary, but I don't like it! I've also spent quite a lot of time reading other people's writing for editing and publishing purposes, so I've neither written nor read as much as I would have liked to. However, as it's all directed towards the same goal, I can't complain too much! Nevertheless, next month I need to be a bit more focused and make sure I get the writing done - the story is there, I just need to stop tying myself in knots over it and just crack on with it! This plan has been helped massively by a book I was lent - 'Save The Cat Writes A Novel'. While I was reading it, I was thinking about my book and suddenly something just clicked and I knew exactly why it wasn't working, what I needed to do to fix it and had an idea for the structure of the other half that I've not started yet and how to tie it all together in terms of the theme! Not bad for one day's reading - thank you Save The Cat!!


Reviews


Crime


The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter (Superb thriller that kept me guessing right the way through. So many twists and turns, none of which I saw coming!)


The Suspicion At Sanditon – Carrie Bebris (It’s a long time since I read Sanditon and unlike Austen’s other novels, I can’t recall either characters of plot, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. However, Bebris’ books are definitely at the better end of Pride and Prejudice variations and this was no exception. It’s a light-hearted read on the whole, but it does cast a light on the darker side of Georgian England’s class inequalities.


The Fine Art Of Invisible Detection – Robert Goddard (This is one of my favourite authors, but I was a little apprehensive about what the book was going to be like, purely because the cover design was so different in style to all his other books and I wondered if it was going to be a departure of style as well. It was a little different, as the historical elements didn’t go quite as far back as they sometimes do, but it was still a solid plot. Not a classic Goddard, perhaps, but entertaining nonetheless.)


Non-Fiction


The Complete King Arthur – John & Caitlin Matthews (an interesting book, which combines the historical with the mythological. It examines Arthur’s possible roots in reality and the potential candidates for his identity. It then moves through the many myths and legends associated with the man, considering what they tell the modern reader about society at the time they were written. Finally it considers what Arthur means to Britain today and why he has become embedded in the national psyche.)


Alexander The Great: The Hunt For A New Past – Paul Cartledge (A slightly unusual take on the great military leader, as it looks at all the different interpretations of him over the years, from Homeric hero-style portrayal to barbaric conqueror. Read it because I love the portrayal of him in the original Horrible Histories TV series and he was a figure I knew little to nothing about. Much of the book was about his military exploits, as you would expect, but the writer in me would like to know more about Alexander the person, particularly his relationship with Hephaistion, which for me, seems to have echoes of that between Achilles and Patroclus.)


Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi (This was another book my husband had heard about on the radio and recommended to me. Yet again, he was spot on! It’s been on my TBR pile for so long that I’d forgotten it was a memoir and they normally take me longer to read than fiction books do. However, in this case, it was every bit as fascinating and it’s made me want to go back and read Lolita and The Great Gatsby again with a different eye, as well as reminding me to read some Henry James. I know little to nothing about Iran over the last 40 years, beyond the fact that there was a revolution and a war in the 1970s and 80s and I was under the impression that the change was something that was welcomed. I now know differently and it’s something I feel the need to educate myself further about, so I’ll be looking out for more books set there.)


Save The Cat! Writes a Novel – Jessica Brody (a friend lent me this with a positive recommendation and she really wasn’t wrong! Over the course of a day’s reading, it managed to enlighten me as to why my WIP wasn’t working, help me work out what I needed to do to fix it, sort out a bit I haven’t even started writing yet and get the words flowing freely again. This is definitely a method of novel planning I will be coming back to in future!)


Operation Fortitude - -Joshua Levine (not as detailed as Ben MacIntyre’s Double Cross but shed some light on the wider role of Fortitude and added further plot points to my own book, so a useful bit of research.)


Poetry


Flower Fairies of the Spring – Cicely Mary Barker (my sister had copies of these books when I was growing up and I’m pretty sure that her 21st birthday present from the 6 year old me, was either the complete Peter Rabbit collection, or the complete Flower Fairy one. I’ve loved these books since I was a child, but never had my own copies of the books until now. I loved reading the poems again – it was like revisiting my childhood.)


Flower Fairies of the Summer - Cicely Mary Barker (Some of my favourite flowers are summer ones and I love picturing the little rose fairies nestled amidst our glorious rose bushes.)


All Religions Are One & There Is No Natural Religion – William Blake (I don’t think these are Blake’s best work, but the plates are interesting.)


Songs Of Innocence and Experience – William Blake (I grew up reading these, so these are the Blake poems I’m most familiar with. Some I remember fondly from childhood, but others I’ve grown to appreciate as an adult.)


The Book of Thel & The Marriage of Heaven & Hell – William Blake (What strikes me about these books is the beauty of the illustrations – even the pages without a picture are beautifully decorated. Interesting references to the Bible and subversive views expressed.)


The Gates of Paradise & Visions of the Daughters of Albion – William Blake (I like the fact that in these, Blake recognises the difficulties of marriage for women at the time, particularly as this, along with women’s sexuality was a concern around the same time for the likes of Mary Wollstencroft.


America, a Prophecy – William Blake (Written during the French Revolution but against the backdrop of revolution in America, it’s interesting that both embodiments of England and America see the other as the Anti-Christ. It draws in philosophy as well as revolutionary zeal.


Europe, a Prophecy – William Blake (I love the preface image ‘The Ancient of Days’. In this poem Blake is clearer about his support for revolution, but was apparently disappointed with the outcome of the French one, believing that it had betrayed its principles when Napoleon was given the title of emperor.)


The Song of Los, The Book of Los & The Book of Ahania – William Blake (The flipside of Europe and America, these poems deal with Africa and Asia and how pleasure becomes sin under the auspices of religion.)


Thriller


Mrs Rochester’s Ghost – Lindsay Marcott (a modern re-telling of Jane Eyre, this transposes the story to modern America. It also makes other changes to the plot, which made me feel differently towards the characters [compared to the original ones they are based on]. In fact, had it not been for the title, I’m, not sure I would necessarily have made the connection to Jane Eyre.


The Wives – Tarryn Fisher (Good solid thriller where the first half of the book is spent building up the plot and the second half spent unravelling it. Nothing is quite what it seems, even for the characters and consequently, even when things were revealed, I wasn’t quite sure whether or not to trust the revelations!)


Tideline – Penny Hancock (Deeply disturbing from the very beginning, it left me unsettled throughout and when the twist came, it made perfect sense but I had no clue that it was coming. I didn’t think it was possible to make the book any darker, but it did! Well worth reading.)


Children/YA


The Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman (for a long time I put off reading The Book of Dust because I couldn’t believe it would be as good as His Dark Materials and I didn’t want to diminish the memory of how much I’d enjoyed it. Last year, I gave in and read La Belle Sauvage and loved it, but again, I put off reading this one, this time, because it moved Lyra’s story on. Lyra is vastly different to the girl we left at the end of the original trilogy; she is changed by her experiences and struggling to make sense of her world. Nevertheless, she is determined to find out the truth of what is happening. Utterly compelling and I now can’t wait to read Book 3.


A Kind Of Spark – Elle McNicoll (Sometimes you come across a book completely by chance that appeals to something in you. Then you read it and it is so much more than you anticipated it was going to be. Stumbled across this via a tweet from Ben Willbond who is in the TV adaptation – released today as it happens – and I thought it looked like a good programme about an autistic child who wants to have a memorial in her village to the women who were executed as witches in the Scottish witch hunts. It’s a topic I feel very strongly about so when he said it was based on a book, I went straight to the library the next day and borrowed it, reading it that evening. I was swept away. It is searing, heartbreaking and beautiful. It made me almost viscerally angry at times, but not because of the witches. The family at the heart of the story draw you in almost immediately and their struggles become yours. It’s a children’s book, but it’s a book that everyone should read.)


Historical


Take My Hand – Dolen Valdez Perkins (Heartbreaking. It took me a little while to get into this one, but although slow paced, it is beautifully written. Inspired by a true story, it reveals the devastation caused by racial and social stereotyping and should remind us all how easy it is for awful things to happen because of an abuse of someone’s good intentions and trust. It also serves as a stark reminder that eugenics programmes were not limited to Nazi Germany and that it is too easy to dismiss them as an uncivilised thing of the past. They may give it a different name, but the potential for it to happen today is still there.


The Feast – Margaret Kennedy (1940s classic set just after WW2 at a Cornish hotel. An interesting mix of characters, many of whom have a very dark side to their character. The book opens with the information that the hotel and the cliff below it have collapsed. There are some survivors, but there are dead amongst the guests. We are also told that the owner of the hotel died alongside them. The timeline then shifts to the days leading up to the tragedy and brings the stories of both victims and survivors to the fore.)


Another Woman’s Husband – Gill Paul (Had totally forgotten I’d read and loved another of her books ‘The Secret Wife’. This one draws on the real story of Ernest and Wallis Simpson and Mary Raffray and focuses on the relationship between Wallis and Mary. Compelling from start to finish, especially as its combined with a more modern story that has the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, as its backdrop.


The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (I read this years ago and came back to it this year when I found out that there were three sequels. I could remember bits of the story and more came back to me as I read it, but it was almost like reading it for the first time again. It’s a beautiful story about the power of love to shape and destroy lives. It’s more than a love story though, because so much of that theme is not about sexual love, it’s to do with families and friendship. Utterly beautiful and on my ‘must read’ list.)


Science-Fiction


The War Of The Worlds – H.G. Wells (Audiobook. I love Jeff Wayne’s musical version of this book, but I’d never read the source material. It’s much darker than the musical, in my opinion, but well worth reading. Or better still – have David Tennant read it to you! Thoroughly enjoyed it and now moving onto other Wells stories on audio.)


The Men In The Moon (Audiobook. Very strange to think that this was written at the dawn of the 20th century before the moon landings were even considered a realistic possibility. It’s an odd book and I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying it or not, but the ending is particularly haunting and left me feeling sadder than I had expected to.)


Contemporary


The Versions Of Us – Laura Barnett (A Between The Covers recommendation. It’s a very clever concept and well structured. However, I did find it a bit confusing at times especially when it came to keeping the three threads separate in my head and I had to keep checking not only which timeline I was reading, but also what had happened previously in it, as I kept getting them muddled. It’s worth reading, but it’s one that I’d considered making notes on as I read it if I were to read it again!)


The Invisible Women’s Club – Helen Paris (read for review. This book tells the story of so many different types of women and binds them all together into a brilliant whole. A must read if you are interested in gardening or underdog vs corporation type books. Thoroughly enjoyed this one – full review to follow on 22nd June when the book is published.)


Short Stories


The Golden Age of British Short Stories – ed. Philip Hensher (Originally bought this as a present for someone, then decided I wanted a copy for myself as well. Some really excellent stories, a few I was less impressed with, but this is definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of the shorter form of fiction.)


I Am Heathcliff – curated by Kate Mosse (Picked this up in the library as Kate Mosse was the featured author for the month. Although I’m not a fan of Wuthering Heights, I was intrigued by the idea of short stories inspired by the novel. Every one brought something different and took a different aspect of the book as its basis. Well worth reading even if, like me, you’re not that keen on the original.)


Supernatural


Hokey Pokey – Kate Mascarenhas (read for review. I picked this up because it was set in the 1920s and sounded like it was going to be a detective sort of novel. It’s VERY different and most unusual. Trying to explain the plot proved something of a challenge when I was describing it to my book group, but I think it’s definitely worth a read if you like a bit of supernatural in your stories. Full review to follow on 8th June when the book is published.)


Book of the Month?


For me, the mark of a good children's book is one where I forget that I'm reading a book aimed at children. That's not to say that a children's book can't be good if it doesn't do this - that's clearly nonsense. There are many children's books I've read and oved as an adult, but it takes something incredibly special to appeal to children on one level and adults on another. A Kind of Spark did just that. It is a truly remarkable book and I have been and will continue to recommend it to everyone, regardless of age!




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