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2023 Reading and Writing Challenge Reviews 4/12



Writing Challenge


  • Hit 70,000 words on Avonstow Book 2

  • Planned the second half of the same book

  • Second Lido workshop successfully completed


Reading Challenge


  • 2 books from my Kindle list

  • 0 books from my bookshelf list (read everything up to 2021 already)

  • 5 books from my 'to buy' list

  • 9 books from my library list

  • 1 book from my audiobook list


April has been an incredibly productive month both in terms of reading and writing, particularly considering that we didn't go away for the Easter holidays, which meant I didn't have as much reading time as I normally would in the holidays, but still didn't have any writing time in those two weeks. I did manage to get the remaining book planned out in draft and at the moment, I am on track to meet my end of May deadline for completing Draft 1 and have started the process of piecing together how the various strands of the plot are going to come together. I'm also continuing to jot down ideas for Book 3 as I go along.


One of the things I love about going through books that have been on my TBR pile for ages is that I quite often can't remember why I put them on there in the first place. One exception to this is the Kami Garcia/Margaret Stohl series 'Beautiful Creatures'. I watched the film and enjoyed it, so when I found out it was based on a book, I obviously wanted to read it. Originally, I thought it was a trilogy, but there are actually 4 books in the series. I started off trying to space them out so that I was reading other books in between, but by the end of Book 3, I needed to know how the story ended. I ended up staying up late to finish Book 4 all in one go! Another series I revisited this month was Carlos Ruiz Zafón's 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books' series. Last month I re-read the first book and in April I read books 2 and 3, which were superb. Again, I discovered that there was an extra book in the series that I'd missed when I put the list together, though in this case it's a series of short stories which add to the world, rather than a direct sequel. This has also been added to May's reading list!


My audiobooks this month have also been a bit of a mixed bag - I've listened to a series of H G Wells books and this has proved the value of a good narrator - some of the stories were less engaging than others, but the narrators were so good that I was prepared to continue with the stories despite this. However, I have also listened to children's books, mainly so that I could talk to Arthur about the books he'd been reading, but I thoroughly enjoyed them in their own right as well.


Reviews


Poetry


The First Book of Urizen – William Blake (With Hell as the central theme it’s hardly surprising that some of the illustrations are a little disturbing! My main take away from this was that Orc was not created by Tolkein but the name suits both creatures!)


Milton – William Blake (Not a huge fan of this, apart from the end. I didn’t particularly get on with Milton when I tried to read Paradise Lost and this didn’t encourage me to go back to it. Too much naval-gazing for my taste, but I love the famous ‘Jerusalem’ poem that Blake actually discarded!)


The Ghost of Abel, On Homers Poetry & On Virgil, Laocoön – William Blake (mercifully short compared to Jerusalem and Milton, vaguely interesting because they reference Classical Literature.)


Jerusalem The Emanation of Great Albion – William Blake (follows on from Milton. Didn’t really understand it, liked it even less. Lots of Biblical references, which I did understand, but if this had been my introduction to Blake, I wouldn’t have read any more. Only finished it because I’d read the rest of his work!)


Birthday Letters – Ted Hughes (Book group read. My suggestion because of having studied and enjoyed a couple of the poems on a writing retreat workshop last year. I wasn’t disappointed with the rest of them. Interestingly, it gave me a very different perspective on Ted Hughes. My sister had told me of his marriage to Sylvia Plath and she was very firmly in the camp of the feminist movement who adopted Plath as a victim figure. However, after reading these poems, I started to question whether there might be a different side to the story.)


The Nation’s Favourite Poems – Various (Thoroughly enjoyed revisiting many of these and have well and truly got over my fear of poetry. That said, I did attempt to read more romantic poets and gave up on them for a while. I’ll come back to them, but they’re quite weighty to read all in one go. I liked this collection because it’s a good mix of lengths of poems and combines the lighthearted with the more literary ones.)


Contemporary


Like Wind Against Rock – Nancy Kim (Interesting insight into Korean culture, albeit a Westernised household. Even more interesting was the juxtaposition between mother and daughter and how they come to a better understanding of each other, which crosses cultural boundaries and is a universal theme.)


In A Good Light – Clare Chambers (Really interesting book about dysfunctional childhoods and the unexpected consequences they can have. Thoroughly enjoyed it and loved the way that all the little strands came together at the end. Very satisfying.)


The Reading List - Sara Nisha Adams (A really bitter-sweet story about how books and libraries can bring people together and provide support in times of need.)


A Dry Spell – Clare Chambers (An incident in the 1970s when the protagonists are at university has a profound effect on their lives, even though they don’t always realise it. It’s quite compelling, even though not a single one of the characters is particularly likeable.)


Better Left Unsaid - Tufayel Ahmed (A new author for me. Saw this on Netgalley for review and thought it sounded interesting. I was right! It was interesting to get an insight into a different culture and to see what pressures were the same/different. Full review here.)


Supernatural


The Angel’s Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (sequel to The Shadow Of The Wind but actually takes place before the events of the first book. It took me a little while to work out that the bookseller’s son, was actually the book seller from the first book as a child. Was lovely to find out more about Daniel’s mother though and this was more supernatural in tone than the first book.)


Beautiful Creatures – Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (This was a random film I’d recorded years ago and never watched. Thought the film was pretty good, but wanted to read the book as I assumed it would be better. Of course it was! This is a genre I often forget I quite like so it was nice to revisit it and because there are three more in the series, I can keep coming back to it! It’s a more realistic and far better written Twilight.)


The Whitby Witches – Robin Jarvis (Thought it was a standalone, turns out it’s the first in a trilogy. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Draws on the Dracula history of Whitby plus a whole load of actual supernatural stuff. Quite dark for a children’s book, but definitely one I’ll be hanging onto for when Arthur is a bit older and less easy to scare. Not just for kids though.)


Beautiful Darkness – Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl (Continues Ethan and Lena’s story. Introduces new characters, rebrands existing ones and moves the story into a much darker place, beautifully setting up book 3.)


Beautiful Chaos – Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl (Continuation of Lena and Ethan’s story. Tissues at the ready as they realise what will be asked of them. Beautifully illustrates how there is light and dark in everyone and examines the motivations behind some of the characters’ actions.)


Beautiful Redemption – Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl (Hadn’t intended to read this one straight after ‘Chaos’ but couldn’t bear to wait to find out how Lena and Ethan’s story ended. Sad and beautiful and a perfectly crafted ending to the four book series. Just fab.)


A Warlock in Whitby - Robin Jarvis (2nd of the Whitby Witches series. The death count is just as high in this as it was in the first book! I think one of the reasons I like these books is because for children's books, they are quite dark and it adds a touch of realism - the fight between good and evil is such that although good may triumph, it often comes at a very high price.)


Science-Fiction


The Time Machine – H.G. Wells (Audiobook. Interesting version of the future that Wells creates in this book with the race dividing into surface dwellers and those who live below. Couldn’t get past the ‘love interest’ being called Weener – no idea how it was spelled – but found that she was dismissed too easily for my taste.)


The Invisible Man – H G Wells (Audiobook. Had seen odd clips of one of the film versions of the book years ago but had no knowledge of the story beyond the obvious clue in the title. I remember feeling quite sorry for him in the clip I saw. By the time I finished listening to the book, I didn’t have quite as much empathy for him.)


The Island Of Doctor Moreau – H G Wells (Very odd. Interesting, if slightly scary, glimpse into what a genetically modified future might look like!)


Romance


Summer At The Art Café – Sue McDonagh (Bog standard rom-com. Easy beach read, but not much more depth to it. Touches on controlling spouse, but all far too easily resolved for my taste.)


The Old Boat Clubhouse – K T Dady (Full review of this coming on 4th May. Next Pepper Bay instalment and brings both foreigners and the press to the island!)


Mr Right Across The Street – Kathryn Freeman (Standard romcom. Light and fluffy – would be a good beach read.)


Non-Fiction


RAF Duxford – Michael Evans (read for research. Interesting to see just how many squadrons had gone through the airbase before, during and after the war.)


Murder Isn’t Easy – Carla Valentine (This book uses Agatha Christie’s books to teach people about the development of forensic pathology. It’s a very clever way of doing it, because I would never have picked it up had it not had the Christie link. If I had, I suspect I would have found it quite dry and not finished it. However, by using Christie’s fictional cases to illustrate the author’s points, it adds a lightness of touch and relatable examples. To my surprise, I found myself not only enjoying it, but also understanding the science far more than I expected to!)


Red Comet – Heather Clark (Biography of Sylvia Plath. Birthday Letters intrigued me and I wanted to know more about the people behind it. I wanted something that wasn’t especially pro-Plath or pr-Hughes, but something that was a bit more neutral in its judgement. This was the perfect book to choose. Whatever the truth about the claims of domestic violence, it’s clear that Plath’s mental health was an issue for her long before she ever met Ted Hughes. I ended it with the thought that whatever happened, there’s no doubt that they loved each other and that they were both difficult people in their own ways. It’s made me now seek out some of Plath’s poetry and more of Hughes’ and it’s clear that had she not taken her own life so young, she would have been even more of an icon than she already is.)


Crime


The Bullet That Missed – Richard Osman (This series gets better with every book and I love every single character. Elizabeth’s past comes back again, but as usual, she’s one step ahead of everyone.)


The Body At Carnival Bridge - Michelle Salter (Full review to follow on 11th May. 3rd in the Iris Woodmore series. Really enjoying these books.)


The Mapping Of Love and Death – Jacqueline Winspear (I’ve left Maisie Dobbs alone for a while as I’ve been trying not to just read the same kinds of books, but I allowed myself to indulge in a couple this month and it was like meeting up with an old friend. The plots of the individual books are always good, but it’s Maisie herself (and to a lesser extent, Billy and his family) who always draws the eye. As always, there’s so much to unpick about 1930s society alongside the story itself, which centres around the disappearance of an American born cartographer during the war.


A Lesson In Secrets – Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs yet again proving that just because a ceasefire has been declared, a war is not necessarily over and the consequences of actions taken in that time have a long reach. I love that once more, she delves into both sides of war – not just friend and enemy, but also conscientious objectors and the bravery they showed in standing up for their beliefs as well as their treatment by those in power. Similarly, the dark underbelly of London society comes to the fore again.)


The Botanist - Anne Wedgwood (Slightly quirky novel. Came across this on social media when the author was looking for readers. It's taken me a few years, but I've finally got around to buying it and reading it and I have to say it was worth the wait. there's just the right amount of tension built throughout and although it isn't quite tense enough to be a thriller, it's a good, solid 'will she get away with it or not' crime novel.)


Fairytale


Honeycomb – Joanne M Harris (I am in awe of Harris’ ability to weave this all together. The main ‘plot’ insofar as there is one, is the story of the Lacewing King but he only makes an appearance every few chapters. The other chapters are dedicated to seemingly unrelated characters and each chapter is a self contained short story. However, these characters often reappear as minor characters in the Lacewing King’s story and sometimes they have a big effect on his life. It’s an absolute masterpiece in construction and a brilliant story to boot!)


Historical


The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The 3rd instalment in the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ series, this tells more of Fermin’s story and brings back the character of David Martin from Book 2, as his life becomes ever more intertwined with Daniel’s. I think what is most heart-breaking about this series is that even though it’s fictional, it could so easily be true in Franco’s Spain and it’s terrifying that humans can behave in such an inhuman manner.)


Children's


The Warrior In My Wardrobe – Simon Farnaby (Audiobook. 2nd Merdyn the Wild book. Rompingly funny and I love that Farnaby seems to have taken a leaf from the Terry Pratchett school of how to write footnotes. Can see why Arthur enjoyed this so much and hoping that there will be more to come.)


Book of the Month?


As a series, the Kami Garcia/Margaret Stohl books were absolutely superb, but if I have to pick one particular book, then this month it has to be Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes and Red  Comets by Heather Clark. It's impossible to separate these two because one gave me a far better understanding of the other and my reading of the poetry also enhanced the effect of the biography on me. Between the two books they have opened up a whole new world of poetry to me. I plan to read some of Plath's poetry, as well as a book which specifically examines Birthday Letters.





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