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Reading and Writing Challenge Reviews 5/12




Writing Challenge


  • Hit 80,000 words on Avonstow Book 2

  • Planned the basic outline of 'The Quest For The Summer King'

  • Was invited to be the author for our local school's 'Meet The Author' reward on their reading scheme


Reading Challenge


  • 3 books from my Kindle list

  • 2 books from my 2022 bookshelf list (read everything up to 2021 already)

  • 4 books from my 'to buy' list

  • 12 books from my library list

  • 4 books from my 2022 audiobook list (read everything up to 2021 already)


May has been a somewhat challenging month in the Loten household and consequently, I've been stress-reading. I've talked about this before, but basically it's something I do when life is being difficult to avoid having to actually think about anything! This month has seen my husband get a new job, which means he will be moving down to our flat in Cornwall at the end of the summer, so our house of four will be down to just two in September, as our eldest will be off to university as well. It's also seen KS2 SATs (not especially stressful in themselves, but concerning when you have a child who worries about absolutely everything) and the start of A-levels. At the end of the month, my paid job kicked in and this means a very busy few weeks ahead for me. I didn't realise quite how unsettled it had made me, or how 'not very well' I was dealing with it until I saw quite how many books I'd read by halfway through the month. Several conversations with friends later and I'm, if not exactly emotionally stable about it all, at least able to reassure myself that everything will work itself out.


I think the reason I read so much when I'm stressed is because it allows me to escape into the world of fiction. When I'm writing I can create the world to be the way I want it to be, but if my head isn't in the right place to do that, the words don't come. It's not writer's block as such, it's not that I can't think what to write, it's more that I don't want to. It's a form of sulking I suppose because I can't write my way out of difficult situations. Consequently, that's when I retreat into books because someone else has done all the hard work for me and all I have to do is immerse myself in the world they've created for me. This requires far less brain power on my part but has the same end result - I don't have to think about the things that worry me. Children's books on audio are excellent for this and I've listened to some fantastic ones this month. Arthur discovered Andy Shepherd's 'The Boy Who Grew Dragons' series a couple of months ago and has been talking about them a lot, so I thought I'd have a listen so I knew what he was talking about. I ended up listening to all of the ones he had and, like Arthur, am keenly awaiting the arrival of my next Audible credit so I can get the last in the series!


Reviews


Historical


The Labyrinth of the Spirits – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Final novel in the Shadow of the Wind series brings the story to a fitting conclusion, where all the loose ends come together, including Fermin’s story.)


The Bookshop – Penelope Fitzgerald (Typifies small town mentality and the egos that dominate such a town. Sometimes these egos are so focused on what ‘they’ think the town needs and what ‘they’ can do for the townspeople, that they lose sight of what the town might actually want or need. The bookshop was doomed to fail from the minute the owner refused to sell the building to the lady of the town. That people can be so vindictive makes me angry, but the fact the town didn’t want its bookshop just makes me sad.)


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid (Book Group pick. Absolutely fascinating book and one which proves that a main character does not have to be likeable in order to be engaging. Evelyn is not a nice person, but she is completely honest about that fact. Each husband was interesting in their own right, not just because of their relationship with Evelyn, but because of the role they played in her life and career and how they reacted to being married to such a famous person.)


Tipping The Velvet - Sarah Waters (Fabulous exploration of the world of the LGBTQ residents of London at the turn of the twentieth century. I remember the controversy when the TV series came out but I'd never watched it and although the book had been on my TBR pile for a while, I'd never quite got around to reading it. Quite graphic in places, particualarly with regards to the sexual interactions of the characters, but at no point does it ever feel sensationalised. It's ultimately a fun book to read, but there are darker elements to it as well.)


Still Life - Sarah Winman (Audiobook. So many of my friends have recommended this book to me, but it wasn't until I'd almost finished it that I realised it was the same author as 'A Year of Marvellous Ways' which we read in book group last year. I thought then that her style was very poetic and this book was definitely written in a similar style. I'm not sure how I would have got on with reading it given that there is no punctuation for speech, but listening to it was a wonderful experience and I found myself carving out time to listen to the book rather than just fitting it in, like I usually do with audiobooks.)


The Great Mistake - Jonathan Lee (Fictionalised account of the life and death of Andrew Haswell Green, the Father of Greater New York. I heard about this book on a Radio book programme and thought it sounded interesting, in spite of never having heard of the subject of it. It was certainly an interesting read and a different style in terms of the writing.)


Pandora - Susan Stokes-Chapman (This was a very slow starter and I considered giving up on it, but at about the halfway point the story really kicked in and I was very glad I hadn't given up on it. Many levels to the story and well worth persevering through the first section for.)


Return To The Italian Quarter - Domenica De Rosa (family secrets come to light as a journalist begins to ask questions, but nothing is quite what it at first seems. Interesting, but instantly forgettable - would be a good beach read.)


Children's


The Boy Who Grew Dragons – Andy Shepherd (Audiobook. Listened to this on Arthur’s recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed it. Definitely a good one for children!)


The Boy Who Lived With Dragons – Andy Shepherd (Audiobook. Some of the realities of life with dragons come to the fore, but everything is still kept light and funny.)


The Boy Who Flew With Dragons – Andy Shepherd (Audiobook. I like the path of Liam’s story in this one and it kept me thoroughly entertained while I was ill!)


The Boy Who Dreamed Of Dragons - Andy Shepherd (Audiobook. Tougher times for the super squad and the introduction of a new member. Sets up the last book very nicely.)


The Grumpus – Alex T. Davis (Beautiful children’s story about an unhappy creature who sets out to cancel Christmas, but along the way makes friends and discovers the joy of a life lived to the full.)


The Whitby Child – Robin Jarvis (Children’s book, 3rd in the Whitby Witches series. Brings the story to a satisfying, if bittersweet, conclusion. The book was really good, but the ending felt a little rushed.)


Suspense


Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (Re-read this so I could respond to some questions posted online. Hand on heart, I’d forgotten how good it is and I think the opening chapter is the best of any book I’ve ever read.)


Poetry


A Naked Tree – Joy Davidman (Wanted to read these after reading a fiction version of her relationship with C.S. Lewis. Found another poet whose work I enjoy.)


Ariel – Sylvia Plath (Haunting final collection of poems from Plath, these are the ones which propelled her to poetic stardom. Very dark in places, but not depressing in spite of knowing how her life ended.)


Selected Poems – Sylvia Plath (Wanted to read more of her work beyond Ariel. Have decided I like her poetry very much.)


Creative Non-Fiction


A Wide Woman on a Narrow Boat – Stephanie Green (This has been on my TBR pile for a while as I know the author. The book was not a disappointment – it has all of her usual dry humour and wit. I think my favourite was her glasses-less misreading of the boat called Myfanwy!)


Non-Fiction


Forgotten – Linda Hervieux (About the black soldiers who contributed to the D-Day landings, but whose contribution has largely been forgotten and/or ignored. Some were rewarded in later life, but by and large, not. The book also talks about the different treatment that black soldiers got in Britain compared to in America. However, I couldn’t help feeling that it presented a somewhat rosy picture – although there were obvious exceptions, it indicates that black soldiers were very much welcomed into the country. If this is true, I can’t help wondering what happened to change this attitude in the years that followed the war and why race is still so much of an issue in Britain today.)


Ariel’s Gift – Erica Wagner (Analysis of Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’. Interesting perspective having read all the poems last month. Well worth reading alongside the poems to better understanding them.)


Empire and Emperors – Tacitus (First read this during my Latin & Roman Civilisation GCSE course, but it’s one that I keep coming back to. Always interesting, but this time as I was reading it, I had Jim Howick’s Nero and Martha Howe-Douglas’ Boudicca ringing in my head!)


We Should All Be Feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Very short book, more of an essay based on a lecture the author delivered. Quite eye-opening, particularly when she discusses the different expectations and standards of judgement which are gender based. It's also interesting to consider the negative connotations of the word feminist and why this in itself becomes a problem.)


Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town - Mary Beard (Audiobook. Fascinating insight into the life of Pompeii pre and post volcano! Also highlights some of the common misconceptions about the site. Recommend for anyone with an interest in Pompeii or Roman life more generally.)


Contemporary


Have We Met? – Camille Baker (This was a freebie I picked up through Amazon Prime and I thought the concept sounded interesting. Although by the end there were still some elements of the app that I didn’t quite buy into, the story was interesting and engaging – enough so that I was happy to let my questions go and just enjoy it.)


People Person – Candice Carty-Williams (Audiobook. Five siblings rediscover the bonds between them brought about by an absentee father. At times, preposterous, they are all likeable despite their faults.)


Assembly – Natasha Brown (black narrator struggling to find her place in a white dominated society until she begins to wonder if she actually wants to. Another book that makes the reader think about the different ways in which people experience the same world. Only short and I’m not usually a fan of stream of consciousness, but in this case it works really well and I’d definitely recommend this one.)


Madame Burova - Ruth Hogan (I've loved every one of Hogan's books and this one is no exception. Switching between the 1970s and the present day, it introduces a wide cast of characters , all of whom are so distinctive and unique that you love every moment spent in their presence, even when they're not particularly likeable.)


Identity Crisis - Ben Elton (Well written and very typically Ben Elton, but couldn't bring myself to 'enjoy' it as such because it felt too real. Which is kind of the point. But still...)


Classical


A Thousand Ships – Natalie Haynes (Audiobook. Story of the aftermath of the Trojan War told from the perspective of the various women involved. Interestingly – and much to my relief – Helen only appears as a minor character in one or two of the stories and the focus is very much on the other women. Thoroughly enjoyed it and definitely one I would recommend.)


Crime


Elegy for Eddie – Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie is struggling to reconcile herself with her inherited wealth and is once again trying to find ‘her’ place in the world around her. She is straddling the world of the common man and the aristocracy and struggling in both. The death in question this time is a childhood acquaintance of Maisie and once again, her past connections compel her to seek out justice for those who might otherwise not get it.)


Death In Daylesford - Kerry Greenwood (Slightly slower paced than some of the other hryne Fisher books, this one opens with the most glorious description of the beach and I was delighted to have to pick up my dictionary before the end of the first page to look up what a word meant - if you're interested it was 'matitudinal' and means of, or relating to the morning, particularly the very early morning.)


The Lady With The Gun Asks The Questions - Kerry Greenwood (Delightful collection of sshort stories starring the inimitable Phryne Fisher. This collection answered my question about where the TV writers had got some of the plots from that weren't featured in the novels and added a little more depth to some of the characters we meet in the books. Well worth a read if you like the series as a whole.)


Thriller


Her Last Breath - Hilary Davidson (Good quality psychological thriller, where every character is unreliable and consequently, the reader is never sure how much to believe of what they've been told. Well constructed and scary to think how easy it was to manipulate people.)


Book of the Month?


There were so many to choose from this month, but it takes a lot for me to get totally immersed in an audiobook to the extent that I carve out time to listen to it. Listening to Sarah Winman's 'Still Life' was like laying on a beach while waves lap at your feet, just cold enough to stop you drifting off, but oddly pleasant all the same. It's a wonderful story about the power of love of every variety and is told in such a beautiful way that it is hard not to get drawn into that world. I really struggled to leave these characters behind.




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