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Reading Challenge 12/12 - Reflections On A Year Of Books




I DID IT!!!!

It was touch and go for a while but I completed my second challenge of the year on Boxing Day.


December was yet another busy month for me, what with editing, frantically trying to finish a book and getting ready for Christmas. Reading wise, it started off well and there were some excellent books that I was looking forward to reading. Mid-month however, I hit a bit of a wall. There were two books in particular on the 100 book challenge that took me ages to read - On The Road and Moby Dick are not long books, but they took three and four days respectively to read. I enjoyed them both in places, but had it not been for my determination to complete the list, I would have abandoned both of them with no regrets.


This is one of the things I've found frustrating about my challenge for the second half of this year. Having spent years teaching myself that it was alright to leave a book unfinished if I wasn't enjoying it, to go back to forcing myself to continue reading, felt like a step backwards. However, there were books that I would have abandoned by page 100 that actually got much better after that cut off point, so in some ways I'm glad I had to keep reading!


It's been a peculiar year all round and I've read a phenomenal amount of books. However, at times, having targets has made me unnecessarily stress about not having time to read and at times took some of the joy out of getting lost in a book. It's also meant that I've not been able to revisit old favourites as much as I would have liked. Consequently, when I was thinking about my reading goals for next year, I set myself the unusual target of reading less books. The idea is that I will read less and enjoy more. If I want to re-read an old favourite, I will. If I want to read an author's entire collection, I can! No targets, no goals, just enjoying the experience. Except I can't do that, because... well, because I want something to aim for, even if it's not much! I'll continue trying to read a diverse range of books and I want to try to reduce my TBR pile just a little bit. I use my Amazon Wishlist as a way of recording all the books I want to read and leaving aside the ones I've already read and want my own copies of, I had about 20 that were on Kindle Unlimited and in excess of 80 that I wanted to borrow from the library. That doesn't include the ones that weren't available from either organisation. Or the physical books people have given me/lent me over the last year which I've not managed to read yet. Consequently, that's my main target. I want to reduce the size of my TBR pile. I know more books will get added to it throughout the year, but if I can get to the end of 2022 with a smaller list of books to be read, I'll be happy.


I have big plans for my writing next year and that will take priority over the reading for at least the first half of the year, but that's OK. I'll still be getting books for review, but I'll try to limit the number I take and vary the authors and genres a bit more. The idea is that 2022 will be a slightly more chilled year, at least as far as my reading is concerned!


December Book Total: 19


Audiobook Total: 3/15


Overall Challenge Total: 278/150 (293 including audiobooks)


December Book Reviews


Non-Fiction


Guide to Devon and Cornwall – Lonely Planet (useful, as these book always are. We discovered a few new restaurants to try and some new places to add to our ‘we should visit’ list.)


Queen Bees - Sian Evans (Audiobook. Fascinating insight into the lives of six of the major society hostesses from the early twentieth century. Has reignited my desire to visit Polesden Lacey now I know more of its history.)


The Royal Art of Poison - Eleanor Herman (Audiobook. I love her books on the affairs conducted with Kings and Queens so I knew this would be good. I hadn't anticipated my husband finding it equally fascinating, but it's kept us entertained on our travels through Cornwall. Not for the squeamish though!)


Mystery


The Christie Affair – Nina De Gramont (full review is coming on release day next month. Possibly not one for the die-hard Christie fan as it’s very fictional, but if you’re prepared to go with the inconsistencies between real events and the plot of the book, it’s a good read and De Gramont is a talented writer.)


Classic


On The Road – Jack Kerouac (I’m going to say it again. I don’t like stream of consciousness writing. I felt I should like this, but I didn’t. It was sporadically interesting and I can see why it was considered ground-breaking at the time, but it wasn’t for me.)


The Catcher In The Rye – J D Salinger (I enjoyed this one more than I expected to. It reminded me a little of The Grapes of Wrath, but it was a much more enjoyable read. Although it was a mid-century teenager, the angst was very familiar and Caulfield was relatable even to someone far removed from their own teens.)


The Colour Purple – Alice Walker (Another beautiful book about the redemptive power of love and the connections forged between people both within families and without. Another one I can’t believe I’d not read before.)


Moby Dick – Hermann Melville (Did not need to know that much about whales. First bit was really interesting and I liked the development of the relationship with Ishmael and Queequeg. After that it was dull. Had to mix up audio and reading and it still took me nearly 4 days to read less than 400 pages. Tells you all you need to know.)


Short Stories


The Harlequin In The Window and other stories – R T Hardwick (my friend’s collection of short stories. Loved it. Full review is available here.)


Contemporary


The Kite Runner – Khaled Hossaini (Having read A Thousand Splendid Suns I had a vague idea what to expect, but I was struck again by his talent in writing so beautifully about such horrific events. It’s an awful book in terms of the plot (awful as in difficult to read about, not badly written!) but it’s written so sympathetically that it makes it readable without losing any of the impact of the events. A stunning book well worthy of its place on the 100 List.


Thriller


American Dirt – Jeanine Cummins (A tough book to read. Set in Mexico and centred around the power of the cartels, it’s not a ‘nice’ book, but wow, it’s a good one. Kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I had to keep putting it down because it was too tense, but then immediately picked it up again because I needed to know what happened. The scenes between Lydia and the sisters, Soledad and Rebecca, were heart-rending, particularly when hard decisions have to be made. I wanted to hate Lydia for how she chose, but couldn’t because I couldn’t say in all honesty that I would have done any differently. Such a powerful book, but not one that will encourage tourists to visit South America.)


Women's Fiction


Finding Edith Pinsent – Hazel Ward (Thoroughly enjoyed this. I do love an unconventional heroine. Full review will be published next month.)


Historical


Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks (Thought I’d listened to this on audio years ago, only to find it was an abridged version. Thoroughly enjoyed the book and given that it was one of the first -acccording to the introduction – to tackle the subject of World War One in such detail, well deserving of its place on the 100 list.)


Life Of Pi – Yann Martell (Didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected to. It’s odd and a little unsettling.)


The Jane Austen Society - Natalie Jenner (Audiobook. Interesting weaving of fact and fiction about the saving of Chawton Cottage for the nation. Found the POV changes quite difficult to keep track of on audio, particularly as I was listening to it at night, but an interesting listen, nonetheless.)


Gothic


Cornish Horrors – Various (Collection of Gothic horror stories set in Cornwall. Some very good, some genuinely spooky, some entirely predictable and a little dull. A real mixed bag.)


Detective


Murder At Enderley Hall – Helena Dixon (comfort zone genre. 1920s cosy crime with a female detective. 2nd in the Miss Underhay series. Read the whole thing on Boxing Day afternoon and have now downloaded the rest to read.)


A Very English Murder – Verity Bright (1st in the Lady Eleanor Swift series and another female detective cosy crime novel. Didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Enderley Hall, but it is the first in the series and it can take me a couple of books to really appreciate the characters and this definitely has potential as Lady Eleanor and her butler are both endearing and a little unique. Will give the second one a try and see how I get on with it. After all, Maisie Dobbs took 2 books to really get me hooked and I love them now!)


Evil Under The Sun - Agatha Christie (re-read because we were going to Burgh Island for lunch on NYE - not to the hotel itself, but to The Pilchard Inn – and I wanted to reacquaint myself with the most famous of the books it inspired. I always forget quite how brilliant Christie's writing is!)


Murder At The Playhouse - Helena Dixon (3rd in the Miss Underhay series. Some genuinely tense moments, but my favourite bits were the 'almost but not quite' acknowledgements of Matt and Kitty's developing relationship)


Murder On The Dance Floor - Helena Dixon (4th in the Underhay series. Some minor plot points resolved in this one. As should be the case at this point in a series, these have become as important, if not more so, than the main plots and these arcs are enough to keep me reading. The resolution is left open ended enough that I still want to continue reading to find out where it goes next. Very well structured series.)


Murder In The Bell Tower - Helena Dixon (5th in the Underhay series. Kitty returns to Enderley Hall and it's obvious, even before the book starts, that she's not going to get the quiet Christmas she anticipates. Keeps the series momentum going and is a good point at which to revisit the various members of the extended Underhay family as well as furthering the mystery of what happened to Kitty's mother.)


Favourite Book Of This Month?


Again, I'm going to cheat slightly and choose two books this month, as I simply can't choose between them. Although they are set in very different locations and have vastly differing plots, the same message underpins both. I defy anyone to read them and not feel more sympathetic towards migrants and refugees. Both had a profound effect on me - I wasn't anti-refugee before anyway, but both these books highlight the harsh realities of life. Both ask (and attempt to answer) the questions 'If these people are prepared to risk making such horrendously difficult and dangerous journeys with just the slim hope that they will have a better life afterwards, what must their lives be like now? How bad does your situation have to get to make that journey your best option for survival?' Both made me question myself and my own conscience. This is never a comfortable experience but I do believe it's a necessary one sometimes. Neither were easy reads and I didn't 'enjoy' either of them but I couldn't put either of them down and I was willing the characters on to a better life. It made me hold my own children just that little bit closer and be a little more thankful for the luck of being born into a relatively safe society.

My books this month are: The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini and American Dirt - Jeanine Cummins




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