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Reading Challenge 2/12



When I originally set myself this challenge, I thought that maybe I would struggle to complete it - 150 books seemed like a reasonable amount until I broke it down and realised that it would mean averaging 2-3 books a week, or a book every 2-3 days. When I'm writing all day, this would be quite a bit of reading to do each evening, especially when you factor in reading group, writing group and magazine editorial meetings on Zoom. However, what I hadn't factored in, was the return of lockdown and home schooling.


Now, in theory, this would mean I had less time for reading, as I spend all day home schooling the five year old. However, what I've found this month is that reading is the one thing I'm able to do whilst he's working. Whereas I can't pick up and put down my writing in between making sure he's doing the work from his maths video, I can pick up and put down a book without losing my train of thought. I can't write odd sentences here and there, but I can read them! Consequently, I've spent an awful lot of time reading this month.

Coupled with my fifteen year old's new found desire to watch ALL of Star Trek: The Next Generation, most episodes of which I can remember within 2 minutes of the opening sequence, I've been able to read in the evenings while he's been watching these. As a result, I've read a ridiculous amount of books this month, even by my standards! I was worried that perhaps I'd been reading so quickly that I hadn't taken the stories in, but when it came to writing this month's reviews, there were only one or two where I had to refresh my memory of the plot - not bad considering how many I'd read since reading them.


What this marathon session means for my reading challenge is that the number of books I have to read each week has fallen from just under 3 to just under 2, a far more manageable number once things get back to normal. In just over a week, I fully intend to set the books aside during the day and return to writing - I have two months of having written nothing to catch up on before my next novel in a year session, so I'm fairly sure this will be the last of the mammoth reviews, unless we get put back in Lockdown again.


On a personal level, I'm extremely glad that we're approaching the end of lockdowns, if only because I've taken the unread books on my kindle down from over 50 to just 3. My friend is doing a stirling job in keeping me supplied with more books and I still have a few on the shelves left to read, but if the libraries don't open soon, I may have to start buying books again and I'm not sure our bank account could stand the strain!


February Book Total: 38


Overall Challenge Total: 66/150


February Book Reviews


Crime


Magpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz (Metafiction. Took me a little while to get into it as the opening feels a bit disjointed, but once the story proper started it got much better. Nicely crafted with a satisfying ending.)


Whose Body – Dorothy L. Sayers (Been looking forward to reading this classic crime novel and have heard lots of praise for it, but it didn’t appeal to me. Lots of issues with casual anti-semitism, which is acknowledged in the introduction but I didn’t engage at all with the characters. Would give the series another chance as first books don’t always show the full potential of the characters, but very disappointed as I wanted to really love it.)


Dead Man’s Chest – Kerry Greenwood (My last Phryne Fisher until I’m allowed to buy books again. The basis for one of the episodes of the TV show – followed quite a different route but thoroughly enjoyable. Took the characters out of their usual location and it felt fresh.)


The Crossing – Matt Brolly (A crime drama with all the relevant characteristics of the genre. Troubled detective: ü, Serial killer: ü, Things that don’t quite add up: ü, Maverick actions: ü. All pretty standard, but would I read more of the same series? ü


War


The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje (Book Club pick for this month. Beautifully written but very slow paced. Read this as a teenager and seem to remember liking it far more then, possibly because of the film. Reading it as an adult I understood the characters far more, but in places found it difficult to keep up with the constant changes of perspective. The descriptions of the landscapes drew me in far more effectively than the characters themselves did.)


Their Finest – Lissa Evans (Bought this ages ago on the basis of having enjoyed the film. Quite slow to begin with, but interesting enough. Didn’t like the ending of the film and didn’t like the ending of the book – it felt like a wasted opportunity, almost as if the writer wanted to make a point about the realities of war/life etc but I think there were more effective ways this could have been done. Really enjoyed the rest of it, just left flat by the ending.)


Thriller


Trust Your Eyes – Linwood Barclay (Slow paced opening for a thriller and took a little while to get going, but when it did, boy was it tense! I like this one particularly because one of the main characters is a little different and the prejudices around this are explored quite effectively. However, the two end twists came a little out of the blue and in some respects the last one felt unnecessary.)


To Die In Vienna – Kevin Wignall (Bought because it was set in Vienna but whilst it was nice to know where the action was taking place, this was a run of the mill spy thriller. Enjoyable but noting out of the ordinary.)


The Firm – John Grisham (First read this as a teenager, but had forgotten most of it. Thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s one that stays with you long after you’ve read it. Scarily possible.)


A Tap On The Window – Linwood Barclay (Always love his books and this one didn’t disappoint. Genuinely thrilling book that kept me guessing right to the last page.)


Broken Promises – Linwood Barclay (First in a series that I will definitely be reading the rest of. The book ended with a major plot point left unresolved so I need to know what happens! Forcing myself to be disciplined though and not buy the others immediately.)


The (D)Evolution of Us – Morwenna Blackwood (Not my usual genre of choice, but was an anti-romantic Valentine’s Day pick which I thoroughly enjoyed – see my blog post on this book for further details.)


No One Home – Tim Weaver (This was bought on a friend’s recommendation and in spite of feeling like I was missing information about the protagonist, not having read the earlier books in the series, the story itself was incredibly good. It had all the requisite twists and turns underpinned by a far-fetched, but ultimately believable premise.)


Romance


Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell (Sweet and tender story of first love. Captures the 1980s perfectly. An easy read but with darker undertones that prevent it becoming saccharine.)


Romancing Mr Bridgerton – Julia Quinn (OK so I cheated a bit and bought this one as it was on offer for 99p. Silly as this series usually is, but brilliantly good fun nonetheless and the reveal of Lady Whistledown’s identity makes far more sense here than it did in the TV series.)


The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty (I had expected this to be a lot darker than it turned out to be [too many thrillers this month I think!] and was thrown a little bit by that expectation not being fulfilled. However, it was an enjoyable story and it was nice to have a happy ending for a change.)


The Song of Achilles – Madeleine Miller (I bought this having enjoyed Circe far more than I expected to and this was a beautifully told LGBTQ+ love story. Everyone knows it can’t end happily, but knowing this only made it more poignant and the relationships between the various characters truly brought these ancient figures to life.)


The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker (The women in the Trojan War are often forgotten and this omission is beautifully captured in this story of Briseis and the other captured women. It gives a voice to a character who is often seen only through the lens of the men around her and even the men themselves are given greater depth. The characters spring off the page and their anger, grief and love is made all the more real by the examination of their frailties.)


His Only Wife – Peace Adzo Medie (I got this as it was billed as a funny, romantic book and it sounded like a light read by a BAME author, which I thought would be a different tone to some of the others I’d read, which were all quite dark. It turned out to be totally different to my expectations! It is a love story, but it is very definitely bitter-sweet and having just finished watching Series 3 of The Crown there were parallels with the story of Charles and Diana that I definitely hadn’t expected. There are a plethora of strong women within it and a definite sense of realism, which I loved.)


Science-Fiction


A Star Wars Story: Rogue One – Alexander Freed (One of my favourite Star Wars films and the book didn’t disappoint. It rounded out the characters nicely and gave a deeper insight into their minds.)


A Star Wars Story: A New Hope – George Lucas (The writing on this one wasn’t as good as the Freed story, but still an enjoyable version of the film.)


A Star Wars Story: The Force Awakens – Alan Dean Foster (Another thoroughly enjoyable exploration of the inside story of the characters. Am considering reading the rest of the trilogy.)


Young Adult


The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman (Loved the Northern Lights trilogy so wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy this as much. I was wrong. If you’re a fan of the originals, this is entirely in the same vein of writing and is just as good. Can’t wait to read the next one.)


The Witch Tree Symbol – Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew classic. Although I read most of these as a child I quite enjoy dipping back into them occasionally, especially on a practical level when I want to read but my eyes are tired, as the font is quite large!)


The Secret of the Golden Pavilion – Carolyn Keene (Another Nancy Drew. They’re dated, but I do love them! My collection of these yellow hardbacks has pride of place on my bookshelf.)


General


The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Attwood (Read another of her books The Blind Assassin as a teenager and found it quite hard going so wasn’t sure if this was going to be for me. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It was easy to read and I enjoyed the story far more than I’d expected to. Will probably now read The Testaments and watch the TV series.)


Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel – Ruth Hogan (Quirky characters and a bitter-sweet story that perfectly captures the up-lit genre. I love Ruth Hogan’s books and this is as wonderful as the rest.)


Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout (An unusually structured book. There is no continuous storyline as such, but a series of short stories that feature Olive to a greater or lesser extent. However, they add up to create a picture of the woman at the heart of it all. It was an interesting way of approaching a character study, but it meant I found it quite hard to properly engage. Olive herself is not a particularly likeable character. It was a clever book, but it wasn’t a favourite this month.)


Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens (One should never rejoice in murder, but in this instance I will make a slight exception. I’m not sure I could ever say that a person deserved to die, but I could certainly understand how this one happened. I wasn’t sure how this book was going to resolve itself, but it was a satisfying ending and it lived up to the hype.)


The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry (First tried to read this a couple of years ago and couldn’t get on with it at all and abandoned it. Having recently discovered that filming of it is planned for the next village round the coast to me and listened to other people who had really enjoyed it, I wanted to give it a second chance and boy, am I glad I did! I absolutely loved it this time around.)


Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Utterly bewitching premise of a life lived over and over again. Took me a little while to get into the structure, but the characters drew me in right from the beginning. Brilliant book, clever writing and a thoroughly interesting and engaging story that somehow, always made sense.)


Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart (Recommended by a friend who wanted to know what I thought of it. It’s a heart-breaking social commentary of life in 1980s Glasgow and while a part of me found the characters and the situations they found themselves in utterly depressing, they were thoroughly engaging. Often with books like this I find myself frustrated with the characters’ weaknesses, but not so in this instance. Stuart’s writing is such that you sympathise and understand every decision they make. They say that new writers get better with each book and as this is his debut novel, I can’t wait to see what he produces next. It was a compelling read.


This Lovely City – Louise Hare (Picked up from the BBC programme Between The Covers. Set in 1940s and 50s London it’s a murder mystery romance centred around the (mainly) men who arrived on the MV Empire Windrush and their experiences on their arrival. Did you know they were initially housed on an Underground platform? It was hard reading about the racism they experienced, but like Shuggie it was a compelling read and I would definitely recommend it!


Non-Fiction


Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow – Lucy Worsley (A biography with a difference. Worsley picks specific days to focus on and explores the different stages of Victoria’s long life through the events of those days. An unusual approach to biography, but I thought it worked really well.)


The Monarchy of England Vol 1: The Beginnings – David Starkey (Another uncle lent book. Having watched the TV series I didn’t learn much that hadn’t been covered already in that, but Starkey’s books, however, much I disagree with his politics, are always an enjoyable read.)


Classics


The Black Tulip – Alexandre Dumas (As I run out of books on my kindle, I’m turning to the bookshelves and finally starting on some of the ones my uncle lent me eighteen months ago. This put me in mind a little of Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach. It was hard-going at first getting my head back into the language of the classics, but I’m glad I read it and it wasn’t one I would ever have picked up myself.)


The Essays of Elia – Charles Lamb (Another uncle lent book. I struggled through this as I really wanted to like it. Charles Lamb was a remarkably interesting man, but these just weren’t for me.)


Play


An Inspector Calls – J B Priestley (Read at the behest of my eldest who wanted me to confirm or refute his analysis of one of the characters. Think I probably read it as a teenager, but quite correctly, as it’s a play, it’s the stage and TV versions that have stuck with me the most.)



Favourite book of this month?


Another tough choice this month. Contenders were: Shuggie Bain, This Lovely City, The Song of Achilles and The Handmaid's Tale. However, in the end I went for Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent simply because it was such a pleasure to find that giving it a second chance had been a good decision!




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