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April 2017 Reading Round-Up

Being busy has affected reading time, as busy tends to, but it’s been good. And I’m still knee-deep in classics and loving it.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Emma Henderson: The Valentine House – Mathilde has worked at the holiday home of the Valentine family most of her life and has kept a secret for much of that time; George travels to the house having lost his parents and looking for an escape. Okay, but lacking in story.

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Helen Irene Young: The May Queen – In her younger years, May’s sister abandoned the family, having fallen pregnant, now, as war comes to Britain, May leaves home for the Wrens in London. Good factual history, just needed more detailing.

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Jennifer Donnelly: Revolution – Whilst in Paris working on her high school thesis, Andi discovers the diary of a young woman near the heart of the French Revolution. Lots of anachronisms, but the latter section is fun.

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Phillip Lewis: The Barrowfields – Henry looks back on his childhood, his father who tried so hard to be a writer, his distant relationships with mother and sister, and his own attempts to be someone. Utterly fantastic.

The Lewis was the stand out this month; it’ll very likely make my best of list, it’s just incredible. The Donnelly I’d been wanting to read it for a relatively long time, having heard much about it and having enjoyed Donnelly’s A Gathering Light (A Northern Light in the USA) in my younger years; it wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be. As for ongoing reads, I’ve Joanna Hickson’s The Agincourt Bride on the go; she was to be our next author in Southampton and whilst that event has been cancelled I’ll be finishing and reviewing the book. I’ve made a rough start on Charlotte Turner Smith’s Emmeline, which I’ll be prioritising soon, and I’m quite a way through Dark Aemilia.

Quotation Report

None this time.

A screenshot from The Sims 3 of a disco

A bit of a diversion from round ups, but this post is post number 1000. Getting on for 4.5 years since the post I wrote to celebrate 500 posts. (I used the same picture then – I still remember it taking a long time to set everything up; please don’t mind me re-using it here!) I should have hit 1000 last week but as I had to take a short blogging break the date got moved back. Here are the (all important?) stats:

Reviews: 391
Discussion posts: 212
Non-review posts on an individual book: 46
Comments: ~4500 (that aren’t my own replies)
Most viewed post: What Happened To Faina At The End Of The Snow Child?
Most reviewed author: Elizabeth Chadwick and Shannon Stacey (9 books each)
Earliest book reviewed: Utopia (1516)

I’m looking forward to more classics and some award shortlists – apart from the Turner Smith I have Christina Stead’s Letty Fox: Her Luck (1946) on my list. On the shortlist front, Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats And Sheep, Emma Cline’s The Girls, and Kit de Waal’s My Name Is Leon are three of the contenders for best début for The Bookseller’s British Book Awards – and I’ll be reviewing them over the next couple of weeks.

What have you been reading recently?

 
March 2017 Reading Round-Up

This month I decided to concentrate on finishing a longer-term book or two and get through some classics; they crossed over a (minor) bit. At the end of the month I also found myself in a mini Southern states phase, reading Harper Lee and Kate Chopin at the same time. It was accidental but it allowed me to compare the historic periods and get a better idea of the situations from those who lived them, something I’ve so far almost completely read about third-hand in non-fiction.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman: With Her In Ourland – Ellador travels around the world with Van, giving him her opinions on everything the world does wrong. A lecture about why we should do things differently, whilst it has some good points this sequel to Herland falls widely from the mark.

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Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird – A girl grows up amidst a changing society that’s not quite ready to let go of the idea of racial superiority. Loved it – it was different to what I thought it would be like (I thought it was all courtroom drama) but nevertheless great.

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Kate Chopin: Bayou Folk – A collection of short stories that were originally published in magazines. Not a bad collection – some stunning stories some very mediocre.

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Rory Gleeson: Rockadoon Shore – A group of friends go on a weekend away in the hope that they can improve their collective relationship. Not bad but doesn’t have enough going on.

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Samanta Schweblin: Fever Dream – A woman on her death bed is made to explain recent happenings to an acquaintance with the idea that she must work out how she became so ill. This is a very confusing book but it’s meant to be so; it’s also rather enjoyable in a literary sense.

I enjoyed a lot of what I read this month. I suppose it would be fair to say that the Lee was a stand out, alongside some of the stories in the Chopin. The Perkins Gilman was very different to what I thought it would be like, the story moving from its beginnings in science fiction to sociological tract; I think I’d read Herland again but not this sequel. In all I’ve finished 6 pre-1970s books so far this year which I believe is more books than any other (whole) year. I’m in a bit of a classics phase at the moment.

Quotation Report

In Bayou Folk, a woman who seems 125 years old is respected, however, she is not 125 years old… she may be older.

Looking forward to spending more time out in the sunshine and the return of Easter in April (last year was very strange).

How was your March?

 
February 2017 Reading Round-Up

In terms of time, February has been better. I struggled at one point with blogging and reading but all considered I managed to get a fair number of books read. As much as it’s been raining recently, there was one day when I sat outside in a t-shirt. Our overall good weather and lesser colder temperatures are still here.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Caroline Lea: When The Sky Fell Apart – A group of residents live through the Nazi occupation of Jersey. A great, if harrowing, book.

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland – A trio of exploring gentlemen discover a land of women and decide to journey there to see how primeval it must be. A very good commentary of early 1900s society.

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Ricarda Huch: The Last Summer – Lyu decides to aid the plotters and assassinate the governor who has closed the university. Great early 1900s novella.

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Tom Connolly: Men Like Air – Three British and one American man in New York, living their lives, getting the flu, ending strange relationships, and working in art galleries. Difficult to summarise, I’ve opted to show the comedy element; this is a fab book.

I really appreciated Herland. I think ‘love’ is a strong word because there are some problems with it – in a modern context at least it can be a bit uncomfortable but I found it to be well structured and created, the use of extremes in the trio of male visitors and the relative balancing Perkins Gilman aimed for in making the more moderate character her narrator. Due in part to the sudden ending (one of those ‘where is the next page?’ situations) I moved straight on to the sequel, With Her In Ourland which can be found at Feedbooks. This sequel seems to be less read and studied but with good reason, I believe: as much as you might want to complete the story, it’s more a set of thoughts than a novel. I very much enjoyed the Huch and the Connolly, too. The Huch was a nice quick read that boosted my feeling of accomplishment as well as added to my goal of reading older books. The Connolly was rather clever and contained so much. The Lea was fantastic, too, just a few steps behind the Connelly for me.

Quotation Report

None this time.

Spring is certainly on its way.

What book did you most enjoy in February?

 
January 2017 Reading Round-Up

Unlike Terry Pratchett’s Death, ours on earth has no fondness for cats. We lost relatives of both the human and feline kind this month. One thing I am glad for: I trusted my intuition when it told me to use the free day I had to draft and schedule posts for the rest of the month. Knowing my blog has been continuing in my absence, that something is working to routine, has helped a lot.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Amanda Craig: The Other Side Of You – Finding his aunt dead in the flat, Will runs away, discovering an abandoned garden in the middle of a nice square where he can live and take care of the plants. I’ve read a lot about Quick Reads books – short and easy stories to aid literacy – but never read one; this particular story is somewhat based on Beauty And The Beast so it’s an interesting mix of reality and fantasy.

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Evie Wyld: All The Birds, Singing – Running away from problems at home, Jake ends up on a remote British island looking after a sheep farm where someone is reducing her flock. Didn’t like this much at all – few answers, the dual narrative was written far too vaguely, and there’s neither plot nor development.

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Josephine Johnson: Now In November – As the Great Depression looms over America, Marget and her family take up residence at a farm that will leave them constantly in debt. Originally published in 1934, this is a semi-forgotten Pulitzer Prize winner and whilst very good – not unlike, in atmosphere, to the Brontës and their moors – it’s definitely one to keep for a slow afternoon.

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Margaret Laurence: The Stone Angel – A ninety-year-old looks back on her life as she fights off attempts to put her in a home. This is a Canadian classic from the 1960s so whilst it fits the trend we have going at the moment, the younger years of the woman are Victorian; a good book if difficult to read (due to the character).

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Nicola Cornick: The Phantom Tree – When Alison runs away from those she is staying with as an unwelcome guest, she finds herself in the future and sees a way out of the restricted life she’s living. A good Tudor time travel book.

It would be difficult to pick a favourite this month. The two older books, the Laurence and the Johnson, were ironic, for me, in their subjects. I enjoyed the Cornick but it wasn’t as good as her previous. Considering what I said earlier this month I should point out that I’ve Marlon James’ prize winner and Tom Connelly’s Men Like Air on the go. I decided it was finally time for me to read James on the evening of the inauguration – on a day when I was constantly expecting the media to say ‘fooled you!’ suddenly the idea of starting such a daunting and long book didn’t seem so unrealistic after all. I’m finding the accenting difficult in that way that when an accent is written out some words will be hard to decipher and require some thought – I think I’ll enjoy it best by making it a long-term read. The Connelly I picked up in a moment of reading enthusiasm and it gripped me from the first page.

Quotation Report

None this time.

There are still things to come but I’m hopeful that February will be a little better. One thing that has been very good is that the post-Christmas reading slump I thought might persist has gone.

What was the last book you finished and did you enjoy it?

 
2016 Year Of Reading Round-Up

This year I read 71 books, completed two I’d started late 2015… and I’ll be carrying over the now-always-carried-over Vanity Fair (begun in 2012; I’m hoping to restart it) and two others. I made a big effort on the general diversity front, aiming for more male writers, more writers of colour (a number I’ve noticed has gone down since I started blogging), more older books and more translated fiction. I have to admit that this time that latter category was boosted by review copies. Around early autumn I decided to start keeping numerical stats and applied them both to this year’s list of books and retrospectively. It’s proved a good decision so far – it’s reminded me to read my own books. I’m looking at writing a stats post for the past few years’ worth of books.

In forming this list I’ve had the opposite difficulty to every other year – each December I find myself with a lot of ‘best of the best’ books to choose from. Last year I had so many I decided to just list them all. This time, I’ve had trouble. Whether it’s due to a natural personal reading progress, particularly in context with reviewing, or whether it’s down to the books themselves… I’m inclined to think it’s a bit of both with an emphasis on my ratings. Have I given less books 5 out of 5 this year due to ever more experience? I think I may have. I do feel a lot more in tune with literature in general than I did 6 years ago, and then there’s the inevitable thing where when you’ve read a lot of books, new ones that tread the same ground won’t seem so ground-breaking. Whatever it is, the fewer books on the best of list are ones without compare, if I may use some flowery language, and I think they’re absolutely awesome.

As always, books that have been reviewed have a line underneath them and the title links to the review. Up until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you’d prefer to skip all that, click here to view my personal favourites.

The Best Of The Best

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Ayelet Gundar-Goshen: One Night, Markovitch – A man with an unremarkable face and his friend with the amazing moustache decide to join men heading to Germany to save Jewish women from the Nazis and bring them home to Israel. Full of humour, this is no less a book with a lot to say. It was even better than I’d hoped.
Cathy Rentzenbrink: The Last Act Of Love – The story of the event and aftermath of the author’s brother’s accident as a victim of a hit-and-run. A superb book.
Dan Richards: Climbing Days – Discovering his great-great-aunt was a mountaineer, Richards sets out to learn more and follow in her literal footsteps. Utterly superb.

5

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4.5

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4

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3.5

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3

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2.5

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1

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My Personal Favourites

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This year has been very different. Happenings have resulted in my reading a lot more literary fiction, literary non-fiction, and so on. It’s made me think back to that first year I documented my reading, 2009, and those first couple of titles I read that were literary fiction – not knowing about that category at the time I labelled them historicals and I wasn’t keen. I didn’t understand them. It’s funny to think that I appreciate them now.

In regards to my retrospective stats, I’m going to write a comparitive post within a month or two so I won’t go into too much detail here, but my reading skewed towards women a little less this year which I’m very happy about and will be working to improve further this new year. New-to-me authors ruled the year; the vast majority of books I read were by authors I hadn’t read before. Some great new finds but I do feel I need more balance. The oldest book I read was Cranford – published as a serial between 1851-53. The newest book I read, Samantha Sotto’s Love & Gravity, is set to be published early February.

Quotation Report

I found it hard to write up this quote in my usual style, so here’s the extract from the book, The Subtle Knife, concerning Lyra’s first impressions of Will:

She tiptoed to the window. In the glow from the street lamp she carefully set the hands of the alethiometer, and relaxed her mind into the shape of a question. The needle began to sweep around the dial in a series of pauses and swings almost too fast to watch.

She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy?

The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.

When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once. He could find food, and show her how to reach Oxford, and those were powers that were useful, but he might still have been untrustworthy or cowardly. A murderer was a worthy companion.

Do not tell Deborah of Cranford that women are equal to men because she will not listen – she believes women are superior. And if you join Joseclin and Linnet’s household, from Shields Of Pride, you will find yourself playing medieval football with a pig’s bladder and it will be messy.

Yaacov Markovitch of One Night, Markovitch is pleasantly surprised to learn his visa-wife is a fan of agricultural literature – she’d said she’d read a great deal about Israel’s oranges. What he doesn’t realise is she’s read a four-line stanza.

If you wish for people to not visit, take a leaf from Dan Richards’ relative – mentioned in Climbing Days and wear a hat whilst in the house so you can say you’re off out… though it might not work in our present day so much.

Getting beer in stock either for the babysitter or the kids is absolutely fine when you’re absolutely desperate for time away with your wife, or, at least, so thinks Matt from A Boy Made Of Blocks.

In the next few days I’ll be posting my film round-up and goals for the year.

What were your favourite books from those you read last year?

 

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