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January 2018 Reading Round Up

Well, that went by quickly. Despite the fact that when looking back, January was a long month, it nevertheless seems to have gone by swiftly. The weather may have had something to do with it – there has been rain but also a lot of sun and it’s not too cold – and the days are getting noticeably longer. I finally finished the jumper I’ve been making, with some help from Second Mum. When it came to sewing the seams I had to give up after five attempts – it’s one thing to watch a YouTube video and memorise the instructions and another when it comes to applying it to your own work. As it got to the point where I was avoiding knitting in general I realised it would be better to get help this time and use the knowledge I’d learned to change my next jumper’s pattern so my second attempt would be easier.

My reading went very well. Despite feeling rather foggy for a good portion of it I managed four books, which included two 500 page novels. Those I finished weren’t the best, but I am currently reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and loving it.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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J Courtney Sullivan: The Engagements – The copywriter who created ‘a diamond is forever’ sees sales hike; an older couple very reluctantly prepare for the visit of their not-yet-divorced son and his new girlfriend; a man ponders his job and the life he wished for; a Parisian takes a chance with a New Yorker; a happily unmarried cousin helps a couple prepare for their wedding. A nice idea but very long and not always well executed.

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Philip Pullman: La Belle Sauvage – Malcolm’s life changes when a group of academics enter his parents’ pub, the convent takes in baby Lyra, and another group of men seem to want to cause harm. Allright on its own, unnecessary as an addition to the series.

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Sarah MacLean: A Rogue By Any Other Name – A man who lost his fortune decides to return and marry his childhood friend when word reaches him that the fortune is to be part of her dowry. Repetitive and overly angsty.

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Shannon Stacey: Mistletoe & Margaritas – This was a semi-carryover from last year; it’s a standalone novella that has since been added to a collection; Stacey is a hit and miss author for me and this one was more of a miss but the shortness of the tale works in its favour – Stacey’s narrative structures are always well thought out.

Out of the four, the Pullman was my favourite and I keen on the MacLean. That said, I’m glad I read the MacLean as I’d been wanting to for a while.

February should see a few review copies, including Jessie Greengrass’s Sight. And I’m hoping to get through the Ngozi Adiche but if not – it’s not a thick book but the print is small – a good portion of it.

How is your new year reading going?

 
2017 Year Of Reading Round Up

This year I read 59 books. Less than I’d hoped but when I looked at it again I realised I’d focused on that ‘5’ – 59 is one less than 60 and 60 is the average number for me. As stated previously, I wasn’t able to read as much in December as I had planned so I’m using some of January to make up for that albeit that I’ve chosen different books. The few times Ana and Iris hosted their Long-Awaited Reads month had a continuing impact on me and when a new year rolls around I find myself thinking of books I’ve had for a while or, in the case of Philip Pullman, books I’ve had for a short time but have been waiting for for years.

As with last year I had difficulty arriving at my previously usual 5 ‘best of’ books so again there are only 3. I believe it is indeed an issue of discernment and experience and I’m just going to go with the flow. There’s a subtle difference between an amazing book and an amazing book that blows you away and I’ll continue to use the differentiation to highlight particular books.

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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Kit De Waal: My Name Is Leon – Confused as to why he can’t stay with his mother as he is doing a good job looking after her, Leon is taken in by a foster carer whilst his white brother is adopted. A fantastic look at the British social services in the 1980s and the wider issues involved.
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.
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.

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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2

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  • Lindsey Hutchinson: The Workhouse Children
1.5

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1

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  • Kitty Danton: Evie’s Victory
0.5

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  • Alison Sherlock: A House To Mend A Broken Heart
My Personal Favourites

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At the start of 2017 I went back a few steps – where previously I’d got into the habit of saying ‘no goals’, in 2017 I said ‘no goals, but’. I’d considered making a vague plan for diversity in all senses of the word and I was compelled to make it formal, albeit that I didn’t set any numerical targets. Lo and behold, whilst I didn’t fail exactly, I definitely didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, so this year I’m purposefully not going to make any plan even though I want to. What I am going to do that I think (hope!) is okay to think of as a goal, is read more of my own books.

One area in which I did do well, at least in context, was older books. I added a count for books published before 1970 to my 2017 list and retrospectively, and found the number increasing without much thought. 1970 feels most right to me – a cut off is difficult and at times I feel 1970 is too young but when readers are calling Angela Thirkell’s 1960s works classics and you want to include Barbara Comyns 1950s and 1960s, that date seems the way to go.

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.

In Get Well Soon an older man wishes people would just get on with the idea of accepting people as they are. And in The Cut, Cairo reminds us that whilst the media talks a lot about a divide and makes it seem all-pervading, most often people just get on with their lives.

In The Shifting Pools, Duncan puts forth the concept of getting over something, healing, and studies it, saying why time doesn’t heal, it merely allows you to scab over, to find new ways to live. Stasis rather than healing.

In School Of Velocity, Jan recommends a musician use the energy in the air as the house lights go down as a kind of armour. Then there’s this:

Accompaniment is a particular skill. You are the bridge between the audience and the soloist, a lens that magnifies the leading melody, a handler to the outsized personality next to you, one player who sometimes has to be two.

And in Rooms Of One’s Own, Mourby quotes from William Morris (“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”) which makes one wonder whether Marie Kondo is a fan.

I missed Wednesday’s post but with good reason – I’m getting back into the swing of things and have 3 posts in the works, it’s just that they’re not finished yet. I may have to write more than one post on La Belle Sauvage because there’s the objective side of it and then the very personal part of my overall experience. We’ll see.

What was your favourite(s) book from last year?

 
December 2017 Reading Round Up (Happy New Year!)

Happy new year! I hope you had a lovely holiday and that 2018 is treating you well. I’m writing this beside a large cup of coffee (that way round rather than there’s a coffee beside me) because I went to see the Terry Pratchett exhibition in Salisbury yesterday; we had to queue in the freezing wind and as the winter weather has not been wintery so far it was a bit of a shock and I’m rather groggy. In terms of exhibition content, the steamrolled hard drive was on display and the museum had created a small mock-up of Pratchett’s office, complete with video games and Star Wars references. The best thing, though, wasn’t an object but, instead, the snippets of description they’d included alongside the majority of the items – Pratchett’s own words.

The last few days I’ve been wondering how to go about these first of the year posts. I feel that if I’m going to account for December’s reading, writing about that first would be best, even if it isn’t the strongest way to begin.

All books are works of fiction. The non-Christmas books may be better to read about even if I have already reviewed them.

The Books

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Alison Kent: This Time Next Year – A woman visits her grandmother for Christmas, meets a man her grandmother neglected to tell her about, and amongst lots of arguing they get together. An okay story but there really was a lot of arguing, more than any stereotypical ‘they fought and then made up’.

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Claire North: The End Of The Day – The Harbinger of Death does his job, going around letting people know it’ll soon be time, whilst attempting to have a normal human relationship and stay away from those who would harm him. Very good.

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HelenKay Dimon: It’s Not Christmas Without You – A man who refuses to understand his ex-girlfriend’s passion for her career turns up in her new city to win her back without any intention of changing his thoughts. That’s very much my summary rather than the glossy one you’ll find elsewhere – I’m with those who think the hero is awful and Carrie should find someone who will respect her event management work.

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Jaci Burton: A Rare Gift – An ex-sister-in-law and brother-in-law get together. I personally found this uncomfortable, but I know others were okay with the set-up.

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Julianne Pachico: The Lucky Ones – Various ex-classmates describe moments of their life during the conflicts in Colombia. An interesting idea.

Claire North’s book was my favourite, the author using various ideas from the fantasy genre and nodding at Terry Pratchett, to produce something that is funny and thoughtful and, for all its leanings towards other works, original. It was this melding of concepts that I liked most, the author almost experimenting with ideas without ever straying from telling a good story.

Going forward I think I’ll only include the Quotation Report heading when I have quotations to share. And as I’ll be writing about plans and goals and what have you very shortly, I’m going to leave this post here.

What book was/will be your first completed book of the year? (Mine’s likely to be an Eloisa James. More on that later.)

 
November 2017 Reading Round-Up

It’s beginning to look a lot like but not quite feeling so. The weather here has been very mild and it’s rather as though Spring is on the way. Up until mid-November I was reading a lot so there’s a fair number here, but I did lose my way after that with a long book I’ve not yet finished and am still to get myself back on track. I’ve prepared some Christmas reading – books set at Christmas rather than books for Christmas – which includes contemporary romance as it often does; I find finding Christmas romance very easy but books in other genres are difficult. I am thinking of creating a reading list going forward as I reckon actively factoring in different sorts of books will help slumps. It’s one thing to know that reading an easier book after a difficult one works, another to remember that at the time.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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April Munday: The Heir’s Tale – A man back from war finds himself torn between his betrothed and the woman he has always wanted to be with. A well-set book with a good use of different points of view.

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Hanif Kureishi: The Last Word – A writer is charged with creating a biography of a literary giant and ends up travelling to the man’s home. No plot or characterisation to speak of.

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Helen Oyeyemi: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours – A literary collection of short stories, most with a magical realism/slightly creepy factor. Excellent.

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Lewis Carroll: Through The Looking-Glass – Alice wants to know what it’s like in the reversed, mirrored, version of the house she lives in; she goes through the mirror and finds herself in a wonderland. Good but not as well crafted as the more famous story.

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Louise Douglas: The Love Of My Life – Against all advice, Olivia goes back to her home town, back to the familial abuse and the in laws who do not want her there and blame her for everything. Good, but you have to be prepared for the affects of the hatred to never go away.

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Louise Douglas: The Secret By The Lake – Amy returns to work for the family she loved after tragedy strikes but it’s a difficult place to be and there’s a lot of disturbances that she finds difficult to get answers to. Very good.

The Oyeyemi was my favourite – absolutely outstanding; I am again tempted to try more of her work. I am glad to have finished the Kureishi – I had been looking forward to reading it but it did fall very short of expectations.

Quotation Report

None this time – there are some great quotations in the Carroll but I’ve repeated them a couple of times recently already.

It’s high time I got to those Young Writer of the Year books. This year’s shadow panel have chosen Julianne Pachico’s The Lucky Ones as their winner so I’ll be starting with that.

How are your preparations for the festive season going and/or what books are you looking forward to reading over the holidays?

 
October 2017 Reading Round-Up

Well, I’m back with time to blog properly. I’ve not got any posts drafted besides this one but I do have one in the planning stage for Friday. The last 12 days have been absolutely packed – our festival was 10 days which meant a lot of time doing the usual work in the office, then out in the evenings, and at some other point – whenever I had time – I’ve been writing up my notes and editing photographs. I’m still working on the last bit as there is a lot to cover. This past Saturday was our finale day; we had a transport heritage group situate 4 vintage buses alongside the old town walls and each deck became a ‘stage’ for various local poetry groups. Half-way through the afternoon the Southampton Ukelele group gathered outside and played a set which drew a lot more people over (we were in the same area as a new shopping/restaurant complex) and the weather was perfect. It was 28th October and we were taking our jackets off and pulling up our sleeves.

My In Conversation with A J Waines went very well; I’ll post more about it later once we’ve edited the photos and video. As for my reading, it’s not gone badly. Lots of reading in the small moments. There are 4 books on the list but for my own peace of mind I’m saying to myself I read 5 books – I’ve 70 pages left of the Hanif Kureishi.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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A J Waines: Girl On A Train – When Anna sits down beside someone on the train she is frustrated by their constant fidgeting and confused by the look they give her as they go to leave at a small station; then, as the train begins to move again, it ploughs into something. A thriller that is nothing like the book of a similar name but just as good if not more so.

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A J Waines: Lost In The Lake – When psychotherapist Sam takes Rosie on as a client she reckons it’s just about helping Rosie recover her memories of a terrible accident, but it turns out there is more to the accident than thought and Rosie thinks there’s more to their relationship than there is. A fantastic, highly developed thriller that looks into the reasons behind decisions.

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Lindsey Hutchinson: The Workhouse Children – When Cara finds out she had siblings she goes looking for them in the workhouse; seeing the conditions she makes a pledge to get the residents out into good homes and paid work. Highly unrealistic and no real plot.

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Nicholas Royle: Ornithology – A short story collection on the theme of birds, this book includes stories about twitter and stalking, the similarities between birds and humans, a futuristic concepts. Very original and rather horrific but in a good way – it makes you think.

I very much enjoyed the Royle but my favourite this month was Lost In The Lake. As coincidental as it sounds, considering I interviewed the author, the structuring and overall planning of this book is exceptional. My least favourite is pretty clear.

Quotation Report

The line I highlighted in the Royle:

Out of context, it doesn’t make sense. Out of context, nothing makes sense.

This month there’s the promotion for the Young Writer Of The Year Award and April Munday’s latest to get to. And I’ve my next author event happening on 23rd November with Louise Douglas. I’m incredibly excited about it – I loved The Secrets Between Us and can’t wait to ask her about the Daphne Du Maurier influence. I’ll be reading her first and latest books in preparation.

What are you reading and are the shops where you are already stocked for Christmas?

 

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