2016 Reading Roundup

I know, I know…it’s March.  I’m very late with this post.  In my defence…well, nothing really.  I was in a bit of a blogging funk at the start of the year, so never got round to sharing the books I read last year.  But here they all are:

 

  1. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
  2. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
  3. Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh
  4. Heft by Liz Moore
  5. How Eskimos keep their babies warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood
  6. The Crimson petal and the white by Michel Faber
  7. Complete Write a Novel Course by Will Buckingham
  8. Public Library by Ali Smith
  9. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
  11. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  12. The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse
  13. The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
  14. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  15. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
  16. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
  17. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
  18. Every Day by David Levithan
  19. Ash by Malinda Lo
  20. The Good Children by Roopa Farooki
  21. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
  22. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
  23. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
  24. Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
  25. The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
  26. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Steifvater
  27. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Steifvater
  28. The Raven King by Maggie Steifvater
  29. Hood by Stephen R Lawhead
  30. Cunning Folk- Popular Magic in English History by Owen Davies
  31. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  32. Half Bad by Sally Green
  33. Half Wild by Sally Green
  34. Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas
  35. Hemingway in Love by A.E. Hotchner
  36. Now is the time by Melvyn Bragg
  37. Murder at the Old Vicarage by Jill McGown
  38. Half Lost by Sally Green
  39. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

 

That’s actually considerably less than the 47 books I read in 2015, but this year I read a lot more *new* books, that I hadn’t previously read- only two of those listed above were re-reads.  For those who like their stats, out of the 39-

4 I didn’t actually finish (but a couple of those I will likely get back to at some point)

7 were non-fiction (that’s a lot more non-fic than I normally read, the sudden increase was thanks to NOVEL RESEARCH)

25 were library books (working in libraries has some major perks 😉 )

1 I read on Kindle (a massive decrease from 2015, but then again, I did start working in a library in 2016, so I guess that was to be expected?)

Some new favourites include Frenchman’s Creek- oh my god, I still cannot believe I hadn’t read this one of Daphne Du Maurier’s books before now.  Rebecca has (obviously) long since been a favourite of mine, but wow, Frenchman’s Creek has very nearly, almost- possibly overtaken it.  I literally swooned, and then once revived proceeded to fill my ‘bookish quotes’ notebook with basically every single passage.  I LOVED it.  In fact, just thinking about it now is making me want to read it again.

frenchmanscreek

I also fell in love with Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater.  In terms of non-fiction, both Gypsy Boy (a fantastic, unflinching memoir by Mikey Walsh) and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty were incredible.

Honestly, out of the 39 books there really weren’t many (aside from the ones I didn’t manage to finish), that I *didn’t* enjoy this year.  For me, The Half Bad trilogy fell short of my expectations, but only because the ending was SO CRUEL, and I was pissed off about it for days, literally.  The Paying Guests was a bit depressing, but generally everything else I read I liked, and there are quite a few that I’m tempted to revisit again this year.

At the end of 2015, after completing my ‘great re-read of 2015‘ I hinted at a new challenge for 2016, but then that never actually got off the ground.  The challenge was going to be classics.  There are so many books that would be considered classics that I haven’t read, so I was planning to ask people I know IRL, and of course, you lovely lot- if you had any suggestions on where I should start.  But then life happened, and I never got round to it.

I honestly feel like it’s a bit late to be setting myself a reading challenge for 2017, given as we’re almost a quarter of the way through it already, but if there is a classic book that you think I should add to my list then please do leave a comment and I’ll let you know if I’ve already read it or not (chances are higher that I won’t have, I may be a prolific reader, but I lost a lot of years to Point Horror and Sweet Valley High, and honestly I have no regrets about that.)

As for 2017- well so far I’ve read eleven brilliant books, and I have a massive stack of unread books on my shelves to work through, not to mention about twenty unread books downloaded to my kindle, and of course all the books I have access to across the library service…so yeah, I have a feeling it’s going to be a good reading year!

Déjà Vu

That’s the title of the story I’ll be releasing on Wattpad, starting this Friday (24th February)!

I promised last night that I would a. actually follow through and DO THIS and b. tell you, my tiny but loyal readership, a little more about the story itself in case any of you want to read it.  So, here I am.

Déjà Vu is a young adult contemporary novel, set entirely in North Wales, and dealing with- well, basically a lot of the stuff I dealt with as a teen, so- friendship, identity, trying to overcome past trauma, underage drinking, crushes, self-harm and a generous helping of snark.

It is not, however, in any way shape or form autobiographical.  Yes there are little snippets of my experiences parcelled up in my characters, but no more so than in any other character/story I’ve written.  I think all writers put something of themselves in what they write, like little two dimensional horcruxes, but that doesn’t mean that any of the main characters are actually me.  Likewise, although setting the story where my boyfriend grew up, and enlisting the help of our family (thanks guys) to translate some of the Welsh for me- it isn’t in any way based on him or his experiences either.  It’s fiction.  Just to be super clear about that:  I made it up.

It currently stands at 76k words, across 46 (quite short) chapters, although I can’t swear I won’t start tweaking and editing along the way- so the exact figures may vary.  I’m planning to upload new chapters every Monday and Friday.

 

Here is the cover:

dejavucover

(Ta daaaaaa!)

And here is the blurb:

“Ryan Lovell detests the sleepy Welsh village he has lived in his whole life- along with most of the people in it, and in some cases the feeling is mutual. All he wants is to get out the place, but to do that he needs a university place- and to get that he needs a-levels, and money. Neither of which is easy to come by when you have an alcoholic Dad, and are living in the shadow of your own reputation.

Ryan’s best friend Hester is living in foster care and battling her own demons, and his only other friend Dewi has grown distant since they left school. When a new family moves into the village, Ryan gets both a way to make money- in the form of a part-time job as their gardener, and a distraction from his worries- in the form of the new girl Pippa, who joins him and Hester at the local college. For once, Ryan thinks things may finally be looking up- but when he starts blacking out and waking with no memory of what’s happened, he realises that his university plans- and hope of a relationship with Pippa, may be sliding out of his reach.”

 

So, if you like a bit of angst in your literature, enjoy un-pronounceable place names, and are down for strong romantic subplots, then Déjà Vu may be just your thing.  Or alternatively, if you’d just like to offer some support/critique my debut then that’s all good too 😉

This is my profile on Wattpad, where the story will be appearing, so…maybe see some of you over there?  And of course I’ll try to update here too, to let you all know how it goes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

N.B. (And I’ll be putting this disclaimer on Wattpad too).  This story does contain reference to (but not descriptions of) self-harm, previous SA, and suicide.  As a survivor of all three, I would hate for anyone to be triggered by that.  I like to think I’ve dealt with the issues sensitively and not used them for shock value- but really, who am I to say what might be triggering to anyone else? So if you think this might apply to you, then it might be best not to read Déjà Vu. I’ll be putting helpline links in the relevant chapters in case anyone is affected.)

The House of Sleep

This could totally be a blog post about how insanely tired I feel right now, and how between staying up late writing night after night, and babies spitting their dummies out (literally) at 4.45am, and the “summer” (lol) holidays, I am just wrecked and would love nothing more to check myself into a house that existed solely for it’s residents to simply sleep their days and nights away until refreshed.

But…it’s not.  At all.  This is my (admittedly rather belated) review of June’s Re-Read, which was, as the title suggests- The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe.

thehouseofsleepjonathancoe

This is a book that I got in a swap a very long time ago, and it came with bite marks in the cover, yellowed pages, and absolutely no pre-conceived notions whatsoever.  I had no idea what it was about, which I am increasingly finding is my favourite way to approach a new book, as the more hype that surrounds something, the more pressure there is to enjoy it, and the more disappointing it is when you (or rather I) don’t.

The House of Sleep is literary fiction, but unlike a lot of books that fall under that umbrella, I would say it’s a pretty easy read, which is obviously a totally subjective observation but I just mean that I didn’t feel like I had to be reading it in a certain frame of mind in a quiet room to really grasp the language or appreciate the story.

The story centers around a group of main characters- Sarah, Robert, Terry and Gregory, but more specifically around a house- Ashdown, which for some of the book is owned by the university and houses students, and later is being used as a private sleep clinic.  Sleep, and sleep disorders obviously feature heavily (the clue being in the title and all) as does sexuality and gender.  I’m hesitant to give away too many spoilers but I will say that one of the characters is transgender, and  that a decade ago when I first read the book (and almost a decade before that, when it was first published) that was probably quite a big deal.  It certainly was for me reading it anyway, as it was doubtless the first time I’d encountered a main character that wasn’t cisgender- long before I even knew what cisgender meant.

Coming back to it again a couple of months ago I wondered if the knowledge and awareness I’d gained since first reading it would give me a different perspective, especially regarding the sexuality and gender aspects of the story, and to a certain extent it did.  I wondered about some of the decisions the author made and found myself engaging with the story in a different- more critical- way, but overall I still enjoyed the way it was written, and the weaving together of the different personal stories across place and time.  For me this isn’t one of those books that you stay up all night to finish, but one that you pick up and put down each night before bed for a week or so, and rather than being blown-away by it, it leaves you with a lingering sense of something.

July’s re-read should have been The Spider Truces but I got sidetracked (again).  The good news being that I have read some other really fantastic books instead, the bad news being that it means I am getting a bit behind and should probably try to exert more self-control (Ha! Hahahahaha).

I’ll let you know how that goes 😉

The Outcast

April’s book from my list of books to re-read this year was The Outcast by Sadie Jones and I totally cheated and read it early because I was stuck in a book rut and just itching to read this one again- oops!  It does seem rather fitting though because a couple of days later I heard (via twitter) that it has been adapted for TV and is going to be shown on the BBC later this year, which I’m very excited about.  So I think you should all GO READ THE BOOK RIGHT NOW before it is, so you can be blown away by it twice 😉

theoutcast

Like The Gargoyle, and The Book Thief, two of the other three books I’ve re-read so far this year, it was only my second time reading The Outcast.  I initially came across it totally by accident, having got it as a swap a few years ago from Read It Swap It.  In fact I found this little slip of paper inside it this time and ended up using it as a makeshift bookmark:

swap

I can’t actually remember the book I swapped it for but I am so glad I did, whatever it was.  The Outcast had me totally hooked from the first page.  The first time I finished it in two days, this time it took just one, but to be fair I was recovering from a vomiting bug this time, so spent the entire day in the bath/bed, which definitely helped.

The atmosphere in the book is so suffocating and the pacing so tense that putting it down even for a bathroom break or to get a drink feels a bit like coming up for a gulp of air after being submerged under water, but then willingly sticking your head back in.  Which actually, if you read the book, you’ll see is a rather fitting metaphor.

So, you’re probably wondering what it’s actually about?

Essentially, it’s the story of Lewis. a young boy coming of age in the stifling decade of the 1950’s.

Now, when I first read this book I was going on and on at Chris for days afterwards about how good it was and when I told him when it was set he dismissed it immediately, which to be fair didn’t exactly surprise me because I knew that would be his reaction BUT I still feel sad for him now because man, is he missing out.  So I hope no one else lets the era put them off.  It does play a huge role in the storyline- with his father coming home from the war when he’s a young boy and the social expectations of the time a constant nagging force in his life, and god just the unbearably repressed atmosphere- arrgghhh, even thinking about it makes me tense, but like- in a good way, I think?!  Seriously, this is one of those books where I get just so incredibly wound-up on behalf of the main character that I’m sure it can’t be good for my health, but it sucks you in so wonderfully, that you’re somehow wooed and enraged at the same time.

When I said it’s the story of Lewis- yes it is, but it’s also the story of his parents, and neighbours and about the effects of tragedy and grief and misunderstanding, the varying ways people cope (or not) and the importance of love and acceptance.

I don’t want to give too much away so won’t tell you all the things I love about the book but I will say that one thing I personally particularly liked is the way it handles the issue of self harm.  It isn’t trotted out for shock value (although taking a blade to your own skin is never not shocking, even when you’re the one doing it) and it isn’t given sole-focus in the storyline from that point forward, but is a thing that happens- a thing that he sometimes does, that he feels mixed emotions about, but overwhelmingly shame.  And as someone who self harmed for years, I think Sadie Jones does an incredibly good job of portraying not just the act itself- and the cover up but all the feelings that come with it and with being ‘found out’.

I also love how grief is portrayed, not as though it’s a straight line to walk down but a blur to pass through that at some times seems thicker than others.

I think my most favourite thing though is just the characters themselves, they are all flawed- some hideously so, but all very real.  It didn’t require much effort for me to imagine that this cast of people actually existed, which is sort of terrifying, but of course wonderful too because isn’t that the point of a good book- to make you believe it could be real?

Obviously, if you haven’t gathered by now, it is one of my favourite books ever and I absolutely think you should go away and read it.

I, on the other hand am going to go away and try NOT to read the next book on my list because I am supposed to be waiting until May to share my thoughts on The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney with you…we’ll see if I can last that long I guess?!  It’s not like I don’t have a HUGE pile of unread books waiting for me…literally, look at them all:

TBRpile

(and that doesn’t even include the ones on my kindle!)

It’s just that now I’ve started re-reading all these amazing books I haven’t read for ages, I can’t seem to stop…

On Reviews

As anyone who knows me IRL can tell you, I read A LOT.  There have been periods of my life where I haven’t done much reading (most notably, after becoming a Mum for the first time, when I didn’t finish a book for a looooong time!) but generally, I could be described as being a bit of a lot of a bookworm.

One thing I am NOT though, is a reviewer.

I am so rubbish at reviewing anything, if I’m honest.  Whether it’s a day out with the kids, or a new washing powder.  I might have things to say about it, but somehow never get round to sharing my thoughts with anyone other than Chris.  I am PARTICULARLY bad at reviewing books though.  If I hate a book (and this happens quite rarely) I can usually explain why to a friend, but I would never then go online and broadcast my views to the world.  I guess I just think “well, they probably did their best, and who am I to judge, and anyway, I wasn’t forced to read it” and then I’ll put the book on Read it Swap it, or give it to charity and that’s that.

If I love a book, I’m even worse!  The more passionately in love with the story I am, the less I can explain it, the less I want to explain it, in fact I don’t usually want to even talk about it, except perhaps to tell everyone OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK, YOU SHOULD GO READ IT NOW!

It’s not that I can’t articulate my thoughts and feelings (although that is sometimes the case initially, but I can usually work through it!)  It’s more that I don’t want to.  I don’t ever choose what to read based on (written) reviews.  I choose based on word of mouth recommendations, and what’s in front of me at the book shop/library/amazon page, I consider covers (terrible of me, I know) and blurbs.  I don’t care if it says “RIP ROARING SUMMER READ!” (Daily Fail, 2014) or “THIS BOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!” (Name of famous person, 2014) on the front or back.  Reading is subjective.  So for someone’s opinion to sway my decision to buy or read something, they’ve got to either be pretty close to me, or else an expert in the field that the book they’re talking about covers (If that makes sense?!)  So random celebrities and newspapers don’t mean shit as far as I’m concerned.

As I get older though, and as my dream of one day seeing my own stories in print moves simultaneously closer (I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT!) and ever further away, fading on the horizon (WILL IT EVER BE GOOD ENOUGH TO PUBLISH?!) I am aware that book reviews are a pretty vital part of the whole process.  People who love books need to tell people that they do, and explain why.  Otherwise how does the author know?  How do the publishers know?  How do other readers know?

In my case, I think it’s that I don’t want to spoil the book by explaining it.  It’s almost like book-reviewing proper reminds me of writing comprehensions in high school English, where we had to break down every single passage until it lost all meaning. “Why did Shakespeare put that comma there, do you think?” is not an exercise that helps you to feel an emotional connection with Romeo and Juliet’s story.  So I have grown up to be afraid of deconstructing things to examine what makes them good (or not, as the case may be).  If I have a delicious meal in a restaurant, or read the most earth-shattering novel, perhaps I want to leave those experiences whole in my mind and only comment on them in the briefest of “you should eat there/read that” way.

It feels like I’m betraying those experiences by not shouting about them louder though.  There are some incredible writers, and short of sending them a letter to say “I LOVE THE WORDS YOU MADE!”, a review is probably a good way to let them know how their work has affected me.

I just (yesterday) joined Goodreads, and it wants me to rate at least twenty books so it can recommend some to me.  Even a basic 1-5 star system, without an actually worded-review, is making my feel uncomfortable.  “If I give that book a four, but then this book a five, does it mean I loved one more than the other, or that I loved them both but one was flawed?  Maybe I should read that book again to check it isn’t a five…What if I give all these books a five and then one day someone writes something that needs a six?!  What if I give this book one star and an angry mob descends on my front gate?!” etc etc etc.

You can see my dilemma I think (or my mental problems, in any case).

 

Generation X (Book Jar Post 2)

So you may remember that I finally got underway with Project Book Jar and that the first book to be picked out was this:

gen x

Something I started last year, got a few pages into and then left on a shelf, got sick, moved house and completely forgot I’d ever even picked it up.

You’ll be pleased to hear that my 2nd attempt at reading it was more successful, in that I actually finished it this time (hurray!)  BUT, it took me 3 weeks.  THREE WEEKS!  Have you seen the size of the thing?!  It’s like 200 pages or something.  I just read it a chapter at a time pretty much.  Which I guess is how normal folk may read, but it is not my usual style at all.  I usually pick up a book and when I set it down the sun has risen and set again and I have forgotten my own name.  That’s how it is with good books anyway.

Was this a good book?  Ehhhh.  It was ok.  Some bits of it were really on the nose, so much so that I had a hard time believing it was written almost twenty years ago and not last month.  There were a lot of really funny bits, astute observations about friendship and life in general….but…and there is a but…I didn’t LOVE it.  Maybe it’s just me, maybe I read it at the wrong time.  It’s a dangerous thing to pick up a book like Generation X when you’re already feeling disenchanted and disillusioned with modern society.  I sort of nodded along with 75% of the content, the other 25% went over my head and when I finished I was left utterly depressed.

I then decided to forgo the Book Jar and read When Dan Lived in the Woods by Ben Wakeling- a book I’d picked up for free on my kindle a couple of weeks ago.  I finished it in one afternoon while I was at the hospital having my IVIg infusion, although to be fair it is a short easy read, 3 hours is quick even for me 😉  It was a stark contrast to Generation X, in the sense that it wasn’t critically acclaimed, nor did it have massively convoluted long and rambling monologues…but in other ways it was similar, in that it was about opting out of society and all it’s bullshit and like with Generation X, I found myself massively sympathising with the main character.  I think the trouble with reading something like Generation X such a long time after it’s publication is that it comes with so much baggage.  People want to tell you how much they love (or hate) it, and you’re almost expecting to be profoundly moved by it in some way and then disappointed if/when you’re not.  If I’d read it ten years ago it might have blown my tiny mind, but I was late to the party (again).  These days I’m enjoying picking up things with no hype and no pretence, like When Dan Lived in the Woods and then being pleasantly surprised when I find myself engrossed and engaged with the story.

I’m now reading The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen on my kindle, so something totally different but I’m really enjoying it so far (just a few pages in!)

I will go back to the Book Jar for my next pick though, I promise.  I’m just in a funny place with books at the minute and didn’t trust it to spit out the right suggestion.

The Bookshelf Inspection

I just read this piece by Peter Damien over at Book Riot and was inspired to do the same with my bookcase (ok, ok, three bookcases and fireplace)

So, without further ado, here are the results of my investigation:

READ

I was going to make this the last book I read, but actually the last book I read (The Color Purple) was a library book so is technically a bookshelf squatter rather than a resident.

The last book I read that actually belongs to me is The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.  It’s one of those books I have been ‘meaning to read’ for absolutely ages and then I finally read it two weeks ago and it’s amaaaazing.  I read it across three days, and on the final day I was in hospital having my monthly IVIg treatment and I’m sure the nurses thought I was really rude as I just let them do their thing and pretty much ignored everyone with my nose in this book (occasionally brushing away a stray tear, which would set my IV alarm off due to my arm bending!)  I loved it, and I’m so glad I bought it second hand rather than borrowing it as I know it’s one I’ll want to revisit.

 

INTENDING TO READ

Cormack Mc Carthy’s The Road.  Chris has been telling me I should read it for the last hundred (ok, two) years.  I do want to.  I just want to be in the right place mentally before I do, but it’s creeping up the pile in my head.

 

HALF READ

Generation X by Douglas Coupland

I started it about a year (ish) ago and for some reason didn’t get very far (just a few pages) before putting it down andI’ve yet to go back to it.  It’s only a tiny thing, so I’m sure that when I eventually do get round to it, it won’t take me very long to finish.

 

PRETENDING I’VE READ

Aesop’s Fables.  This is on the kids’ bookcase, along with all the other “not picture books, but not adult books” like Matilda, and The Borrowers Omnibus.  I got it as a swap on Read It Swap It but I’ve never read it.  I know what it ‘is’ though, so feel like that almost counts?!

 

SAVING FOR WHEN I HAVE MORE TIME

Homer’s Odyssey.

We also have The Iliad.

homer

Yeah…I’m gonna need more time…A LOT more time 😉

 

WILL NEVER READ

My boyfriend’s David Eddings collection.  I don’t really ‘do’ fantasy so when I scan the bookcase they don’t even really register in my mind to be honest.

 

PURELY FOR SHOW

This is a tricky one so I’ve sort of cheated and picked my boyfriend’s “The Girl Who…” hard-back boxed set collection.  Because they’re the nicest looking books on the bookcase and I have no intention of ever reading them…in that format.  He’s read them on kindle and I’ll do the same, that way I get to find out how great they are (as everyone keeps telling me) without damaging the beautiful shiny hard-back-ness of the actual books themselves 😉

 

Not only was it quite fun, but this exercise also served as a reminder of just how many unread books we have in the house and how I really REALLY need to get on with my Book Jar project! I promise I will…really soon!…