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!

2015 Reading Roundup

Well, 2015 is behind us and therefore so is my 2015 reading challenge, which was to re-read 12 of my favourite books and blog about the experience of reading them again (for what in some cases was the second, and in others the hundredth, time).

The books were-

  1. The Stand by Stephen King
  2. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  4. The Outcast by Sadie Jones
  5. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
  6. The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe
  7. The Spider Truces by Tom Connolly
  8. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  10. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  11. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
  12. 1984 by George Orwell

As you can see, I only managed to blog about 7 of the 12, although I did also re-read Miss Peregrine and Fingersmith, I just didn’t get round to sharing my thoughts on them (which if anyone is wondering is basically “I LOVE THIS BOOK, GO AND READ IT NOW!”- in both cases)

I did re-read quite a few other books though, which weren’t on the initial list of twelve.  In fact, of the 47 books I read this year, a whopping 26 of them were ones I had read before.  17 were new books, and then there were 4 that for various reasons I didn’t finish (in one case because I just wasn’t enjoying it, and in the other 3 it was more because I wasn’t quite in the right mood or headspace) and I’ll probably revisit those at some point in 2016.

Of the 17 that were new to me that I actually did finish- some that really stand out that may be new favourites are The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan, which was just fucking wow, and had the curious side-effect of causing my inner monologue to have a thick Scottish accent for about three weeks after finishing it.  Also Chicken by Chase Night which I downloaded to my Kindle on a whim and then basically couldn’t put down until I’d finished.  I also finally got round to reading the Shiver trilogy by Maggie Steifvater, which I’ve been hesitant to do despite having owned the books since 2011, because I got them as a fancy set and they looked too nice for me to actually read.  Finally curiosity won out though and they’re now back in their slipcase, with very creased spines, because I remembered that I actually love reading more than I love books.  And yes, they were worth the wait.  Also, I can’t possibly write about brilliant books I read in 2015 without mentioning The Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare, which I enjoyed so much I may have read all three twice…(!)

For 2016 I have a whole new challenge in mind, which I’ll post about separately.  But aside from that I’m just looking forward to reading plenty and hopefully discovering some amazing new authors and stories 🙂

 

 

The Spider Truces

I finally, finally finished re-reading The Spider Truces by Tom Connolly, and I’m aware that makes it sound like it was an ordeal rather than an enjoyable experience but it wasn’t that at all, I’ve just been so busy that I’ve had to read it in the way “normal” people read books- a chapter at the end of each day, rather than the way I usually do- which is to blaze through from cover to cover ignoring all else around me.  It certainly makes for a different reading experience taking your time, but last night, with a few chapters to go before the end, I hooked myself up to my SCIG infusion and just went for it, and I’m glad I did because I now have that lingering sense of *something* you get after finishing a really great book- where you feel like you were actually there, and experienced it, and your brain is busy processing and filing it all away.

thespidertruces

This was my second time reading it, the first time I read it on Kindle after picking up at a reduced price when it was on a deal.  It was the summer of 2013, so I started reading it as a ‘well’ person and finished reading it in a hospital bed.  I read this just before I got really REALLY unwell and before I threw myself into the YA fantasy genre so hard I’m surprised I didn’t end up going through the barrier to Platform 9 3/4 😉

But The Spider Truces itself, despite probably being shelved as Literary Fiction, was it’s own form of fantasy and escapism for me, as it describes in almost succulent detail the places in which the story takes place, and for someone who was very much stuck in one specific and rather clinical (if not downright miserable) place, to be transported so effortlessly to the the Kentish Weald, to watch the changing seasons and years go by.  Then later, to follow the characters to Paris, a place that I want so desperately to visit, but keep being thwarted in my attempts to, was just the icing on the cake.

This book is wonderful not just because of the places, but also the people.  There’s Ellis, the main character, who we see grow from a young boy to a young man, and his Dad Denny, his sister Chrissie and his Great Aunt Mafi, all of who I could relate to in different ways, but it was Ellis who stood out for me, and who’s thoughts mirrored so many of my own.  The sudden unexpected panic that can land in the middle of a perfectly ordinary day or thought, as though from nowhere.  The sense of restlessness but the constant pull of the past.  The author Tom Connolly really captured all these things in a way that made me believe not just that Ellis was real, but that he was me, or rather I was him.  So it’s hardly a wonder that I laughed out loud at times or shed more than one tear as I followed him through the years of his life.

I don’t want to give too much away but for those wondering about the title, yes the book is about spiders, and Ellis’s relationship with them, which begins as pure terror but evolves to something more over the years.  It is also about grief, family, friendships, and figuring out what life is all about- or realising you never will.

My absolute favourite line from the book is

“A wonderful life of chaos and hope and disarray awaits all those prepared to risk it”

The kind of quote that is profound in it’s simplicity, much like the book itself.

So go! Read it now!

As for me, I am seriously behind on my list but the next book is something totally different: Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist which should have been August’s re-read, but is probably more appropriate for this time of year anyway what with Halloween being NEXT WEEK and all 🙂

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 Tenderness of Wolves

2015-05-10 20.37.42

*Disclaimer: this post was originally written 3 weeks ago but for some reason I saved it as a draft rather than publishing and forgot about it until now- errr, oops*

I bet you thought I’d forgotten about May’s Re-Read, after being so early with all the others…well, I didn’t. But truth be told, it did take me longer than expected to get through it, not because of the book itself (which is brilliant by the way) but just because as soon as I picked it up and opened the cover life got craaaaazy, and with the imminent arrival, and then ACTUAL arrival of our little foster baby aka Squishlet I found that I suddenly had very little time for anything and when I did I wanted to use it for SLEEP!

But, these last few evenings I have read a chapter or two each night after she’s fallen asleep (although the first evening I tried it, Chris found me asleep on the sofa with the book open on my chest, haha!) and today I finally finished it.

I have to say, I wish I’d been able to guzzle it all in one go, or at least 2-3 sittings maximum, like I did the first time I read it, as there’s so much suspense and intrigue (especially towards the end) that it’s a book that lends itself really well to staying up past your bedtime to finish it, but even so, despite having to be a bit more stop/start this time and reading it in more bitesize chunks, I still really loved it.

The story takes place in Canada in 1867, and begins with the death- murder in fact- of a man named Laurent Jammet and the discovery of his body by a woman named Mrs Ross (whose first name is never used). It isn’t really a murder mystery/whodunnit style book though- or rather, it is but it is ALSO the story of the people living in the isolated settlement where the murder takes place and of the events that unfold after it.

The book has some really vivid and beautiful descriptions of the landscape and wilderness but it also vividly depicts people in all their wonderful messy human-ness, and the two things combined really took my breath away when I first read it and again this time.

I think the only difference reading it for a second time, almost a decade later, is a new found appreciation for the sense of loss and sadness I felt after finishing it. Not that the story had changed in any way or somehow become more sad than it was, just that a. it’s been a while (I am guesstimating it was around 8-9 years ago I first bought it) and b. I have changed. So things I thought of as perhaps sad or poignant then I maybe find even more heartbreaking to read about now.

(In other words, yes I am becoming an emotional wreck in my old age!)

Like all my other Re-Reads this year, I obviously think you should all go read it if you haven’t already. It actually won the Costa Book of The Year Award in 2006 and the author Stef Penney was particularly praised for how well she depicted the area at that time, despite having never set foot there due to suffering from agorophobia. I’ve never been to Canada (and certainly not in that time period 😉 ) so couldn’t say how realistic the picture she paints with her words is, but I will say that I do now FEEL as though I’ve been to Canada in 1867 and that’s what counts, to me anyway.

June’s book is The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe, which I planned to start reading straight away but sort of got distracted by…errr…Twilight (shhhh!) So I’ll be back with another book related post in a few weeks- and possibly some fostering/general life related rants before then 😉

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…

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

My March book from The Great Re-Read of 2015 was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

My review after reading it for the second time is as follows:

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

It is painfully beautiful and it will destroy you.

This review was brought to you by a girl who spent her morning in tears as a result of the words within these pages.

Thank you for your time.

But seriously though.

This book was given to me as a present by Chris. He can’t remember where he got it from or when he bought it, or even the actual act of buying it.  Fortunately some of us were paying a bit more attention and I’ve been able to narrow the field down slightly- he bought it from a shop here in Manchester, and I think he may have picked up another book for himself at the same time.  I was either heavily pregnant with, or had just given birth to Rudy at the time, as I remember joking that it was a “Thanks for having my baby” present.  That’s significant in a way, as one of the main characters in the book is a Rudy, a beautiful boy with “hair the colour of lemons”, making it impossible for my heart to remain intact when I read it, although honestly I suspect that’s a challenge for everyone who reads it regardless of whether they have a Rudy in their lives or not.

The book is set in Nazi Germany and follows the story of Liesel- a young girl who steals books.  It is also a book narrated by Death.  Yes, you heard me right:  Death tells the story of Liesel, and those close to her during the second world war and his words are brutal and unflinching but also poetic and beautiful.  The story has traces of dark (very dark really…ok, pretty much black if we’re honest) humour and is full of incredibly poignant observations about human nature.

It is also, of course, rooted in historical accuracy and real-life events.  Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the outbreak of war, Kristallnacht, Stalingrad, the concentration camps…all REAL things, that happened to REAL people.  They are also difficult things to read about, to understand, and to digest.  But when woven into a story like The Book Thief, have the strange effect of becoming at once more tangible and yet even more hideously unbelievable.  “How did that happen?!”  We ask ourselves.  And stories show us the answer: horribly easily.  So when my stomach churns reading about Max hiding in the cellar and when I cry over the fate of Rudy, I’d usually tell myself It’s not real, but although The Book Thief is a work of fiction, in this case I can’t.  Because while Max and Rudy may not have existed anywhere other than in Zusak’s imagination, people exactly like them did, which is what is at once so incredibly terrible and wonderful about the story.  Having Death as the narrator is really just the icing on the cake- it would have been a fantastic book told from any point of view, but Death gives it a unique perspective and voice that lingers in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page.

So that was my experience of re-reading The Book Thief: tears.  Lots of tears.

And I think you should all go and read it RIGHT NOW.

Next month’s book will be The Outcast by Sadie Jones, another second-time read for me, so I’ll be back in April blogging my experience of that.