Reading Challenge – The 2019 TBR Pile Challenge

Okay so I know I said that I might not do a challenge this year but I really like the TBR Pile Challenge and I haven’t done it for a couple of years. It is hosted by Roof Beam Reader and it challenges you to read 12 books that have been on your TBR pile for more than a year. So it is a good excuse to dig out some of those books you’ve been meaning to read for a while and make yourself read them. No categories to keep to  – just 12 books that are desperate to be read.

So here is my list. I really hope I can get through them all.

  1. Emmaline Pankhurst – Paula Bartley (2002)
  2. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (1950)
  3. The Plague – Albert Camus (1947)
  4. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith – Peter Carey (1994)
  5. A Room with a View – E. M. Forster (1908)
  6. The Virgin’s Lover – Philippa Gregory (2004)
  7. You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks – Nick Hasted (2010)
  8. The Beetle – Richard Marsh (1897) 
  9. The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht (2011) – Currently reading
  10. Thank  You For The Days – Mark Radcliffe (2009)
  11. Powder – Kevin Sampson (1999)
  12. Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh (1928) 

Extras:

  1. The Shipping News – Annie Proulx (1993)
  2. The Accidental – Ali Smith (2005)
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No more neglecting my blog: A reflection on where it went wrong this year.

I feel a bit sorry for my blog. It must have been wondering what it had done to cause such neglect. The last time I blogged was in October. I’ve never had such a large gaps between blogs before. The main reason is that wage paying work has been incredibly busy. I haven’t even had time to edit Choose Yr Future. Exam work, steady teaching work and the run up to Christmas conspired to make it impossible for me to get anything that wasn’t strictly (financially) necessary done.

Of course, I used to be able to write whenever I had a minute. These days whenever I have a minute I fall asleep. That is one of the most annoying things about getting older; I just can’t burn the midnight oil anymore.

I failed once again to finish this years Full House Reading Challenge. My error was to ask my husband to help me pick a book at random. His throwing a paper ball at the bookshelves resulted in me having to read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Which I started in September and have not yet finished. (Although only about 10 pages left!) I might have abandoned it if he had not watched me very closely to see if I stuck with it. I am very much looking forward to reading a different book.

I’m not sure about doing any reading challenges this year. It might be time for a year off. A year of reading what I want to read sounds appealing but I will probably get sucked into something. I usually do.

Now the worst of the busyness over. Exams are done with until the summer. Supply work is back to day to day and no responsibilities. So hopefully back to blogging regularly and editing every day. It’s exciting. One thing to be said for this prolonged absence, I’m raring to get going again.

The Full House Reading Challenge – So This is Christmas – Josh Lanyon

Genre: Detective, LGBT, Romantic suspense

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2016

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: On returning early from a trip to London with his family, Adrien English is greeted by an old acquaintance who is clearly in a mess. His boyfriend has disappeared and he suspects the family of foul play. Adrien knows just the person to help. 

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Seasonal. 

Okay so this is not something I would normally do – read a book set at Christmas. Obviously sometimes I do read things that happens to be set at Christmas but that would not be the main selling point. That would not be why I chose to read it. But I knew that if I continued to read this series I wouldn’t be too irritated.

And I wasn’t. This was an enjoyable – and fitting end to the saga of Adrien and Jake.  I won’t spoil the ending but needless to say, anyone who has followed the on-off-back-in the-closest nature of their relationship should be pretty happy.

The family details were interesting and Lanyon captured the difference between Adrien’s family and Jake’s really well. To be honest, I would have been happy reading that without the mystery of Kevin’s disappearing boyfriend.

The mystery did feel a little tagged on. There were some of the usual ingredients such as Adrien rushing off and almost getting into a fight and some tension as Jake was hired by the family that Kevin suspected had bumped him off but mostly it was not very involving.

Overall, though, it was enjoyable and the season too be jolly wasn’t too difficult to take.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Genre: Spirituality, Magic Realism, Brazilian Literature

Narrative Style: detached third person similar to a fable.

Rating: 2/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1988

Synopsis: Santiago is a shepherd and seems quite happy tending his sheep and waiting to see the girl of his dreams. However, a recurring dream of treasure sets him on an adventure that will take him far from home. Along the way, he learns lessons about human nature and spirituality.

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – new to me author from another country.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I knew that it was pretty popular and that it was sometimes described as magic realism, a genre I am fond of so I thought I’d give it a go. I haven’t read any Brazilian literature before so I was curious to see what it was like.

It wasn’t long before I realised it wasn’t really going to be for me. The novel is written in the style of a fable or parable and the characters are archetypes – e.g. the simple shepherd, the king, the alchemist of the title. Right from the start it was clear that the moral was going to be a little heavy handed. I lost time of the number of times the boy was told to listen to his heart and that if you want something strongly enough the world will give it to you as long as you never doubted your purpose. It was all a bit new agey for me. I’m too cynical to really be able to believe that this is the way of the world.

Also, it seems a bit of a dubious moral philosophy. If everyone was off following their heart’s desires, the world would be a very different place. After all, not many people have the heart’s desire to work in McDonalds or be a refuse collector. Even deciding to do something that is more like a vocation may be a pragmatic decision rather than a following of your ultimate desire.

The boy finds his treasure. I must admit that I hoped that it would turn out to be other than simply monetary. I understand that his search is what is really important – he learns valuable lessons along the way. Because he follows his ‘personal legend’, he is duly rewarded by God but I couldn’t help but feel that this reward being gold somehow undermined the message that following one’s dream is spiritual and about oneness with the world.

Having looked at reviews of this novel, I can see that many people feel it has changed their lives. If I’d realised that before I started to read it, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to read it. I’m not really in the market for a life-changing experience. It’s not something I look to reading to give me.

The Red Pen Treatment

So currently, I am looking over the proofs for Choose Yr Future. In between being back at school and writing new things that is. Theoretically, it should have been finished over the summer. But of course, it isn’t just reading through. It’s more like a massacre with the slashing of the red pen taking out all that annoys it.

I’m not sure if it is the fact that it now looks like a book which makes it easier spot what needs to go but I definitely feel I’m reading it in a different way. As if I were a reader rather than a writer and that is definitely making me ruthless. I’ve been slashing out words like I’m lost in the forest and they are branches stopping me from returning to the sunlight.

If all this sounds like a miserable job, strangely it’s not. Maybe it is the closeness to  completion. Maybe it is satisfying to be able to look at your own work and go ‘yeah, that stinks’. I trust my judgement. There are no qualms. Not at this stage.

The big question is when will this be finished. Well, hopefully soon. There should be a cover soon too. There should be an end to all this slashing. But by the time that Shattered Reflections was published, I nearly knew it by heart, I had read it so many times. I’m not there yet. Nowhere near.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Valley of Amazement – Amy Tan

Genre: Historical Fiction, Chinese Literature

Narrative Style: Various first person accounts. 

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2013

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Violet lives in a high class courtesan house in Shanghai with her American mother. There’s is one of the best houses, open to Chinese and Americans. They live a comfortable life. However, it isn’t long before Violet is separated from her mother by a vindictive lover and is forced to become a courtesan herself. Violet’s narrative is the main one but her mother and companions are also included to tell a tale that spans fifty years. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre: four word title. 

This book is 900+ pages. I don’t say this so you can all slap me on the back and say well done (although, y’know feel free if you want to) but to suggest something of the pain of reading it. This book does not need to be 900+ pages. There isn’t enough narrative to go around.

I’ve read Tan before so I assumed that although it was  a long book, it would jog along nicely. This is not the case. I found that there was no tension as it was easy to spot what the problems were going to be for Violet and the other women who’s tales are told here. The men were duplicitous or they died or they were ineffectual. It was easy to spot the next tragedy coming over the hills.

There is quite a bit of sex as you might expect from a novel about courtesans. I felt we could have been spared some of the details – particularly when Violet is learning what is expected of her – or they could have been shown through action rather than being described in a long list that just got harder to stomach as it went on.

For all that, Violet’s story is an interesting one and probably could have sustained the reader by itself. The other stories were not interesting enough to warrant a separate voice telling them and I would have rather focused more closely on Violet. She could have given details of her mother’s story through her own narrative as she did her daughter’s.

Finally, I was really just getting interested in Flora and Violet’s relationship when the novel ends. Perhaps if some of the surplus details from earlier were removed, we could have seen more of this relationship. For all my complaints about the length of this novel, I would have happily read on if it involved finding out more about this.

 

Full House Reading Challenge – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

Genre: Children’s, Classics

Narrative Style: Third Person Narrator

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1876

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Tom Sawyer is a typical young boy, always in trouble and skipping school, despite the best efforts of his Aunt Polly to make him tow the line. However, his need for adventure soon gets him into real trouble when he gets trapped in a cave with a murderer and thief.

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Children’s

This was a very enjoyable read. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it when I was younger as I was obsessed with a TV version of the adventures of Huckleberry Finn which, even now, very much influenced how I saw the characters.

The story begins with some establishing pranks to let us see Tom’s personality. He is always dirty, will do anything to get out of work and prefers to use his intelligence to avoid anything that might involve learning. It is hard not to be charmed by him despite the trouble he causes Aunt Polly.

Tom is also hopelessly romantic as is shown by his infatuation with Becky Thatcher, the new girl in school. Tom reacts in the only way he knows how by showing off and generally getting into trouble. Their childish relationship is touchingly portrayed by Twain and he manages to portray how much it means to both of them without being patronising or overly sentimental.

Tom and Huck get into many scrapes. Having accompanied Huck to the graveyard to witness some superstitious ritual, they actually see a grave being robbed. When the robbery goes badly, Dr Robinson is killed by Injun Joe who flees the scene, leaving his accomplice, Muff Porter to take the blame. The boys swear they will not tell. There is a good deal of tension while Porter is in jail and then on trial for a murder he did not commit. In the end, Tom does the right thing and tells the truth. Porter is freed but there is no sign of Injun Joe.

Later on, Huck and Tom go searching for treasure and instead come across Injun Joe and his stash of stolen money. They resolve to find out where he is going to hide his money. While watching Injun Joe, Huck stops an attack on the Widow Douglas and becomes a hero. Meanwhile Tom and Becky get lost on a picnic and end up in a network of caves where they almost dies. During this, Tom is horrified to discover Injun Joe is in the caves with them.

Eventually, Tom finds a way out and as a precautionary measure the caves are sealed up. Tom is horrified and has to confess that he saw Injun Joe in the caves. Twain does not skimp on details that show how horrible his death must have been although there is little sympathy for him as he is a thief and a murderer.

Tom and Huck then sneak back into the caves and find the money which has been stolen. They have enough money to keep them comfortable for the rest of their lives. Huck has also been adopted by the widow and is finding civilisation a little uncomfortable. It is amusing – and I’m sure most young boys would sympathise – to find Huck sleeping in a barn again in his old scruffy clothes.

Twain has been accused of racism and the whole character of Injun Joe makes for slightly uncomfortable reading. Twain lets his characters speak their minds and they are not very open minded when it comest to native Americans. However, this does not mean Twain is racist. Authors are not synonymous with their characters and there is no doubt that characters such as these would have held these attitudes. More concerning is the portrayal of Injun Joe as completely unsympathetic and as Twain does not offer an alternative perspective, the character’s views are never challenged. Although Twain was an ardent supporter of abolition, he didn’t extend this to Native Americans and his views were much harsher. It is hard to know how judgmental to be and it is unfair to judge a man by standards not of his time. However, if he could see that Blacks should have equality, then it seems strange that he could not extend this to the Native Americans.  It certainly makes the book less enjoyable.