Full House Reading Challenge 2018 Sign up.

So I have decided that I will do the Full House Reading Challenge. Despite not finishing it last year, it did give me some focus and also it forced me to read some things from my bookshelf that I had been meaning to read. Hopefully I’ll get all books read this year.

I have some ideas for some of the categories but recommendations gratefully received for the rest of them.

  1. Mystery / Thriller – Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama
  2. Historical – The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
  3. Over 500 pages – Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  4. Four Word Title – The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
  5. Most recent addition to TBR – The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver 
  6. A Classic – Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
  7. Fantasy – Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. Adapted to a movie – The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller
  9. Number in the title – Red Riding 1977 by David Pearce 
  10. Under 250 pages – The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  11. New to you author from another country – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  12. Dual Time Line – White Rose, Black Forest – Eoin Dempsey
  13. Memoir / Autobiography = Americana by Ray Davies
  14. Reread – 1984 by George Orwell
  15. Humour – It’s not me, it’s you – Jon Richardson
  16. Favourite Series – Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  17. Has plot twist – Resurrection Men – Ian Rankin
  18. Coming of Age – Turtles all the way Down – John Green
  19. Set in Library / Bookshop – 84 Charing Cross Road
  20. Holiday season – So This is Christmas – Josh Lanyon
  21. Book to improve life
  22. Redemption theme – Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
  23. From TBR Randomly chosen – Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon – Currently reading
  24. Children’s Book – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  25. N.F. Hobby book

Another new year

Well, it has taken a while to get round to writing my first blog this year. In fact, the end of last year was so hectic, I never got round to writing an end of year blog which I fully intended. This will have to act as both.

I was pleased with the amount that I read last year and with the fact that I completed the two reading challenges I signed up for. Both of which – eclectic reader challenge and TBR challenge – I have signed up for again. I read some excellent books – The Slap and Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas spring straight to mind, as do The Absolutist by John Boyne and Complicity by Iain Banks and of course, Maddaddam by the amazing Margaret Atwood. I also read some authors that have been on my list for a while – Dorothy L. Sayers, Daphne Du Maurier and John Updike  – not all of which were enjoyed but it felt good to have read them at last.

This year I’m aiming to read more classics so half of the books I have picked for the eclectic reader challenge are pre 1950. Half of those are pre 1900. The first book I finished this year was a spy thriller which was a new genre and hopefully the eclectic reader challenge will continue to encourage me to read new genres.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep writing a blog post for each book I read but looking back over last year’s posts, I realised that it was making me think more deeply about what I was reading.

As for writing, while I still aim to write every day, it doesn’t always work. Time is the one commodity I lack at the moment.  I’m still in the process of editing / re-writing Choose Yr Future. It seems like an never-ending task at the moment. However, I’m sure I will recognise the point when I am happy with the storyline and structure and then I will be ready to let beta readers have a look at it. At the minute, I know it is not ready to be seen by other eyes. If I’m not happy with it, I wouldn’t expect others to be.

I’m not feeling downhearted though. I’m still trying to enter as many competitions as I can and while I haven’t won any yet, I’m not going to give up. If you don’t enter, you really don’t have a hope of winning. I enjoy the process of writing/re-writing even though sometimes I feel a bit like Sisyphus pushing the words into place only to realise later that they still don’t fit.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – once read authors.

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Authors only read once.

This wasn’t as obvious as I first thought. I tried to avoid listing people who had only written one book. Some authors I have been meaning to read more of, others not so much. It’s certainly reminding me of things that have been loitering around my TBR pile for quite a while.

1. Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre – obviously I suppose. I really ought to read more as I enjoyed this.

2. Tracey Chevalier – The Girl with the Pearl Earring – again an obvious choice. It was okay but not really my sort of thing.

3. Wilkie Collins – The Moonstone – quite a recent read – The Woman in White is quite high up my TBR list.

4. Douglas Copeland – Hey Nostradamus! – a good read – should definitely read more.

5. William Golding – Lord of the Flies – Had to read in order to teach which always seems to put me off reading any thing else by the author.

6. Doris Lessing – The Fifth Child – Didn’t like this much at all but she is much loved so perhaps I should have another go.

7. Michael Moorcock – An Alien Heat – I don’t normally like this sort of thing but I found this really enjoyable. Must read more.

8. Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones – another read in order to teach.

9. John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men. Of course. I read this at school and since then have taught it I don’t know how many times. It’s a fabulous book but the association with school puts me off reading anymore Steinbeck.

10. Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse Five – A marvellous read and like An Alien Heat, a real surprise to love it so much.

 

 

 

Books Read in 2014 – 42. Chocky by John Wyndham

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Genre: Dystopia
Narrative Style: First person, chronological
Rating 4/5
Published: 1970
Format: Kindle
Synopsis: When Matthew starts to communicate with an unseen being named Chocky, his parents are understandably worried. After all, Matthew is too old for an imaginary friend. Furthermore, Matthew is starting to ask questions that seem to have come from somewhere beyond his own mind. As time passes, they grow more and more concerned and involve outside help. This turns out to be a big mistake.

There were a couple of reasons for choosing to read this book. I could vaguely remember the TV series and was curious to read the book behind it. Secondly, I had been meaning to read more Wyndham since reading The Day of the Triffids a few years ago. So I had high hopes for the book and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. This is a really good read and the only thing that stopped it getting five stars is that sometimes it seemed a little old fashioned which is inevitable, I suppose, with this sort of fiction.
The story begins with Matthew’s parents noticing little oddities that are out of place for an eleven year old – like having an imaginary friend. It seems harmless enough and although they are curious, they are not unduly worried, as their son seems happy enough in himself.
However, clues begins to appear that suggest that this is no ordinary imaginary being. Matthew starts to ask questions that are almost beyond his understanding. His teachers complain that he is starting to ask about concepts that are too difficult to explain and he sometimes appeared to be arguing with another being. They decide to seek outside help and it is suggested that Matthew may be possessed by an outside force. Understandably, they find this an unsatisfactory answer and seek help elsewhere.
Events do become more sinister – for example, Matthew rescues his sister from drowning without being able to swim. The press start to become interested and Matthew is sent to an important psychologist who equally has no answers for them.
I must admit that I wished I had no knowledge of the events that were to come as I could remember exactly who Chocky was, However, I could not remember the exact storyline and so when Matthew goes missing near the end of the novel, I was as perplexed as his parents. I also could not remember Chocky’s purpose in using Matthew as a reporter on this world. I was impressed by the ecological reasoning used by Chocky in her disgust at our dependency on fossil fuels that will inevitably disappear. This reads now like a warning still unheeded as we are still desperate for a clean, safe solution to this problem. There was a contrast between Chocky’s altruistic attitude and that of the doctors who want to exploit Matthew’s unusual knowledge.
The narrative is written from the point of view of David, Matthew’s father and was convincing in its curiosity about Chocky and its concern for Matthew. The story is written in a straightforward way but that only made the ending seem more devastating because the reader could believe in its reality. Very enjoyable.

Books Read in 2014. 41. Turnstone – Graham Hurley

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Genre: British Detective

Narrative Style: Third Person, Chronological
Rating: 2/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 2000

Synopsis: Joe Faraday is an overworked cop with family issues. Even though he lacks resources, he knows that he must help Emma Maloney find out what happened to her father. He is already dealing with a drugs bust gone wrong and a murdered grandfather. Furthermore, he lacks evidence and his boss wants him to focus on cases that will give the station a better media image. Joe cannot let the case go even when it seems that it is an obsession that is all in his head.

I picked this book to read because in the blurb it mentioned that it was about a daughter searching for her father and it sounded interesting. However, apart from a brief prologue, this storyline doesn’t appear until about a quarter of the way through. To me, this is too long before introducing what will be your main storyline. This problem of balance is one that effects the whole of this novel. At first, we have the murder of a grandfather and a drugs bust that goes wrong. But these are all but abandoned once the search begins for Maloney’s father. At times, Joe’s son is the focus of the story and then he too is abandoned. Moving between plot and subplot could certainly have been handled better.
I wasn’t convinced by the character of Joe. Maybe I am too much in thrall to detectives like Ian Rankin’s Rebus but Joe just didn’t convince. He seemed too well-behaved to go off on his own in the way that he does. By contrast, his opposite number, the corrupt cop was just a bundle of stereotypical bad cop attributes to really convince or make the reader have any feelings for.
The worst part of this novel though is the ending. Not so much the solving of the disappearance which was interesting enough but the epilogue which saw all of Joe’s family and personal problems neatly wrapped up. It was too simplistic by far. I won’t be reading anymore in this series.

Top Ten Tuesday – Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From

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It is a while since I’ve done a Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish)but Ten Authors I Own the Most Books from appealed so here it is.

1. Terry Pratchett – 35. It was always obvious that Pratchett was going to win. I love the discworld books although I have got a bit behind with them and haven’t read the most recent ones.
2. Margaret Atwood – 18. My favourite author.
3. Ian Rankin – 14. Mostly the Rebus books but a few others. I don’t own the whole series of Rebus books otherwise this would be a bit higher.
4. Julian Barnes – 9. Another favourite although I haven’t loved everything I’ve read by him.
4. Ian Banks – 9. A bit hit and miss but he has written some of my favourite books – The Wasp Factory, for example.
6. Irvine Welsh – 7. I started to read Welsh for my MPhil and I love his early stuff.
6. Ian McEwan – 7. Most of these were read for my MPhil and I loved some and hated others. The Child in Time is one of my favourites.
8. Kate Atkinson – 6. The Jackosn Brodie series and a couple of others.
9. Angela Carter – 5. I thought I had more than this. I need to read some more I think.
9. Martin Amis – 5. Again, a MPhil read and not a favourite.

Books Read in 2014 – 38. The Lie by Helen Dunmore

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Genre: War, Historical Fiction
Narrative Style: First person narrative set in 1920 with flashbacks to the first world war.
Rating: 3/5
Publication: 2013
Format: Kindle
Synopsis: Daniel has survived the First World War and is now back in his hometown, homeless and without family. He is haunted by his experiences in the trenches and by the death of his best friend, Frederick as he tries to make a new life for himself.

I picked this to read because I enjoy reading about the First World War and because it had good reviews but I found that it paled compared to other fiction that I have read about this conflict. I found it neither as emotionally compelling as some (The Absolutist by John Boyne) or as interesting in terms of the themes treated here (Regeneration by Pat Barker, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks).
The main reason for my discontent was that the plot seemed stretched, little more than a short story’s worth of content strained by its extension to a novel. Daniel is sympathetic and interesting but not a lot happens to him, even during his flashbacks so there is little to move the plot along.
Where Dunmore does succeed is in her descriptions – both of the Cornish coast and the life in the trenches. They are vivd and really give the reader a sense of Daniel’s isolation and horror. Also the descriptions of him re-working Mary Pascoe’s land are an interesting metaphor for his attempts at starting a new life whilst also constantly reminding him of the mud in the trenches.
I also liked the analysis of class and the differences between Daniel and his much richer friend, Frederick are apt and seem realistic. The differences between them become particularly apparent when they are both in the army but in completely different roles.
Unfortunately, this couldn’t make up for the lack of action and also the I found the ending unsatisfying and a little ridiculous.

Books read in 2014 – 36. A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale

Genre: family, religion

Narrative Style: Third person, non-chronological

Rating: 4/5065917-fc222

Format: Paperback

Published:2012

Synopsis: Lenny decides to take his own life after being paralyzed in a rugby accident. He asks the parish priest, Barnaby Johnson to be present. His decision and Barney’s involvement will turn the parish upside down and bring old secrets to light. 

This had me hooked from the first with Lenny’s meticulous plans for suicide and his request for the parish priest to be present. Barnaby has no idea what is going to happen until it is far too late and Lenny has already committed the act. He is left with nothing but prayer.

The story then unfolds from various characters points of view at various points in their life so we learn of Barnaby’s marriage, his difficult relationship with his adopted son and his affair with a local artist from his point of view and theirs. We learn about Lenny’s mother and a local parishioner named Modest who turns out to play a crucial role in events a number of times in the narrative without always realising.

The pace is unhurried and it is easy to work out some of the secrets but that really isn’t the point of this story. The narrative is as much about Barnaby’s difficult relationship with his faith and with God as it is about the actual events. It is about family and the ways we come to find love in the most unexpected ways. There are no big twists and turns because this is a novel about ordinary people dealing with what life throws at them.

The characters were convincing and I felt able to empathise with most of them even those I didn’t actually like. Even Modest, the most horrible character, was pathetic rather than anything else. It was interesting to see both sides of the father son relationship between Barnaby and his son, Phuc and realise exactly how hard it is sometimes to do the right thing.

The book ends well, in that it ties up loose ends and it is generally a happy ending but there is nothing forced or unlikely about it and no doubt if you continued to follow these characters life would continue to throw challenges at them but this was where this particular story ended.

 

 

Books Read in 2014 – 31. The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

Genre: Horror, Dystopia, Satire

Narrative Style: Third Person from the point of view of one characterdownload (8)

Rating 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 1972

Synopsis: Joanna moves to Stepford at the insistence of her husband, Walter and, at first, it seems to good to be true. She soon becomes irritated by the passiveness of the women and their housework obsession. Then the two friends she thought were different start to show the same obsessions and she starts to wonder what exactly is going on in Stepford. I can remember seeing the 1975 film version of this book when I was fifteen so I knew what the basic story was. You might think that this would spoil the story, making it less tense but this was not the case. Levin unfolds Joanna’s story masterfully and knowing what might happen to her only made me more anxious for her to escape the clutches of the men of Stepford. Joanna begins the novel an independent, strong woman who works as a photographer. She does housework when she has to and is used to having strong female friendships. She is sexual and attractive without the need for make-up. However, when she comes to Stepford she finds all the women are eerily similar and coldly distant. They are unable to find a place in their housework schedule to even meet for coffee. They are beautifully coiffed and clothed. She is rightly appalled by this and by her husband leaving every evening to go to the men’s association. Joanna does meet two other like-minded women – both of whom have not lived in Stepford for long – and they try desperately to get some sort of female movement going. However, when one of them suddenly becomes docile like the other women, they start to worry that they’ll be next. Eventually there is only Joanna left and she tries desperately to warn the one woman to move to Stepford after her before the men seal her fate. Levin cleverly does not tell the reader exactly what happens to Joanna. She merely loses narrative perspective. Ruthanne takes over the narrative point of view and she runs into Joanna in the supermarket, noting her coldness, her obsession with housework and how good she looks. As Ruthanne is a writer, it can be assumes that she will be the men’s next victim. The men in the novel respond specifically to their wives’ attempts at politicising themselves. Joanna discovers that the women were once activists or very successful professionals that held feminist meetings. The message that Levin is trying to get across is clear. Men will not just stand back and let women gain power from them. As Chuck Palahniuk notes in the introduction, perhaps more heed should have been taken. The whole beauty industry and the obsession with women’s appearance is one very successful way of keeping them in their place regardless of their professional position.

Books Read in 2014 – 29. Rabbits in the Garden by Jessica McHugh

Genre: Horror, Madness

Narrative Style: Third person chronological10504227

Rating 1/5

Format: Kindle

Published 2011

Synopsis: Life is perfect for Avery – she is in love with her best friend, Paul, and he loves her too. They have just shared a first kiss. However, trouble starts
when Avery’s mother finds out about the liaison and is determined to stop her daughter from taking the wrong path.

It’s not often that I give a book 1 star. Usually because if something is that bad, I don’t finish it. I’ve always hated doing that and even more so now that I add books on Goodreads. I feel obliged to get to the end. Even if, like this novel, it is a real struggle.

I picked this book because I liked the sound of the story and because it has a lot of good reviews. And it did start well with the appearance of Avery’s mother’s madness being quite well executed.

However, it went downhill fast. Events are easy to spot and there were little in the way of surprises. For example, when Natalie meets a handsome stranger, it is obvious that it is Paul. When she mentions that they did not use a condom, it obvious that she will be pregnant. When Avery’s mother appears the next morning, just in time to tell them of their real identities, it all just seems like a bit too big a coincidence. The whole novel is like that. events and characters are bent to the plot with no care as to whether that seems likely or not.

There are pages of unlikely dialogue which slow the action down. The characters often sound like they are spouting platitudes rather than having a conversation. it was like reading a bad made for TV film.

Even the ending was not that satisfying. There was never any doubt that Avery would win in the end. The lack of narrative tension was one reason why I struggled to finish this. Everything moves in Avery’s favour. The police do not find her. She manages to escape. She will live happily ever after. Even though she does suffer setbacks – like the loss of Paul – it never daunts Avery and the reader knows exactly how things will come to pass.