March Challenge: A Book you’ve been meaning to read

The March challenge was a book that I had been meaning to read.  I chose a book I have been meaning to read since it was recommended to me on the back of my January blog when I highly recommended the book Twice Born by Margaret Mazzantini which is set during the siege of Sarajevo. The book in question is “The Cellist of Sarajevo” by Steven Galloway which is also set during the siege and is based on a true story.

This was also a compelling and moving story about a war that I should know more about and feel bad that I didn’t know more or do more at the time.  A siege akin to that of Leningrad (St Peterburg) during the second world war but only 20  years ago.  The book as the title suggests is about a cellist who having witnessed the death of 22 people and seen 70 wounded as they waited in a quae for bread plays his cello each day in honour of the dead despite the fact that he is in danger of being shot by a sniper himself.  The book is less about the cellist and more about those who he inspires who are caught up in the siege and are fighting to survive and his brave act compels them to live.  The beauty of the book is that it brings home to you the reality of the siege of Sarajevo.  I imagined what it would be like if it was Edinburgh.  The Edinburgh that we know but an Edinburgh under siege trams, buses and cars abandoned and full of bullet holes.  Princess Street empty apart from a brave person trying to attempt a run from one part of the city to the other but under danger of sniper fire.  An Edinburgh with no electricity, no food in the shops and limited running water only available from the fire stations that haven’t been destroyed.  An Edinburgh whose major buildings including Edinburgh Castle have been bombed.  Think that is unthinkable?  So did the citizens of Sarajevo but it happened to them.  As this quote shows.

“There is no way to tell which version of  a lie is the truth.  Is the real Sarajevo the one where people were happy, treated each other well, lived without conflict?  Or is the real Sarajevo the one he sees today, where people are trying to kill each other, where bullets and bombs fly down from the hills and the buildings crumble to the ground?”

Other books read over March were:

  1. The Year of the Runaway – Sunjeeva Sahata
  2. The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George
  3. (The Cellist of Sarajevo) – Steven Galloway
  4. Missing Rose – Linda Newbery
  5. The Story of the Lost Child – Elena Ferrante
  6. Two, One, Three – Denzil Meyrick
  7. Dalintober Moon – Denzil Meyrick
  8. What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty
  9. You sent me a letter – Lucy Dawson
  10. Faith and Beauty – Jane Thynne
  11. Heavenfield -LJ Ross

I enjoyed them all with the exception of “You sent me a letter” which was very contrived and unbelievable.  Particular attention has to go to the Elena Ferrante book.  This is the last of the four books in this series of a friendship of two women who grow up in the slums of Naples and have a lifetime relationship I say relationship as it’s not always a friendship.  It took me awhile in the first book to get gripped by these books but once I was drawn in I was really drawn in.  It’s about life and the people who are in our lives that connect with us to make us who we are and at heart the little child is still there despite the fact you are an elderly lady.  Would also recommend Faith and Beauty by Jane Thynne set in Germany just before the Second World War about a British secret agent who infiltrates high Nazi society also a compelling and must read series.

Finally next month’s book challenge is to read a book recommended to me by my bookshop or library.  I have been set one by Vivian of Mainstreet Trading.  The challenge continues.

 

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Challenge: A Book to be read in a day

The February book challenge was to read a book in a day.  This is not so much a challenge for me as much as an indulgence.  For me reading a whole book in a day is one of those perfect relaxing days when I have the time to do something I enjoy best,  reading.  So I confess I over did it and over the course of the month ended reading 3 books in a day.

As well as my reading challenge for the month I also decided to have a month of crime since we were still in deepest darkest winter which I did bar the last book which carried on with another challenge I set myself to read the Elena Ferrante  family saga over the course of four months.  So my reading list for February taking me up to 24 books for the year is:

  1. No Stranger to Death and 2. Too soon a death by local crime writer Janet O’Kane.

3. Too Good to be True by Ann Cleeves.

4. Follow you Home by Mark Edwards

5. A Game for all the Family by Sophie Hannah

6. The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

7. The Murderer in Ruins by Cay Rademacher

8. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

9. Behind Closed Doors by BA Paris

10. In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

11. In a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware

12. Those who leave and Those who stay by Elena Ferrante

Taking the challenge first.  I confess I cheated in that the first book I read in a day was a short book so I knew I would be able to read it.  It was “Too  Good to be True” by Ann Cleaves a stand alone book with the wonderful Perez but not in Shetland but the Scottish Borders.  I have read all her Shetland novels and was always intrigued by the ex wife living with her new family in the Scottish Borders partly as its where I live but also could never understand anyone divorcing Perez.  As a stand alone quick novel it filled a role and I could relate to the tale of Borders Village life and how it can often feel like living in a goldfish bowl.  But I hated the ex wife she was a social climber and I guessed very quickly who the murderer was.  The other two books I read in a day was Dark Places and Behind Closed doors.  Behind Closed Doors is one of the hyped up novels of this year.  I did enjoy it and enjoyed it so much I had to finish it.   I couldn’t fault the storyline although I tried to figure out how anyone could actually hold someone a prisoner like this but the writer did have all angles covered.  But the book that I loved was Dark Places by Gillian Flynn the writer behind Gone Girl.  I didn’t expect this as I hated Gone Girl.  This is actually one of her previous books now republished but for me far superior and held me all the way through the book as I stayed up till the wee small hours to finish it.  A 6 year old girl see’s her family killed and is responsible with her testimony for sending  her brother to prison for the murders but as she grows up she suddenly realises that she’s made a mistake and sets out to find out what actually happened. It keeps you guessing right to the end.

Two books that didn’t keep me guessing but kept me wondering how they got published were “A Game for all the Family” by Sophie Hannah and “The Quality of Silence” by Rosamund Lupton.  I read both these books when I was ill back to back and neither of them helped the recovery process.  The Sophie Hannah book just was awful I kept reading it thinking surely since she’s a famous writer this will get better but it didn’t.  It’s about a family who move to Devon and the wife starts this conspiracy theory about a family in her daughter’s class which is so bizarre you think can’t be true but then you find the other family are bonkers too at which point I gave up all hope in the book though did manage to finish it but I won’t be reading another.  Rosamund Lupton I had high hopes for as I loved her previous books but this was also far fetched. A mother and child arrive in Alaska to visit the father who is working out there.  They are told at the airport that he’s dead but don’t believe it and then start this mad dash across Alaska in a storm in a lorry that they have effectively stolen.  Quite honestly what Mother would honestly do this and then we are lead to believe that in terrible weather conditions she manages to get over mountains as an avalanche blocks the way back.  I failed to extend belief this was a huge fail for me with a capital F.

Special credit to Janet O’Kane who is a local Borders crime writer who I tweet with.   It’s really because of her that I started my month of crime.  I loved both of her books yes partly as the location I could relate too but also because they were a riveting read and I am looking forward to the next one.

So my challenge for March is to read a book that I have been meaning to read for awhile this gives me endless possibilities with my book pile so watch this space….

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2016 New Year New Reading Challenge

I have been using my blog to talk about the books I have been reading now for a couple of years.  The last two years has been about setting myself a goal of reading 100 plus books in a year which I now have done two years in a row.  I felt at the end of 2015 that I needed a new challenge and pondered this as a question to friends.  One friend came up with the ideal challenge which I feel gives my 2016 reading year some focus.  Huge thanks to Susan McNaughton for this.  She proposed a new reading challenge per month.   It is detailed at the end of this blog.

The Challenge for January was to read a book that was published in 2016.  That was easy I have been eagerly waiting for Peter May’s new book Coffin Road to come out.  I am a huge Peter May fan and love his Lewis trilogy for many reasons not least it took me back to Lewis and as importantly to Harris where we have holidayed as a family ever since.  The first time we went to Lewis the islands intrigued me greatly.   Lewis was so beautiful yet brooding and serious and black.  But with a limited stay over a May weekend I did not feel that I scratched the surface of the culture.  The Black House the first in the trilogy for me filled in some of the gaps. But more than that took me into  the world of people’s lives on the islands that live with me still and I was delighted to see some of the characters mentioned in Coffin Road.  I have read each of Peter May’s books since and had ordered this book in October.  Had to it was about my favourite island Harris and beach on the island Luskentyre.  I tend to suffer from the January blues so was also looking for an excuse to escape into my imagination away from Storm Frank and Gertie.

Escape I did though all be it briefly.   As with all Peter May books  I devoured it on first read.  It’s a really intriguing story about a man who washes up on the beach at Luskentyre and can’t remember anything other than he feels he’s done something awful.  The reader learns his story as he learns his story.  He quickly realises he’s living a lie and the book is his quest to find out why he is living this lie along with the mystery of the dead body he finds on the Flannan islands.  Don’t want to give too much away but the book is also about the mystery of why so many bees are dying in the world and the potential  link to big corporate companies.  This was all new to me and as an Aldi shopper I was then delighted to learn that Aldi do not use these suppliers.  Coincidence that Aldi released this Press Release the same month as the book?  Maybe maybe not but for me good news.

The Coffin Road is another Peter May success story and was acclaimed last night on Simon Mayo’s book club.  My only criticism is that there was a section in the middle of the book when the main character  returns to his past and home.  There is a scene here  which didn’t make sense to me but given I read the book fairly quickly and read it on  my Kindle (not so easy to skip back to the spot you want to re read),   I will have to decide on my second read if this is a flaw on my part or the book.  And there is no doubting that this book like  his other books set on the Hebrides showcase my beloved Islands beautifully.

Books read in January were in order of preference:

  1. Twice Born – Margaret Mazzantini (read read this book).
  2. Coffin Road – Peter May
  3. The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante
  4. Moving – Jenny Eclair
  5. The Other Me – Saskia Sarginson
  6. End Games in Bordeaux – Alan Massie
  7. The Bones of You – Debbie Howell
  8. The Girl with No Past – Kathryn Croft
  9. A Daughter’s Secret – Eleanor Moran
  10. The Sisters – Claire Douglas
  11. Her Last Tomorrow – Adam Croft
  12. A Year of Marvelous ways – Sarah Winman

 

So for February read a book in a day what a splendid excuse for a day of reading.

 

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My 10 Best Books of 2015

Over the course of 2015 I read 112 books on a whole host of topics and taking me to many parts of the world in the past, in the current era and also some set in the future too.  Reading is my favourite hobby and I find it hard to resist entering a book shop and if I do so coming out without a book.  My house is full of my piles of books and if anything my resolution for 2016 should be to read them and clear the house up of its piles of books.  But…………….the chances are I will be in more book shops and will purchase new books and enter new worlds.

 

But back to 2015 how can I choose Ten books out of the 112 that I read?  Well I keep a book journal and the books that I think are worthy of being on the list get a star  as a contender.  And then during the Christmas holidays the final list is written.  So the 2015 list is:

  1. Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey.

This was one of the cleverest books that I have read.  It is about a lady who is suffering from dementia and is living mostly in the past where she has clear recollections but the present she is unsure about until she convinces herself that her best friend is missing.  This book is historical fiction.  It is a crime novel but more than that it gives such an insight into someone who is suffering from dementia.  The most telling side is seeing it from the insight of the dementia sufferer herself from the clarity of how she feels about the past and her confusion about the present.  To the daughter who is caring for her and trying to find the mother she knew in the old lady she now is.

2. I let you Go – Clare Macintosh

This was my stand out thriller of the year.  It kept me enthralled all the way through and as I said in my May book review

“This book has more twists in it than I can remember it was enthralling from page one to the end  read it, read it. read it.  I am not saying any more as you need to read with an open mind and no spoilers but read it.  It’s fantastic.”

3. The Harry Quebert Affair

2015 was the year that the sequel of my contender for my favourite book came out the hotly anticipated prequel to Kill a Mocking Bird.  It was by far the most disappointing book of the year and as I said when I reviewed it I wish I hadn’t read it.  I read the Harry Quebert Affair in June before Harper Lee’s book was published.  This book was everything I wished Go Set a Watchman to be.  I loved this book set in the deep South of the USA a great saga of a story.

4. 5 Children on the Western Front Kate Saunders

This is a young adult book that my local bookshop Mainstreet Trading pushed so that I finally bought it to take with me on holiday.  I loved this book it took me back to my childhood reminded me of the writing of E Nesbit or CS Lewis and I just loved being back in that part world of reality and imagination.  A fantastic book that brought the reality of the First World War alive whilst seeing it through the eyes of children. A magical sad beautiful book that made me laugh and cry and reminded me of the beauty of using your imagination.

5. Roof Toppers – Katherine Rindell

This book was also a July read and also a young adult read.  I didn’t read them back to back but I enjoyed this book as much as the above.  This is about a young girl post 2 World War who is adopted by a eccentric old man and has a idyllic if unusual childhood but she can’t forget her mother and believes that she is still alive though the evidence says otherwise.  Her guardian believes her though 100% and takes her to Paris to find her.  What then follows is a wonderful story of Paris roof tops and friends and the power of love to find a way though it may seem impossible.

6. Freeing Grace – Charity Norman

I really enjoy Charity Norman’s writing this is one of her earlier books.  It is about a couple who sadly after multiple failed pregnancies decide to adopt a child and their story of their adoption of a wee girl.  It is also the story of the family of the child who are divided as to wither to adopt or not.  What I love about Charity Norman’s writing is her ability to write such compelling characters and family tales whilst tackling tough issues.

7. Holy Island – LJ Ross

Holy Island is a favourite day trip for our family we love it and when I saw a fictional book about it was a must read.  This is a self published book which is often not necessarily a good read.  In this case it was.  It is a crime novel set on the island and managed to capture the place but also was a riveting story.  Who knew a quiet place like Holy Island should have such goings on? Read it you won’t think of the place in the same way again.

8. A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale

Patrick Gale is a beautiful empathetic writer and reading one of his books is like wrapping yourself in a blanket by a fire and immersing yourself in a different world from your own as you read his book.  The only issue being that you tend to read his books very rapidly as much as you want to savour the experience.  That said Patrick Gale is not afraid to tackle big issues and this book is no exception with the principal character discovering post marriage that he is gay difficult today but at the beginning of the 20th Century when the book is set considered a mental illness.  In the course of the book you also see into what it might feel to be transgender as the book takes you from England to the wilds of Canada the prairies and a mental hospital.  For me the spirit of the book is that we all love and have the capacity to be loved but we don’t always look at other’s and see their lives through their eyes.  A book I didn’t want to finish but read all too rapidly.

9. Sweet Caress – William Boyd

Such a great name for a William Boyd book as his novels are for me like a bookie hug.  Confessions I read this on my Kindle at a price I wouldn’t normally pay for a Kindle book but one I find it hard to resist a William Boyd book and two when I read some of it was set on a Scottish island I had pressed the buy button before I knew it.  The best compliment I can give this book is that although I have the Kindle version I will buy it in paper back when it comes out as it’s a book I would read again.  Beautifully written and if anyone wants to read a fiction book on the 20th Century this book covers the key historical events.  But it is so much more with the use of photos that William Boyd has collected over the years woven into the story and then there is the ending.  I  won’t give that away but it hits you with full force.

10. The Well by Catherine Chanter

This was a brilliant book with so many themes not least climate change though in this book its a drought hitting the UK not the constant rain that we have seen recently.  It is about families and the impact of change even change you have chosen and the fact that sometimes a dream becomes a nightmare and you make decisions and choose people over family that is totally out of character.  Before you know it your life and the lives of those you love most are changed for ever.

 

 

 

 

 

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And so to Book 112 and the end of the 2015 reading year

December is usually a slow start to the month reading wise as you are so busy getting ready for Christmas.  But this year it was the reverse read lots before I was actually on holiday and less so once I was.  This festive break seems to have been non stop and my great intentions of tidying and cleaning and a mammoth read to treat myself for my endeavours has never come to pass.  And although I have read I know from my book journals I have read much less than other years.  Perhaps having achieved my goal of reading 100 books early in November I have simply slowed down or as I said above I have simply been too busy.  Anyway the list for December is as follows:

  1. The Other Son by Nick Alexander
  2. Pieces of You by Ella Harper
  3. Whisky from small Glasses
  4. The Last Witness
  5. Dark Suits and Sad Songs (3-5 all by Denzil Meyrick
  6. The Angel Treee by Lucinda Riley
  7. Last Resort Quintin Jardine
  8. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  9. The Blue by Lucy Clarke

My kids tease me that I have a strange passion for crime as I am drawn to any crime drama on TV.  I am also drawn to crime fiction especially for some reason set in Scotland.  On  a trip to Oban we went into Waterstones and like a fly to a spider’s web I was drawn to this new crime trilogy conveniently placed just as entered the store.  I didn’t start reading the Whisky from Small Glasses till we returned home and was delighted to find the books are set in Kintyre in a fictional town that is without a doubt Campbeltown.  I love the west coast of Scotland and our first Scottish family holiday was spent just outside that town as the rest of the country drowned we had a freak heat wave that we felt was just for us.  I also tend to get west coast with drawl symptoms when I return home so immersing myself in a book helps.  I really enjoyed these three books.  I could completely imagine the scenes and characters and really enjoyed them so much so when they were all read I wanted to start reading them all over again.  This did then tempt me to indulge in more crime fiction and I bought the new Quintin Jardine book.  I have read all of his books.  The writing is not the best but I find the stories strangely compelling and all the characters are now all old friends.  Also I find his take on Police Scotland very amusing and very accurate.

Out with crime I read some more gentle books with special mention going to The Other Son by Nick Alexander.  I had been keeping this read for my break away to the Isle of Seil.  And it did not disappoint.  It is as the title suggests about two sons.  One of whom in theory has it all with a huge house and the other who remains anonymous for much of the book but is very much the black sheep of the family.  But when the central character the mother gets beaten up an absence of some years by her husband.  Which son comes through?  Makes you realise yet again there is more to life than supposed success and possessions. I also really enjoyed Blue by Lucy Clarke recommended to me by a friend.  I have read all of her books.  This one took me from the rains of the Scottish Borders to the sun of New Zealand and apart from a good story line just doing that helped keep the rain blues at bay.

So I have done it read over 100 books over the year and with a struggle managed to complete the blog.  My 10 best books of 2015 to follow next.

 

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November’s Books – It’s a Family Affair

November’s books took me to 103 for the year and they were:

  1. The Light Years.
  2. Marking Time.
  3. Confusion.
  4. Casting Off.
  5. All Change all by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
  6. The Drowning Lesson Jane Shemilt.
  7. Demented Housewife by Niamh Greene.
  8. Golden Age by Jane Smiley.

When my parents moved in 2014 I was given a pile of books.  One of which was Marking Time,  the second of the five Elizabeth Jane Howard books, which tells the story of the Cazalet Family from just after the First World War till the 1950’s.  I couldn’t read the second book before I had read the first and then after reading them I had to read the rest.  I realise historical fiction is not everyone’s taste but I do love them so devoured these books.  At the time of reading them the Paris attack happened which was truly horrific and I read a few articles where people said that the world was in the worst place it had ever been.  But as I read the books on the Second World War it struck me how terrifying living through that must have been for all concerned.  Fear and the threat of War and violence has never been far away. The story of the 20th Century this time in the USA is also told via the lives of one family via the three Jane Smiley books which I read the final one The Golden Age  in November.  It was a riveting story taking a family from the early 20th Century to beyond where we are now.

The final books well the Demented Housewife was one of my parents books not sure either of them read it but it caused me to laugh.  An easy read that I read in the bath while I was reading the Elizabeth Jane Howard books on the Kindle. I love reading in the bath but taking the Kindle to the bathroom is a risk too far.   As I learnt fro the aptly named The Drowning Lesson book when it fell in the bath just after I started reading it.  Did make me laugh at it’s title  after my initial annoyance at my own stupidity.  The book did dry out but to be honest I didn’t enjoy it a weak plot with the main character someone you decided quite quickly you don’t like.  It might have been best left in the bath…and I wouldn’t recommend you read it unless totally stuck for a book and it’s the only one available.

Next on to December where things took a crime theme.

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October Books

This year has been a good year for reading.  It has been less so for writing.  Although I will have written many thousands of words through work in my personal life bar my diary 2015 saw me rarely write.  And this blog has suffered too.  I am not one though to give up on a goal so I am going to write up all the 2015 books I have read starting with this October blog and then give some thought in January to what I do next.  I would like to purse more persona writing in 2016 though what form it takes I don’t yet know.

 

So October books took me to 94 books for the year and were:

  1. The Well by Catherine Chanter.
  2. The Separation by Dinah Jeffries
  3. In Love and War by Alex Preston
  4. Early Warning by Jane Smiley
  5. Station 11 by Emily St John Mandel
  6. The Taxidermists Daughter by Kate Mosse
  7. Some Work by Jane Smiley

Like September this was a veritable feast of a reading month.  There is not a bad book among the seven read in October.  And one book The Well by Catherine Chanter is my stand out book of the year.  It is slightly futuristic which was a theme for the month as Station 11 is too. It is   about a couple who move to their dream home in the country with their life savings to live a simple life.  But it doesn’t work out as they had expected.  Their small holding is exactly what they have dreamt off but a drought hits the rest of the UK except for their patch of land and this turns their dream into a nightmare.  There are many themes in this book for example  it also shows the unravelling of relations between a wife and a husband and a mother and her daughter when a cult is attracted to the land.  Another futuristic book and as least if not more thought provoking as The Well is Station 11.  It’s about a world in the future when a virus kills most of the population leaving very few people alive and life as we know it is dead.  So no transport, no electricity, no internet and no phones, no shops and the list goes on.  How do you live when life as you know it has gone?  Made me realise how dependent we are on our technology.  Could you live in a life without it?

The other books were also good with Jane Smiley a new find which led into a month of reading family sagas for November.  But that is for the next blog.

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