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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September warm in weather and warmer in inspirational books

September was a glorious month maybe not quite  the hot Indian Summer that we wanted but certainly full of warm sunny days with glorious blue skies missing from the summer months.  And for me it was a warm reading month too not least as I read the latest novels from two of my favourite authors Patrick Gale and William Boyd.  In fact with one exception it was a month of returning to favoured authors and a reading list that takes me up to a crazy 88 books read this year.

A Place Called Winter by 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.

Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goering

I read Rosemary’s first book and was waiting for the second to immerse myself in the world of post Flodden Scotland and the Border Reivers.  This book continues the story and does not disappoint as you are taken to the dastardly and often courageous world of the Reivers.  This is out and out historical fiction and I realise doesn’t appeal to everyone but if you do like historical fiction and or you live or love the Border Lands this book and the first one is well worth reading especially in the heart of the Scottish Borders by a fire at winter time.

Sycamore Gap by LJ Ross

Again set in the Borderlands this time Northumberland but in the current day.  This is a new detective series with the first one set on Holy Island.  The sequel  also carries on the story from the first and like the first takes you into a world of intrigue and evil that reads so believably but as someone who lives in this part of the world you can also scarcely want to believe it.  I read this one rapidly too and can’t wait for the next one.

Sweet Caress by 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.

Redemption Road by Lisa Ballantyne

Saw this book in a book shop in Edinburgh on my first trip on the Borders Railway and I knew I had read the author previously but couldn’t place her.  But after searching on the web quickly realised that her previous book “The Guilty One” had been one that had been totally thought provoking as indeed was this one.  It’s about a father who kidnaps his daughter and their short time together and how that experience impacts on them for the rest of their lives till they unexpectedly meet again though the daughter can’t till she meets her dad again remember it.  It is about the power of being a parent and the fact that doesn’t have to be your biological parent it’s to all parents out there who love you and care for you no matter what.

The Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jeffries

My easy read of September’s months reading though I learnt some interesting biological lessons on the way hopefully not giving away the plot.  Set at the end of the Empire in what was Sierra Leone about a couple who actually deal with everything that is thrown at them do have a stronger relationship than both of them realise.  Though does show trust is key and openness in any marriage.

A golden September not just in the weather but also in reading.

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August Book Reading and to Kill a Mocking Bird Sequel Saddens Me

August reading slowed down from July now that we were back home and all into our school and work routines. Though that said I did manage a nine book month. So the list of books for August:
1. Exile – Denise Mina

2. Forgive – Jenni Dauchess

3. Prayer for the Dead – James Oswald

4. A Summerstroke Affair – Caroline Kington

5. Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

6. Island Fling – Maris McEwan

7. The Machair Crow – Joycee Brown

8. Heartland – John McKay

9. The Frozen Lake – Elizabeth Edmondson

In volume it was a good month perhaps reflecting the slightly warmer weather but in quality it was a lean month. Missing the Hebrides books six to eight are set there and although they did a job in imagining myself back in the Islands none of the books really stood out.  My favourite books would be Forgive which was a simple story but compellingly told and The Frozen Lake which is set in the Lake District just after the First World War a part of the world I love and I enjoyed the story which had a few twists through out.

The greatest disappointment was reading “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee. “To Kill A Mocking Bird” is not only my favourite book from childhood it is a book that I learnt many important life lessons from and the message that you have to see things from other people’s perspective not just your own is one I try to do. When I heard the book was being published I was so excited and did pre order it. But I waited a few weeks before reading it. The first part of the book was passable if you had read To Killl A Mocking Bird taking as it did you back to some well loved characters though there are some shocks there too. It then rapidly went down hill for me. My  well loved book made you know we are all created equally.  This  book is interesting as it reminds you of the deep racial history of the Deep South of America and from a historical view point is accurate  but the fact that it came from my favourite character of my favourite book upset me greatly. I was between a rock and a hard place I had to read this book and now that I have I wish I hadn’t though I know I was never going to be able to resist the temptation. My advice if you have read To Kill A Mocking Bird and loved it don’t read this hold on to the strong themes of this beloved first book. Sometimes it’s wrong to go back and I’m not convinced having read it that Harper Lee ever wanted it  to be published. It reads to me as an author’s notes building her characters. A huge disappointment and sadly for now has tarnished what for me was my favourite ever book.

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