September Blues

Well the first part of the year I was well behind my reading count of 2016. But since the summer I have started to gain on last years reading and I am now two ahead of 2016. And yes as my son says it’s daft as I am only competing with myself but I like to keep a record. By the end of September I’ve read 102 books. This is partly due to me refinding the joys of audio books. I have now become addicted to listening to audio books in the car. So of this month’s ten books four were audio books. It’s my guilty pleasure that is even better as I get them free from the library. What is not to like? And it sure beats listening to the news.

My September reading list with scores:

1. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman. 4/5

2. Don’t close your eyes by Holly Sneddon (audio).4/5

3. Jump by Doug Johnstone (audio).3.5/5

4. Perfect Prey by Helen Fields 3/5

5. Leave me by Gayle Forman (audio) 4/5

6. Lyrebird by Celia Ahern 4/5

7. Everything you ever told me by Lucy Dawson 4/5

8. How hard can it be by Alison Pearson. 2/5

9. Who we were before by Leah Mercer 3/5

10. Things we never said by Nick Alexander.4/5
The stand out book of the month was recommended to me by my mother in law and when I bought it in Waterstones in Glasgow I was told by the assistant with great excitement that the author was fantastic and did I know that she used to work for Waterstones. This book is Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. It is set in Glasgow and is about Eleanor who has a different take on the world which is completely refreshing and what happens to her when she steps out of her comfort zone and falls in love. And how those around her start seeing her differently. It is a heartwarming and moving story. 

My great disappointment was the sequel to “I don’t know how she does it” by Alison Pearson. I’d been so looking forward to it as I’d loved that book. But it was a huge disappointment and I wished I’d never indulged myself. Really would not recommend it. One of those books that there was no need to have a sequel too. 

On a happier note if you are admiring the new Queensferry Crossing, Jump by Doug Johnstone is a crime book set as the bridge gets built. It’s not the greatest crime book in the world but I enjoyed it due to this location.  And if you like Nick Alexander I would highly recommend his new book. Or why not give one of his other books a go? One of those writers who brings characters totally to life. Though his latest one needs to be read with some hankies by you. And on that cheery note I shall finish. Other than to say check out your library service. If it’s anything like the one here in the Borders there’s a whole world of audio books waiting for you for free.

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Average August Reading

August was a mediocre month for reading despite many of the books on the list being current books that are being pro-actively marketed as must reads. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy them. I did any score above a three for me is a perfectly readable book it’s just they didn’t in my opinion merit all they hype. With two exceptions. The list for August is:

1. After I’ve Gone by Linda Green 4/5

2. Cows by Dawn Porter 4/5 (audio book)

3. Cast Iron by Peter May 3/5

4. Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown 3/5

5. Postcards from a Stranger by Imogen Clark 3/5

6. A divided spy by Charles Cumming

7. Every contact leave a trace by Elanor Dymott 3.5/5 (audio book)

8. The Betrayls by Fiona Neil 3/5

9. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan 3.5/5
The first two books were my stand out books of the month. The first is one of the said hyped books but for me was worthy of its marketing. It was one of those books you read really quickly then stare at it when you finish wishing you could start all over again. The second book was one that I listened to as an audio book. It’s both hilarious and laugh out loud while being a very accurate satire of current life both for celebrities and just us mere mortals. A satire for our time. Which had at the end a story line I didn’t see coming which was very clever. I nearly stalled the car as I took a deep breath and thought how clever. Dawn Porters book at first glance could be seen as chick lit. It’s not though it’s so much more. Very, very clever funny and thought provoking book.  My book of the month.

Two ticks for 2017 reading challenge. A book published this year. After I’ve Gone as it was very much the best of the hyped books I read in August. And male author also ticked being Peter May. He’s one of my favourite authors though not as keen on his Enzo books hence the lower score.  But I’m giving him the plaudit for he’s a great author.

Been reading through previous years August blog posts. Seems it’s always a low month for reading I think it’s the post Harris affect. And although I did try this year picking books that are promoted as must reads. It wasn’t the greatest month for reading. I think that maybe has something to do with my post holiday mood and then the back to reality with a bang. And less to do with the books. 

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A bumper reading month in July 

I was on holiday for three weeks of July in Gairloch and then Harris. And as well as enjoying the scenery and especially the beaches I also read almost a book per day.  So here is the list and scores on the doors.

1. The Potter’s House by Rosie Thomas 3/5.

2. Aphrodites Island by Hilary Green 3/5.

3. Game over by Quentin Jardine 3/5.

4. Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult 3.5/5

5. The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty 3/5.

6. The Island Escape by Kerry Fisher 3/5.

7. Strictly between us by Jane Fallon 3/5

8. The Silent Wife by Kerry Fisher 3/5.

9. Islands by Gwyn GB 3/5.

10. Don’t be afraid by Daniela Sacerdoti 3/5.

11. The Message from Lindisfarne by Sally Vickers 3/5.

12. The Trophy Child by Paula Daly 4/5.

13. Cragside by LJ Ross 3/5.

14. The Last Secret of the Devrills by Santa Montifore 3/5.

15. Last seen alive by Claire Douglas 3/5.

16. 183 times a year by Eva Gordon 4/5.

17. Keep me Safe by Daniela Sacerdoti 3/5.

18. Last Seen by Lucy Clarke 4/5.

19. My mother’s shadow by Nicola Scott. 4/5

20. See you in September by Charity Norman 4/5.

21. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult 4/5.

22. The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse 3/5.

23. Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks 4/5.

The majority were easy going books to read perfect for summer reading.  The stand out book of the month was without a doubt “See you in September”by Charity Norman. I love this author her books are always so thought provoking. This is about a family where one of the daughters goes  back packing supposed to be back in September. But in New Zealand got involved with a cult and their lives were changed forever. This book lived with me as with teenagers I could so relate to the story and how it would be one of your worst nightmares. On the negative side it didn’t do much for New Zealand tourism currently not on my top list of places to go. I also found my “Sisters Keeper” by Jodi Picoult very thought provoking with an ending I never saw coming and had me in floods of tears. I am relatively new to Jodi Picoult and what a great find. I also enjoyed one of the hyped books of the summer “183 times a year”. With teenagers in the house it really made me laugh. Finally read Nicholas Sparks for the first time and I enjoyed his book though see from other reviews that he has a type of story. Will try another of his books to see but I did enjoy this one.

Finally on my 2017 book challenge. The Charity Norman book had a Fiona character in it. So person with my name crossed and ticked and finally “183 times a year” has of course a number in the title. 

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June- Border Book Festival and lots of books.

June a busy month rather like December we are all trying to get to the holidays. All running low on energy and yet there is so much on.  Athletics joining one child’s activities along with footie and tennis. The other child doing Duke of Edinburgh trips and drama plays. Lots going on at work. And then there is one of my favourite weekends of the year the Borders Book Festival. This year we managed ten events and although I always say this but I think it was the best yet. A good  mixture of make you think talks (John Naughtie), entertainment (Anne Reid and Carol Klein) fiction and then the wow factor hearing and meeeting Judy Murray.

Despite a very busy month I did find time to read with nine books on the June list with two of them non fiction most unusual for me. The list reads:

1. The Vanishing Futurist – Charlotte Hobson 3/5

2. Lost for words – Stephanie Butland 4.5/5

3. Cousins – Sally Vickers 4/5

4. Golden Hill- Frances Spifford 3/5

5 Hame – Annalena McAffee 4/5

6. Mistress and Commander – Amelia Dalton 3/5

7. Knowing the score – Judy Murray 4/5

8. Into the Water – Paula Hawkins 4/5

9. Death in Oslo – Anne Holt 3/5
Unusual for me to have so many high scoring books in one month. But that’s reading  sometimes you feel your reading is stale nothing much new out there and then you read a few sensational books. Reading is much like life a bit of a rollercoaster.

My favourite read of the month was Lost for Words. The cover looked like that horrible genre chick lit which are two reading descriptions I hate as often totally undermines books aimed at the female audience. Despite the cover I was drawn to the book as it was a book about a book shop and that held my attention to look at the cover. So glad I bought it and read it quickly and it didn’t languish on a bookshelf. This was such a beautiful story about damaged people some who are healed by reading and opening up to one another by facing the past. It’s about the love of books and parental love both of an actual parent and a surrogate. It’s a book you want to finish but don’t as you want to stay in that world.

I also loved Cousins by Sally Vickers who I saw at a wonderful afternoon tea event at Mainstreet Trading my local bookshop. It’s a family saga set in Northumberland and London. A deeply intense book about family relationships and secrets that we keep. I read it after the book event finishing the next morning all in the sunny setting of my garden. One of my favourite ways of reading a book.

I am not a great reader of non fiction. I much prefer fiction as it helps me to sleep thinking about the plot and what happens next beats counting sheep for me any day. But I did read two this month. One Mistress and Commander. My husband enjoyed this more than me. I did enjoy it but it didn’t grasp my attention as much as I thought it would. Despite the fact that it was about sailing round the west coast. Judy Murray’s book did though grab my attention which surprised me. Although I really enjoyed her talk at the book festival I often buy a non fiction book then rarely read it. I decided to read it one hot sunny evening and then finished the book practically in one sitting. Lots of the story you knew but much I didn’t and I found it a fascinating read and my admiration for this feisty lady rose more. We owe her a lot. And as a British tennis fan I salute her.

Finally a friend has been telling me to give audio books a chance. I have listened to them in the past very ad hoc. Mainly as my dad did in his car which was how I listened to Les Miserables. And David Williams which both my kids at various points loved to listen to in the car. I was given a free trial by Amazon and thought I would give it a chance particularly as I could listen to the new Paula Hawkins book for free. I did think that Girl on the Train was over rated. And wouldn’t have bought this in hardback but a free trial was very tempting. Surprisingly I loved this book so much better than her first. At the start I listened to it in my car on the way to work by the end I was listening to it in the kitchen cooking, in the bathroom having a bath, dressing, dog walking you get the idea. If you loved Girl on the Train I am sure you will love this one and if like me you thought it was over hyped give it a go. And again if like me you thought that audio wasn’t your thing. I would also recommend it. Though it can over take your life.

Finally a book I read in March and loved my husband has just read. A boy made of Blocks. He too loved it so another recommendation for this great book.

And  another two ticks for the 2017 reading list.  A non fiction book tick will give that one to Judy Murray. And a book that improved an area of your life. My audio book experience did that. It sure improved listening to the news to and from work and made me in a much better mood. And less pessimistic that the world had gone nuts. On both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a cop out maybe but sometimes you need to take time out to make more of your time in.

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May and endless days of Summer reading 

I love the month of May. Unless we are unlucky it’s the first month you get properly into the garden and sunnier days. It’s when I know that I should be doing gardening but if it’s hot there is nothing I like better than sitting in a chair out in the sun reading. It sustains me, memories of May days, over the long winter nights. We were lucky this May it was a beautiful warm May. So I had a few days and nights in the garden reading. My garden is looking wilder than it should but I did create a great reading list.

May Reading

1. A Country Road, a tree by Jo Baker 3/5

2. Shtum by Jem Lester5/5

3. The Beekeepers Daughter by Santa Montiefore 3/5

4. The Good People by Hannah Kent 5/5

5. Miss you by Kate Eberlen 4/5

6. Days without end by Sebastian Barry 3/5

7. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena 3/5

8. Solitaire by Jane Thynne 4/5

9. The Heart stopped by Julie Myerson 3/5

May and June are months that I commuted myself to reading each of the short listed Sir Walter Scott prize books. My scoring is in this blog here  So I won’t mention here.  Suffice to say that I loved the Good People by Hannah Kent. It’s currently in hard back but should be coming out in paper back very soon and I highly commend it to you. It looks a boring topic which is why I was so surprised that I loved it. A huge compliment to Hannah’s writing and the world she draws you into. Other highlights were Shtum  which like A boy made of Blocks is also about a boy with Aspergers. It also was a beautiful story though if I had to choose A boy made of Blocks was just that little bit special as it taught me like to kill a mocking bird that just because you don’t do something, feel something doesn’t mean it’s wrong for others to feel that way.  To understand you have to understand where the other person is coming from. I also loved Miss You an all out romantic story in the style of David Nicholl’s One Day but I think I preferred it. I could relate to the characters more. Finally a real treat was to read the next in the series of the Clara Vine books by Jane Thynne. I have read each one of these books which started in 1930’s Berlin. We are now in 1940 and Germany is at war and it is a fascinating insight fictionally into the top Nazis and their families.

So for the challenge. Well I read a book by an award winning author. Sebastian Barry’s Days Without  End won the Sir Walter Scott prize. I also read  a fair few books by female authors so a tick there too. Now off to the garden to……yes read. Think it might be my very own secret garden by the end of the summer if we get good weather. Nobody will be able to see in and I can just sit there and read and read.

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2017 Sir Walter Scott Short List

When the 2017 Sir Walter Scott list was announced in the spring I noted that I already had read one of the books and had just bought another on the list. This made me decide to read all seven as the reviews were very favourable for this years short list. The Sir Walter Scott prize is for historical fiction and is announced each year at the Borders Book Festival. Previous winners being Hilary Mantel and Sebastian Barry who is also on this years list.

I love historical fiction. It combines my history degree with my love of literature. That said I tend to stick to historical fiction novels that relate to the history that I studied and am interested in which in the main is early 20th Century Europe and Russia. So the list although containing three books in this period would also take me out of my comfort zone. Always a good thing when you set yourself a challenge.

So taking the list from the top. Sebastian Barry’s Days without End has been highly favourably reviewed. We saw him when the book was first published at Mainstreet Trading our local bookshop. And he was superb one of the most entertaining authors I’ve seen and his reading of his novel by far the best I’ve ever heard. I had been so looking forward to this book that I stalled reading it one of my peculiar habits that I have of keeping things for best. The list gave me the excuse to read. But I really struggled with it. It was undoubtedly very well written and researched. And I do think it was me. I did American History as part of my degree and it struggled to ignite my imagination and I’m still struggling. Much to my surprise and Ros and Vivian at Mainstreet Trading who both loved the book. My only excuse is I was spoiled by Sebastian Barry reading it and if I could have listened to it as an audible book my thoughts on the book may have been quite different.

“A Country Road, a Tree” by Jo Baker was my type of historical genre set in the Second World War. But I found it lacking some of the turn page elements of previous books and I have read plenty on wartime France. It wasn’t till the end that I realised the book was based on the Irish author Samuel Beckett. And it struck me that the book had read as a biography not a fiction novel as it was indeed based on the life of a famous author.

“Mothering Sunday” by Graham Swift I would not have read as it was essentially a short story and I struggle with short stories. The historical setting was good just after the First World War. It was the length of the book that would usually have put me off reading it. It took me some time to get into the book but actually by the end I have to admit I enjoyed it. And didn’t see some of the elements of the story coming.

“The Vanishing Futurist” by Charlotte Hobson would be a book I would read normally. It is set in pre revolutionary and post revolutionary Russia. I enjoyed it from the start. This too read as a biography in some respects but I could forgive it as it was a compelling story of a English governess who stayed in Russia post the revolution becoming part of a communist commune there. I hadn’t realised that many British would have been there at this period and either unable to get home or didn’t want too. This intrigued me throughout this book which I greatly enjoyed,

“The Good People” by Hannah Kent would be a book I would usuually give a wide berth too. It’s set in 18th Cntury rural Ireland and is a story of three women. My initial reaction would be this is not for me and potentially life is too short to read books like this. But I truly loved this book from page one. Essentially it’s about a widow whose daughter has also died and left her with her disabled son. She employs a servant to help on the small holding she has and this girl loves her son in the way she is unable to as the widow believes that her true grandson has been stolen by the fairies. A new catholic priest has arrived in the village and is scornful of old traditions including the belief in fairies and home made cures such as those given by the final women in the tale who lives in a hut and has nursed and doctored the village with natural cures. The three women’s fates and that of the boy come intertwined and what follows is a truly fascinating story that had me gripped.

“Golden Hill” by Francis Spufford is not again my favourite historical fiction setting, as it’s set again in America this time when New York was in its infancy with only 7,000 residents. Again I had heard great things about this book from others who said it wouldn’t be a natural choice for them either but they had loved it. I am afraid I didn’t. I found it really hard to get into and it was a book I felt that life is too short how quickly can I get through this book to get on to one I want to read. If I hadn’t been doinng this challenge I would have given up.

“The Gustav Sonata” by Rose Tremain was the book that I had already read on the list set before the Second World War and up to almost the present day in Switzerland. Of the friendship of two boys one of them Jewish and their life long friendship which is set against a memorable time in history. The brilliance of this book is the two boys and their characters both good and bad and that of those around them especially their families. I really enjoyed this book.

The challenge has taught me three things:

1. Not to read a book by its cover. You should give it a go.

2. Reviews are the thoughts of one person and what I like you may not and vice versa and at the end of the day that’s why there are so many writers and books as we are all different.

3. It’s good to challenge yourself. Its easy as readers to just keep reading what you like but it’s when you are challenged you realise that there are sometimes treats of a read out there that you will never find if you just keep reading the same genre.

My list in priority for this years 2017 Sir Walter Scott prize is as follows:

Winner “The Good People” by Hannah Kent. I simply loved this book thought it was brilliant on so many levels and after reading it the other books in the short list never came close. After that it was:

2. The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson.

3. The Gustav Sonata by Rose Treamain

4. Days without end by Sebastian Barry

5. A Country road, a tree by Jo Baker

6. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

7. Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

I am quite sure that the good  judges may think differently and I await this years result with great interest. But thank the judges for this years short list which I think by far is the best one that they have ever had and hope this blog might encourage you to read one or two on the list.

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April reading crime and romance

April was a busy reading month due to the Easter holidays allowing me lots of reading time. As Andy was decorating, one kid was never in and the other was studying. I should really have been spring cleaning that was the plan but instead I did lots of reading. Taking me to 37 books read for the year significantly under the 45 I had read by this time last year but the year is still young.

The April list:

1. Rather be the Devil- Ian Rankin 4/5

2. The Fire Child – SK Tremayne 3/5

3. Black Water – Louise Doughty 3/5

4. None but the dead – Lin Anderson 3/5

5. Daughters in law- Joanna Trollope 4/5

6.  Daughters of Castle Devrill- Santa Montefiore 4/5

7. The missing wife – Sheila Flanagan 3/5

8. Songs of love and war- Santa Montifore 3/5

9. Larchfield – Polly Clark 4/5

10. Before the Fall-  Noah Hawley 4/5

11. Ardish was home – Angus MacDonald 2/5

12. Everyone brave is forgiven- Chris Cleave 3/5

13. Little Black Lies – Sharon Bolton 4/5
It was a month of crime starting with an old favourite John Rebus. An addiction of mine the Rebus books. I loved all the earlier books and indeed read one while in labour with my daughter aptly called Let it Bleed. Some of the later books I have been less impressed with but still can’t resist reading this grumpy ex police mans next story. This one though was really good. Back on form to some of the earlier novels. I also enjoyed the thriller set in the states by Noah Hawley Before the Fall about a plane crash where only two survive including a small boy.  Many suspects for the crash till you finally find out why the plane crashed. And my final crime favourite was Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton. I hadn’t read her books before but would again. This one was set on the Falkland Islands giving me my island fix but in  a part of the world I know little about so fascinated by the setting and it was also a really good thriller.

I always like a bit of romance on a holiday and found this with Santa Montifore’s novels set in Ireland. So good for escapism. I’ve preordered the final one in the trilogy. Also really enjoyed Joanne Trollopes novel daughters in law. I was less keen on her latest novel but this one was really good and very relatable too. She knows all about family politics.

The stand out book of the month was Polly Clark’s Larchfied. I read about this book in a book review and noted it as a future purchase. I then heard Janice Forsyth interview the author and it moved up from a note to buy to an actual purchase. It’s set in Helensburgh in the past when Auden the poet was a teacher at a school there. And in the present with a young mother. It’s compelling as it’s so clever and at the end you realise it was obvious all along what was going on but she writes so cleverly it only dawns on you at the end of the book. Well that’s how it was for me anyway. I love this book and I’m delighted to have tickets to the Borders Book Festival to meet her in person.

So Larchfield covers a book with one word in the title. And Ian Rankin covers somewhere I will be visiting this year as it’s of course set in Edinburgh. Enjoying this challenge but realise I’m ticking off the easy challenges first so the challenge will be when the list gets a lot smaller. 

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