February 2017 Books and finally I read Wuthering Heights

February was a slow book month in terms of quantity but very good in terms of quality.  Five books:
1. High Force by LJ Ross 4/5

2. Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay4/5

3. Private investigations by Quentin Jardine 4/5

4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 5/5

5. The Stranger in my home by Adele Parks 4/5
Two ticks on my 26 book challenge for 2017. Wuthering Heights was written over 100 years ago and High Force, Private Investigations and The Stranger in my home were published in the last year. So 3 challenges completed.  But the huge goal of this month was finally reading Wuthering Heights. It was a book I felt I should have read at school and didn’t. A classic that had passed me by. But I was put off as I had it down as a love story between Cathy and this handsome and deep character called Heathcliff as that is how it is portrayed. One of the classsic love stories. So I started it last year as part of my 2016 challenge but gave up as a love story the first part wasn’t riveting me and life seemed too short to read a book written so long ago. But then three things happened. One I visited the Bronte home in December during a break and was totally fascinated by the bleakness of their lives and what they achieved in their very short lives. More than many who live much longer. The BBC then playd a role by showing a drama of the Bronte sisters over Christmas. I was pulled in further to this fascinating family. And finally a fellow reader friend challenged me with the treat of a dinner if I managed the challenge. So I started again and again I found the first part hard going. But helped with the background now behind the book and then I became totally hooked. But this is not a love story this is one of the bleakest stories I have read about child cruelty and how what happens to you in childhood impacts later life and then further generations. Heathcliffe yes handsome but one of the blackest characters but was he at fault or was his upbringing? Wuthering Heights was not what I thought and I am glad to admit that it was so much more and so much blacker. It shocked me reading it in the 21st century. So how much more shocking must have been when it was written and then the fact it was written  by a woman.  Very much in my case don’t judge a book by its cover or how it’s described. Find out yourself. 

Other books well two were two favourites crime genre authors.  It was good to see that LJ Ross was back to form as I found her previous book not as good as before. Quentin Jardine well that’s one of my guilty reads you know exactly what you are going to get but oh how I love his books. Bone by Bone was a disturbing read of school bullying which as a parent could totally relate too, with a twist that actually fits in well with my points on Wuthering Heights. Finally Stranger in my Home one of the best from Adele Parks an easy read though I am glad that both my children are definatley ours too many similarities in looks and personality not that either of them would admit that.

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Another Year of Endless Books

Another year dawns and with it great uncertainties in the political and economic world both at home and abroad most notably in the USA where the Simpsons cartoon is now happening for real. It is frightening in so many ways and as a historian in a past life the parallels with the 1930’s are stark. For now I feel helpless but also acutely aware that those that are disturbed should not sit back if we can make a difference in this world of hatred and intolerance.

The 1st January also dawned with me catching norovirus which wasn’t the best start to the year but did allow me to watch the marvellous Crown on Netflix as I felt sorry for myself on the sofa. But reading over Christmas and New Year was curtailed and as I was feeling sorry for myself the first few books of the year were easy but good reads especially the Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley. The stand out book of the month was Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things. Those that know me know I love to Kill a Mocking Bird and I think this book is a modern equivalent and given the current times very thought provoking. She came to our village hall in November and was one of the most intelligent writers I have ever seen and very challenging. My only criticism of a book that held me spell bound was that the ending was too tidy and wrapped up for a book that truly shocked me. Other good books were Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas and Lie with Me by Sabrine Durrant the former had a brilliant ending the latter poor in comparison with the rest of the book.

And my reading challenge? Well I’ve decided not to take this in order but mix and match I’m too good at just doing things in order so time for a mix up. So as a 99% fiction reader is going to start the challenge with a non fiction book that I asked for Christmas. “Love of Country” by Madeline Bunting it’s a Radio 4 book. But that’s not the reason I wanted to read it. It’s about the Hebrides part travel book, part history and part political for the here and now and I loved it. Read it a week and savoured each and every chapter. And I will read it again. Learnt lots about islands I thought I knew relatively well as well as food for thought re politics in the U.K. 

 So the January reading list with scores on the doors.

1. The Snow Rose by Lulu Taylor -3/5

2. The Gift by Louise Jensen – 3/5

3. The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley – 4/5

4. Small Great Things by Jodie Picoult – 5/5

5. Love of Country by Madeline Bunting – 4/5

6. Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas -4/5

7. Lie with me by Sabrine Durrant – 4/5

8. Gone Again by Doug Johnstone -3/5
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My Top Ten Books of 2016

In no particular order other than they roughly follow the timescale of when I read them my top ten books of 2016.

1. Twice Born by Margaret Mazzantini

I read this book in January. It had been sat on my kindle for well over a year and I hadn’t read it. Not sure why not but I am so glad I finally read it. It’s about the war in Sarajevo and a story of a couple who meet there. This brought home to me just how horrific the War was and I felt ashamed I hadn’t really taken that on board before. I did then read quite a few books over the course of 2016 about the war but for me this first book was the best. And lesson to self to not ignore what’s going on on your doorstep.

2. The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin McNeil

This was my April book challenge which was a book recommended to me by my local bookshop. I loved this book it’s set on a Scottish island which for me was Lewis and Harris as the author is from Stornoway and it was too accurate not to be. It is about an annual story telling festival but slightly surreal as one of the main characters is an Alpaca. It is firstly very funny but then it gets quite dark and leaves you reeling at the cruelty of what we can do to others. It’s a very different book but one I really enjoyed.

3. Cry the Beloved Country Alan Paton

This was my May challenge to read a book I should have read in school. It was recommended to me by my husband and I actually read his original school book. Set in South Africa before the end of apartheid. It is a very realistic account of racism but also shows the power of love and indeed the power of love to overcome as well. I am not sure why I never read it at school but very glad I now have.

4. This must be the Place by Maggie Farrell

I am a huge Maggie Farrell fan and have been lucky to see her at our local bookshop several times. I started this book the afternoon before she spoke there early evening then finished it in the garden on a very rare occasion this summer that it was warm enough to sit out. Maggie Farrell is one of my favourite authors and this book does not disappoint. It’s another epic read and one that I would happily re read and I don’t say that about many books.

5. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Amy was one of the authors at the Borders Book Festival in June. Her book is autobiographical of her breakdown due to alcoholism and how this makes her return to Orkney where she was brought up. Here in graphic detail she puts herself back together. I loved her honesty and how she laid herself bare. I also enjoyed her descriptions of Orkney and I’m sure she’s encouraged people to visit the islands which I’d love to do though draw the line at swimming in the sea all year round as she does.

6. A Little Life by Hanya Yanahihara

I struggled with this book initially till I was told by a fellow reader that once you got through the first 100 pages you would be away and fully engaged in the story. She was right. This is one of the most difficult books I’ve read but also one of the most thought provoking. It’s about an abused boy and how this abuse affects his whole life yet how he is very much loved by his friends and his mentor. It’s a long read but one you are sad when it’s over and one that really makes you think.

7. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Just love this book. So clever giving you throughout the book different scenarios about a couple who meet at Uni. You try and guess which scenario you like the best but they are good and bad in each of them.  In reality a fairly basic story but the fact it takes you on these scenarios is so clever and it’s a belter of an ending too.

8. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

This was my September challenge to read a book I’d given up on before. I’m not sure why I gave up on this book as it was so good and the ending just blew me away. One of the best endings of a novel I’ve ever read. Kate Atkinson is one of a kind and this book is another must read. And if like me you start and give up keep going.

9. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This was my October challenge to read a book that I owned and had never read. Set in post war Britain a tale of the friendship of two men one white and one originally from India who met during the war. Theirs is a lifetime  friendship and as they marry for both families too. It was very funny but also very accurate about this period of history.  And again made you think about your views and opinions.

10. The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse

I have read a few of her books and she takes every day issues that face us all and creates stories out of them. This one is about a girl facing anorexia and the impact that has on her and her family and how this can tear a family apart and the effects it has on the whole family. In parts a very difficult read as it’s your worst nightmare to lose a child as they won’t eat but also a realistic look at the mental health issues facing so many young people today.
That’s my 2016 list. I’m delighted to say that four out of the ten were from my 2016 book challenge which I’ve now completed. It was at times challenging but it really gave my reading year a focus and made me think each month and research which book would be my challenge book of the month. After looking for some tim  I’ve found my 2017 challenge listed below. I’m looking forward to getting started.

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December’s Reading takes me up to 130 books for the year.

December’s reading was quite eclectic a mixture of what I would term easy to read but very enjoyable books that allows you to escape your world for a time, some Scottish island books not brilliant in terms of plot or writing but allowing me back to the islands. Some historical fiction for a project I’m involved with and my challenge book of the month. A book I’ve read at least once before.

1. Three wishes by Liane Moriarty 3/5.

2. No kiss goodbye by Janelle Harris 3/5.

3. Island by Victoria Hislop 4/5.

4. The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse 4/5.

5. The Uist Connection by Libby Patterson 3/5.

6. Let the light shin by Nick Alexander 4/5.

7. Crash Land by Doug Johnston 3/5.

8 &9. Winter Folly and the Snow Angel by Lulu Taylor 3/5.

10. Gaslight by Steven Price 3/5.

11. Edgar Alan Poe and the London Monster by Karen Lee Street. 4/5.
The last challenge book of the year was to reread a book I’ve read before. All year my choice of this was Dr Zhivago. It’s one of my favourite books of all time and in the depths of winter is the perfect time to read it. But it’s a fairly long read and given I was tasked with reading other books one of which Gaslight was almost 800 pages. I decided to rethink. So the Island by Victoria Hislop was my choice. I owe a lot to this book. It was the book that got me back to reading and challenging myself after a couple of years post having kids when all my mind could cope with was magazines and the odd easy novel. I picked this book up one of my first purchases at our local bookshop and have never really looked back in challenging myself out of my reading comfort zone ever since. It was interesting going back to it. In one way reading a book you’ve read several times before is like putting on a pair of old slippers. It’s very familiar almost boring in its familiarity and then like a new patch in a old slipper you find things that you don’t remember first time round. Or as you are reading it older you take things from it that your younger self wouldn’t. I enjoyed it greatly. 

Another book of note was the new book by Amanda Prowse. This tackles the very difficult subject of anorexia and mental illness in teenagers. Not an easy read and I hesitated before reading it. But she tackles it in a very empathetic way but a realistic one too with some really graphic very distressing scenes. The older I get the more I think we are all fighting our own secret challenges it manifests itself for all of us in different ways. But for younger people there is so very much to challenge and scare them that mental issues are a real issue and not enough is being done for these kids facing these issues. It’s easy to think well my kids are ok so not in my backyard but I know these issues will be facing a child very close to you whose parents will be worried sick with anxiety that they are losing their child to something that can’t be fixed by calpol or a drug and fighting a system that you need to fight to get noticed which means trying to prove your child is worse than another child who is also ill. So I applaud Amanda Prowse for tackling this issue. Not an easy book to read and for some the ending maybe too trite but it was a book for me I needed to read. And by the end of a rollercoaster of emotions I could see why she ended it the way she did.

Other challenges were the two final books especially the 800 pages of Gaslight. Did I enjoy it? Yes. But if I hadn’t been challenged to read it I wouldn’t have. It started to fit for me as a book 300 pages in which is quite awhile to get going. It was very well written and researched and I did enjoy the latter part of the book. But would have given up on it well before the 300 pages if I didn’t have to read it. The final book about the London Monster also set in a similar period of Victorian History grabbed me from the start. It was funny, well written with a great plot that had me laughing while enjoying being taken back to another time and place which is what good historical novels are for me about. 

I have greatly enjoyed my 2016 reading challenge. It  has at times been a challenge. But has made me think  each month and I’ve read books I wouldn’t have other wise read. So thanks to my friend Susan who suggested it. And interesting my next blog will be my top ten books of 2016. And four of the ten books in the list are from the challenge. So very much worth doing. As my ex boss used to say to us “If you do what you’ve always done you will get what you’ve always got”. It is true for reading as much else in life. Happy New Year.

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November’s Reading

November took me up to 119 books of the year.  But it was a very average reading month none of the books really setting the heather alight apart from the challenge book which I hated but it did challenge me. So here is the list and the scores on the doors:

1. The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood -3/5

2. All for nothing by Walter Kempowski – 4/5

3. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty – 3/5

4. The Hebridean Storm by Libby Patterson – 3/5

5. The Sell Out by Paul Beatty -3/5

6. After the Lie by Kerry Fisher -3/5

7. Orphans of War by Leah Fleming -3/5

8. The Stornoway Way by Kevin McNeil -3/5

My challenge for the month was to read a book that intimidates me. My husband who has always tried to get me to read The Lord of the Rings suggested it or the Hobbit. But in truth it doesn’t intimidate me the subject matter is of no interest what so ever and the films are good for insomnia they send me straight to sleep. The Manbooker book intimidates me though so I read this years winner. It was a difficult read. Firstly and most importantly as I was in shock over the USA election result. And this book graphically depicts why America is so divided right now. It made uncomfortable reading. And that was my second reason. I didn’t enjoy this book and it’s subject matter scared me. However that is a good thing as we are living in times that scare me too and if you just read what makes you comfortable what do you learn from it? Would I have read this book if it wasn’t for the reading challenge? No. Would I have finished it if it wasn’t for the challenge? No. Am I glad I read it? No not glad but grateful as it challenged me and made me see things from others points of view. It is easy to surround yourself with similar people with similar views. And then 2016 takes you by surprise. But in order to understand it you need to see the view from all however uncomfortable that makes you feel. This book did that for me. It doesn’t make me less scared about the future but it does make me realise that those of us who want to see positive change for all can’t just sit back and do nothing. We have to act just as Brendan Cox said so eloquently in his Christmas speech.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/alternative-christmas-message/on-demand/65963-001

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October’s Reading

I am now on over 100 books for the year. And with October School holidays by the end of the month I was up to 111. 

So here is the list for October. I score each book I read in my reading journals so thought I would share the scores with you.

1. Circling the Sun by Paula McLean.  3/5.

2. The woman who ran by Sam Barker. 3/5.

3. My husband’s wife by Amanda Prowse. 3/5.

4. I see you by Clare Mackintosh. 4/5.

5.and 6. The Sea Detective and The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas Home.4/5

7. Angel by LJ Ross. 3/5.

8. The mistake I made by Paula Daly. 4/5.

9. White Teeth by Zadie Smith. 4/5.

10. Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves. 3/5.

11. The Day I lost you by Fionnah Kearney. 4/5.
Some outstanding books in the above list.  My reading challenge book of the month was to read a book I own but have never read. Sadly this gave me lots of scope as I have a large pile of books to read which is why one day I hope a magic fairy waves a magic wand and tells me that my job in life is just to read as a full time job. One of these books is White Teeth which if memory serves me right I bought from my local bookshop Mainstreet Trading a number of years ago. So I chose it and immediately wondered why I hadn’t read it before. A brilliant book observing life in the UK from the Second World War to the current day. It was very culturally relevant and thought provoking but it also gave me a jolly good laugh. I also loved the Sea Detective and The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas Home. The books are very well written set in Edinburgh and up north and crime novels so for me one of my favourite genres on a number of accounts. I also read some favourite authors this month. Although good didn’t think Ann Cleeves and LJ Ross’s books were as good as previously and although I gave Claire Mackintosh a 4/5 for me her second novel wasn’t as good as the first.

So that is me for October. For November it’s a book that intimidates me. Trying to ignore my husbands suggestion of reading the Hobbit and other suggestions of books he knows are not my type. But in ignoring him I have to come up with a book that he too thinks is intimidating. So what book do I go for?

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September Reading

September reading got me to the 100 books of the year well ahead of previous years. And as well as reaching the 100 it was a good months reading with 10 books read.

1. Hold Tight by Harlan Coben.

2. Sheltering Rain by Jojo Moyes.

3. Keep you Close by Lucie Whitehouse.

4. The Travellers by Chris Pavone.

5. The Little Red Chairs by Ena Pavone.

6. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

7. Another mothers son by Janet Dave.

8 The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin.

9. Paris Spring by James Naughtie.

10. The Ballroom by Anna Hope.

Three books were my favourites one of which was my reading challenge for the month. My challenge for September was to read a book I had previously abandoned. I can’t actually believe now I did abandon this book but I did start A God in Ruins struggle with the first two chapters and give up on it.  I love Kate Atkinsons books but when I read it first another book attracted more interest. The book languished under my pile till a colleague asked if I’d read it and said how good it was. Timimg perfect for the September challenge so I re started the book and very quickly wondered why I had abandoned it. What a wonderful book it is and the ending one of the best I’ve ever seen  and I didn’t see it coming. So I had to re read the final part as it was just so clever. I loved it. I also really enjoyed James Naughtie’s Paris Spring. James Naughteie’s two books have had mixed reviews but I have enjoyed both of them. The second was actually better than the first. A brilliant spy drama set in a period of history I was largely unaware of. Finally I had read great reviews for the Ballroom. And it did not disappoint about a mental health hospital in 1911 where people had mental health issues but also got sent for doing minor crimes. The characters good and bad were beautifully written and imagined. It was a book where you learnt a lot, gave you food for thought and stayed with you. A sign of a good book in my humble opinion. Next month a book I own but have never read….there is quite a pile…which one to choose?

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