What a year. Like many others, I can’t wait to see the back of it! Without dwelling too much on the sadness of 2016, here’s a look at my year in books.
I set my Goodreads challenge goal at 52 books. I tend to do this every year. It feels like an achievable goal. This year, I finished 55 books, though 8 of these were graphic novels. I was undecided about whether to include these within my challenge, but in the end I decided I would. Here’s a quick video of all the books I read (sorry, there is some naff music attached to the video – just press mute!):
I gave 5 stars to just 5 books:
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell – this warm, comforting, delicious read was my introduction to Maggie O’Farrell and I will definitely be reading more of her works this year! You can read my full review of this book here.
I See You by Clare Mackintosh – a tense, gripping thriller that I could not put down. I haven’t reviewed this one, but I enjoyed Clare’s first book, I Let You Go, even more, if that’s possible, and I have reviewed that one here.
20 books were by American authors, 25 by British authors.
10 books (a dismal 18%) were written by authors of other nationalities. I definitely want to increase that number this year!
1 book received 1 star
8 books received 2 stars
19 books received 3 stars
22 books received 4 stars
5 books received 5 stars
The Year Ahead
For 2017 I have set my Goodreads reading challenge target at 52 again. I aim to read less US authors, more ‘international’ authors. I’m happy that I read more British than American authors in 2016 and would like to keep it that way. As I never stick to them, I’m not going to commit to any other challenges this year, but I plan to focus on reading the books I already own and buying less (though I do have some Christmas/birthday vouchers to spend – woohoo!). I will be highlighting a few books that I definitely want to read this year in an upcoming blog post, so do look out for that!
The Moth is a live storytelling event that takes place across America where anyone can pitch to tell their true, first-hand story. Kind of like a poetry reading, but for true stories. I’d never heard of The Moth before picking this book up, but now it is on my bucket list to attend one of these events in person. There is also a podcast which I have just subscribed to but am yet to listen to.
Anyway, back to the book. The stories in this collection are told by a wide range of people. I found each one to be engaging, interesting and very readable. The stories are all very different to each other, but all are moving – several brought tears to my eyes. In what has been a confusing and worrying couple of weeks, this book restored my faith in the goodness of human beings and secured a place on my favourites shelf. You can read more about The Moth here.
The other book I finished this week was totally different and scared the crap out of me. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes is a thriller/murder/police story with an eery and very creepy twist. It is atmospheric and so well written. This is the second book by Lauren Beukes that I’ve read (the first was The Shining Girls, which was one of my top reads of 2013) and she is well on her way to becoming one of my favourite authors. I won’t lie, I’m a little bit biased as she is South African and it always makes me happy when SA authors make the big time! I’d definitely recommend this book if you like your crime with a whacky twist!
This week I received one book from the publisher for review, and it is a beauty. I have a bit of an odd fixation with anatomical hearts, and the cover of this book is just the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen. How Much the Heart Can Hold is a collection of seven stories by seven authors (only one of whom I’ve read before), all focusing on love; but not the usual romantic kind of love. The stories each tell of a different kind of love and I can’t wait to delve into them and find out more. Published by Sceptre on 3 November, the book is tied to a short story competition ending in February 2017.
Earlier in the week I happened to be hanging around waiting for my daughter to complete her driving theory test (she passed!) and stumbled upon a Waterstones. As we all know, it is impossible to leave a Waterstones book shop empty handed, so I treated myself to four books – I’m just a sucker for their buy one get one half price offer! I bought:
We’re now halfway through #nonficnovember, a themed reading month created by two fabulous book tubers, Olive and Gemma. Despite my best intentions, I’ve sadly been in a reading funk for months. I was keen to participate and get my non fiction reading game on, but so far I haven’t managed to do so. That doesn’t stop me foisting recommendations upon you, however, dear reader!
When it comes to non fiction, I lean more towards science than history. I trained as a nurse, and I love learning more about the mind and body, how things work and how things go wrong. But I also love a grisly true crime, a memoir (mainly of the music industry genre, but not exclusively) and lately have been drawn to nature writing too. So I thought I would share a few of my favourite non fiction reads, and also some that I hope to get to very soon.
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. Henry Marsh is a British neurosurgeon and looks like your granddad. Here he shares stories from throughout his career without being patronising or lecture-y. He is painfully honest about the good stuff and bad, and clearly cares very much about his patients. There is some graphic surgical detail, so skip those parts if you must, but if you’re after a glimpse of life as a surgeon this is the one for you.
Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis. If you’re a fan of the human body (and, seriously, if you’re not you should be; the human body is simply amazing) you need to read this book. Francis looks at different ‘regions’ of the body in turn, drawing from history, art and modern science to take you on a journey through the body. With fascinating and sometimes gruesome anecdotes (I particularly like the story about Isaac Newton inserting a needle into his own eye socket. Lovely.) this book will provide you with an impressive number of “did you know” dinner party moments.
People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry. Here is a true crime story that will keep you awake at night. This is a truly compelling account of the murder of Lucie Blackman, a 21 year old British girl who disappeared one day in Tokyo. It is a grim, dark and utterly engrossing account of the investigation into her disappearance and murder. As a mother of a teenage daughter on the brink of adulthood, this book terrified me.
On a lighter note, Just Kids by Patti Smith is a trip into a completely different world. Thoughtful and melancholic, this is Patti’s account of her relationship with artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. I find New York in the punk era a weirdly enticing place, and Patti Smith does not disappoint with this memoir.
Which brings me nicely on to the books I’d like to get round to very soon … beginning with:
M Train by Patti Smith. I put this on my Christmas list last year after reading Just Kids and it is shameful that I still have not read it! I think this is basically just the thoughts that fill Patti’s head while she’s drinking coffee in various coffee shops around the world – and who doesn’t want to be inside Patti Smith’s head?!
The Moth: 50 Extraordinary True Stories edited by Catherin Burns and introduced by Neil Gaiman. I picked this up on a whim while waiting for someone in the enormous paradise that is the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones. This is a collection of true stories gathered from live storytelling events that takes place in various cities in America. So kind of like a jam session for true stories. It sounds so interesting, and I actually might pick this up right now.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald is a book I’m sure I don’t need to introduce to you; it has been all over the bookish internet for the last year. I have a feeling this is going to be an emotional read and I need to be in a robust frame of mind before picking it up!
It’s All in Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan is a journey into psychosomatic illness, and won the Wellcome Book Prize this year. This sounds absolutely fascinating and I’m hoping it will be like a Do No Harm for the mind …
I’d love to hear about your favourite non-fiction books and bump up my TBR even further, so do leave me some recommendations in the comments!
Source: Copy received for review from the publisher via bookbridgr.com
“Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex-film star given to shooting at anyone who ventures up their driveway.
He is also about to find out something about a woman he lost touch with twenty years ago, and this discovery will send him off-course, far away from wife and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?”
Often it feels like everything I read is somehow about misery, tragedy, death, doom and gloom. And while I absolutely love a darker read, every now and then the heart longs for something a little lighter and carefree. And every now and then there comes along a book like This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell to fill that void.
This Must Be The Place tells the story of Daniel Sullivan who, to be quite honest, is a bit of an idiot. A lovable idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. He has a beautiful (if slightly crazy) wife and a gorgeous family but for some reason he cannot see how lucky he is. He is flawed and misguided, and this is what makes him so thoroughly likeable and human.
The storyline jumps around in time and place, with different narrators, which sounds like a recipe for a jumbled hot mess, but Ms O’Farrell is a mistress of her craft and creates a narrative that is utterly enthralling and perfectly flowing. The reader is never lost, never left wondering what year or what city or which family member she is with. The characters feel so real and human – so much so that at times I wanted to bang their heads together and yell at them to just be freaking honest with each other for god’s sake! At times they will infuriate you, but you will want to be a part of their family.
Ultimately a story about love, This Must Be The Place is a delicious, warm, comforting delight of a book. Not only that, it is a beauty to look at. Even the ARC which I received was wonderfully packaged and beautifully designed which always helps to enhance the reader’s experience. This will absolutely have a spot in my favourite reads of 2016.
I’ve been a bad blogger these last few months, and a fairly bad reader too! I think it’s been that time of year when I’m just not really in the mood for anything much! But now it’s Spring and my mind always turns to clearing out and sprucing up, and I have a few changes planned for the blog. Which is quite ridiculous as I never seem able to keep up a regular schedule for more than a couple of weeks! But if at first you don’t succeed and all that …
Anyway, over the last three months I’ve read 14 books. Which isn’t too bad to be honest. I’m still 3 books ahead on my Goodreads challenge of 52 books for the year, so all is well. Here’s a look at what I read in February, March and April.
In February I read a total of 7 books. I started the month with In A Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie, which I received for review via bookbridgr. Unfortunately, this novel wasn’t for me. My full review is here, and I gave this 2 stars. Next up was Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman. I was really looking forward to this one, but in the end I felt like I was missing something and it didn’t live up to my expectation. 3 stars, and you can read my full review here. A short story collection was up next, How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer. I enjoyed this quite melancholic collection and reviewed it here. This one got 4 stars. The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer was next, and also received 4 stars. I enjoyed this unusual take on the ‘missing child’ story. (Review here). Then came my most disappointing read of the month, Death of a Prima Donna by Brina Svit, translated by Peter Constantine. Another 2 stars, sadly, and my review is here. Luckily, This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell came next! This was another copy I received for review from the publisher, Tinder Press. This one is released later this month, so my review will be up soon, but I absolutely loved every single word and gave it 5 stars! The month ended with A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh, this was fine, I enjoyed it, it was a quick easy read and I gave it 3 stars (review here).
I only managed 3 books in March, and was on a bit of a true crime kick! I began with Life After Death: Eighteen Years on Death Row by Damien Echols. I knew nothing about this story and while I of course felt empathy for the writer, this just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I gave this 2 stars (review here). Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-year Journey from Prison to Peace by Michael Morton, however, had a totally different feel and was my favourite book of the month. This was fascinating – my review is here. 5 stars. Back to fiction for the last book of the month, I read Descent by Tim Johnston. This was a really well written crime novel in a fantastic setting and I’ll have a review up soon. 4 stars.
In April I managed 4 books. I continued on my true crime spree with Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, an absolutely fascinating account of the Manson murder trial about which I knew very little. So well written and so interesting, a very high 4 stars! After the trauma of this one, I needed some light escapism and I picked up Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. This was exactly what I need, a fun, light, quick read with an interesting plot and good, strong female protagonist. 3 stars. More crime after that, Natural Causes by James Oswald, the first in a new-to-me crime series. Enjoyable with some aspects that I really liked – more about this my eventual review! 3 stars. And finally, I wrapped up April with a nice little gentle read … A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Goodness me this was a heart wrencher, just like everyone said. My review of this will be up in a few weeks, but I gave it 3 stars and had some issues with it, but overall I’m glad I read it and it didn’t take me as long to get through as I was expecting.
So that’s the reading wrap up! As for films and TV shows, we haven’t been watching very much at all.
In February, we watched Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garland (he who wrote The Beach) and starring Alicia Vikander as the AI girl and Domhnal Gleeson as a somewhat gormless geek. This was actually a really interesting film that hubby and I both were surprised to enjoy so much. I gave this 7/10 and hubby’s score was 7.25 (don’t ask!) out of 10. Also in February we watched Chef, a really lovely movie written by, directed by and starring Jon Favreau. I wasn’t expecting much from this, but it was funny and heartwarming and made me hungry! 8/10 from me and 8.5/10 from Dave. I then fell into a bit of a Walking Dead hole and became obsessed with Andrew Lincoln. We’ll move swiftly on.
In March we binge watched Broadchurch series 1 and 2 with our 17 year old daughter. We all really enjoyed this series and couldn’t wait to watch the next episode. Great British drama! Series 1: 9/10 from me, 8/10 from Dave. Series 2: 8/10 from me and 7/10 from Dave.
More fabulous British drama came in April with the return of Line of Duty, one of my favourite police series. This series did not disappoint – the only bad thing was having to wait a whole week for the next episode! Fantastic, edge of the seat viewing. 9/10 from me and 8.5/10 from Dave.
And that is 3 months wrapped up in a few paragraphs.
Let me know if you’ve read/watched any of these and what you thought!