reading

My Best Reads of 2018 #bookreview #reading

I love a good list and I love the chance to look back on some of the excellent books I’ve read. I also love reading other people’s lists so if you have a post about your best book of the year, do post a link in the comments so I can take a look and add to my ever growing TBR list! Thank you!
These are in no particular order, as each book is so different it seems unfair to say one is better than another, but, that said, ‘The Toymakers’ and ‘The Twelve-Mile Straight’ are my standout books of the year.

A Horse Walks Into a Bar

horse
This has some mixed reviews, and I can understand why, to an extent. It’s very unusual, very dark and is difficult to read at times. But it’s brilliant.
Stand-up comedian Dovaleh G is giving a performance in a small Israeli town. A childhood friend has been asked to attend – he doesn’t know why, and as the evening progresses, he feels more and more uncomfortable, as do the audience, who realise that this isn’t the show they were expecting.
This is an unsettling novel, but it is beautifully crafted, and highly recommended.

The Cottingley Secret

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I love reading fiction based on history and I’d heard the fascinating story about the Cottingley fairies before, so was very keen to read this novel.
This is a really lovely book and a pleasure to read. The author treats Frances and Elsie with respect, sensitive always to the fact that these two girls were real people, and her retelling provides an explanation as to how and, perhaps more importantly, why, people were so ready to believe in fairies.
If you like fast-paced drama with twists and turns then this probably isn’t the book for you. But I felt that the pace and the tone were ideally suited to the subject matter and the book weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

The Twelve-Mile Straight

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In a world that seems to be moving backwards, with the rise of the far right in the US and here in the UK, this is a pertinent novel. We kid ourselves that we’ve moved so far, that we have achieved equality, but the prejudice and discrimination written here is unfortunately only too real almost a hundred years later.
Sharecropper’s daughter Elma gives birth to twins – one light-skinned, one dark. Not surprisingly, this garners a great deal of interest, and gossip, and the result is that field hand Genus, deemed to have raped Elma, is lynched.
But there’s more to the twins’ conception and birth than meets the eye. And Elma, her father Juke, and housekeeper Nan find themselves entangled in a web of lies and deceit.
This isn’t a pleasant, happy read. But it is an important one. Like Britain’s history of colonialism, the US has never seemed to really address its past, admit its guilt and make amends. That it isn’t too hard to imagine the events of this book happening still is a sad indictment of how little we’ve progressed. A must read.

Petals and Stones

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Such an interesting way to begin a novel – we are with Uma, content, to an extent, enjoying a normal day in a relatively normal life when two horrible things happen in quick succession – she discovers her husband Daniel’s affair, and then he is killed on his way back to explain himself to her.
Her grief is tempered by anger and frustration, and the way she has to keep these things in check in front of his family and friends is so well portrayed. And the dual timelines exploring their relationship, their pasts and that of their friends Aaron and Pippa, make for a really beautifully written and novel about relationships, love, loss and the little decisions we make that affect our lives in huge ways
Joanne Burn is definitely an author to watch out for. An accomplished and absorbing novel.

Home

home

This should be a thoroughly depressing read, but it is saved from being so by Jesika, the four-year-old narrator.
It isn’t easy to successfully write from a child’s point of view once you’re an adult, but Jesika feels really authentic. Her misconceptions and misunderstandings really make you realise how confusing the things adults say can be, and you long for the grown-ups in her life to listen to her properly, to slow down and to realise that she’s confused and worried and scared.
Hard to read at times, but definitely one to read, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this, but Jesika will stay with me for a long time.

The Toymakers

Toymakers

Fifteen-year-old Cathy, pregnant and in danger of having to give away her baby, runs away to London and secures a job in Papa Jack’s Emporium.
The emporium isn’t just any old toy shop. Open only for winter, the toys use the magic of imagination, the innocence and magic of childhood, to create patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy soldiers that really fight, Wendy houses that are as big inside as they seemed to be when you were little.
Cathy is a lovely main character and her relationships with Kaspar, Emil, Papa Jack and Martha are a real highlight of the book – as is lovely Sirius, the patchwork dog. If you think you can’t cry over a toy, think again!

 

 

My A-Z of Books #IAmReading #wwwblogs

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I first saw on the lovely Shelley Wilson’s blog, although the idea originally came from the Perpetual Page Turner. As my Wednesday posts have been rather ‘ranty’ of late, I thought it was time for something a bit more positive!

Author you’ve read the most books from.

Either Hilary Mantel or Stephen King – which is a bit of a contrast now I come to think of it! Although they are both exceptional story tellers. I’ve also read a lot of books by Terry Tyler – her novels are pure ‘get away from it all’ reads, perfect for a holiday and a rare quiet Sunday afternoon.

Best sequel ever.

‘Bring Up the Bodies’ the sequel to ‘Wolf Hall’. Hilary Mantel again.

She’s an amazing writer, and I was lucky enough to see her being interviewed once. She’s incredibly intelligent and charming.

 

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Me and Hilary!

Currently reading.

‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ by Hubert Selby Jr. I’m trying to complete the David Bowie reading challenge and there are so many books on the list that I’ve always wanted to read. So far this is … interesting! last-exit

Drink of choice while reading.

A mug of very strong coffee if I’m lucky enough to be having a lie in and am reading in bed on a Sunday morning. Or a very large glass of red wine if it’s past 6pm. Oh alright, past 5pm.

coffee

E-Reader of physical book?

Both. I was very resistant to eBooks but then once I realised I could takes hundreds of books on holiday with me without exceeding the baggage allowance I was sold.

Fictional character you probably would have actually dated in high school.

There was definitely no one like Heathcliff in my Basingstoke comprehensive.

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No one looked anything like this at Brighton Hill Community school!

Glad you gave this book a chance.

‘Beltane’ by Alys West, for Rosie’s Book Review Team. I’m not keen on fantasy, but thought I’d give this a go, mainly because it’s set in Glastonbury, a place I’ve enjoyed visiting in the past. It’s a really good book, very well-written and lovely for a bit of escapism.

Hidden gem book.

‘The Meadow’ – James Galvin.

While Galvin certainly isn’t an unknown, I had never read any of his work until this appeared on my required reading list for my Masters in Creative Writing. I duly bought it and read it and it was then removed from the course! But I didn’t mind because it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.


meadow

Important moment in your reading life.

Reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ for the first time. I know it sounds clichéd but it really made me realise just how powerful fiction can be. And that you don’t have to write what you know.

Also reading with my children when they were small – just wonderful times.

Just finished reading.

‘Flesh’ by Dylan J. Morgan for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team. It’s in the vein of Stephen King and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I do like a good bit of horror!

Kind of books you won’t read.

Religious. Sweet romance. Westerns (unless it’s Larry McMurtry’s ‘Lonesome Dove’). Not too keen on fantasy or sci-fi either unless it’s extremely well-written. And please keep ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ well away from me. I much prefer this version:

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Longest book you’ve read.

War and Peace’. I still show off about it. It is absolutely a masterpiece though.

Major book hangover.

A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini. I read it in one sitting when I was in bed with flu and sobbed and sobbed when I finished it. Just completely and utterly heart-breaking. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

a-thousand-splendid-suns

Number of bookcases you own.

Two. With many more books piled up everywhere and stashed in the loft.

One book you’ve read multiple times.

Wuthering Heights

Preferred place to read.

In bed if it’s cold, in the garden on the rare occasion when it isn’t. Or preferably by a pool in France!

Quote that inspires you/give you all the feels from a book you’ve read.

It’s not exactly inspirational in the usual sense, but it is just such a masterful opening to a novel:

 Putney, 1500

“So now get up.”

Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.

Blood from the gash on his head – which was his father’s first effort – is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded; but if he squints sideways, with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father’s boot is unravelling. The twine has sprung clear of the leather, and a hard knot in it as caught his eyebrow and opened up another cut.

“So now get up!” Walter is roaring down at him, working out where to kick him next.

 (Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel)

And from ‘Wuthering Heights’:

“Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” 

Reading regret.

Being scared to read the classics when I was younger. I suppose I felt that they weren’t really for me, that they were something to read for an exam. Now I have less time to get through them all!

Series you started and need to finish.

I don’t really like reading a series. Too much commitment – too little time.

Three of your all-time favourite books.

A Place of Greater Safety (imho the best Hilary Mantel novel)

Wuthering Heights

To Kill a Mockingbird

(I’m going to cheat here though because I can’t possibly leave out Alice Walker’s completely wonderful ‘The Color Purple‘.)

Unapologetic fangirl book.

‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson. I read this on holiday, lying in the sun buy the pool in France. It was completely and utterly absorbing. I can’t believe some of the reviews – it’s as if these people have read a different book.


life after life

Very excited for this release more than all others.

‘The Mirror and the Light’ – the sequel to ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel.

Worst bookish habit.

Not really listening to anyone when I’m reading, just nodding and saying ‘mmm’ in a vague way, even when someone’s trying to tell me something important.

Dropping bookmarks in the bath.

X marks the spot: Start on the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book.

Another Bronte.  Charlotte this time and ‘Jane Eyre’. I’m not pretentious (honestly) it just so happens that I have all the classics that I own lined up on the bookshelf together.

Your latest purchase.

‘Furiously Happy’ by Jenny Lawson. She’s just absolutely brilliant, hilarious and really inspiring.

I read ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’ recently and adored it. Can’t wait to start this one.

The lovely Jenny Lawson

You can read her blog here.

Zzzz-snatcher book (Las book that kept you up way too late).

‘Chasing the Scream’ by Johann Hari about the so-called war on drugs. Stunning and scary and should be compulsory reading. I hate the cliché but I really couldn’t put it down.

So there you have it, my A-Z of books.

 

 

Guest post: reading, blogging and fit men!

I’m over on Wendy Lou’s blog today talking about reading and blogging. I’ve also managed to find an excuse to include Tom Hardy, Johnny Depp and Ryan Gosling. Click the link above to come and have a read. And in the meantime:

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#AtoZChallenge: R is for Reading

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

R is for Reading

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I can’t quite believe that it’s already letter ‘R’ in the A to Z Challenge. This is my eighteenth post and my eighteenth editing and writing tip. And the advice I’m giving here is advice that really runs through all the tips so far.

My 18th editing and writing tip for writers is:

READ

It may seem obvious and not worth saying, but if you want to be a good writer, if you’re serious about writing, if you want readers to enjoy your books, then you need to read. A lot.

Want to know how to write great dialogue? Read a book.

Want to know how to develop characters that are believable, empathetic and entertaining? Read a book.

Want to learn how to ‘show’ not ‘tell’? Read a book.

I could go on.

And it’s not just about reading great, well-written books. Sometimes reading a book where something isn’t quite right, where the dialogue is stilted and unnatural, where there are too many adjectives, can be just as helpful. It shows you what not to do.

But reading a great book, one that makes you feel bereft when you get to the last page, one that makes you laugh, cry, order another book by the same author, that experience is invaluable for any author – experienced, self-published, traditionally published or just starting out.  A fantastic reading experience can be inspiring; can push you forward, to strive to be as good.

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And the other great thing about reading? Well, if you’re a writer or an editor or a proofreader or a cover designer or a book blogger, then reading counts as work! Sometimes I really love my job…