Posted in Literature

Reading Challenge 2019: wrap-up

Part way through the year I compiled myself a list of prompts and stipulations as reading challenges. Now that we’re at the end of 2019, it’s time to see how I did!

Core Challenges: 5 points each

  • A book with ‘cat(s)’ in the title: ‘If Cats Disappeared from the World’
  • Set in space: ‘The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’
  • Set in Scandinavia: ‘The Twisted Tree’
  • Published this year (2019): ‘I Know Everything’
  • Published before you were born: ‘The Wasp Factory’
  • A ghost story
  • A story with dragons
  • A non-fiction book: ‘We Should All be Feminists’
  • A comic or graphic novel: ‘Wolverine: Infinity Watch’
  • A translated book: ‘If Cats Disappeared from the World’
  • A book you know nothing about: ‘I Know Everything’
  • A book someone recommended to you personally: ‘The Wasp Factory’
  • Tagged LGBT on Goodreads: ‘They/Them’ & ‘The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’
  • A debut novel: ‘The Wasp Factory’
  • A sequel: ‘Head On’
  • …with a two word title: ‘Ghost Wall’
  • An audiobook: ‘Lock In’
  • …from an author from Asia, Africa or Latin America: ‘If Cats Disappeared from the World’
  • A book over 500 pages long: ‘Killing Floor’
  • …that is also (or shortly will be) a movie/TV Series: ‘Sharp Objects’

TOTAL: 90/100

Bonus Challenges: 10 points each

  • A multi-author book (translators don’t count): ‘They/Them’
  • …in a genre you don’t normally choose
  • Read more than one translated or International book during the year: ‘If Cats Disappeared from the World’ & ‘We Should all be Feminists’
  • A book you’ve owned for more than 5 years (and haven’t read yet): ‘Play Dead’
  • A “book to read before you die”

TOTAL: 120/150

Know Thy Enemy Ultra Challenge: 50 points

  • Read a book by an author you actively dislike

GRAND TOTAL: 120/200


The two ‘Core’ challenges that I didn’t get done (ghosts and dragon) I will put into the list of prompts for a 2020 Reading Challenge along with whatever else I can think of or lift from other people’s challenge lists.

I did have an author in mind for the Ultra Challenge and may try and read them next year.

Overall I think I will ditch the multi-tiered approach with different point values and go for a much simpler, single list for 2020 as while 90/100 sounds good; 120/200 doesn’t sound as good.

My Goodreads Reading Challenge target is 24 books and I’m going to pick 5 or 6 titles that I will say I definitely want to tackle in 2020. I plan to do a separate post delving more into the new challenge list and my reading aims for the year as I’ve got a couple of reading-related ideas to explore too. Good luck to everyone else out there with your reading goals for 2020!

Posted in Literature

Read: Sharp Objects

One thing that you might not glean from the blurb is that some of the content might cause discomfort for some readers. Here’s a big ole CW for you: sex, rape, self-harm, drug and alcohol misuse, child abuse/murder, and teeth.

Beyond that, this is a fairly standard thriller. Admittedly not told from the perspective of the police, instead from Camille the journalist, but it’s still predictable in terms of the ‘Whodunnit’ part of the plot. The clues Flynn leaves are big and obvious and I found myself wanting to reach in and shake Camille for being so blind to it all on several occasions. Perhaps that is the point? To show how we do not wish to believe the worst in the people we know, no matter how much evidence there is.

Camille is a walking litany of self-harm (sex, drugs, alcohol, sharp objects…), which I found a little difficult to read at times as she tries to defend her decisions as rational. This is a commonality I found with The Grownup, both protagonists are very sexual and use sex as a way to get what they want (as is one of the key supporting characters in Sharp Objects) however there is no criticism of this and how a society puts women in a position like that has something deeply wrong with it. Because of this, I can’t quite tell if Flynn is trying to be a pro-sex feminist, reclaiming it for women to wield or whether she’s playing into patriarchal rhetoric.

Given some of the issues I had with the book and the predictable perpetrator I don’t feel I can give this more than 3 stars. Entertaining enough but has it’s problems.

3/5

See this review on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3086425953

Posted in Literature

Read: The Twisted Tree

I picked up The Twisted Tree because it was a) cheap, b) fairly short and c) set in Norway. It sounded interesting and the cover art helped a little too. I was intrigued how the setting would interact with the story and to that point I hadn’t read much set in Scandinavia. I admit points a & b appealed because I felt I was falling behind on my Reading Challenge and needed a bump; nevertheless I ended up enjoying the book more than I expected.

We follow a young teen, Martha, who has had an accident leaving her blind in one eye and with some facial scarring. Not only that, she has begun to sense things whenever she touches others’ clothes: feelings, memories & intent. Her accident happened at her Grandmother’s cabin in northern Norway, when falling out of a big tree that her Grandmother tends to, and she hasn’t been back since. After writing her Grandmother a host of un-replied letters asking about her new found sense, she travels to the cabin my herself.

What she finds when she gets to the cabin isn’t what she was hoping for. She meets Stig, a teenage boy who has also run away from home, and together they face some terrible monsters – both real and metaphorical – before Martha has to truly embrace her new ‘condition’ in order to save their lives.

This is a well-written supernatural tale that anyone with even a passing interest in Norse mythology should pick up. It isn’t quite ‘horror’ and it isn’t quite ‘coming of age’ but the book does have elements of both. It deals with a line of women who have a shared heritage to protect and what might happen if the chain through the generations is broken. It also looks at the repairing of mother-daughter relationships and, in particular, where the child is guiding the adult through a complicated situation.

The character building by Burge is very good and the story is well-paced and engaging. It is a quick read at 180 pages and still a perfectly formed story that left me wondering where these characters would end up next.

4/5

 

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Posted in Literature

Reading Challenges 2019

In an attempt to jolt myself into reading more consistently and in a hope to hit my overall Goodreads challenge target of 18, I was inspired to throw together a list of mini challenges.  In the same vein as Instagram photo challenges, with 30 days of prompts to take a photo of, these lists are created by lots of bookish sites and accounts and do the rounds every January and I missed out on them.  Below is my challenge list, created in August, to see how well I can do in 4 months.  It’s a bit of a mash up of other reading challenge lists I read through as well as some completely my own.


Core Challenges: 5 points each

  • A book with ‘cat(s)’ in the title
  • Set in space
  • Set in Scandinavia
  • Published this year (2019)
  • Published before you were born
  • A ghost story
  • A story with dragons
  • A non-fiction book
  • A comic or graphic novel
  • A translated book
  • A book you know nothing about
  • A book someone recommended to you personally
  • Tagged LGBT on Goodreads
  • A debut novel
  • A sequel
  • …with a two word title
  • An audiobook
  • …from an author from Asia, Africa or Latin America
  • A book over 500 pages long
  • …that is also (or shortly will be) a movie/TV Series

 

Bonus Challenges: 10 points each

  • A multi-author book (translators don’t count)
  • …in a genre you don’t normally choose
  • Read more than one translated or International book during the year
  • A book you’ve owned for more than 5 years (and haven’t read yet)
  • A “book to read before you die”

 

Know Thy Enemy Ultra Challenge: 50 points

  • Read a book by an author you actively dislike

Usually these challenges don’t involve a points system but I thought it’d add an extra dynamic based on how hard I thought each one would be for me.

I’ve already ticked some of these off – I think I’ve gathered maybe 50 points so far – and I’m working on another two actively at the moment.  I’ll come back in December/January and post what books went with what challenges.

Anyone else have any cunning strategies for keeping yourself reading?

Posted in Literature

Read: Ghost Wall

Ghost WallGhost Wall by Sarah Moss
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Blurb
I found the blurb for this book, with hindsight, a little misleading. Similarly it’s classification in ‘Horror’ fiction and whatever algorithm suggested it to me having just finished a ghost story. If you find yourself thinking this is a ghost horror; it’s not. There are no ghosts nor any supernatural goings on. To me, expecting a ghost story I was a little disappointed – more on what’s actually in the book later.

The Prose
This is written in what I can only think to describe as continuous prose. There are no speech marks and no new lines for dialogue. There’s internal and vocalised dialogue mixed in together that is hard to differentiate. It is one long train of thought from the narrator, Sylvie, and it does get hard to follow. I was OK dealing with it around 70% of the time and the remainder I found myself puzzling, re-reading and ultimately being jarred out of the flow of the story. This meant I couldn’t fully engage with the story because of both content and style.

The Story
*THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS*

As I mentioned before, there’s no ghosts. I kept reading in the hope that some would appear once the eponymous Ghost Wall was constructed by the characters. Still, no. Instead the story is one of domestic abuse and violence enacted by Sylvie’s Dad on both her and her mother. The setting of an experiential archaeology field trip is superfluous to the central story of the abuse and the story could have been set anywhere. I found a lot of it an unpleasant read – with a knot in my stomach and a desperate desire to jump into the story and talk some sense into everyone involved. I was frustrated and angry.

That is the greatest success of this book: that it makes you feel angry and awkward and impotent at the plight of two women being physically and psychologically abused. It is also for this reason I find it a little disrespectful to classify the book as ‘horror’. Not to the author, or the book, but to the real people in real life who have to suffer like Sylvie and her mum. Those situations are horrifying and they are real. I know it’s unlikely the exact events of Ghost Wall have happened in real life but many similar things have – and they are not ‘horror’ fiction.

Overall
It is a realistic account of domestic abuse and especially how it can mess with the victim’s mind. If you weren’t expecting that, then be aware this won’t be a pleasant read. The style of the prose is hard to stick with and you may get lost along the way. The story ends just as Sylvie might be getting a chance at something better – and I want to read about that – which was a little frustrating as well. The blurb and classification of the book are a bit off; do a bit more research than I did and read through other people’s reviews – don’t just look at the average rating.

The combined issues I’ve highlighted, for me, detracted from the overall experience. I would still say it was an important read even if I didn’t like it much in the end. It is certainly not an easy read.

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Posted in Literature

Read: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Spoiler: it’s not Earth.

Taken from GoodReads

 

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Surprisingly this came as a recommendation from my mother who is very rarely into SF and she gave me her copy to read after she was done. It took me a while to feel ‘in the mood’ for SF and I eventually picked it up earlier this year (2019) and I absolutely adored it.

It made me think, it made me tear-up, it made me smile, it made me tense and I love the character-driven nature of it all. This is not your average ‘jump in the spaceship and go to war’ sort of SF and it is all the better for it. This is a story about people and it happens to be in space. Gorgeous, interesting people with actual relationships that I really invested in.

I found the inclusion of gender-variance and the exploration of self-hood very natural and not shoe-horned at all. The depiction of the different races’ values and customs was well done and highlights where so much other SF is lacking. Chambers seems to have a mind much like my own in realising SF shouldn’t be so human-centric. We shouldn’t assume alien races would even want to know us let alone change their entire culture to accommodate us should we ever reach the stars.

It doesn’t hurt that the cover art for all three of the series is very tasty and I ordered A Closed and Common Orbit immediately after finishing this one and I cannot wait to get started. Even if you are not a sci-fi person normally (like my mum), this is still well worth your time. It is an enlightening, inspirational and genuine pleasure to read.

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Posted in Literature

Read: The Book at the End of the Year

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay: A Review

As my first completed book of 2019, I freely admit I started it at the end of 2018 (back on 28 Dec) as a group I’m in on Goodreads is having a discussion about it over January with the author. I read this over the course of a week, although if taken without any breaks it was more like 3 days, and surprised myself how quickly I got through it. I was reading the Kindle version having grabbed it fairly cheap over Christmas.

It doesn’t have traditional chapters, which confuses the Kindle reader, moreover it has larger sections broken down into smaller parts that are entitled with the character who’s viewpoint the passage is in. I’m not a fan of labelling the point of view and prefer to figure it out simply from the text itself however in this case it became useful towards the end of the novel when the action ramps up.

The story follows an ordeal that besets Wen and her two fathers, Andrew and Eric, when a group of strangers appear at their remote holiday cabin asking for their help to halt the apocalypse. Violence is inevitable from the moment the sinister Leonard starts asking Wen odd questions in the front yard as she catches grasshoppers and the likelihood escalates as three more strangers appear and Wen runs in to her dads to tell them.

After forceably entering the cabin and restraining Andrew and Eric, Leonard et al tell their tale of visions and instructions that lead them all to this “special family” in the cabin with the red door and that, without them, the world will shortly end. Without spoiling any further goings on, what faces the group is a desperate struggle to grapple with damning information and inexplicable actions.

While an entertaining read, I wouldn’t describe this as ‘horror’ as many others have. It isn’t scary or particularly disturbing; similar to ‘Head Full of Ghosts’, the book looks at what is a variation on events that have almost undoubtedly happened somewhere at some time in modern history. If you find it disturbing that humans can do terrible things to each other then you may want to consider if you are too naive for Tremblay’s work.

Across both ‘Head Full of Ghosts’ and ‘The Cabin at the End of the World’, Tremblay’s prose paints a dim view of organised religion and the part it has to play in the atrocious things people do to one another. While it’s primarily focused on Christianity or adjacent faiths, the impression remains that it extends to all organised monotheist religions prevalent in the world today. Whether this is a reflection of the author or simply an easy thread to pull on to add an extra dimension to his stories, I couldn’t say.

Overall the prose is well written, with the exception of the let’s-hyphenate-a-bunch-of-words-together tendency that crops up a few times throughout the book. If you’ve read ‘Head Full of Ghosts’, you may remember the last minute almost twist at the end and ‘The Cabin…’ has a similar mechanism in the last pages. It made me consider the similarities in composition between the two books and, while they tell two different tales, there are a fair few.

In terms of rating, I find myself perhaps a little too cynical for Tremblay’s books as none of the content surprises or disturbs me as the genre classifications suggests they should. It has made me wonder if the author wrote these intending to disturb or intending merely to shine a light and point out the horrible things that occur in everyday society. While I’d definitely consider reading more of his work, I shan’t expect to be scared by it.

3.5/5

This review is also on Goodreads: here.

Posted in Health, Literature, Travel

2019: Time to Begin

The start of a new year seems like the ideal time to finally kick this blog into action and what better way to begin than with some plans for what’s to come over the next 12 months? Below are three key areas that I’ll be talking about here on the site over the coming year (& beyond). I’ve picked these three to start with as I’ve been thinking about them heavily over the last few days and it seemed fitting that we get started together with these plans.

Walking the Arts

My other half and I are formulating a plan to go on a themed walk once a month and one of our ideas for these themes was to walk somewhere that features in a piece of art. That could be written or visual art forms. There are a lot of places nearby that feature in poetry and, while doing some research around the idea, I came across Poetry Atlas, which is a handy little tool that shows pins in a map and refers you to the poem mentioning the location or area in question. We’re within easy daytrip distance of Shropshire and there’s a lot of A.E. Housman references over that way (not surprising, really). As we go on walks, I’ll write up little posts on our adventures and future plans if I’m organised enough.

Reading Challenge

As with every new year for the past few, I have set up my Goodreads 2019 Challenge; a target of a set numbers of books I want to read by the end of the calendar year. Last year I made it to 12, which was a huge improvement on 2017’s paltry total of 6, so I am upping the ante for 2019 with a 50% increase up to 18. While the Goodreads community frequently puts me to shame, with many of my contacts over there aiming for and reading in excess of 50 books a year, I’m happy for my steady progress.

On the site, there’ll be a little widget in the sidebar to tell you what I’m currently reading that’ll be feeding over from GR and I’ll pop a link to my profile into the About page too. Once I finish a book I’ll add a little post or review on here and link to my GR review each time.

I’m also looking to document all our books in the house using Libib, which I’ve already used to catalog our DVDs, and to form an unread list for all the books I own and (still) haven’t read. So watch this space for a monster backlog list.

Lift Heavy

Last year I found a passion for powerlifting and at peak enthusiasm signed up for a strength competition this April. Shortly after signing up, I injured my chest and had to take a 4 month hiatus from training. That was a bit of a downer and a major setback for my strength goals. So in 2019 I will be heading back to the gym to lift and train and hopefully make it to the competition that’ll be on Easter weekend.

I’ll keep the site updated with progress, pictures and videos to document how things are going and to have something to look back on in a few months’ time and review my improvements. My first training session back will be next Wednesday (9th Jan) and I am both excited and anxious to get going.

More to Come

These won’t be the only three things I plan to talk about on the site, of course, so there will definitely be more to come – keep an eye out for new aspects cropping up and if there’s anything in particular you want me to cover, please feel free to drop me a message via the Contact page.