The Book Review of 2016

I totally stole this from Kezzie. I think it’s a fantastic way to look back on the books I read last year!

2016-books

Best book you read in 2016:

This is really hard, but I think I would have to go for either Saturday Requiem by Nicci French or Different Seasons by Stephen King.

Best children’s fiction:

I don’t read a lot of “children’s” fiction as stuff, more YA. I think Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell counts as children’s?

Best crime fiction:

Oooh, this is hard! I read a lot of crime fiction! I will choose Friday On My Mind by Nicci French since Saturday requiem already got a mention above.

Best classic:

I suppose it depends a bit on what you actually consider a “classic”. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey was good, but if 1962 is too modern then Kim by Rudyard Kipling was my highest rated “true” classic of 2016.

Best non-fiction:

I read very little non-fiction, and I think I only read 2 or 3 non-fiction books again in 2016! Papillon by Henri Charrière is an autobiography and therefore technically non-fiction, but reads like a novel so I loved it. (Basically I prefer my non-fiction disguised as a story 😉 ).

Best dystopian fiction:

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, without a doubt.

Best YA:

I want to say Noughts and Crosses again but that seems unfair, so Among Others by Jo Walton.

Most surprising (in a good way) book read in 2016:

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake was actually quite good, which I didn’t expect at all! Strange, but good. (I only read it because I need to read the sequel, Gormenghast, for the BBC Big Read). The Secret History by Donna Tartt is another one that I went into with no idea what to expect and ended up really enjoying it.

Book You Read In 2016 That You Recommended Most To Others:

I don’t really recommend books as such. I review some on my blog and say which I’ve liked, but I can’t remember a single real-life conversation where I’ve actually recommended a book!

Best series you discovered in 2016:

I didn’t really discover any series in 2016, just read books from series I already love. Noughts and Crosses is the first in a series though, so I’ll say that even though I have no idea whether anything beyond book 1 is any good…

Favourite new author you discovered in 2016:

I’m going with new to me rather than author who released their debut. To avoid repeating previous answers I’ll say Nicola Yoon.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love But Didn’t

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. I had heard the TV series was really good and the idea of a serial killer who only kills “bad” people was intriguing. Well, the TV series may or may not be amazing, but this book is most definitely not amazing. It wasn’t particularly thrilling and half the time it almost felt like it was written for children. Except with more violence and prostitutes than is generally allowed in children’s fiction.

Best Book That Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone Or Was A New Genre To You

I’m not even sure what genre Shogun by James Clavell is. Nautical fiction? Japanese historical fiction (told by a westerner)? A war story? Not a clue! But I am very sure I would never have picked it up if it hadn’t been on the BBC Big Read list. I would never read it again, but I did mostly enjoy it.

Book You Read In 2016 That You’re Most Likely To Read Again In 2017:

I highly doubt I will read anything again as soon as that, but I will probably read As Chimney Keepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley again at some point (along with the rest of the Flavia de Luce series, but I only read that one in 2016).

Favourite Book You Read in 2016 by an Author You’ve Read Previously:

Ohhh, that’s difficult! Again, I think I will go with avoiding repetition rather than necessarily choosing the absolute best and say Gavin Extence.

Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

I read Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen because another blogger suggested it as a book featuring a character with my name. Sadly it wasn’t that great, but I can’t think of any other book I read solely based on recommendation and weren’t already on my list.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2016:

Again, assuming books I read in 2016 rather than ones published in 2016. I loved the cover of The Girl Who Couldn’t Read by John Harding (and I enjoyed this sequel much more than the first book!). Here it is:

book-cover

Book That Had The Greatest Impact On You In 2016:

I keep repeating myself, but probably Different Seasons by Stephen King. Specifically the novella Apt Pupil. It really brought it home that you can’t spot “evil” just by looking at people, and that literally anyone can be responsible for bad things.

Book You Can’t BELIEVE You Waited Until 2016 To Read

The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I put off starting it so many times, then once I picked it up I had no idea why I didn’t read it sooner!

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

Is it weird that I can’t think of any? Possibly the final scene in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. All I could think was “Uhh, what just happened?!”.

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2016 (be it romantic, friendship, etc)

Carolina’s relationship with her grandfather in Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager. From not even knowing him at the start of the book to the events of the ending… it was just so perfect.

Most Memorable Character In A Book You Read In 2016:

In the interests of fairness, I will pick a new to me character (because obviously I find the characters in the series I already love memorable!). Will from If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie is my choice. For someone who had never been outside he took to it like a duck to water.

Genre You Read The Most From in 2016:

To be sure I would have to go through all my books, and I’m not going to do that, but I would guess crime/thrillers.

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2016:

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. Less fun than his Thursday Next series, but still very quirky and funny. Maybe I should have picked the Quarkbeast as my most memorable character? 😉

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016:

Okay, confession: lots of books make me cry. So much so that I can’t remember any specific ones from 2016. I’m pretty sure Among Others made me cry a couple of times though. Oh, and I definitely cried at the end of Hour of the Bees.

Book You Read in 2016 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out:

The Mirror World of Melody Black came out in 2015, but I had never heard of it until it came up on Goodreads. It deserves more attention if only to raise awareness of mental illness.

Total number of books read in 2016:

Goodreads says 83, so unless I forgot to enter any there I’ll stick with that number. I know some people read 100 and more books, but considering one of mine was 1,210 pages long I think I can live with 83 😉 My goal was only 75 so I’m happy.

How was your 2016 reading year? If you decide to answer these prompts let me know so I can come and by nosy!

Recent doings #13

Hello everyone! I hope this first week of 2017 has been treating you well thus far? Today is only my third day back at work and already I have a long weekend since tomorrow is Epiphany, and a public holiday in the part of Germany where my work is based. Not a bad first week back 😉

Since today is the first Thursday of the month, it’s also time to link up with Kristin and Gretch again for What’s new With You? So here is what I got up to in December:

Reading. Apart from my challenge reading, which I updated you on in my last post, I also read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry in December. I gave both three star ratings on Goodreads.

Watching. We finally finished the first season of Mr Robot and it was amazing. But now I’m annoyed because we have to wait for the second season to come out on DVD since it’s an Amazon Prime TV series and there is no Amazon in Switzerland. Grr! We also watched Paddington with my sister and her fiancé because it came on TV and none of us had seen it. I thought it was cute but not a patch on the original books.

Eating. Christmas dinner, of course. What else would I eat at Christmas time? 😉 My dad did turkey with all the trimmings and we had more turkey plus gammon and three different types of cake at my grandma’s for Christmas tea. We also ate fish and chips and a couple of pub meals while we were in England. And before we left for the holidays I may have eaten an entire box of chocolate Lebkuchen to myself. Basically, December was about eating all the things. All of them.

Making. Christmas cards. I literally posted the last three the day before we left for Christmas, so who knows when they actually arrived! Here are a couple that I don’t think I’ve previously shown you:

Hosting. My sister and her fiancé came to stay for a weekend in December, so we did the whole Basel tour again… complete with a trip to a bar that’s on the 31st floor of a hotel building.

Buying. Many more books than I should have plus a top that was on sale for 7 francs.

Visiting. The Christmas market in Laufenburg (post to come… soon I hope). And, for another kind of visiting, So many friends and relations in England! We met up with two different friends for lunch on consecutive days, spent Christmas morning with my mum and brother, went to see my godson’s family for a couple of hours on boxing day to exchange gifts, popped round to see my maternal grandmother (who is bedridden and has dementia, but seemed happy enough) and had a look at my sister’s new house. So many people, so much rushing around, but it was lovely to see everyone.

Travelling. To England for Christmas (and we managed to land in Newcastle before storm Barbara came calling, which was nice) and then to Scotland, specifically to Arran for one night and Glasgow for Hogmanay.

Seeing. The Jungle Book as performed by the always amazing Oddsocks.

What's New With You

That’s all I can think of right now. What did you do in December?

Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge complete!

Hi all! I hope you all had wonderful holidays (whether you celebrate Christmas or not) and made it to the new year healthy and happy!

For my first post of 2017, I am checking in for the Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Reading Challenge, which I completed yesterday, managing to finish my final book while waiting for a delayed flight. Here’s what I read since the last time I checked in:

books2016

20 points: Read a modern retelling of a classic.

I read Splintered by A. G. Howard, with the classic being Alice in Wonderland. This book is kind of a mixture of sequel to Alice in Wonderland (the main character is a descendant of Alice who goes back to Wonderland) and a retelling of the original (the story discusses the original book as if it were real and C.S. Lewis had just misunderstood/got things wrong, and so retells the story as it “really” happened in this particular world). I thought this book was just okay. The discussion of mental illness was awful – for a supposedly modern-day story the treatment seemed very old-fashioned and harsh. The love triangle was unnecessary, Morpheus was such a caricature  of “bad guy” that I couldn’t take him seriously most of the time and Jeb annoyed me from the very start. But the actual writing was good and the reinterpretation of Wonderland was imaginative and interesting. I gave this one 3 stars.

30 points: Read a book with a character that shares your first or last name.

Thanks to fellow blogger Jamie I was actually able to find something for this! I read Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen. Interestingly, the character named “Beverly” (not my spelling, but oh well) is actually male in this book, which Beverley was before someone, somewhere decided it sounded more feminine. This was a quick read and nothing particularly special. I liked the descriptions of the scenery on the island and the changing relationships between the four main characters. The storyline with the two husbands annoyed me though – both couples had been having problems, but the minute the husbands appeared on the island all the wives wanted to do was have sex and forget anything else had ever happened. Uhh, no! Apparently this is a modern retelling of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin (which I had never heard of!) so I may give that one a go. Enchanted August gets 3 stars from me.

30 points: Read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects.

I had started reading The Once and Future King for this, but I realised that will be one I need to pick up and put down a lot over a longer period of time so I changed my mind. Instead I read The Asylum by John Harwood (fiction) and Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold (non-fiction). The connection is asylums, or mental illness, or treatment of mental illness in Victorian times. You pick!

I really enjoyed The Asylum. It’s a little sensationalist maybe and there are a lot of events crammed in at the end with lots of complicated links between characters and weird coincidences. But while reading it I had no problem with suspending my belief and taking all the action at face value. Despite the subject matter (person incorrectly imprisoned in an asylum), it’s a surprisingly fun read and I got through it pretty quickly. 4 stars.

Bedlam had some interesting information and provides a starting point for people who want to know about Victorian treatment of mental illness and the history of asylums, but overall I felt like the author had tried to fit too much subject matter into a short book. Just as I started to get interested in something that topic was finished with and it was on to the next one. Particularly the final case studies and discussion of madness in literature section felt rushed and incomplete. 3 stars.

And that’s it. Done! Erin’s latest book challenge started on 1 January so I will be moving on to that now, starting with The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas.

Oh, and speaking of reading challenges, I’ve set my Goodreads goal for this year as 78.

What reading goals have you set yourself for 2017? Will you be taking part in any challenges?

Book Challenge by Erin 6.0: Preliminary list

What, another book challenge…. is I’m sure what my readers are thinking. Especially those who aren’t interested in my book posts. Sorry, but they’re not going to stop any time soon!

Erin’s next book challenge starts on 1 January and she’s asked us to try and get our preliminary lists up by 15 December. I don’t want my (full) real name being associated with my blog on Facebook, so my list is going here instead. The image below links to the Facebook group (I hope!). If you want to join in you can track your progress there, on your blog or on Goodreads (there’s a group). Erin is the most accommodating host ever!

bookchallengebyerin6-0

So, the basic rules: All books must be at least 200 pages. Only one re-read allowed. Only books read between 1 January and 30 April 2017 count. Most important: HAVE FUN!

Now the categories and my (tentative) choices.

5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages.
TBD based on what I cannot resist reading the second I get my hands on it during the challenge time frame.

10 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “W”.
Without a Trace by Lesley Pearse because it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for I don’t even know how long waiting for me to read it.

10 points: Read a book with six words in the title.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez because it’s on the BBC Big Read list.

15 points: Read a book that has a (mostly) green cover.
I looked at all the books on my shelves that I haven’t read yet and would you believe not a single one had a green(ish) cover? So this one is TBD until I find a green book.

20 points: Read a book with a homonym in the title (inspired by the book Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin that I read last challenge with a character who is obsessed with homonyms.) Only ONE word in the title needs to be a homonym. Helpful link: https://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html
The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas. Homonym = by (bye/buy). Yes, it’s that simple!

20 points: (Submitted by Linda) Read a book by your favourite author.
I love how this one assumes I have one favourite author! Really? Just one? Umm, nope! That said, I am choosing a book by an author whose books I really, really love. The Trespasser by Tana French.

25 points: (Submitted by Christina) Read a book set in the city/town/state/territory/county/province where you live.
Umm, does anyone know of any book that’s set in Basel? Other than a small part of The Night Circus? Didn’t think so! I will either have to find one of the local crime novels that are so popular in the German-speaking world or take Erin up on her kind offer to use a book that’s set near where I’m from in England, in which case I will read Broken Silence by Danielle Ramsay. It’s set in Whitley Bay, which I think is close enough to Northumberland, and I already own it having bought it precisely because it’s set in Whitley Bay…

30 points: (Submitted by Peggy) Read a “Rory Gilmore” book. The character of Rory from the Gilmore Girls was shown reading over 300 different books throughout the series. Choose one of them from this helpful link: https://www.buzzfeed.com/…/all-339-books-referenced-in-gilm…

I am currently very tentatively saying Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, but it’s long so please forgive me if I later change my mind Erin!

• 30 points: (Submitted by Stef Read a book from a genre that you’ve never read (or rarely read.)
The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat is a war story and I hate war stories! If I can’t bring myself to read that one for the challenge, I also have Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, which is a science fiction/space travel novel. Also not my favourite genre… unless Douglas Adams is involved. So we’ll see which of those books I can force myself to read 😉

35 points: (Submitted by Ferne) Read a book with time travel. Helpful link: https://www.goodreads.com/…/4018.The_Best_Time_Travel_Books…

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill. I was considering this one for the homonyms category (our/hour), but then I read the synopsis and remembered that it mentions travelling back in time, so it’s going in this one.

So, that will be my reading for the start of next year… providing I can manage to resist the lure of some of them until then (The Trespasser and The Secret by the Lake, I’m, looking at you!)

Will you be taking part in the challenge?

Recent doings #12

Can you believe it’s December today? December!! How did that happen?! It’s also a Thursday, which means it’s time for another round of “What’s New With You?” with Kristen and Gretch.

So what did I get up to in November?

Reading. Well, obviously I already told you about everything I read for the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge, but I feel that I should mention here that Darkly Dreaming Dexter was my 75th book of the year, meaning I achieved my Goodreads goal for 2016 on 20th November! I also read The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson since it’s on the BBC Big Read list.

Looking at. Art… So. Much. Art. Our friend came for a weekend because he wanted to see an exhibition at the Fondation Bayerle and then the next day we went to Basel’s art museum. All very cultural, but so much walking! (The art museum is huge!).

Hosting. The aforementioned friend, of course, then this past weekend my mum, brother and two friends of my mum. It was fun showing more people around Basel.

Visiting. The autumn fair at the beginning of the month and then the Christmas market with my mum, etc.

Drinking. Glühwein… or mulled wine for the English speakers among you. ‘Tis the season, after all!

Cross stitching. Do I even need to say it? Christmas card pictures, obviously. Plus a teapot card.

Making. Christmas cards! Although I’m still stitching, I’ve also  started to put some of the actual cards together now. Here… have a picture of the first card I completed, weeks before the rest, because it had to go all the way to New Zealand together with a gift for my cousin who is 4 on 12th December:

robin-card

Buying: Mooore Christmas presents. I think I’m done now though. Also a few books (but much fewer than usual).

Planning. New Year! We are in England for Christmas, so we decided to pick a New Year’s destination in the UK and settled on Glasgow. Our fabulous friend K (who has been mentioned on the blog before) will be joining us so we’ve been planning accommodation and where to spend Hogmanay. K was brought up in Glasgow so she’ll be taking us to all the best places to eat!

Arranging. My trip home for Christmas. I guess this is kind of also planning, but whatever… I booked a flight and made tentative arrangements to meet up with a friend.

Seeing. The musical West Side Story. The tickets were my birthday present, but the show wasn’t until November! It wasn’t as good as some musicals I’ve been to (the acting wasn’t brilliant) but it was still enjoyable.

I can’t think of anything else that I did in November, so I’ll leave this here. Linking up Kristen and Gretch, as always.

What have you been doing recently?

Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge: month 1

I’m hardly likely to read four whole books by the end of today, so I might as well get my check-in post out there today and use tomorrow for Kristen‘s link up 🙂

I changed some of my books from my original ideas (and of course some categories were still blank when I made my preliminary list), so here’s what I ended up reading in November:

winter-reading

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long.

Saturday Requiem by Nicci French. I could not resist reading this book the minute it arrived, which is how it ended up being my freebie for this challenge. I adore these books, and this one was an excellent installment. I definitely did not guess who the killer was! The ending made me desperately wish the next book would come out right now (although I’m also sad because Sunday will presumably be the last in the series). 5 stars.

10 points: Read a 2016 finalist (longlist or shortlist) for one of the following literary prizes: National Book Award, Man Booker or Man Booker International.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon was a 2016 National Book Award finalist in the Young People’s Literature category. I loved everything about this book! The characters… the style of writing. Admittedly the love story was little far-fetched, but it kind of had to be to work, and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment in any way. 5 stars.

10 points: Read a brand-new release (something published between November 1, 2016, and January 31, 2017).

Before You Leap by Keith Houghton was published on 1 November 2016! The synopsis sounded good, all the ingredients were there for it to be good, but it just… wasn’t. The plot managed to hold my attention well enough, but I didn’t really like the narrator and the style of writing didn’t do it for me. 2 stars.

15 points: Read a book by an author of a different race or religion than you.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker, who is African-American. I’ve been putting off reading this book and I have no idea why because it’s excellent! I was genuinely hooked from the very first page. 5 stars.

15 points: Read a book featuring a main character who is of a different race or religion than you.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. The main character/narrator is half native American (and half Caucasian, but obviously looks different enough to be referred to as “Chief”).  Another one that I had been putting off but ended up loving. The casual racism and misogyny is disturbing, but I just saw it as a product of the book’s time so it didn’t put me off in the same way it would in a modern book. And the writing is superb! 5 stars.

25 points: Read a book with an alcoholic beverage (neat or cocktail) in the title.

I read Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee for the simple reason that I already owned it. Somehow, this book even managed to make me feel nostalgic for the years of Laurie Lee’s childhood, despite the fact that even my parents weren’t born yet! The ending was just really annoying though – I know it’s only part 1 of an autobiographical series, but come on! It just… ends with no explanation. I gave this one 3 stars.

40 points: Read two books: one by an author whose first name is the same as the last name of the author of the other book.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay and Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager.

I wanted to read Hour of the Bees so I went looking for an author with the last name “Lindsay” and Darkly Dreaming Dexter was the first one to appear. I had heard the TV series Dexter (which is based on this series of books was good), so I decided to give this a try. Unfortunately, I thought the book was just okay. It wasn’t as thrilling as I was expecting and in parts it felt more like it was written from the perspective of a child than a murderer/sociopath (maybe sociopaths do think like children? I don’t know, but either way it grated!). 3 stars for this one, and I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

Hour of the Bees, on the other hand, is adorable. Beautifully written, magical, touching, sad in places and I loved the main character! My only (minor) gripe is that it’s supposed to be for children but I suspect it will appeal more to adults (like me!) who read children’s books. I can imagine it being a bit boring for pre-teens based on the subjects my friends liked to read about when I was aged 10/11. 4 stars.

So that’s 8 books in 7 categories and a total of 120 points.
4 books, 3 categories and 80 points to go! I think should be able to complete the challenge by Christmas!

Have you read anything good this month?

 

Friday letters

Good morning! How is everyone today? I hope you have some nice plans for the weekend (even if it just having a lazy couple of days and relaxing – those kind of weekend plans are also nice). As for me, I’m finishing work early today to travel up to Jan’s dad’s place. This week his mum turned 60 and she’s having a bit of a celebration tomorrow. Since neither of us took holiday, it will be a whirlwind trip… 5 and a bit hours there tonight, Saturday with his family then another 5 and a bit hour train journey on Sunday! At least it will give me plenty of time to read 🙂

Now for some letters:

Mail box

Dear work. Could you please stop switching between really busy and almost nothing to doand find a happy medium?

Dear birds. I’m glad you found your food, but I wish you wouldn’t get spooked and fly away the second I enter my living room. It’s hard to remember to creep around my own flat just in case any of you are out there enjoying a snack!

Dear BBC Big Read voters. I feel like some of you misunderstood the question you were being asked. You were supposed to vote for your favourite books, not the longest ones you’ve ever read! Far too many of the books on the list have over 1,000 pages.

Dear Basel Christmas market. This time next week you will be on your second day! The festive season is coming around far too quickly.

Dear cross stitching. You are coming along fairly well. Not too many more little stitches to go! Next comes the hard part… making you all into pretty Christmas cards. Can I manage you all before it’s too late?

That’s all for today. Happy weekend everyone.