Summer Reading Challenge Month 2

Well, I will definitely not be getting to pick a category for Megan’s next reading challenge since 5 people have already finished and I’m lagging behind. One month to go! Can I do it?

For now, here’s the progress I made in July:

challenge-books

10 points: Read an adult fiction book written by an author who normally writes books for children.

I read Telling Liddy by Anne Fine, who has written many children’s books, the best known of which is probably Madame Doubtfire (filmed as Mrs Doubtfire). Telling Liddy is the story of four sisters. The titular Liddy has a new boyfriend and when one of the other sisters hears a rumour about him, they have to decide whether to tell Liddy. One sister thinks they should, the other 2 agree but then when Liddy gets mad act like they never wanted to tell her, leading to the sister who thought they should tell being blamed for everything and ostracised. Anne Fine is an excellent writer, but this book just didn’t do it for me. It was kind of odd and I didn’t care about any of the sisters. The whole family dynamic was just weird to me. I only gave this one 2 stars – I think I’ll stick to her children’s books in future!

15 points: Read a book set in Appalachia.

I read The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison-Allen. This list says it’s set in Appalachia and it had already been on my to-read list for a while. I liked this book. It was cute and comforting – a bit like the literary equivalent of comfort food. Not a masterpiece, but a nice little read. Garden Spells is better though, so if you haven’t read this author before I would go for that one. I gave The Peach Keeper four stars based on my enjoyment of it rather than any particular literary merit.

15 points: Don’t judge a book by its cover! Read a book with a cover you personally find unappealing.The_Magus

Ah, this was the book I was struggling with last month! I read The Magus by by John Fowles for this. The first part of the book draaagged. It was so full of “clever” observations and unnecessary convoluted descriptions. About half way through it started to pick up a bit and I actually enjoyed the middle part. Then the ending was really confusing. Overall, the book left me feeling like I wasn’t not clever/intellectual enough to be reading it. Three stars because I liked it more than I thought I would. I won’t read it again though! (Picture included so you can see the cover I didn’t like).

25 points: Read a book with a punny title.

I read Faust Among Equals by Tom Holt for this one, the original phrase of course being “first among equals”. Apparently this is a sort of sequel to Faust, but you can read it without having read Faust (I haven’t!). This book was quite funny/clever in some places, but the humour often seemed forced or too much, like the author was trying really, really hard to be “punny”. The writing style reminded me of Douglas Adams, but not as good. It was a quick read though and I quite enjoyed it. Four stars.

40 points: Read two books that contain the same word in the title, but once in the singular and once in the plural.

I read Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson for my plural word and The Secret History by Donna Tartt for my singular word. Both are on the BBC Big Read list.

Secrets was okay, but it is very much a children’s book. There are obviously children’s books that adults can enjoy (even by this author!), but this one doesn’t fall into the category for me. I can see why a ten year old girl would like it though. I gave it three stars.

The Secret History was not what I was expecting! I’m not sure what I was expecting though. I bought it without reading the description purely to cross another book off the BBC Big Read. Turns it it’s a sort of murder mystery in reverse – we know who committed murder; the book explains the why. I really enjoyed this one, even though it was just as full of Greek references as The Magus. The difference is this one didn’t seem to be looking down on my non-Greek-speaking self. Five stars!

So that’s 105 points gained this month. Added to my 30 from last month gives me a total of 135. Four categories worth a total of 65 points to go. I’m actually part way through books for two categories, so hopefully I’ll complete the challenge in August.

I also read some books for Book Challenge by Erin 5.0, but that will get its own post.

Summer Reading Challenge Month 1 + Read My Books

During June I was taking part in two reading challenges – Megan’s Summer 2016 Book Challenge and Erin’s #ReadMyBooks challenge, which basically meant that as well as sticking to Megan’s categories I had to read books that were already on my shelves waiting to be read. I did ask Erin whether it would be cheating to read almost all books I already owned since I didn’t already own books for every category, but the point turned out to be moot seeing as I only managed to read a total of 2 and a half books in June. Why must The Magus go on so?

So, checking in for the #SCSBC16:

30 points: Read one book with a good word in the title, and one with a bad word.

For my bad word, I read Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley (full review here); brief summary: it could have been good but was ultimately confusing and lacking in detail. I’m sure there are better books on cults out there! Two stars.

For my good word I went very literal and read A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation by Daniel Menaker. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but what I got was not it! It is neither particularly helpful for improving my awful social/conversational skills nor is it a particularly good explanation of what conversation actually is. The chapter on the history of conversation was boring and the analysis wasn’t very insightful and the “humour” had an air of trying too hard. Another two star read.

I’m currently reading The Magus by John Fowles for my book with an unappealing cover (the cover of the copy I have doesn’t appeal to me). Goodreads tells me I’m 58% of the way through (it doesn’t half drag on!) so maybe I’ll get some points for it next month? As it stands, I earned a total of 30 points in June.

As for reading my books… Erin’s challenge forced me to have a look at what actually is on my shelves! Amity & Sorrow moved to Basel with us but managed to get lost on the bottom shelf, I have no memory of buying A Good Talk but I must have since it was lurking on the non-fiction bookcase (yes, we have an entire bookcase for non-fiction) and it’s not something Jan would buy, and I finally reluctantly picked up The Magus, which has been lurking ominously for while wanting to be read for the BBC Big Read but being just long enough (and with an unappealing cover to boot) to put me off actually picking it up and getting started. Now I’m part way through, I have an incentive to actually push on to the end so I can cross another book off my 35 before 35 list.

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

No Friday letters today because I haven’t done enough this week to be able to think of any…

This month I am taking part in two reading challenges. One is Megan’s Summer Book Challenge, the second is the #Readmybooks challenge with TexErin, which is exactly what it says on the tin: during the month of June, Erin is challenging people to read only books they already own – no buying new ones or borrowing books from the library or friends. So that’s why I started my summer challenge reading with Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley. It actually moved to Basel with us, so it’s been in my possession for at least a year! Part of the reason I hadn’t read it was because it was on the bottom shelf where my eye tends not to wander as much, but mostly it’s because I kept buying new books that I was so excited about I just had to read them the minute I had them in my hot little hand. I read this book for the category “Read one book with a good word in the title, and one with a bad word”, which will be worth 30 points once I’ve read my good-word book (this one was the bad word – sorrow – although it could also have been a good word, since amity means friendly relations).

Amity-SorrowThe plot: Following a suspicious fire, Amaranth gathers her children and flees from the fundamentalist cult in which her children were born and raised. Now she is on the run with her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, neither of whom have seen the world outside the cult. After four days of driving Amaranth crashes the car, leaving the family stranded at a gas station.

Rescue comes in the unlikely form of a downtrodden farmer, a man who offers sanctuary when the women need it most. However while Amity blossoms in this new world, free from her father’s tyranny, Sorrow will do anything to get back home…

My review: This could have been a good book. The plot sounded really interesting and I actually really liked the character of Amity. She was the only one who actually seemed to develop throughout the book! However, the actual execution of the plot was really confusing. The present day parts were mainly told from Amity’s point of view, and they were mostly pretty good, but then there were flashbacks – either to Amaranth’s time in the cult or to her life before – and a lot of those didn’t make much sense. One particular flashback was presumably supposed to explain why Amaranth got married/joined the cult in the first place, but it really didn’t. (Well, I suppose she didn’t know it was a cult at first? Or she helped found the cult? I never figured that part out). Also, the synopsis on the back of the book says “Amaranth herself is beginning to understand the nature of the man she has left“, well I’m glad she did because I certainly didn’t – other than that he was obviously bad and liked sex a lot? Trigger warning for anyone planning to read it: there is child sex abuse! I gave this one two stars.

Summer Book Challenge 2016 preliminary list

It’s summer reading challenge time again! Well, nearly. I can’t start reading my books yet, but the categories have been released so I can decide what I’m going to read. This time, the number of pages has been cut down from 200 to 150, which is nice. Although I plan to use the challenge to try and make some progress with the BBC Big Read and most of the books on there are loooong!

As usual, we start with the rules:

General rules:

  • The challenge will run from June 1, 2016, to August 31, 2016. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on June 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on August 31 will count.
  • Each book must be at least 150 pages long. Audiobooks and large-print books are fine, as long as the regular print version meets the length requirement.
  • A book can only be used for one category, and each category can only be completed once.
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will be invited to contribute a category for the winter 2016 challenge.

Okay, formalities out of the way. Now for the most exciting part. Categories!

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long. Like I said, BBC Big Read, so I’m thinking I’ll go with The Color Purple by Alice Walker

10 points: Read a collection of short stories or essays. They may all be written by the same author, or the book may be an anthology from different writers; your choice! Maybe Different Seasons by Stephen King since it’s been sitting on my shelf for a while. Provided novellas count as short stories, that is. It’s a collection anyway.

10 points: Read an adult fiction book written by an author who normally writes books for children. Examples: J. K. Rowling, Judy Blume, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, etc. – Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Kelly E. Umm, maybe something by Judy Blume? I have nothing on my shelves so whatever I choose will have to be purchased. TBC.

15 points: Read a book set in Appalachia. – Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Ericka B. (Try this list or this one for inspiration. And here’s a map if you have a book in mind and want to know if it fits the setting.) No idea! I’ll have to check those lists and see if anything looks interesting. TBC.

15 points: Don’t judge a book by its cover! Read a book with a cover you personally find unappealing. I will need to look at some covers for this, but I’m hoping I can make it a Big Read book. TBC.

20 points: Read a book that you have previously only seen the film (movie) of. – Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Bevchen. Hey look, my category! Usually I read the book first, but I’ve definitely seen a few films and only realised later that they were based on books. I have two options for this: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby or Papillon by Henri Charrière.

25 points: Read a book with a punny title. The title can be a play on another book title, movie title or a common expression. Examples of such titles include Southern Discomfort, We’ll Always Have Parrots or Bonefire of the Vanities. – Submitted by SCWBC15 finisher Jamie G. I will let you know when I find something 🙂 TBC.

30 points: Read a microhistory. (Try this list or this one for ideas.) I had no idea what a microhistory was, but having looked at that list it seems I already own some! I have yet to read The Potato by Larry Zuckerman or Swindled by Bee Wilson so I’ll probably make it one of those.

30 points: Read one book with a good word in the title, and one with a bad word. Note: This category is reeeeeeeally open-ended! Maybe you like turtles, so The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is a title with a “good” word. Similarly, the “bad” word could be a swear word or a literally negative word like “not” or “none,” or it could just be something you don’t like. Have fun with it! (Remember, you must read both books to get 30 points; this category is not worth 15 points per book.) I’m thinking I might go reeaally literal with this one and make my bad wrd something like “war” and my good word “happiness” or similar. I haven’t picked specific books yet, though. TBC.

40 points: Read two books that contain the same word in the title, but once in the singular and once in the plural. For example: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, or Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. (Remember, you must read both books to get 40 points; this category is not worth 20 points per book.) I have a few ideas for this one. Trying to make it fit the Big Read, so I’m thinking Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The Old Man and the Sea and Two Men in a Boat are also options.

That’s all of this year’s categories. Looks like it’s going to be an interesting one! Roll on the 1st of June!

Are you joining in? You can link up your preliminary list or get ideas from everyone else’s here.

Literary Ladies Summer Reading Challenge – final check in

I was supposed to write this check in post yesterday since it was the last day of the challenge, but we were out from 8.30 a.m. until really late so it wasn’t possible. I didn’t finish anyway, but for the sake of consistency I’ll check in. I’m read two books this month, and also have one to add which I actually read before this month but have only just realised it counts!

In September, I completed two categories:

  • Read a YA book: Darkness, Be My Friend by John Marsden (the fourth book in the Tomorrow series, having read book 3 for another category).
  • Read a book with a one word title: Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston.

The other category I completed previously without realising was:

  • Read a book that has been on your TBR list for a year or more. I read The Shadow of the Wind because it’s on the BBC Big Read Top 200, and since I set myself the challenge to read everything on that list well over a year ago, by default every book on that list has by default been on my TBR for over a year! I read it in July, so it definitely counts for this challenge. Yeah, apparently I’m an idiot…

So here’s my final list:

  1. A YA book – Darkness, Be My Friend by John Marsden
  2. Non US Author Quite a few, to be fair, but: The Sea Sisters by by Lucy Clarke (British author)
  3. A book that was recommended by a blogger – Didn’t complete 😦
  4. A book that has been on your TBR list for a year or more – The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  5. A book with a kickass female character – The Third Day, The Frost by John Marsden
  6. A book that is or will be a movie (or TV show) – I’ve been reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin since July and still haven’t finished, so another fail for this category.
  7. A book written by a celebrity – Nope, another failure.
  8. A book with a one word title.  Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston
  9. A mystery or thriller – Without You by Saskia Sarginsson. It may have been a terrible thriller, but it still claimed to be a thriller 😉
  10. A book about Summer/with Summer in the title – I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

So, seven (and a half) categories out of ten completed. Hmm. The Semi-Charmed Winter Reading Challenge is coming up (in November) so hopefully I’ll do a better job with that. By that time Captain Corelli should finally be out of my hair…

To see what other people read for the challange, go here.

Literary Ladies Summer Book Challenge – Month 2

Hi all! Wow, I haven’t written a blog post since Monday! Poor bloggy. Today’s is going to be a short one, too, as we have our first overnight visitors since the move coming later and I have a tonne of things to get done before that. And my lunch break is already half over (thanks to that pesky actually having to eat thing!). But it’s check-in day for the Literary Ladies Summer Book Challenge, so I wanted to at least get a quick post in.

Last month I managed to read a whole two books, and I’m afraid I can’t say I’ve done any better this month! In fact, it was another two-book month, at least as far as the challenge goes:

  • Read a novel with a kickass female character. The Third Day, The Frost by John Marsden. This is the third book in the Tomorrow series, and if Ellie and her friends aren’t kickass then I don’t know who is! Also, forget about John Green, it’s John Marsden everyone needs to be raving about!
  • Read a suspenseful book – a mystery, a thriller, a book about revenge. Without You by Saskia Sarginson. The blurb says “In a captivating blend of mystery, thriller and emotional family drama, Without You will leave you unsettled, even as it touches your heart”. Well, I can’t say I found it particularly thrilling, but there is a mystery and the story should have been thrilling, in theory, so it counts. The category didn’t say whether it had to be a particularly good thriller…

I have actually read other books since the last check in, but either they were too short to count even if I had been able to shoehorn them into a category or I just couldn’t see a way to fit them in. Here are some of my other recent reads:

  • The Twins, also by Saskia Sarginson and much better than Without You!
  • Anything But Typical by Nora Baskin Raleigh – excellent story told from the perspective of an autistic boy (and too short to count for the challenge at only 195 pages)
  • The Improbable Cat by Allan Ahlberg  – weird, in future I’ll stick to his books for younger children
  • A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz – an interesting take on fairy tales (Hansel and Gretel star in other Grimm tales), but I was annoyed by all the comments to the reader. Just shut up and get on with the story already! Also, very gory/violent so I’d be careful which kids you give this one too!

I am currently reading Zorgamazoo, which will definitely be my one-word title book for the challenge, but didn’t finish in time for the check in. I’m only two chapters in so far but it’s already excellent!

Literary Ladies Summer Book Challenge: Month 1

Remember the Literary Ladies Summer Reading Challenge I was participating in? Well, it’s time for the first check in. Sadly, I haven’t actually been doing very well with it… I’ve managed a grand total of two books (I have read a few others this month, but they were either too short or didn’t fit the categories). Here’s what I’ve read so far:

  • A novel written by a non-US authorSea Sisters by Lucy Clarke (4 stars)
  • A book with “summer” in the titleI Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan (yes, the book the film was based on! 4 stars. See my GoodReads review here.) My copy of this book only just managed to qualify for the challenge – it has precisely 200 pages!

So I still have 8 categories to go. Hopefully I’ll do a better job over the next month! I’m flying to England for my cousin’s wedding on Friday so at least I’ll have plenty of reading time while hanging around airports and on planes/trains.

Literary Ladies Summer Book Challenge

Because apparently one summer reading challenge isn’t enough, I’ve decided to sign up for another one! After all, I’ve nearly completed Megan‘s (still need to finish reading Life of Pi, but once that’s done I’m finished!). This one is being run by, among other people, Kristen from See You in A Porridge, which is how I heard of it.

The rules are as follows:

  1. The Literary Ladies book challenge will run from June 21, 2015 until September 21, 2015. Only books read during that time will count.
  2. There are 10 categories to be completed. Once you complete all 10, reading all of the books necessary to satisfy each category, you have won.
  3. You are allowed 2 rereads for this challenge in order to be considered the prizes.
  4. Switching around books from your preliminary list is fine, but you can only use a book once to satisfy one category.
  5. All books must be 200 pages in length. If you are listening to your books, be sure that it complies accordingly.
  6. The first 3 categories are mandatory. But if you do not like one or two of the other 7 categories you can skip it and replace it with one of our book club picks! You can do this twice.

Also, with this one you can win actual prizes! Although I couldn’t care less about those. I just want to read!
Here are the categories, along with my preliminary choices. I’m using this as an opportunity to cross off some more books from the BBC Big Read for my 35 before 35. Book titles link to Goodreads.

  • Read a Young Adult novel.
    Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I was given it literally years ago so I should probably read it. But it’s so looong, and my copy is German!
  • Read a novel written by a Non-US author.
    The Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke (British author – I should probably have gone for a Swiss one really but I already have this waiting to be read and I don’t want to buy too many books for this challenge)
  • Read a book recommended by a blogger (or instagrammer / you-tuber / goodreads-er).
    Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healy, recommended by Amanda from Rhyme and Ribbons.
  • Read a book that has been on your TBR list for a year or more.
    Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley – I bought  this one at the beginning of June last year – so just over a year ago – and it’s still sitting on my bookshelf unread!
  • Read a novel with a kickass female character.
    Well, I wanted to read the third book in the Tomorrow series by John Marsden for this but I can’t find a single copy on Amazon Germany that can be delivered to Switzerland so I’ll have to have another think.
  • Read a book that is or will be a movie (or TV show)
    Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières.
  • Read a book written by a comedian or celebrity – or even a memoir if neither of those are your jam.
    Umm, maybe Bonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders. Or I might read Stephen Fry’s novel The Liar – I’ve already read and enjoyed another novel by him. I’ll just have to see what I can get hold of here.
  • Read a novel with a one word title.
    Persuasion by Jane Austen seems to be the only book on my shelf with a one word title that I haven’t read yet.

  • Read a suspenseful book – a mystery, a thriller, a book about revenge!
    I hope I’ll be able to tread The Girl on the Train for this, but it depends whether I can get it cheaply.
  • Read a book about summer, with summer in the title, or in any way related to summer (because this is a Summer challenge after all!)
    I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. Not sure it’s quite what they had in mind for a summer book, but it fits the category 😉

There are no points for the different categories in this challenge. Basically you just read them all in the time given and you’re a winner. Awesome! You can link up here.

Summer 2015 reading challenge: month 1

It’s the 1st of June, which means it’s time for the first check in for the summer reading challenge. And guys, I came *this* close to finishing (picture me with my thumb and finger positioned mere millimetres apart). I’m currently reading my final book for the challenge. One out of twelve not completed in time! And there goes my chance of being one of the first five finishers – I mean, there are bound to be people who actually finished this month. Oh, woe is me, etc. Anyway, here are the books I actually did manage to read this month. Some you’ll have seen already if you’re a regular reader. I will apologise in advance because this post is going to be long. I’ll understand if you skip it!

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that fits the general rules.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (244 pages). I read this book on the train on a day that I actually had to go into work. Managed to finish it in a 2-hour train journey so it’s a fairly quick read. It also drew me on, leaving me wanting to find out what on Earth was going on. warning: it’s fairly graphic/disturbing and the main character is clearly a sociopath, which for some reason didn’t stop me from liking him?? My main reaction to the “twist” ending was “What the hell just happened?” It was shocking, but somehow felt like it was shocking purely for the sake of being shocking. I mean, what did the ending have to do with anything? Sorry, that’s probably confusing. You’ll have to read the book to find out what I’m on about though. No spoilers here! Anyway, 3 stars.

10 points: Read a book you have never heard of before.
The Bees by Laline Paull (343 pages). I went into the train station bookshop to see if there were any books that would fit into this category, spied a book called “The Bees”, realised it was about actual bees, as in the insect, and was instantly sold. This is the story of Flora 717, a bee born into the lowest class of the totalitarian hive society. However, Flora 717 is different to other bees of her kind. The book has been described as a sort of Watership Down but with bees, but I don’t entirely agree with that. Yes, it has animal (well, insect) protaganists, but Watership Down is a different kind of story to me. Anyway, I LOVED this book. Caps totally necessary there. I’m not even sure whether I actually liked the story or am just entirely biased because bees!! Either way, 5 stars.

10 points: Read a book that has been on your TBR list for at least two years.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (323 pages). Jan has been telling me I should read this book ever since he read it, which was a lot more than 2 years ago! For some reason, I never did get round to it despite hearing good things from other sources, so this category seemed like the perfect opportunity – especially since Jan owns the book and I didn’t have to spend more money. You can read my full review here, but basically I liked it well enough but didn’t love it the way everyone else seems to, was disturbed by a few scenes and hated the protagonist. 3 stars.

10 points: Read a book that won a Goodreads “Best Book” award in 2014.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (225 pages) – won the Young Adult Fiction category. I chose this book for the simple reason that it cost less than Landline by Rainbow Rowell. To start with, this book felt like a pointless atory about a spoiled, rich teenager moaning about her petty, first-world problems. But then it somehow drew me in, mostly because it didn’t seem to make any sense and I was determined to figure out what was going on! Even after finishing it, I’m not entirely sure whether half the events really happened (other than the “main” one – I’m pretty sure that was real!). This probably has something to do with the protaganist being incredibly other dramatic and (in my opinion) not entirely sane. It was an okay book, but I’m not sure why it won the award. I’m sure there were much better YA novels released in 2014! 3 stars.

15 points: Read a book by an author who is completely new to you.
The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan (438 pages). I had never heard of this book or it’s author until I spied it in the bookshop! Also,I found the title quite misleading – there is a point early on in the book where the sort-of main character (there are 2 stories each with their own protagonist) says to her mother “That’s the girl in the photograph”. However, the “girl” the story is about is not actually the one in that photograph! To be honest, I’m not sure which photograph is being referred to! Basically, this is the story of two people – Alice, who finds herself unmarried and pregnant in 1933 and is sent away to have the baby so there won’t be a scandal – and Elizabeth, the wife of a former owner of the house Alice is sent to, who nobody talks about. The blurb says of Elizabeth  that her “only trace remains in a few tantalizingly blurred photographs”, so maybe she is supposed to be the “girl”? The story was quite good and gave some interesting insights into attitudes towards mental illness and illigitimacy in past times. However, I felt like there wasn’t enough distinction between the two time periods – it was only the events and characters that made me realise I was currently reading Alice’s or Elizabeth’s story. Another three star read.

15 points: Read a book by an author you have read before. (No re-reads for this one.)
Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden (276 pages). I bought So Much to Tell You by the same author from a second hand bookshop when I was about 14 or 15 – I think it cose me around 30p! Since then, I’ve read it at least once a year and cried every single time. I had heard the Tomorrow series is also good and bought the first in the series, but hadn’t read it until now. This book could also have worked for the “series with at least four books” category – there are seven! Which means I have another six books to go. In this first book, seven Australian teenagers go camping during the school holidays. When they return a week later, they find their houses empty and their pets starving. As I’m sure you can guess from the title, they quickly realise that their country has been invaded. Ellie (the narrator) and her friends face an impossible decision: they can flee to the mountains and try to survive or surrender. Or they can fight. Obviously they don’t choose the surrender option, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of  a story 😉 I really enjoyed this book. John Marsden somehow does an excellent job of getting inside the mind of a teenage girl and the dialogue between the characters always felt real. I even enjoyed the little romances that started to blossom between the teenagers – even though that’s something that tends to annoy me in YA distopian future novels (this is not a distopian future novel though, it’s a survivalist story set in the present, which at this stage is actually the past). My only minor criticism is that the book hasn’t aged too well – it’s set in the early 90’s (when it was written) and I’m not sure how well today’s teenagers will be able to relate to it. Examples of things that clearly date it: one character has a walkman and someone receives a fax. As I said, that’s a minor criticism though – John Marsden wasn’t to know that the future would contain MP3 players and smartphones! I thought this was a great introduction to the seires and gave it 5 stars. Can’t wait to see how it continues!

15 points: Read a book with “light” or “dark” in the title. (Or “lightness” or “darkness.”)
Light Shining in the Forest by Paul Torday (344 pages). This book could have fit into a few categories – it’s entirely new to me and I’d never heard of the author (although once I started reading I saw that he also wrote Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which I at least knew was a film). However, the reaon I initially picked it up was because it had “light” in the title.  The story is that Norman Stokoe, who has spent his life climbing up through the ranks as a civil servant, is mad “Children’s Czar” and sent off to North-East England. Then two children go missing (there is also a third missing child who is important to the story, but he went missing before the book begins). Norman, who has spent his career being “strategic” rather than “operational” (i.e. doing as little as possible!), is forced to get involved when a campaigning journalist and distraught mother find out about his title and start pestering him. So, on the face of it it sounds like an interesting story. A bit of a mystery and a chance to address the issue of missing chlildren. I also found the North-East setting interesting – alot of it takes place in Kielder Forest, for example, it was nice to read about familiar places (also I am sick of all the British books I read being set in London!). The bit that lost me was the introduction of religious overtones and vague references to miracles/the second coming. Sorry if you consider that a spoiler but personally if I’d known about that before buying the book I wouldn’t have bothered! The author also breaks the cardinal rule of writing – so much telling instead of showing! And so many explanations! I know what “bait” and “bairn” mean, thank you very much – although I suppose that it was necessary for readers who aren’t familiar with the Northumbrian dialect. I did read the book to the end because I ended up caring about the children an wanted to know what happened to them, but I wouldn’t read it again. Two stars.

20 points: Read a book with the name of a city, state or country in the title.
The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez (375 pages). This is chicklit pure and simple, but it’s chicklit set in Afghanistan which at least makes it a little unusual. If you’re looking to get to know Taliban-conrolled Afghanistan and all the evils of war, this is not the book for you. But if you just want a quick beach read go ahead and pick it up. my full review is here. Three stars.

25 points: Read a book that is part of a series with at least four books.
The Testimony of the Hanged Man by Ann Granger (327 pages). I picked this book up because the title intrigued me, then I saw that it was the fifth book in a series. The shop didn’t have book one of said series, so I bought this one based on the blurb. The story is that Inspector Ben Ross is called to the police station late one night to hear the testimony of a man who is about to be hanged the next day. He reveals that he witnessed a murder 15 years ago. Inspector Ross is initially not allowed to investigate, but his wife, who has a talent for inofficial detection (so says the blurb) take a trip to Somerset House and then to Putney Heath, where they discover information that convinces them that a murder really did take place. by this time, the witness has been hanged, but Inspector Ross is finally allowed to investigate anyway. This book sounded so, so good. A perfect Victorian murder mystery – no modern-day technology to help, just good old-fashioned detection. And a Miss Marple type (only younger) to help things along. But (you knew there was a but, right?) somehow the story felt a bit… flat to me. There seemed to be something missing and it just didn’t draw me in. I probably won’t bother with the rest of the series. Disappointing. Three stars.

25 points: Read a book that is longer than 500 pages long. — Submitted by winter finisher Kristen from See You in a Porridge.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (606 pages). Thanks for that one, Kristen!! I was so confused by this book. Parts of it were good, parts of it were just weird and most of the time I had no idea what the protagonist was even doing! Obviously I’m not philosophically minded enough. Full review here, and three stars.
30 points: Read a book with an alliterative title. (All words in the title must begin with the same letter; no exceptions for articles or prepositions. Examples: Gone Girl or Nicholas Nickleby.)
Ghost Girl by Lesley Thomson (466 pages). This is the second book in a series, but the first didn’t work for the category (The Detective’s Daughter – stupid the!). It took me a while to get into this one, possibly because I didn’t know the characters already from the first book and found them confusing. I ended up getting really into it though. I especially enjoyed the parts that took place in the past and were written from the perspective of a young girl – the author did a really good job of getting into the mind of a child. I didn’t guess whodunnit either or figure out the relationship between two of the characters. Full review here. Four stars.

So, that’s 180 out of 200 points (grrr!). And now I have a month to finish reading The Life of Pi. If you actually made it this far, you deserve a medal!

Two book reviews for the 2015 summer reading challenge

I read these two books one after the other and both are set (or partly set) in Afghanistan, so I thought I’d review them both in one blog post. I read The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul for the category “Read a book with the name of a city, state or country in the title”, worth 20 points, and The Kite Runner for the category “Read a book that has been on your TBR list for 2+ years”, worth 10 points.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

Little Coffee ShopThe plot: This is the story of a little coffee shop, run by an American expat, and all the people who work and gather there. It’s mostly the story of five women, Sunny – the owner of the café, Halajan – an Afghan woman who works for her and still remembers the days before the Taliban, Isabel – a British journalist on the trail of a risky story, Candace – a wealthy American whose desire to help (and desire for a man) threatens to cloud her good judgement and Yasmina – a young, pregnant woman stolen from her village and then abandoned on the streets, who Sunny takes in. As the group get to know each other, they discover there’s more to each of them than meets the eye and form an unlikely friendship that will change their lives forever. (According to the blurb, said friendship will also change Afghanistan forever but errm, I don’t think so!).

My review. First of all, I have to say this is basically chick lit! Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with chick lit, but if you were looking for a book that depicts the hardships of life in Afghanistan… this is not it! I mean, it does touch on those aspects (it’s pretty difficult to entirely ignore the fact that the plot takes place in the middle of a war zone!), but even when bad things happen, they never feel particularly shocking or devastating, and all the way through you just know things are going to work out in the end. Of course there’s a romance or two weaving through the plot, and in typical chick-lit fashion, everybody ends up with the right man for them. This is a quick read, perfect for a day at the beach or a rainy day stuck at home. Despite a few interesting elements that come about mainly thanks to the setting, it’s basically a mindless read for those days when you just don’t feel like taxing your brain. 3 stars.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerThe plot: This is the story of two boys growing up together in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. Amir is the spoiled son of a rich man, Hassan is the son of a loyal servant. Despite that, the two boys are best friends. The year the boys are 12, Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament, and Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can predict what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that will shatter their lives. later, after the Russians invade, Amir and his father flee to America, and Amir realises that one day he will have to return to Afghanistan to find the one thing his new life cannot grant him:redemption.

My review. This is a surprisingly easy read, in the sense that you can get through it fairly quickly, once you’ve got used to the author’s style of writing. But in terms of subject matter, it’s tough. There are a number graphic scenes of war and violence, including rape (so don’t read it if such things are likely to upset you!). I spent most of the book wanting to sake the narrator, Amir. He’s a spoiled, selfish daddy’s boy and a coward. Yes, he was a child during the main events of the book and can in no way be blamed for his cowardice, but even before that he was jealous, self-centred and spoiled. And even when he does the right thing in the end, I felt as if he was doing it more for the sake of purging his own feelings of guilt than for the right reasons, to save a child.He does redeem himself but I still don’t find him very likeable. Having said that, I did like the book. It’s very different to the kind of thing I normally read and, while disturbing at times,  I think we all need to have our eyes opened about the things that go on in the world. However, I didn’t love the book like 99% of reviewers seem to have. 3 stars.

So there you have it. One location, two very different stories. I would say both are worth a read, depending on your own personal preferences, but I probably won’t read either of them a second time.