Book Stuff · Reading Challenges

My year ahead in books.

I’ve been thinking for the last few days about which, if any, reading challenges I’m going to take part in this year. I loved this post by Sarra Manning about her reading resolutions for 2017. For me, I want to try and make sure I’m reading as broadly as possible. I’ve found over the last couple of years I’m reading more of a mix of adult and young adult books again, I’m enjoying this but want to make sure that the books I’m selecting are more broadly representative.

I’ve decided at the moment on two reading challenges.

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First up is the British Books Challenge, hosted this year by Michelle at Tales of Yesterday. I’ve done this challenge in the past, and I want to make sure I’m continuing to support books by British authors. I’m not going to be writing reviews on here any more, though there will still be bookish posts, but I’m hoping to get better at sharing my brief thoughts on the books I’m reading on my Goodreads, and maybe Instagram or Twitter too.

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The second challenge I’ve decided on is YA Interrobang and The Gay YA’s #queer52 reading challenge. They’ve listed 52 queer YA books, there are three levels of challenge – 12 books, 24 books or the full 52.I’m not going to choose a level yet, I’m going to focus on reading as many of them as I can. There are 6 I’ve already read, a few I own but haven’t read yet and many that have been on my must read list for some time so I think this is going to be a good challenge for me.

Finally I’ve set my Goodreads target for the year. I’ve gone for 104 books like last year, an average of 2 books a week feels like a good achievement.

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Reading Challenges

Starting #PaperVsPixels

I haven’t been reading very much recently. The current uni workload I have is zapping a lot of my time and energy – even when I’m not sat at my desk studying I’m thinking about it. This doesn’t make for particularly good reading conditions (or blogging conditions as you may have noticed from the lack of recent posts). When I saw Hot Key Books launch Laure Eve’s #PaperVsPixels challenge for April I thought I’d get involved in the hope of getting back into the reading flow a little more.

The challenge is simple. Inspired by Laure’s book Fearsome Dreamer, which features two technologically opposing cultures, you’re being asked to choose just one reading format for April. In Laure’s own words:

The challenge: read in only one format for the whole month of April. If you’re a digital type, read physical. If you’ve never tried audio – try nothing but audio. For one month. Record your experiences on #papervspixels and share them with us on tumblr, twitter, YouTube or your blog – and let me know how you’re doing @LaureEve too!

I love both physical and eBooks, I think both have very valid places in my reading life. I looked at my 2014 reads spreadsheet (yes, I have a spreadsheet and it is a thing of beauty) and worked out that I’d read far more physical books than eBooks, if it hadn’t been for a pair of long train journeys I’d have read even fewer. So for April I’m picking Pixels.

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I have a good couple of hundred books waiting for me to read them, over half are eBooks. I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with some of the books I’ve downloaded and proceeded to ignore. I have no idea how many books I’ll manage to read, the last three months have seen me only read 3 – 5 books, hopefully I’ll manage to increase this count a little.

Reading Challenges

The 48 Hour Book Challenge : The Finish Line.

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It’s time to post my finish line for this week’s 48 Hour Book Challenge. I didn’t call an end after posting my last two reviews in case I found a bit more reading time but sadly I didn’t. So my totals were:

10 books
2,821 pages
16 hours 20 minutes logged
(14 hours 20 minutes reading, 2 hours blogging and networking)

The 10 books I read.
The 10 books I read.

Out of the 10 books I read I enjoyed most of them, there were a few I completely loved, and there was one I really didn’t like. I think that’s a pretty good result. I enjoyed the experience a lot, and I feel a real sense of achievement looking at my to be read shelves and seeing all the gaps I’ve created.

I’ve also raised £70 (£85 including giftaid) for the Hypermobility Syndrome Association so far, I know of at least one person who is still intending on sponsoring me, so it’s nice to feel that I’ve done a little bit of good whilst enjoying so many books. Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me, it really means a lot.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC – League of Strays by L B Schulman and Holes by Louis Sachar.

Another two books read bringing my totals to 10 books, 2,821 pages and 14 hours 15 minutes reading time.

League of Strays by L B Schulman. Amulet.
LeagueOfStraysWhen a mysterious note appears in Charlotte’s mailbox inviting her to join the League of Strays, she’s hopeful it will lead to making friends. What she discovers is a motley crew of loners and an alluring, manipulative ringleader named Kade. Kade convinces the group that they need one another both for friendship and to get back at the classmates and teachers who have betrayed them. But Kade has a bigger agenda. In addition to vandalizing their school and causing fights between other students, Kade’s real intention is a dangerous plot that will threaten lives and force Charlotte to choose between her loyalty to the League and her own conscience.

When I first saw the cover of this book I liked it, but as time went on and I thought longer about it I liked it less and less – particularly the rather sinister appearance of the hold the boy has the girl in. This turned out to pretty much mirror my reading experience, I started off thinking the book was okay but the more and more I read the less comfortable I was with what I was reading.

The theme of the plot is revenge, this group of outcasts are all drawn together to exact revenge on the individuals who have wronged them most. Unfortunately this means the group stoop to the level of, and generally even lower than, the bullies who they’re out to get. I’m completely uncomfortable with the suggestion this is an appropriate way to act, and then we come on to the characters.

The five central characters, these outcasts, are all sadly rather stereotyped. I found I couldn’t identify with them, and I certainly couldn’t support their actions. Kade, the ringleader and lead male character is deeply disturbing, even more disturbing is the way the three girls all accept his dangerous behaviour with two of them both developing feelings for him – not the kind of relationship I want to see in any book.

I did read to the end of the book, I needed to see how it ended and whether there was anything to redeem the book. By getting to the end I think I can see what the author was aiming for (and I’ve since read a few blog posts by her that back this up) but for me it just did not work. Not one I’ll be putting on my library shelves.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Bloomsbury.
HolesStanley Yelnat’s family has a history of bad luck, so he isn’t too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys’ juvenile detention centre. At Camp Green Lake the boys must dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the dried up lake bed. The Warden claims the labour is character building, but it is a lie. Stanley must dig up the truth.

Holes is one of those books that has lurked on my “so guilty I haven’t read it” list for far too long so I knew it was going to be one of my choices this weekend. Now I’ve read it, I only wish I’d read it sooner, and then re-read it and re-read it. What a pleasing read it is, looking at the long list of awards it won I can’t say I’m remotely surprised.

The main plot following Stanley and his trials and tribulations at the juvenile work camp combined with the minor historical plot featuring Kissing Kate Barlow work so well together. I was completely gripped and felt completely invested in what was happening.

I loved every minute of this reading experience, I’ll be urging anyone I know who hasn’t read this book to give it a go.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC: The Vandal by Ann Schlee and The Night Sky in my Head by Sarah Hammond.

Day 2 of the challenge has started well with two more excellent reads. I’m now up to 11 hours 20 reading time and 2,314 pages.

The Vandal by Ann Schlee. Catnip.
TheVandalPaul started a fire.

Tonight he will do as he always does: take the Drink and submit the day’s events to the MEMORY.

Tomorrow the MEMORY will remind him what happened today. Paul trusts the MEMORY.

But should he?

This book is a reissue by Catnip Publishing, it was originally published in 1979 and won the Guardian Prize for Children’s Fiction. I was told that you would have no idea it hadn’t been written recently, and I have to say that’s absolutely right. It feels fresh and current, it definitely doesn’t feel older than I am!

The book straddles the boundary between sci fi and dystopia nicely. It works so well because it’s not a big stretch of the imagination to see how this could be a potential future – the idea of this level government control is all too believable.

I loved the world building in this book, I found I could really imagine how it looked and functioned. I liked Paul a lot as a lead character, his spirit in particular had me hooked.

The Night Sky in my Head by Sarah Hammond. Oxford University Press.
NightSkyInMyHeadStep backwards. Witness the murder. Find the truth

Mikey Baxter isn’t like other fourteen year old boys. Not since the accident.

The world sees him as damaged. But Mikey has a remarkable gift: the ability to go backwards in time and witness things that hide in the shadows.

Now he must uncover the terrifying truth behind his dad’s disappearance. Before the past starts to repeat itself . . .

This book opens with an intriguing prologue and then gets going with the action right from chapter 1. We’re quickly introduced to Mikey, and to the fact that Mikey is able to see The Backwards – shadows and places offer up reruns of things that happened in the past for him to see. Of course the adults in his life don’t believe this, labeling it as delusions or just another facet of the brain damage he suffered when he was younger.

Mikey’s story has him piecing together the circumstances around his father’s disappearance. Everyone has kept many of the details from him and he doesn’t know why, but as he investigates and uses The Backwards to help him he starts to uncover things that maybe no one else know either. At the same time Mikey’s experiencing new things, making friends and finally starting to work out where he fits in the world and what he might like the future to hold.

This book has a lovely, warm feeling to it. I can understand the comparisons with both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Skellig, I think for me it sits happily at the crossroads between the two books. I really enjoyed reading it, and have already got a couple of people in mind to recommend it to.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC: An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons and Hidden Among Us by Katy Moran.

Books 5 and 6 of this weekend are well and truly read, bringing me to a total of 1,798 pages read in 8 hours 55 minutes.

An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons. Indigo.
AnActOfLoveSeven-year-old Chris and Imran are sworn blood brothers.

Ten years on they are treading seperate paths. The spectre of terrorism has wrecked their friendship. It has changed their lives and could even end them.

A story of two ordinary boys growing up in an extraordinary time – our time. A time of terror, when atrocities don’t happen in the TV reports about people in far away places.

Rioting, fighting, maiming, and killing are happening here, on our doorstep.

Wow. What a book! It tackles a pretty big and tricky topic, and it does it so well. I paused a few times to marvel at how well balanced it was, you get to see both Chris and Imran’s sides of the story. The book’s written in such a way that you feel like you have an understanding of why they, Imran in particular, make the decisions that they do but whilst it tries to explain things it never tries to justify them.

Structurally this book’s quite complex, there’s the storyline of what’s happening the day the book is set and then there’s the storyline of what happened to the two boys from the time they were boys right up until the day the book is set. These two storylines are skilfully woven together, and told from both perspectives so the reader really gets a sense of the characters and their relationships.

There’s a real sense of peril throughout the book. The opening chapter sets up an end point for both storylines and I found as I got further and further through it my heart started racing a little faster, wondering how it was all going to resolve.

All in all, an impressive read, and one that’s made me determined to read more by Alan Gibbons.

Hidden Among Us by Katy Moran. Walker Books.
HiddenAmongUsWhen Lissy meets a mysterious and strangely beautiful boy on her way to Hopesay Edge, she is deeply unsettled by their encounter.

She discovers that the boy, Larkspur, is a member of the Hidden, an ancient group of elven people, whose secrets lie buried at Hopesay Reach. Before long, Lissy and her brother Rafe find themselves caught by a powerful magic and fighting to escape a bargain that can never be broken.

I’d read enough reviews of this book to know that it wasn’t going to be what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t. This is a fantasy book, with fae creatures and lore, and a great thriller sense running through it.

I did find it a little slow going initially, but I think that was a lot to do with my not quite working out how the various characters were linked to one another – I flicked back and forwards a few times trying to work out who was related to who. Once I got my head round this I found the book absolutely whipped by.

I liked that this book felt original, I think the characters really worked in this respect – they were well developed and felt like individuals. So much of the focus of this book was on the characters, what they’d done in the past, how they were acting now and I loved this.

I loved the dark and twisty nature of this book, whilst I was very satisfied by the conclusion I would welcome a follow up book so I could see what happens next.

This is the end of my first day of the 48 Hour Book Challenge. I’m thrilled with what I’ve achieved so far and looking forward to another good day of reading tomorrow. I’m also thrilled with how the total on my sponsorship page is slowly rising – there’s still time to sponsor me if you would like to, the link is here.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC: Summertime of the Dead by Gregory Hughes and Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver.

Books 3 and 4 are both read, my totals now stand at 5 hours 10 minutes reading, and 1,213 pages read.

Summertime of the Dead by Gregory Hughes. Quercus.
SummertimeYukio’s two best friends are dead. Tormented and blackmailed by the Yakuza – the Japanese mafia – they have taken their own lives. Yukio is a kendo champion and he knows all the stories of the samurai. Heartbroken and furious, he is determined to avenge the deaths of his beloved Hiroshi and Miko.

And so begins a deadly struggle between Yukio and the Yakuza, and between Yukio’s capacity for love, and his thirst for revenge. Shot through with the beauty of Tokyo in spring, this is an unforgettable and uncompromising read.

Wow, this was such a contrast to the first two books I read this morning. A tale of grief and vengeance, this is a dark and at times disturbing read. It’s utterly captivating, I put off stopping to have lunch because I was so desperate to find out what was going to happen.

It feels quite claustrophobic at times, the way it is written really evokes the sense of the hot, bustling city – I felt that this worked so well to mirror how everything is weighing down on Yukio. This was paired with the lighter, almost redemptive sub plot focusing on Yukio’s visiting niece – a really welcome addition to the story.

One thing I did find was that I had to remind myself at times that Yukio is only 14 years old. I found that the decisions he makes and actions he takes often made it feel like he is much older than he is. I think this book’s probably better suited to slightly older teens than Yukio, I think it could make an excellent book group title – there’s certainly lots of scope for discussion.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver. Hodder & Stoughton.
LieslAndPoLiesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice,until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.

Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

How I loved this book! It’s an absolute gem of a read, a lovely fairytale-esque story complete with the most beautiful illustrations courtesy of Kei Acedera. I fell in love with the book within the first few pages, it was a reading experience I didn’t really want to see end.

The story is relatively simple, a number of mix ups send the various characters on paths that cross each others’ throughout, but it is the deeper themes that really make this book sing. Liesl’s quest to take her father’s ashes and bury them under the willow tree where they buried her mother years before really tugs at the heartstrings, even though I could see the problems with this plan I was still willing her to achieve her aim.

This book feels like the childrens’ books I read and loved as a child. There is a timeless quality to it that I think would make it as enjoyable for the parent reading aloud as for the child listening to it. It’s a real departure from the author’s YA books, but I think it’s going to be the one I will return to time and time again.