Reading Wrap-Up: May 2019

May was a bit of a funny reading month. I’d remembered it as all quite positive (not least because I did a lot of reading while we were on holiday in Italy) but then looking at my reading spreadsheet (yes, I know), I only read 5 books and the quality was a bit hit and miss!

First up was The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, which I only gave 2 stars out of 5. I picked it up because I’m trying to make a real effort to read the books that I’ve had for years this year. It’s about a young child, Carmel, who is kidnapped while at a storytelling festival with her mum but believes her kidnapper when he tells her that her mother is dead and that he is her grandfather and so has no idea that she ought to be trying to get home. It’s all quite tense early on and I was flying through it. As the story went on though, I started struggling. Carmel gets dragged into a world of religious healings and the novel becomes less about Carmel being missing and more about her exploitation by her ‘grandfather’. It was frustrating to read, repetitive and only really skimmed the surface of what was going on. The ending came out of nowhere and wasn’t the ‘pay off’ I wanted. All a bit meh.

While I was on holiday, I moved onto The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I love a bit of time travel, this was short and another that I’ve had on my Kindle since 2014. It was fine. 3 star fine. The version I read was only 124 pages so it was a bit bish-bash-bosh light touch for me. A man makes a time machine, nips thousands of years into the future, finds some friendly inhabitants and some not-so-friendly inhabitants and some peril and then zips home again. Boom. Job done. Worth a try but not amazing.

After those two, I was desperate for something strong and turned to a favourite author – Brandon Sanderson. I read the first book in his Mistborn trilogy way back in 2015 so reading The Well of Ascension was long overdue. I had to read a catch-up online because we get straight back into the action in this second instalment but I easily settled back into the world and the characters. I love the magic systems that Sanderson creates and the one in this trilogy is no exception. It’s all based around consuming metals, with different metals giving those who can consume them different powers. The scope of the trilogy is…well, epic. This middle book was wonderful and I loved the ending. I only gave it 4 stars because there were times it was dawdling along. There’s a lot of politics and manoeuvring and it could easily have been 100 pages shorter but I really enjoyed it and I will absolutely be finishing the trilogy. Hopefully soon but who can say?

While trucking through the 781 page Sanderson there was an afternoon where I wanted a bit of a quick fix so I picked up Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. I really, really enjoyed it. Also a solid 4 stars. It’s a fairly short graphic novel about a teenage girl, Anya, who falls into a hole one day and encounters the ghost of a girl who had previously fallen in and died. Let’s ignore the fact that someone died falling into a hole and nobody thought to cover it up and move on! Anya’s relationship with the ghost moves into dark territory and that’s all appropriately creepy and brilliant. What’s more impressive though is how the novel also manages to capture so well what it’s like being a teenage girl. The insecurities about your weight and how you look, trying to work out who you are and tackling idiot adolescent boys. Add in the fact that Anya is a Russian immigrant and struggles with being from a different culture and there’s a whole lot packed into the relatively few pages. Definitely recommended.

Last up was The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins. I loved this one too! Not quite 5 stars but a very high 4 stars. I got this in a Books and Beer subscription box earlier this year. Sadly the accompanying beers are long since gone but the book was worth the wait I inflicted on it. I love a good crime novel anyway and this one just felt so British and comforting to read (you know, for a book about murder). It had so much personality and the writing was fantastic. The novel is written in the first person from the perspective of DI Meg Dalton and the tone is wry and darkly funny. When the novel opens, a local patent attorney is found dead in a cave. A centuries old carving of the grim reaper and the victim’s own initials is found on the wall behind him. There are century old mysteries alongside the present danger and there are plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. If you like a contemporary crime novel, you could do a lot worse!

And that was my May! A mixed bag but picked up at the end. What have you been reading recently?

Magical Readathon: O.W.L.s Wrap Up

Better two weeks late than never? I really enjoyed the O.W.L.s Readathon so even if it is super late, I wanted to wrap up so that I could pick back up with the N.E.W.T.s in August!

In the end, I passed 8 O.W.L.s, which I’m super pleased with! Exceeded Expectations isn’t too shabby 🙂 I had to change up my TBR mid-month as my original pile proved a little ambitious but even so I’m happy with what I read, not least because there were books I picked up that I really enjoyed that I’d had on my shelves for years.

Potions – Read a sequel – Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

I flipping loved this one. I read the first book in the trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, last year and liked it but was a bit lukewarm about the romance thread. The series features some pretty kick-ass angels and a war between them and the chimaera (the ‘demons’ of the world).  I really like that Taylor is playing around with good and evil and all of the grey areas in between and her world building is just incredible. Surprisingly for a middle book in a trilogy, this was actually stronger than the first and I can’t wait to see how the series wraps up soon.

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Read a book with a title beginning with ‘R’ – Reckless by Cornelia Funke

This was a bit of an odd one. I’ve had it on my shelves for about 4 years without realising that it’s translated fiction, fitting this read neatly into my goal to read more translated fiction this year. In some ways, this was beautiful – it has a whimsical fairytale feel to it, set in a world reached through a mirror that is full of fairies and other magical creatures. The plot was a little bit too runaway for me in the end though. It follows Jacob trying to find a cure for his cursed brother and it barrels wildly through encounters with man-eating creatures, jealous fairies, dragons and cottages belonging to carnivorous witches. It’s easy reading and fun in a way but just a bit off the wall.

History of Magic – Read a book published at least 10 years ago – Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Another one that I really enjoyed! I actually wrote a full review of this one so won’t say too much here. It made me cry and I can absolutely see why it’s generally regarded as a sci-fi classic.

Charms – Read an adult novel – The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson

This was where I went off script. I’m not usually a short story fan but I am a Shirley Jackson fan so thought it was worth a shot. There are three short stories in this Penguin Modern mini and I kind of liked two and think I was missing something on the other.  At less than 60 pages, it’s probably handy if you want to try out Jackson’s style but I wasn’t blown away.

Divination – Read a book set in the future – Red Clocks by  Leni Zumas

I was expecting more from this than I ended up getting, unfortunately. It’s set in a future where abortions have become illegal and women are arrested for either having one, performing one or even attempting to have or perform one. The novel follows a few different characters – a pregnant teenager, a miserable wife, a woman who is desperate to have a baby and a woman who performs abortions (among other things). I liked some narratives more than others, which meant that there were whole sections that I eventually just stopped enjoying. The wife in particular drove me bonkers. It makes some fascinating points about what it is to be a woman and what defines what a woman is but it’s a little bit off as a novel.

Herbology – Read a book with a plant on the cover – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This was a huge book in 2016 and everybody seemed to love it. Now I really liked it a lot but I didn’t quite love it. The writing is gorgeous and the characters are excellently developed and balanced but (and I do hate to say this) it was a bit dry in places. It felt just a bit too long to me. Cara, a newly widowed young woman, moves to the country and meets William, a pastor in a small village congregation. The story of their relationship is charming and I’m always there for a story of women in Victorian England trying to live independently. It’s not one for you if you’re all about pace and action but it’s absolutely worth a read.

Transfiguration – Read a book with sprayed edges or a red cover – Feminists Don’t Wear Pink: Essays by various women collated by Scarlett Curtis

The older I get, the more I find myself identifying as a feminist. This book (with delightfully pink end sprayed edges) is a collection of essays, poems and other writings from a whole host of women about what being a feminist means to them. There are some that are hilarious, some that are so inspiring and others that are moving. I read it throughout the month, picking it up for half an hour here or there, and every time I picked it up, I found myself feeling uplifted and really positive. It’s a great collection and one I think should be required reading for young girls and women.

Muggle Studies – Contemporary – Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

This wasn’t on my original TBR but I borrowed it from the library and it fits into this prompt so bonus! I haven’t read a poetry collection since I was about 17 but I heard a lot about this one last year and I was curious to give one a try. I wasn’t prepared for how genuinely emotional I’d find reading it. Danez Smith is a gay black man who is HIV positive and his writing is unflinchingly direct, raw and hugely impactive. It’s absolutely for adult readers but I’d really recommend it if you’re not usually a poetry reader but fancy giving some a try.

What have you been reading recently? Let’s chat in the comments!

Flashback to a Favourite: ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

Before starting She Reads, She Runs, I had another book blog. I loved that book blog but I felt like it had got a bit stale, too narrowly focussed and, to be honest, glitchy in a way that I lacked the technical ability to fix. While I’m still really happy with that decision, I do miss having all of the reviews of my favourites, those elusive 5 star reads, in my current blogging space.  And so I’ve decided to carry them over in Flashback to a Favourite! Each will be my original review, with a few thoughts on whether or not I still think of them as a favourite.

First up: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation. 
 
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed. 

A world at stake. 

A quest for the ultimate prize. 

Are you ready?

Thoughts in 2019: I still remember this so clearly that I was genuinely surprised to see that I first read it in January 2015! I almost never reread books but this is one that I could see myself picking back up at some point – I haven’t found anything like it in the years since I picked it up so it seems like if I want that heady mix of 80s pop culture, computer game madness and RPG-like adventure, I’m going to have to go back to the best. If you’re in the market for something that’s an unabashedly fun read, this would still be at the top of my list. I actually haven’t seen the film adaptation (or even read Ernest Cline’s subsequent novel) because I didn’t want it to “ruin” the book for me. If you have seen it, I’d definitely be interested to hear what you thought and whether I should brave it!

Thoughts in 2015:

I don’t even know where to start with this.  Maybe with the reason I even picked up Ready Player One?  I’d heard of it maybe a couple of years ago when everybody started reading it, mentally noted it as something to pick up one day if I happened across it and then forgot all about it.  I was reminded every now and then when I saw it on the occasional list of favourites but it was never something I felt like I had to go out and buy.  Until a friend texted me in January at nearly midnight on a Sunday with much upper case enthusiasm and said that I HAD TO READ READY PLAYER ONE.  So I did.  Because I am nothing if not easily led by enthusiastic reader friends into reading pretty much anything.

I was promised that it would be amazing.  And it is.  Absolutely, unrelentingly, unputdownably amazing.  Reading it was the most fun I’ve had reading a book in years and I didn’t ever want it to stop.  It manages to be both completely niche in its unashamed geekiness but also completely accessible.  I was born in the late 80s (ok, fine, 1986 is probably “mid-80s” but whatever) so I’m really more au fait with 90s popular culture and missed a few of the computer game references but I knew enough about the music and films of the time that I could still feel connected.  Even if I hadn’t got those references, I honestly believe that I would still have loved it because Cline just writes with such an obvious love for all things “nerdy” that it’s infectious.The text is quite small and there’s a lot on a page so when I opened it on the 10th of January, I thought it would maybe take a couple of weeks.  I finished it on the 12th.  I was travelling quite a lot in that couple of days, sure, but I was obsessed with it.  And not in a general “oh, this is a good book” way.  The kind of all-encompassing obsession with a book that means that you eat reading it, read it when you’re stood waiting for anything that will take any longer than 2 minutes and just generally ignore everybody else in your life until you’ve finished and can look to them for consolation over the gaping hole the book has left.

Ready Player One may well be an homage to 80s pop culture but it’s also a gripping science fiction adventure story that’s grounded just well enough in reality that it doesn’t take long to lose yourself in.  I don’t read a lot of science fiction because I don’t like reading long descriptions of technological advance or political background or, heaven forbid, actual science.  Cline has managed to write something that is both undeniably science fiction but without the tedium.  Somehow, you completely understand both the real and virtual world that Wade lives in without having to suffer through any dry explanations.  It’s impeccable and not really all that much of a stretch of imagination.  I remember when Second Life was launched about 10 years ago and the media was filled with tales of women leaving their husbands for men they’d met while building their perfect life.  You don’t have to read the news for too long to see endless stories about bankruptcy, environmental disaster and how badly we’re damaging the world.  Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine a world where everybody is crowded into small spaces without any money or natural resources, seeking refuge online?  Add in an adventure story and you’ve got something golden.

The online contest and the bedlam that ensues when Wade happens across the first clue is so, so much fun.  Like everything else about this book.  The pace is pretty hectic but not so much that it seem rushed or overwhelming.  When I could feel that the story was starting to wrap up, I was genuinely sad.  I could still be reading about Wade and about his friends two months later and I’m pretty sure I’d still be happy.

The story is amazing.  The characters are amazing.  The writing is amazing.  The whole damn thing from start to finish is AMAZING.  Consider this your midnight text.

Overall:  My biggest problem with Ready Player One is that finishing it and knowing that I’d read one of the best books I was going to read all year.  Nothing since has even been close to being as good.  Just read it, already.

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Date finished: 12 January 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre: Science fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in June 2012 by Broadway Books

Marathon Update: On knowing when to change goals

When I first started this blog, it was with the intention that I’d keep track of my marathon training and chat about what I was reading while I was at it.  The blogging hasn’t panned out how I’d hoped. Nor, sadly, has the marathon training.

I knew going into it that marathon training was a huge undertaking. I knew that it would take commitment and time. I knew it, and yet somehow I still really didn’t. I started well. I racked up the miles and I enjoyed the vaguely therapeutic feeling of ticking training runs off a plan. I ate well and I was focussed. Then I got really busy at work. As in start-work-before-breakfast-work-through-lunch-stay-late busy. For weeks. As those weeks ticked by and the training run ticking-off slowed, I started feeling guilty. Running had gone from being something that I loved to being just another thing that I had to feel badly about not doing properly, like seeing my friends and family.

By the time I had some spare time again, I was miles behind. Literally. I should have been up to about 35 miles a week and I was just about getting back to 15 miles. I was running but every time I did run, I felt like it wasn’t far enough, wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t enough. The one thing that was usually my outlet had become another thing on my ‘to do’ list. I struggled on for a few weeks, berating myself for long work evenings during the week and for resting too much at the weekends. I struggled with the idea of ‘quitting’ and telling people that actually no, I wasn’t going to run a marathon in May. Eventually I realised that I was being ridiculous.

And so I stopped.

Not running necessarily but training. I resigned myself to 2019 not being the year that of the Liverpool Marathon for me. Or indeed any marathon. I switched off my training plan on MapMyRun and stopped the relentless Sunday emails telling me just how many miles I was supposed to be covering that week. I’ve since spent a few weeks just doing a whole range of gym classes again. I’ve been spinning, I’ve been to circuits classes and I’ve been to bootcamp classes. And it’s been wonderful. It’s been fun again!

I finally went for a run this week and it was glorious! I ran without caring about distance or speed or when I’d be able to fit in another run. I just ran.

I do definitely want to run a marathon one day when I have more time to dedicate to those mid-week 10km runs and the weekend long runs. Maybe that will be next year and maybe it won’t be for ten years. I don’t know. But until then, I’m just going to run.

How do you know when a goal you’ve set yourself isn’t working for you anymore? When is ‘quitting’ really just ‘resetting’? Let me know I’m not alone!

Book Chat: ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes

Like any self-respecting science fiction fan, I’ve seen Flowers for Algernon on countless ‘best of…’ lists. I’ve owned the Gollancz SF Masterworks version for a good couple of years and have passed over it so many times. And so begins another review that kicks off with me chastising myself for allowing such a great book to languish on my shelves for so long.

I loved Flowers for Algernon. It tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a man with an IQ of 68 who sweeps the floors and makes deliveries at a local bakery. He is chosen as the first human research subject by doctors trialling a new operation that will turn even those with limited intelligence into geniuses, following in the footsteps of a white mouse, the eponymous Algernon. The novel charts Charlie’s journey from his selection, his “rise” to genius and beyond. As with all the best science fiction, that story is only part of why the book is so ruddy good; the rest is in the questions that it raises and forces you to think about. In this case, it’s whether ignorance really is bliss and whether we should ever really meddle with our nature (which is a question that I expect is as relevant in 2019 as it was in 1966, if it isn’t actually more relevant).

And even with all of that, what really makes Flowers for Algernon that little bit more special is the writing. Charlie’s story is relayed in his own words through progress reports that he writes and submits to the doctors supervising him. The spelling and grammar in the early entries is dreadful and reading it is jarring but as Charlie’s intellect develops, so does his writing. In the early chapters, as a reader you can see Charlie being the butt of his colleagues’ jokes even where Charlie doesn’t. The painful dawning of realisation was wonderfully written, as is the confusion that Charlie experiences as his intelligence outstrips his emotional maturity. It’s clever and sensitive and outstanding.

The only reason I didn’t give it five stars was that there was a middle portion of the novel that I found a little bit repetitive. Perhaps only 30-40 pages or so but enough that there was a noticeable slow down and I got that slightly fidgety feeling I get when I’m reading something that is going a little rogue. It picked back up relatively quickly but it made what would otherwise have been perfect just really bloody great.

The ending broke my heart and I cried quietly into my paperback through the final few pages and for a good few minutes after. You know what’s coming for a while and I thought that I was prepared but no. Even with the build up, it still somehow manages to sneak up on you. I’d defy you to read the last few chapters without at least a few tears in your eyes. Thinking about it now nearly a week later still makes my heart clench.

Overall: I’m so glad that I finally picked this up. Flowers for Algernon is a showcase of masterful writing and very moving. I’m not surprised Gollancz included the novel in its Masterworks series and I can’t wait to pick up some more of the novels chosen to sit alongside it.

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Date finished: 09 April 2019

Pictured edition published: by Gollancz in 2000

Source: Bought

Pop Sugar Challenge Prompt: N/A

Magical Readathon: O.W.L.s TBR

I remember hearing about the Magical Readathon last year but by the time I did, it was too late for me to take part. This year, I’ve managed to spot the sign-up prompts in time to actually pull together a pile of books to read and I am EXCITED.

love the idea for this readathon – it’s Harry Potter inspired and you get to choose a career and then read books to pass your O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s. I don’t even know why you’d want to know anything else. There’s an amazing introductory video with all of the prompts you could want at Book Roast HERE.

It took me far, far too long to pick a career. I considered Auror, Librarian and Ministry Worker (because honestly the Ministry of Mysteries sounds awesome) but in the end I’ve gone for HOGWARTS PROFESSOR. Living at Hogwarts and getting to swish around in robes and eat in the Great Hall every day? Yes please. Also, in the real world sense, it means there’s a little bit more flexibility over which O.W.L.s are needed and ultimately the books that I’ll be reading during March…

So what do exams do you have to pass if you want to be a Hogwarts Professor? You need 7 O.W.L.s, which means I’ll need to read 7 books. That’s 1-2 books more than I would usually read in a month so it seems like a decent stretch and challenge for a month in which I’m doing a readathon. You need one in the subject you want to teach, five additional subjects and Defence Against the Dark Arts. I love to cook so I feel like I’d also love potion making and am going for being a Potions professor.

All of that means that my TBR looks like this:

Potions – Read a sequel – Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Read a book with a title beginning with ‘R’ – Reckless by Cornelia Funke

History of Magic – Read a book published at least 10 years ago – Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Charms – Read an adult novel – The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel

Divination – Read a book set in the future – Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Herbology – Read a book with a plant on the cover – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Transfiguration – Read a book with sprayed edges or a red cover – Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge and might do a half time wrap up if I get time! I’m super excited about this readathon. Let me know if you’re joining in too and if you are, what career you’ve gone for and what books that means you’ll be picking up!

She Roams: Barcelona

As well as reading, cooking and running, I love travelling. We got back from our first trip of the year this week so I thought I’d start a new blog feature to chat about the places I visit – ‘She Roams’.

First up: Barcelona!

It feels like a huge oversight that we haven’t been to Barcelona before. You know those cities that you visit that just seem to…fit? That pull together the good bits of other places you’ve been to before in a way that just makes you feel like you could settle down and live there?  Barcelona was one of those for me.

Let’s start with the food (because if there’s one thing that I love about travel, it’s getting to eat new things). There were a lot of restaurants. Even discounting the obvious tourist traps, there were so many restaurants that I wanted to try. Far too many for a four night trip sadly, even allowing for lunch and dinner! We ate some amazing tapas (cod fritters and grilled octopus sitting high on the list of favourites, alongside the solid (and delicious) staple of patatas bravas). Because I’m a geography dunce, I didn’t know that Barcelona was on the coast so was pleasantly surprised about the delicious, abundant fresh sea food – when I found out, I was super keen to find a good paella and had a gorgeous version at a wonderful local restaurant called Bosque Palermo. If you’re a foodie, there’s a lot to get stuck into.

It also has an impressive range of craft beer pubs – Barcelona Beer Company, BierCab and Garage being personal highlights. You can get decent wine all over for a reasonable price and it’s fabulous. The city feels safe and I’d particularly recommend the Eixample district if you want somewhere to stay that has a good range of bars and restaurants, is within comfortable walking distance of most of the main sights of the city and has reasonably priced hotels. We stayed at the Hotel Praktik Vinoteca and it was lovely, with super helpful staff and an excellent wine bar.

Looking at things to do, Barcelona is a great city just to walk around. We tend to walk most places on holiday because you get to see more and Barcelona is a real treat on that front. I won’t pretend to know a lot about architecture but I do know that Barcelona is pretty (see why I haven’t started a travel blog?). There’s a cable car with beautiful views up to Montjuic Castle that I’d recommend – not necessarily for the castle (which is a bit underwhelming) but for the views back over Barcelona. You can also take a trip up to Tibidabo but to be honest, that was disappointing (the views aren’t any better than up at Montjuic but it’s a lot more expensive) and there’s a theme park that’s just a bit odd.

One of the best things about the trip was a guided tour of La Sagrada Familia. We’ve been to a lot of cathedrals in our time and even so this was breathtaking.As in genuinely, emotion-inspiringly breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it. Despite having been started in 1882, it remains unfinished. The space, the light and the sculptures were all incredible and I loved it. The photo on the left is one I took when we were there and the coloured light is all natural. It’s due to be finished in 2026 and I will absolutely go back. We spent a little extra (€26 instead of €17 each) on a tour that was absolutely worth it. There are signs around that will give you some information but if you can spare the extra, the guided tour is really great.

My only word of warning (aside from avoiding Tibidabo) – I’ve heard about a lot of cities that there are pick-pockets and have never been pick-pocketed once until Barcelona. Fortunately the person didn’t get anything as I felt my backpack being unzipped and managed to move away but it was a narrow thing. So if you do head to Barcelona (and I’d still recommend that you do), make sure you keep your valuables close to you when you’re in busy tourist areas.

Bottom line: Barcelona is charming, friendly, full of fabulous food and wine and beautiful to look at. Definitely recommended 🙂

Book Chat: ‘Shadows on the Tundra’ by Dalia Grinkeviciute

Translated by Delija Valiukenas

In 1941, 14-year-old Dalia and her family are deported from their native Lithuania to a labour camp in Siberia. As the strongest member of her family she submits to twelve hours a day of manual labour. At the age of 21, she escapes the gulag and returns to Lithuania. She writes her memories on scraps of paper and buries them in the garden, fearing they might be discovered by the KGB. They are not found until 1991, four years after her death. This is the story Dalia buried. The immediacy of her writing bears witness not only to the suffering she endured but also the hope that sustained her. It is a Lithuanian tale that, like its author, beats the odds to survive.

Reading Shadows on the Tundra reminded me just why my main reading goal for 2019 was to read more translated literature. I’ve been to Vilnius, spending days exploring the city and reading about the country’s history in museums and galleries, and even after that I realise now how little I really got the history until I read this. It’s relentless. Brutal. Unflinching. Raw. A thousand similar adjectives still wouldn’t quite convey just how powerful this book is. It isn’t for the faint-hearted – Dalia’s record of her experiences of the Soviet Gulag doesn’t make for easy reading and I often felt physically uneasy while reading what she endured – but it was absolutely worth it. Every grimace and every tear.

I knew about Lithuania’s history but, as with so many things, it’s the personal accounts that get you to see past the overwhelming statistics and stark facts and understand what these sweeping events really meant to individuals. This account is beautifully written and, told as it is from Dalia’s personal experience, doesn’t get lost in trying to convey the scale of the deportations – it’s one young girl’s story of what she and her family went through, and a hugely impactful one at that.

What I suppose is remarkable is that while it’s undeniably dark, there’s hope. I wonder if that’s in part because Dalia wrote this account when she had managed to escape, or if she always did have such a conviction that she’d survive.  Either way (and I know that this sounds melodramatic) there’s something life affirming about Shadows on the Tundra. Even while the Lithuanians were subject to appalling cruelty, there are those that refuse to lose hope, those who show compassion and refuse to give up on their humanity. There’s just so much to take from these 200 pages.

One thing (among the many things) that I love about the books that Peirene Press publishes is that they’re all short enough that you can comfortably read them in one go. Even if that hadn’t been the case, I’m not sure I’d have had much alternative with Shadows on the Tundra. The writing is urgent and direct and almost impossible to wrench yourself away from. There aren’t chapter breaks and it’s often difficult to tell how much time has passed. I’m not always a fan of that type of writing but the stream of consciousness style suits this narrative – the flow and passage of the pages mirroring the flow and passage of Dalia’s days perfectly. People come and go as they pass in and out of Dalia’s life. There are deaths of people you as a reader have only known about for two pages and even those are heartbreaking, not only because they were obviously the deaths of real people but also because death has become so commonplace that each is simply told without emotion.

Read it, cry over it and then please come back here so that we can talk about it.

Overall: I know that book reviewers wheel out this phrase all the time and it can feel like a worn out old statement but this book really is important. There isn’t much more I can say. I finished it yesterday and it’s still playing on my mind. I expect that it will be for some time to come.

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Date finished: 09 March 2019

Pictured edition published: by Peirene Press in June 2018

Source: Bought – publisher subscription

Pop Sugar Challenge Prompt: A novel with no chapters/unusual chapter headings/unconventionally numbered chapters

The Pages and the Miles: Sunday 17 February

This week has been a bit of a downer. I was away for work Tuesday evening which was incredibly busy and then managed to catch a cold that wiped me right out towards the end of the week. I’m feeling much better now but it meant that Thursday and Friday were pretty frustrating.

The Pages

Being ill has actually helped on this front as I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to rest!  I finally finished my reread of Lord of Chaos (Book 6 of the Wheel of Time), which at 1,011 pages has taken me a while.  I’ve been reading it on and off since last August.  Since finishing that, I’ve read two books in the last week alone: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. I loved both.

The writing in We Have Always Lived in the Castle was stunning and eerie and haunting. I preferred The Haunting of Hill House personally but I’d forgotten how tightly Jackson weaves a story. I have a short story of hers still so I’m glad I can have more Shirley Jackson in my future without having to bust my book-buying limit. An Anonymous Girl was a pure plot driven page turner. I started it yesterday morning and I finished it this evening. I heard about it on a recent Book Break video recommending thrillers and it was 99p on Amazon so I picked it up and started it almost straight away. I wanted something fun, something with twists and turns to keep me reading, and this absolutely delivered. The writing was surprisingly good too, so just a great weekend read all round.

The Miles

As might be expected between being so busy and ill, I only managed one run of a paltry 4km in the last week. I did manage to clock a 15.7km last Sunday though, which I’m fairly proud of.  It means that I’m currently fit enough to run a half marathon, which is comforting. I’m also currently injury free so now that I’m feeling better again, I’m going to rack up some miles. Onward and upward and all that!

How has your week been? Hopefully less scrappy than mine! Share what you’ve been reading and where you’ve been running in the comments!

The Month That Was: January 2019

Unpopular opinion: I’m actually quite a fan of January. I don’t mind the cold so much and I like the ‘fresh start’ feeling of a new year. I’ve had a ludicrously busy month at work so I haven’t had as much down time as I’d like but overall I feel like I’ve had a pretty good month!

The Pages

I read a total of 5 books in January, with 1,501 pages between them. My average rating for the month was 3.8 out of 5 stars, which isn’t too shabby. I even had one 5 star read in there and I’m pretty stingy with doling that rating out.

So, the books:

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall (3 stars | Review here)

Ms Marvel, Volume 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson (4 stars)

The Extinction Trials: Exile by S. M. Wilson (3 stars)

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin (5 stars)

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie (4 stars)

Book of the month: The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin – absolutely no contest, completely loved it and will be reviewing soon

One thing I failed miserably at this month was reading more diversely. I read books by 4 British authors and one by an American author.  Nothing in translation and nothing written by any authors from cultures different to my own. Pretty poor and something I’m definitely going to fix this month.

On the bright side, I have managed to stick to my pledge to not by any books and have bought 0 books in January other than the book that came with my Books and Beer subscription box, which was always going to be an exception because I love those boxes and won’t be stopping them any time soon. I’m really pleased with that and am finding myself genuinely more excited about the books I already own so that’s the biggest win for me so far this year.

I’m also doing pretty well on the challenge front so far, ticking o ff 5 prompts from the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge:

A book I think should be turned into a movieMs Marvel would make a brilliant movie series!

A debut novel The Raw Shark Texts

A book featuring an extinct or imaginary creature The Extinction Trials (dinosaurs!)

A book I meant to read in 2018 The Wicked Cometh. I got it for review ahead of its release in 2018 and really wanted to read it before it came out and then didn’t…

A book with a two word title Sparkling Cyanide

And last but not least, The Extinction Trials was on my Series to Finish Challenge TBR so that’s one ticked off that list too!

The Miles

I ran 87.14km in January, which I’m sort of happy with.

I managed to give myself an injured foot in the middle of the month, embarrassingly from tying my shoes too tight if the internet is to be believed. That’s mostly healed now but it does mean that my running suffered for a bit.

My furthest run for the month was a 14.27km in 1 hour 27 minutes. It was hard work in relentless wind so I was proud of it finishing it. I’ve otherwise done a couple over 10km and a whole load between 5km and 10km. If I’m being completely honest, I’m struggling for motivation a bit at the moment, in part because the weather is just dire.  One of my resolutions was to try a new running route every month and I haven’t done that and as a result I think I’m finding training a bit…uninspiring. So that’s my focus for this month – actually try new routes and try to get some of my running mojo back!

How was your January? Favourite books? Favourite runs? Let’s chat in the comments below!