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

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!

24 in 48 Readathon: TBR

I’ve had quite the week this week and am in dire need of some quiet time at home with a pile of books, some good coffee and plenty of snacks.  Enter the 24 in 48 Readathon with impeccable timing!

The premise suits me down to the ground:

Beginning at 12:01am (official timezone is EST) on Saturday morning and running through 11:59pm on Sunday night, participants read for 24 hours out of that 48-hour period.

You can split that up however you’d like: 20 hours on Saturday, four hours on Sunday; 12 hours each day; six four-hour sessions with four hour breaks in between. You can pause as much as you need, enjoy regularly scheduled weekend activities, nap, stop for dance breaks with your kids or pets or neighbors. Whatever works for you.

And that’s it. The format never changes but it’s always an adventure.

I’m hopeless with 24 hour readathons because I’m always too busy during the week to completely miss a night’s sleep over the week. Spreading 24 hours over 48 is also a bit of a challenge for me but I’ll give it a shot and frankly if I just read more than normal and faff about less I’ll be happy!

So. My TBR.

I’ve intentionally gone for a mix of genres so that I can switch it up during the day.  On the pile is…

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan – A reread for me but one I’m finding surprisingly fun! If I’m in the mood for some fantasy or for something meaty, this is where I’ll turn.

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies by Scarlett Curtis – The older I get, the more I identify with more ‘brands’ of feminism. I’m looking forward to this essay collection, which is a first for me!

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie – This is the grey hardback you can’t see but I was in the library the other day and saw this vintage style hardback edition of a Christie novel that I’ve heard nothing but great things about. I love a vintage crime novel and I can’t wait to get stuck into this one.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf – I’ve wanted to read this for years but given that I’m buying no books at the moment (and this always seems to be expensive anyway), I plumped for the library. It’s a graphic novel telling of one man’s relationship with a now infamous serial killer. I find the idea of it morbidly fascinating and it’s another one that I’m really looking forward to.

So all in all, I’m super looking forward to tomorrow!  Time to get stuck into the books! I’ll be updating here and on Twitter @SheReadsSheRuns.

You can still sign up HERE if you want to take part! Join us 🙂 If you’re already sign up, let me know what you’re reading!

Book Chat: ‘The Raw Shark Texts’ by Steven Hall

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

FIRST THINGS FIRST, STAY CALM.

If you are reading this, I’m not around anymore. Take the phone and speed dial 1. Tell the woman who answers that you are Eric Sanderson. The woman is Dr Randle. She’ll understand what has happened and you will be able to see her straight away. Take the car keys and drive the yellow Jeep to Dr. Randle’s house. If you haven’t found it yet, there’s a map in the envelope – it isn’t too far and it’s not hard to find.

Dr Randle will be able to answer all your questions. It’s very important that you go straight away. Do not pass go. Do not explore. Do not collect two hundred pounds. The house keys are hanging from a nail on the banister at the bottom of the stairs, don’t forget them.

With regret and also hope,
The First Eric Sanderson

Just look at that for a blurb. How good does that book sound?! Add to it a note on the back billing The Raw Shark Texts as “Jaws meets The Matrix meets The Da Vinci Code” and my expectations were super high. Like so many others, I’ve had the book on my shelves for ages. At the end of last year when I’d already decided that 2019 would be the year I finally focussed properly on reading the books already on my shelves, I picked this up as the first of the bunch because I was almost certain I’d love it.  Spoiler alert: I didn’t really.

The start was excellent. Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house he doesn’t recognise and can’t remember a thing about who he is or how he got there. He receives a letter that purports to be from himself in the past (‘The First Eric Sanderson’) and is left to try and unravel the mysteries of himself and his life.  The writing is sharp and hugely entertaining and there’s plenty of plot to go at. It felt like a real ‘cult movie’ of a book and I was genuinely excited to be reading it.

“I did not know who I was. I did not know where I was.

That simple.

That frightening.

Within 100 pages, I was confused and a bit grumpy. While I do love fantasy and science fiction and some magical realism, I found the plot of The Raw Shark Texts baffling. I just couldn’t get a handle on what was going on. I’m not sure how much to say without straying into spoiler territory. Eric finds out early on that he is believed to have lost his memories following an accident in which his girlfriend was killed and in dealing with the loss somehow managed to attract the attention of a “conceptual shark” called a Ludovician which “feeds on human memories and the intrinsic sense of self”. I think I liked what the shark was there to represent but it was all frankly just too off the wall for me, the novel eventually coming to feel like an overworked extended metaphor.

I didn’t put the book aside because there was always enough that I was enjoying to keep me reading. Eric’s relationship with a vaguely mysterious character called Scout, the cat called Ian who was the most perfect illustration of a cat I’ve ever read, and the development of Eric’s character as he tries to work out what kind of person he is and how he fits in the world, including how he reacts to those who knew the first Eric Sanderson and want to imprint that Eric’s personality onto this later Eric. There were plenty of moments, though, where I was just reading the words on the page and not really engaging with them. They were abstract and bonkers and didn’t translate themselves into anything like meaning in my head. Or where they did, it was just weird. Not dissimilar to when somebody is trying to tell you about a dream they had.

You know those books where in the last couple of pages there’s something that changes how you see everything that’s gone before? Those reveals that make you realise that what you thought you were reading was perhaps something else entirely? I hate them. I don’t like labouring over a book that makes no sense while you’re reading it only to have an author show me in the last two pages what was going on. While I might eventually come to acknowledge that the book was clever, my main takeaway will still almost always be how annoying the reading experience was. That’s The Raw Shark Texts. While I can objectively admire a lot of what Steven Hall does with the pages of the book and the ultimate fate of Eric Sanderson, I’m still irritated that I was made to wade through some surreal borderline nonsense first.

Overall: If you’re into magical realism or you like your fiction particularly quirky, I’m sure that there’s a lot about this book to love. It plays around with language and uses text art in a way that does add to the story rather than just take up space and  I would never deny that it’s clever.  If you like to feel like you understand what’s going on in the book that you’re reading, or if you aren’t a fan of the surreal, I’d pass on this.

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Date finished: 05 January 2019

Pictured edition published: by Canongate Books in March 2017

Source: Bought

Pop Sugar Challenge Prompt: A debut novel

Series to Finish Challenge 2019 TBR

One of my 2019 resolutions is to read more of the books that I own. On my shelves are far too many complete series that I’ve read maybe one or two of and then left to languish on my shelves (I even own a couple in full that I haven’t even started yet…). I’ve picked out a few of the ones that have been sat there the longest to be the starting point for my TBR for Anna’s Series to Finish 2019 challenge.  I actually love starting series so the other challenge for me in tackling series will be ticking some off without starting too many new ones!

1)  The Curseworkers series by Holly Black

A fantasy series about…well, curseworkers. I read the first book in the series, White Cat, back in February 2013, really enjoyed it, bought the two other books in the trilogy, put them on my shelves and forgot about them.  I may re-read the first one before I read the next two because obviously I can’t remember what happened in something I read nearly 6 years ago but we’ll see.

2) The Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore

This is even worse!  Another fantasy series set in a world where some have ‘graces’ (talents) and there’s magic and political shenanigans. I read the first two books in the series (Graceling and Fire) in 2010 and have owned the last instalment, Bitterblue, since not long after its release in 2012.  Haven’t read it though…

3) The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde

Now this isn’t one I want to finish or even get up to date with (it’s not yet finished and there are 7 instalments out so far) but I do want to at least read one of the ones that I own. It’s an amazing series where the lead character, Thursday Next, and her fellow literary detectives can jump in and out of novels. I’ve read the first two, The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Plot, and own the next two so I just want to at least read those two.

4)  The Extinction Trials by S. M. Wilson

This is a slightly different example of my series hoarding activities. I loved the first one in the series (kind of a Hunger Games with dinosaurs) last year and preordered the second, intending to read it straight away. Obviously I didn’t and the third book is due out in February.  I want to read the next book by then and then if I still love the series, I’ll allow myself to buy the next one.

5)  The Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth is one of my favourite books of all time. Huge, sweeping historical fiction telling the story of the building of a cathedral. It sounds dull but it’s really incredible and over a decade after I finished it I still remember it so clearly.  The next book, World Without End, has the dubious honour of being the book that I have owned unread for the longest. I’ve had it so long that I actually don’t even know when I bought it because I bought it before I started tracking my book buying and reading on Goodreads. At over 1,000 pages, reading it will be quite an undertaking but one I’m determined to get to this year.

And that’s my TBR! Let me know if you’re taking part in this challenge and what’s on your TBR if you are! Feel free to also make my problem worse by recommending other series I should be getting to 🙂

Five Star Reads of 2018

I had a pretty great year of reading in 2018. I tend to read roughly a book a week in an average year but this year I’ve somehow read 65 books, with 22,370 pages between them. My average star rating for the year was 3.5 stars, which isn’t quite as positive as I’d have thought but still more good than bad. Out of my 65 books, I gave 9 books five stars. Five star books for me are ones that I couldn’t find fault with – books that are either new favourites or books that were just such an all-encompassingly brilliant reading experiences that even if they weren’t perhaps the most literary of books, they just had to have 5 stars.

Onto the books, ordered only by the date that I finished them:

1)  Saga: Volume 1 (Finished 27th January) and 2) Saga: Volume 2 (Finished 3rd July), both by Brian K. Vaughan

I’d had the first volume of Saga sat on my shelves for two years before I finally picked it up. Clearly I’m a fool. I don’t think the series needs much introduction or explanation at this point given how resoundingly popular it seems to be. Star crossed lovers trying to raise a child while being hunted down by various very angry leaders. It’s funny, it’s charming and it’s a real page-turner. I have volume 3 ready to go and I’m hoping it’ll be another five star read.

3) The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (Finished 24th February)

Of all of these books, this is my absolute favourite. I absolutely adored it. It’s a classic, ‘Golden Age’ style mystery with a twist. The twistiest of time travel twists. The plotting is impeccable, the writing is flawless and it’s a beautiful book to own. It’s an absolute masterpiece that I can’t wait to read again one day.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time and I can’t imagine reading anything better than it for quite some time. Apparently Turton is currently writing his second book and I will be preordering that as soon as physically possible.  If it’s even half as good as Seven Deaths, I’ll be a happy reader.

How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?

4) Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (Finished 31st March)

I read a lot of fantasy. Exactly 25% of what I read in 2018 was fantasy, which makes it a little strange that this is the only fantasy novel that I gave five stars to this year. A lot got 4 stars but only this one really stood out. Nevernight is about Mia Corvere, an assassin with an ability to manipulate shadows. The first of this trilogy sees Mia attending the Red Church, a school at which she must hone her abilities so that she can survive. I know that the whole ‘skilled girl goes to niche boarding school’ concept seems a bit old hat but honestly Kristoff has built such an interesting world and cast of characters that it feels new.  It’s a fair old chunkster of a book at over 650 pages but it flew by and I loved it. 

5)  If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio (Finished 28th May)

I read the second half of this in one sitting in the sun in our garden and still remember how desperate I was to find out what was going on. It has strong vibes of The Secret History by Donna Tartt (another of my favourite books) and is the story of a close knit group of seven friends all studying acting at a prestigious university.  From the beginning, you know that Oliver has served a prison sentence for the murder of another member of the group but you don’t know whether he actually did it. The novel is told both through Oliver’s present day discussions with the detective who investigated the murder at the time and wants to know the truth and part through flashbacks to the past. It’s never quite clear who’s telling the truth and who’s playing a part and the group’s secrets are revealed slowly against a backdrop of oh so much tension. Literary thriller writing at its very best.

6) Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini (Finished 1st September)

There isn’t much to say about this one. It’s a poem written by Hosseini about the Syrian refugee crisis, beautifully illustrated in watercolour by Dan Williams. The poem is poignant, timely and feels very…raw.  It’s only short but it’s incredibly heartfelt and such an important book that everybody should read and cry over.

7) Gemina (Finished 12th September) and 8) Obsidio (Finished 16th September), both by Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff

These fall into the ‘just couldn’t stop reading, wept over and had to give five stars just for that‘ category.  They’re hardly literary but they’re just bloody entertaining.  The final two instalments in the Illuminae trilogy, they chart an intergalactic corporate conspiracy and a few characters’ quest to survive various genocides. Each book is melodramatic, utterly bonkers and features the best AI character I’ve ever read, AIDAN. The format is a little quirky, with handwritten excerpts from journals and other documents and transcripts, and I know that isn’t for everyone but personally I think it adds to the plot and isn’t just a gimmick. Solid ‘entry level’ science fiction that is incredibly readable and had me crying into my poolside beer on holiday.

9) The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Finished 31st October)

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction so it’s no surprise that this is the only non-fiction to make my five star reads list. More of a surprise is that this made the cut at all. I always imagine that non-fiction will be too much like work and not worthy of my “downtime”. Clearly that’s stupid because I was completely gripped by The Fact of a Body and didn’t find it at all dry or heavy or whatever else I was fearing. It’s the authors account both of her own life, and the effects of abuse that she suffered as a child, and of her work investigating Ricky Langley and the murder of a six year old child, Jeremy Guillory. It delves into the death penalty and the legal issues around trials of those facing it. It’s fascinating and I loved the writing.

“What I fell in love with about the law so many years ago was the way that in making a story, in making a neat narrative of events, it finds a beginning, and therefore cause. But I didn’t understand then that the law doesn’t find the beginning any more than it finds the truth. It creates a story. That story has a beginning. That story simplifies, and we call it truth.”

And that’s it! My top books of 2018, all wrapped up. What have your favourites of the year been? What do I need to be adding to my reading list for 2019?

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2019

One of my main priorities for 2019 is to read some of my own books. I own 571 books that I haven’t read, which is frankly ridiculous. In 2018 so far, I have acquired 217 books and read 62. I’m fortunate enough to have a room largely dedicated to storing my books but that doesn’t mean that I need to keep filling the space with books that frankly I’m going to end up neglecting for years. So while I won’t be putting myself on any kind of ban, I am going to make a conscious effort to reduce the volume of books I buy.

As part of helping me get to the titles on my shelves, I’m going to be doing the Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2019.  There are 40 ‘regular’ prompts and 10 ‘advanced’ prompts. I actually only read 50-60 books in an average year so I doubt I’ll even get to all of the regular prompts but if I make half I’ll be happy. I might post a TBR every quarter but I haven’t decided yet…ONTO THE PROMPTS!

There are some that will be easy to tick off (multiple character POVs are super popular in fantasy and I love ghost stories, for example). Then there are some that I don’t have a clue about, like a book written by a musician or a book recommended by a celebrity I admire. No idea what I’d read for those but hopefully something I already own! There’s a GoodReads group that I’ll be raiding for recommendations as we go too and I am excited 🙂

Book Chat: ‘A House of Ghosts’ by W. C. Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A House of Ghosts popped up in my inbox one day pitched by NetGalley as “And Then There Were None meets The Silent Companions“.  One of my favourite books of all time crossed with one of the best books I read in 2017? There was absolutely no way I could resist requesting it. My expectations were sky high when I first downloaded it so I suppose it’s probably a good thing that I left it a couple of months before I actually picked it up.

In some ways, I feel like it’s slightly unfair of me to burden those of you who are also big fans of either one of those books with my lofty expectation too because A House of Ghosts isn’t quite either of them. The conclusion that I’ve come to though is that actually in a way it is fair because it might nudge you to read this and then your life will be just a little bit better. Because while A House of Ghosts might well not be either of the novels that it seems to be being likened to, it is a really good one.

It’s set during World War I, on a remote island off the southern coast of England where Lord Highmount has convened a group of family and friends to host a seance to attempt to contact his two sons, who are believed to have died while serving on the Western Front.  After all of the guests have arrived, a storm cuts off the only route on and off the island, phone lines are tampered with (obviously) and events take a turn for the creepy.

The plot is one of those delightful tangles where everybody seems to have a solid motive for wanting at least one of the other residents of the abbey dead. I know that it’s a bit of cliche but as soon as the guests start feeling threatened, the secrets start tumbling out. Most of the story is told from the perspectives of Kate Cartwright and Captain Donovan, tasked with keeping an eye on Blackwater Abbey’s residents. I loved them both individually for different reasons and together they are perfection. Their relationship is so well written and them getting to know each other is the heartwarming light touch to what is an otherwise quite dark narrative.

Because not only is A House of Ghosts a cracking mystery, it also taps perfectly into the emotional effects of World War I, both on those that had served in the army and made it home and on those bearing the whole tragedy out at home.  The fraught emotions, the awful uncertainty of not knowing what happened to family members who were pronounced “missing, presumed dead” and the distrust of those in positions of power making decisions affecting thousands, including the story’s very own Lord Highmount, owner of an arms manufacturing empire. Murder alongside war might sound a bit much but the fine line is trodden sensitively.

Even with all of the mention of seances, I didn’t quite expect the novel to be as…otherworldly as it is. I don’t think that it’s a spoiler to say that the book doesn’t just hint at ghostly goings on, it properly commits to the paranormal. You might need to suspend your sense of disbelief fairly regularly but I didn’t find it too much, even if it was a little disorientating at first. Readers of ‘traditional’ crime fiction might not be a fan but if you’re ok with your hauntings being more literal, you’ll be just fine.

Overall: The writing is sharp and so wonderfully British feeling. The plot is well paced and A House of Ghosts is nothing if not a page turner. If you’re looking for a winter read that is just a little bit different, this one should be appearing on your wishlist.

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Date finished: 25 November 2018

Pictured edition published: by Zaffre on 04 October 2018

Source: Received from the published in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley