Reading Wrap-up: June 2019

June was an absolute stonker of a reading month! We were on holiday in Italy for 10 days in June so between time travelling and many a lazy afternoon reading in the sun, I read 9 books with a total of 2,900 pages. Because of my delight of a reading spreadsheet, I happen to know that June’s reading makes up 23% of my total reading for the year so far. Not too shabby!

Not only that, I absolutely smashed my June TBR and I bagged a five star read.

First up was one of my four star reads – Haverscroft by S. A. Harrison. I am an absolute sucker for a gothic ghost story and this one did not disappoint! Part of me wishes I’d had the patience to save it for autumn/winter but at the same time I’m delighted that I got to read Haverscroft as soon as possible. Not only is it a corker of a creepy ghost story, it has a fascinating family dynamic at the heart and (one of my other favourite things) an unreliable narrator. I’m hoping to write a full review soon but in the meantime, know that you need this!

I also finished up Unwind by Neal Shusterman. I’ve heard such good things about Neal Shusterman and had somehow managed to end up owning 7 of his books without actually having read any. For my first, Unwind was really something. It’s the start of a four book dystopian series, set in a world where abortion has become illegal so that all children are given the opportunity to prove themselves. Parents can subsequently change their mind and have their child “unwound”, with their bodies being donated to medicine. It’s a dark premise but it’s so well plotted! The start of this one is a little slow but when it gets going, it’s so, so good. There’s a scene towards the end that completely shook me. Thinking about it now gives me chills. I’m so glad I have the rest of the series waiting for me on my Kindle! Definitely recommended.

I then started on my June TBR. Sadly, my first pick was a real bust – The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey. I loved the beginning and was so sure I’d give it five stars. It’s set in the 15th century and follows Father Reve in the four days following the accidental death/suicide/murder of a member of his parish, starting on the fourth day and winding back to the night of the death. I love me a twisty timeline but this just didn’t work for me. The narrative dawdles along through Reve hearing confession of various members of his congregation and often spirals off into random religion-focussed tangents. I didn’t mind that per se but when I’d read the ending, I really did. It’s obvious why Harvey couldn’t reveal the ‘twists’ earlier on but once I knew them, it really cut across everything I’d read before. And not in an “oh that makes so much more sense now” way. Just a way that was irritating…2 stars.

Fortunately the next two from my June TBR were much better! I’ve owned The Night Watch by Sarah Waters since 2011 and I have been missing out by neglecting it. Yet another narrative told backwards but in much chunkier sections, following four characters in 1947, 1944 and 1941. It’s absolutely beautiful. Set against the backdrop of post-war/wartime, it’s an unusually quiet story. I’m usually one for a solid plot but this character study wormed its way into my heart and then broke it. The characters were so well drawn that I could have sworn that I really knew them. The slow reveal of how they have ended up where they have is perfection. I also have Tipping the Velvet on my shelves and I can’t wait for there to be more Sarah Waters in my future.

And now. My first five star read since April: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. It’s a short book but my goodness is it powerful. It’s the story of Nadia and Saeed, starting off in an unnamed, war-torn country. As Nadia and Saeed meet, their country is being subjected to air strikes and an increasingly strict religious military regime. The writing is just stunning. Sparse and simple but absolutely flooring. I know that people say this a lot but I really do feel like Exit West is such an important book. It recounts Nadia and Saeed’s decision to leave their home, their reluctance and the pain it causes them, following them as they struggle to find a new country to call home. The challenges they face in their potential new communities were disappointingly familiar but what really struck me was how well Hamid relays the small struggles that his characters face. The simple pleasure of a hot shower in a private room with a soft towel. The grief of thinking you’ve found a home only to be forced to move on again. The power of the smell of familiar cooking when you’re far from what you know. It’s beautiful and crushing and should be required reading.

After the gut punch of Exit West, I went for something a little more light-hearted – The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. If you want something fun and quirky that will keep you turning the pages, you could do a lot worse than this series. It follows a group of librarians who are tasked with travelling to alternative versions of our world to retrieve books and return them to the Invisible Library. It’s a bit silly but the dialogue is sharp and funny, the characters are awesome and reading it just brought a smile to my face. If you’re a book lover and you like a good riot of a plot, get your hands on this one.

When we finally arrived home after a day of travelling, my brain was a bit frazzled and I sought refuge in one of my favourite comic book series, Fables, picking up Volume 3: Storybook Love. If you haven’t heard of this series (which is probably super unlikely if you’re into comics), it’s the stories of Snow White, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty and a whole host of other fairytale characters as they live in modern day New York in exile from their own world. This one was a bit more brutal than earlier instalments but still had the wit and charm. If you’re a comic fan and you like fairytales, go and pick up the first volume. If you’ve already done that, you don’t need me telling you to carry on!

And last but more or less not least, The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle. Something about this vampire story set in an Amish community appealed to me for years before I bought it. I picked it up just over a year ago but finally decided I fancied it. It was…not what I’d hoped. There’s a lot of religious chat and it’s all a bit heavy handed. Teenage girl wants to rebel against the strict rules of her religion and does so by acting out and skulking around but never actually talking to anyone. It’s interesting enough and I didn’t struggle to finish it but in the end it was all a bit superficial. Everybody broods, nobody communicates properly and romantic relationships are almost exclusively riddled with teenage angst. It’s fine and I’d recommend it if you’re a die-hard vampire fan but otherwise, maybe just walk on by.

How were your reading months? Share your favourites in the comments!

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?

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!