Category Archives: book reviews

July reads (2014)

I’m still behind with my reading goal for 2014.  It’s getting very frustrating!  I wanted to read eight books this month, but I only managed six.  I also gave up on Don Quixote this month.  I’ve been reading it for months, but it’s never-ending and a bit boring.  I decided to cut my losses and call it quits!

Here are the books I did complete this month.

Explorers of the Nile – Tim Jeal

This book took months to read, but it was interesting.  The book charts the history of European exploration of the Nile, and in particular the quest for its source.  I enjoyed this book: the exploration of the Nile is full of drama and intrigue, but aside from that it makes you realise how many of the problems in modern-day Africa are as a result of arbitrary decisions made by European nations centuries ago.  For example, many of the civil war problems in the Sudan region nowadays are as a result of Britain’s decision on how to divide up the region for amalgation into the Empire.  And most of these decisions were only made as a result of the conquest of the Nile.

The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy

I was looking forward to re-reading this book, but to be honest the magic has worn off now I’m an adult.  It’s a lot shorter than I remembered and the story was a bit boring!

Seven flowers: And how they shaped our world – Jennifer Potter

Did you know that specific flowers have played an important part in the evolution of societies? I didn’t, but that’s basically what this book is about.  It charts the history and influence of the world’s seven most influential flower species; things like the rose, lily, sunflower, etc.  The book was a bit dry in places, but it’s interesting to think what influence these seemingly harmless flowers have had on the world.

The life you can save – Peter Singer

Everyone should read this book.  It should be compulsory reading on the school curriculum.  The book basically explains why it is the West’s responsibility to make regular charitable donations to humanitarian causes.  If we all donated like 5% of our earnings in the developed world, we could eradicate world poverty in a short number of years.  It’s such a depressing fact, because many people do not donate, and those that do rarely do 5% of their income.  Read this book, and have your world view changed!

The Darling Buds of May – H.E Bates

I read this book because Helen over at Fennell Books mentioned it and I loved the TV series of the same name, but I didn’t enjoy it that much.  I found it a bit twee and annoying.  I don’t know if I would find the same thing of the TV series now, but this is another story I should have left in my childhood.

Sea Room – Adam Nicolson

This book is about the Shiants, which are a group of islands in Scotland (pronounced “shants”). They’re privately-owned by the author of the book, who inherited them from his father.  The book covers the geology, history, ecology and atmosphere of the islands, as well as cataloguing some of the things the author gets up to when he stays there (there’s no electricity, running water, heat, etc.).  It was a bit hard-going in places, but if you like the idea of owning an island, or like Scottish history, you’ll enjoy this book!  As a bonus, here is a photo of the Shiants which I found on Flickr:

Shiants, late 80's

Have you read any good books this month?

June reads (2014)

I only managed four of the eight books I’d intended to read in June, but I don’t know why as it felt like I was reading lots!  A lot of the books I have started have hundreds of pages though, so I guess I need to be realistic about how many books I can complete when many I’ve started are so long!

59 seconds – Richard Wiseman

It feels like months since I read this book now – I don’t know why.  I really enjoy Wiseman’s work, and this book is no exception.  It’s a look at the rubbish spouted by self-help guides. Wiseman is a psychologist and he discusses the science behind popular self-help claims and then shares real self-help tips based on our current understanding of the brain.  Anyone who reads self-help books should read this; his tips are designed to change your life in only a few minutes (hence the book title) and it’s an excellent read.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares – Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

This has been on my reading list for a while now. I think I saw a book review when it came out and it appealed. I’ve seen the film version of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (written by the same authors) and I loved the whimsy. This book wasn’t a let down. It follows the story of a boy and a girl in New York who swap clues to locations across New York (it’s sort of a treasure hunt) over Christmas when both are bored. It’s such a cute, lovely read, and it only takes a couple of hours.

Do you think you’re clever? – John Farndon

This book was a re-read. It’s a collection of Oxbridge interview questions, complete with answers. It’s quite thought-provoking, and easy to dip in and out of since each question is only a couple of paragraphs long. It makes you think about things!

Born to run – Chris McDougall

Loved this book! I think it’s the first book in months that I gave 5 stars to on GoodReads! It’s half-science, half-history as it charts the ultra runners in Mexico (the best long distance runners in the world). It looks at the biology of running with a human body, and discusses the best long distance runners in history. If you have any interest at all in running you should read this.

Did you read any good books in June?

Amazon’s 100 books to read in a lifetime

Kindle reading

Amazon recently produced a list of 100 books we should read in a lifetime. Book lists are always slightly personal to the creator, but this one is made by Amazon editors, and they have a lot of data to hand from publishers and sales.

I thought it would be fun to go through the list and offer my own recommendations (or not!). I’ve read a lot of these books, and I don’t think they’re all worth a read! Some of them deserve to be on this list, but I reckon I could cut the list down to 50 books easily! I haven’t summarised each story as you can get that on the web; I’ve just shared my thoughts.

1. A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

The first in the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin.  The TV series is much better, so I’d recommend skipping the book and watching TV instead! This book needed a better editor, as it’s long and rambling. The TV series pulled the stories together much more coherently, in my opinion.

2. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

I’ve not read this, although it’s just been made into a film. The trailer looks good, but also sad. It’s about Jews in Nazi Germany though so I guess that’s expected.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This is such a good book. It always pops up on these lists, and with good reason. If you haven’t read it yet, do it!

4. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

This used to be one of my favourite books, but I’ve got a bit bored with it now that it’s become super-fashionable and cool. People get so focussed on the jazz that they ignore the characters. You should read it though if you haven’t already.

5. The tiger who came to tea – Judith Kerr

Not read this!

6. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson

Or this – maybe a generational thing? I don’t have kids.

7. Nineteen eighty-four – George Orwell

One of the original good dystopia fictions, and definitely worth a read just so that you can understand the genre that’s boomed into existence with The Hunger Games, etc. Also, so much that Orwell wrote about has actually come true, in Britain at least.

8. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is on my reading list and has been for years. One day!

9. We’re going on a bear hunt – Michael Rosen

Another children’s book I haven’t read…

10. The Secret History – Donna Tartt

This book has a lot of pages, so be aware of that! It is very good though, and I loved the comparison to Greek tragedy. It sort of reminds of me of the Dead Poet’s Society. It’s the only Donna Tartt book I’ve read, and is worth a read.

11. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

A weird, depressing book! I sort of feel like people should read it because it’s famous for good reason, but I will think you’re odd if you say this is one of your favourite books!

12. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole – Sue Townsend

I love this book! I’ve read it loads since I was a teenager, and it’s such a good read. Adrian Mole is a brilliant character.

13. Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt

This book is a fascinating look into statistics. I feel like it should be compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in politics (including politicians!).

14. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

Another Nazi Germany story. I’ve not read it, and it will be sad!

15. The Hare with the Amber Eyes – Edmund de Waal

This book was everywhere recently on GoodReads! Lots of people kept reading it/adding it to their reading list. I haven’t read it, and the name annoys me for some reason. Sorry, Mr de Waal.

16. Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman

I read this book as a teenager, and now I don’t remember anything at all about it except that it has a good cover design. It’s actually on my list to read again because I feel I should remember the story!

17. A brief history of time – Stephen Hawking

Unless you’re a physicist, don’t bother reading this. I did read it, and have saved you the job. Be glad it’s out there in the world, and that there are genius brains thinking about these things. I’m pretty sure that most people who claim they have read this have skipped many pages. It’s hard work.

18. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

You will notice a lack of Russian authors in my reading here. I don’t know why, although I did read some Bulgakov (not on this list) once, and it was very odd.

19. Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee

This is another book that I enjoyed as a teen and now don’t remember anything about, except that it was an old hardback copy that I read with a beautiful red and white print pattern. I should read this again.

20. The Road – Cormac McCarthy

I saw the trailer for the film, and the answer is no.

21. Long walk to freedom – Nelson Mandela

I’ve seen this book in bookshops and it’s really long! Maybe one day (on a kindle)!

22. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

I’ve never read a Daphne du Maurier book. My Mum has and is refraining from commenting!

23. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

This is a nice story, and Hemingway is a good writer. Stop trying to make him hipster though. He was a writer with a way with words – lots are. Worth a read as it’s a good book.

24. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Why does this book appear on these lists? I do not like the Bronte sisters, and Wuthering Heights is rubbish. It’s depressing and pointless. Read some Austen!

25. The Picture of Dorian Grey – Oscar Wilde

This is such a brilliant novel. Oscar Wilde deserves to be famous, and this book deserves to be on this list. Read it!

26. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

I’ve not read this and probably never will since it details a real murder story. However, I understand that it’s very good.

27. The man who mistook his wife for a hat – Oliver Sacks

This book is on my reading list, and I will read it one day!

28. Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

This book is a brilliant look at the pharmacy industry, amongst other things, and is worth a read if you want to know the truth behind headlines. Ben Goldacre also has a great Twitter feed.

29. Never let me go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Nope! All Ishiguro’s books have depressing titles which put me off.

30. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

Obviously this book is on the list. You can’t just read one of the trilogy though, and the second book is a bit rubbish. So, watch the film trilogy instead. It’s visually brilliant and you get to watch Orlando Bloom be an elf.

31. The Enchanted Wood – Enid Blyton

Enid blyton has been ruined for me by the BBC documentary that showed how horrible she was to her own children. As such, I don’t recommend this!

32. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

I tried to read some Dickens once, and I didn’t like it.

33. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

This book is an excellent book, but it’s a bit like marmite.  I know lots of people don’t like it as it doesn’t take war seriously and can be hard to read in places.  However, I think the humour is the point (and so do critics!).  How else do you deal with a topic as horrid as world war?

34. The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

I’ve never even heard of this book.  Sorry, Mr Barnes.

35. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Finally some Austen!  The classic tale of Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy… I discovered recently that one of my friends hadn’t read this and I was shocked.  SHOCKED!  You should read this just because you’re supposed to have done.

36. Crime and Punishment – F. M. Dostoevsky

Another Russian I haven’t read and probably never will.

37. Stormbreaker – Anthony Horowitz

I have read four of the books in this series and they are all most excellent.  A young James Bond, and easy to read.  Big tick here!  P.S. The film is also good.

38. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

If you want to totally warp your mind, read Catch-22 and then read this.  You will turn into a pacifist overnight and oppose all war.  This book is seriously depressing.  You should still read it though because war is bad (!).

39. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

I have not read this, and the title just makes me giggle (grow up).  I also think it was a song?  Anyway I have read Haruki Murakami’s biography on running so I’ll recommend that instead as it’s very good.

40. Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

I have read this, and although the idea is novel I don’t really care for the book.  Or any film that involves this story.

41. The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins

I have read this book, but I do not like the way people misinterpret the title and the science inside.  Also, it’s a bit hardcore biology so like with Stephen Hawking I’m not sure why you would read this if you’re not interested in science.

42. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

I’m pretty sure that you cannot call yourself a geek if you haven’t read this series.  Read all five books, and enjoy.

43. I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

This is one of the books from my teenage years.  It’s such a lovely, warm story.  It’ll only take a couple of hours to read, so go read it!

44. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

Haha, no.  I watched the Swedish version of the film and it was very violent.

45. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

I have not heard of this book or this author.

46. Dissolution – C. J. Sansom

I have not heard of this book either!

47. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

I have tried to read this a couple of times, but I’ve never got into it.  The only book of Gaiman’s I have read is the one he wrote with Terry Pratchett (Good Omens), which is a good read.

48. Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

I’ve met Bill Bryson.  I have told this story many times.  Haha.  I haven’t read this book, but I’ve read lots of his other books and he’s a good author so I’m certain this book is good too!

49. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson

Gosh, I read this years ago when I was going through my modern American travel writers phase.  I don’t remember liking it though!

50. Oranges are not the only fruit – Jeanette Winterson

I’ve never read this.

51. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

I think Roald Dahl should be a staple for all children.  All his books are most excellent, and Charlie is no exception.

52. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

I read this book at school.  I don’t remember it, and most my Steinbeck knowledge nowadays comes from Mumford and Sons!

53. A History of the World in 100 Objects – Dr Neil MacGregor

Doesn’t this sound like a lovely book?  I haven’t read it, but I love the title!

54. Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh

I saw the film and the answer is no.  I don’t like reading depressing books.

55. The Stand – Stephen King

I also don’t like horror books, so nope.  I’ve never read any Stephen King except his book on writing, which was good.

56. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Pretty much the same answer as Trainspotting.  Saw the BBC adaptation, and am no way reading the book!

57. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

Nope, no horror books here!

58. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

I’ve read some Evelyn Waugh, but I’ve never read this even though it’s one of his more famous novels.  One day.

59. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

This is one of those books I always think I have read, but I actually haven’t.

60. The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter

Major tick.  Love Peter Rabbit, and have been to the Beatrix Potter museum.  My sister and I had lots of her books.

61. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

We’ve got a little section of “nope, not read”s coming up.  Are you ready? Not read.

62. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

Not read.

63. London: The Biography – Peter Ackroyd

Not read.

64. Wild Swans – Jung Chang

Not read.

65. The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett

It’s a Discworld novel; of course I’ve read it.  Most excellent.

66. White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Not read.

67. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John le Carre

I don’t really like crime novels unless the main character is James Bond.  So I’ve not read this.

68. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

I have been trying to read some Woolf books.  I haven’t read this one, but I like the others that I’ve read so far.

69. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

Saw the film and am definitely not reading this.  Was depressing!

70. Atonement – Ian McEwan

Same as above!

71. Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding

Of course I have read this.  I am a British woman!  It’s a great book.

72. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer

Not read.

73. Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

I’ve only read two Graham Greene books, and this is not one of them!  I recommend Travels with my aunt.

74. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

I have read this, and I recommend it.  I also had it on cassette tape and remember listening to it a lot.  Random!

75. Casino Royale – Ian Fleming

I have read a lot of James Bond novels, including this one.  I was a big fan of Bond in my younger days.  The Sean Connery adaptations are the best, but Daniel Craig is nice and brooding.  Bond was proper grumpy in the books.

76. Do androids dream of electric sheep? – Philip K. Dick

I haven’t read this.

77. Watchmen – Alan Moore

I haven’t read this I don’t think (dredging my memory, but I don’t remember buying it).  However, I loved the film!

78. Little Women – Louise May Alcott

A classic.  I have read it, and I cried.  Pretty much the standard response.

79. London Fields – Martin Amis

Not read.

80. Venice – Jan Morris

Not even heard of.

81. Knots and Crosses – Ian Rankin

Not read.

82. Watership Down – Richard Adams

Saw the animation.  Cried.  Not going to read the book!

83. Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

Seen the TV adaptation… Not reading any Christie as not interested in crime books.

84. The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot

I have never read any Eliot.  I probably should.

85. The Hound of Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes book, that I can remember.  Tsk.  Love Robert Downey Jr’s version though.

86. The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

This is a film, isn’t it?  And I think it has Liam Neeson or Sam O’Neill in it?  So maybe I’ll just watch that instead. [N.B. It's Ralph Fiennes.]

87. Schlinder’s Ark – Thomas Keneally

Gah, this film.  Not going to read the book unless I feel like crying for days.  But the film adaptation is good.

88. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

I have read this, as all girls should (and boys I guess!).  An important book.

89. High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

Love the film with John Cusack and Jack Black.  Haven’t read the book.

90. Winnie-the-Pooh – A. A. Milne

I love this book and have it in an illustrated hardback edition.  A staple of any childhood.

91. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J. K. Rowling

Of course.  And by now surely everyone has read this?!

92. Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian

This book is appropriately depressing, etc. (it’s set in WWII).  However, for a true Magorian gem I recommend skipping this book and reading Back home instead, which is about an evacuee who comes back to England from Connecticut as a teenager after the war, and has to learn how to be British again.  A very good book.

93. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

I’ve never read any Margaret Atwood.  I probably should get on that.

94. The Story of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson

I used to love Jacqueline Wilson books when I was a young teen.  Between us my sis and I had most of them, but I see that she’s still publishing and there are a lot of new titles I don’t recognise.  I’ve read this one though, and I used to watch the BBC show too (I was probably not as young as you think I should have been to watch that!).

95. Birdsong – Sebastien Faulks

This book is rubbish, don’t read it.  I got half way through, and it was the first book I ever abandoned without finishing!

96. Last Orders – Graham Swift

I have never heard of this book.

97. The Time Machine – H. G. Wells

I have read this.  And I think I’ve seen the Samantha Mumba film as well. Haha.  Of all the times he could travel to, the Time Traveller chose an unfortunate period in Earth to visit.

98. My Man Jeeves – P. G. Wodehouse

I’ve read a lot of Wodehouse books.  They make me chuckle.  I recommend them for a laugh if you need cheering up.

99. The Commitments – Roddy Doyle

I think I know of this author, but not the book.

100. The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy

I read this book years ago.  I’ve actually been trying to get a copy to read again, but although my local e-library has all the sequels it doesn’t have the first one available.  [N.B. I found it on the Kindle for £2.99 so I have it now!]

I’ve counted the books as I’ve written them up here, and I’ve read 45 of them.  I feel like it should be more.  How many of them have you read?  If you do a similar blog post, share it below so I can visit and have a look!

The never-ending book pile

To read pile

My pile of books to read never goes down.  I’ve moved it to a more visible place so that I notice it and make an effort to read the books in it, but it only ever grows larger (it’s actually grown since I took this photo, and currently has 14 books in it).  The problem is that I mostly read on my Kindle nowadays, and there are lots of unread books on there.  When I want to start a new book I usually start a Kindle book, so the pile of paperback books never shrinks.

This year, I wanted to make a sizeable dent in my to-read list, which currently has (at the time of writing, it might have changed by the time you click on the link!) 237 books on it.  I buy books that aren’t on the list sometimes, and as a result the list doesn’t shrink much, hence my desire to focus on it this year.  However, even as I type this I know that I’ve just got two books from my local e-library that aren’t on the list…

So far this year (again, at the time of writing), I’ve read 22 books of the 70 book goal I gave myself.  According to my GoodReads tracker, this means I am eight books behind schedule.  Reading mostly isn’t a chore for me (unless it’s a very boring book), so getting behind on my “homework” like this doesn’t bother me.  I’d like to catch up though.  My ultimate goal is to have finished my to-read list and be one of those people who can start reading a book the day she buys it, and hopefully be reading it at the same time as everyone else!  It’d be nice to be able to talk about popular books when everyone else is talking about them too!

Do you keep a long list of books to read?

May reads (2014)

Another month where I’ve reached my reading goal.  Good news!  I’m still behind on my 2014 reading challenge, but I’m not doing badly after my bad February and March!

Snuff – Terry Pratchett

Every time I get up to date with the Discworld series, Terry Pratchett releases another book.  This is the 39th Discworld novel, and now he’s gone and written number 40: Raising Steam.  I own the whole series in paperback, so I’ll buy number 40 sometime.  Anyway, Snuff was good because it was a Commander Vimes novel, and they’re always good!  The City Watch novels are my favourite.  There’s no point in reading this unless you’re a Discworld fan though, and if you’re a Discworld fan it’s probably already on your list!

The Farm – Richard Benson

This was a sad book.  It is a biography about being a farmer in northern England during the last few decades.  It is a fascinating insight into the decline of farming traditions, but it is a bit sad as the family lose their farm in the end to the banks, as has happened repeatedly over the last few decades with small farms.  However, it’s worth a read if you’re interested in that sort of thing as you’ll learn a lot.

The Self Illusion – Bruce Hood

This book has taken me months to finish.  It was hard-going in places.  It’s a psychology book that looks at the illusion of the self, and explains why the self is just an illusion with the help of lots of psychology and neuroscience studies.  It was an interesting read, but it took me ages to finish and I’m getting to the point now where I’ve read so many popular psychology books that when they start to reference studies I know which ones they are talking about because everyone references them.  Still, psychology is one of my hobbies so I will continue to read them!  (I’m reading another book at the moment in fact!)  I don’t really care if the self is an illusion (it is!) – I am quite happy with my illusion self. Haha.

When a crocodile eats the sun – Peter Godwin

I read a lot of diverse books this month.  I didn’t really realise until I set them all down like this. This is a biography on white life in Zimbabwe since the end of Apartheid.  Peter Godwin is a National Geographic journalist and grew up in Zimbabwe.  This book is an eye-opener.  I can’t emphasise that enough!  I knew nothing about Zimbabwe and the end of Apartheid other than that it was a good thing (that it ended), so this book was fascinating for me.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a huge increase violence against white farmers and a huge increase in poverty in the country, largely as a result of President Mugabe’s dictatorship (he fixed the last few elections so although he’s calling it a democracy it isn’t in any sense of the word any more).  To hide his corruption, he has demonised the white population (which was actually very a small percentage of the country).

The country was actually stable and happy at the end of Apartheid and there was no lingering bad will between the two communities, but Mugabe put an end to that decades later with the singling out of the whites as the cause of the country’s ills.  It’s really quite shocking.  Farmers were attacked in their own homes by mobs, and their families tortured before being killed.  These white farmers largely have nowhere to go, as they are Zimbabwe-born (Mugabe wants them to “go home”, but they are home).

Many have fled to other countries such as South Africa and Australia, but they are farmers so as they fled from or were killed by the violence Zimbabwe’s farming declined and as a result there is no food for the population.  The people who took the farms took them over as trophies, and have no farming skills.  The country has been run into the ground by one man’s greed.  I can’t believe all this has happened in the time that I’ve been alive and yet our Governments have done nothing!

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

This is the book that everyone was talking about a few months ago, but I waited until it was cheap to read it!  A fascinating psychology book on the science of introverts and extroverts, and how to get the best out of both types of people.  A good read.

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince – J.K Rowling

I’m slowly making my way through the series.  Almost there now!  The Half-blood Prince is book 6 in the series, and is a sad one.  I’m still enjoying the books though.  I’d forgotten how good they are.  My sister went to Harry Potter World last week and I am super-jealous.

Cradle to cradle – Michael Braungart and William McDonough

I’ve had this book on my reading list for a long time now, but I found it a bit disappointing.  It was hard-going and a little depressing.  It’s about how our current industrial principles have been designed around a cradle-to-grave system, where we use something then chuck it away.  It causes no end of waste and pollution, and is really bad (lots of emphasis on this).  The authors are proponents of a cradle-to-cradle system, where products can be stripped down to their constituent parts and re-used.  It’s an excellent idea and one wonders why we haven’t already switched to this system (greed and laziness is the answer).  However, it’s a book for industry, designers and manufacturers, rather than the general public.  I don’t think we have the power to change these manufacturing practices as consumers – it’s for the companies to do.  All the world’s CEOs and directors should read this book and sort their businesses out.

Did you read any good books this month?

April reads (2014)

I read six books this month, as was my goal. Yey!  I’m back on track with reading!  It’s taken long enough.  I’m still behind with my reading goal for the year, but I will now try and catch up.  Here are the books I read this month.

A garden of Eden in Hell – Melissa Muller & Reinhard Piechocki

This book is a biography of Alice Herz-Sommer, a famous concert pianist who spent WWII in a Nazi concentration camp because she was Jewish.  I hate the title of the book, but the book itself is good. It covers the whole of Alice’s life, and is a fascinating read.  It gives you an insight into the skill and passion of concert musicians – Alice practiced for hours every day, and pretty much lived and breathed music.  A very inspiring read.

The P45 Diaries – Ben Hatch

This was a fiction read that I bought on a whim because it was a Radio 4 Book of the Year.  It’s very Adrian Mole/Catcher in the Rye, and is a diary of a fictional 17 year old who is trying to decide what to do with his life.  He wants to be a famous writer, and his Father wants him to just get a job that he doesn’t get sacked from.  It was a quick read, and was amusing in places, but it was also tinged with sadness.

When all hell breaks loose – Cody Lundin

Cody Lundin is a survival expert who presents Dual Survival, which is a Discovery Channel show on surviving in the wild without modern utensils.  It’s a good show.  I thought it would therefore be interesting to read one of Lundin’s books.  I suppose it was, but he seems to be of the belief that the apocalypse is a ‘when’, not an ‘if’.  It gets a bit wearing reading a book that is specifically designed to protect you against the breakdown of society.  I think life will get crap because of climate change and all the trouble it will cause, but I don’t believe the society will breakdown entirely – I think we’ll go back to a more feudal system like in the olden days.  Lundin seems very much to be in a ‘dog eat dog’ frame of mind, which in the long-term isn’t sustainable anyway – mankind has a history of living in communities for a reason.  If you can look past the driving force behind the book, there is lots of useful help in the book.

A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again – David Foster Wallace

I really don’t get the fuss about David Foster Wallace.  Sorry, world.  The only essay I liked in this book was the one about a Caribbean cruise ship holiday, and that’s because the topic was interesting.

Fifi and Slug – Margaret Joy

This is a book from my childhood!  It is about a posh French Yorkshire Terrier called Fifi, and an English car called Slug.  Slug and his human family go on holiday to France and stay with a French family.  The French family own a dog called Fifi and they all go on adventures together.  Slug and Fifi get into trouble, and make friends.  It’s a great little book and it was a fun re-read!

A room of one’s own – Virginia Woolf

I didn’t realise before I read it that this book is basically a treatise on feminism.  I only read it because it’s one of those books we’re supposed to have read, but I actually found it very thought-provoking.  It is perhaps something that all women should read.

Did you read any good books in April?

Fairytale bookends

Bookends.  I always wonder whether there’s any point to them.  There are so many things you can use to keep books upright.  In the past, I’ve been a fan of horizontal book stacking at the ends of rows, rocks, photo frames… However, as I streamline my book collection I’ve ended up with so few books that they don’t run to the end of shelves any more, and I’ve been getting rid of my clutter, so there aren’t as many rocks and items to hold up these books.

I decided that I needed a pair of bookends, but they had to be fun.  They had to match my books and be decorative in their own right.  I trawled the internet for a few days (there are A LOT of designs out there), and ultimately decided on a pair of fairytale bookends.

Fairytale bookends 1

There’s a huge range in both the price and quality of bookends, so if you’re looking for a pair of your own I recommend setting a budget in advance.  This pair cost £25 from Not on the high street, and came in a choice of colours (I bought off-white).

Fairytale bookends 2

Fairytale bookends 3

They’re cute, aren’t they?  The books on the left of my shelf (“Once upon a time”) are my favourite non-fiction books.  The books on the right of my shelf (“The end”) are my favourite fiction books.  All nicely sorted!

February reading (2014)

As I’ve already mentioned, I only read three books this February, and so failed in my goal to read six.  I’m now behind in my reading challenge for the year, although I am going to try and catch up this month.

The Canterville Ghost – Oscar Wilde

This is an Oscar Wilde short story about an American family that move into an English manor with a resident ghost.  The ghost goes about doing his ghostly hauntings, and the American family aren’t phased at all.  Comedy ensues…  It’s a good short story.  I do like Oscar Wilde.

Now then lad – Mike Pannett

This book is a biography by a former Yorkshire and Met policeman.  You’ll know Mike Pannett from Twitter if you’ve been following the campaign to stop funding cuts to police dogs (Pannett’s old force is one of the forces axing all police dog units).  This book is definitely worth a read.  It gives you a sneak peak into the world of country policing, and it’s very funny.  Pannett is a witty writer.

Girls’ guide to hunting and fishing – Melissa Bank

This book was recommended in another book I read, although I don’t remember which one.  I also saw someone on Twitter recommend it.  I didn’t enjoy it that much.  For a start, it was only half way through that I realised it was fiction, not a biography!  I just thought it was a bit mundane, but mundane in a boring way, not in an interesting way!  Each chapter is a different snapshot of a different point in the lead character’s life.

Did you read any good books in February?

January reads (2014)

For January, I read six books as planned.  It was a close run thing though, and I almost didn’t succeed.  I had intended to reduce the number of books I started for this month, but that didn’t work as I currently have five on the go again.  However, I’ve only started enough books to reach my reading goal for February (six books again), so that counts as being organised, right??

Be awesome: modern life for modern ladies – Hadley Freeman

This is the first book I read in 2014, which is a shame as it was quite disappointing in places. I’m not the first one to make this observation, but it’s basically a poorer version of Caitlyn Moran’s How to be a woman. I thought the author had a tendency to waffle, and many sentences were too long. Still, the book raised some interesting points regarding feminism, so it’s still an ok book to read.

Plain and simple – Sue Bender

This book is written by a lady who, after becoming intrigued by the Amish, goes to live with them for a summer on two separate occasions. The book is interesting for anyone who likes the Amish (like me), but I didn’t like something about the way the author adores them. I’m not sure “adores” is the right word – there’s almost a tone throughout her book of idolisation. At the end of the day, the Amish are just one group of people who have chosen a specific way of life. We can study their lives, but we shouldn’t put them up on pedastals. If you ignore the author’s sentiments though, it’s an interesting sneak-peak into a world we don’t get to see.

Travels with my aunt – Graham Greene

I can’t remember why this book ended up on my reading list, but I’ve been reading it on and off for quite a few months now. It really shouldn’t have taken me as long to read as it ultimately did. It’s not a big book, and it was quite amusing and insightful in places. You could easily read it in a week if you stopped picking up other books! The book is about a retired bank manager who, on the death of his Mother, meets an aunt at the funeral that he never really knew. They become companions and go travelling to various European places together, and stories ensue. It’s set in the 50s (maybe 60s?) when travel was more glamourous than it is today. Maggie Smith played the aunt in the film version of the story, which I can totally imagine!

North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell

This is one of my favourite books ever, and I thought it was time I re-read it.  I also watched the TV series twice during January (not that I’m obsessive at all…).  I love Mr Thornton – he’s totally better than Mr Darcy.  It’s also a fascinating look into the North/South divide, which Brits will know is a centuries long argument about which part of the country is better (FYI, I’m a Midlander.  Maybe I should be Switzerland, but I’m not; the North is better!).  The book is very similar to Pride and Prejudice (sort of), and basically follows the story of Margaret as her Father uproots the family from a small village in Hampshire and moves them to a mill town up north (fictional town, but thought to be Manchester).  Margaret has to learn the ways of the north, adjust to living in a town of industry and navigate the stress of family life after the upheaval.  It’s a great read!

The South Pole: 1910-1912 – Roald Amundsen

Gosh, this book took me ages to read.  Months!  Amundsen was a bit of a rambler.  Haha, I’m kidding – maybe.  He did after all go to the South Pole; he had a lot to write about.  The book’s actually really well written (and I assume well-translated).  I originally decided to read this book because I’ve naturally favoured British explorers, and therefore hated all non-Brits that have beaten us to important geographical locations.  Amundsen is doubly disliked by the British as he beat Scott to the Pole, and then Scott died on the way home (this is obviously Norway’s fault).

Having now read his biography, I have many thoughts (if you’re not a polar fan like me, skip this bit as it will be boring):

  1. Amundsen’s team were much better equipped for the journey than Scott’s team.  Sorry, Britain.  The Norwegians relied on centuries of mankind’s experience in cold climates, and therefore bought dogs and traditional skis to Antarctica.  Britain decided these people didn’t know what they were doing, disregarded history and tried to do it with ponies.
  2. The Norwegians had much better weather than the British.  This has been remarked on many times over the years, from both modelling and the diaries that all the explorers kept.  This is partly down to luck, as Amundsen chose their landing point based on where the British were landing, and so little was known about the continent that knowing which areas suffered bad weather wasn’t possible.
  3. The Norwegians had a much better attitude than the British.  This is most clearly notable in the journals.  Granted, the Brits were hungry and having a crappy time of it, but Amundsen’s journals are cheerful and full of little anecdotes about his colleagues, the dogs and the continent he was walking.
  4. In conclusion, Norway deserved the win!

On a sad note, the Norwegians – knowing they’d got to the Pole first – left a tent with some equipment they didn’t need for Scott in case his team needed anything.  Ironically, they didn’t leave any food because, having an over-abundance of their own, they must have assumed he would too.  Had they left food as well as equipment for Scott’s team, they may well have made it home again.  As it was, Scott’s team starved to death on the journey back and Amundsen’s team couldn’t eat everything they’d brought with them.  Their dogs were in such fine form when they got back to the ship that they ended up taking them off Antarctica (instead of shooting them) and giving them to the Australian Antarctica team who were going out the following year.

How to be free – Tom Hodgkinson

I read this book on a whim because it was in my local library’s digital section (most the books are fiction, which I don’t read much).  I’m really glad I did spot it, because it’s a gem.  The book is written by an anarchist who lives in the UK.  It’s about living separate from the State, making a living of your own choosing, and basically being off the grid as much as possible.  It’s mixed with anecdotes, theories, British and world history and advice.  It’s a brilliant read, and I really recommend it.

Did you read any good books in January?

2013 and 2014 reading challenges

It’s a new year, and time for a new reading challenge. This year, my challenge is to read 70 books. I want to make a sizeable dent in my ‘to-read’ list. I also want to clear my pile of unread books in the cupboard, and I want to finish re-reading the Harry Potter series. So there are a few mini goals tucked into that number. You can follow my progress on GoodReads, which I update fairly regularly.

In 2013, my reading challenge was to read 60 books. I achieved this, but with no wiggle room! I wrote about each of the books I read at the end of each month, and you can re-visit the reviews below. I will do the same this year.

Have an excellent reading year!

January reads

February reads

March reads

April reads

May reads

June reads

July reads

August reads

September reads

October reads

November reads

December reads