2019 GOODREADS READING CHALLENGE – UPDATE

Standard

The first two months of the year have flown by and March is now upon us so I thought I’d look back at my reading progress so far this year. I’ve only read three books (although I’m part-way through several more) which means I’ve achieved 10% of my Goodreads goal of reading 30 books in 2019, which puts me one book behind schedule. I need to up my game as I now have 10 months to read the remaining 27 books.

The first book I read this year was The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and Other Stories by Hilary Mantel. I had been unaware that Mantel wrote short stories until this collection was picked for my short stories book group so I was intrigued to see what they were like. The titular story is set in 1983, an alternative history tale where a hitman plots the demise of the then-Prime Minister. My favourite story in the collection was ‘Harley Street’ where the narrator thinks she understands the world she lives in but things aren’t quite how they seem. I also enjoyed ‘The Long QT’ and ‘Winter Break’ for the shock value they contained.

The second book I read this year was Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore. Mend the Living was a compelling, if sometimes difficult, read. Set in France, it starts with Simon Limbeau, a 19-year-old boy, heading out to surf with his friends. Tragedy strikes and the book becomes the story of a heart transplant told over the space of 24 hours. The book is written first in the viewpoint of Simon, then switches to various medical staff and, the most difficult viewpoint to read, Simon’s mother. It is an absorbing look at the procedures that must be carried out during the donation process, the careful scripts the medical staff must follow, the devastation grief brings to a family and the hope that this death can bring to someone desperately awaiting an organ transplant. It’s not a light read and I definitely shed some tears but I’d recommend it.  

The third book I read this year was A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young. This was a short book (64 pages) and it was written as a guide to a technique for producing advertising ideas but the technique could be applied to creating ideas for other fields. It essential boils down to: know your topic well, do your research, give yourself time for ideas to appear (while you are keeping yourself busy doing something that entertains you) then, when an idea does appear, take the time to develop it into the best version of itself you can. This book was originally published in 1965 but I think its contents still hold true and I found this to be an interesting read. 

If any of these books look interesting I’ve left links below – as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge

Standard

When I was at university I used to read a book a week, sometimes more than that, but now I’m in my early thirties and busy with work I find that it’s a lot harder to find the time to read for pleasure. I’m determined to read more this year and one way I’ll track that is by using the Goodreads Reading Challenge.

This year I’ve challenged myself to read 30 books and, as of today, I’ve read three out of the 30. I’m 10% through the reading challenge but Goodreads tells me I’m one book behind schedule so I’d better get reading!

March check-in: New Year Resolutions update

Standard

This is a very late check-in to see how I got on with my three New Year’s Resolutions in March (see this post for the full explanation of my New Year’s Resolutions).

Here is how I got on with my resolutions in March:

1) Write more – I was aiming for at least 250 words a day and I managed to do that every day in March – awesome! In total I wrote 9632 words which is an average of 321 words per day.

2) Improve my cooking skills – Haven’t done a lot for this resolution in March. Must do better in April.

3) Read 25 books –  I finished A Dance with Dragons 1: Dreams and Dust (part of the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series) on 23rd March. So at the end of March I have read 4/25 books, which Goodreads tells me makes me 16% through my challenge.

Best bits: my top three things I saw on the internet last week

Standard

Weekly best bits blog

1) This amazing bus stop advertising by Pepsi Max:

 

2) This really creepy re-telling of The Velveteen Rabbit by Mallory Ortberg from The-Toast.net:

There was a person called Nana who ruled the nursery. Sometimes she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled them away in cupboards. She called this “tidying up,” and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones. The Rabbit did not forget her either. The Rabbit did not forget anything, once the Rabbit had decided he had been cheated.

Nana had cheated the Rabbit, and he would remember it.

Click here for the full story. (The original story was by Margery Williams.)

 

3) This story about chocolate biscuits which made me realise I have been eating them upside-down since I was a child. My mind is blown.

February check-in: New Year Resolutions update

Standard

In order to keep me motivated to achieve my New Year Resolutions I decided to do a monthly check-in post, as close to the last day of the month as I can. In this check-in post I will monitor how well I am doing with my three New Year’s Resolutions (see this post for my full explanation of my New Year’s Resolutions).

Here is how I got on with my resolutions in February:

1) Write more – I was aiming for at least 250 words a day and I managed to do that every day in February – hurray! In total I wrote 8735 words which is an average of 312 words per day.

2) Improve my cooking skills – In February I was experimenting with roasting vegetables (parsnips, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes) to see which I preferred. I also cooked a version of the vegetable lasagne (using a different recipe than the one I used in January) and it worked out pretty well. I even served it to actual people who said they enjoyed it! Hurray again. I will try to post the recipe soon.

3) Read 25 books – I read More Than This (click here for my review) by Patrick Ness in early February for my book group and I have been trying to read A Dance with Dragons 1: Dreams and Dust (part of the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series) for the past few weeks. So at the end of February I have read 3/25 books, which Goodreads tells me makes me 12% through my challenge.

More Than This – Review

Standard

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Warning: here be spoilers! Huge gargantuan spoilers.

More Than This is a young adult novel by Patrick Ness. It may also be a sci-fi novel and a dystopian novel. Or it might be neither of these. And that’s where the problem lies for me. The blurb of this book is:

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies. Then he wakes, naked, bruised and thirsty, but alive. How can this be? And what is this strange, deserted place? As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

That’s a lot of questions right there. And having read the 480 pages of this novel I am still not much clearer on the answers. Our protagonist Seth dies before we even get to chapter one of the story. Or does he? He ‘wakes’ in a seemingly abandoned world which he explores alone for 172 pages until he encounters some other characters and the book takes a new turn. Throughout part one of this book it seems likely that Seth has died and is experiencing some kind of afterlife. Or else, as Seth puts it, it’s all a dream ‘the last dream before death’. After Regine and Tomasz are introduced in part two, the story becomes more to do with what happened to the people of this abandoned world, and why. Seth’s former life abruptly goes from being his real life to potentially being a virtual reality.

I liked the characters in this book. I couldn’t help but have sympathy for Seth; a boy whose whole life was tainted by a decision he made when he was eight years old. I liked the fierceness of Regine and her ‘never give up’ attitude. I especially liked Tomasz who was incredibly sweet as well as being brave and resourceful. I wasn’t as keen on Seth’s friends in his ‘virtual life’; H and Monica were fairly one dimensional and I liked Gudmund and his relationship with Seth until the twist towards the end.

The biggest problem I had with this novel was the ending. I felt that there was a big build up, where so many different ideas were set up, and then instead of culminating in a stunning finale the novel just ended. It was hugely anticlimactic and I found myself very disappointed that I would not get to find out the truth.

Throughout the novel we are teased with the idea that the world Seth wakes up in may all be in his head, or perhaps it is hell. Or maybe the world he was in before wasn’t real. Things in this world seem too coincidental. Seth will think about something, for instance, that it’s weird that there are no animals in this world and a second later:

Foxes, he thinks. Actual foxes. At the very moment he thought about them. Almost as if he’d called them into being himself.

The virtual reality plot was eminently plausible to me so I found myself very frustrated when it seemed as if this was going to be the confirmed reality only for doubt to be thrown on it when, right at the end of the novel, Seth says:

If this was my brain trying to make sense of stuff…the Driver would be there, half-burnt, insane with revenge, waiting for one last attack before we do whatever it is we’re going to do.

And then that’s exactly what happened. The Driver appears, against all probability and that’s the moment that really pulled me out of the book. When it ended without telling us either way which version of reality was the ‘true’ one I was left with a feeling of huge disappointment.

Have people discovered a way to live their lives online (so fully immersed that they don’t even realise they aren’t in the ‘real world’)? Or was it, as Seth puts it just a dying brain making up one last story? Did the manner of Seth’s death (the fact that he hit his head in a particular place) mean that he got a second chance to live? Will he make things right with Gudmund? Will he confront his parents about the way they have treated him? Did his brother Owen survive the attack by the escaped prisoner or was he murdered, as the grave in the ‘real world’ would suggest? What happened to Regine and Tomasz once Seth went back to the ‘virtual’ world? Even if he came back, were they doomed to wander around in the ruined ‘real world’ until they all eventually died? Or would the people inhabiting the ‘virtual world’ wake up and reinhabit the ‘real world’?  If not, would they survive now that Seth, Tomasz and Regine had destroyed their caretaker? Was the Driver just a caretaker and why was he so intent on harming the trio if, once he had incapacitated them, he was just going to heal them anyway?

Ultimately, I was left with too many unanswered questions for me to be satisfied. I came away from it feeling frustrated and, to a certain extent, cheated. I invested in the characters in this book and I was very disappointed to end the novel not even knowing if they were ‘real’.

For this reason More Than This only gets 2 ** from me.

A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

Standard

A feast for crowsA  Feast for Crows was a bit of a struggle for me. I found the Greyjoy chapters very hard to get through, mainly because none of the characters are very likeable and consequently I am not at all invested in their stories. I don’t care who assumes the position of power for the Iron Islands because all the candidates are equally awful.

I liked the Brienne chapters as well as the Jaime chapters (although I still don’t really like Jaime as a character – I just can’t forgive him for his actions in the first book) and I quite enjoyed the Arya and Cersei chapters too.

Overall, I felt as if this book were a filler; killing time until the next stage of the war begins. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I find A Dance with Dragons Part One more enjoyable.