A look back to books I read in 2016

Books read in 2016
  1. Our Endless Numbered Days : Claire Fuller
  2. The Versions of Us : Laura Barnett
  3. The Sisters : Claire Douglas
  4. A Death in Sweden : Kevin Wignall
  5. The Vintage Teacup Club : Vanessa Croft
  6. The Girl With No Past : Kathryn Croft
  7. Follow Me : Angela Clark
  8. Asphyxia : Derick Hudson
  9. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep : Joanna Cannon
  10. Let the Light Shine : Nick Alexander
  11. The Sudden Appearance of Hope : Claire North
  12. The Red House : Mark Haddon
  13. Coffin Road : Peter May
  14. The Woman who Stole my Life : Marian Keyes
  15. My Husband’s Wife : Amanda Prowse
  16. Me before you : Jo Jo Moyes
  17. The Girl who lied : Sue Fortin
  18. Kill Me Again: Rachel Abbott
  19. Evelyne, After : Victoria Helen Stone
  20. The Girl in between : Laekan Zea Kemp
  21. The Winter People : Jennifer McMahon
  22. No Coming Back : Keith Houghton

I didn’t read as much in 2016 as I did in 2015.

It was probably because I didn’t do a 76-night cruise last year! It’s amazing how much you can read on a cruise ship.

Looking back over the list it’s almost two a month which isn’t too bad, is it? Some of these were for my book club and I’m always grateful to be ‘forced’ into reading something I would never have picked up in the Kindle store.

Some of these were for my book club and I’m always grateful to be ‘forced’ into reading something I would never have picked up in the Kindle store.

It’s quite an eclectic choice and I do love frequently changing ‘genres’. It’s a bit like tastes in food. Too much of the same thing becomes boring in the long run.

I’d love to hear from you if you have your own recommendations. Pleased whet my appetite. I know there are hundreds of gems on the shelf that grab your attention.

Right now I’m reading ‘Stories of Midwives’, by Sally Hepworth.

 

Stories : Sunday Photo Fiction

Stories

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Stephen’s Father loved playing games.

Stephen remembered the glint in his eyes as he scrutinized his hand while playing Bridge, or the way he chewed his lower lip as he rolled the dice when playing Board Games.

Reading was another of his passions and Stephen had fond memories of snuggling up in bed under the duvet listening to the rustle of turning pages and his father’s soft voice as the characters came to life.

When time rendered Stephen’s father frail and bedridden, he asked Stephen to fetch him his favourite Heinlein and to open it to Chapter Three.

A browned sheet of notepaper slid out and floated to the ground.

Stephen read the faded writing, “Once upon a time there was a young boy named Stephen …”. He continued reading until the last line where his father had added, “… James Herbert, The Secret of  Crinkley Hall, Chapter Nine.”

Stephen’s father passed away peacefully a few days later but the paper chase to piece together the stories he’d written lasted for months.

Stephen is going to publish them all so that he can read them to his Grandchildren one day.

The idea of Sunday Photo Fiction is to create a story / poem or something using around about 200 words with the photo as a guide.

 

my500words : Day 9 : About writing

The challenge today is to write about writing.

About writing

In my childhood I was an avid reader. Without the internet, mobile phones or even television, there seemed to be fewer distractions. It seems strange to write that now, even a little bleak, although at the time I don’t ever remember being bored. On the contrary there was never enough time to do all that I wanted to do.

I recall that being ill was a great way to catch up on a book or two because when you were ill you were sent to bed and that was were you stayed until you got better, between spoonfuls of syrup and mugs of chicken stock. When I had devoured all the books I had chosen in the library I flipped through magazines and dog-eared pages of the family Encyclopaedias and dictionaries until I was finally well enough to leave the bedroom and return to school.

My first real attempt at writing was a national competition for schoolchildren and although I’d written numerous short stories and poems before, this was, for me, a very long story, ten to fifteen handwritten pages long.

All I recall about that story was that it was about a cat that became sentient. Unfortunately it didn’t leave a lasting impression, either on me, or on anyone else for that matter.

It wasn’t a very good story and although I finished it and sent it off I don’t remember getting any feedback on it.

Photocopying was not generally available at the time. I might have made a few notes, but the only real traces are those that should be somewhere in my mind, but I can’t recall them.

I think it put me off writing for many years but life is never that simple is it.

Thinking about that story now illustrates an important lesson but I’ll come back to that before I leave you.

So life and school continued and I read my way into my teens through phases.

The adventure phase slid into the crime novels phase which morphed into the Science-Fiction and Fantasy phase.

I loved how those intense crazy books stretched the limits of my imagination and allowed me to travel to different challenging worlds or discover dystopian visions of how our own world could become.

Then I started looking at the girl next door in different ways. Noticing details that I had previously missed. The way she walked, the sound of her voice or the way she pouted her lips.

Over the weeks and months I noticed her girlfriends and other girls that I crossed on the streets. Then it was girls in magazines, girls from abroad, girls with different skin colours, girls with different hair, girls with different shaped eyes.

Girl after girl. Crush after crush. It became a full blown preoccupation, interrupted solely by schoolwork, mealtimes and far too early-to-bed times.

As you can see, I’m often distracted from the task I’ve been given. I set out earlier to write about writing and here I am lost in girls and adolescent infatuations.

Staying focused has always been one of my biggest problems, specially when my mind comes across an obstacle. Rather than drilling through it or climbing over it, I have an annoying tendency just to skirt around it, leave it for another day, or just find something completely different to do.

As far as writing is concerned I think it’s impossible to determine exactly why I left it aside for so long and equally difficult to say with certainty why I decided to take up writing again after so many years.

I promised to expand on the lesson I referred to earlier.

I wrote a long story in my teens. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. I should have realised at the time that I had clearly demonstrated that I knew how to write a story, I only had to continue writing better stories or even to indulge in the pleasure of just writing.

I remember reading recently that you should write your first ‘bad’ book from start to finish just so you can say to yourself that you’d succeeded in writing a book.

Knowing that you were capable of writing a book you should then put that into practice by writing the book that you really wanted to write.

That’s great advice but somehow I already know that I’m capable of writing, not one, but many books.

Did you see what I did there? I’ve just admitted that I’m going to write my first book.

Book Review : The Girl in the Red Coat

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The Girl in the Red Coat
Kate Hamer
Kindle edition, 384 pages
Published by Faber & Faber Fiction; Main edition (24 Feb. 2015)

Five Stars

Carmel becomes separated from her mother at a local children’s festival, and is found by a man who claims to be her estranged grandfather.

Both Mum (Beth) and Carmel share the telling of this tale and when Carmel becomes a missing girl she doesn’t realise that she’s lost. While her mother desperately tries to find her, Carmel embarks on an extraordinary journey, that leads her to question who she is and who she might become.

The book commences with the familiar premise of a child that is abducted but as the story develops, it takes us to unexpected places and unanticipated circumstances.

When writing as Carmel the author, of which this is her debut thriller, is particularly deft at telling the story from the perspective of an eight year old. The book is at the same time extremely well written, gripping, thought-provoking and emotionally generous.

I can imagine it being made into a film at some point in time.

I look forward with eager anticipation to reading the next Kate Hamer book!

Book Review : The Children Act

The Children Act by Ian McEwan
240 pages
Published by Nan A. Talese (2014)

Fiona Maye is a successful High Court judge in her late fifties and presides over cases in family court.

From the outset we learn that she is immersed in her profession and in the nuances of her particular field of law and commands the respect of her peers.

Fiona seems rigorous and pragmatic and in the first chapter we discover that she is more than capable of considering sensibilities towards culture and beliefs when handing down verdicts.

All is not well in her world however and her marriage seems in peril when her husband Jack makes a challenging request and after an argument, moves out of the house.

His departure destabilises her but she throws herself into her work, which includes a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

The pressure to resolve the case and the continuing marital stress are only two of the elements that test Fiona and keeps the reader intrigued until the last chapter.

Overall the book is well written, the characters are plausible and the insights given into the workings of Family Court are often fascinating and made more so by an absence of sensationalism and modern journalism.

Personally I was very disappointed by the last chapter and the ultimate page.

I felt that the story lacked an interesting conclusion that I had already foreseen it earlier on. There was for me some improbable events that seemed out of character and left me dissatisfied.

This is a real shame as I had really enjoyed the book until then.

You will have to read the Children Act yourself to see if you agree or not but this is why I only gave it three stars.

Book Review : The Cement Garden

The Cement Garden (Kindle Edition)
Author Ian McEwan
Publisher : Vintage
144 pages

In the Cement Garden we discover Jack who declares in the opening sentence “I did not kill my father, but I sometimes think I helped him on his way”.

Jack and his sister Julie are the eldest of four children and they have a younger sister Sue and a brother Tom who is the the youngest.

We learn of their father’s death some time after having ordered a fair number of sacks of cement. Their mother becomes bedridden and we discover how the children cope by themselves with a difficult situation that deteriorates considerably.

Jack narrates the story and is the most clearly delineated of the children and whereas he defies social norms of cleanliness, each of his siblings has his or her own bizarre and dysfunctional way of dealing with a family situation that is coming apart.

The Cement Garden has justly been described as a tour de force of psychological unease and although it’s a short book, that doesn’t mean that it’s either shallow or uninteresting. The author conjures up uncomfortably plausible outcomes that make the Cement Garden rich, disturbing and sometimes difficult to read.

I found it to be an interesting, well written but dark read.

Book Review – The Girl With All The Gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts (Kindle edition)
M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit (14 Jan. 2014)
417 pages

Melanie is a little girl who goes to school, has friends and loves books. She is inquisitive, intelligent and has a great memory. As the story unfolds we discover that she is underground in an army base with other children of her age. She is muzzled occasionally, and chained to her desk; and we discover she is part of an experiment. She seems to be a normal if gifted child until we discover what happens when she smells human flesh too closely.

We see the world through Melanie’s eyes but also those of Miss Justineau, her favourite teacher, who introduces her to Greek myths (including the story of the original girl with all the gifts, Pandora, and the box she opens). Then there’s Sergeant Parks, the man in charge of the base, and the scientist Caroline Caldwell, who would dearly like to open Melanie’s skull in order to find out why she’s so intelligent and why she represents such a menace to everybody.

Although the plot is fairly straight forward and linear it becomes evident that it could be made into a film and that is exactly what is happenening as M. C.Carey has equally written the screenplay.

The ending almost rushes out of nowhere but the strong characters – especially Melanie and Miss Justineau – are well drawn and it’s very difficult not to feel for them.

I don’t wish to to give away too much of the plot and take away the pleasure of discovery but it is a clever and often surprising ride and once Melanie finally visits the outside world, we discover a recognizeable but transformed version of Britain where Carey succeeds in creating a sense of constant menace.

The pace of the last 200 or so pages of this book increases a sense of tension and some scary situations are very well imagined.

Although it is not the sort of fiction I normally read, I enjoyed it cover to cover and would recommend it as a book club read as it would nourish some very interesting discussions.