2016 was one of my best years yet on the reading front. I finally managed to smash my target of 12 books over the year (one book a month) and even read of total of 15 books. I think it was a mixture of determination, a reasonable amount of travel, some great books and discovering new ways to find my next book. I’m hopeful for 2017 and I’m looking forward to seeing what books make the reading list. In the meantime, here are my last books of 2016!

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His Bloody Project

I spotted this book when scrolling through the shortlist for the Booker Prize 2016. The story involves the recounting of a brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish community in 1869 by a quiet young boy. It’s not the kind of book I’d usually pick up, which is why I chose it. I couldn’t remember having read a book set in Scotland in that era and the psychological aspect intrigued me.

Roderick Macrae is guilty and there’s no doubt about it. Or is there? Between the court room transcripts, medical reports and psychological evaluations, the reader questions what really drove him to do the deed or if he was capable of it at all. It’s a real page turner and I devoured it quite quickly. Whilst obviously gruesome in parts, the interplay of different narratives is very clever.

You’ll like this book if you’re not afraid of a few pages of pillow-hiding content.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

I chose this book from a reading list I found on Pinterest and was largely drawn in by the fact it was described as heart warming.

Shortly after the death of his wife, 69 year old Arthur Pepper finds a charm bracelet that belonged to her, which takes him on an adventure and forces him to change how he sees the world and his relationships with his children.

It is overall a heart warming book, a little bit like ‘Up’ but without the Pixar delights. But it felt a little bit too twee for me. The scenes in London were a bit cliche and there were some details that just weren’t needed.

You’ll like this book if you fancy a nice easy read.

Victoria

I loved the Victoria series on ITV last year, it filled the period drama gap left behind from Downton Abbey so perfectly. It’s a complete dramatisation of Queen Victoria’s early reign but I really liked the characters and of course all of the scenes in London. I decided to download the book by the screen writer Daisy Goodwin because it was only 99p at the time and I was sure to enjoy it.

The book follows pretty much the same plot line, but it excludes the stories of the household and ends at an earlier point than the TV series. I think what I liked about the book version is how much easier it is to picture those places in London as they’re down in writing rather than made in passing reference on screen.

You like this book if you liked the TV series.

The Penguin Lessons

This was possibly my favourite book of 2016. I spotted the cover as someone was reading it on the tube and immediately checked out Goodreads to find out the plot line. I mean – penguins, how could I not.

The Penguin Lessons is about a passion for travel and a penguin named Juan Salvador. Tom Mitchell has a teaching position in a prestigious Argentine boarding school and uses the school holidays to travel. On one such trip he rescues a penguin from an oil slick, although he tries to return him to a safe place Juan won’t leave his side and he decides to smuggle him back to school. It’s such a lovely book, which also might make you want to back up your bags and go travelling to South America.

You like this if you like penguins or travel.

So that’s 2016 books. For more books from the year read chapters one, two and three.

Now for 2017. I’m going to aim for 18 books, 50% more than my last target. I really want to get back into some classics (please so share your favourites!) and continue with some more non-fiction books.

Do you have any book goals for 2017?

As ever, if you have any book recommendations please share them!

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There’s something deliciously indulgent about jumping into another world, tucked under a blanket with a hot drink and my favourite scented candle burning in the background. July to September feels like a distant memory as I get cosy and dip into the depths of autumn. It’s just so easy to forget one season and embrace the next when it’s as beautiful as autumn.

But for one post, I’m  going to travel back in time and attempt to remember what I was reading as the summer reached its peak and the sunshine stretched into September (it’s hard to believe we had a bit of a heatwave!)

The Girls – Emma Cline

I definitely got caught up in the hype when this book launched, to the extent that when I eventually came round to reading it some weeks after downloading I couldn’t remember what it was about. Evie’s story swings between her adolescent youth in the 1960s and the present day. Her past recollections of life as a teenager in Northern California, easily sucked into a cult as she tries to figure out adolescence in the wake of her parents separation, draw you into a dark and murky world.

It took me a little while to get into the book, but about a third of the way in I was strangely hooked. It makes you feel uncomfortable in so many ways, perhaps there’s a reminder of the awkward phase of being a teenager in there, but mostly it’s in the details, the way the cult survives, the gross male characters and the violence that ensues. It’s dark and intense. I think the switch between past and present stops it from becoming just another teenage angst story. It’s difficult to say whether I liked it, but I thought it was well-written and an era I’d not really come across before.

You might like it if you enjoyed The Goldfinch.

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste NG

I think this book came up either on Goodreads or Amazon. Whilst the story revolves around Lydia, the family favourite, her death unravels the family dynamic and reveals her parents’ persuit for the things they could never achieve themselves, whilst raising the question of race in modern society.

I really enjoyed this book. Whilst I felt the reaction to Lydia’s death by her father was a little predictable and disappointing, I liked how the story looks back over the path the parents have taken and how it shapes their childrens’. At the same time, it explores a difficult family dynamic that covers three generations. It also considers what it was like being an ethnic minority in the US both now and in the past.

It’s hard to compare this to another book, but I think you’d like it if you’ve read some of the other books I’ve shared on the blog.

My Grammar and I – Caroline Taggart

I had a goal to read a few non-fiction books that might help develop my skills. I decided to focus on grammar because although I think I know it pretty well, I’m not all that confident about some of the more tricky aspects.

My Grammar and I is written in a light-hearted tone, similar to that of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which makes it much easier to read. It covers quite a lot of detail in a fairly short number of pages and I’ll definitely be going back to it again. The only thing I realised was, as nerdy as it sounds, I felt like I needed an exercise book to test whether I properly understood some of it and could apply it in practice.

If you want to brush up your grammar, not just your punctuation, and learn a little history about the English language along the way you should try this book.

Behind Closed Doors – B A Paris

A friend of mine recommended this book after a summer shout out for book titles on Facebook. I downloaded it in a sale sometime in June and it was only in September that I actually got round to reading it. A thriller seemed like the perfect book for reading under the covers as the temperature turned. Grace falls into the trap of a seemingly perfect marriage, only to find out that her husband isn’t all that he seemed.

The story doesn’t have a lot of depth or anything particularly noteworthy, except that it’s an absolute page-turner. I was pretty gripped from the beginning and read it in just a few days.

It’s not as good as Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, but I think you’d like it if you’ve read and enjoyed those books.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? As always, please do share any recommended books in the comments below!

I was quite excited to realise when writing this post that I’ve already read 12 books this year! I’ve covered 11 books in blog posts and I’m currently on my 13th book of 2016. I’ve really noticed how my approach to finding my next book has made such a difference in how much I read.

I downloaded the Goodreads app (iPhone/Android) recently and this has been great for checking out books I’ve seen whilst on the go (I’m always nosey about the books other people are reading on the tube!) Maybe I should double my target next year?!

 

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One of the best things about the summer is being able to enjoy a good book in the sunshine. I find that these days I’m less bothered about watching my favourite TV shows and more interested in sitting outdoors with my favourite book. There’s also more travel during the warmer months with holidays, hen dos and weddings, jumping on trains and planes and whiling away the time with my latest read. I read some great books between April and June, even finishing one book within a few days (thanks to an 11 hour flight back to London.) Here they are!

The Secret Life of Bees

Lily has spent most of her life living on a peach farm with her stern father, believing that she accidentally killed her mother when she was four. As she turns 14 she longs for her mother’s love and forgiveness. She turns to Rosaleen, a black slave who hides a tender heart, for companionship. After Rosaleen gets caught up in an arrest common of 60s America, Lily seeks to save her and starts a journey towards a home of beekeepers and finding out what happened all those years ago.

It took me a couple of chapters to get into this book, but as the characters developed and I got used to the style of writing I really got into the story. I loved how the bee theme threads through the story from beginning to end. I can see why it was made into a film with some strong female characters, a young woman’s emotive story, set within the racial difficulties faced at the time. Overall, it’s a pretty easy read.

Me Before You

Lou Clark loses her job in The Buttered Bun and finds herself working for the wealthy Traynor’s looking after their son, Will. After a motorbike accident took away many things from Will that you and I would take for granted, Lou’s role in his life turns into something she hadn’t expected.

Thanks to Jessi and Natalie for recommending this book! I had no idea it was being turned into a film until I downloaded the book and saw some of the promo covers, so just in case you plan to watch the film or read the book I’m going to try not to give too much away. The first few chapters lead you to think that it’s a bit of a cheesy chic lit book with a predictable ending, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. I have a feeling the book is much better than the film as it explores quite an emotive topic and I’m not sure the Hollywood treatment of it will do it justice. Some of it brought back the challenges my mum faced with MND, other parts made me realise some of the difficulties someone faces when so much is taken away from them.

All the Light We Cannot See

Marie-Laure has been blind since she was six. She lives with her father in Paris who builds her a miniature replica of the city so that she can memorise it and make her way home. Werner is an orphan, whose talent for engineering finds him a place at a brutal military academy. Their paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

I’ve read a lot of books set in the world wars and (I feel bad for saying this but..) I wasn’t sure there could be another great book that I haven’t already read. So I was happily surprised to find that I loved this book. It’s beautifully written, it’s full of suspense and heart ache, the ending summarises the cruel reality of the war with a blow. If you like any of those great books set in World War II (I’m thinking The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Book Thief), then you’ll definitely like this.

The Muse

It’s 1967 and Odelle Bastian’s life in London takes an unexpected turn when she gets a job working for Marjorie Quick at the Skelton Gallery. A painting brought to the gallery sparks Odelle’s quest into drawing out more about Quick’s mysterious life and takes us back to rural Spain in 1936, where the painting was created.

I was excited to read Jessie Burton’s second book after the The Minaturist, which I loved. For a while I was a little disappointed that it didn’t have the same creepy magic that her first book held, but I started to enjoy the different eras it shared and that the mysterious aspect was done in a different way. It asks some interesting questions about female identity, explores the political tension in Spain at the time (which I had no idea about), and tests the strength of family relationships.  It’s always fun to read books set in London and seeing all those places us Londoners wander through week on week through the author’s eyes. Definitely try it if you liked her first book, I’d love to know what you think about the differences and similarities.

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What’s on your reading list this summer?

P.S. At the time of writing the Secret Life of Bees and All the Light We Cannot See are in the Kindle sale (99p and £1.99!)

In what I’d call the ‘book drought’ that followed university and a social media addiction that began to peak in about 2009, if I read a book it was usually the result of a recommendation or from spotting an intriguing cover in WHSmith’s book charts whilst filling time at a train station. But since I gave myself a target of reading at least 12 books a year at the end of 2013, I’ve been much more proactive about finding books so I have a selection waiting and I don’t get sucked back into chasing wifi on the underground or constantly checking my phone.

You might have gathered that I’m quite a picky reader, I generally don’t re-read books, I struggle with non-fiction and certain genres, and I can’t just read anything (especially the kind you get free with a magazine). Luckily, over the last year or two I’ve discovered that there are so many ways to find great books and gathering a few for our recent holiday to Costa Rica was much easier. In case you’ll be lounging on a sunbed, relaxing in the park or chilling in your back garden this summer and you’re looking for a good read as company, I thought I’d share with you a few ways to find your next book.

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Ask for recommendations – Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. I like to shout out for recommendations on Twitter, Facebook and here every now and again. It usually gets the best and quickest results because most of the people following are like-minded (so often have a similar taste in books or are as picky) and are willing to share. I discovered All the Light We Cannot See through a cheeky request on Facebook recently.

Follow fellow book worms – If you like books and social media I’m fairly sure you’ll eventually find a few people to follow who like a good book. I discovered Station Eleven through Zoe Pearson on Instagram, The Muse through Jess on Snapchat and The Woodcutter through Little Miss Katy. I’m keeping my eye out for more book bloggers at the moment, so let me know if you’ve heard of any or shout up if that’s your niche!

Join a book club – Every month I fully intend to read the latest book for Poppy Loves Book Club. The titles Poppy chooses often end up on my reading list and with over 2,000 members it sounds like an amazing chance to discuss books like I did in my student days but with others all around the world. Sadly I can never quite time it right to join in at the moment. I really do love the idea of joining a book club and think any club would be a good motivator to read and discover more.

Complete a reading challenge  – I stumbled across this reading challenge on Pinterest and I thought it was a great way to make you think about and find different books to read. It would keep me going for the whole year and then some!

Keep your eyes on the prize – I often used to dismiss book prizes on the assumption that the winning books would be too intellectual or serious for my tastes. Silly right?! I got over that and as a result discovered H is for Hawk (winner of Costa Book of the Year 2015), A Spool of Blue Thread (shortlist for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and the Bailey’s Women Fiction Prize ) and Elizabeth is Missing (longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015). I usually keep my eye on the news and check out the longlist the websites for the Costa Book Awards and Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Check out Goodreads – I signed up to Goodreads just before my holiday and whilst I was a bit overwhelmed by the volume of reviews, lists and people to follow I did think it had potential. I recently received an email from them about new releases and it seems so much more easy to navigate than the recommendations I get from Amazon (which always include random titles related to the presents I buy on there!) I’m keen to see if I can make more of it next time I log in.

Visit What Should I Read Next – I discovered this website a few years ago and whilst I haven’t used it a lot (I’ve been well sourced using the tips I’ve shared so far!), I do like the idea of it. All you have to do is type in an author’s name or a favourite book title and it provides a short list of books you might like.

Don’t forget the classics – I read a lot of classics at university and I’ve sort of avoided them since. But in the run up to the Christmas before last I read A Christmas Carol for the first time and loved it as much as the film (I know I probably did this the wrong way round!) It reminded me that there are still so many classics I haven’t read yet.

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How do you find your next book?

Look out for the reviews of the books I’ve read over the last few months are coming soon! 

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2016 is flying by so fast I can barely keep up. It feels a bit like being on a speedboat to 2017, when I’d rather be on one of the gentle barges I see every day near the office, taking things in properly as I go by. The last month or so has been jam-packed with birthdays and the start of wedding season (i.e. hen dos!), so I’m really not sure what happened to March or April and I’ve generally been a bit hit and miss on blog posts lately. This means I’m also only just getting round to sharing my first few books of 2016, read from January to March. So, without wasting any more precious time here they are!

The Lake House – Kate Morton

In an effort to escape the troubles of her personal and professional life back in London, Detective Sparrow takes a holiday to visit her Grandfather in Cornwall and becomes absorbed in unraveling the unsolved mystery of a disappearance that happened 70 years ago.

Kate Morton is well-known for her mystery novels, but despite the recommendations to read them I’ve never quite got round to it until recently. I decided to go for her latest book because I always like picking up something that’s new and hasn’t been judged or debated quite so much.

I’m a bit of a fan of the 1920s and 30s too. The way of life back then, where secrets were kept to protect the family name and the British ‘stiff upper lip’ was really more of a thing, women were building on the independence gained from the right to vote, and the glittering fashion of the era, it all just really appeals to me. I could totally picture myself on the Lake House lawn enjoying one of those picnics.

As for the story, I liked how it made you try to guess the endings and you could see the past and the present of all characters slowly entwine. But the ending felt like it should have been obvious all along and was a little bit cheesy.

If you liked Atonement or love Downton Abbey, I think you could easily get into this book .

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

Jim and Eva collide unexpectedly one day, what happens next will determine the rest of their lives and the books goes on to explore the different paths they could take.

I could definitely see the parallels between the movie Sliding Doors and this book, largely being the fact that it centres around one relationship and one ‘what if’ moment. Although the versions are labelled 1, 2 and 3, I did sometimes struggle to remember which version was which and had to occasionally stop to remind myself. Otherwise, it was one of those books that’s easy to read, tugs on your emotions, has moments of real anticipation and you can easily find yourself fully absorbed.  It explores marriage, relationships, family duty, and happiness in a way that’s pretty realistic. Whilst some of it might have been a bit predictable, and if each book was on its own it wouldn’t be anything too original, the characters, the structure and the romantic anticipation creates the overall appeal.

If you like books like The Time Traveller’s Wife, then this book is for you.

The Martian – Andy Weir

Mark Watney is deserted on Mars after his crew think he was killed in the emergency departure, isolated from the rest of the world he tries to find a way to survive until NASA can step in.

I read The Martian before seeing the film as I’d read somewhere on Instagram or Twitter that it was a really good book and despite the awards I had a feeling the film wouldn’t be as good. In my opinion, I was completely right. The fascinating thing about the book is all the detail the author has gone into about Watney’s survival in a hostile martian environment and the diary he continues to keep. It really makes you ask those questions about what it would be like to be deserted on another planet and whether you’d have the mental strength to keep going and survive. Watney’s humour and intelligence make him a likeable character and the ‘will he, won’t he’ suspense made me read through this book quicker than any others I’ve read this year. 

I think you’ll like this if you like books that are a bit factual (I’m struggling to think of a good comparison!).

 

That brings me up to date with my reading and I’m pleased to be just about on track with my target of 12 books for 2016. At the moment, I’m in between How to Have a Good Day and The Secret Life of Bees. It’s probably the first time I’ve tried to read two books at once since I left university, but I spent a few weeks trying to get into what is a sort of non-fictional/ self-help book and decided I needed the fictional support to get me through the days when my brain doesn’t want to concentrate so much.

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Have you read any good books recently? I’m working on my holiday reading list at the moment so I’ve got enough to fill the 11 hour flights to and from Costa Rica, so if you have ANY recommendations of books you’ve loved then do share them below.

When look back at my student days, one of things I wish I’d appreciated more was getting the time to read. I had 5 hours a week at university itself and got to spend most of the rest of the time reading a ton of great books that had been picked out for me, I even had a reading week! These days it takes the setting of a goal and the active reminder to spend time on the tube or tucked up in bed with a book, doing something I know I enjoy.

If you come here often, you might know that for the last two years I’ve set myself the goal of reading 12 books a year.  I wrote about the first six months of books in 2015 here, and as we’re over half way through January I thought it was about time I catch up on the last six months of the year!

In book terms, the second half of 2015 passed similarly to the first – I flew through a few, got stuck on one and avoided another. I was hoping to catch up and complete the goal over Christmas but sleep and the other tasks I’d set myself got in the way. I managed another five books, bringing my 2015 total up to 10. (I’d give myself a B for getting pretty close, but could have done better!)

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So what did I read and what did I think? In the order of least to most favourite, here they are!

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler – A story about the Whitshank family set in 1959 Baltimore. It moves back and forth between the 50s and 20s as it tells the story of Abby and Red’s relationship, the secrets, the struggles and the events that have shaped the family dynamics.

It’s well written and at times made me chuckle, but overall I found it a bit of a slow read. I’m not sure if this was because I was expecting more than it delivered and that the point of the story is simply the relationships across the family. I think if you’ve got a large and close family with a mixture of relationships, or you have your own grown up family there will be much more to relate to in this book.

Eats, shoots and leaves – Lynne Truss – A well-known book that seeks to set a few things straight in the confusing world of grammar, written with a sense of humour and in a way that feels much less factual than your usual non-fiction.

I chose to read this book because even though I work in communications, I still have to ask myself questions about grammar. I actually enjoyed reading this, but in a way that is different to the enjoyment of reading a fictional book. It certainly helped answer a few questions I had and I found the historical side of it quite interesting. However, it only covers some of the main aspects of grammar and I think most of the book confirmed what I already knew. As I’m not a regular non-fiction reader it also took me ages to finish: If you’re genuinely keen to improve I think this is a great starting point. If you’ve got a good understanding, you might like the historical facts.

The Woodcutter – Kate Danley – A magical novel with a dark side, featuring a collection of infamous fairytale characters that enter the narrative as they come across the Woodcutter’s path in his quest to return order across the Twelve Kingdoms.

I love books that challenge me to use my imagination and can effortlessly transport me into another world. Whilst it wasn’t as good as The Night Circus or The Book of Lost Things, which I felt were a little more clever and had more original plot lines and characters, if you enjoy this genre of book it was a lovely easy read.

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – This book follows Rachel’s fixation with a couple who live on the street she once lived on. She passes through the back of the couples’ house every day until one day she suddenly notices something is not quite right and things take a different turn.

It was hard to ignore the hype around this book and with the movie currently being filmed I wanted to read it before I watched it. I was glad to find that it lived up to my expectations and as the author cleverly places doubt in each of the core characters, it prevented me from being sure of the conclusion before I finished. I was griped by from start to finish. I agree with other reviews that if you liked Gone Girl then it’s worth reading this. It’s a sort of British equivalent.

(I can’t wait to see Emily Blunt play Rachel in the film!)

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel – The destruction of a pandemic is something that we’ve lived with for centuries but the idea that it could wipe out most of the world’s population is left to the imagination of film makers and authors. This book follows the outbreak of the Georgia virus and shares the different perspectives of its central characters, moving between the events that led up to the outbreak and the years that followed. All wrapped around a comic and its creator.

I loved this book. It might be a bit of a scary and depressing concept but I thought that how the aftermath of such an event would unfold and how people would think and feel was done so well. The comic was a really clever thread throughout, giving you clues here and there, and helping you think through the book. This is the one book out of this list that James also read and enjoyed, which I think helps me confirm that it’s a general all-round good read!

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Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

I’m really keen to reach the goal of 12 books this year so if you have any recommendations please do share them in the comments below, on Twitter or on Facebook.

If you want to follow what I’m reading right now, I update my current book in the side bar every time I start a new one.