As you might have seen in a previous post I’m taking part in a reading challenge this year. To those of you who know me well, the challenge might have been not to read any books this year but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen! I heard about this challenge from a fellow blogger over at Pretty Purple Polka Dots and its been interesting seeing what others are reading.
There are 12 categories of books to read over the year, you can get all the details at Modern Mrs Darcy’s page. For my first book I selected Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning, which came under the category of ‘A book you own but have never read’. I bought it in a charity shop ages ago and then it sat on one of our bookshelves. On with the review…… well I wasn’t bowled over by it. I had read two of Tan’s books previously, The Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Joy Luck Club and found them both excellent. Heartrending in places, dealing with issues that resonated in my own life and most importantly for me, had characters I was interested in. So I had fairly high hopes for Saving Fish From Drowning. They weren’t met, now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the book and would go so far as to say I liked it but I’m not mad about it.
I found that after about a third of the book I was struggling to keep going. If I hadn’t been doing this reading challenge I doubt I would have made myself continue. I am glad I did because the middle section of the book (well up to the last three or four chapters really) was much better. I never warmed to any of the characters, but neither did I take against them. I couldn’t summon up huge interest in any of them and I do wonder if having so many characters in the main story of the book (about a group of American tourists who get lost in Burma/Myanmar) made it hard to fully develop any of them. Tan’s descriptions and writing are as strong as ever but the plot never grabbed me. Would I recommend it? It wouldn’t be the top of my list of recommendations but I wouldn’t advise against reading it either.
Book one of the 2016 reading challenge down, eleven more to go. This one is going in the charity shop bag, I wouldn’t be interested in reading it again and this way two charities will benefit a little bit from it! Plus its gone from the overfull bookshelves which is a good thing too. Book two – well one of the categories is ‘a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF’. I’m going to get my husband to select one for me before Mon (1st Feb). Our tastes overlap somewhat but not completely and I have no idea what he is going to choose for me! That’s part of the fun of the challenge I guess – and so far its made me finish a book I would likely have discarded otherwise. Onwards!
Ok before anyone comments, I KNOW this book was published in 2012 but I have a very long list of books I want to read and sometimes it takes me a while to get to them all. So many books, so little time……
Anyway, this book (and the deal its author got) was big news here in Ireland. That of itself made me take a bit of notice, and I added it to the aforementioned list. Then promptly forgot all about it. A couple of weeks before Christmas 2014 I was delivering things to a local charity shop who had a big sign in their window, 6 books for €2. Well I couldn’t pass that up……. I was quite restrained and only came out with 12 books, one of which was This Is How It Ends.
On glancing over my haul when I got them home that morning, this book didn’t exactly leap out at me. The cover and the blurb struck me as aiming at the so-called chick lit market. What’s a good term for that? Popular female oriented fiction?? I stuck it on the shelf and figured I’d get to it eventually. The other night I was looking for something light to read in bed and this caught my eye.
Now while I read a lot, I don’t waste my time on books that don’t grab me. If I don’t care about what happens to at least one character or am engrossed by the plot after a few chapters, then it goes into the bag for the charity shop. The first few chapters of This Is How It Ends didn’t have a page turning plot but I was very taken with Addie and Bruno whose love story this is (its actually one story of many) so I continued quite happily, thinking I was going to get a nice love story and a happy ending, but probably not one that was too taxing.
I was wrong. I am not going to spoil the story for anyone else who hasn’t read it yet, but there is so much more to this book than a sweet love story. Secrets, family history, belonging, family dynamics, death and memory, the relationship you can have with a pet, all of these are parts of this book. After a few nights of reading a few chapters I was impatient to see how it all turned out. So this afternoon, I grabbed it while my daughter was playing and furiously read the final quarter of the book.
Its so moving, beautifully written, the characters are believable and the pace is judged just right. I found myself holding my breath at points, hoping that things would turn out right for all the characters (even Hugh). And then the utterly unexpected direction of the plot floored me. I was in tears for the last couple of chapters and it takes a lot for a book to move me so strongly. I won’t say any more about the plot, but if you want a book that will move you, this is well worth your time.
One of the things I like the most about the way my little family ‘does’ Christmas is that I stay away from social media and the internet generally and spend the evenings curled up by the wood-burning stove reading. (I’m curled up there now too). Books are one of my favourite things. Anyone who has ever been in our house will be able to testify to my love of books – they are everywhere. And I can rarely walk past a bookshop, especially a good independent one. As for library cards…….I can and do spend many a happy hour in libraries, browsing, reading, researching.
Anyway, back to books and Christmas. I got through three new (to me) books this Christmas and had a load more I was hoping to tackle too. One that I enjoyed and may well have to go back to was Stephen King’s 11.22.63. I’m not a King fan, always think of him as a horror writer and that is a genre I can’t stand whether in books or film. I’d seen this book mentioned online somewhere and when I saw it in my local library I thought I’d give it a go. Its a LONG book, too long in my opinion, there’s a lot of dull detailed sections in there which could have been pruned. But it was the premise of the book that appealed to me – time travel and the idea that you could go back and alter history, in this case preventing the assassination of JFK. An unexpected surprise was the near apocalyptic scenario that emerges towards the end of the book. (I have a bit of a fascination with the apocalypse too!) Its a challenging read in a lot of ways and I’d read it again but just skip the loooooong boring bits.
The other two were Gavin Esler’s A Scandalous Man – a political novel again not my usual thing but pretty good and gripping (read it in a day) and Judith O’Reilly’s Wife in the North which I was a good bit of the way through before I realised it had started life as a blog. I wasn’t mad about it although some of it is quite moving.
Reading and a love of the books is one of the best gifts a parent can give their child. Our wee woman adores books and has a few rather dog-eared favourites which she can ask for by name and frequently does. One of her most common requests – or should that be commands! – is “Read it!” and she knows a couple of them so well that she can say some of the words in the right places. Needless to say her daddy and I know these books so well that we don’t need to look at the pages now when reading them to her (quite handy that actually – I can read a book to her and skim read a newspaper article at the same time – how’s that for multitasking?)
I usually have a few books on the go – a light novel in the kitchen for when I’m cooking, another novel or self-help type book for bed, non-fiction in the evenings and usually a couple of history books during the day when I’m at my desk. And yes I do manage to keep all the various plots/themes separate in my head. If I’m in someone else’s house my eyes will invariably be drawn to their bookshelves and I have been known to get a little twitchy if I’m staying over somewhere with no books. Going away on holidays I pack at least 4 books and generally buy a couple more while away. Last summer I packed Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches which I had bought but not read and was so hooked and enthralled by it that I ended up in a bookshop in Sligo looking for the sequel (Shadow of Night – read that during the week too). I’m greatly looking forward to the final part of the trilogy this summer and am giving advance warning now not to expect any kind of engagement with the world from me while I’m reading it!
Its fair to say books are a pretty important part of my life. My husband is well aware that if the apocalyspe ever does happen and we need to burn things to stay alive I’ll burn every stick of furniture we own before I start on the books. Time to sign off now and pick up another book – happy reading!