Reading Challenges 2016


Every year I vaguely think about dropping reading challenges and instead becoming a truly free-range reader. But then I find myself signing up (mostly because I like a list and I like a reason to look through lists).

I participated in five reading challenges this year and completed all of them – granted, three were of the ‘free-range’ variety. Continue reading

Our Tiny, Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

Caroline is married to Henry.
Henry is having an affair with Martha.
Caroline and Henry’s neighbours are Lesley and Craig.
Caroline is having an affair with Craig.
Janice is Caroline’s sister.
Alec is Janice’s ex-husband. Janice still loves him, it seems.
Alec springs Janice and Craig in bed together (nothing happened).
Lesley has had enough of Craig.
Lesley announces she’s sleeping with Alec.
And then things descend from there. Continue reading

The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People, Hannah Kent’s second novel, tells the story of three women living in a remote Irish valley in 1825. Nora Leahy, a widow, is burdened with the care of her grandson, Michael. The boy cannot walk or speak and Nora has kept him hidden from neighbours, fearing they will believe him a ‘changeling’ (someone who has been abducted by fairies). Nora employs a young girl, Mary, to care for Michael but as the child becomes increasingly difficult to manage, Nora seeks the help of Nance Roche, an old woman known as a doctress –

“The keener. The handy woman… She was both the woman who brought babies to safe harbour in the world, and the siren that cut boats free of their anchors and sent them into the dark.
…she stood in for that which was not and could not be understood. She was the gatekeeper at the edge of the world. The final human hymn before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange creaking of stars. Continue reading

Sounds like a review or three…

I’m still not convinced by the audiobook thing. Yes, I enjoy them while I’m listening (as I walk, drive, cook) but I don’t immerse myself in the words the way I do when I read. I don’t notice lovely sentences or, if I do, I have no time to ponder. Obviously I can replay bits but… Just. Not. The. Same.

After listening to the three books I’ve reviewed (very briefly) below, I’ve come to some conclusions. Until now, I’ve only been listening to books that I also have a hard copy of – in case I want to switch to reading – it’s a clumsy system and I think I have to go one way or the other.

After listening to the three below and starting Salt Creek by Lucy Trelor, I decided that I should stick to audio-fluff – books that I don’t have to concentrate on; books that I’m unlikely to mark paragraphs in; books that are reading-junk-food. I abandoned Salt Creek (I’ll read it some day) and downloaded the first in the Gossip Girl series. Unsurprisingly, it was ridiculous, ace nonsense. Perfect. Continue reading

The Lake House by Kate Morton

When I saw the author Rosalie Ham speak earlier this year, she mentioned that she never reads novels while she is writing one – the reason being, she becomes highly attuned to structure and spots plot tricks everywhere. She used the example of a novel beginning with a husband making mention that he loves his wife – Ham’s first thought is “Well, she’ll be dead by the end of this book!”

I was reminded of Ham’s comment as I slogged through 593 pages of Kate Morton’s The Lake House. It’s a dual mystery, yo-yoing between the 1930s and 2003 – there’s lots of complicating family secrets and missing (possibly dead) people. With Ham’s words in the back of my mind, Morton’s mentions of this, that and the other* were like beacons, alerting me to exactly how things would play out. Continue reading

Addition by Toni Jordan

Confession: I set my alarm for a number ending in a two or a seven every morning. My alarm goes off and then I lie in bed for another five minutes until a two or a seven rolls around. On days I don’t have an alarm set, I wait for a two or seven before getting out of bed. Naturally, my ultimate get-up time 7.27am – unfortunately that would be considered a sleep-in these days… Anyway, before you start thinking that I am completely OCD, know that if the house was burning down I wouldn’t wait for my digital clock to click to a two or seven. I’m obsessive but not compulsive (or is it the other way around?).

There’s safety in numbers, as Grace Vandenburg, the main character in Toni Jordan’s Addition, knows. Grace’s life is ordered by numbers – how many bananas she buys, how many steps she takes to the café, what time she cooks her dinner, how many strokes it takes to brush her teeth. Continue reading

Stella Prize 2016 – my predictions


Why even write this post given that I’ve been carrying on about Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things since day dot? I think it will win the 2016 Stella Prize tonight (actually, in about two hours).

The Natural Way of Things has it all – it’s relevant; it’s current; it makes you think very hard about things that are hard to think about; the sense of place is exquisite; and Wood writes with such sparing beauty that some sentences left me breathless. But the real strength is in its lasting impression – there are many elements of this book that will stay with me: rabbits, fungi, hair removal, dolls and those bloody gift bags…. The gift bags were Wood’s masterstroke. Continue reading