My Reading Challenge 2017: 9-month update!

My Reading Challenge 2017

After suffering a reading dip over the summer (busy work schedule, multiple weddings, oh and a Glastonbury to remember), I think I’m finally back on track with my Reading Challenge 2017.  (Although I’m still quite far behind reaching my target.)

Looking back on my Reading Challenge 2017: 6-month update post, I’m quite embarrassed that I only managed to cover 3 books.  (3! )  Since then, I’ve manage to read 6.  Nearly 7, but I haven’t quite finished that one yet, so it’s officially 6 – this is me trying to make myself sound better.

It’s going to be a steep reading hill for me to try and hit my target of 25 books, having only read 16 so far.  I hit 21 last year, which makes me feel both hopeful, and a bit panicky.

My Reading Challenge 2017 (what I’ve read so far…)

11. How to Be Both by Ali Smith
One magazine article somewhere gave the lowdown on the books to read as a woman.  How to Be Both was cited as seriously important, so I immediately saved it in my Goodread’s ‘Want to Read’ list.  A few years later and I find the book in the Kindle store, reduced, so I bought it.  I wasn’t expecting the opening poetic verses (if you read a particular part of the book first), but I soon settled into it.  There are two sequences in the book which are not to read in a set order.  So, whichever sequence you read first, you’ll soon be engaged in two stories cleverly interwoven with one another, between a child of recent times and a child of the renaissance. There was something quite spiritual about it.

12. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
Having read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, again I couldn’t resist another Kindle bargain when I saw The Psychopath Test.  It’s hard for me to really put my finger on which book I preferred out of the two.  Regardless, this was such a fascinating read.  Jon goes on a journey in discovering the history, the psychology, traits and treatment of Psychopaths and even interviews a few too.  It was an addictive read.  I thought twice before sending a single tweet when I’d finished reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.  With The Psychopath Test, I’ve began to assess people I know who might be a psychopath.  (Sidenote: I think I’ve known at least one! )

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson review

13. Face (Compact,): Tools, Skin, Finishes by Sam Chapman, Nic Chapman, Pixiwoo
I was hesitant to include this in my reading challenge 2017 at first, however I’d be the first to defend beauty books and their place in literature and so I’ve chucked it in.  It was a quick read, not just from the picture-heavy pages, but because of the basic language too.  Face (Compact) would be quite useful for beginners in beauty, as I didn’t find anything I hadn’t already known.  (Although I’m not a beauty expert by any means!)

14. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A book I’ve always been intrigued to read and a book that was again on offer in the Kindle store.  The Nadsat language, which was created by Anthony Burgess, is why I wanted to read this.  Mostly to see if I could actually understand it.  Admittedly, it was confusing at first, but I was soon able to translate the words the more I saw them and from the context of the sentences they were in.  What I didn’t know was the hidden meanings behind them, many taken from Russian words, as discussed in the introduction by Blake Morrison.  It’s not all about the ultra-violence that the Stanley Kubrick film was later banned for.  It’s the interesting belief surrounding youth and law that propels the book in its entirety into a read to remember.

15. The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan
I started my Reading Challenge 2017 by reading Yeonmi Park’s In Order to Live.  As I begun to read Kang Chol-Hwan’s account, North Korea was back in the headlines.  Having already read a North Korean defector’s tale, it was insightful to see another perspective in the country, although still as shocking.  Kang lived in Japan, before returning to North Korea, to then be sent to a concentration camp.  This is an incredible story and journey, through the horrors seen at the camp, the malnutrition he suffered, to his eventual escape and voyage to safety.  Another eye-opener from a survivor of the secret state.

The Girls by Emma Cline
Based on a review by Estée Lalonde, I’d like this book if cults and the Manson Family has ever been something I’ve found interesting.  That sentence alone sold it for me and she was right.  It’s a fictional tale told from a girl who is drawn into a cult, or rather the story of the Manson family just with name changes, according to reviews on Goodreads.  I feel a bit uneasy about Emma Cline sticking, or even copying, the Manson family story.  Although that doesn’t take away my enjoyment of the book.  It’s dark and absorbing.

My Reading Challenge 2017

16/25 books read

At the start of the year I calculated that I need to read at least 2 books a month to hit my 25 book target.  With only 3 months to go until the year is out, I now need to read 3 books a month to successfully reach my Reading Challenge 2017!  I’ve got some catching up to do…

Coming up (to-read): Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, An Illustrated History of Slavic Misery by John Bills and Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think of them?  Share your thoughts, reviews or gripes in the comment section below.

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My Reading Challenge 2017: 6-month update!

George Englund Marlon Brando the Naked Actor

I realise I’m late on giving an update on my Reading Challenge 2017 – my bad.  (See my latest blog post on why that is…)

Shamefully, I’ve only read a measly 3 books since my 3-month update.  (3!  ) Disappointedly this makes my 6-month Reading Challenge update a rather short one.  (Hey, at least it’s a quick read, right?)

Nevertheless, I now must solider on and dive head first into a book at every possible opportunity.  I have some catching up to do…

My Reading Challenge 2017 (continues…)  

8. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
This book is partly to blame for slowing down my progress.  (I’m sorry Martin Cruz Smith, I really didn’t enjoy it.)  It’s possibly my own fault as I bought the book on a nostalgic whim; I’d been to Gorky Park in Moscow and loved it.  I didn’t however discover a triple murder in the park of the kind that opens this book.  My main problem were the characters, they didn’t seem all that believable or, more importantly, all that Russian.  I was engrossed by and drank up every word of  Child 44’s Russian descriptions, the nature of its characters and settings, which is another reason that lead me to buy this book for the same enjoyment.  Sadly, this one didn’t have the same affect.

9. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Oh my god I loved this book.  I was entranced by the film, so when I saw this on offer in the Kindle store I downloaded it in a nanosecond.  Written from Eva’s perspective, a reluctant mother whose son grew up to murder seven fellow students in a high school massacre.  The film definitely holds up to the novel, both are brilliantly written, created and acted.  This has taken my top spot for best read so far this year, so much so I’ve even done some further reading into the questions section on Goodreads!

10. Marlon Brando: The Naked Actor by George Englund
A random charity shop purchase I’ve had lying around for a few years that needed reading.  I was initially put off by the superficial Jane Fonda signature on the front, covering Marlon’s chest: “George, I love your book. Jane Fonda.”  There’s a just as cringeworthy review from Kirk Douglas that is printed on the back too.  Hmm… crying out for recognition much?  Although if you look past these weird celebrity endorsements, George Englund writes about his past friend in quite a lovely way.  The collections of memories through his perspective reveals a little insight into Hollywood’s man of mystery – at times revealing that he’s not so mysterious after all.  Yet, it still left me thinking of Marlon as a bit of an enigma.

10/25 books read

George Englund Marlon Brando the Naked Actor Reading Challenge 2017

I’m currently at 40% in my Reading Challenge 2017.  If I use the calculation I spoke about in my 3-month update, then I should have read 12 books by now!  (14 if I’m being honest with the fact this post is going out in the seventh month, not the sixth month June.)

Sadly, this means some big reads like Game of Thrones will have to wait further still until I’ve caught up, which is going to be extra hard with series 7 just days away!

Coming up: I have a few interesting reads planned though, including: Emma Cline, Cheryl Strayed, Emma Gannon and another Jon Ronson!

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My Reading Challenge 2017: 3-month update!

My Reading Challenge 2017

As we’re slowly sweeping into spring, I thought it was about time I give an update on my Reading Challenge 2017.

Just to give you a bit of background; last year was my first reading challenge ever!  (You can see how it went here.)  This year I set myself the goal of reading 25 books for my Reading Challenge 2017.   I thought instead of lumping you with a mammoth blog post at the end of the year, I’ve decided to divide it into four 3 month bitesize updates.

I hope this helps to give some inspiration to your next book purchase and add to your reading challenge 2017!  Let me know if it does…

My Reading Challenge 2017 (so far…)

1. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park
This is an interesting read and one that divides reviews on Goodreads.  Yeonmi is a North Korean defector, who lived in the northern part of the country before she was trafficked into China.  Her journey is incredible, heartbreaking and unbelievable.  This is the part that is, of course, irrefutable.  The question whether she’s told the whole truth divides me (and others).  I can’t help but think there might be some deliberate haziness in places.  Regardless, an eye-opening read into North Korean life.

2.  Pretty Iconic: A Personal Look at the Beauty Products that Changed the World by Sali Hughes
I hope it’s not too inappropriate to go from North Korea to this.  I love Sali!  I’ve been following her since she started writing for the Guardian and I was lucky enough to get this signed by the lady herself at Stylist Live.  A lovely read, as usual, about outstanding beauty products interwoven around her life stories.  My only criticism is that a few descriptions were repeated within the book, but other than that; flawless.

3.  The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John George Pearson
Wow.  What an explosive biography.  As if the Krays need any introduction…  If east London’s most infamous set of twins has ever intrigued you then this is a must read.  John George Pearson was selected by the twins themself to write their biography, so I have no doubt everything within the two covers is credible.  I also loved how this book was a window back in time to 50’s/60’s London.  A great read.

4.  So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
I recently spoke about this book in my New Purchases Show & Tell series, so once again it’s slipped into another blog post of mine.  Way back when lashings and hangings were one of the first forms of public shaming, Jon explores public shaming how it is today; through social media.  The world’s gone digital and it now takes place on Twitter (and other social networks), with the potential to spread worldwide.  It’ll make you think twice before sending your next tweet!

5.  Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami
This was one of my Christmas presents from my sister and what a story to start for my first Murakami novel. The Beatles’ song Norwegian Wood takes main character Toru Watanabe back to when he first started university and memories of his first love Naoko.  Naoko was the girlfriend of his best friend, before he killed himself.  It’s hard to pinpoint what makes this book so special exactly, as it’s somewhat of a sad story that lingered after I read it.  Delicate, upsetting but quite enriching.

6.  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Don’t judge me, this book is widely praised for being beautifully written and it is, it really is.  Why else would anyone read a book from the perspective of a man who’s in love with a 12 year old girl?  (I know, I know…)  The language is exhilarating, heady to read, like smelling a strong perfume – and it’s all written by a non-English speaker.  The best novel I’ve read so far this year.

7. The Spy by Paulo Coelho
This wasn’t a book I was particularly looking for to read, or even knew it was published.  It was on offer in the Kindle store, I had previously read a book by Paulo Coelho a few years ago, which I thought was okay, so I went for it.  Good for me then that this was a surprisingly pleasant purchase. Written in the fictional perspective of Mata Hari, a famous dancer who was executed for espionage.  I highlighted sentences from this book for the first time ever on my Kindle because of parallel  conventions a woman like Mata faced, and women still do even today.

7/25 books read

My Reading Challenge 2017

I worked out 25 divided by 12 makes 2.083 –  which means I’ll need to read 2.083 books a month to hit my goal of 25 books.  So far I think I’m on track!

There are some books out there, like the Game of Thrones series and The Count of Monte Cristo, that are still on my to-read list.  However, being such big books, I don’t want to slow up my progress just yet.  I may have to reserve these until the end of the year…

I do want to get back to some authors I love and haven’t read in a while though, particularly Ian McEwan!  So you might see less spontaneous Kindle bargains in the next update. That’s if I don’t cave into temptation of diving back into the Game of Thrones saga first…

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Which books have you been reading lately?  Leave me any of your recommendations below!

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My Reading Challenge 2016

Reading_Challenge_2016

This year was the first time I set myself a reading challenge.  Initially, I set myself an achievable target of 20 books, then I upped that to 25 to make it that bit harder.

Then somewhere along the line I thrusted that number all the way up to 30.  Why?  I was whipping through books fairly quickly in the first part of the year and thought I could do it.  But then lunches at work (where I read) were interrupted (welcomely though I might add) by girly chats, cake club and gossiping!  So aiming for 30 might not have been a good idea…

However, staring a new job in September I soon got back into losing myself in a book for approximately one hour on my break.  Although I do still miss those cakes, here’s my Reading Challenge 2016.

A Year in Books

1. The New Journalism by Tom Wolfe
I started the year still desperately trying to finish the book I started the year previously – never a good sign.  I’d heard about this book from a few of my Journalism lecturers when I was still at university.  Better late than never, I gave it a shot.  Compiled of extracts, articles and reportage from an era where a ‘new journalism’ was born and explored, I enjoyed some pieces but couldn’t help but feel it doesn’t seem all that groundbreaking now.

2. Slash by Slash, Anthony Bozza
I’m a Guns N’ Roses fan okay?  I had this sitting on my shelf for a while and so I finally got round to reading it.  I was expecting amazing tales of how Guns N’ Roses got together, but instead it was mostly how they got drunk together.  Not a complete waste of time, but I felt it lacked real description.  But then again maybe that’s because Slash was drunk.  A lot.  The most interesting part for me was actually about Slash’s childhood and his mum’s relationship with David Bowie.

3.  Buddhism for Dummies by Jonathan Landaw, Stephan Bodian
This one, I know, is a bit random.  At the start of the year I was trying to read and pass on any books I had lying round for years, which is the reason for this one.  Buddhism is a religion that’s intrigued me since university, so I bought this wanting to know a bit more.  I quite liked reading how the religion varies in various parts of Asia and how Buddhists deal with grief and an infuriating work colleague.

4.  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I doubt this book needs any introduction thanks to its popularity.  I was actually recommended and passed this from my boyfriend’s mum and as promised it was a real page turner from start to finish.  Rachel takes the same train every day and always spots a suburban couple in their home where the train stops to wait for signal.  It’s not until she sees something shocking that her whole world turns upside done.  It’s a good one!

5.  How to Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran
After getting over the initial shock of the masturbating opening scene, I think I read this in a few days flat!  I was on holiday and couldn’t put it down so that might explain it.  Nevertheless, a really brilliant read that goes far deeper than you’d expect.  It’s hard not to think Caitlin is writing about herself, but it’s also hard not to see some of yourself in main character Joanna, too.

6.  Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood, Ian Kelly
I was quite looking forward to this book.  My Vivienne knowledge was limited and this definitely did the trick in educating me on her career and beyond.  This really is a must read for any Vivienne fan out there, but might make you appreciate her a helluva lot more too, it did me.  She’s one of England’s gems and should be more applauded artistically (IMHO).


7.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’d finally cleared some books from my bookshelf and made a start on my new Kindle!  I wanted the first book I read on my Kindle to be special, so which other book could I choose than one of the most loved books ever?  I really enjoyed this, it’s full of beautiful descriptions.  If you don’t know the story it’s set in the Jazz drenched 1920’s and all about the mystery of a man named Jay Gatsby.  I loved it and it was a free download too!

8.  The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
You can see the clear change when I began reading books on my Kindle – I started downloading all of the free classics!  This was also the first Oscar Wilde book I’ve ever read and it did not disappoint.  Eerily creepy in places, Dorian Gray sells his soul to remain young and beautiful for eternity.  I now want to see if any of the TV/film adaptations have done it any justice!

9.  Ronnie by Ron Wood
Another one I was trying to clear from my bookshelf, but a must read (for me) all the same.  I mentioned earlier I’m a Guns N’ Roses fan, but I’m an even bigger Stones fan.  They’re probably my favourite band of all time and I’ve read quite a few autobiographical books surrounding them and the band now.  This added to some of my Stones knowledge, but felt slightly like Ronnie was peddling it out for cash.  Especially as he spoke about his money troubles a lot.  Hmm…

10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Another free classic for my Kindle.  This one however I’m not sure I enjoyed it so much.  Heathcliff is an orphan who is taken into the Earnshaw home and bought up alongside the other two children Catherine and Hindley.  Of course we all know Catherine and Heathcliff fall in love, of sorts.  Except there doesn’t seem to be much love in this book other than the kind that causes a whole lot of stress and family feuds.  It’s a tough book to get through.

11.  Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka
The cakes were coming into my lunches at this point, so I chose a nice short book to get my numbers up.  Metamorphosis is also considered a classic, even though it has a very unconventional story.  One day, Gregor Samsa wakes up to find he has transformed into a giant insect.  How his family reacts to his ‘metamorphosis’ ensues and I genuinely found it quite heartbreaking in places.  Poor Gregor doesn’t even know why he’s turned into a bug!  I enjoyed it way more than all the drama over at Wuthering Heights.

12.  The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Is it obvious I started reading this after Jon Favreau’s film came out?  I’d always wondered how true Disney was to the book so I gave it a go.  Many people might not know that The Jungle Book wasn’t actually a book, but a series of articles Kipling had published separately.  So Mowgli isn’t actually featured in all of them and to me the bigger character is the country India.  The exoticness of location really brings the stories to life, a great read even today.

13. Backpack by Emily Barr
Backpack was mentioned in a must-read books article in Elle magazine as the travelling story, it was also set in south-east Asia, where I went travelling too!  This was, I think, my first ever purchase on my Kindle. Tansy’s escapes her London life to Vietnam, except she doesn’t really want to.  I quite liked reading Tansy’s development; from being a quite shallow reluctant backpacker, facing her demons and changing herself for the better.  It might sound cliché but I really enjoyed this in places, whereas the whole murderer on her trail was a bit of a waste of time.  I don’t think it was needed and seemed rushed to get to an ending.

14.  A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Cue the theme music!  Guess who’s missing the TV series desperately?  I just can’t wait until next year, so to still get my Game of Thrones kick I started reading the books.  The book reads the same as the TV series, almost shot for shot and yes I already know what happens but I did not find this boring.  I absolutely loved it, which explains when I finished it I moved straight onto…

15.  A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
OOH yes!  Book number 2 and I enjoyed it more than the first one, things are really getting going now that you know who is dead.  Sorry, I do try and avoid spoilers.  What sticks out in this book, as with the TV series, is character development, perhaps especially for the Starks and Jon Snow.  The only reason I stopped here is because I’m waiting for the third book to go down in price in the Kindle store before I buy it.

16. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
I’m not sure how or where, but I remember hearing this was a good book.  It was very easy reading and I liked the simple yet evocative descriptions.  Lily lost her mother when she was young, her father tells her it’s because she killed her but she can’t remember herself.  She unexpectedly goes on the run with black servant Rosaleen after racial tensions grew in town.  I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll stop there, it would make a great holiday book.

17.  Anger is an Energy – My Life Uncensored by John Lydon
Can you tell I like musician’s autobiographies?  I’d mentioned this in my New Purchases Show & Tell October 2016 blog post and video and still stick by my review.  Growing up in a very poor neighbourhood in London, Jon survived spinal meningitis at a young age and of course went on to be a pioneer of punk.  It’s definitely worth a read if you’re into this era and paired up well with Vivienne’s account I had read earlier in the year.

18.  Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
This is by far the best book I read this year.  I literally could not put this down it was so good.  Set within Stalin’s Soviet Union, officer Leo Demidov is nothing but loyal to the state.  But when he witnesses an interrogation of what seemingly is an innocent man he begins to question whether he really lives in a perfect society.  I honestly couldn’t recommend it enough and I need to see the film adaptation now too!

19. The Night Manager by John Le Carré
I didn’t expect to enjoy a John Le Carré book quite as much as I enjoyed this.  Spy novels don’t usually call out to me, but I decided to give this a whirl when this was on offer in the Kindle store.  Jonathan Pine, yes he is a night manager for a luxurious hotel, but has a highly skilled military background that brings him in contact with British Intelligence.  Tense, claustrophobic and an all-round great read.  I can see why John Le Carré is so celebrated.

20.  Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin
Bought on a recommendation by an old work colleague (not one of the cake-bearing kind!), although this is a fictional story it was quite educational in places. Turkey, a neutral country in WWII, had allowed Jews for many centuries to take refuge in their country.  Many Jews did just this during the War and this story is about their escape to Turkey from Nazi-occupied countries, with a fictional love story too.  A fresh perspective on how far the damages of WWII stretched to.

21.  The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
I was getting dangerously close to the end of the year now so opted for another short and sweet, yet a classic, tale.  Actually a play’s script rather than a novel, I dusted this off before Christmas in a day and giggled at the ridiculousness (or should I say Bunburying) of the characters and situation.  It took only an hour to read; it’s funny and yet critiques the Victorian class system, bravo Mr Wilde!

Conclusion

So as you can see I didn’t actually complete my Reading Challenge 2016 of reading 30 books…  I did fall behind when I started having more social lunches, otherwise I think I could’ve completed it.  For 2017 however I think I’ll lower the bar just to be sure, so I’ve set myself a 25 books Reading Challenge.  I will complete it this year!

Did you complete your Reading Challenge 2016?  Let me know with any of your book recommendations in the comment section below!

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