Twenty books were read this month and thanks to the SIY reading challenge I've managed to increase the amount of those that came from my To Be Read pile. Fourteen this month, and if I hadn't had a wee book buying binge, which resulted in the same number being added to Mt. TBR, I'd have completed all of my challenges. The SIY challenge threw up some real gems that I've been thinking about reading for a while. One of them was my favourite read of the month – The Children's book by A. S. Byatt. That was the clear winner by a mile, although if you read on, you'll see that I've had a very good book month with some absolute corkers and only one dud.
3 x bookrings
14 x from TBR
3 x local library
9 x 1001 list
5 x Big Read
Silk – Alessandro Baricco (1001, bookring) This was really short at only 91 pages but it was a beautifully written book. Set in the 1860s, it's the story of a French silkworm merchant who travels to Japan and meets a woman. They don't even speak but she casts a spell over him that changes the path of his life forever. I loved it!
Shout at the Devil – Wilbur Smith (tbr, SIY) I quite enjoyed this. Not enough to want to go and buy more of his books, but it was entertaining enough for a few hours. I did like the way the first half of the book was fairly light-hearted and humorous but part two was much darker and more serious. Good ending too.
The Children's Book – A. S. Byatt (tbr, SIY, 1001) Ok, why has no-one told me how good A. S. Byatt is please? I've just spent the last four days completely obsessed with this book. It is huge. The print is small. It's a slow read. And I've been completely unable to put it down. Four days. Stephen's given up trying to make conversation.
I've just finished it. I'm gobsmacked by it's beauty and elegance. By the intricate way the stories were woven round the history that was unfolding at the turn of the century. Then, as the years crept towards 1914, I knew what was coming and I was anticipating it and dreading it at the same time. She pulled no punches and I've read the last few chapters close to tears. Ok, WW1 stories always get to me, but I was so wrapped up in these characters that I took each incident personally.
I always feel sad when I finish a good book, but I feel emotionally torn this time. I've watched these people grow up and lived their lives with them over the last few days and now it's gone. I'm gutted.
And to think I only bought this book because it has the most beautiful cover…
Hogfather – Terry Pratchett (tbr, SIY, Big Read) Brilliant! Just brilliant. I've chortled and giggled my way through this one, and I've enjoyed every word. I'd seen the television adaptation but this was so much better. It was marvellous having a mental picture of David Jason as Albert and Marc Warren as Teatime. I don't think I could have imagined the characters better. And, the explanation of why a banana is a fish had me crying with laughter. Everyone should read Pratchett. His books are good for you.
Measuring the world – Daniel Kehlmann (1001, bookring) This was the story of two scientists. One travelled around the world adventuring, while one stayed at home. The book jumps back and forth between the two so you go from the jungles where Humboldt is hacking his way through the undergrowth, to the more sedate life of Gauss. I found it quite an interesting read and while I wasn't gripped by it, I did enjoy it.
Seven up – Janet Evanovich (local library) Oh goodness. I've just put this down and at one point I honestly thought I wasn't going to be able to finish it, as I was laughing so hard. This has to be the funniest book in the series so far. It was the part where Grandma Mazur was kidnapped that had me howling with laughter. Stephanie was returning Grandma home and explaining to her parents what had happened.
"She was kidnapped," I told my mother.
"What do you mean…kidnapped?"
"I happened to have something that Eddie DeChooch wanted, and so he kidnapped Grandma and held her out for ransom."
"Thank God," my mother said. "I thought she was shacked up with a man."
The Bell – Iris Murdoch (1001, bookring) I can't decide whether I enjoyed this book or not. I didn't dislike it be any means. I read it quite happily and got quite absorbed in it for most of the time. There were a few pages that I skimmed as they were a bit preachy but mostly it was fine. It didn't stand out though. Having finished it, I don't feel the usual sense of loss that I get when I put down a book that I've particularly enjoyed. I could quite happily forget all about it and dive straight into something else. And, I intend to do just that.
Gods behaving badly – Marie Phillips (tbr) A friend at work recommended this. I found a copy on Amazon marketplace and couldn't resist reading it straight away. The story is that the Greek Gods are living in London in a run down house, with too many people and not enough bathrooms. Artemis is a professional dog walker and Dionysus runs a nightclub. It's funny from the start when Artemis comes across a tree where there wasn't one before, but really gets going when Alice the cleaner and her boyfriend Neil come into the story. If you like something funny and a little offbeat, I'd highly recommend this, although it is slightly on the adult side due to the antics of Apollo and Aphrodite.
The Matisse stories – A. S. Byatt (tbr) This was a RABCK from NuKnees and arrived a few days ago. It has three short stories, each connected in its own way to Matisse. I loved each one of them. The language used is so descriptive, so beautiful but so readable. In one of the stories she devotes a couple of paragraphs to the noises made by the washer and dryer and it's wonderful. And I know someone who'll love this so I'm going to RABCK it on.
Oh, and just as I finished it, Byatt's Possession popped through the letterbox from AbeBooks. Perfect!
The Beach – Alex Garland (tbr, SIY, Big Read) Whoa! This was excellent. I've never seen the film so I had very little idea what the book was about, which is just the way I prefer it. I loved the way the sense of menace slowly and subtly increased through the book. It really was a terrific story and brilliantly told.
The shipping news – Annie Proulx (tbr, 1001, big read, SIY) Oh didn't this book meet a lot of challenges. And not only that, but it was a bloomin good read too. The knots and snippets of information at the start of each chapter had me fascinated. I loved the story, the characters and the writing style. Definitely recommended.
Hard eight – Janet Evanovich (local library) Ok, so book seven wasn't the funniest. This was. There was the bit where Stephanie can't get into her appartment and goes into meltdown. I. could. not. stop. laughing. And I'd just about recovered from that, when a few pages further on was the incident with Stephanie's Mom, Clinton, Nixon and the Easter Bunny. I won't go into details as if you're planning to read this, it'll be so much better if that one creeps up on you unawares. I really, really love these books.
Geisha of Gion – Mineko Iwasaki (tbr, SIY) I'd been meaning to read this for ages and a kind BookCrosser spotted it on my wishlist and sent it to me. That was a while ago, but I've finally pushed it to the top of the reading pile. It was absolutely fascinating and a really enjoyable read. I enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha a couple of years ago, but this was all the better for being an autobiography. Definitely recommended.
The Waves – Virginia Woolf (tbr, 1001) Apparently Woolf was writing to a rhythm and not to a plot. Personally I'd have preferred more plot. I read it, but I didn't particularly like it. I guess she's an acquired taste.
The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (tbr, 1001, Big Read) Absolutely marvellous! This was a huge, huge book. I've had it as my upstairs book, and have been reading it for the past three weeks before sleeping. Probably a bad idea as it was very gripping and some nights I really didn't want to put it down. You know, the "just one more chapter" thing? I had a bad attack of that last night and read for five hours straight until I'd finished it. All the plots were coming to a head; there was no way I was going to sleep until I knew how it came out. This was an absolutely terrific book but not to be attempted unless you've got plenty of time to spare.
The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy (tbr, 1001, Big Read, SIY) This was wonderful. I find his books so easy to read, the characters so lifelike and so human. He really brought the marketplace to life – I could see the hustle and bustle of the farmers and traders beneath Lucetta's house.
My favourite of his books is still Tess, but then that is one of my all time favourites so it's going to be a hard one to overtake. This one came fairly close though.
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen (tbr, 1001) I read this for the Everything Austen II challenge and had to do a review for it which is here. As I've already waffled on about it there, all I'll say here is that Northanger Abbey is my new favourite Austen. Loved it!
Vampirates: Demons of the ocean – Justin Somper (tbr) And now for something completely different. This is a teen book that came free with a pre-order of another book last year. I've been ignoring it since then but have read it now as I needed something sea-themed for a challenge on BookCrossing. (You may notice a few other vaguely sea-themed books here and there.) The verdict? Not bad. Interesting enough to make me think I may just pick up the next book in the series if I come across it in the Oxfam shop.
The Island – Victoria Hislop (tbr) This is a book that I'd been meaning to read for a couple of years. People just kept recommending it to me. Finally I got my hands on a copy and it sat on my TBR pile for a few months before making its way to the top. And you know what? Those people who said it was worth reading? They weren't wrong. I really enjoyed it, although I was getting ever so slightly blurry-eyed near the end. Possibly in a few other places too. I liked the setting – Crete, and the characters. I loved the story. I shall now be recommending it with the same fervour as those people who persuaded me to buy and read it in the first place.
Crocodile on the Sandbank – Elizabeth Peters (local library) This was absolutely priceless. It's the first in the Amelia Peabody murder mystery series. It was set in Egypt in 1884 and has the most wonderful characters, setting, plot and writing. Some friends on BookCrossing have been reading the series and making the books sound quite irresistable. Now that I've read one, I know why. Once I'd started reading, I could not put the book down. And you know the best bit? There are another eighteen books in the series. Woop!