August wrap up

Books read: 5
This month I read fewer books than usual, but those that I did read were longer and quite intense (4 3 2 1 was just under 900 pages while The Ministry of Utmost Happiness tackled some really complex social and political issues and was definitely not a quick book to read). I really enjoyed The Word is Murder – which was a really unique take on the classic detective novel.

  • The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter
  • The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy
  • The Readymade Thief, Augustus Rose
  • 4 3 2 1, Paul Auster


Books acquired: 7
I was much more reserved this month than I was last month – acquiring just 7 books compared to last month’s 24. I’m really looking forward to reading City of Circles and American War, both of which have been on my wishlist for a while.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
  • This Savage Song, V. E. Schwab
  • Nevernight, Jay Kristoff
  • City of Circles, Jess Richards
  • American War, Omar El Akkad
  • The Golden House, Salman Rushdie
  • The Last Tudor, Philippa Gregory


Blog posts published: 7
By far my most popular post this month was one about writing book reviews and how to get started, given that so many of us find reviewing to be one of the most challenging things about book blogging. I’m going to try and do more of these in the future as it seems they’re helpful to you, so please shout if there’s anything you’d like me to focus on!


TBR for September:
I’ve been terrible at sticking to TBR lists lately. This month I want to get to some of the Netgalley ARCs that I haven’t been able to get to yet. However, I got married yesterday (this post is scheduled in advance!) and am off on honeymoon today, so I may not be able to fit much reading in amongst sightseeing on the Amalfi Coast! I also might be less responsive than usual, so please bear with me!

  • The Last Tudor, Philippa Gregory
  • Behold the Dreamers, Imbolob Mbue
  • Three Days and a Life, Pierre Lemaitre
  • Red Sister, Mark Lawrence
  • City of Circles, Jess Richards


Challenge progress:

Goodreads Challenge: My Goodreads reading goal is to read 50 books this year, which I’ve now surpassed.  This was a conservative goal which I was always confident I’d achieve, but this challenge was mainly about tracking how many books I’m reading, as I’ve never kept count before. Everything from here on out is a bonus. (54/50)

Beat the Backlist Challenge: The Beat the Backlist challenge is all about knocking off titles that have been on your TBR for a while. Books need to have been published prior to 2017, and I’m only including books that I actually bought before 2017 and that have been sitting around waiting for me to read them – so no new purchases or library reads. This month, none of my reads qualified, so my total is still five books towards a goal of twelve. (5/12)


How was your August? What was your favourite read? What do you have planned for September?

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The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

The Word is MurderThe story…

Renowned fiction author Anthony Horowitz is approached by an old acquaintance, a jaded and disagreeable investigator, with an idea of a new, true crime novel. A particularly perplexing murder has just been committed, and Hawthorne is convinced the story could be a big hit, providing they can solve the case.

My thoughts…

This book has one of the most unique concepts of all the books I’ve ever read. Even now I’m still slightly baffled by it. Leaving aside the story for the moment, the idea of having Horowitz write himself as a character in his own novel is very odd. There are so many personal details in the book that must be autobiographical – for example, detailed descriptions about his own past as a scriptwriter for TV programme Foyles War. In addition to this, the fictional murder storyline is entwined into these real life details. At least, I assume that this storyline is fictional – even now I’m not quite sure.

Horowitz’s relationship with Hawthorne, the detective, and the issues that he comes up against while writing a true crime novel – such as the tendency to cut irrelevant details and airbrush Hawthorne’s character into one that would be more relatable for his readers – also form a key part of the narrative. It’s a perspective that takes some getting used to, and means that the book we get isn’t a crime novel, it’s a book about someone writing that crime novel.

The main plot of the novel focuses around the murder of Diana Cowper, which is made all the more unusual by the fact that she had visited a funeral parlour that very same day to plan for her own death. There’s a rich and varied cast of characters and suspects, each of whom is hiding something. There’s also a traumatic accident in Diana Cowper’s past, a self-obsessed Hollywood actor son and a disgruntled housekeeper – in short, everything that makes a good crime novel.

As Horowitz is writing this book after the events took place, he is an omnipresent narrator, and occasionally drops in little hints and reflections on events as the story progresses. This also makes him inherently unreliable, as he makes executive decisions on what details he should leave out or make more palatable to his audience. As readers, we’re playing catch up, attempting to read between the lines and decipher the truth about what happened before the big reveal at the end.

In conclusion…

Just as in his previous novel, Magpie Murders, the book is filled with hidden clues and elaborate red herrings. Overall, despite the unusual style, which I must admit that I did find a little distracting, I did enjoy this book. I failed at identifying the murderer and his motives, which I always think is a sign of a good detective novel.

Writing book reviews: how to get started

As book bloggers, writing book reviews is a core part of what we do. However, I’ve heard from lots of people who say that review writing is the most challenging or least fun part of blogging.

I’ve written posts in the past that set out some of the reasons that I personally find writing reviews difficult. There are a lot of times where I’ve gone to write a review but put it off – sometimes I can’t seem to get the thoughts in my head down on the page in a way that makes sense or think of the right phrasing, or sometimes just I draw a blank and can’t think of anything interesting to say.

Assuming that at least some other people out there also suffer from the same issues – I thought I’d share some of my experiences, processes and tips for writing book reviews.

I know that everyone writes their reviews differently and I’m by no means an expert! If you’ve been blogging for a while and already have your own style for review writing, this post might not be so useful for you!

However, if you are at all interested in hearing my thoughts and top tips for writing book reviews, please read on!

  1. Have some questions to fall back on:

Having a list of questions to consider when starting a review is so useful for teasing out content for a post, and I’ve found it can also really help with structuring a review and keeping my thoughts in order as well. There are a few questions that I always ask if I’m struggling to get started on a review, which I’ve included below in case they’re helpful!

  • Were the characters believable and did they develop over the course of the book?
  • Were there any plot points that I really enjoyed, or really didn’t enjoy?
  • Was the setting fully developed? Was too much or too little time spent on description rather than action?
  • Did the language flow and feel natural? Was there anything that jarred or didn’t work?
  • Were there any pacing issues? Did it feel like any parts of the book dragged or were interesting parts skipped over too quickly?
  1. Write about what you’re interested in:

Ultimately, when people are reading a book review they want to know what you thought of it – including why you liked it, why you didn’t and whether you’d recommend it. If you found a particular aspect of the book really unique, talk about it. If you hated it, tell people why. I’d always recommend trying to be balanced though and picking out arguments from both sides where you can.

  1. Mix it up a bit:

Don’t think that you have to stick to the same formula all the time. If you’re struggling to write a review, adapt your structure or approach. I read a lot of blogs who break up their reviews up with pictures, quotes, headings, gifs or page dividers, which not only makes reviews interesting to read but also helps to add a bit of visual interest to something that otherwise could be quite word heavy.

  1. Don’t always start at the beginning:

Focus on what interested you and work backwards from there. I always find the beginning of a review the hardest to write, so a lot of the time I start in the middle by writing down my thoughts on a specific plot point, character or niggling issue, and then I go back to the introduction when I’ve had some time to think through my arguments logically.

  1. Take a break:

If you’re struggling for inspiration, don’t stress about it. Take a break and come back to it another time. If it feels like pulling teeth to write a review, the chances are that it’s going to read like that too.

How do you write book reviews? Do you have a process for writing them? 

Are posts like this helpful and is there anything else you’d like me to focus on more specifically in another post? 

 

 

The White Road – Sarah Lotz

The White RoadThe story:

Simon Newman maintains a website for thrill seekers, posting videos of extreme or ghoulish situations online. When a caving expedition goes horribly wrong, Simon’s video of his near death experience goes viral. Chasing something big to follow up on this success, Simon finds himself attempting to scale Everest. But the more time passes, the more Simon is haunted by past events. As his present collides with the past, Simon begins to lose his grip on reality in while attempting to stay grounded in some of the most dangerous and inhospitable places on earth.

My thoughts:

Throughout the book, Simon struggles to deal with what happened in the caves and the morality of using the internet to gain fame and success at the expense of others. He has to deal with feelings of grief and guilt, but his reluctance to do so means that his feelings manifest into a self-destructive, wild obsession. He’s not a particularly likable character, but to me this made him feel more real.

Although this is primarily a psychological thriller, there’s a supernatural element that runs through the book. Simon is convinced that there is a sinister figure lurking just out of view, intent on causing him harm. He is haunted by the ghosts of his past and the things that he has done, which take on a physical manifestation that drive him slowly mad. As readers, we’re presented with the facts from his perspective, and we’re left to make up our own minds as to whether these things are really happening or if they are only happening in Simon’s head. Whatever we choose to believe, there is a pervading air of menace and madness that runs through the entire book.

This, combined with the extreme settings that the Simon finds himself in over the course of the novel – from being trapped underground in tunnels that are slowly filling with water, surrounded by the dead and the cold, dark rocks and to scaling the world’s most deadly peak, oppressed by the cold, the altitude and the barren snow swept landscapes – make for an atmospheric and unsettling read. The situation is threatening and claustrophobic – both in reality and in Simon’s head.

In conclusion…

I’ve read other books by Lotz in the past and I’ve found them similarly hard to categorise. I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as horror, or as a straight up thriller, but it definitely has many of the elements of both. The White Road is a very different read from everything else I’ve read this year, and although it was creepy and sometimes unsettling, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.

July wrap up

Books read: 7
In July I finally got around to reading A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – which might just be my favourite read so far this year. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, but it definitely lived up to expectations. I also really enjoyed The Heart Goes Last. I wasn’t at all sure about The Butcher’s Hook though.

  • A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
  • The Owl Always Hunts at Night, Samuel Bjork
  • The Butchers Hook, Janet Ellis
  • Frostblood, Elly Blake
  • The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood
  • The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter
  • The Diabolic, S. J. Kincaid


Books acquired: 24
This month I made the mistake of looking through the Kindle books selection on Amazon, and there far too many deals on books that I wanted to read. I also received a number of ARCs that I’m looking forward to reading this summer and took some out of the library – which given how many books I’ve acquired this month wasn’t a very sensible idea!

  • The Ninth Rain, Jen Williams
  • The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz
  • Red Sister, Mark Lawrence
  • Artemis, Andy Weir
  • The Readymade Thief, Augustus Rose
  • Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman
  • The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
  • The North Water, Ian McGuire
  • The Wonder, Emma Donoghue
  • The Magicians, Lev Grossman
  • The French Promise, Fiona McIntosh
  • Frostblood, Elly Blake
  • Walking the Lights, Deborah Andrews
  • Not Working, Lisa Owens
  • All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
  • Death is a Welcome Guest, Louise Welsh
  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
  • New World Rising, Jennifer Wilson
  • The Diabolic, S. J. Kincaid
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
  • Days Without End, Sebastian Barry
  • The Good Daughter, Karin Slaughter


Blog posts published: 7
I posted more reviews than anything else this month. The most popular posts were my review of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and my round up of the books I’m most looking forward to reading this summer. I also had some really great feedback on my discussion topic last week – which was about focusing on a particular genre for a book blog.


TBR for August:
This month I only managed to read three of the seven books I was hoping to get to. In August, I want to finish all of the books I’d planned to read in July, plus a couple of others. I’m really looking forward to The Word is Murder, as I really enjoyed Horowitz’s recent mystery, Magpie Murders. I also can’t wait to read Red Sister, as I’ve loved other books by the author.

  • Darien, C. F. Iggulden
  • Behold the Dreamers, Imbolob Mbue
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy
  • Three Days and a Life, Pierre Lemaitre
  • The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz
  • Red Sister, Mark Lawrence


Challenge progress:

Goodreads Challenge: My Goodreads reading goal is to read 50 books this year, which I’ve now met! This was a conservative goal which I was always confident I’d achieve, but this challenge was mainly about tracking how many books I’m reading, as I’ve never kept count before. Everything from here on out is a bonus. (50/50)

Beat the Backlist Challenge: The Beat the Backlist challenge is all about knocking off titles that have been on your TBR for a while. Books need to have been published prior to 2017, and I’m only including books that I actually bought before 2017 and that have been sitting around waiting for me to read them – so no new purchases or library reads. This month, two of my reads qualified, so my total is now five books towards a goal of twelve. (5/12)


How was your July? What was your favourite read? What do you have planned for August?

The Power – Naomi Alderman

The PowerThe story:
When teenage girls all over the world start developing the ability to give electric shocks, the men of the world immediately start to worry about how they can be controlled. When it’s revealed that they can also pass on this knowledge to older women, they start to panic. As more and more women discover ‘the power’ – societies all over the world start to fall apart and reform as something completely new.

My thoughts:
In this reality that Naomi Alderman has created, women dominate every aspect of society – from world politics to religion to the criminal underworld. Powerful older women can have their pick of eager young men hoping to impress them. Teenage boys are encouraged to carry rape alarms. Women form the backbone of elite military troops. For the first time, women are now inherently stronger than men, and this causes a huge upset on a deeper level.

There are a few key characters followed throughout the book – Allie, a foster kid abused by those charged with her care, Roxy, the unwanted daughter of a London gangster, and Margot, a politician ready to exploit every opportunity to rise. Each of these women use their newfound power to create a new life and build a new reality. World news is reported through the eyes of Tunde, one of the few sympathetic male characters, who travels the front lines of war torn countries to record history in the making.

There are some moments that make for uncomfortable reading. In her position of political power Margot takes full advantage of young aides eager to please, and there are scenes of extreme sexual violence against men. On a less extreme scale, armies are now female to take advantage of their natural aggression, while negotiators are male as they are inherently less threatening. But what makes this book even more disturbing to read is the realisation that all of these situations described have happened, and are indeed still happening, to women all over the world.

The fact that these ideas are so alien to us as readers, in a society claims to value gender equality and equal opportunity, is perhaps the most shocking thing of all. This is classified as sci fi, because of the powers that women develop, but the upheaval of gender politics is the thing that really strikes a chord. It makes you realise how deeply gender stereotypes are ingrained into society.

While there’s no doubt that this is a feminist novel, power and what we do with it is at the heart of this novel. The events shine a light on how those who currently hold power are abusing it, while also suggesting that if the situation was reversed it would be no different. That power corrupts is presented as a simple fact.

Review: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie MurdersThe story: When she first starts reading the manuscript for crime writer Alan Conway’s latest novel, editor Susan Ryland has no idea what’s coming. On the surface, the new book is bestseller material – a vintage whodunit set in a quiet English village featuring Alan’s well-loved fictional private investigator, Atticus Pund. The book will change her life.

My thoughts: Magpie Murders has a totally unique format that I’ve never come across before. It is essentially a book within a book. The first half is Alan Conway’s fictional manuscript – which is pure Agatha Christie, a traditional whodunit in a quintessential English village, full of red herrings and suspicious characters.

I loved the traditional setting and that this half of the book is set in the 1950s – which creates a totally different atmosphere to most crime/detective novels that are set in the present day. This is back to the good old days of handprints under windows, squeaky bicycle wheels and big dramatic reveals. It’s comforting in a way, like settling in to watch an episode of your favourite period drama or (if you’re from the UK) Midsomer Murders.

The second half of the book is then the story of Susan and her attempts to get to the bottom of a real life mystery concerning Alan Conway (the fictional author), along with her realisation that the fictional novel may hold a deeper meaning and clues to help her solve her current conundrum.

I’m finding it hard to review this book without giving away spoilers, and I honestly think that it’s better as a reader to come at this book without knowing too much about it. I can say that I loved the way this book was written. It comes together on so many levels, with clues hidden within clues and hidden references throughout. If you love vintage crime, great mysteries and clever links, you’ll love this book.

In conclusion… All in all, this was a really enjoyable read from start to finish, and I can’t wait to read Anthony Horowitz’s next novel.