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2017 Reading Challenge Update #5 + GIVEAWAY

What a great update I have for you today (if I don’t say so myself). I have read some amazing books that I cannot wait to share with you! So much so actually that I am giving away one of my favourites to one lucky reader! Keep reading to find out how to enter 🙂

This update covers a range of topics that will take you on a journey around the world, both past and present, hopefully leaving you with a bit of inspiration to indulge your passion.

I am now 30 books through the challenge with 22 left to go and have realised that I am now 10 books ahead of where I was this time in 2015. So while I was starting to feel as though I may be falling behind, it seems like I am right on track to finish the PopSugar Reading Challenge within the 12 months which is exciting. There are still a number of difficult categories though that I need to work on finding suitable books for… Anyone have any suggestions for a book based on mythology??

On that note, here are the books that I read over the last few weeks – and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom and enter the giveaway for your chance to WIN one of the books from this update!

A book about food: Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding (2016)

I picked up this book after reading an interview with Matt Goulding on Nomadic Matt’s travel website. The way he spoke about his passion for food and the Spanish culture made me know that this would be a book I enjoyed.

This book is half travel memoir, half an ode to food. It is pure passion between the pages as Matt tells of his life in Spain along with his travels around the country and the stories of the individuals he meets.

I got maybe ¼ of the way through this book before I was making Pan Con Tomate for dinner which is a delicious garlicky, oily, tomatoey bread most often served as tapas. Matt devotes a double page spread in the book to it and I just wanted to taste some of the flavours he was talking about. Maybe don’t read this book hungry, or do, but make sure you know what you are getting into!

This book is for anyone who loves food but it also captures the passion of travel and what it means to experience new cultures and understand the history and the backgrounds of the food we are consuming. It tells honest stories and gave me an appreciation for Spain in a way I didn’t know I needed. I realised that I knew very little about the different regions so it was very interesting to learn through the author’s eyes.

The book itself is beautiful with a white hardcover and thick, glossy pages filled with engaging words and impressive photography. I truly believe there is something for everyone within the pages of this book which is why I wanted to give one lucky reader the opportunity to win a copy for themselves. Interested? You should be. Find all the details at the bottom of this post!

A book set around a holiday other than Christmas: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney (2017)

This is a really quirky and cool read. Based on the life of Margaret Fishback who became the highest paid advertising woman in the 1930s writing copy for Macy’s, this book tells her story through the fictional tale of Lillian Boxfish, a 85 year old woman living in New York.

On New Year’s Eve 1984, Lillian takes a walk through the streets of Manhattan reflecting on what makes the city unique. After feeling the pressures from her family to leave the city, she reflects on her life and the changes she has seen around her since moving to New York in 1926. Lillian recounts each stage in her life comparatively with the changes of a city through the depression era.

Her reflections are interspersed with the encounters she has that night. She stops and takes her time to speak to people along her walk and get to know them. She is bold and fantastic and the kind of person you wish you knew in real life.

I really enjoyed this book, I found the stories of New York interesting and the story of Lillian herself very impressive. I was so glad to find that this book was the fictionalised story of Margaret Fishback as I loved reading about her career triumphs and stubbornness to forge her own path rather than take the traditional role of the woman which was expected of the time.

A book set in a hotel: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)

When I first saw this category I thought it was quite weird and I wasn’t saw what kind of books would fit. I certainly never thought it would give me the opportunity to read such a great book. I never really understood the purpose of this story as I couldn’t see a clear direction of where it was leading, which only made me not want to put it down!

The story begins not long after the Russian Revolution and we meet the count, Alexander Rostov, accepting his sentence of life imprisonment confined within the walls of the Grand Metropol Hotel after being accused of writing a poem that was counter revolutionary. So he begins his life in a small room on the top floor of the hotel.

It is hard to say what this book is about because I do not feel it has a traditional story line which is maybe why I enjoyed it so much. This book is about relationships, about the changing world outside, and about making the most of any situation. Throughout the book, not once does the count complain about his situation in life, but rather he relishes in maintaining the air of a gentleman and making do with what he has. He is a man of routine and quickly finds his through friendships and eventually a daughter which forces the count to finally think about the life of another before his own.

While the landscape of the book doesn’t change, it moves along through the years so beautifully as we catch little glimpses of the changing world of Russia and are exposed to the counts witty musings on life. I think this book would be an excellent movie so hopefully that happens soon!

A book with career advice: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (2015)

For this category I decided to interpret ‘career advice’ as in something that would inspire me to continue to strive to reach my goals. I choose this book for it’s obvious inspirational super power but also because it comes with advice to never doubt your creativity and continue to learn and work on you passion, even if it’s not the ‘job’ that pays the bills.

So to be honest I was quite reluctant to read this book. Having not enjoyed The Signature of All Things or Eat Pray Love, I was hesitant to say the least to pick up another Elizabeth Gilbert book. But everyone seems to think this book is incredible and I was suffering from the worst case of writer’s block I have ever experienced so I decided why the hell not give this explosion of creative inspiration a go.

As it turned out, I really enjoyed this book. I actually loved reading each page. I don’t know if it was just because it came at a time in my life when I really needed someone to place me back on my creative path and give me the confidence to keep going. As I mentioned I was suffering from writer’s block, potentially due to the stress I placed on myself leading up to changing the name of this blog. The morning after I finished this book I wrote last weeks post on the bus ride to work and found the words flowing out of me as my typing struggled to keep up. It was awesome, so I thank Elizabeth Gilbert for getting me back on track.

This book didn’t sugarcoat life and just spoke from Gilbert’s personal experience and shared everything she has learnt through her highs and lows. She basically says, if you don’t love what you are doing 100% no matter if you are getting paid or not, then maybe that is not the right thing for you to continue doing as it is obviously not bringing you happiness. I like the idea of doing something just because you love it and it makes you happy. I think that is something that can be applied to all aspects of our lives.

A book with a month or day of the week in the title: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (2014)

This was such an interesting book, I literally couldn’t put it down! I was pretty hesitant to pick it up initially as it is technically science fiction (which is not my genre of choice) but it just sounded like such an interesting premise that I decided to give it a go. I keep saying this challenge is about stepping outside of my comfort zone and this is the reason why I love it.

Harry August is born in 1919 in England and when he dies, he is reborn again. He goes back to the start, back to 1919 and his same life. The catch is that he remembers everything from his previous life. So as the title suggests, during this novel we get to know Harry over 15 lifetimes.

What is interesting about it is that he literally lives through the same events over and over again. He is free to make decisions and change the outcome of his own life, but he lives through major political and historical events such as World War 2, the Watergate Scandal and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This book examines timetravel from a completely different perspective than I have read before. There is no moving between past and future – he has to actually live his present to go back to the past, to impact the future.

It sounds complex, which it is. The story lines are tangled and filled with detail as the characters are developed. But the way it is written is brilliant and it all works. Everything makes sense as you hear the stories and the struggles of Harry over his many lives. The overall theme is of course the all too familiar timetravel cliche of saving the world, but to me this was secondary to the philosophical and moral exploration of the impact of scientific discovery and advancement.

I really enjoyed this book, and while the ending didn’t surprise me, it had me engaged right up until the very last word. If you are looking for something a little different, give this one a go.

A steampunk novel: Timepiece: A Steampunk Time-travel Adventure (Keeping Time Book 1) by Heather Albano (2011)

I have been wanting to tackle this category early and spent so much time researching books as I wasn’t that familiar with the genre. The more I learnt about Steampunk, the less I wanted to read a book in this category. I kept coming back to it however, eager to tick it off as quickly as possible to get it out of the way as I could just feel getting to the end of the challenge with just this one category looming over me.

Steampunk is defined as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology”. It also can, and usually does have a range of supernatural elements, such as zombies, vampires, or in this case, timetravel. Yes I ended up reading back-to-back science fiction timetravel novels…what are the chances!

As I mentioned, I spent way too long researching a book for this category as I didn’t want to read something too awful. My goal in this challenge is to try and find books that I will actually enjoy in each category but it just felt like that wasn’t going to be the case. I really wanted to read a traditional steampunk story with the Victorian England setting as I thought maybe that could be something I would relate to. I also wanted to have minimal supernatural elements so wasn’t too keen on anything with werewolves, vampires or zombies. I read a lot of excerpts on amazon as well trying to find a writing style that was readable, again a challenge as most were terribly written and I couldn’t imagine trying to push my way through.

When I landed on this book which was the first in a series, I decided to learn more despite its name which isn’t very catchy or descriptive. It had excellent reviews, was set in 18th Century England and featured historical events. It was described as a cross between Jane Austen, HG Wells and Mary Shelley. I was intrigued so I began reading and found it by far exceeded anything from the genre I had found so far. Plus it was only around 250 pages (most seemed to be over the 500 page mark) so I thought at least if it was terrible it would be a quick read.

The story begins with the battle of Waterloo which builds the foundation of the story. We then follow young Elizabeth and William on a journey through time as they learn about the future and what will happen based on the events that have unfolded over the years. They then get the opportunity to try and change the outcome. There are a few rules regarding the timetravel and the author breaks them without the reader understanding the consequences. I felt there were many gaps in the story that were left, and maybe these are filled in later books being that it is the first of a series, but it left me a little disjointed.

The characters themselves are not very strong and we only get a surface view however they are entertaining enough to follow along. The Mary Shelley element of frankenstein type monsters I thought was actually done well however that particular story jumped around so much it was difficult to understand the evolution along a linear timeline.

Overall, it was readable and light hearted. I have a few questions regarding a few of the storylines that I kind of want answers to, but I am not sure if my desire for that is strong enough for me to pick up the next in the series.


Alright, to WIN your very own copy of Matt Goulding’s delicious book, Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture, click on the image below and follow the instructions.
Good Luck!

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