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2017 Reading Challenge Update #7

Phew, this has been a hectic year of reading! I am feeling good and feeling confident that I will make it with just 7 books (and 7 weeks) to go. But I’ll admit, while I sped through the first few books in this update, I ended up feeling a little burnt out and in need of a break. Luckily that break came in the form of Stranger Things 2 dropping on Netflix.

The Netflix binge continued as I finally got around to watching Making a Murderer and can now understand why everyone was so hooked when it came out! So now that I have satisfied my need for some serious screen time, I am ready to kick back and finish this challenge. Although, more Netfilx recommendations are of course welcome!

I must admit, there are still a few tricky categories to go in this challenge that I am not looking forward to (yes, a book based on mythology I am looking at you…), but I am determined to find something that both fits the category and that interests me. I am looking forward to the day when I can pick up a book again just because, not specifically for category fulfillment.

But until then, here is what I have been reading! Fair warning, I review 9 books here…it is a (very) long post!

A book involving travel: Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche (2013)

I had read so many recommendations for this book that when I saw that Torre had released a second book about life after this well documented romance came to an end, my interest finally grew enough to lead me to pick it up. Now I can’t wait to read her second book!

Over the last couple of years I have read a particularly high number of travel memoirs, more than I have ever before. I really enjoy the insight into people’s lives and understanding what leads them on these journeys. Through this however I have read some particularly bad and generic ones. I was a bit worried that this may be more of the same particularly with the fairy-tale element of meeting an amazing man and sailing off into the sunset. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. It was so refreshing to read a relatable Australian voice, and Torre made reading her story so enjoyable.  

Yes she did meet a man, and yes she did join him in his dream to sail across the pacific despite being terrified of the ocean. But this story was more than just that. It was about change and growing a deeper understanding of not only herself but the world around her and what truly made her happy. I actually found myself laughing along quite a bit as her story unfolded and the way Torre wrote just made each page easy.

A great holiday read and probably one of my favourite female travel memoirs that I have read.
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A book about an interesting woman:
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (2015)

This is the second Hollywood celebrity memoir I have read this year, making it my second ever, and I have to say I enjoyed it just as much as the first which was Anna Kendrick’s. I am not a fan of The Office (US) having only ever watched a few episodes (I just don’t get Steve Carell), but I am a big fan of Mindy Kaling’s own show The Mindy Project. I find it random and hilarious and very over the top, which is exactly what I expected from this book. And for that reason, it did not let me down.

There is a quote from the introduction that made me actually laugh out loud while waiting for my train, and from that point I knew that I was in for a fun read:

“..these days, I find I’m caring less and less about what people think of me. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my security in my career, maybe it’s because i’m skrilla flush with that dollah-dollah-bill-ya’ll…”

Kaling is very open about the lives of ‘celebrities’ and works to tie this into her own life experiences. All of this is tangled in a whirlwind of inappropriate and hilarious tangents. A very light read (but well written) for those in need of a little fun and enjoyment.
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A book that takes place over a character’s life span: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

I had been wanting to read this for a long time. When it first came out everyone seemed to be talking about this book and I was intrigued but I think I didn’t actually understand what it was about as otherwise I am sure I would have picked it up sooner. It is such a well written and beautifully structured book that I felt I couldn’t put down.

The story follows the parallel lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig as they grow up and become entangled in the German occupation of France during World War II. Marie-Laure is blind and lives with her father who is a locksmith at the museum in Paris. He teaches her to navigate the streets through an intricate wooden model of the neighbourhood and buys her braille books for her birthday with the little money he has. Werner is an orphan and lives in a children’s home with his sister Jutta. He has a fascination for the world and how it works and focuses that into engineering and fixing radios. His passion (and white blond hair) leads him away from a certain future working in the mines, to attend a school for gifted German boys.

Both children question the war as they grow up. Werner as a soldier in Germany and Marie-Laure as part of the French resistance. I loved how the perspectives of the war were told through the eyes of a child and how they grew into their understanding of the world as it unfolded around them. There is also an underlying story of a diamond which is a little bizarre but adds great context around which all events transpire.

This story was beautiful, it was heartbreaking, and I felt like not a word written was wasted.
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A book with an eccentric character: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2012)

This was such a strange and funny book, but I guess that is to be expected from the Swedish author. I think Swedes have a strange sense of humor, particular when it comes to death and I would say this book appeals to those who enjoyed The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared (which I did). It is quirky and strange and talks about really intense stuff, yet it is comical and at times hilarious.

I found this a really easy and entertaining read, but I also appreciated the way it confronted mental health and loss and how people deal with this. It actually deals with real life in a way that can be understood as happening within our own communities. It also uncovered the way many different life events that can lead a person along a particular path.

Ove is a character that you don’t instantly like, it takes time. But as you become familiar with him and learn about why he views the world a certain way, he becomes a little endearing. It is this personality trait that seem to allow others to gravitate around him. I enjoyed the different characters (and the funny names Ove called them by), and how they all came together and the emphasis that is placed on community.
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A book by an author who uses a pseudonym: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (2014)

I first discovered the tales of Cormoran Strike back in 2015 when I read the first in this series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, to fulfill a reading challenge category. It was also because I was eager to hear a story told by JK Rowling in which she felt she needed to conceal her identity to release. It was the first crime novel I had read and sparked in me a little interest in the genre.

Obviously wanting to distance herself from the magical YA genre, I totally get that JK Rowling would want to originally take her name off a novel like these. The only comparison that can be drawn between these books and Harry Potter is the brilliant literary skill that Rowling possesses. Her ability to carefully construct a story in such vivid detail is most certainly her strength and the reason these books are so compelling.

This particular story follows Strike and his assistant Robin as they work to uncover who is responsible for the horrific murder of a London author. You can expect the usual twists and turns of any crime thriller type novel, but what I found most interesting was the look into the inner circles of the literary world. Rowling explores gender roles with particular focus on the literary industry. One of her characters for example doesn’t believe that women have the ability to be great authors.

My first response to this was that I wonder that Rowling chose a male name as her pseudonym, particularly writing for a genre that is typically dominated by men? Rowling has faced a lot of criticism, particularly with being taken seriously outside of the world of YA fiction so it makes sense that she would want to be judged on the quality of the work, not on her gender or her literary past.

While the storyline itself was a little bizarre, what I loved the most about this book was the intricate weaving of detail and the way I could feel exactly what Rowling, or should I say Galbraith, wanted me to take out of each page. Subtle clues are dropped while other information is strategically left out making you as the reader keep guessing. These are very entertaining books and I look forward to reading the next installment.
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A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (2015)

I knew one day I would get around to reading this book. I wasn’t sure that it would fit into this challenge however I realised that considering I hadn’t read a book of poetry since my Victorian Literature course at uni, and the fact that this made the New York Times Bestseller list, it actually fit pretty perfectly into this category!

I ordered this book from Book Depository as I just knew it was one that I wanted a physical copy of. I wanted to be able to own it and hold it in my hands and come back to it whenever I felt I needed it. As soon as it arrived I devoured it. I read the first 2 chapters and felt so overwhelmed with emotion that I unwillingly put the book aside. I wanted to savour it and to allow myself time to process it. I didn’t want to rush through.

Kaur is raw, and at times uncomfortable, but her words need to be read as I am sure they needed to be written. She speaks about heartbreak and abuse but also about healing, love and femininity.

It felt empowering and I found myself deeply connected to each word in such a beautifully constructed book. I am glad that I found a place to read this book this year and I think it is one that all women should read, particularly if they are looking for healing after trauma or loss, or just looking for a greater understanding of themselves.
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A novel set during wartime: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

When I did this challenge in 2015, a goal of mine was to read influential books from history that I felt I should have already read. This year my sub-goal was to read more recently published books. For this category however I decided to go back to that original 2015 goal and pick this one up as it is talked about so much due to the open and honest recount of events a young Anne Frank documented as her family hid for 2 years during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands during World War II.

It really gives an insight into the complex mind of a teenage girl which is obviously impacted by being kept hidden from the world in her family’s ‘secret annex’. Anne talks in detail about her relationship with her parents, in particular with her mother. She also highlights the daily activities of the 8 people in hiding and how their behaviours change and their interactions. It is an interesting insight into what it must have been like to be so confined, unable to step out side, unknowing when you might be free.

I didn’t enjoy this book, but I am not sure it is to be read for enjoyment. It was interesting, and I am glad I have read it as it does give a unique perspective on what it was like to be Jewish as Hitler gained power and what that meant for families such as this who were forced into hiding for years.
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A book with one of the four seasons in the title: Autumn By Ali Smith (2017)

I wanted to read this book as it sounded just like the kind of thing that I would love. Stream of consciousness style writing. Writing that focused on feelings not events. A story that doesn’t have any real plot but yet still is able to take you on a journey.

I think that the style of this book would make it alienating. People will either love or hate it due to the way it reads. It jumps around, there are no speech marks to separate spoken words versus thoughts. But I think that is exactly what makes it so interesting. The poetry style nature of the text allows you to easily flow through the story and evokes a deeper emotional connection with not only the characters but the world they are occupying.

Smith tells the story of Elisabeth and her friendship with her old neighbour Daniel Gluck. Mr Gluck is able to open Elisabeth up to a new way of thinking about the world and she cherishes this special relationship as she grows from a child to an adult. The story moves around may different time periods, jumping from Elisabeth’s childhood to her present day self, then back to tell a story from her early twenties.

The motive throughout this book is that of autumn and the changing and the falling of the leaves. It is symbolic and beautiful in the way Smith is able to combine the metaphorical and the literal. I really enjoyed this book, and it is something quite different than anything else I have ever read.
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A bestseller from 2016: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)

After all the praise that this book has received since its publication, I was really looking forward to picking it up. Luckily it completely lived up to its high expectation and I read it over a day and a half.

Whitehead has re-imagined the Underground Railroad, a series of safe houses that African-american slaves would move through to escape to freedom in Canada during the 19th century, as an actual rail road that one could climb aboard and be taken to safety.

This story follows Cora, from growing up under the brutal ownership and enslavement of the cotton fields of Georgia, and follows her as she escapes with aid from the Underground Railroad. At each stop she finds something that makes her want to stay and she starts to begin to trust her surroundings and her freedom. That is until something undoes everything and she finds her self fleeing for safety yet again.

This book highlights the cruel past of America and identifies the horrific treatment of slaves. It is hard to read at times, and I think what makes the book so good is that blurred line Whitehead creates between fiction and history. An intensity stayed with me as I read, and I think that is what made me not want to put it down.

Without much knowledge personally of America’s slave history, this really book really opened my eyes to a terrible past and gave me a new perspective on the world as it stands at the moment. It made me understand that while Cora was free from a master, she was never truly free. She could never be in a place that she didn’t fear her past and I think this reins true through history. Like everyone else, I truly recommend reading this book – it is one of the best I have read this year.
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