#20 Books of Summer – An Update

20 books


It is safe to say that my 20 Books of Summer Challenge is not going to plan at all.

With just under 4 weeks to go, I have read 10, reviewed a pitiful 5 and am half way through 2 more. 20 seems very far away right now and if my summer continues the way it has been, there is no way I’ll complete the challenge.

15 still might be possible, so I’m going to focus on that. I still have plenty of time for reading, but workload, kids-load and holidays have meant that I have little time for reviewing. I could give up sleep I suppose, but that probably wouldn’t help in the long run.

Having said that, we had a wonderful week’s holiday in Donegal, in glorious sunshine – YES, sunshine in Donegal – and I managed to read four books (although not all out of my 20 books pile!). If you get a chance to read Ruth Fitzmaurice’s new memoir I Found My Tribe, DO. You won’t regret it.

Work at Seamus Heaney HomePlace continues to be all-consuming and incredibly busy, but yesterday I spent the day with the legendary Bernard MacLaverty, so I can’t really complain.


I have, however, been very slack at keeping up with everyone else’s progress and blogs, so do let me know how you are getting on and I promise, I will try to resume normal blog upkeep very soon!

One of the positives to come out of this year’s less than successful challenge is that I read one of the most stunning books I’ve encountered in years. Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping is a true masterpiece and while I’m not going to review it here today, it will get its own in-depth review because I loved it so much. If I read a better book this year, I’ll be amazed.

So, here are some more mini-reviews of the books I have managed to read from my 20 Books of Summer pile:

No 586 Gig: The Life and Times of A Rock Star Fantasist by Simon Armitage


Simon Armitage’s entertaining and eminently readable collection of essays doesn’t exactly fit with its dramatic subtitle. If you know that Simon and his friends formed a rock band again in their mid-forties and you are looking for some insight into that, you won’t find much of that here.

Not that I’m complaining. Gig is a series of reminiscences, reviews and lyrics, strung together by Armitage’s undoubted love of music. So, you get reviews of gigs he has been too and some he missed, and family stories centred on music and most entertainingly, tales of funny, strange and downright surreal poetry readings. These are interspersed with some really powerful lyrics that Armitage wrote with prison inmates while making a documentary for Channel 4.

From being asked who would win in a fight, him or Jarvis Cocker, to being approached to be the face of Tetley Tea, Armitage is never less that engaging and self-effacing which makes for some laugh out loud moments, particularly when he describes coming across a copy of one of his poetry collections in a second hand shop – inscribed ‘To Mum and Dad’ in his own handwriting. He clearly loves music, and talks Dylan, The Fall (‘if you don’t like them, you’re wrong’) and The Smiths and his respect for those who make their living making music is evident.


His own attempts at the rock star life are covered in the final few chapters of this entertaining and amiable book, as he forms a band with his wife, Speedy Sue and friends and they write and record a few songs. But it is clear that the gigs he is most comfortable with are more the poetry variety and long may he continue to perform them.

 Read On: Book

Number read: 161

Number Remaining: 585


No 585 Dead Stars by Bruce Wagner


I had such high hopes for Dead Stars, a vicious satire on Hollywood, fame and celebrity. The book features some real life characters, including Michael Douglas who is attempting to remake ‘All that Jazz’; 13 year old Telma, the world’s youngest breast cancer survivor, who has just been usurped of her title by a 6 year old; Jacqui, a photographer who rose to fame taking naked pictures of her children and is now trying to revive her career photographing by dead babies, and her son Jerzy, a paparazzi photographer who specialises in up skirt shots of young female celebrities. Dead Stars is, for the most part, wilfully offensive. Prolonged descriptions of pornography and sex abound and chapters are labelled as either ‘Explicit’ or ‘Clean’. Intriguingly, most of the best writing is in the ‘clean’ sections, but these are few and far between. Some scenes are fantastic, particularly when a failing writer gets the chance to have a meeting with David Simon, but the novel is bogged down with satire free, unpleasant characters whose spiel is often difficult to read, let alone empathise with.

It’s a shame, as there are some nice themes at play here – the need to be famous, any kind of famous, at all costs and the pain of mortality and how we face it. However, any insight is drowned out by pages and pages of unpleasant scenes, descriptions of pornography that are completely unnecessary,  and thinly drawn, caricatures of characters. One to avoid.

Read On: iBooks

Number Read: 162

Number Remaining: 584


No 584 The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Over Hollywood by James Mottram



James Mottram’s well researched but somewhat dry exploration of the independent film-makers who rose to prominence in the wake of Steven Soderbergh’s incredible success with ‘sex, lies and videotape’, covers much of the same ground as Peter Biskind has done previously in his superior exploration ‘Down and Dirty Pictures’.

Taking Soderbergh as the starting and finishing point, Mottram explores the work of filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson and Alexander Payne and links them thematically to the so-called ‘golden age’ of 1970s cinema when Spielberg, Altman, Scorsese and DePalma were riding high.

It’s an interesting premise, detailing how the Sundance Film Festival brought these filmmakers to the attention of the big studios who saw a financial incentive in championing them. He also explores how the filmmakers themselves played the system and tried to maintain that sense of ‘independence’ within big-budget cinema. Using Soderbergh’s career as the back-bone of the book, Mottram explores how these artists are using the Hollywood machine to create their vision of what cinema can be.

This is a comprehensive book but it has clearly dated in the intervening years since it was written and is in some ways lessened by its own constraints. By exploring only those filmmakers he considers part of the Sundance gang, other artists like the Coen Brothers or foreign directors like Alfonso Cuaron are omitted. Even English directors like Sam Mendes or Danny Boyle go unmentioned, meaning there is no wider cinematic depth to Mottram’s case. The book also focuses heavily on long, uninspiring descriptions of films, which give no real additional insight to the argument being made. Mottram is also clearly

The question also remains at the end of reading this book, did the Mavericks actually take over Hollywood, or did Hollywood use them to their advantage? Mottram himself remains undecided given Hollywood’s continuing deification of the blockbuster and the ultimate importance of the bottom line.

The Sundance Kids is an entertaining enough read for a film buff like me, but does suffer a little in comparison to Peter Biskind’s work. Still, after reading it, I have a lovely long list of movies new and old that I want to check out!

Read On: Book

Number Read: 163

Number Remaining: 583

 So there we are, 8 out of 20 books reviewed! I will be reviewing No One Belongs Here More than You by Miranda July, which I liked a lot and the wonderful Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson hopefully very soon, I will try not to leave it another month before I post again!

Please do let me know how you are all getting on and what kind of summer you are having!




20 Books of Summer The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

58 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi Cathy- it’s nice to see your post. I know how it is when life and work get so busy there’s no time to review. At least you are still reading at a pretty good rate. I am behind with my summer reading challenge too, but I’m just going to plod along and not worry. Enjoy your summer!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m having a staycation so getting lots of reading and writing done, my only complaint being the recent heatwave (yesterday was 40°C) do reading interrupted by the need to submerge into lake or seawater and the week of forest fires, which seemed to be everywhere I was heading to for work. It rained this morning, oh joy of joys!! I’ve been reading a couple of Man Booker longlisters Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie and now onto my WIT Month reads starting with a Maryse Condé whose work I love. Donegal sounds lovely and the Follow Your Tribe book gut wrenching.


  3. Cathy, I am enjoying this summer challenge and am reading no.13 of the 15 books of summer I selected off my shelves for this. Books I might never have gotten around to. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, I feel better now. I have read 13 of my twenty and and have only reviewed 5 of them. I never really thought I would get the reviewing done in time. I am usually months behind in reviewing books I read. And right now I am taking a break to read Pride and Prejudice (again) which is not on my list. I am enjoying the challenge though, and that is what counts.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My original idea was to complete a “read across Canada” challenge which would cover 13 books and then top it up to 20 with whatever else I read. The challenge is going ok but I’ve got 2 or 3 left. One I had to give up on and I’m not sure what I’ll switch it with though have a couple of ideas but I don’t know if I will manage it by the end of the month. On the plus side, I have just finished 20 books, including the challenge books and some others. I think if you’ve read other books not on your origial list, they should count!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ll finish the challenge (have swapped a few books out of my list though) and should manage reviews.
    Laughed about your sunshine in Donegal because when I visited Ireland, we stopped in Donegal one night and I have NEVER been so cold in all my life!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well done on reading 10 and reviewing 5! I’ve only read 5 and only posted mini reviews for 3 of them. I’m looking at my list and not liking the look of most of them, so I might change some, especially that really thick book of just over 500 pages long. I’ve actually read some other lovely books not on my list, isn’t that just typical!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You are such a busy person, no wonder you are only halfway there. I am only half there and I have no excuse except my ADD which causes me start one book, then switch to another. I will get them finished eventually. I love hearing about all you do in your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m not doing very well either. I’ve read 11 of my 20 and have just started another two, so it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to finish my list as some of the remaining ones are very long. I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve read so far, though, which I think is the important thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one reading things not on my original list! I’m substituting like mad, LOL. I’ve read 10 and reviewed 9. Don’t think I’ll make 20 in time, but I’ll keep writing about them until I’m done! Finding the time to review really is the trickiest part. Glad you had a lovely holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You aren’t the only one struggling to stay on list this summer! I picked up a few ARCs in July so I’m at 9 read and 8 reviewed (and a lot of those are mini-reviews). Like you I’ve revised my goal to 15. One of those is Housekeeping, and you’ve convinced me to move that up on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sounds like you’re having a busy time of it, and holidays are never the chance to catch up with the blog reading you think they’ll be.

    I’m doing OK with my 20 Books although have had a little worry that I still have 4.5 books to read and one at least is a very substantial one. But I’m currently reading Book 16, and just today posted my review of Book 9, which I reviewed for Shiny New Books, so had to delay posting until they had published it (which is fine, just means I posted a book read in July in August and out of sequence). List and links here https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/about/20-books-of-summer/

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m so glad to hear you’re having a nice summer (even if it means you’re falling behind on reviews)!
    My blogging usually slows down in the summer with the kids home. And now that they’re teens, they stay up just as late as I do! I was kind of hoping that would never happen…

    I read Gilead a long time ago, and felt pretty ‘meh’ about it, but so many people seem to love Housekeeping – I might just have to put that one back on the list!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The most important thing is that you are enjoying your summer! I have about a third left of Anna Karenina, which was a wild card pick. I think if I count it as 3 books (seeing how it has 800 pages), I think I might make it to 20 this summer. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Summer is just so busy with kids and vacations that it is hard to get everything done, lol! I made a page on my blog when we started the challenge with the Master List of my 20 books and then because I knew I would want to substitute books I made an Alternative List of 10 books, lol. So as of today, I have read 20 books, Yay….11 books from my Master List and 9 books from my Alternative List! I’m hoping to be able to read more from my Master List between now and Sept too although I have no idea if I can since I’ve been on summer break (I’m a college professor and am at university full time finishing my own Ph.D. at the same time) and go back to work next Wed and start classes the same day, sigh. I wish summer would last a little longer. I need a few more weeks!
    The fun part was reading the books, but I have barely been able to review them. I’ve only reviewed 8 books out of the 20 that I’ve read 😦 I took a 2-week hiatus end of June/beginning of July from my blog because I had pneumonia and then had surgery and am now on hiatus again for 6 weeks. I’ll be doing reviews, probably mini-reviews on as many books as I can (I have such a backlog!) when I return as I have time but it may take me the rest of the year to get everything written, especially since I have a 300+ page thesis to write by April….blogging will be fun once school starts, lol!!
    Enjoy the rest of your summer and your books 🙂


    • Sorry to hear you’ve been unwell Stephanie. You’ve still managed a great amount of reading! I’ve read 3 review copies that weren’t on my list so I may have to count them too to at least get to 15!!


      • Thank you, Cathy. 😊 I’ve read so much this summer, which has been fantastic…of course having to rest in bed for weeks helped since there was nothing else to do! I think last count was I’d read 56 books starting in May, when my school vacation started until now, and I plan on finishing at least two books that I’m almost done with by Wednesday before I go back to school! That includes the 20 books that were on my list to read for the challenge. With my crazy work schedule and class schedule, summer is when I can do most of my reading 😊 I would definitely count the three review books if you need to get to your 15!


      • Thanks so much!! It was a lot 😊 My summer is over and it’s back to professor mode, unfortunately, so not too much time for reading or resting, but I’m trying as best I can since I’m still not feeling 100%. Thank you 😊

        Liked by 1 person

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