A 3rd Birthday and a Giveaway!

Today is my Blogversary!

3-today

Yep, it’s been three long years since I counted up all those books, almost had a heart attack and planned to cut down the TBR.

So, it’s another year done and how far on am I? I’m so close to the 500s I can taste it! Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have reached that milestone. 146 books in 3 years isn’t great, but it’s better than the pre-blog days and if I keep up the momentum, 746 books will be done and dusted by 2028. Go me!

Despite having made it through another year without buying myself a book, I have acquired books through other means. My use of Net Galley has risen and I did receive quite a few books from publishers this year. I have tried to stick to my (very loose) rules and only read new books by Irish writers, but this little habit has definitely slowed my progress in my challenge. I may have read 71 books this year, according to Good Reads, but I only reduced the 746 by 47.

Reading aside, I’ve had another great year on the blog. According to my friends at WordPress, I’ve had over 23,000 views and 11,500 visitors. I was also delighted this year to pass my 1,000 follower mark, so thanks to you all for continuing to read.

Highlights this year have been the second annual Reading Ireland Month back in March which generated over 100 posts.

ireland-month-17

Plans are already afoot for 2017, which I will again be co-hosting with my pal Niall of Raging Fluff fame, so if you have any books by Irish authors lurking in your TBR why not save them until March and join in the craic. This year I’ll be focusing entirely on Irish women writers, but there will be lots of other fun posts and giveaways.

20 Books of Summer also went down a treat this year, with over 120 fantastic bloggers participating and as a bonus, I actually managed to read all 20 of my books! This feature will certainly be back in 2017 as it gives my reading a real kick up the butt mid-year!

Once again I was delighted to make the finals of the Irish Blog Awards for the best Books and Literature blog – getting that far never ceases to amaze me! Plus I clearly take every opportunity throughout the year to show off about it….

finalist

On a personal level, 2016 has been both a difficult and an amazing year. Since this time last year I had the real pleasure of interviewing Nuala O’Connor and Dame Fiona Kidman for the Belfast Book Festival and of course, I started a new and wonderful job at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy. Leaving the job I had done for 17 years was frightening and daunting, but I have to say that I have never been happier. I adore my new job, surrounded by books, poetry and writers all day; it feels like it was made for me!

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The intensity of my new position and some health issues this year meant that I haven’t blogged as much as usual. I am trying to rectify that and make some time for this lovely little corner of the blogosphere I call home and I just hope I can continue with the same enthusiasm next year.

I’ve never really been one for a year round up, but this year I am picking my five best reads of 2016. Of course, these haven’t been published in 2016 but you all know what I mean!

  1. The Republic of Love – Carol Shields

For sheer enjoyment, Carol Shields wonderful, heartwarming, sprawling tale of love in all its forms tops my list of the year. I didn’t read another book that made me as happy as this one.

  1. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

I didn’t get to join in with Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong as much as I would have liked, but I am so delighted that it nudged me to read this luminous, wonderful book, that was everything I hoped and more

  1. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle makes it into my Books of the Year list for the second time. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was nothing like I imagined. It was simply magnificent.

  1. The Rose Garden – Maeve Brennan

Maeve Brennan was my author of the year, with both this collection of spiky short stories and her wonderful novella The Visitor. She’s undergoing a bit of resurgence here in Ireland and next year I plan to read her biography by Angela Bourke and her collected works from the New Yorker, which have just been published by Stinging Fly

  1. Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson

Can Kate Atkinson do no wrong? Ruby Lennox stayed with me long after I closed this book which is wonderfully plotted and beautifully uplifting.

I’m looking forward to a positive 2017. With Reading Ireland Month and 20 Books of Summer planned, I also hope to start a feature called ‘The Books that Built the Blogger’ where my favourite bloggers chat about the books that made them into the readers and bloggers they are today.

built-bloggers

Each month I plan to chat about a book which has formed and influenced my reading life as well. If you’d be interested in taking part, drop me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, as it’s a birthday and a birthday needs presents, I’m hosting a little giveaway today. Up for grabs is a paperback copy of Mike McCormack’s critically acclaimed one sentence novel ‘Solar Bones’

solar-bones

Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize and Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards this year, Solar Bones has been called ‘an extraordinary hymn to small town Ireland’ by The Guardian. To win a copy, just comment below. I’ll draw a winner on Monday 12 December and will post world-wide.

Good luck and thanks, as always, for reading

x

20 Books of Summer 2016 – how did you do?

Well, that’s it – 20 Books of Summer is officially over!

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Did I do it? Just about. I’m two thirds of the way through book 20, so I’m calling this one a win!

It’s been a hectic summer and it has flown by and if the reviews weren’t so plentiful at least the reading was great. I picked 20 really fantastic books this year and that made my challenge much, much easier. I didn’t really read any that I didn’t enjoy and while I had some issues with My Lover’s Lover, Sister and Blue Nights, I’m still glad I read them.

On the plus side, I really loved quite a few of my summer books. Stand outs were MJ Hyland’s mesmerizing This Is How and the heartwarming charm of The Republic of Love by Carol Shields. A quick search has told me that I have a couple more of her novels in the 746, so I can’t wait to read those. Honourable mentions should also go to A Crime in the Neighbourhood, The Keep and The Age of Innocence, all of which were great and I’m glad I made one swap, as Belinda McKeon’s Solace was a quiet gem.

So how did you all do? I know a few people finished all 20 a few weeks ago, which is fantastic, but as long as we all had fun, that’s the main thing.

I’d really like to thank you all – all 82 you! – for taking part and making it a great summer challenge. I was overwhelmed by how many of you got involved. A particular shout out must go to our Australian friends, for taking part in 20 Books of Summer during the midst of their winter – although often their temperatures were better than mine in Northern Ireland!

Every year I say I’m never going to do this challenge again, and then summer rolls around and I go for it. We’ll see how it goes next year, but if I do it again, I will have to do some serious planning!

So, what’s up next for the 746? Well, I have A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf lined up next for Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong and I also hope to take part in Jacqui Wine’s Reading Rhys – a week devoted to the work of Jean Rhys starting next Monday and I have Wide Sargasso Sea lined up for that.

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I also have a bit of a back log of recent Irish books to review which will keep me pretty busy, but there are some gems in this little pile that I’m really looking forward to!

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I’m also tantalizingly close to getting the TBR into the 500s – only 10 to go, so I hope to do that by the end of the year.

But the main thing I hope to do over the coming months is catch up with reading and commenting on all your fabulous blogs. I’ve been so very slack and I am looking forward to reconnecting with you all.

Thanks again for all the support and I hope you all had a great summer.

x

Summer round up and season changes…..

20 books of summer - master image

This post could alternatively have been titled ‘Where Did That Summer Go?’ or, if you live in Northern Ireland, ‘Summer? What Fecking Summer??’

The last three months have flashed by in a flurry of work, kids, work and more work and generally ended up much, much busier than I anticipated. One minute I was watching Wimbledon and the next my twins were starting school.

These kids......

These kids……

Add to that the fact that the weather was just miserable and I feel like I didn’t really get much of a summer at all. (Word of advice to anyone thinking of holidaying in Donegal on three of the wettest days of the year – DON’T.)

Irish Café Life....

Irish Café Life….

And yet, I managed to read 18 of my 20 Books of Summer. Two more than last year and two less than hoped for, but at least not an abject failure. I really enjoyed reading real books for a change and found that I made more time for reading than I normally would if I was just reading on my iPad or my phone.

Despite managing to read, I didn’t find a lot of time to blog and my posts have been sporadic and my reviews a bit piecemeal. In fact, I haven’t even managed to review my final two summer reads – The Tiger’s Wife and The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet – both of which I enjoyed very much but both of which I felt suffered at times from style over substance. I may write reviews of them over the coming days, but I have a bit of a new term feeling at the moment and am ready to move on with my reading.

Of my 20 Books, my favourite was definitely the weird, woozy and wonderful Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway, closely followed by The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. My least favourite is probably pretty easy to guess and there were two I didn’t get to – Motel Chronicles & Hawk Moon by Sam Shepard and Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy, both of which I will try to read over the coming months. I also need to give special mention to Jon McGregor’s short story We Wave and Call which is one of the most beautifully formed short stories I have read and is still lingering in my mind weeks after reading it.

I’d like to thank all the fantastic bloggers who took part along with me this summer, I was delighted by the response and feel bad that I couldn’t keep up with all your reading as much as I would have liked to. You’ve all been brilliant and I have loved reading your posts.

I’ve never really been one for New Year resolutions, but the start of the school year always makes me re-evaluate and make plans. This year is no different.

If you are a regular reader, you may notice a few changes coming on 746 Books. The inaugural Reading Ireland Month held back in March has reignited my love of Irish literature, and has also brought about opportunities I could never have imagined when I started my wee blog. I am being offered books to preview and events to chair and it would be silly of me not to see where this leads.

However, I still want to stick to the spirit of 746 Books and my original plan not to buy any new books until the 746 are read. So, if you start to see reviews of old, new or forthcoming Irish books pop up on the blog, rest assured that the books have either been sent to me for review or have been borrowed from the library. The 746 will still be my main priority, my book buying ban will continue and I’ll keep counting down those hundreds of books still mocking me from my shelves!

Although this shelf is definitely a little more roomy……

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Inching Closer to completing the 20 Books of Summer

Despite my best intentions I’m posting another ’round-up’ post, because yet again life has gotten in the way. Still, the good news is that I have met my target of not doing worse in this challenge than I did last year – my final total may not reach 20 (although I still have 2 weeks) but at least it will be more than 16!

So, here’s a quick run down of the next three reads in my 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

The good, the fine and the abandoned…..

No 662 In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake and The Woods by Matt Bell

Capture

The premise of Matt Bell’s In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods seems straight forward enough. A newlywed couple move to the wilderness to try and start a family, however, a series of miscarriages drives them further and further apart. Finally, the woman steals another woman’s baby in order to please her husband, but the decision only brings about more problems and abuse, which lead to a separation and then finally, a reconciliation of sorts. A domestic tale of the trials of marriage and the strain of infertility? Yes, but told as a magical, dense, fairy tale that confounds and compels in equal measure.

For example, the husband swallows one of the miscarried foetuses and it becomes a ‘fingerling’ growing inside him and becoming a demonic presence guiding his actions. The stolen baby is actually a bear cub, the husband takes on the form of a giant squid and the wife sings moons into being and creates a deep labyrinth below their house from which to escape her husband. The metaphors in this book are epic, fantastical, almost biblical and serve to create a world of symbolism that is often hard to read through. There is no respite from the strangeness and like the husband searching deeper and deeper underground for his lost wife, the reader is on a journey with him far away from reality.

And yet, within the dense wordy prose there are moments of harsh reality and clarity that pull you back and remind you of what this book is about – the messy, difficult and fraught emotions that come with dealing with infertility, abuse and relationships and how we as humans try and forge our way through painful times.

She said, You changed without me, and I forgot how to recognize you through the changes.

And what was there to do but agree

The writing is complicated, heavy with imagery and often difficult to read, and yet it is often very beautiful

And in this room: the sound of my wife’s knuckle first sliding beneath the beaten silver of that wedding ring, a sound never before heard, or else forgotten amid all the other business of our wedding day.

It is a kind of writing that asks you to just read, immerse yourself and not try so hard to understand it’s almost mythical, elemental grandeur. by setting it in an unnamed landscape with unnamed characters, Bell seems to be creating a wider story, a story about men, women, love, relationships, family – a story that is bigger than his characters.

House. Dirt, Lake, Woods.

House. Dirt. Lake. Woods.

He also seems more interested in creating an experience rather than a narrative and this book is unlike anything I have read. Whether that means I enjoyed it or not, I am still not sure. It’s a book I wouldn’t recommend to too many people and yet it is a book I imagine I will never forget.

20 Books of Summer: 14/20

Number Read: 85

Number Remaining: 661

No 661 The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson

the idle parent

Tom Hodgkinson wrote one of my favourite books, How to Be Free – a light-hearted but illuminating treatise against the work hard, buy hard consumerism of our daily lives. Using philosophers and classic writers as his inspiration, he champions being idle as a good thing, reminding us to take time and enjoy life and not worry about having the big house, big car and important job when we just could be reading books and drinking ale.

In The Idle Parent, he turns his attention to the pressures that are now put on parents to ensure that their children are always being entertained, educated and kept active. His starting point is a quote from D H Lawrence – ‘leave the child alone’ – and he argues that we are introducing a work ethic to childhood that is no good for either child or parent.

This is a gently amusing book that contains some very pertinent points. Chapter headings include The Importance of Nature, The Myth of Toys and Learn How to Live from Your Kids and explore how we can have more fun by spending less money and how we should let children be children for as long as possible. In No More Family Days Out, he bemoans the experience of going to a theme park

All week you have been tired, grumpy and guilty because you have hardly seen your children. It’s time, you reflect, to give the kids a treat, do something together. I know! Let’s chase some fun! Let’s pile everyone into the car and join all the other desperate families at the local theme park. We can spend a pile of cash there and everything will be all right again

This chapter is a treat and does capture the modern day parental wish to entertain children at all costs and make precious time off mean something. The Myth of Toys is an equally enjoyable chapter, as any parent who has seen their child ignore an expensive present and play with the box will understand.

Other aspects of the book are less successful, mainly because it is written by and in some ways, for, a middle class demographic. Not everyone can downsize. Not everyone has access to a field or an allotment to allow their children to potter around in. Not everyone can work from home or cut down to three days a week. Many parents are making ends meet as it is.

Photo: Christopher Jones for The Telegraph

Tom Hodgkinson Being Idle…. Photo: Christopher Jones for The Telegraph

He often contradicts himself. In Down With School he maintains that school is there to create good little factory workers and then claims that Eton is the best school in the country. He bemoans people who have nannies or cleaners and then admits to having one himself.

Despite this, there are some interesting truths in The Idle Parent and it is a good reminder that we don’t need to spend loads of money to make our children, our ourselves, happy.

20 Books of Summer: 15/20

Number Read: 86

Number Remaining: 660

 

No 660 The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart

diceman1

Sorry everyone. I couldn’t do it. I tried but I had to give up.

I don’t know if it was the bad writing, the unappealing lead character, the misogyny or the sexual violence but The Dice Man just wasn’t for me. I know it’s supposed to be a classic and all, but no.

It was abandoned.

The first abandoned book in the 746. At least it has that distinction.

If anyone out there likes it and thinks I gave up too soon, do let me know. Although I don’t think I will go back to it.

20 Books of Summer: 16/20

Number Read: 87

Number Remaining: 659

No 670 How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

How-I-Live-Now

Do you ever read a book, read the effusive praise from the critics and then totally doubt your reaction to it?

That’s where I find myself with How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff’s award winning, critically acclaimed, Hollywood courted YA novel which left me personally feeling, well, underwhelmed.

Let’s start by saying that as a 40 something mother I am not the target market for How I Live Now. I bought it years ago, but didn’t realise it was a YA novel until quite recently. I have absolutely no problem with YA, but I do feel that there comes a time in your reading life when the emotional connection you make with the material you are reading depends on where you are and what have experienced.

How I Live Now is the first-person story of Daisy, a smart yet self-absorbed 15-year-old who arrives from New York’s Upper West Side to stay with her Aunt and her four English cousins in their romantic and eccentric rambling English farmhouse, where the children live a partly feral, partly bohemian lifestyle, eschewing school for nature and rules for telepathy and smoking. Sixteen year old Osbert is the only one who goes to school, eight year old Piper is ethereal and wise beyond her years and one of the twin boys, Isaac talks to animals. It would be enough to enchant snarky, cynical Daisy without the added complication of her falling in love with the other twin boy Edmund.

As their relationship develops, Aunt Penn (some sort of international peacekeeper) goes to Oslo to work on averting an imminent war – details are not greatly forthcoming in How I Live Now – and the children are left to fend for themselves in a kind of Swallows and Amazons idyll as war inevitably breaks out. Their initial experience of life in war time is mainly a joyous one where the absence of adults can allow a teenage incestuous relationship to bloom.

But the summer I went to England to stay with my cousins everything changed. Part of that was because of the war, which supposedly changed lots of things, but I can’t remember much about life before the war anyway so it doesn’t count in my book, which this is.

Mostly everything changed because of Edmond.

There appears to have been quite a brouhaha about the incestuous nature of the relationship between the two cousins – I can’t say it bothered me in the slightest, but then I am a child of the 80’s where reading Flowers in The Attic at an impressionable age was a rite of passage. Some passionate kissing between telepathic cousins is tame in comparison. However, it also didn’t bother me because the relationship between Daisy and Edmund never felt real for me.

In fact, very few of the characters did. Daisy’s narrative voice is one of frenetic breathlessness, sarcasm and the use of capital letters to denote Something Amusing or Acerbic. The book barrels along with a lack of both punctuation and insight. The enjoyment of the book rests solely with Daisy’s narrative and for me the incessant ironic patter was telling me a lot, but not making me feel anything. Daisy may be entertaining, but she is distancing.

Given that Daisy tells us that everything changed because of Edmund, it is interesting that the majority of the books is not really about them at all. Their relationship acts as bookends to the main survival tale of Daisy and Piper once war comes literally to their door.

The details of the war remain vague, its interpretation being mainly through the offhand eyes of Daisy. When the first bomb goes off, Daisy informs us,

in the middle of a big train station the day after Aunt P went to Oslo and something like 7,000 or 70,000 people got killed.

Now, I know that the children are supposed to be disinterested in world affairs and self-absorbed, but given that their mother is in a different country and that Daisy is unable to get in touch with her father, it’s a stretch of the imagination to think that they wouldn’t have a little more interest in what is going on in the world. As such, when the violence does affect them directly – and there are some particularly gruesome scenes in the book – there is little emotional connection to make the reader care about the situation the children find themselves in. The war is depicted as part World War II adventure story and part End of Days apocalypse which is a nice touch but never fully coalesces into a solid portrayal of a particular experience.

Saoirse Ronan as Daisy in Kevin McDonald's adaptation

Saoirse Ronan as Daisy in Kevin McDonald’s adaptation

The second part of the book – five short chapters – is more satisfying. Possibly now Daisy is six years older this is in contrast to the voice of her younger self, the darker tone echoing her more mature, experienced self. But as the whole book is written in a narrative voice that is looking back on past events, it would have been more successful for me if there had been some of that insight in the earlier chapters.

There is some nice writing in the book; a jam sandwich ‘tasted hopeful’, Daisy has issues with nature because ‘the rules are not all that precise’ but overall it didn’t make me feel very much and as a consequence it didn’t make me care. I think I might find the movie adaptation more enjoyable given that seeing the sketches of other characters depicted in the book played by real people, might make their plight seem more real too.

I don’t like to come down too hard on a book that clearly isn’t written for my age group and I would probably have loved this when I was 14, but when I think back to the books I did love at that age, books like Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes and Deenie, I seem to remember issues of grief, death and disability being dealt with in a much deeper, much less stylised way.

Like I said at the beginning, I seem to be very much in the minority when it comes to How I Live Now so I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it too.

Without How I Live Now

I live now with 14 more to read….

20 Books of Summer: 6/ 20

Number Read: 77

Number Remaining: 669

20 books of summer - master image

One month in – 20 Books of Summer

So, my 20 Books of Summer challenge hasn’t got off to the best of starts.

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They are mocking me…..

Life sometimes has other plans and a hectic work schedule has left me with little time or energy to read and write reviews, let alone engage with all the fantastic bloggers who are taking part. I am checking in with the #20booksofsummer on Twitter and trying to keep up with all the reading that is going on but sometimes I just need to veg out on the sofa with a glass of wine and an episode of Hannibal to try and keep myself sane!

Hello Mads..... (Photo by: Elisabeth Caren/NBC)

Hello Mads…..
(Photo by: Elisabeth Caren/NBC)

Not that it’s been all bad. I’ve read 5 books and started my 6th, so I’m only a few books behind. I had intended to write shorter reviews, but when I read a book as fabulous as Keith Ridgeway’s Hawthorn and Child (which may well turn out to be my book of the year!), I want to give it credit with a full review. So, next week I’m hoping to review both Hawthorn and Child and Out and my weekend will be spent in the company of Mr Keith Richards which should be entertaining to say the least!

Now, strategy-wise, do I go for a couple of short books to get back up to my target? Or do I plough on with the biggies to get them out of the way?? Decisions, decisions.

So, a BIG thanks to everyone who is taking part, reading loads and showing me up! I really do appreciate it and I intend to get round all your blogs soon – thanks for your patience.

Onwards…..

20 Books of Summer 2015!

20 books of summer - master image

It’s hard to believe a year has passed, but there are hints of a change in the weather here in Ireland and I’ve decided to challenge myself again this year to read my 20 Books of Summer!

Last year I managed a mere 16 ½ books, so hopefully I can beat that record this time round.

When I started trying to decide on my 20 Books, I had an idea. At the start of 746 Books, the aim was to read what I had, save some money by not buying books and clear some space by reading what was in the house. And I have managed to read what I have and save some money but over the last 18 months though, I’ve come to realise that I mostly read on my iPad, so the piles in the house are still there, mocking me.

So, this summer, I will only read physical books. It’s a bit daunting, because it removes the opportunity to read on my phone, but it will be nice to spend some time reconnecting with some real, actual books for a change! Plus, I might have a clear shelf by September!

So, starting from 1 June and running until 4 September, I’m hoping to read 20 actual books. 7 a month, I can do that, right? Like last year I’ve gone for as broad a range of genres and books as I can and like last year I have included a rock star memoir, a trashy 70s classic, and some sneaky short plays, poetry collections and short stories!

Photo: drbimages

Photo: drbimages

I won’t be reading in any particular order and be warned, reviews may be shorter than usual – I’ve still a job and a couple of twins to look after you know!

So, here are my 20 Books of Summer, click on the titles for a link to their Goodreads description:

I’m going to keep a Master post at the start of the blog so you can follow my progress as books get crossed off the list and if anyone feels their reading needs a bit of oomph then why not join me? Just take the Books of Summer image, pick your own 10 or 20 books you’d like to read and link below.  I’d love your support and I’ve provided a 10 Books image in case 20 seems too daunting! I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge as well using the hastag #20booksofsummer.

10 books

So, any thoughts on my choices? Have you read any of my 20? Any I should start with straight away, or save for later? Any I’m going to regret putting on the list? I’d love to hear what you think.