2016 : The End (thank heavens)

I don’t have that much in common with Queen Elizabeth II. She has far more money than me, her eldest son is a loose cannon and so far this winter (touch wood) I have managed to avoid catching a ‘heavy cold’. But, like our glorious monarch in 1992, I’ve just had an ‘annus horribilis‘.

Due to family bereavements, building work at home and a new job, I have been rather distracted from reading. Or, more accurately, I have been reading but neglecting my blog.

Undeterred, however, I’m going to get back on track in 2017 and look forward to sharing my thoughts on the books I read.

 

About this blog thing

I’ll great straight to the point. Well, maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll just do a little bit of self-justification first.

The thing is, I am really, really busy with other commitments at the moment, and have hardly watched any films this year. So, I have decided to take a pragmatic approach and confine my blog to books. Reading and literature are my first love and that is where I will concentrate my energy. Apologies to anyone who actually read my film reviews!

I mean, this blogging thing is meant to be fun, for me and for you.

The Books 2015 : I did it!

Book pile 2015Having failed my self-imposed challenge to read 50 books in 2014, I paced myself more steadily this year – and I did it! 50 books in a year.

I’ve figured out a couple of things on the way. Firstly, working my way through a book a week was not going to happen by accident; I really had to commit to the task and prioritise reading over other things occasionally. To anyone I have ignored because my nose has been stuck in a book, I apologise!

The other discovery I made is that whilst the Kindle App on my IPad hosts an impressive collection of books (review copies are usually downloads), digital reading doesn’t really do it for me. Maybe its because my IPad doesn’t have that distinctive new-paper-and-ink smell, but I just don’t absorb books in the same way on a device as from real pages in a real book. No doubt someone eminent and learned has researched this phenomenon and can find as many readers whose experience is the exact opposite of mine, but my preference is still for a paperback than a gadget.

There have been some high highs and some low lows during my literary year and I have had a bit of fun organising my 2015 books into a list. I rather like lists and this one is self-explanatory; everything I’ve read, from what I liked best to what I liked least!

In my top 3 books were Bella Pollen’s ‘The Summer of the Bear‘ and ‘Song of the Sea Maid‘ by Rebecca Mascull. Both gave me a great deal of reading pleasure and I wholeheartedly recommend them. The latter is due out in paperback in 2016 and I’m planning to read Mascull’s first novel ‘The Visitors‘ next year. Emma Kennedy’s ‘The Tent, the Bucket and Me‘ is probably the funniest book I have ever read in my whole life (although Bill Bryson and Stephen Fry have given me plenty of laugh out loud moments) and I defy anyone not to be cheered by it.

I hope my reviews have given my followers some ideas about what to read, and maybe what to avoid.

1 Summer of the Bear (The) by Bella Pollen
2 Tent, the Bucket and Me (The) by Emma Kennedy
3 Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull
4 Paying Guests (The) by Sarah Waters
5 Valentine Grey by Sandi Toksvig
6 Sea Legs by Guy Grieve
7 You by Joanna Briscoe
8 Narrow Road to the Deep North (The) by Richard Flanagan
9 More Lives than One by Libby Purves
10 Light Behind the Window (The) by Lucinda Riley
11 Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
12 Invention of Wings (The) by Sue Monk Kidd
13 H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
14 A to Z of You and Me (The) by James Hannah
15 Shoes for Anthony by Emma Kennedy
16 Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
17 Lives of Stella Bain (The) by Anita Shreve
18 Children Act (The) by Ian McEwan
19 Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blackman
20 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
21 Girl Who Wasn’t There (The) by Ferdinand von Schirach
22 I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
23 Sea Sisters (The) by Lucy Clarke
24 Secret History (The) by Donna Tartt
25 Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
26 Something to Hide by Deborah Moggach
27 Taxidermist’s Daughter (The) by Kate Mosse
28 The Blue by Lucy Clarke
29 We were Liars by E Lockhart
31 Harvest by Jim Crace
30 Other Side of the World (The) by Stephanie Bishop
32 Last Pier (The) by Roma Burke
33 Daughter’s Secret (The) by Eva Holland
36 Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty
35 Girl On The Train (The) by Paula Hawkins
34 Miniaturist (The) by Jessie Burton
37 Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore
38 Versions of Us (The) by Laura Barnett
39 Waiting for Doggo by Mark B Mills
40 Best of Times (The) by Penny Vincenzi
41 Cuckoo’s Calling (The) by Robert Galbraith
42 Night Guest (The) by Fiona McFarlane
43 Senator’s Wife (The) by Sue Miller
44 Artificial Anatomy of Parks (The) by Kat Gordon
45 Bad Blood by Arne Dahl
46 Dolly by Susan Hill
47 Find Me by Laura van den Berg
48 Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester
49 All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
50 Girl on the Ferryboat (The) by Angus Peter Campbell 

And what about 2016? Well my Christmas stocking included Guy Grieve’s ‘The Call of the Wild‘, Paul Heiney’s ‘One Wild Song‘ and ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair‘ by Joel Dicker, so my TBR pile is already stacking up. I’m also looking forward to reading Clare Fuller’s ‘Our Endless Numbered Days‘ and ‘A Year of Marvellous Ways‘ by Sarah Winman. Reading is as essential to my wellbeing as oxygen so I’ll be reading on. I will continue with the blog, but am undecided about whether to repeat the 50/50 challenge – watch this space!

The Films 2015 : wack, wack, oops

oscarsOh, come on. How difficult can it be? Every week, watch a film and write about it in an interesting, informative and (if appropriate) amusing way. But, for the second year in a row, I have failed in my challenge to view 50 movies in a year. I only managed 31. Actually, it is 31.5 as I fell asleep half way through ‘A Little Chaos‘ this evening – sorry, Kate (Winslet).

Part of my failure has been that I was also trying to read 50 books during the year, and reading is my first love – I’d rather read a novel than watch a film. Nevertheless, there have been some great viewing moments over the past 12 months and I’ve ordered the movies I did see into the following list, best to worst. Just for fun, there is no critical appraisal here!

What was your must-see film this year? I started 2015 with ‘The Theory of Everything‘ and Eddie Redmayne re-appears in ‘The Danish Girl‘, released tomorrow. I’m planning to get to the cinema to see it – and maybe 49 other films in 2016!

1 Theory of Everything (The)
2 What We Did On Our Holiday
3 Imitation Game (The)
4 Amy
5 Mona Lisa Smile
6 Still Alice
7 Pride
8 Boyhood
9 Life of Pi
10 Insurgent
11 Vera Drake
12 Les Miserables
13 Road to Perdition
14 Talented Mr Ripley (The)
15 Lion King (The)
16 Finding Nemo
17 Amazing Grace
18 Young Victoria (The)
19 Lucy
20 Rush
21 Vanilla Sky
22 Fast and Furious 6
23 The Descendants
24 Hunger Games (The) – Mockingjay Part 1
25 White House Down
26 Maze Runner (The)
27 Parkland
28 Secret Window
29 Girl, Interrupted
30 Saving Mr Banks
31 Spy

 

 

 

Book No 40 (2015) : Valentine Grey

valentine greyWe caught sight of Sandi Toksvig once, sitting under a tree at Simon and Garfunkel’s Hyde Park concert 10 years ago.  British reserve and politesse prevented me from disturbing her peace, although I have long been an admirer of her considerable talent and versatility as a journalist, writer, presenter and, more recently co-founder of the extremely important Women’s Equality Party. She has written several books and ‘Valentine Grey‘ is a work of historical fiction.

Valentine has spent her childhood as a free spirit in Assam, raised by her father and allowed to ride horses, shoot and run barefoot. All rather unseemly for a young woman and in 1897, when Valentine is aged 15, her father is persuaded that she should be sent to England. Once there, she struggles with the constraints of not only her clothes and shoes, but the restrictions of London society. Relief arrives in the form of her cousin, Reggie, a spirited young man who embarks upon a homosexual affair with a beautiful, flamboyant theatre performer. Valentine, Reggie and Frank are enjoying life, until Reg’s father signs him up to defend the British Empire in South Africa. Unwilling to leave Frank and totally unsuited to a soldier’s life, Reggie is looking for a way out. And so, disguised as a man, Valentine takes Reggie’s place. Embarking upon the adventure of her life, Valentine faces the horrors of war, but forms enduring relationships with the men of her Mess.

Judging by the extensive bibliography, the author undertook a huge amount of research into Victorian life and attitudes, together with the facts of the Boer War. The result is an utterly convincing novel, with the feisty Valentine at its heart. It examines the prevailing attitudes towards women and gays, views which Valentine herself seeks to influence and change.

I was enthralled by this book and read it in one sitting. It made me laugh and cry in equal measure. It also has one of the best closing paragraphs I have ever come across in a book.

Looking backwards and forwards

stocksPublic humiliation has changed. Not for me a pelting with rotten tomatoes or a thrashing in the village square. Instead, I just have to admit on my blog that I failed to achieve the goals I set for myself a year ago. Oh dear.

The challenge had been to read 50 books, see 50 films and lose 50lbs in 2014, my 50th year.

I read 46 books, saw 45 films and lost 0lbs (in fact, I gained weight).

But I am not downhearted. In a way I am quite excited, because having not quite made it last year, gives me the opportunity to give it another go!

50 books and 50 films in one year. I’d also like to try to lose weight, but I found the process of sharing that journey publicly on the Internet very painful, so have decided to fight that battle in private!

So, come along with me for the action replay as. yet again, I embark upon my own 50/50 Challenge.

Please follow my blog (use the button on the left – you will get a notification when I post, but no spam. I promise). Feel free to share my blog. comment or make suggestions as to books/films I might enjoy.

50/50 50%

Nicki 2Just finished reviewing my 25th book. So, by mid-May I am half way to my target of reading 50 books and seeing 50 films this year. I feel pleased with progress but not smug! Finishing a book a week is not happening by accident. It requires commitment – reading has to be prioritised over other things.

I’ve also discovered that the experiences of reading and film-viewing are significantly altered when you know that you have to write about them afterwards. It’s more difficult to ‘go with the flow’. Sentences and phrases half-form in my head in the middle of a chapter, opinions form when the camera pans across a landscape.

Recommendations are tricky. Whilst it’s fascinating to hear suggestions from people about novels and movies I might enjoy, I feel an overwhelming urge to be nice about everything! This is particularly true of books. Giving an honest review when a book has not impressed me, feels treacherous, a betrayal of all the hard work which has gone into creating the work. Knowing a film is a team effort somehow diffuses the pressure, it’s easier to be critical.

Oh. And the weight loss. Well, there is an elephant in the room. Literally. It’s me.
When you are losing weight everyone is delighted to comment, congratulate and encourage. When you are gaining weight, of course people notice, but everyone is too polite to mention it. I count myself lucky to be surrounded by family, friends and colleagues who are only too aware of my anxieties around food and fat. The weight loss has yet to be achieved but I have not given up hope of conquering my demons.

Stick with me on my journey. The books and films are in the bag – or in the blog.

50/50 The Maths

mathsMathematics has never been my strong point, it is all a mystery. However, I have been trying to figure out how much reading I need to do in order to manage to read a book a week.

I read ‘AppleTree Yard’ in one sitting, about 8 hours. Its 448 pages long, so I read 56 pages an hour. That is roughly a page a minute. Now I know that the number of words on a page will vary a bit, but surely not that much? If the average novel is 500 pages long, I need to read for 500/60 hours to finish it. I make that 8.33333333 recurring hours per book.

If I’m going to read 50 books in a year, that’s 50 x 8.34 hours in a year. Total 417.

So, to reach the 50/50 target, I will have to read for 417/365 hours each day.

That’s 1.14 hours a day.

What on earth is .14 of an hour?! I’ll settle for ‘just over an hour’. Every day for a year.

Phew.

In the Nicki of Time – take 3!

Lighthouse Whitehaven 2I started this blog in 2014, my 50th year, having set myself a 50/50 challenge. Read 50 books and see 50 films in one year.

By the end of 2014, I hadn’t achieved my goals. I toyed with the idea of closing down the blog. But I recalled one of my children telling me that the man who patented lightbulbs tested thousands before found the one which would work. I’m not sure if the tale is true, but it sparked a lightbulb moment of my own! I didn’t want to give up – failure is a learning opportunity and so I tried again last year. 50 books and 50 films in one year. I did better in 2015, managing to read (and review) 50 books – but fell short of the films total having watched just 31.5.

My failure has irked me, nagged at my conscience. So, here I am for the third time. Third time lucky, don’t they say? I’d say I have more than a 50/50 chance of success!

I hope you enjoy exploring the blog and find some inspiration for your own reading or viewing. You are welcome to get in touch, I love hearing from visitors to the blog!