My Personal Reading Challenge: Books I Read in 2017

One of my New Year's resolutions was to read more books this year. I used to get through at least one a week, but was very slack last year.  So, in an effort to follow through, I thought I'd make myself accountable to you lovely lot!  Here's what I've read so far this year...

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It took me a while to get round to Go Set a Watchman, partly because I love To Kill a Mockingbird so much, and partly because I have an inherent suspicion of 'discovered' works by established authors. There was probably a reason they were shoved at the back of a drawer.  My fears were, I must admit, partly realised.  It lacks the sense of time and place so beautifully evoked in Mockingbird and it's a bit clunky in places, but in terms of politics and challenging attitudes it stands tall.  Would I read it again?  Not sure.

I couldn't resist going back to To Kill a Mockingbird after that, and it never disappoints.  The depiction of childhood mores, adventures and feelings is rarely beaten.  Those summer days that go on forever, and summer holidays that last for years.  Such a pure, perfect depiction of childhood and the horrifying realisation that maybe it isn't always like this for the grown-ups.  Beautifully done.  If you've never read it, or not since school, pick up a copy today!

Since our miscarriage a few months ago, getting pregnant again is of course at the forefront of our minds.  We decided to go back to the beginning and read all the fertility books again, and Zita West's excellent guide was the first one to grab.  With guidance on nutrition, physiology, complementary medicine, psychology and more, if you are TTC or thinking about it this book is a great start.

A second book from the pre-Lara days, Fertility & Conception is less detailed than the Zita West book, but still has some useful advice on diet and supplements.  It is perhaps a little too conventional for us, but worth a read all the same.

We are still struggling to come to terms with Lara's condition and learning all the time, so I have a stack of ASD/SPD books still to work through.  The trouble is a lot of the advice tends to be for very extreme sufferers, non-verbal children, or those completely unable to communicate their issues and needs.  Some of this guide to high-functioning ASD was helpful, but rather heavy on the reward/punishment idea, and a little bit state the obvious: visual timetable, anyone?!

I also found it inconsistent, describing all ASD behaviours and interests as valuable at one point, and then telling parents how to eradicate them a few pages later.  If the authors' bland 'teach your child to use a more positive call to action than screaming/echolalia/running/throwing/hitting' statement is as easy to achieve as they think, perhaps they could come and try in our house! #ridiculous

Oh Dostoevsky, be still my beating heart.  Funny, comfy, delicious, I loved Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, and feel I may have to re-read everything else chronologically on the back of it.  Every word oozes form the page, every image dances across your eye line, every aside feels like an embrace.  Happy, happy days reading this.

Sshhh!  We introvert types aren't weird, we're just different.  We like our own company, we love nothing more than a quiet day/evening/hour to ourselves and, as hard as we try to be sociable, sitting on the sidelines is fine too.  Quiet should be required reading for every introvert - we are actually 'normal' - and for all the extroverts too, to show them that there is more to life than noise, excess and bombast.  If only our society was ordered around peace and quiet, not whoever can talk loudest, even if their words actually mean very little.

A friend was so kind as to lend Getting Pregnant Faster to me and it is helpful again in terms of supplements and diet, although the information is very similar to that contained in the Zita West book. It is perhaps a bit more comprehensive, and doesn’t have so much emphasis on alternative medicines, herbs etc.

45 and Pregnant is possibly the worst book ever written, definitely one of the worst I have ever read. A ridiculous, conceited ego trip that says pretty much nothing in 200+ pages. Don’t waste your money!

As a follow-on from the Zita West or Marilyn Grenville books cited above, Eat Yourself Pregnant is great. Full of recipes that boost all the vital get preggers nutrients, and are delicious too. Great for whole family eating as everything in these recipes is great nutrition and full of yummy super food goodness too. Does it do what it says on the tin? I’ll let you know!

Not for the faint-hearted, 142 Strand is an epic trawl through the lives, loves, battles, highs and lows of London's literary and radical elites in the nineteenth century is a complex and highly researched study.  Reading not unlike a PhD study, both in its extensive research and its telescopic scope, Ashton brings the beliefs, mores and lives of publisher John Chapman and his contemporaries, including Marian Lewis (George Eliot), Thomas Carlyle, Harriet Martineau, John Stuart Mill and many more into sharp focus.  Their fallings in and out, their radical yet often incompatible individual beliefs, and their complex lives are afforded extensive discourse  and exhaustive research.  An interesting but long read.

Gauguin's oeuvre was one of the first I fell head over heels for.  The strong colours, stunning scenery and sheer beauty of his canvases captured the imagination like nothing else.  Reading The Moon and Sixpence around age 14, Maugham's sublime novel inspired by the true story of Gauguin's incredible journeys, physical, metaphorical and spiritual, made me fall in love all over again, and finally reading Noa Noa it has happened again.

Truth be told I swoon in front of every Gauguin painting or drawing I see, but reading his own account of part of his time in Tahiti is riveting, informative and delightful.  Hardly politically correct (teen 'bride', dubious attitudes towards both natives and women), he is of his time, but still probably better than many of his contemporaries.  For an insight into the world behind those pictures, it is fascinating.  I loved it.

I tend to have a rule for films and books, they get 20 minutes or 50 pages to catch my attention, if I'm struggling after that, or don't care about the characters or plot, they get binned.   Life is way too short to spend time on books or films you don't enjoy.  Perhaps I have high expectations or requirements, but a number of both have been quickly consigned to history over the years.  Most of the time this evinces no guilt, but The Lacuna was given to me with high recommendations by a good friend.  I got through just the first 150 pages and did not enjoy it all.  Sorry Danielle!

An Orange prize winning novel with laudable recommendations and reviews, but not for me.  I found the fragmented faux diary device clunky and unnatural, and thought the whole concept far too contrived.  I hope other will far better with it.

From the sublime, or at least the intellectual, to the ridiculous!  Just in case you thought I was all about the highbrow stuff, I have a bit of a penchant for trashy James Patterson novels.  I love a detective story and Alex Cross is one of the best.  Well known for his 2-3 page 'chapters', Patterson (and his writing team) are never going to win any writing awards, but they're gripping page turners perfect for the beach which is where I read my two.  Gruesome but entertaining (can I say that?!)

This perfect bit of holiday trash has one case spread across the two novels (seriously, save yourself the suspense and just buy both).  The dialogue is short, snappy, to the point; the plotlines are twisty and turny but signposted well in advance, and there are shocks a plenty.  The ill-fated life of poor old Alex never fails to amaze, but these rip-roaring reads will keep your attention rapt on plane or beach.

As a reviewer I get sent a lot of books, some of them pretty dire, but some of them definitely stand out from the rest.  The Friend is one of those although, to be honest, I would never have picked it up off a bookshelf.  The chick-friendly cover would have put me off from the get-go.  However, although it probably is in the ghastly chick-lit category, this book is more thoughtful and more intelligent than many of the genre.

The essential premise of the book is that age-old question of what really goes on behind closed doors, and how well can we ever know someone.  Centred on a private school in Brighton, a group of mums is united by circumstance, but attempts to build a friendship out of it, as they do on school playgrounds everywhere.  But all these women have their own issues and secrets, closely guarding their truths from other people, even sometimes themselves.  While by no means a literary masterpiece, I enjoyed how the different threads were revealed and came together to complete the story.  An interesting and entertaining read.

Give Me the Child was another review book, supposedly in the vein of The Girl on the Train and other similar recent thrillers.  It's OK, definitely a good book to fill a plane or train journey, or hang out with on the beach.  You can read my full review here, and if you haven't read or seen TGOTT yet, check our critique out here, plus why we all love a psychological thriller these days.

I have read an awful lots about home education theory and practice, but there aren't many specifically unschooling or radical unschooling books around.  This self-published book by Dayna Martin fills a gap but alas, like many self-published authors, seems to be more of an 'all about me' exercise than anything else.  Some useful info, but nothing you couldn't find online or in other books.

We are still no further towards our desire to find a nice empty field to live in (house optional), but my research and thinking is on-going.  Nick Rosen's How to Live Off Grid is a book I have dipped in and out of over the past few years, but this was the first time I had read it all the way through.  I love the visits he makes to different off-gridders, but find the advice for attempting such a lifestyle yourself a bit limited and/or outdated. Interesting all the same though.

A lot of people have dissed Victoria Hislop over the past few years, but I rather enjoy her slightly whimsical style and gentle historical sagas. Her research may not always be entirely accurate or meticulous, according to some sources, but it's good enough for me as an occasional reader. Plus her novels are set in a part of the world I love, so I am quite happy to sit in the sunshine under a tree or on the beach with one of these. The Thread doesn't disappoint in its exquisite sense of place, evocative descriptions and dramatic plot. Very enjoyable.


Well, my reading opportunities most definitely tailed off in the last months of the year.  So 20 books in a year.  Hmm, nowhere near my hopeful target of 26, but significantly better than my 2016 'score' of around 8!  Will I do this again next year?  Maybe.  I will definitely aim to improve my score anyway!

What have you read this year?

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