Friday Frippery! A Fruit Basket…

…of Quotes…

APPLE

In his devouring mind’s eye he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce.

~The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

STRAWBERRIES

….He conducted her about the lawns, and flower-beds, and conservatories; and thence to the fruit-garden and greenhouses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries.
….“Yes,” said Tess, “when they come.”
….“They are already here.” D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the “British Queen” variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.
….“No – no!” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. “I would rather take it in my own hand.”
….“Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.

~Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

ORANGE

I didn’t yet know that this was the actress not listed in the program, that this was that Sessaly, the “violet-eyed trollop” of Opium and Vanities. Her eyes were not violet, after all – they were amber. They were the color of candied ginger or a slice of cinnamon cake. Faded paper, polished leather, a brandied apricot. Orange-peel tea. I considered them, imagining the letters I would write to her. Pipe tobacco, perhaps. A honey lozenge, an autumn leaf. I would look through books of poetry, not to thieve but to avoid. Dear Sessaly, I thought later that night, not actually with pen to paper but lying on my back, writing the words in the air with my finger, let me say nothing to you that’s already been said.

~The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert (spot the bonus apricot!)

BANANAS

PEACH

Slowly, dawn was breaking. Streaks of colour – peach bellinis, orange martinis, strawberry margaritas, frozen negronis – streamed above the horizon, east to west. Within a matter of seconds, calls to prayer from the surrounding mosques reverberated around her, none of them synchronized. Far in the distance, the Bosphorus, waking from its turquoise sleep, yawned with force.

~10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

PINEAPPLE

….We are very fond of pine-apple, all three of us.  We looked at the picture on the tin; we thought of the juice.  We smiled at one another, and Harris got a spoon ready.
….Then we looked for the knife to open the tin with.  We turned out everything in the hamper.  We turned out the bags.  We pulled up the boards at the bottom of the boat.  We took everything out on to the bank and shook it.  There was no tin-opener to be found.
….Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out. While they were dressing their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of the hitcher, and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over, uninjured, and broke a teacup.
….Then we all got mad.  We took that tin out on the bank, and Harris went up into a field and got a big sharp stone, and I went back into the boat and brought out the mast, and George held the tin and Harris held the sharp end of his stone against the top of it, and I took the mast and poised it high up in the air, and gathered up all my strength and brought it down.
….It was George’s straw hat that saved his life that day.  He keeps that hat now (what is left of it), and, of a winter’s evening, when the pipes are lit and the boys are telling stretchers about the dangers they have passed through, George brings it down and shows it round, and the stirring tale is told anew, with fresh exaggerations every time.
….Harris got off with merely a flesh wound.

~Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

CHERRY

…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.
….“Mars,” he says.

~Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

WATERMELON

….The tip of her e-cigarette/sonic screwdriver glowed as she sooked. A huge cloud of watermelon vape drifted its way around Logan’s head, glowing in the sunlight. ‘Come on then, what you doing?’
….‘Investigating.’ Logan held up a hand, blocking the glare from his screen. ‘Or at least I’m trying to.’
….‘I know that, you idiot; investigating, what?’
….‘People’s Army for Scottish Liberation. Apparently they had ties to the Scottish People’s Liberation Army, the Scottish Freedom Fighters’ Resistance Front, End of Empire, and Arbroath Thirteen Twenty. AKA nutters so extreme that even Settler Watch didn’t want anything to do with them.’
….Another cloud of fruity smelling fog. ‘It’s Womble-funting dick-muppets like that who give good old-fashioned Scottish Nationalists a bad name.’

~All That’s Dead by Stuart MacBride

GRAPES

A large red drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.

~The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Is that cheating? Im……peach me!)

LEMON

….He bought a can of Pearl with the last two dollars he had, then dropped a quarter in the Wurlitzer. He punched a number and settled down at a table and tipped his chair back against the wall and put his boots up. He set his hat over his eyes and drifted in the peaceful dark of not being on the road.
….The man in the box began to sing.
….The music rose and fell.
….Out of the darkness came her scent of lemon and vanilla, the curve of a white calf beneath the hem of a pale blue cotton dress, her shape an hourglass, like time itself slipping away. She, before the picture window that looked out on the mimosa dropping its pink petals on the grass. Her slow smile spreading beneath a pair of eyes as blue as cobalt glass. Water sheeting in the window and casting its shadow like a spell of memory on the wall behind. Her little red suitcase turntable scratching out a song beneath the window and he, a boy, with his bare feet on hers as she held his hands and the record turned and they danced.
….Their private, sad melody unspooling in his heart forever.

~In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson

* * * * *

I actually find it astonishing that never once have bananas turned up in a quote in eight years of blogging. Clearly they are not considered a literary fruit, which seems most unfair. A lack of authorial imagination, obviously…

her sun-bleached hair, yellow as a ripe banana.”

“…his long nose, curved like a banana.”

…his fat hands, each finger as plump as a banana.”

“…her old skin, parchment-dry and speckled brown like an overripe banana.”

“…he pressed her close to him, his strong manly hand firm on the small of her back, and suddenly, for no reason she could understand, she found herself longing for a banana.”

See? Easy! 😉

Have you a banana quote?
Or any other fruity book links?

A new challenge for 2021…

Wanderlust Bingo

I loved the Around the World in Eighty Books challenge. It made me look for books I wouldn’t normally have gone for, many of which were great reads, and forced me out of my insular British comfort zone. I’ve been trying to think of a replacement challenge ever since I finished it. So here it is…

A bingo card with 25 boxes containing regions of the world, methods of travel and geographical features.

My plan is that for the first half of the year I’ll just wait and see what boxes I can fill from my general reading, and then towards the end I’ll frantically try to find books to fill in any missing squares! Any type of book will count – crime, fiction, science fiction, non-fiction. A country can only appear once, and one of the boxes will be filled by a book from my home country of Scotland.

If you fancy joining in, feel free! Otherwise, I’m hoping you’ll give me the pleasure of your company as I travel. 😀

Wish Me Bon Voyage!

New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. So, let’s begin! I’m almost frightened to look…

The 2020 Results

I planned much of my reading at the beginning of the year, but events soon drove me into the mother of all slumps, so my good intentions were thrown by the wayside as I retreated into the comforting worlds of vintage and classics. That won’t stop me from planning ahead again this year, though! Failure is merely a state of mind…

1) Reading Resolutions

I planned to read:

a) 88 books that I already owned as at 1st Jan 2020. 

The Result: I read 52. This is bad. Very bad. Even worse than last year when I managed 60. Oh well, never mind! Might as well start off the way I mean to go on…

b) 8 books for the Around the World challenge.

The Result: Yay! I did it! I finally finished this challenge and loved doing it, so I count this one as a major success! 

c) 22 books from my Classics Club list. 

The Result: I read 12. This one all went horribly wrong! Not that I didn’t read classics – I did – tons of them. Just not the ones on my Classics Club list. I find as I get near the end of this challenge the books that looked so shiny when I put them on the list five years ago are now looking somewhat dull and tarnished. Must do better!

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series.

The Result: Ooh, so close! I read 5, mostly in audiobook format, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. So I don’t care that I…

e) 7 books for my Spanish Civil War challenge

The Result: I read a measly miserly 2! I have no excuses – I hang my head in shame.

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge.

The result: I read 6. Despite reading a zillion vintage crime books, I failed to fit these in. I blame the British Library for sending me all the review copies…

g) 24 books first published in 2020 (minimum).

The Result: I only read (to the end) 20 new releases this year. Admittedly I also abandoned an astonishing 15 – mostly for being too woke or for sending me to sleep. Sometimes both. So my failure was not for want of trying! (Am I sounding defensive now? I think I am… 😂)

2) Reduce the TBR

I aimed for an overall reduction of 40 books last year. So…

Target for TBR (i.e., books I own): 165

Result: 193

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 282.

Result: 280

WOOHOO!!! For the second year in a row I’ve met the combined target reduction! This is because I’ve continued to acquire loads that were already on my wishlist, while practising iron self-control to limit additions to the wishlist, with the result that it’s steadily decreasing.

Overall I read 112 books, which is the lowest number since I started recording my reading on Goodreads in 2013, and a lot of them were quite short! My page count was also down but this figure on Goodreads is never accurate since it assumes 100% of the pages in abandoned books and often assumes zero pages for audiobooks, so I tend to ignore it.

I didn’t set a specific target for review copies, but I took a total of 63 which is considerably down on the last few years, though still a bit too high. I’ve cut right down on NetGalley since I’ve found I’ve been abandoning so many new releases, but my favourite publishers have all been super generous with paper copies again this year, despite lockdowns! The number of unread review books at the end of the year has risen slightly from 24 last year to 26 this year.

Despite my see-sawing slumpiness throughout the year, and despite having failed at nearly every target I set myself, overall I feel good about my *ahem* achievements. 

* * * * * * * * *

Resolutions for 2021

After this year’s dire failure to meet almost any of my targets I’m going to try to be a bit more realistic this year. There’s a lot of crossover in these targets…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 72 books that I already own as at today. Although I’m reducing the target, this is still higher than I’ve achieved in the last few years. Lots of the books in the targets below are included in this figure, so it’s not as bad as it seems…

b) 12 books from the People’s Choice Polls, where I reveal a few of the oldest books on my TBR and you, the People, choose which one I should read. I already have the last three you picked lined up to be read in the first three months of the year.

c) 18 books from my Classics Club list. I only have 18 left to go but I’m supposed to finish by mid-summer. I think that’s highly unlikely, so I’m extending the deadline to the end of the year. Doable.

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. These get chunkier as the series goes along, so this might be ambitious, but I’m enjoying them, so we’ll see… 

e) 8 books for the Spanish Civil War challenge. This is the year when finally I intend to get into this challenge properly. If not now, never!

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. I’m sticking with 12 even though I failed so dismally this year. Not sure that I’ll succeed next year either!

g) 36 books first published in 2021 (minimum). I’m really losing touch with contemporary crime and fiction, so am upping this target considerably and am going to make a determined effort to find books that appeal to me. They must be out there, hiding! I’m sure I can do this…

2) Reduce the TBR

Again I’m going for an overall reduction of 40 books this year. So…

Target for TBR: 153

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 240.

If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy… 

Wish me luck!

* * * * *

A GUID NEW YEAR
TAE YIN AND A’!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

20 Books of Summer 2020 – Wrap!

Beating the slump…

Hurrah! I did it! I did it!! I DID IT!!! All twenty books read and reviewed within the time limit!

Given that I was in the midst of a major slump when the challenge began, the plan to read loads of short books turned out to be the perfect way to get back into the swing, and amazingly, for only the second time ever, I’ve actually beaten this fun but surprisingly difficult challenge, hosted by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books.

* * * * *

So here’s a little summary of how it went…

Of the original 20 books, I read 16 in full and abandoned four, of which I reviewed two and replaced two. There is no doubt that, although my reading quantity is more or less back to normal, I’m still not enjoying books with my usual enthusiasm, and the high number of abandonments and lower than usual ratings reflect that. Pesky plague!

I mostly stayed in Britain, but I had little trips to Italy, Japan, Tanzania, Havana, the US, Argentina and Paris! And then I topped it off by travelling completely Around the World in Eighty Days. Along the way I met up with detectives and murderers, sabotaged a German gunboat, spent time with the prostitutes of Elgin, fished for marlin, and dug for bones – phew! No wonder I’m shattered! I need a holiday to recover from my holidays!

Despite my relative lack of enthusiasm compared to previous years, the combined star total of the 20 that make up my final list is a respectable 75, or an average of 3.75 per book. Not too bad, eh?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Lowlights

The Killer and the Slain and Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi were two of the abandoned books, but they annoyed me enough to inspire grumpy 1-star reviews. The dull Watergate satire, The Abbess of Crewe, scraped a miserly two, while the “humorous” vintage crime, Weekend at Thrackley, gained a retrospectively generous 2½.

* * * * *

The Middlelights

Only one in the three-star category this time around…

Thirst by Ken Kalfus

A variable selection of short stories in Kalfus’ first collection, but showing the promise he has since fulfilled in his more recent work.

* * * * *

The Uplights

A stonking ten books achieved 4-star ratings, meaning I liked and recommend them, but just didn’t quite love them. I’m certain that in another year and a better reading mood several of these would have got the full five…

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac
The African Queen by CS Forester
The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham
The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses by Georges Simenon
The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths
Sula by Toni Morrison
A Month in the Country by JL Carr

* * * * *

The Highlights

And that just leaves the final five books which achieved Five Glorious Glowing Golden Stars! I loved and highly recommend all of these – a nicely mixed bunch too! Here they are, in no particular order:

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Maigret and the Ghost by Georges Simenon
The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson
Silent Kill by Jane Casey

* * * * *

So, a mixed summer but with more good than bad! If… IF… I do this again next year, I must get off to an earlier start – I’ve spent the last couple of weeks frantically finishing books and writing rather sketchy reviews just hours before they’re due to be posted. Frazzled is the word that springs to mind! But now it’s all over, I’m feeling delightfully smug…

* * * * *

And finally..

The Book of the Summer

is

Around the World in Eighty Days

* * * * *

Thanks for joining me in my reading adventures! 😀

Confession time…

…aka The TBL List…

Whenever I mention that I don’t include audiobooks on my TBR list, some of my dear blog buddies respond with derision, pointed fingers and accusations of cheating. And, do you know, I do think they have a point! I tend to go through little spates of listening to audiobooks, very slowly, and then I get fed up and stop for a while. I suspect when I originally created my notorious TBR spreadsheet I was in one of these off-periods, so it simply didn’t occur to me to include them.

Also, I don’t really think of listening to audiobooks as reading, as such. It’s a different art form for me, more akin to films or TV, where the performance of the narrator is at least as important as the text they’re narrating. This is why I so often listen to audio versions of books I already know well and love, because the art of a good narrator gives them back some of the freshness that repeated re-readings may have staled. It’s also why I abandon audiobooks very quickly if the narrator and I don’t gel – in those circumstances, I’d far rather be reading a paper book.

However, a (joking) comment from Sandra questioning the fairness of me omitting audiobooks from my TBR but including them towards achievement of my various targets and challenges got me thinking. I don’t think I’m ready to put my unlistened-to audiobooks into my TBR, but I should probably confess to being the proud possessor of a To-Be-Listened-to spreadsheet to complement the To-Be-Read one.

Over the years, I’ve taken out and cancelled an Audible subscription several times, as the slow speed at which I get through audiobooks means that even at the most basic level of subscription I quickly build up a backlog of books and unused credits, especially since I tend to pick up loads of the Daily Deals while I’m a member. I’m in the middle of a subscription period at the moment so the TBL is rising exponentially! The current figure is…

47

That may not sound too bad until you consider that I rarely listen to more than maybe ten or twelve books in a whole year.

So what’s on the list? Primarily lots of classics, mostly ones I’ve read before, where the narrator appeals. I still have several Joan Hickson readings of Miss Marple books but have run short of Hugh Fraser’s readings of the Poirots so have to restock on them. I have quite a few of Jonathan Cecil’s versions of the Jeeves and Wooster books, which are a standby for grey days. I also have a few contemporary novels, but these rarely work as well for me in this format, so I try to avoid giving in to temptation.

The Longest

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy read by David Horovitch – 38 hours. Added on 25/8/2012 and frankly may remain on the list for a good while yet!

The Shortest

The Tales of Max Carrados by Ernest Bramagh narrated by Stephen Fry – 1½ hours. Added 16/12/2015. I think there are only four stories in this short audiobook. I believe the written version contains more and coincidentally is on my Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge list, so I’ll listen to these ones while reading the others.

The Oldest

Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse narrated by Jonathan Cecil – 7 hours. Added 16/10/11. I’ve listened to this one before, but put it back on the list for a re-listen because I love it so much!

The Newest

The last two I’ve acquired kinda work as a pair…

Dracula by Bram Stoker narrated by Greg Wise with Saskia Reeves. 18 hours. The reviews rave about Wise’s narration and I’ve been meaning to re-read this for ages. One for spooky season, I think!

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor narrated by Barry McGovern with Anna Chancellor.

The blurb says: Shadowplay explores the characters whose loves and lives inspired Dracula.

1878. The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together. Henry Irving, the Chief, is the volcanic leading man and impresario; Ellen Terry is the most lauded and desired actress of her generation; and ever following along behind them in the shadows is the unremarkable theatre manager, Bram Stoker.

This turned up as a Daily Deal just after I’d acquired Dracula, so seemed too serendipitous to be resisted!

Other highlights

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy narrated by Alan Rickman. 15 hours. Alan Rickman! Need I say more?

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome narrated by Ian Carmichael. 6 hours. Carmichael, who used to be my favourite TV Bertie Wooster till Hugh Laurie stole that honour, seems perfect for this book.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë narrated by Patricia Routledge. 14 hours. Routledge, however, seems totally wrong for this one, but the reviews overwhelmingly rave about her performance, so I’m more than ready to be won over!

Just started

Dark Fire by CJ Sansom narrated by Steven Crossley. 19 hours. The second book in the Shardlake series, my favourite historical fiction series of all time. Having loved Crossley’s narration of the first book, Dissolution, I’m proposing to listen to the entire series, although, since each book is longer than the last, this could well take some time!

The Blurb says: It is 1540 and the hottest summer of the 16th century. Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the king’s chief ministerand a new assignment.

The secret of Greek Fire, the legendary substance with which the Byzantines destroyed the Arab navies, has been lost for centuries. Now an official of the Court of Augmentations has discovered the formula in the library of a dissolved London monastery. When Shardlake is sent to recover it, he finds the official and his alchemist brother brutally murderedthe formula has disappeared. Now Shardlake must follow the trail of Greek Fire across Tudor London, while trying at the same time to prove his young client’s innocence. But very soon he discovers nothing is as it seems…

So there it is – the TBL!

Are you a fan of audiobooks?
Do any of the ones on my list take your fancy?

Book Sirens…

…aka Too Much Information…

Have any of you ever registered with Book Sirens? It’s a site that aims to let publishers and authors look for reviewers who may be a good fit for their books. In truth, I haven’t been offered anything through it that I was tempted by and I’m not really looking for more review books anyway, but I do love its statistical analysis of my reading. Mostly I think it’s a very accurate picture, with just the occasional thing that makes me say “Eh?”. It pulls the info from Goodreads where for some foolish reason they seem to think my name is Leah…

I joined Goodreads in 2013 and have recorded every book I’ve read since then, and reviewed the vast majority of them. The unreviewed ones probably include some that I’d read prior to joining and gave a rating to.

The overall summary…

They don’t break those helpful votes down, but I can tell you that it’s my 1-star reviews that get most of them. We readers do seem to like confirming our dislike for books by voting up other people who dislike them too!

OK, I agree with most of that, but… fantasy? Romance?? I’m baffled! And surely more than 6% of my reading is literary fiction?

This one fascinates me, because I was really unaware of how much more historical than contemporary fiction I read, though when I think back I’m pretty sure they’re right. I also only recently became conscious that Victorian fiction is my favourite period, but clearly my subconscious has known all along. And what 35 books have I reviewed that could possibly count as Westerns??

Hold on a minute! Fair enough – murder and politics, even spies! But serial killers? And animals?? Animals??? When on earth do I read books about animals? I’ve been avoiding them ever since I was three and traumatised when I read a picture book in which Stormy the foal’s mother was taken away from him in a horse-box!! I wish they allowed you to see what books match the categories…

This one appears to suggest I’m both nicer than most people and nastier than most people – split personality, obviously! But I do like the books it pulls out as under- and over-rated – I agree with all three.

This one’s my favourite though – I love seeing all those different years filled in! I’m determined to complete the 20th century soon, and to increase the number of boxes on the 19th century. As for before that, well… maybe one or two…

A very narcissistic post today, but I hope you enjoyed it. And if you log your reading on Goodreads and fancy giving Book Sirens a go, I’d love to see your charts and stats some time!

HAVE A GREAT TUESDAY! 😀

New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. So, let’s begin!

The 2019 Results

Last year I did something I’d never tried before. Here’s what I said:

“Basically, I’ve planned my whole year’s reading in advance, leaving just 30 spaces for new releases, re-reads and random temptations. The idea is this will stop me adding gazillions of books I’ll never find time to read, and ensure I’m reading loads of the books I already own. It should also mean I’ll make progress on my challenges. So my resolutions this year are strictly a numbers game and there’s lots of crossover among the categories…”

While of course I didn’t absolutely stick to the plan, overall it did help me to think more about which books to take for review or buy on a passing whim. But did it help me achieve my targets? Let’s find out!

1) Reading Resolutions

I planned to read:

a) 88 books that I already owned as at 1st Jan 2019. 

The Result: I read 60. Although this is way below the target, it’s significantly up on the previous year, when I only read 49.

b) 25 books for the Around the World challenge.

The Result: I read 17. I had hoped to finish this challenge this year, but I had a couple that I didn’t like well enough to include and otherwise generally just… didn’t! 

c) 25 books from my Classics Club list. 

The Result: Ooh, so close! I read 22, and in my defence some of them were chunky! However, that means I’m more or less back on track with this five-year challenge, so I’m happy with this result.

d) 10 books from my sadly neglected 5 x 5 challenge.

The Result: I read a dismal 6 but on the upside I’ve decided to banish John Steinbeck from my TBR for ever, so that reduces the books on the challenge by another three! Overall, I’m really not enjoying this challenge, so will read the books I’ve already acquired for it this year, and then quietly abandon the whole thing.

e) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge.

The result: I read 12! I set the target low last year because I anticipated getting lots of vintage crime for review from the British Library, and indeed I did. For the same reason I’m going to set it low again this year – it might take me years to finish it, if ever, but I’m OK with that.

f) 24 books first published in 2019 (minimum). 

The Result: I only read (to the end) 20 new releases this year. Admittedly I also abandoned an astonishing 14 – mostly crime and some from authors I’ve previously enjoyed. I’m completely out of love with contemporary crime at the moment so will be concentrating more on general fiction for new releases this year.

2) Reduce the TBR

I aimed for an overall reduction of 40 books last year. So…

Target for TBR (i.e., books I own): 185

Result: 205

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 324.

Result: 322

WOOHOO!!! You weren’t expecting that, were you?? Although the Books I Own figure is still above target, this is because I’ve acquired loads that were already on my wishlist at the beginning of the year. But I’ve been practicising iron self-control to limit additions to the wishlist, with the result that it’s way down.

Overall I read 126 books, which is the highest for a few years, mainly because vintage crime books don’t include the 100 pages of compulsory padding that every contemporary crime book has. But my page count was also up according to Goodreads, reflecting the fact, I think, that I’ve taken more blogging breaks than usual this year.

I didn’t set a specific target for review copies, but I took a total of 76, which is higher than I intended but lower than the 98 I took last year and, because I was more selective, way more enjoyable! The number of unread review books at the end of the year has dropped from 30 last year to 24 this year.

So despite missing most of the individual targets by a little each, the overall effect of planning the year ahead was a big success, not only in terms of reducing the TBR/wishlist but, more importantly, in my having one of my most enjoyable and varied reading years for ages.

* * * * * * * * *

Resolutions for 2020

So since I found I liked the whole planning ahead thing, that’s what I’m going to do again this year. There’s a lot of crossover in these targets…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 88 books that I already own as at today. Like last year I probably won’t achieve this, but preparing a list of the interesting books I already own will deter me from randomly acquiring new ones, in theory. Lots of the books below are included in this figure, so it’s not as bad as it seems…

b) 8 books for the Around the World challenge. Only eight left to go in this challenge, which I’ve loved. I should finish it by April or May. 

c) 22 books from my Classics Club list. Ambitious, especially since a lot of the books left on my list are chunky, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my classics reading, so I think it’s doable.

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. I’ve been trying to re-read this series for three years now and have only read five! So setting a target and including them in my plan should concentrate my mind. 

e) 7 books in a brand new mini-challenge to be announced shortly!

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. Going low again in the hopes that I’ll also get lots of other vintage crime for review during the year.

g) 24 books first published in 2020 (minimum). I do feel that I’m losing touch with new releases because of all these classics and vintage books I’m reading, so I’m going to try to read at least two a month.

2) Reduce the TBR

Again I’m going for an overall reduction of 40 books this year. So…

Target for TBR: 165

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 282.

If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy… 

Wish me luck!

* * * * *

A GUID NEW YEAR
TAE YIN AND A’!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

Tuesday Terror! Dystopia Hits Kirkintilloch!

The end of the world is nigh…

I’m hoping this urgent message gets through to you all, but I don’t hold out much hope. All the signs are that the end of the world is beginning… and it’s starting here in Kirkintilloch! Unless of course you’re not there already and I’m the last survivor…

It began on Friday, late at night, when suddenly the internet went down. Since then, it’s been in and out like the cuckoo in a Swiss clock, only less noisily, and it seems to be getting worse. Unable to draft posts or get round your blogs or even answer your comments except in brief bursts, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what’s going on, and it’s scary…

Here are the options:

1. It’s a local problem that will soon be fixed by my internet provider. Well, I’m sure that’s what They would like us to think! But I suspect one of the following is far more likely…

2. A solar flare has taken down communications throughout the world and all technology will collapse over the next few days leaving us at the mercy of vengeful nature. I have therefore gone into survival mode – I rushed to the supermarket and bought up all the chocolate.

 

3. The capitalists/socialists/anarchists/kpop fans (delete as applicable) have carried out a coup and have shut down the internet while they consolidate power. Any day now the identity of the new World President will be announced. My greatest fear is that it might be this chap…

… but I have the ultimate deterrent against him and his forces! If he sings that ghastly music at me, I shall retaliate by playing my guitar – a dreadful torture guaranteed to send any human insane within minutes.

4. Aliens are circling the earth and have cut off communications in a first step towards full-scale invasion. Hah! Little do they know about my impregnable Home Defence System! I have stopped emptying Tommy and Tuppence’s litter trays and within a few hours no one will be able to get within ten miles of my house without being overcome by a noxious miasma that will stun them into instant unconsciousness. (I admit there is a slight weakness in this plan, in that it depends on the aliens having noses…)

Whatever the cause, I urge you all, dear friends, to take your own precautions. Farewell, and be safe! May it all end up a bit more like Station Eleven than The Road!

Of course, in the unlikely event that it turns out to be option 1, I’ll see you all once it gets fixed and I can get some posts prepared…

The porpy is here with me inside our safety cordon,
ready to defend our liberty…

20 Books of Summer – Wrap!

A first time for everything…

Hurrah! I did it! I did it!! I DID IT!!! All twenty books read and reviewed within the time limit!

Oh, I’m so sorry – I shall try to calm down now. But in my defence, it’s the first time I’ve ever beaten this fun but surprisingly difficult challenge, hosted by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books.

* * * * *

So here’s a little summary of how it went…

Of the original 20 books, I read 18, abandoned 1 partway through, and replaced one.

I stayed in Britain for part of the time, but I also managed to visit America, Mexico, France, East Germany, Turkey, India, Zululand, Australia and Papua New Guinea! Plus I sailed through every ocean in the world. Imagine how much post-vacation laundry has piled up! I travelled with murderers, detectives, prostitutes, spies, French Resistance fighters, John F Kennedy, Zulu warriors, and even witnessed the end of the world! No wonder I’m exhausted…

The combined star total of the 20 that make up my final list is a whopping 82! Or an average of 4.1 per book. Pretty stonking, huh?


⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Lowlights

Turns out I hated the Kate Atkinson Jackson Brodie books which I had been expecting to be the highlight of the summer. Oh, well! Case Histories got 2 stars, One Good Turn got a generous 1 star even though I abandoned it at 11%, and When Will There Be Good News? was deleted from my Kindle unopened. I replaced it with Murder in the Mill-Race by ECR Lorac.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones was astonishingly bad considering it was a Booker Prize nominee (though the fact that that still has the power to surprise me surprises me) – 2 stars

* * * * *

The Middlelights

These one rated as 3½ stars, meaning slightly better than OK – worth reading if the blurb takes your fancy.

Three Bullets by RJ Ellory
The Case of Miss Elliot by Baroness Orczy
The Pearl by John Steinbeck

And these ones rated as 4 stars, meaning good solid reads that I’d recommend.

Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert
Murder in the Mill-Race ECR Lorac

* * * * *

The Uplights

These ones nearly made it. All 4½ stars, meaning excellent but just didn’t quite earn the full galaxy. Highly recommended, nevertheless.

Conviction by Denise Mina
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré
The Middle Temple Murder by JS Fletcher

* * * * *

The Highlights

An astonishing 9 books achieved Five Glorious Glowing Golden Stars! I loved the look of my list when I started out three months ago and am pleased that it lived well up to my expectations. All of these are highly recommended and several of them will be in the running for my Book of the Year Awards. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak
In the Heat of the Night by John Ball
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas by Jules Verne
Nada the Lily by H. Rider Haggard
The Observations by Jane Harris
On the Beach by Nevil Shute
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

So, a great summer’s reading! Hope you’ve enjoyed some of the reviews and that I’ve maybe even tempted you to add one or two to your own overloaded TBRs. Gotta go – got to start planning next year’s list…

* * * * *

Oh, nearly forgot! And…

The Book of the Summer

is

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

TBR Thursday 200…

A stroll around the TBR…

Since this is the 200th TBR Thursday post I’ve done on the blog, I thought instead of listing the next four books I intend to read as usual, I’d take you on a little tour of some of the dark alleys and hidden byways of my ever-expanding TBR.

The definition…

My TBR is made up of books I own but haven’t yet read, plus a tiny sprinkling of books I’d like to re-read in the near future.

The current total…

It’s gone up again while I’ve been on hiatus to 222! One simply never knows when a book avalanche might occur!

The target…

I’d like to reduce the total not because of a simple numbers game, but because there are lots of potentially great books on it I’d really like to read but keep shoving aside in favour of new releases, which often turn out to be less than stellar. Under my gradual reduction plan, I want to get down to 185 by the end of this year, mostly by severely controlling the numbers of books I buy or accept for review. It’s possible…

The breakdown…

I usually only acquire factual books and sci-fi and horror books when I intend to read them, so there are never many lingering on the list. Crime and fiction are a different story…

Factual………………………. 2
Fiction……………….………. 94
Crime/thriller…….……… 107
Horror………………..……… 6
Sci-fi……………………..….. 12
Romance (eh?)………… 1 (How did that get on there?)

The format…

198 of the books are Kindle, and only 24 paper! Thank goodness – I’d need a bigger house if they were all paper copies…

Chatsworth: Darcy’s Library!!

The oldest book…

The Observations by Jane Harris, which I acquired on 20/6/2011. I can’t remember why I went for it now, but I still think it sounds good.

The Blurb says: Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her past, Bessy Buckley takes a job working as a maid in a big country house. But when Arabella, her beautiful mistress, asks her to undertake a series of bizarre tasks, Bessy begins to realise that she hasn’t quite landed on her feet. In one of the most acclaimed debuts of recent years, Jane Harris has created a heroine who will make you laugh and cry as she narrates this unforgettable story about secrets and suspicions and the redemptive power of love and friendship.

However, I’ve scheduled it as one of my 20 Books of Summer, so it should finally escape from the list soon! Then the oldest one will be The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst – acquired on 29/7/2012.

Again, no idea why, and this one doesn’t appeal to me much now. Plus it’s very long! So it may linger on the list for a while longer.

The Blurb says: In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate – a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance – to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried – until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.

The newest book…

Books, actually, since I received a delectable parcel of mouth-watering delights from the lovely people at the British Library only yesterday. Vintage crime, vintage horror, vintage sci-fi – FF heaven! What was I saying about cutting back on review copies…??

The review copies…

Currently 22 26 outstanding which, due to my exercising iron self-control at the moment, is was the lowest it’s been for about three years. The oldest review copy, I’m ashamed to say, is Soft Summer Blood by Peter Helton, which I acquired from NetGalley on 01/04/16. I’ve read and enjoyed his books before too, so I have no excuse.

The newest review copy (before yesterday’s parcel) is Snow White and Other Stories by the Brothers Grimm – a recent addition to the Oxford World’s Classics gorgeous hardback series, which popped through my letterbox unexpectedly on 15/5/19. (These covers never look good on the blog but in real life they’re vibrant and gorgeous…)

The 200th book on the list…

Lots of my more recent acquisitions are for one or another of my ongoing challenges – I’m trying to get out of the habit of random book-buying till I feel more in control of the backlog on the TBR. The 200th book is Tracks in the Snow by Godfrey R Benson, one for my Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge, acquired on 16/3/19.

The books I most want to read and can’t understand why I don’t just do it…

(I’ve excluded ones I’ve scheduled for the next few months.)

* * * * * * * * *

Hope you enjoyed the guided tour of my TBR! I’d love to look round yours, if you fancy answering the questions either on your blog or in the comments below.

Have a Great TBR Thursday! 😀

Free Creative Writing Course in Ten Easy Steps!

… aka FF’s Laws for Writing Good Fiction

So many aspiring authors now feel it’s essential to take a degree in Creative Writing and unfortunately many of them then come out mistaking flowery “innovative” prose for good storytelling. Plus they often end up with massive student debts. So out of the goodness of my heart, I’ve decided to provide an alternative… and it’s completely free, more or less!

(The laws have developed as a result of specific books which either annoyed me by breaking them, or pleased me by avoiding them, but as you will see they can be applied universally. So I’ve decided in most cases not to name the book, but for those who really, really need to know, clicking on the law title will take you to the review where I first used it.)

😉 😉 😉 😉 😉

So have your pencil and notebook ready – here goes…

FF’s First Law:

The length of a book should be determined by the requirements of the story.

    • If your book is twice as long as it needs to be, your readers will enjoy it less than half as much as they should. This is a mathematical fact!

FF’s Second Law:

Blurbs should accurately reflect the contents of the book to ensure they attract the right readers.

    • If your blurb claims your book is a thriller, then it should thrill. If it claims to be history, then it should not be polemics. If it claims kinship with Jane Austen, then it shouldn’t read like Jilly Cooper.

FF’s Third Law:

To have one fart joke is unfortunate, but to have several smacks of carelessness, or a need for dietetic advice.

    • If you’re young enough to think jokes about flatulence are endlessly amusing, then you’re too young to write books. Come back in ten years.

FF’s Fourth Law:

It’s not necessary for men to be made to look bad in order for women to look good.

    • If you can’t find anything nice to say about men, then say nothing at all. If you object to misogyny, then you should avoid misandry.

FF’s Fifth Law:

Emotion arises from good characterisation.

    • Describing the sudden deaths of thousands of fictional characters the reader has never been introduced to doesn’t have the same emotional impact as would fear for one character the reader had grown to care about.

FF’s Sixth Law:

Unnamed narrators should never be used by authors who would like people to review their books.

    • Otherwise (some) reviewers might decide to name all your women Brutus and all your men Ethel, and frankly Rebecca wouldn’t be the same if the second Mrs de Winter was called Brutus. (I may be being a little selfish with this one.)

FF’s Seventh Law:

Cover artists should read the book before designing the cover.

    • If the murder method was strangling, a cover with bullet holes and blood all over it seems somewhat inappropriate.

FF’s Eighth Law:

Swearing never attracts readers who wouldn’t otherwise read the book, but frequently puts off readers who otherwise would.

    • Especially restrain yourself from swearing in the first line, or in the hashtag you use for advertising. What seems to you like authentic down-with-da-kids street-talk may seem to many readers like functional illiteracy.

FF’s Ninth Law:

A strong story well told doesn’t need “creative writing”, just good writing. 

    • Dickens never attended a Creative Writing class. Nor Jane Austen. Nor Agatha Christie. Nor PG Wodehouse.

FF’s Tenth Law:

Having the narrator constantly refer to ‘what happened that day’ without informing the reader of what actually did happen that day is far more likely to create book-hurling levels of irritation than a feeling of suspense.

    • Lawsuits from people who have broken their Kindles and/or their walls can prove to be expensive.

😉 😉 😉 😉 😉

NEXT STEPS

Once you have mastered and can apply these laws, congratulations! Send a cheque for £50,000 made out to FF’s School of Scamming Creative Writing and you will receive by return a hand-made Diploma which you can show to agents, publishers and booksellers, or simply use as an attractive decoration for your writing nook!

You will also receive a 10% discount for the Advanced Course, currently being prepared. Here’s a taster of the goodies to come…

FF’s Eleventh Law:

WRITING BLURBS IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM MORE EXCITING!!! 

😉 😉 😉 😉 😉

Have A Great Tuesday! 😀

A Bookish Memorial…

Sailing into the West…

My current absence is because we have had a family bereavement. My sister Sheila, who commented here under the pseudonym BigSister, died last week after an illness which felt long while it was happening, but was actually only a few months. I don’t normally blog about personal matters, as you know, but some of you who have been around for a long time have interacted with BigSister over the years, and she was a keen, if silent, supporter of those of you who have published novels, buying, reading, and talking to me about them. She also enjoyed visiting many of your blogs, though never commenting, I think, and again this has been part of our regular lengthy bookish phone conversations over the past few years.

This doesn’t feel like the right place for any kind of memorial to her full and active life, so I thought instead I’d pay tribute to the influence she had on my early reading (and the influence she still tried to have on my later reading too, with rather less success)!

From Hitchcock’s adaptation of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps

BigSister was eight years older than me, which seemed like a huge difference when we were young. She always seemed grown-up to me, she being the eldest of four and I the baby of the family. From the time I was about five or six until I was old enough to go alone, she would take me with her to the library each week – she was a voracious reader all her life, often reading more than a book a day. And with a phenomenal memory for the written word! Whereas I can barely remember a book I read last week, she had almost total recall of plots and characters of books she read forty years ago. Back in those days, you were only allowed to take two books out of the library at a time, so BigSister had managed to gain possession of library cards for all the less enthusiastic readers in the family so she could get a big enough stash to feed her addiction. And like many addicts, she was a pusher too, giving me free access from an early age to her already groaning bookshelves…

BigSister read just about any genre and had a totally open approach to supervising my reading – if it appealed to me, then her attitude was always, well, try it and see how you get on. On reflection, I think this might be why I missed a lot of the children’s books of my day – I feel I was reading relatively adult books quite young. There was no such thing as YA back then, but lots of writers were writing books that worked easily for both child and adult. She’d stop me from choosing anything too unsuitable or way beyond my ability to understand, though. If she didn’t know a book I liked the look of, she’d read the first few pages and the last few and that would be enough for her to decide whether it was okay for me.

Illustration from Kipling’s The Jungle Book

It was easier back in those halcyon days, because even crime fiction veered well away from the gruesome and harrowing and no published writer would have dreamt of peppering their work with graphic sex and swear words (except DH Lawrence, naturally, but fortunately I didn’t encounter him till my teens). So I met Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane, Carter Dickson, John D MacDonald, and a myriad of other crime writers now sadly forgotten (by me), and was guided towards the adventure stories of Rider Haggard, Gavin Lyall, Conan Doyle, John Buchan, Alistair MacLean, et al. I didn’t like them all – I never got on with Kipling, whom she loved, for instance – but it all helped me form my own tastes in time. The classics weren’t omitted – Jane Eyre, Little Women, Oliver Twist, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Treasure Island, etc., were mixed in with general fiction like the Mapp and Lucia books, and total pulp, like Dick Tracy. Did anyone ever read the Modesty Blaise books? They shocked me to my socks when I was a little’un and I suspect they might shock me just as much now, but for different reasons.

She never had as much success with science fiction. While I liked the more speculative end of it – Wells, Wyndham, Asimov, Pohl – I was never able to follow her into the realms of fantasy, where she spent many, many happy hours. She never gave up though – like any pusher, she kept offering me little doses of the soft stuff in the hopes I’d get addicted to the hard stuff in time. In the last few years she has tried every Hallowe’en to get to me read A Night in the Lonesome October – I could never bring myself to admit to her that I’d tried, hated it, and thrown it on the abandoned pile!

In more recent years, she became a dedicated fan of Terry Pratchett’s books, and I was always a little sad that I couldn’t share her love for them. In the last few months, as concentration became harder for her, it was Pratchett she turned to, reading them all again even though she could probably have quoted them from memory. On my last visit to her, her main concern was for me to get her Kindle to work with the hospital wifi so she could access more of the Pratchetts in her library.

I can’t finish without mentioning her lifelong love for Lord of the Rings, a pleasure I happily shared. Which was just as well, really. We shared a room for a couple of years when I was a teenybopper and she was a student. The walls on my side had posters of Marc Bolan and Alice Cooper – BigSister had posters of Gandalf and Aragorn and a map of Middle-earth. Yes, indeed, she was an addict! She even liked Tom Bombadil! She regularly stated that her ambition was to be knocked on the head and get amnesia so she could have the pleasure of reading LOTR again as if for the first time.

The last but one comment that she left on the blog before she became too ill was on my New Year confession of the state of my TBR. She said “I’m so glad I don’t have a TBR! I do however have a lot of books I want to read.” And that seems to me to sum up neatly the voracious, eclectic, mood-reading philosophy of her bookish life.

“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

* * * * *

Apologies to all of you whose recent comments and links have been left unanswered. I shall be back in action around the blogosphere soon.

New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. So, let’s begin!

The 2018 Results

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

The Target: Accept no more than 48 for review, and read at least 48, so my backlog at the end of the year should be no more (and hopefully less) than it was at the end of 2017 – i.e., 32.

The Result: Oh! 48! Oh dear, I must have misread that! I seem to have accepted 98! Well, it’s only one number different, right? On the upside, I read (or abandoned) 100, meaning that the outstanding total at the end of the year is now 30.

2) Reducing the TBR

The Targets:

a) Read at least 72 books that were on the TBR at the end of 2017.

b) Buy no more than 36 books during the year.

c) The TBR target for the end of the year to be 170. And the target for the overall figure, TBR plus wishlist, standing at a ridiculous 415 at the end of 2017, to be 360.

The Results:

a) I fear I only managed to read 49 books that were on my TBR at the end of 2017.

b) Even I thought this this one was hilarious! However, I was as strict as possible and managed to keep the number down to a mere 58. So less than double the target – impressive!

c) The TBR total (that is, books I own) stands at a horrific 225! BUT… the overall figure, including wishlist, is down to 364! The mathematicians among you will realise this is because I acquired lots of books that were on my wishlist. I’ve been brutal at controlling additions to my wishlist this year, and it’s paid off!

3) The Challenges

a) Reading the Russian Revolution – I had 5 books to go at the start of the year. I planned to finish this challenge around April/May.

The Result: I did indeed finish this challenge in the early summer and loved doing it. One day I might do a similar challenge. Maybe the Spanish Civil War. Or Europe between the wars…

b) Great American Novel Quest – I planned to restart this once the Russian challenge finished, with a low target of just 4 books in 2018.

The Result: I’ve not been enjoying the American books I put on my Classics Club list on the whole, so have allowed the GAN Quest to lapse. I might revive it from time to time if I read a book that I think meets the criteria – loads of my original list of contenders are still sitting on my TBR.

c) Classics Club – To stay on track with this, I planned to read 24 books in 2018 (and start tackling at least some of the longer ones).

The Result: I nearly made it, but not quite. I read 20 over the year, but I did tackle a few of the longer ones. Overall, that means I’ve caught up a little, but am still a few books behind schedule. However, I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back to some classics reading after years of concentrating on new releases.

d) Around the World in 80 Books – I was about halfway through this one at the end of 2017 and averaging 20 books a year, so that was the target for 2018 too.

The Result: Again, nearly but not quite – I read 16 this year. I’m loving this challenge, though, and have lots of great books lined up for it next year.

e) Murder, Mystery, Mayhem – Targeted 20 books for 2018, on the grounds that this would make this a five year challenge.

The Result: Not even close! I read just 12 of these, mainly because I started receiving lots of other vintage crime novels for review. But I’m enjoying this challenge too, so I don’t mind if it takes longer than I initially planned.

4) Other stuff

I didn’t set targets for anything else, but hoped to fit in some more re-reads and do a bit more catching up with authors and series I’ve enjoyed.

The Result: I re-read 15 books over the year, and 25 that count as “catch-ups”, so I’m quite happy with those figures.

Overall then, while I failed on almost every single count, I somehow feel as if I did pretty well! I’m sure the psychologists would have fun with that…

* * * * *

Resolutions for 2019

I’ve done something I’ve never tried before and I’m not at all sure how I’ll feel about it or if I’ll stick to it. Basically, I’ve planned my whole year’s reading in advance, leaving just 30 spaces for new releases, re-reads and random temptations. The idea is this will stop me adding gazillions of books I’ll never find time to read, and ensure I’m reading loads of the books I already own. It should also mean I’ll make progress on my challenges. So my resolutions this year are strictly a numbers game and there’s lots of crossover among the categories…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 88 books that I already own as at today. Since I read roughly 125 books a year, that gives me around 40 spaces to fill with books I either buy or receive for review this year.

b) 25 books for the Around the World challenge. This should complete it this year. I’ve selected all the remaining books now and have already acquired most of them.

c) 25 books from my Classics Club list. Ambitious, but doable, and would bring me up to schedule and even a tiny bit ahead. I already have all of these.

d) 10 books from my sadly neglected 5 x 5 challenge. Again, I already own most of these and anticipate loving them, so why do I keep putting them off for other books?

e) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge, again all ones I already have. I’m going for a lowish figure this year since I’m hoping I’ll still be getting lots of other vintage crime for review.

f) 24 books first published in 2019 (minimum). The downside of my challenges is that I’m reading far less new crime and literary fiction and am beginning to seriously miss it, so I’m going to ensure I read at least two a month.

2) Reduce the TBR

I’m going for an overall reduction of 40 books this year. So…

Target for TBR: 185

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 324.

If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy…

Wish me luck!

* * * * *

HAPPY NEW YEAR
TO ONE AND ALL!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose…

…a Valentine post…

Not every great love is romantic in nature, so today I thought I’d send my Valentines to people, real or fictional, whose varied kinds of love have entertained and moved me over the years.

heart-and-roses* * * * *

Matthew and Anne
Anne of Green Gables

When shy Matthew Cuthbert goes to pick up a boy from the orphanage only to discover they’ve sent a skinny, red-haired little girl instead, he decides to leave it up to his sister Marilla to break the news to the child that she’ll have to go back. But during the drive home, little Anne chats brightly about her past and her imaginative impressions of this new place she’s found herself in, and by the time they reach Green Gables, Matthew has discovered he kinda likes having her around…

Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it.

Matthew soon becomes one of the pivotal people in Anne’s life, offering her support and admiration such as she has never known in her lonely life, and under his kind treatment she blossoms. Although Matthew doesn’t speak often, he has one of the most sob-worthy lines in the book…

“Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,’ said Matthew patting her hand. ‘Just mind you that – rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl – my girl – my girl that I’m proud of.”

anne-and-matthew

* * * * *

Holmes and Watson
The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

Watson wears his deep love for his friend on his sleeve, but it’s not often Holmes shows his feelings. So it’s all the more affecting when he does…

…I broke through that cloud of despair and had a glimpse of Holmes’s face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror – the very look which I had seen upon the features of the dead. It was that vision which gave me an instant of sanity and of strength. I dashed from my chair, threw my arms round Holmes, and together we lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side, conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in.

“Upon my word, Watson!” said Holmes at last with an unsteady voice, “I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one’s self, and doubly so for a friend. I am really very sorry.”

“You know,” I answered with some emotion, for I have never seen so much of Holmes’s heart before, “that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you.”

holmes-and-watson

* * * * *

Alexander the Great and Bucephalus

When the great horse Bucephalus was offered for sale to Philip of Macedonia, the price seemed too high for a beast that no one had been able to tame. But Philip’s young son Alexander greatly admired the massive, black horse with a white star on his forehead. He made a wager with the owner that if he could ride the horse, the price would be waived. Alexander guessed that the horse was spooked by his own shadow, so turned Bucephalus’s face to the sun, and the horse allowed him to mount. From that moment they were inseparable companions until Bucephalus died many years later at the Battle of the Hydaspes. As a tribute to his great and loyal friend, Alexander founded a town and named it Bucephala.

(I was so in love with this story as a child that, when I finally persuaded my parents to let me have a puppy, I wanted to call him Bucephalus. My brother wanted to call him Hercules. My dad put his foot down, and the puppy became Sandy. He was a miniature poodle. Perhaps Dad was right… 😉 )

'Alexander taming Bucephalus' statue by 19thC Scottish sculptor, John Steell, at Edinburgh City Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland
‘Alexander taming Bucephalus’ statue by 19thC Scottish sculptor, John Steell, at Edinburgh City Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland

* * * * *

Scarlett O’Hara and Tara
Gone with the Wind

Husbands may come and go in Scarlett’s life, but her father taught her early to love their land – Tara…

Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.

She learns her lesson well…

I can’t let Tara go. I won’t let it go while there’s a breath left in my body.

Even Rhett comes second…

Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day…

Personally, I prefer Rhett...
Personally, I’m not convinced she got her priorities right…

* * * * *

Lizzie and Jane
Pride and Prejudice

Long before Lizzie meets Darcy, she has another love in her life – her beloved sister Jane, whom she admires even while laughing at her just a little…

“But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”

“Dear Lizzy!”

“Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.”

“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”

“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough — one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design — to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad — belongs to you alone.”

Oh, for goodness sake! It's Jane and Lizzie, okay? It's NOT a gratuitous Darcy pic!
Oh, for goodness sake! It’s Jane and Lizzie, okay? It’s NOT a gratuitous Darcy pic!

* * * * * *

happy-valentines-day-2014

Visiting Cathy…

The Books That Built the Blogger…

I’m honoured to be guest posting over at Cathy’s place today, in her great new feature where she finds out about the Books That Built the Blogger. I do hope you’ll pop over.

I know many of you already follow Cathy, but if you haven’t met her yet, she writes great reviews and is the host of a couple of annual challenges that loads of us look forward to every year – the Reading Ireland Challenge in March and the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. She also cheers me up greatly in another way – her blog is called 746 Books because that’s how many books were on her TBR when she started blogging. Makes me chuckle every time…

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Meantime, for your delight and delectation…

Two great sportsmen. Aww, Rafa, next year for sure...
Two great sportsmen.
Aww, Rafa, next year for sure…