52-book challenge: update!

At the beginning of the year, I started my friend Boo‘s famous 52-book challenge. It’s pretty simple – a book a week for a whole year.

As a kid, I was a voracious reader, to the extent that whole summer days could be spent curled on my bed lost in a book. Some of my favourite memories are associated with reading.  I still distinctly remember the night my Godmother taught me to read in my head (“just say the words in your head, not on your lips”), and the nights spent with my dad reading me the Narnia books. In the back of my subconscious are the times I spent as a very little nipper indeed, while mum read me The Little Go to Sleep Book (I still remember the little picture of the spiders sleeping in the plughole – what that says about me I don’t want to know).

So, at week 19, where do we stand?

Hanging in there...
Hanging in there…

I’ve just about kept up with the schedule, though frankly the decisions to re-read some absolute mammoths (I’m looking at you, Wolf Hall) were poor if I’m to meet the demands of the challenge.

Some of the highlights: 

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel

A re-read in time for the BBC series and a total joy. The achievement of HM in realising the complexity of this unusual character in English history cannot be overstated. Even without the blistering plot (proving that real life really is sometimes stranger than fiction), these are beautifully written, beautifully balanced books, which blend the real and the imagined with skill and sympathy. Gorgeous to read.

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Another book which brings another world to life, this is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman executed in Iceland. A visceral read, it doesn’t romanticise in the slightest 19-century Iceland. Harsh, earthy, and beautiful, it really stayed with me for a few days afterwards.

The Shardlake Series – CJ Sansom

I have a sneaky love for historical fiction, and the Shardlake series is what my father would describe as quality hokum. Recommended by a family friend Maggie – who has the most excellent taste in books – I’ve devoured the series and am itching to buy the next as soon as it reaches a reasonable price online or I find it in a charity shop. The lead character, the hunch-backed eponymous lawyer, is a brilliant invention – human, frail and ever-so slightly pompous, but clever and brilliant and endlessly entertaining. Good fun.

…and some not so much 

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

I went into this book with high hopes, ticking as it does a lot of my boxes. Historical fiction, female lead, slightly mysterious – but the delicious build-up created in the first two-thirds of the book rather dramatically peters out towards the end, and the author appears to rush through the last third in an attempt to tie up all the loose ends. A shame, as the world of 18-century Amsterdam was so brilliantly realised. No spoilers, but suffice it to say that I’d have preferred one twist, properly and thoroughly explored, to the two rather rushed plot lines we got instead.

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

The literary equivalent of Nandos – spicy, cheap and delicious, but left you cold, uninspired and exhausted at the end. One of those books you compulsively tear through, waiting for it to get better. It didn’t.

Up on the list:

KIKI de Montparnasse by Cate & Bocquet – a beautiful graphic novel I’ve been waiting to read when I’ve time to admire the illustrations properly.

The Discworld Series – when Terry Pratchett died earlier this year I was bereft. I need time before attempting the series again, because reaching the final book when is published later this year will be a bittersweet reminder that it’s come to an end, far too soon.

Frank Gardner – Blood and Sand – a cracking read, apparently, and an autobiography I’m really looking forward to.

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