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my 2018 book recommendations

Last year I set myself the modest challenge on Good Reads of reading a book a month. By the time our summer holiday came round in August I’d plodded through 5 and looked like I was going to fall woefully short of my target, but in the following 4 months I read 19 more and finished the year with a tally of 24.

A few things happened in the latter half of the year to turn my reading year around. Firstly I started to get unapologetically picky about what I chose to read and wouldn’t buy anything with less than top reviews on Amazon (and believe me there are loads and loads of books like that, so you never run short). I also decided to dump anything that didn’t grab me quickly when I started reading and finally (the hardest part) whenever I picked up my mobile out of boredom, I made a conscious decision to put it back down and read a book.

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The year in books – August

My quest to document my reading in 2016 has drifted a little over the last couple of months when I got sidetracked by some underwhelming reads, but I got back on track in August with a cracking read with an uncomfortably familiar story.

the drakest secret

The Darkest Secret By Alex Marwood is the story of a missing child, set over two weekends 10 years apart. In 2004 property developer Sean Jackson is spending the August bank holiday weekend celebrating his fiftieth birthday with close friends and family, at a house he’s recently developed at the desirable millionaire’s holiday spot of Sandbanks.

Amidst the drinking, excesses and his crumbling second marriage are several children including Sean’s three year-old twins CoCo & Ruby. At the opening of the book we are told CoCo disappeared from her bed on the Sunday night, but on the book’s cover is the strapline “They said Coco went missing in the night. They lied.”

Alternating chapters between the unfolding story of what happened in 2004, tell the story of what is happening today to Sean’s remaining twin and the older children from his first marriage, all of whom have just heard news of Sean’s death. The cast of characters from 2004 also appear in the present, with some playing slightly different roles from those they had a decade ago.

The plot is a little slow to unfold but I was drawn to it not just by its similarities to the Madeleine McCann case, but also by the novel’s setting in Poole, a couple of hours along the coast from where we live. After a few duff reads over the summer this one didn’t quite deliver the twists and turns it was promising (I predicted the ending from a long way off, which isn’t usual for me) but it did hold my attention and I was engrossed by the characters. I’d recommend The Darkest Secret as a really enjoyable and intriguing read.

This month I’m taking a break from fiction (though I’m looking out for recommendations for my next novel if anyone has one?)  and instead reading The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy, it’s a book I came to via a recommendation to read The Slight Edge. Both apparently have a similar philosophy and I’m enjoying reading my choice so far.

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My choice for April was The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. I actually picked the book up in Tesco as a Mother’s Day present for my mum and she then passed it on to me after really enjoying it herself. The plot centres on Noah a four year-old boy who “wants to go home” despite the fact he’s already there. What follows is the slow realisation that Noah has lived a previous life and that in order to help him recover from his recurrent and nightmares and fear of water his mother must help him trace his previous family.

theforgettingtime

Running parallel to Noah and his mother’s story is the story of a psychologist with a degenerative disease who needs one last case study for his book on reincarnation. It doesn’t all slot neatly in to place immediately and there are a few false starts but eventually there’s a journey and a revelation. I won’t say too much because I don’t want to give away the plot completely!

The novel does require a certain suspension of disbelief or perhaps just a willingness to go in with an open mindset, but none of that restricted my enjoyment and I found it particularly poignant to read as I have a child of the same age as Noah. In fact I started to look at Alice in a rather different way after I read it and it made me wonder if sometimes she’s trying to tell me she’s been here before!

Because the storyline involves such a clear mystery from the very beginning I found it a very easy read and really looked forward to knowing what I’d discover with each days reading. Finding a book in Tesco may not be a good indication of literary quality exactly, but I do think they have quite a stringent filter to ensure they pick hit books and this one certainly fitted the bill. You can probably expect to see a few people reading it on holiday this year!

This month I’ve got a book I’m reviewing for Amazon. The Curious Charms Of Arthur Pepper by Paedra Patrick seems to be following a recent trend for older protagonists in novels (Etta and Otto and Russell and James immediately springs to mind as another) I don’t think it’s going to be an amazing read, but it’s pretty pleasant and easy so far.

Please share what you are reading at the moment in the comments below, I’m always after ideas for what to read next and if you are on Good Reads please send me a friend request.

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The Year In Books – March

It’s rare that I go back to an author when I’ve abandoned one book by them, but last month I did, almost by accident…

Dark Places was recommended to me by Georgina, the lovely PR lady at Stagecoach and I bought it online without recognising the name of the author as also being the writer of Gone Girl. Gone Girl is one of those books that seems to divide people, it was a best seller, but like that other blockbuster Girl On A Train, I didn’t get it and after struggling through two thirds of the book I eventually gave up on it.

darkplaces

Dark Places does have a similar feel to Gone Girl, but I thought it had a much more interesting premise. The story is about Libby Day who twenty years before survived a masacre which left her two elder sisters and mother dead. Her older brother Ben was sent to jail for their murder and Libby was left to grow up being passed around various family carers. Now in her mid-twenties the fund of public donations which she has been living off is running dry and she is approached with a financial offer to speak to members of the “Kill Club” a group of real-life murder enthusiasts.

This meeting leads to more offers of money for her to follow up on questions the club members have about the murders and so she begins, reluctantly at first, to investigate the killing of her family.

It’s an interesting plot, though not quite what I’d call a page turner and in the end although the solution to the murder was quite a clever idea, the conclusion left me feeling a little empty and sad and I’m not sure it’s entirely credible.

I also struggled with a couple of other things in the book. I couldn’t picture the character of Diondra at all and had to look up the actress who played her in the film to try and get a handle on her and I couldn’t buy the idea that six year-old Libby Day was referred to as “Baby Day” in the press. This is mentioned quite a lot at the start of the novel and it just didn’t fit at all that a primary school age child would be called a “baby”.

So, am I glad I went back to reading Gillian Flynn? I think I am. It feels good to have reached the end of one of her novels and it confirmed in many respects that I was right about the reservations I had about Gone Girl. Dark Places was a memorable and enjoyable read with a clever plot idea, but it felt a little light weight and I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to read another of her books.

For April I’m reading a book that I picked up in Tesco recently as a Mother’s Day gift for my mum (buying books for my mum is great like that…they come right back to me!) The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin is all about a 4 year-old boy who wants to go home….. to his mother in his past life!

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The Year In Books – February

At the end of my second month of The Year In Books I have almost finished reading my third book and I’m well and truly back into the swing of reading – hurray! My book choice for February was Etta and Otto and Russell and James. I’ve noticed it popping up a lot on Instagram, so its obviously a popular choice.

ettaotto

My copy was bought for me by Jim as a Christmas gift, it’s rare that he goes off piste with book choices rather than selecting something from my Amazon wish list, but he chose pretty well with this one.

The reason he picked it is that it’s set on the Canadian Prairies with part of the action taking place in Saskatchewan, which is the province to the east of Alberta where we lived for two years. This meant I was able to visualise the scenery perfectly and the wide open spaces and farm land which is depicted.

The story is set on two times. Telling the tale of Etta & Otto a married couple and their lifelong friend Russell (James also comes into it too, but I won’t give too much away!) We hear how they met in the past and what they are up to now. As the book starts Etta has begun to walk across Canada to the east coast, a vast distance for anyone, but particularly so for an elderly woman as she is by that point.

The book has some strange twists and turns and by the time I reached the end I found I’d just read yet another book that I had to google in order to understand the ending of. Upon further investigation it turns out that quite a lot of the story is deliberately ambiguous (including the ending) and you aren’t really supposed to know what actually happened and what was a product of Etta’s failing mind.

So quite an original concept for a book, but it did leave me feeling a little deflated at the end. The story set in the past concluded, the one in the present? Well who knows what happened really…

febbook2

On the plus side having ploughed through it in two weeks I was able to pick a second read for the month, so I chose High Tide  by Veronica Henry. My purchase was based almost entirely on the fact that the cover image looks incredibly like my local town. I’m currently a couple of days away from finishing it, but its panning out as expected. Very easy airport style literature. Good for a little escapism, but not much more.

My choice for next month is… something a bit different. The Breaking of the Shell  by Barry Durdant-Hollamby is a bit of a Paulo Cohelo type book mixing fiction with philosophy. It has rave reviews on Amazon, so it will be interesting to see what I make of it.   ...Dark Places by Gillian Flynn the author of Gone Girl.

In the meantime I welcome any recommendations in the comments of books you have read recently…

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