Saturday, March 11, 2017

Twenty books so far this year

After the first hints of spring, this weekend, as so often happens in March, has returned us to chillier weather. It rained yesterday, on and off, and although it wasn't predicted to start raining until eight o'clock this morning, the heavens opened around 7.15 when my friend Sheila and I were almost at the end of our walk. We didn't have umbrellas and weren't wearing raincoats... we were drenched.

As Sheila has decided to write about the books she reads each month, I thought I might take a short break from writing about living in Cyprus, and do something similar. I write reviews of all the books I read on my book reviews blog,  but more people visit this one.  I challenge myself to read a hundred books each year; that doesn't sound like very many, but life gets in the way and some days I read only a page or two.

I've finished twenty books so far this year, so I'm currently on track. Rather than write about them chronologically, I've listed them below in categories.  My aim is to read a couple of Christian non-fiction books each month, four novels, one writing book, and one 'other' - maybe a biography, or a self-help book, or one about personalities, or that catch-all 'miscellaneous'. Most of the novels I read are in the genre of women's fiction (relationship/character-based, primarily) but I also like reading and re-reading some teenage fiction. I try to slot in a few light crime novels too, to make a change now and again.

I usually have about six books that I'm reading at any moment; they're listed in my sidebar if anyone's interested. Likewise, if you're curious to find out more of what I thought about any of them, links given below are to the reviews on my book blog.

Christian books 

At the start of the year we were in the UK visiting relatives, so I was mainly reading on my Kindle.  I wasn't particularly impressed with 'Meeting Rich', which is almost too short to count as a book, but it was quite well written, and passed the time.

Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I then started reading one of the books I was given for Christmas: 'Accidental Saints' by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I wish this book didn't contain such strong, sometimes crude language, because it's extremely well written otherwise, and very thought-provoking. The author is a Lutheran pastor who runs an alternative and inclusive church, and while some of her ideas are quite controversial, she writes with compassion and humility, and I thought it excellent.

The third Christian book I finished this year, again on my Kindle, was 'The Jesus Training Manual', a title which almost put me off reading it. However, it was well written, if a little repetitive in places: a mixture of biographical account, as the author's faith and theology underwent some significant changes, and some teaching of the kind which we'd first heard in the Vineyard Church we belonged to for a couple of years back in the 1990s when we lived in the United States.

Then I read a book which I found on one of our shelves with a much more appealing title: 'Following Jesus without embarrassing God', by Tony Campolo.

- So I succeeded in my aim of two per month, and hope to finish the two I'm currently reading by the end of March.


The first book I finished reading was on my Kindle, one I started on our flight to the UK a couple of days after Christmas. 'Passing Shadows' by Della Galton was ideal holiday reading; it's a romance featuring an artist and a woman who runs an animal centre.

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
I then embarked on 'The Shepherd's Crown' by Terry Pratchett, which I was given for Christmas.  It was a little bittersweet, knowing it was the last book Sir Terry wrote before he died; I love the way it ties up so many loose endings, and that it's the last of his series for older children and teenagers. It was moving as well as having amusing moments, and I was very pleased to have read it at last.

'Summer on the River' by Marcia Willett was the next novel I decided to read. That was another Christmas present, and I started reading it on our return flight to Cyprus... then found I could barely put it down. As with most of this author's stories, it's character-based and about different kinds of relationships. I liked it very much.

I then decided I should finish 'Elsie's Kith and Kin', a book I had been reading on my Kindle, off and on, for quite some time. I was quite pleased when I first discovered the 'Elsie' series free to download, having read about them in the Chalet School books. I worked my way through a couple of them some years ago.  I didn't much like this one, though, and doubt if I'll read any more.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Back to my Christmas books, and I had immense pleasure reading Jan Karon's latest, 'Come Rain or Come Shine'. I've loved all her Mitford series, featuring the delightful (and now retired) Father Tim and his wife Cynthia. This one features a wedding, and is best read after the rest of the books.

After that I read yet another Christmas book, 'The Great Christmas Knit Off' by Alexandra Brown. It's lighter than the previous books I'd been reading, but moves at a good pace and is surprisingly thought-provoking in places. I hadn't read anything by this author before, but thought that a book about knitting made a nice change from the many similar books about cakes or other baking.

Interspersed with new books I like to re-read books I've enjoyed at least eight years previously, and I tend to work through novels by some of my favourite writers. So the next one I picked up was 'Tell Mrs Poole I'm Sorry' by Kathleen Rowntree, a book I had only read once before, as long ago as 2001. I had only the vaguest recollection of the story, and while it's somewhat shocking, it's very well written.

After that, wanting something different, I decided to re-read Frank Peretti's 'The Visitation', another book which I first read in 2001 but have not picked up since. I had vague memories of it being a book that I found pleasanter than I had expected. I liked the first part very much, when a visitor comes to a small American town and starts doing 'miracles'... but it gradually became more suspenseful and quite violent in places. So I doubt if I'll read that one again.

I followed it with another lighter-looking novel, 'Summer with my Sister' by Lucy Diamond, which I acquired second-hand some time last year.  It's another book about relationships - it features the contrast between a high-flying business woman and a single mother who are sisters, and have almost nothing in common.  I enjoyed it.

After that I picked up 'Many Waters' by Madeleine L'Engle, which I don't think I have ever read before, although it has been on our bookcase of teenage books for many years. Rather different from the others in the 'Time Quintet', the fantasy and science are minimal; the bulk of the story takes place on Earth in the time before Noah.  I was surprised at how much I liked it.

The next novel was another re-read: 'An Ocean Apart' by Robin Pilcher, son of the better-known Rosamunde Pilcher. This was his debut novel, and I read it first in 2001. I'd almost entirely forgotten the story, and once again I loved it.  It's character-based, and in places extremely moving.

I followed that with the much lighter 'Horizontal Epistles of Andromeda Veal' by Adrian Plass, sequel to his first 'Sacred Diary' book. Light-hearted fun with a more serious underlying story; an eight-year-old girl with socialist leanings and highly creative spelling is in traction in hospital with a broken femur, and writes letters to friends, acquaintances, and world leaders.

- So, I finished twelve novels in two months, which is more than my planned one per week. Three are intended for teenagers, and there's inevitably cross-over between the genres as five of them would also be considered Christian books.

Writing books

Writing with Cold Feet by Kathrin Lake
I downloaded on my Kindle 'Back to Creative Writing School' by Bridget Whelan a long time ago, and dipped into it several times before deciding to read it to the end. It takes the format of a creative writing class, so could be studied over the course of several weeks. I liked it very much, and thought it helpful, but didn't do most of the exercises.

I then read 'Writing with Cold Feet' by Kathrin Lake, a slim volume that contains a great deal of wisdom. It doesn't give instruction about writing, or grammar, and doesn't have any exercises as such. Instead it looks at reasons why so many writers feel immense resistance when they sit down at the computer to write. I thought it extremely helpful and inspiring.


How it Works: The Mum (A LadyBird Book)
The first 'other' book I read was very short, and almost a cheat to include it in a list of books read, as it took me no more than ten minutes to read it, punctuated by reading bits aloud or chuckling. However, I thought it a wonderful book so wrote about it on my blog - 'How it Works: The Mum', another book which I was given for Christmas.   It's a Ladybird book, in the style of the children's books that were so popular in the 60s and 70s; anyone who has not come across Ladybird books of that era would probably find it bizarre!

And finally... 'The Procrastination Equation' by Dr Piers Steel. It's somewhat of an academic work, by a writer who has done extensive research into what makes people procrastinate, discovering three main styles of procrastination, and outlining what may (or may not) help with working through it. Very interesting information about the way our brains work; a little heavy in places, but overall I thought it excellent.

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