Back at the start of this year, I signed up to the Goodreads Challenge. I plucked a figure of 50 books out of the air and decided to see how far I could get. For years, I found it really difficult to read while I was writing. I’d get so into the story that the author’s style would creep into my own work. Then, during editing, I’d find these big chunks of text that just didn’t sound like me. I’d have to chop them out and start over, and so I decided not to read while I was writing. It was pragmatic, but boy, was it miserable!
I absolutely love reading and so it was a massive relief this year to find that it doesn’t seem to be such an issue anymore. I started writing the sequel in January and so far, it’s all my own voice even though I’ve ploughed through fifty books during the same period. Maybe that’s what happens with a sequel when you’re writing characters that you already know inside and out. Whatever the reason, it’s a huge relief.
I don’t really do book reviews, but I thought I’d share my top five reads of 2021 so far just for fun. If you are interested in reading reviews, there are lots on Goodreads.
- Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell
This was one of those ‘I’ve seen it so many times in the bookshop now that I really need to just read the damn thing’ books. I’m often put off by ‘award winning’ books, as I’m not a great lover of literary fiction, but this deserved every accolade that was thrown at it. It’s the story behind Shakespeare’s writing of Hamlet, although he’s never mentioned by name, and how the death of his young son influenced his writing and affected his family and his marriage. When I finished it, I bought a new copy of Hamlet and booked tickets to see Sir Ian McKellen play the title role in Windsor, and I was able to watch the play with an entirely new perspective. Whether that perspective was accurate or not we’ll never know, but that’s what good fiction should do I suppose – make you believe.
- Travels with my Aunt, Graham Greene
This was a wild card book. One of those, ‘oh go on then,’ purchases that you don’t fully expect to finish, but I gobbled it up like a greedy schoolkid let loose in a sweet shop. It’s the story of a retired bank manager who meets his estranged aunt at his mother’s funeral. He ends up abandoning his beloved dahlia garden for globe trotting, law bending adventures with his eccentric Aunt Augusta. It’s hilarious yet heartfelt and a lesson in never giving up on the adventure that is life.
- Away with the Penguins, Hazel Prior
I read this as an antidote to the excellent but heartbreaking Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. Away with the Penguins is about a curmudgeonly octogenarian who decides to leave her considerable fortune to a penguin research centre in Antarctica and travels, without invitation or permission, to check out the facilities for herself. It’s an endearing story that also touches on the terrible injustices previous generations had to endure. I loved it to bits. There’s a sequel coming out this autumn and I’ll be first in the queue.
- The Valley of Lost Secrets, Lesley Parr
This is was an utter delight of a book. Set during the war, it’s about two little boys evacuated to the Welsh valleys from London. Being ‘exiled Welsh’, I was ‘home’ after just a few chapters. Beautifully and effortlessly told, it reminded me of why I love reading children’s fiction.
- Crow Investigations, by Sarah Painter
This is actually a series of six books which start with ‘The Night Raven.’ An urban fantasy set in London, it’s a detective story with a twist as the protagonist, Lydia Crow, is a reluctant member of one of London’s four magical families. It’s got a bit of everything, mystery, family saga, paranormal intrigue and romance. I’m on the sixth book now and already hoping there’ll be a seventh, which has to be a good sign.
That’s it for now. I’ve no idea how many more I’ll read in the last few months of the year. Having hit my target, I may slack off completely and take up X-box (only joking!) I may actually go back and re-read some of my old favourites.
Drop a comment below if you’ve read something amazing this year – I’m always on the hunt for recommendations.