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So many books, so little time!

Everybody reads at different rates; some people only get a chance to read on holiday, some every day on their commute to work, some open up a new book and skim read through the pages like a robot whereas others like to take their and absorb each and every word. I would say that I am a relatively quick reader, certainly compared to my husband at least, but these days I struggle to find enough free time in the day to indulge in a good book.  BD1234-001.jpgThe only time I do tend to catch a spare few minutes to read is when I go up to bed and whilst picking up my book is a sure fire way to guarantee me nodding off, it certainly isn’t allowing me to get through as many books as I would like. Before having children, I worked in London and would have an hours commute on the train, the perfect opportunity to read. Holidays were also spent feet up, round the pool, book in hand, cocktail next to me, needless to say those days are gone.

It got me thinking about how many books I could expect to read in my lifetime and I worked out that if I were to read an average of 2 books a month, which allows for the different reading rates throughout my life, and if I were to live until the average life expectancy of a woman in the UK, 82.5, then in my lifetime I can expect to read approximately 1,980 books. It might sound a lot, but compared to the amount of books that are out there and that’s not even including the ones that haven’t been written yet, how can I begin choose which ones to read and which ones to leave?

75b9b8fe4c5d2771730a15b37ee4fa22Amazon have a link on their site for 100 books to read in a lifetime, which I guess is a good starting point and so I challenged myself to run through the list and see how well I had done so far. I am embarrassed to admit that I got a measly 28 out of 100, pathetic! but who actually compiles these lists and if I am only going to read 1,980 books in my lifetime, surely I should be choosing the ones I really want to read? How many times have you read a book only to get a third of the way through and still not get what it’s about, but not wanting to give up on it you’ve persevered, got to the end and are still none the wiser and left completely uninspired. Why should we be wasting our time on these books that do nothing for us?  From now on, if I get to page 50 in a book and it’s not floating my boat and I am going to take great pride in laying the book down and starting a new one.  A book has got to earn it’s place if it want to be part of my 1,980!

For my next article, I intend to make my own personal list of the top 100 books I believe should be read in a lifetime.  And, yes, of course not everyone is going to agree with it, but if nothing else it will act as a record of those books that have struck a chord with me and may even act as recommendations for others.  I would love to see your lists of books that would appear in your top 100, so send them in to us and we’ll share them on the page.

The Fault in our Stars

Despite the tumor  shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

51r0dfgTziLThe Fault in our Stars is the sixth book by John Green and was published back in January 2012. The story is narrated by the leading character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16 year old girl who has thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs and now relies on her trusty oxygen canister to survive. The title of the novel was inspired by the line from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, in which Cassius says to Brutus:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

(Act 1, Scene 2)

Yes, this book will almost definitely make you cry, but what marks it out as different is that the characters are not asking for your pity.  Their diseases, although terminal, are not all consuming. They don’t indulge us with tales of woe but instead take the viewpoint that everyone is going to die at some point, so just get on with living the life you have.

Forced by her parents to attend the Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel reluctantly goes in a bid to keep them happy. But when she meets a 17 year old boy, Augustus Waters, who has recently been given the all clear from osteosarcoma, a rare form of blood cancer, she realises she is about to embark on a new chapter of her life. The story will make you feel every emotion known to mankind. Combining love, romance and teenage friendship with a tragic, heartbreaking sadness that will literally leave you weeping uncontrollably into the pages, Green creates a literary masterpiece that will stay with you forever. What no one can predict is how the story ends, and I am certainly not going to ruin it for anyone.  You must, just read this book! A1swakWwRkL._SL1500_A tragic, love story bound together by universal themes that we can all associate with, it is a book that you will find yourself coming back to time and time again.  It has, without a doubt earnt a well-deserved permanent place on my bookshelf and I will be recommending it to all of my friends.

A feature film adaptation of the novel was released in June 2014 and I had the pleasure of watching it last weekend. Now, usually I am very much of the opinion that a film can never live up to the book, which is why I always insist that I read a book before I see the film. However, in this case I would say that the film is very much on a par with the book and does it complete justice. Shailene Woodley (Hazel Grace Lancaster) and Ansel Elgort (Augustus Waters) portray their characters beautifully and the whole film was an absolute joy to watch, even though it did get a bit blurry at the end as my eyes filled with tears!

Next Month’s Book: ‘The Maze Runner


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. all he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.”

81PGCpN+t7L._SL1500_Harold Fry is an unassuming man is his seventies who lives a quiet life with his wife Maureen in their home in the South Hams of Devon. But when a letter arrives for Harold one morning from an old acquaintance, everything changes. Harold sets out to the local postbox to post his reply, but carries on walking to the next one and the next one and the one after that.  He embarks on a pilgrimage to save Queenie Hennessy, who he feels he has a lot to thank for, but his pilgrimage becomes more of an enlightenment to him than it ever can to Queenie.

Rachel Joyce tackles dementia, depression and addiction within this heartwarming tale of perseverance against all odds. More and more events from Harold’s past begin to surface and his relationship with his wife and son are completely stripped bare.  Why does Maureen now sleep in the spare room? Why do his wife and son seem to gang up on him?  What has he done or indeed not done that has resulted in his life becoming so devoid of love and affection?  These are all questions which are gradually answered throughout the book and we realise that Harold needs to walk not just for Queenie but to also escape some of his demons and to rediscover who he is.  It is essentially a purging of his past which will let him come to terms with what has happened and give him the chance to rebuild past relationships.

Harold’s journey takes him 600 miles from Kingsbridge in Devon up to Berwick on Tweed where Queenie is staying in a hospice. After talking to a girl in a petrol station, he begins to believe that if he can just keep walking, without any help from other transport, he will be able save Queenie from her cancer. Buying souvenirs and posting postcards and letters on his way he shares the Great British countryside with the reader whilst cementing our faith that if he just keeps walking then surely the outcome must be positive – right?  Well I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, but this truly is one of those life changing books that will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.  Beautifully written, offering us a modern twist on John Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress‘. It deserves a spot on anyone’s book shelf and I know I for one will be returning time and time again to this amazing book.

Next months book: ‘The Fault in Our Stars

before we met

“Hannah Reilly has seized her chance at happiness. Until the day her husband doesn’t come home… Can you ever really know what happened before you met?”

17978144This third novel by Lucie Whitehouse, explores the relationship between Hannah Reilly and her husband Mark, who she married in a whirlwind romance, and encapsulates the new genre of ‘marriage thriller’ made popular by Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ and SJ Watson’s ‘Before I go to Sleep’. In a similar vein to last months read, ‘The Husband’s Secret’, Whitehouse raises the question of how well do you really know your husband?

Hannah is the stereotypical career girl in her thirties, more intent on having a good time and enjoying life rather than settling down and certainly not contemplating marriage. Living in New York she has a successful job in advertising, however when she is swept off her feet by Mark Reilly and they settle down in the UK, she is left without a job and somewhat dispirited.

Her cause for concern comes when waiting for Mark at Heathrow to return from a business trip, only his flight doesn’t come in, he doesn’t call her and his secretary lets something slip that perhaps she shouldn’t. With Hannah’s trust in her husband starting to break down, she takes matters into her own hands and does some digging around of her own. Is he having an affair? Why doesn’t he ever talk about his family? Why has her bank account been cleared? As it becomes clear that this marriage has been based on a bed of lies how will Hannah confront her husband and with what consequence. A sensationally gripping book that had me on the edge of my sun longer.

Included in the Richard and Judy Summer Book club 2014 list, I chose this as my summer holiday beach read and I was not disappointed. Having not yet given into buying a Kindle, choosing the right books to take on holiday with me is important. There is no way I’m going to use my baggage allowance on heavy books, shoes will always win, so I restrict myself to two or three books. I am happy to say that I definitely chose the right books, ‘before we met’ being one of them. Unfortunately, I enjoyed the book so much I managed to finish reading it in two days and was left having to rummage through the hotel’s rather poor ‘library’ selection of left behind Jilly Coopers and Jackie Collins’. Maybe I will put that Kindle on my birthday list after all!

Next month’s book: ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Husband’s Secret

“Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in in her husband’s hand it says: to be opened only in the event of my death. Curious, she opens it – and time stops. John-Paul’s letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, if revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others. Cecilia wants to do the right thing, but right for who? If she protects her family by staying silent, the truth will worm through her heart. But if she reveals her husband’s secret, she will hurt those she loves the most…”

51OsGdjSD6LThe question everyone should answer when reading this book is would you open the letter? Of course you would! I certainly would. We would all like to think we wouldn’t but let’s face it curiosity would get the best of most of us. But, as Cecilia finds out, this decision has consequences which will change her life forever and begs the question are you sometimes better off just not knowing.

With a complexity of relationships that are inextricably entwined in ways that only become clear the more we read, Lynne Moriarty has written an intriguing, at times beautiful, at times sad, dark and compelling story that has us questioning our own morals.

Set in a family environment and running alongside the monotony of day to day life, Cecilia must deal with the betrayal of her husband whilst keeping up the facade of normality in order to protect both her children and her reputation. The book is filled with multiple secret, secrets that have the potential to eat away and destroy a person.

I enjoyed reading this book whilst enjoying a rare bit of British sunshine sat at a pavement cafe in Covent Garden in London.  I spent my time flitting between reading and the occasional glance over the page to indulge in my love of people watching and I found myself wondering what other secrets people are hiding out there. Do we really know people as much as we think we do?

Next month’s book: ‘before we met

Are we nearly there yet?

“They were bored, broke, burned out and turning 40. So when Ben and his wife Dinah were approached to write a guidebook about family travel, they embraced the open road, ignoring friends’ warnings: ‘One of you will come back chopped up in a bin bag in the roof box.’ Featuring deadly puff adders, Billie Piper’s pyjamas and a friend of Hitler’s, it’s a story about love, death, falling out, moving on and growing up, and 8,000 misguided miles in a Vauxhall Astra.”

Can you think of anything worse than being cooped up in a small car with two young children for five months with no pre-booked accommodation  to head to and no home to return to if it all went wrong? Well that is exactly what Ben Hatch did with his family when they left their home in Hove to embark on a voyage of discovery with the intention of writing a family friendly guidebook of the UK. The wittily titled book had me nodding my head in a ‘yep I’ve been there’, crying tears of laughter at the author’s expense whilst sympathetically cringing at the inevitability of certain outcomes.  It is the perfect lighthearted read to make you feel better about any nightmare trips you may have already taken or are about to embark on.

11880787Hatch’s comic writing style is very similar to that of Bill Bryson, but is perhaps more accessible and easier to read.  Maybe it’s because I have a family of my own and can picture myself in very similar situations, either way it offers a warts and all experience of traveling in the UK with a young family. The book is clever in that it offers both a guide to family attractions, giving us informative advice and recommendations etc whilst also opening up and creating a true picture of family life.  It is their real life that we are experiencing  yet at the same time we are drawn into a story-like existence where the characters seem both real and fictional.  Toilet stops, bad customer service and the funny things that Hatch’s children come out with are all laugh out loud moments but this is also intertwined with the highly emotional and frank openness of how Hatch deals with his father’s ill-health, leading to the final few months of his life.

With my own family holiday in the pipeline I can only hope to be that much more prepared having read this travelogue. Perhaps every new family about to embark on their first road trip should read this book before loading the car up and starting the engine. Let’s face it, no car journey with kids is going to be stress free but reading this book will remind us we’re not alone when we hear our kids scream out for the millionth time ‘Are we nearly there yet?’.


Next month’s book: ‘The Husband’s Secret

The Ice Cream Girls

“As teenagers, Poppy Carlisle and Serena Gorringe were the only witnesses to a tragic event. Amid heated public debate, the two seemingly glamorous teens were dubbed ‘the Ice Cream Girls’ by the press and were dealt with by the courts. Years later, having led very different lives, Poppy is keen to set the record straight about what really happened, while Serena wants no one in her present to find out about her past. But some secrets will not stay buried – and if theirs is revealed everything will become a living hell all over again…”

‘The Ice Cream Girls’ is Dorothy Koomson’s sixth novel and to fully immerse myself in the story I chose a beautiful sunny morning to wander down to Brighton pier, the setting of the book, set up a deck chair and indulge in some literary escapism. With seagulls cawing and swooping round my head, the smell of candy floss flooding my nostrils the hubbub of families hitting the arcades it was hard to imagine how such a lively and innocent setting could harbor a story filled with betrayal, punishment and manipulation.

6744241The story flits between the viewpoints of Serena and Poppy both in the past and present tense.  This runs the risk of being incredibly confusing to the reader but actually it is a very clever literary technique used by Koomson to help create suspense. Slowly but surely more and more information is drip fed to the reader allowing us to take on the role of private detective and make up our own mind and assumptions about what may have happened.

Koomson takes on the issue of domestic violence and controversially inserts it into the realm of childhood offering a thought provoking and gritty read. In an interview in the Independent Koomson says,”When I wrote The Ice Cream Girls I wanted to tell the story of two ordinary girls and how anyone can become embroiled in an abusive relationship. I wanted people to understand the nature of abuse and that it wasn’t all about violence, a lot involves emotional manipulation.”

Although at times the subject matter left me cringing and not wanting to know more it was strangely addictive and ‘unputdownable’. It became imperative that I found out the truth.  I also found it strange how my allegiance to the two key characters, Poppy and Serena, changed so much throughout the story as I learnt more about their personalities.

I finished the book the same day that I started, it was that good. With stall holders closing shutters, a cool breeze blowing across the sea and the the whistle from a cleaner clearing up the remnants of a dropped ice cream cone, the pier began to look different to me than it had that morning. Slightly more chilling, slightly more dark and with a haunting reminder that things are not always what they seem.

The book was made into a TV series in early 2013 and attracted viewing figures of almost 5 million.

Next months book: ‘Are we nearly there yet?

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

“Alex Woods knows that he hasn’t had the most conventional start in life. He knows that growing up with a clairvoyant single mother won’t endear him to the local bullies. He also knows that even the most improbable events can happen – he’s got the scars to prove it. What he doesn’t know yet is that when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson, he’ll make an unlikely friend. Someone who tells him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make the best possible choices. So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at Dover customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing”.


Carrying on from last month’s book theme of a strong senior character, Gavin Extence explores the unlikely relationship between a young teenage boy and his neighbour Mr Peterson. Alex is someone who keeps himself to himself, keeps his head down and stays out of trouble. However, this makes him more of a target and earmarks him out as different to the teenage idea of normal. Mr Peterson, with his years of wisdom and experience recognizes a boy in need of help, who is in need of remaining true to himself. He encourages him to set up a book club in the hope that he can find like minded people to befriend.  In the end it is Mr Peterson who comes to need Alex’s help and it is at this point in the story that Extence explores the controversial theme of euthanasia. Alex and Mr Petersen travel by car to Switzerland to a Centre for assisted death leaving Alex to deal with the aftermath of Mr Petersen’s decision. Extence handles this with compassion and makes us question whether we truly should have a say in whether we live or die.

This story is both funny and heartbreaking but will leave you feeling that there is a simple beauty in laughter, unlikely friendships and reason that you will now no longer take for granted.

Next month’s book: ‘The Ice Cream Girls

The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

“Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not…”

the-hundred-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-of-the-window-and-disappearedI bought this book whilst killing time waiting for a train to Bath and rather aptly a train station is where Allan starts his journey upon his escape from an old people’s home. This international best seller from Jonas Jonasson, a journalist from Sweden, is a charming, comic story of one man’s travels across Sweden with no real sense of where he is going or for what purpose. Allan Karlsson is the Forest Gump of the senior citizen world. As he meets weird and wonderful characters on his travels including a circus elephant, some unfriendly criminals and a friendly hot dog stall owner he regales them with fantastical stories of his past meetings with dominant historical leaders such as Franco, Truman and Reagan.

The historical stories can get a little too in depth and wordy at times, which I personally struggled with although it did help increase my rather poor knowledge of some key political events in history.  Although it is quite frankly completely far fetched and unbelievable at times, it is written in such a charming, witty way that we forgive Jonnason this. I love the fact that the main protagonist is an old man, rarely do we see this in such a positive light and as the back of the book states “You’re never too old for an adventure”.

As my train journey took me through the beautiful Somerset countryside, I found it difficult to take my eyes off of the book.  The images that Jonnason creates and the beautiful way in which he lays out Allan’s journey are captivating and I was sad when my train pulled into Bath station.

One of the best books I’ve read so far this year and with the film set to be released in the Summer this is one story I will be talking about for some time.

Next month’s book: ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods

Secrets of the Tides

“Dora, youngest daughter of the Tide family, is doing a good job of skating across the surface of her life – but the discovery that she is pregnant leaves her staring back at the darkness of a long-held guilt. Returning to Clifftops, the rambling family house perched high on the Dorset coastline, Dora must confront her past and unlock the secrets her troubled sister Cassie swore she would take to her grave.”

11633124‘The Secret of the Tides’ is a compelling debut novel from Hannah Richell, which explores themes of infidelity, betrayal and tragedy. The Tides family are a family with a dark past which contains many dark secrets. Each family member is haunted by a tragic event that happened on one day ten years ago and the book explores how they struggle to cope with the memory and move their lives forward.

This bleak family saga covers three generations of women and deals with the complex relationships these women have with one another. There is a battle between trying to protect the ones you love whilst also doing what is right and just.

Set on the Dorset coastline, Clifftops is a rambling family home surrounded by the open ocean and exposed to all elements. Just as the house stands perilously close to the edge of the eroding, crumbling cliffs, the main character, Dora risks her own foundations crumbling away from her, as her life seems to spin out of her control.

I read this book whilst on holiday in Dorset, which perhaps helped draw me into the story, making the landscape have more poignancy and gave the story a more lifelike quality to it.

The characters are believable, if not always likeable but ultimately you will be rooting for Dora to find justice for herself and to find peace in her life at last.

A sad story of grief and forgiveness which will leave you eager to find out more.

Next month’s book: ‘The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

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