Category Archives: Books

Book Review: The Seed Collectors – Scarlett Thomas

The Seed Collectors is a magical book about complex family relationships and the seeking of enlightenment. The Gardener family are mostly botanists – we learn about five generations of them. Three members of one generation went missing during the search for a mysterious, deadly plant that is rumoured to be a short cut to achieving enlightenment.

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The Seed Collectors on Blackpool Prom.

Despite the whole enlightenment thing, which might not be your cup of tea (things like that generally aren’t really mine), it’s really a story of relationships. The Gardener’s could be generally thought of as rich, self-centred and interesting. Oh, and fairly obsessed with sex.

The cast of characters is a little overwhelming, but a few highlights are Beatrix: The oldest living Gardener. She likes investing in fashion brands and watching pornography on her computer. Her son, Augustus, who sadly doesn’t appear much.

The main characters are the children of Augustus and his generation. Charlie – ultra controlled and paleo loving, Clem – an acclaimed wildlife documentary maker. Their cousin Bryony – completely uncontrolled when it comes to eating, drinking and spending money, simultaneously devastated by her size. Another main character is Fleur – daughter of Briar Rose, one of the missing, and taken in by the family. She has worked for free learning how to run the hippy retreat in the family mansion. And don’t forget the Robin who lives in the garden of the mansion, he narrates a few chapters!

There are so many children, spouses, friends and colleagues, and the relationships are even more complex than you originally think. You get a family tree at the start of the book, and an updated one at the end. It was really useful because it took a while to figure out how this myriad of people were connected. There’s so many of them you only get a brief visit to some which seems a shame. I think you might have been able to lose some without much damage to the story and it might have made it less unwieldy.

Oleander’s funeral is the opening chapter of the book and some of the strange items inherited are key to the story of the mystical, mysterious plant the older Gardeners were looking for when they disappeared, presumed dead. Oleander is an older relative who runs the hippy retreat Mansion.

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I enjoyed The Seed Collectors as a bit of escapism. I liked going into this world of rich, selfish people who basically destroy their own lives and those around them by their awful behaviour! It’s not a difficult read, and it’s hilarious in many parts. There’s a short sex scene towards the end of the book that was so awful, it was funny. Awful because of the characters behaviour, not awfully written.

Interestingly, this was a book club choice and we met yesterday to discuss it. Only 2 of us, out of 12 or so, liked it! Many hated it so much they didn’t finish.

Have you read The Seed Collectors? What did you think?

 

Books Bought and Read – July 2017

Bought

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. I love this book. The stories of loads of amazing women written like fairy stories with amazing illustrations. I just want books like this lying around my house for my children to pick up and look through!

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small girl looking at the fabulous illustrations

Bit of a kindle 99p sale spree:

  • The Circle – Dave Eggers
  • Alice – Christina Henry
  • Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
  • I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
  • Still Alice – Lisa Genova
  • Anger is an energy – John Lydon

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi. I’ve been after this for ages and it popped up on a lightning deal for under £5.

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The Seed Collectors – Scarlett Thomas. The next book for a book club I’m in. I don’t know anything about it.

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Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty. 99p kindle deal. I LOVED the TV series of this

I’ve decided I should always have an audiobook on the go, so have been getting the audible daily deal. I won’t get many listened to until I’m back at work at the end of August though. I’ve now got:

  • Engleby – Sebastian Faulks 
  • Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller
  • Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (99p kindle deal). I’ve seen too many giant book shop displays of this to pass it by.

After the Man Booker Prize longlist announcement I had to buy a couple of them to read so I picked up:

Solar Bones – Mike McCormack. It’s one sentence. I’m intrigued!

Swing Time – Zadie Smith. I have on goodreads that I’ve read White Teeth, but reading the plot summary I’m not sure I ever actually did read it! So this might be my first Zadie Smith.

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More kindle 99p deals:

  • The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
  • Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

Read

Click to link through to the review:

Anger Is An Energy – John Lydon

A Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg

Nasty Women – 404Ink

The Unseen – Roy Jacobsen

Holidays On Ice – David Sedaris

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

Bedtime Stories with my Children

Diary of a Minecraft Zombie – Book 1. Utter trash that my son adores.

Danny the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl. I didn’t think I’d ever read this one before but the story seems familiar, so I must have read it once as a child.

Matilda – Roald Dahl. Again!

The Witches – Roald Dahl. Genuinely terrifying!

Picasso and the girl with the ponytail – Laurence Anholt. I know… it’s great though!

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Cinderella. *yawn*

Aliens Love Underpants – Claire Freedman and Ben Cort. -The noisy book version. At least it’s over quickly…

Book Review: Anger is an Energy – John Lydon

I like John Lydon. He is straight to the point and I agree with a lot of his core attitudes and beliefs. That’s not to say I agree with everything he says, and boy, does he have a lot to say. At almost 520 pages this is no quick read. Still, I loved every minute of it. You are fully getting his no holds barred opinions here. Or if he is holding back, you certainly can’t tell!

If you stand up for whatever it is you really believe in, if you really stand up, and be accounted for, people will rate you highly.

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Anger is an Energy on the kindle with some other punk books!

His account of the Sex Pistols days is fascinating and quite sad. He felt alone and disregarded and/or ignored by the rest of the band most of the time. It comes across that the other three (Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook) never really accepted him fully into the band, as they already formed the band before John came along. I have no doubt that John, as he freely admits, isn’t the easiest person to get along with! and he just rubbed them up the wrong way (a theme throughout the book). I would definitely like to read some other accounts of that time period to get some other perspectives on what happened. As you can see from the picture above, I have Steve Jones’ book ready to go.

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L-R Glen Matlock, John Lydon, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook.

 

It is fascinating though. That band were truly at the heart of an amazing moment in history. It probably helps that I’m a fan of punk rock. I love his scorn of the majority of punk bands. I share a lot of the same views. So many identikit bands trying to out macho each other. Repulsive. The bands he praises are all stand out bands like the Buzzcocks. He hates that punk quickly became very narrow in its definition: there’s a certain uniform, a haircut, a way of treating people, a sound – and woe betide anyone who doesn’t conform. John refuses to be narrowly defined – especially musically, but actually in every aspect of his life, and so he gets constant abuse in his life beyond the Sex Pistols. A constant minority who seek him out and are angry because he ‘sold out’. In other words, he dared to move on and try new things that musically interest him.

Being open-minded to all kinds of music was Lesson One in punk, but that didn’t seem to be understood by many of the alleged punk bands that followed on after, who seemed to be waving this idea of a punk manifesto. I’m sorry, but I never did this for the narrow-minded. I was horrified by the cliche that punk was turning into.

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The Sex Pistols after Sid Vicious had replace Glen Matlock. L-R Steve Jones, Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Paul Cook. 

Earlier in the book we get some of his home life growing up. He’s from a very working class London background. His descriptions of himself at school were great and really clear – I know EXACTLY what sort of student he would have been in my classroom – one of those cheeky, annoying but lovable ones! Frustrated with their lack of effort because you can’t follow their particular interest all the time. Full of questions that are related, but are a distraction to what you actually need to teach that day. Oh, sorry, just having high school teaching flash backs there!

His move from a school to basically a technical college for naughty kids chucked out of school is interesting and there he meets Sid. I love this quote about his time at the technical college. The idea that he still wore his school uniform is absurd, and says so much about his personality!

It was basically just school by any stretch, so I wore my William of York uniform still, because I didn’t want to wear anything that I liked. But it was a bit of a fashion parade. Sidney certainly used it as a catwalk.

After Glen Matlock leaves the Sex Pistols, Sid is brought in and the break up of the band seems almost inevitable at this point. It’s such a dysfunctional relationship they all have.

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Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten (aka John Ritchie and John Lydon)

After the Sex Pistols you get a lot of details about line up and management changes for Public Image Limited (PiL). I’m not familiar with the musicians from this band, and didn’t know any of the many people discussed. It’s still interesting, but in more of a vague way of seeing how all over the place the band and John’s life was. This continues up until the later 90s where you get a Sex Pistols reunion tour. Then in the 2000s there is I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here – which I remember watching because Lydon was on it. Followed by a few nature programs he makes. And of course the infamous butter commercials!

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John Lydon by Paul Heartfield from http://www.clashmusic.com/features/in-conversation-john-lydon

At this stage you discover that Lydon, and his wife Nora, begin to parent Nora’s grandchildren. It’s a sweet part of the book where he explains how they had to change their lives to give everything they could to these wild teenagers that they were suddenly responsible for. All the parts of the book where he describes his love for Nora are quite beautiful. They fell in love when they met during the Sex Pistols time, in 1975, and they are still together today.

Overall, this is a great book. It possibly helps if you have some interest in Lydon to begin with, but I imagine you must if you are considering reading 520 pages about him! It’s glorious that there is a note from the publisher at the beginning basically begging you to not sent in grammatical errors from the text – Lydon has his own way of using English and the ‘mistakes’ are just how he is talking!

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‘Don’t let tiffles cause fraction’

Lydon is upfront, unapologetic, harsh, and uncompromising. But he’s also a family man, loyal, a supporter of education, and interested in everything the world has to offer. There’s a place for him at the table of my imaginary perfect dinner party anyway.

Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

A sweet, magical adventure with Isabelle, a thirteen year old island dweller who decides she needs to investigate the disappearance of her class mate. Aimed at 10 – 14 year olds, I wouldn’t recommend it for adults unless you just really want a super easy read! It’s a lovely adventure though and would be perfect for younger readers.

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Isabelle lives with her father, a cartographer, on one part of an island, Joya. The villagers are living under a repressive governor who has banned them from going to the rest of the island or leaving via the sea.  A series of mysterious events lead the govenor to organise a search party to go into the Forbidden Territories. Isabelle (disguised as a boy obviously!) manages to get in the search party as their navigator, and to map their progress, using the cartography skills taught to her by her father.

It was one of the first things Da taught me. Stars are the earliest maps, the most precise. They can tell you where you are better than a compass – after all, they have a bird’s-eye view. If you can learn to read the stars you’ll never be lost.

Isabelle is a lover of stories, and believes the myths about the island’s origins, involving a girl warrior and a fire demon, are literally true. Are they? Maybe we shall see!

There are demon dogs, mysteries, friendships, an extremely mild love story, peril, challenged gender expectations, love, dictatorships, and maps! It’s also got a gorgeous cover.

I feel like I’ve read a lot of books set on islands recently! Looking back though, it really is just this one and The Unseen. Weird!?

The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2017

The Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced. 13 books, published in the UK between 1st October 2016 and 31st September 2017. Writers of any nationality are allowed, it’s the publication in the UK that is the defining criteria, and it must be written in English (there’s an international prize for translations). 

I’ve only read one of the thirteen book, Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 and I really disliked it! Here’s my review if you wish to see what a literary dunce thinks of it.

I’m sad that one of my favourite books of the year, The Power by Naomi Alderman, is not on the list. (review)

I have a copy of 2017 Pulitzer prize winning Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad staring at me because it’s the September book for a book club I’m in. It looks soooo good. I can’t wait to read it.

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Hopefully I’ll get time to read a few of the others too. Looking at these short descriptions I really want to read Solar Bones by Mike McCormack. It’s one sentence?! I need to see this. I think I’d like to read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders too.  Finally, Autumn by Ali Smith is another I want to read. It’s the first in a series of four books named after the seasons. It’s about life in post-brexit Britain – maybe it will be too painful! I’ve read Ali Smith before: How to be Both and it was one of my early reviews!

The short list will be announced on 13th September.

Here’s the full list:

Title Author (nationality) (imprint)

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4
th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

What are your thoughts on the longlist? Tell me in the comments!

Book Review: All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg

All Grown Up left me feeling sad and emotionally depleted. The main character, Andrea, is the saddest portrait of a modern woman I’ve ever read. I just feel awful for how emotionally devoid her life is, and I think I’m supposed to finish reading this book feeling like she’s some modern, feminist icon, refusing to partake in life as society expects her too. But instead we have someone with literally no joy in any aspect of her life. There may be a few spoilers in the following review, so if you think you might read it, stop here.

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I went into this book with expectations given from this description:

An enthralling confession of a woman contending with the outside world’s expectations of who she should be. 

Powerfully intelligent and wickedly funny, All Grown Up delves into the psyche of a flawed but mesmerising character. Readers will recognise themselves in Jami Attenberg’s truthful account of what it means to be a 21st century woman, though they might not always want to admit it.

I didn’t get any of that AT ALL. What I read was a terribly sad account of a depressed, robotically unfeeling, self destructive, childish, selfish, awful child-woman. There was barely any humour in in at all. I was hoping for something a bit like Living The Dream, which was genuinely hilarious, but it was nothing at all like that.

Andrea is 40 years old. She hasn’t got children and she appears to have never had anything other than fleeting relationships. She hates her mundane job. She’s a borderline alcoholic and frequent drug user (more so in her earlier years). She’s shockingly selfish when it comes to her family and is probably depressed. Andrea has hardly any sympathetic qualities. We find out that she had a difficult upbringing. Her mum had a hard time after her dad died (drug overdose) and this resulted in Andrea being put in some very unsafe situations with regards to abusive men being present in the family home in Andrea’s later teenage years. She also had a bad experience at grad school when her mentor told her she was rubbish at art.

Andrea’s family are die-hard New Yorkers. Her brother has a terminally ill child when Andrea is around 35 and he moves to New Hampshire with his family and eventually their mother moves too, to help them with the baby. We experience all of this through different chapters covering various important stages of Andrea’s life.

The overarching theme is of a woman who deliberately emotionally cuts herself off from everyone around her. She has a pathological hatred of babies. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to have children, or even to not really want to hold and coo over other peoples babies (I don’t really do this and I have children of my own!) but Andrea hates them. She tells one of her lovers he isn’t to talk about his child with her. She drops friends as soon as they have a baby. Actually, she seems unable to handle the fact that life may change for a person who’s just had a baby. She berates friends for disappearing from her life, only to reappear a few years later. She doesn’t consider that maybe a friend needs support or is having a difficult time. She just sees that they don’t want to go boozing with her.

She has a difficult relationship with her mother – expected given the situation Andrea’s late teens. But her reaction when her mum says she’s moving to help out with the terminally ill baby is horrendous. Andrea feels abandoned and lets everybody know about it. She only meets her niece a few times in her five short years. Once is when she drives her mum over to live with them. Here she leaves after one night without telling anyone. Her brother is clearly a broken and struggling man and she offers him no support either. She’s just pissed off at him for taking their mum away from her. Here, she is sharing a room with her mum on her first night at her brother’s house, after she has moved her mum in with them:

“I’ve had enough me to last a lifetime,” my mother says. She’s facing the wall and her voice is dreamy. Then she tells me she loves me, she tells me to go to sleep. “In the morning we’ll have a new day, ” she says. “That’s the best part of going to sleep. Knowing there’s a new day tomorrow.” “That’s the kind of thing you tell a child.” I Say. “I expect more from you.” “Andrea, enough!” she snaps. “You know, you’re doing better than you think you are. You can survive without me.” “I’m not,” I say. “All right, even if you’re not, which I don’t believe is true. just grow up already,” she says. She flips over, and her voice is closer to me. “Handle your shit, Andrea. You’re thirty-nine years old. You can do it.” “I’ll try,” I say. “One more thing,” my mother says. “I see you not holding that baby. You think I don’t notice it, but I do.” I say absolutely nothing. “Tomorrow you hold the baby,” she says. I’m the sick baby, I think. Me. Who will hold me?

The absolute worst thing happens at the end of the book. She still won’t engage with her family or offer them any support with the dying child. Until she’s basically forced to read a book about life with a dying child. She suddenly realises what a selfish human being she is and want to be in all their lives. Her niece dies in her arms. The book ends. You needed a book to tell you life with a dying child is hard?!?

I wouldn’t mind Andrea making any of her life choices if she had done it because she genuinely wanted to make them. If she was happy with her life that would have been amazing, but she’s so clearly utterly miserable. I don’t think a man or a baby would fix this of course, she maybe needs to read some more books as that is the only way she made any connection 😀

I wouldn’t be put off reading anything by Jami Attenberg again, it’s really well written and brave to write such an unlikable character. It just didn’t work for me.

I wonder if anyone else has read All Grown Up? What did you think? Have I got it all wrong?

p.s. I recieved this copy of All Grown Up from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Sorry if this is too honest!

The Mid Year Freak Out! Tag

I haven’t been tagged by anyone to answer these questions. I have just seen the tag and liked the idea of summing up my reading for this year with these questions 😀
So far this year I have read 42 books – way above my target, and around double what I have managed for the last few years, each year. I’ve managed this by just fitting in a bit of reading where I can: waiting for the kettle to boil, 20 mins in the morning, a bit at lunchtime etc. and I’ve been watching less TV! Not none… I’ve had to watch American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale, and University Challenge and Only Connect obvs. 

1. BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2017?

Impossible to pick one, and difficult to narrow it down because I’ve really enjoyed a lot of books I’ve read this year. The top ones have to be the ones I gave 5*s to. You might not believe it, but I’m quite stingy with my 5*s!!! (click through for reviews):

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2. BEST SEQUEL OF 2017 SO FAR?

I’ve not strictly read anything that’s a sequel so far this year. I’ve been meaning to read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword for a while after reading Ancillary Justice a few years ago. I’m going to have to pick John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from The Cold. I’m on a (very slow) mission to read all of Le Carre’s books. So that’s book 3 done… in 4 years. Might need to get a few more out of the way soon!

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3. NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET, BUT WANT TO?

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ I’ve had my eye on this all year but haven’t got a copy yet.

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Out of the books I own, that I haven’t read yet, that are also quite new, these are the ones I most want to try but haven’t got round to yet:

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4. MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE OF THE SECOND HALF OF 2017?

One book I’m looking forward to is The Book Of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch although I don’t think it’s out in the UK until 2018? It’s been described as:

a genre-defying masterpiece that may very well rewire your brain

See? sounds awesome!

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Also, The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit, a follow up collection of essays, on feminism, to Me Explain Things To Me. 

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5. BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT?

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. Click through to the review if you must! I much prefer liking books!

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6. BIGGEST SURPRISE?

Frankenstein – Mary Shelly. I really enjoyed it, and I didn’t mention it in my review, but reading a bit about Mary Shelly herself was fascinating.  I really want to read Romantic Outlaws – Charlotte Gordon now too – especially after a friend also recommended it to me a while before I  read Frankenstein. It’s about Mary Shelly and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft.

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7. FAVORITE NEW AUTHOR (DEBUT OR NEW TO YOU) ?

I’m going to choose Celeste Ng and Lauren Berry. Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You is just beautifully written and I can’t wait for her next book Little Fires Everywhere. Lauren Berry’s Living The Dream was hilarious and one of the funniest, most relatable books I’ve read in ages.

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8. NEWEST FICTIONAL CRUSH?

Hmmmm might have to be Shadow Moon from American Gods, probably more influenced by the TV show than the book!

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He’s no Rupert Campbell-Black or Richard Sharpe though, obvs.

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9. NEWEST FAVOURITE CHARACTER?

I’m going with Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith. She’s a strong and determined character and she grows into a kind and thoughtful woman over the course of the novel. Also, she loves books.

10. BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY?

Without doubt this award has to go to Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I sobbed through the last 20 pages and wasn’t much better at various other stages of the book. There was something about the main character having my name, probably being around my age, and being unable to get on with a career as a scientist… also trying to make sure your female children aren’t held back by societal sexism, while trying to not damage them and also not ignoring your other kids! Such a good book.

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Runner up for this has to be Beloved – Toni Morrison. Such a beautiful, moving book.

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11. BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY?

I’m not sure about any of them making me particularly happy, but plenty made me laugh.

I’ve read two of David Sedaris’ novels this year: Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Holidays On Ice. He can be completely hilarious. One part of Me Talk Pretty One Day had me uncontrollably laughing.

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Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut made me smile a lot. And Bel Canto by Ann Patchett was the novel that made me feel the  happiest, I guess.

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12. FAVOURITE BOOK TO MOVIE ADAPTATION YOU’VE SEEN THIS YEAR?

 

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13. FAVOURITE REVIEW YOU’VE WRITTEN THIS YEAR?

I’m going with Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit. I loved the book, I loved the artwork in it by Ana Teresa Fernandez – some of which I included in the review, and I loved using this gif:

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14. MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK YOU BOUGHT OR RECEIVED SO FAR THIS YEAR

I’ll just put these beauties here with a gorgeous peony.

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15. WHAT BOOKS DO YOU NEED TO READ BY THE END OF THE YEAR?

So many… here’s a shortlist:

and I have started, but need to finish:

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If you want to do this tag? Consider yourself tagged by me and just get on with it!

Let me know your answers to these questions in the comments or leave me a link to your post.

Thanks for reading!