Books · Updates

Update & 2018 bookshelf July-December;

Hello, everyone!

It’s been a LONG time and I’m very sorry for the radio silence on this blog.

This past summer my mental health took a bit of a nose dive and I didn’t feel like myself for quite a while.

After taking a break over July and August and enjoying the autumn & festive season with my family and friends, and starting on a course of antidepressants and counselling, I’m feeling much better! I’m finally ready to throw myself back into writing and blogging.

So, without further delay, here is the final part of my 2018 bookshelf! (If you haven’t read part one then you can find that right here)

  1. How To Be Champion – Sarah Millican (3/5)
    My verdict: Funny and insightful. This is a fab feel good read with just the right amount of personal emotion thrown in for good measure. I’m also pleased to know that I’m not the only one who’s sort of in love with Philip Schofield.
  2. Together – Julie Cohen (2/5)
    My verdict: I was super intrigued by this book when I first came across it. Unfortunately, it became predictable and tropey in terms of plot, had characters that were bordering on uninteresting, and it reminded me too much of similar books that came before it. The thing that makes this book a two star rather than a one was the unique way in which the story was told: from the end to the beginning.
  3. The Greek Escape – Karen Swan (4/5)
    My verdict: Whilst this is probably my least favourite of Swan’s summer novels, it was still a bloody good read! It’s as stylish and heart-warming as The Rome Affair and The Paris Secret and as indulgent. I am still incredibly envious of Swan’s way with weaving plots and I’m already hungry for her Summer 2019 book.

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  4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote (3/5)
    My verdict: It’s pleasantly different from the 1961 movie and does away with the fairy-tale ending. It’s certainly a story of its time and that made the racism and sexism quite off-putting. I can see why it is often on “must read novel” lists but it isn’t going to be a favourite.
  5. The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas (5/5)
    My verdict: This book had it all for me. There was mystery, murder, time travel, lesbian representation, discussions of mental health, betrayal, sleuthing, the importance of friendship, great romance, and barely a male character in sight! I loved it.
  6. Stardust – Neil Gaiman (2/5)
    My verdict: I really didn’t like this book at all. It was so description heavy that reading it felt like wading through treacle. For a fantasy novel, it had so little magic about it that I almost abandoned it. The movie did a great job of injecting life, joy, and charisma into it. I hate to admit it but the movie was 1000% better.
  7. Vox – Christina Dalcher (4/5)
    My verdict: This novel swept up my imagination as soon as I heard about it. It went down a more scientific route than I was expecting but I enjoyed it nevertheless. There was a touching and emotional end and is a perfect criticism of modern politics. Apparently it is incredibly similar to The Handmaid’s Tale but I haven’t read that so I could not say one way or the other whether that’s true.
  8. One Enchanted Evening – Anton Du Beke (4/5)
    My verdict: Perhaps I’m biased because of my inordinate love for Saturday night show Strictly Come Dancing (there’s a reason this blog is called StrictlyBethany!) but I loved this novel. For a debut from someone who is so far removed from a writer by trade, this book is incredibly well thought out, plotted, and beautifully erudite. There are elements to this book that do fall short and there are unnecessary writing choices (like constant repetition of full names), so it doesn’t get full marks. Whilst this novel contains a romance plot, I would not call this a romantic novel. It’s more of a social, political, and economical tale and I preferred this approach much more than I perhaps would have done if the romance had taken centre stage.

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  9. The Vintage Tea Cup Club – Vanessa Greene (2/5)
    My verdict: This began as a promising story about newfound friendships but I found the pacing too quick to form any sort of lasting attachment to the characters. In the end, finishing the book felt like gulping down a mouthful of stone cold, forgotten tea.

And that concludes my 2018 bookshelf! If you want to keep up to date with my reading adventures then feel free to add me on Goodreads and recommend anything you’ve loved!

Thank you for reading and for being patient with me. I love you!

Bethany xo

Books

My 2017 Bookshelf;

Hello everyone!

This year one of my goals was to start reading again. Studying literature and creative writing sucked the joy of reading from me – I wasn’t reading what I wanted and I was picking apart books to their bare bones. It wasn’t fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my literature and writing courses but I was so relieved when I finished, just because I could read for fun again. As soon as university was over, I got back on GoodReads and collected new books pretty much every time I went out.

So, what have I read this year? How many stars did I give them? And what’s still on my To Be Read list? I’ll share with you all of these over the course of two blog posts this weekend – sit back, browse, and find your new favourite book!

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1. The Killing Woods – Lucy Christopher (3/5 stars)
Emily’s dad is accused of murdering a teenage girl. Emily is sure he is innocent, but what happened that night in the woods behind their house where she used to play as a child? Determined to find out, she seeks out Damon Hillary, the enigmatic boyfriend of the murdered girl. He also knows these woods. Maybe they could help each other. But he’s got secrets of his own about games that are played in the dark.

2. Victoria – Daisy Goodwin (5/5)
In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina — Drina to her family — had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone.

3. The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George (5/5)
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened. After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story.

4. Strictly My Husband – Tracy Bloom (2/5)
Laura loves it when Tom takes her for a late night tango around the kitchen after their friends have gone home and they’re avoiding the washing up. That changes when Tom arrives on the doorstep with Carly, a professional dancer, and announces he’s offered her the spare room while she performs in a show that Tom is directing. An outraged Laura doesn’t feel like dancing with Tom anymore but Carly does. It only takes two to tango, and given Tom’s history who knows where it could end? Will Laura be left watching from the sidelines whilst Carly waltzes off with her husband’s heart?

5. Shtum – Jem Lester (3/5)
Ben Jewell’s ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope. When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

6. The Sisters – Claire Douglas (5/5)
Haunted by her twin sister’s death, Abi is making a fresh start in Bath. But when she meets twins Bea and Ben, she is quickly drawn into their privileged and unsettling circle. As Abi tries to keep up with the demands of her fickle friends, strange things start to happen – precious letters go missing and threatening messages are left in her room. Is this the work of the beautiful and capricious Bea? Or is Abi willing to go to any lengths to get attention? When the truth outs, will either sister survive?

7. The Paris Secret – Karen Swan (4/5)
Along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden for decades. High-flying fine art agent Flora from London is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long. Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren’t all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock.

8. What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty (3/5)
Alice Love is 29, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she wakes up on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time.

9. The French Lesson – Hallie Rubenhold (3/5)
Henrietta Lightfoot trips on her silk gown as she runs for her life along the bloodstained streets of revolutionary Paris. She finds refuge in the lavish home of Grace Dalyrmple Elliott, one of the old regime’s most powerful courtesans. But heads are beginning to roll. Outside, the guillotine mercilessly claims its victims, while inside society’s gilded salons, Henrietta becomes a pawn in a vicious power game. How will she survive in a world where no one can be trusted?

10. A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard (4/5)
Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

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11. That Girl from Nowhere – Dorothy Koomson (2/5)
Clemency was adopted as a baby and the only connection she has to her birth mother is a cardboard box hand-decorated with butterflies. Now an adult, Clem decides to make a drastic change and move to Brighton, where she was born. While there, she meets someone who knows all about her butterfly box and what happened to her birth parents. As the tangled truths about her adoption and childhood start to unravel, a series of shocking events cause Clem to reassess whether the price of having contact with her birth family could be too high to pay.

12. The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane – Ellen Berry (4/5)
On Rosemary Lane, Della Cartwright plans to open a very special little bookshop. Not knowing what to do with the hundreds of cookbooks her mother left her, she now wants to share their recipes with the world. But with her family convinced it’s a hare-brained scheme, Della starts to wonder if she’s made a terrible decision. One thing’s for sure: she’s about to find out…

13. The Flower Arrangement – Ella Griffin (4/5)
Every bouquet tells a story and every story begins at Blossom & Grow, a tiny flower shop in the heart of Dublin. Florist Lara works her magic, translating feelings into flower arrangements, changing hearts and lives. Whether it’s bridal posies, anniversary bouquets or surprise deliveries from secret admirers, Lara arranges flowers for all manner of life-changing moments. No stranger to heartbreak herself, Lara knows flowers say more than words ever can. But can the flowers that heal the customers work their magic on her?

14. The Mother – Yvette Edwards (3/5)
The unimaginable has happened to Marcia Williams. Her bright and beautiful sixteen-year-old son Ryan has been brutally murdered. Consumed by grief and rage, she must bridle her dark feelings and endure something no mother should ever have to experience: she must go to court for the trial of the killer—another teenage boy—accused of taking her son’s life. As the trial proceeds, Marcia finds her beliefs and assumptions challenged as she learns more about Ryan’s death.

15. How to Find Love in a Bookshop – Veronica Henry (3/5)
Emilia has returned to her Cotswold home to rescue the family business. Nightingale Books is a dream come true for book-lovers, but the best stories aren’t just within the pages of the books she sells – Emilia’s customers have their own tales to tell. There’s the lady of the manor who is hiding a secret close to her heart; the single dad looking for books to share with his son but who isn’t quite what he seems; and the shy chef trying to find the courage to talk to her crush. And as for Emilia’s story, can she keep the promise she made to her father and save Nightingale Books?

16. The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (3/5)
Working at a job he hates, Guylain Vignolles has but one pleasure in life. Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain reads aloud. It’s this release of words into the world that starts our hero on a journey that will finally bring meaning into his life. For one morning, Guylain discovers the diary of a lonely young woman: Julie, who feels as lost in the world as he does.

17. The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barberry (2/5)
Renée is the concierge of a Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society’s expectations of what a concierge should be. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renée lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.

18. The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain (3/5)
Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street, and feels impelled to return it to its owner. The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

19. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman (4/5)
Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…

20. That Certain Something – Clare Ashton (3/5)
Pia Benitez-Smith has her head in the clouds. She’s a photojournalist out to prove herself with her compassionate eye, and although not accident prone, most days trouble seems to find her. On one such day, she literally falls into the arms of the beautiful Cate. Elegant, intriguing and classy, Cate is Pia’s polar opposite. When the two dispute the importance of love versus money, Cate is adamant that her perfect night will always be an expensive one. Working class Pia can’t resist the challenge and with the assistance of a beguiling summer night in London, she begins to enchant her new friend.

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Have you read any of these books, or would you like to after reading this post? Do you agree or disagree with my ratings? Let me know and I hope you’ll join me for part two of my bookshelf tomorrow!

Bethany xo

 

Books · Reviews

Top 5 books in ’17

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Ever since I learned to read I wanted to consume every book I could get my hands and eyes on. In order to fulfill that wishes, I decided to study English Literature for my GCSEs and A-Levels, then study Creative Writing for my degree. Of course, in those subjects, I got to read a LOT. But after a while, I stopped reading completely.

I think I read one book in my GCSEs and A-Levels combined, and read one book for my degree over the entire three years. My passion dried and shrivelled. Reading because I had to took all the enjoyment out of it for me; I didn’t like being told what I could and couldn’t read.

Once I finished studying, I joined Goodreads, took advantage of the sale season, and before I knew it I was back into the reading swing of things!

It might only be September, but I already have a list of books I’ve read this year that I want to share my love for!

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

Hear me out on this one! Never be put off by the title or the length of this story. It’s one of the most wonderful, touching, funny, and dramatic things I’ve ever read and I adore it.

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The characters are so realistic and natural that following their lives over the course of the eight years the novel is set, I found myself wishing the novel was longer! I was itching to know more, to stay with these characters for longer. For the time I was reading this book, they were friends and I was rooting for every single one of them.

Sure, there were moments that were hideously tedious, you would expect that from a book that’s 1.4k pages long, but those tedious moments were few. War and Peace is a classic novel for a reason and I absolutely implore anyone to read this book and discover that reason for themselves.

It’s an intrinsically human story that explores relationships, love, the value of war, and spirituality and I’m sure that you won’t be disappointed by it!

Victoria – Daisy Goodwin

Oh, Daisy…What have you done to me?! Honestly, this section of my post is purely an open love letter to her…

Most of you will probably be aware of the ITV drama series Victoria that’s currently airing its second season. Well, the lovely Daisy Goodwin who wrote the drama also wrote a novelisation of the series.

I loved the first season of the show so when my parents bought me the novel for Christmas last year, I ended up reading the whole book shortly after new year in half a day. I absolutely could not put it down!

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Daisy’s writing is gorgeous, emotive, and refined. She managed to portray emotional nuances between Victoria and Lord Melbourne with great care that still gives me writing envy today, whilst setting up the burning love of Victoria and Prince Albert – evoking the youthfulness and vitality of the characters and what is to come for them.

Victoria is a novel that explores the private lives, thoughts and feelings of real people and fictionalises elements in such a way that doesn’t lose historical integrity whilst making it relatable to a modern audience. It’s an elegant balance between fiction and non-fiction that has been ruining my life for the past year.

This book and series, aside from being one of the most stunning things I’ve read and seen, has also helped me make new friends, so it’s a book and show that will always stay with me for many reasons.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Daisy! Now excuse me whilst I run away to buy all your other books…

A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard

This book was a treat for the soul!

It’s a charming story about the blossoming love between Steffi who is a selective mute, and Rhys, who is deaf, and their shared desire for independence.

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The book explores serious themes about mental health and disability without becoming heavy and difficult to read. It remains light and optimistic – something I find so rare in media about such subjects. More than once I had to put the book down to take a breather because I found Steffi and Rhys’ relationship and their way of communicating too cute to handle all in one go.

Once I finished reading, I felt incredibly light and refreshed as though I had woken from an invigorating nap. A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a refreshing read and even thinking about it to write this post makes me want to read it again!

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

Reading this novel felt like sitting barefoot on a pier, feet dangling over the edge so the sea tickles your toes, with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face.

The Little Paris Bookshop is probably one of the most life-affirming books I’ve read this year. Every character seemed to have their own problems, secrets, and foibles that could be easily recognisable in the everyday.

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People in this book make mistakes and assumptions and it’s okay because they’re human and so are we. Personally, I saw this book as a story about embracing life and it’s little things. I felt as though no matter what happens in the future, or what happened in the past, it would never be too late to make a change or do something different.

It’s a stunning, sunny, sometimes sad little book about love and life and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks after finishing it!

The Sisters – Claire Douglas

READ. THIS. BOOK.

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If you like thrillers and mysteries, this book is definitely for you. I was kept guessing at every turn of the page – it threw me this way and that – I never expected anything. By the time I expected a plot point, I was thrown into the thick of it so quickly that I felt like I had whiplash!

There is a definite crescendo to The Sisters and a shocking ending that left me feeling winded, stunned, and mildly horrified. I was telling my friends to read it for ages after because I needed someone to talk to about it!

It’s rare that a book makes me feel somewhat unsettled and for that reason I don’t think I’m going to get over how much I love it.

What books are you loving this year? Are any of these on your TBR list? Are there any books similar to these that you think I’ll love? Let me know and thanks for reading!

Bethany xo