1

TBR Tracker Update: October

I was planning to get my TBR down to zero books in October; it is perhaps no surprise that this did not happen.  I was doing so well until the very end of the month, and had read four of five titles, leaving just one large tome (The Magic Mountain) on my to-read pile.

However, a shopping trip with family necessitated a trip to The Works, and before I knew it, I had come out with three history titles.  In my defence, I had intended to borrow a few history books from my library a few days before this trip, but they are having a change around, and had temporarily stashed the books I was looking for away.  I also ended up purchasing a much-hyped book when it was part of a Kindle daily deal, and read this during the month.

I am determined to get through my entire TBR during November.  I have two history books which I am very keen to get to, and I am also going on a long haul holiday for two weeks, during which time I plan to finally tackle The Magic Mountain.  Wish me luck!

As with last month’s TBR tracker, you can find reviews of the books which I read during October, as well as an updated to-read list, below.

 

9781408867990Sweet Caress by William Boyd *** (Kindle)
I really enjoy William Boyd’s writing, and was intrigued by the storyline of Sweet Caress, a novel which follows its heroine, Amory Clay, through her entire life, which spans much of the twentieth-century. I was pulled into the novel immediately, and at first, I found the first person perspective to be believable. However, Boyd focuses throughout upon what feel like very jarring and out-of-character details. I found myself questioning Amory’s motives from time to time as the novel went on.

Whilst Sweet Caress is certainly readable, it became quite drawn out after a while, and it was filled with some quite irritating clichéd elements, which seemed redundant in terms of the larger plot. The novel is well written, but also problematic in that I did not always find it wholly believable.

 

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence *** 9780226469355
I have not read a great deal of Margaret Laurence’s work, but love her prose style, and the intricate, intimate portraits of Canadian women which she presents. The Diviners, considered to be the final book in Laurence’s Manawaka series, sounded exactly like my cup of tea. However, I found myself enjoying it nowhere near as much as The Stone Angel, which is an exquisite novel. This is certainly a readable book, but due to the way it is structured, it felt a little disjointed, and I was less interested in the protagonist than I anticipated I would be at the outset.

 

9780141198927North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell ***
I have read quite a few of Gaskell’s works before, and have enjoyed them well enough. However, I seem to come up with a similar problem each time I reach for one of her books. Whilst I find her prose beautiful, there is often little to push the story along, and it becomes a little saturated. I must admit that, in this vein, I was not pulled in by the storyline or characters of North and South; indeed, some of the secondary characters, like Margaret’s father for instance, felt like caricatures, or full-blown stereotypes. I tend to prefer Gaskell’s short stories and novellas, which I find a lot more atmospheric, and less drawn out.

 

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman ** (Kindle) 9781786495259
I have long been aware of the hype surrounding Andre Aciman’s LGBTQ+ novel, Call Me By Your Name. Contrary to popular opinion, I found the novel very difficult to get into. The prose felt a little clumsy and stilted – almost to the extent that it felt like a translated book – and somewhat overwritten, and I did not believe in either of the quite vague protagonists. I felt distanced from the story, and felt that some of the scenes had been input purely for dramatic effect, as they added very little to the storyline. It goes without saying that I will not be reading the sequel.

 

Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba was a five-star read for me.  A full-length review is forthcoming.  I also read the copy of Unbelievable by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong which I picked up in The Works; a review will be posted at some point in the next few months.

 

My current TBR stands as follows:

  1. 9780099572282The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  2. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower
  3. When the Germans Came: True Stories of Life Under Occupation in the Channel Islands by Duncan Barrett

 

Current total: 3
Goal for the end of November: 0

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TBR Tracker Update: September

I made great strides with condensing my TBR further in September, and am hoping that by the end of October, I will have zero books on my to-read pile.  I am aiming to get down to zero so that any books which I acquire can be read immediately.

At present, the tomes which are on my TBR pile have been languishing there for around two to three years, which seems ridiculous to me.  I know that a lot of readers have huge TBRs, filled with books which they acquired ten years ago and haven’t yet got to, but I’m keen to rekindle the fizzy feelings which I get upon acquiring a new book and reading it immediately, whilst I’m still incredibly interested in it.

During September, I added no books to my TBR, and I am very proud of myself for this.  There are a few new releases which I am keen to get to, but I’m going to either request them from the library, or add them to my Christmas list and hope for the best.

As with last month’s TBR tracker, you can find reviews of the books which I read during September, as well as an updated to-read list, below.

 

Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin hardy1
I am currently reading, and very much enjoying, this tome.  I started it before going on a long weekend to Pisa, and have decided that dipping in and out of it whilst I have another book on the go is probably the best way to read it.

 

9781444707762Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth ***
I have read a lot of Jenn Ashworth’s work in the past, and have really enjoyed it. I was thus keen to get to her debut novel, Cold Light. Although the story held my interest throughout, I never felt entirely gripped by it. I guessed what were supposed to be the major plot points very early on, and found that the novel sadly did not meet my expectations.

 

The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean 9780008165703Voyagers by Adam Nicolson *****
I received Adam Nicolson’s The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers for Christmas, and although it took me some months to read, I was keen to get to it. I adore nature writing, and have wanted to read Nicolson’s work for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect introduction to it. I found The Seabird’s Cry utterly fascinating, and learnt so much from it. Beautifully descriptive, and with a wealth of wonderful research, this is a must-read for any nature lover.

 

9780099594024Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood ****
I had wanted to read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, her interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for such a long time. I decided not to write a full-length review of the novel as there are so many around, but wanted to record a few thoughts, at least.  I imagined that a retelling written by Atwood would be very clever, and it is. She retains enough of the original story for it to be recognisable, but certainly puts her own spin onto the plot. Its protagonist is believable, as are, indeed, its secondary characters. The prose throughout is engaging, and the elements of witty humour augment the more maudlin parts of the story. There are some great ideas within Hag-Seed, and the whole thing comes together splendidly.

 

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather *** 9780241338162
I ended up reading Willa Cather’s Great Plains trilogy out of order, but found that it did not actually matter.  The Song of the Lark is the second novel in the series, and the final one which I got to. Cather’s novel is so well written, and is filled with exquisite prose, but the story feels rather thin on the ground in places, and did not really hold my attention. Whilst I found Thea Kronborg quite intriguing at first, I became less and less interested in the protagonist as the novel went on. I love Cather’s writing style, but from my experience, feel that her novellas and short stories are far more successful than her longer books.

 

Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd and The Priory by Dorothy Whipple were both five star reads for me.  Full-length reviews of both will be published early next year.

 

My current TBR stands as follows:

  1. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann 9780141198927
  2. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
  3. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  4. Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba
  5. Sweet Caress by William Boyd (Kindle)

 

Current total: 5
Goal for the end of October: 0

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TBR Tracker Update: August

I did not quite get my TBR down to my goal of ten books during the rather busy August I had, but it is down to twelve at present.  This seems like a far more manageable number to me than the eighteen which I began with at the start of July.  I am hoping to get my TBR down to eight books by the end of September, but ideally, I will read a few more than this.

51ycfe5qzul._sx325_bo1204203200_During August, I added three books to my TBR, but have read all of them.  I purchased a copy of Joanne Harris‘ The Strawberry Thief when it was up as a Kindle daily deal, and I had been unable to find the copy which the library was insistent it had.  I have really enjoyed Harris’ Chocolat series on the whole, but the final instalment was a little disappointing.  At first, I found it rather difficult to differentiate between the different viewpoints used in the novel, and did not find the characters’ voices anywhere near as strong or varied as they have been in previous books.  Whilst it proved easy to get into after a while, The Strawberry Thief was not as page-turning as I expected it to be.  There is not much with regard to plot within the book, and it does feel a tad too long.

I also received a copy of Ninni Holmqvist‘s The Unit as a belated birthday gift from one 71wd5kifoulof my friends.  It sounded so intriguing, and I have been so entertained (and creeped out in equal measure) by dystopian literature over the last couple of years.  Translated from the original Swedish, the novel has a great flow to it, and it gets more and more unsettling as it goes on.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and quite liked the ending too.

The final book added to my TBR during August is Belinda Bauer‘s Snap, which I picked up in an Oxfam bookshop for less than £1.  I was intrigued by it as it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018.  I’m around halfway through the novel at the time of writing this post, and it’s not quite what I expected.  The writing is a little plain for my tastes, but the different storylines intrigue me enough to keep reading, and see how everything comes together.

As with last month’s TBR tracker, you can find reviews of the books which I read during August below.

 

9781405280174These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder ***
I mistakenly skipped the seventh Little House on the Prairie book when I picked up These Happy Golden Years. This is a nice enough conclusion to the series, but I must admit that I haven’t enjoyed the books as much as I was expecting to. Although the children are growing up as the books progress, each of the tales are quite similar, and only a couple have stood out for me.

 

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery *** 77390
I really enjoyed the first Anne of Green Gablesnovel, and duly purchased the entire collection on my Kindle.  I feel similarly to these books as I do the Little House on the Prairie novels, in that I was expecting to love them, but have been left feeling a little disappointed.  Whilst I liked this novel, there was nothing much in terms of plot, and I did not feel as though Anne was quite as headstrong, sassy, or interesting as she was in the first novel.  I really enjoy Montgomery’s writing, and whilst I’m not ruling out returning to this series at some point in the future, I’m not going to rush to read the rest of the series at present.

 

513pefd2ynlThe Necessary Marriage by Elisa Lodato **
I purchased The Necessary Marriage on my Kindle purely due to hearing good things about Elisa Lodato’s debut, An Unremarkable Body. The novel was not at all what I was expecting. The prose is fine, but at no point was I blown away by it.  Whilst Lodato demonstrates that she is understanding of her characters, I found them relatively two-dimensional. The conclusions which the novel comes to are obvious; whilst not a great deal happened, what did was apparent ages beforehand.

 

Full reviews of Mary Poppins, She Wrote: A Biography of P.L. Travers by Valerie Lawson and Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, both of which I read during August, will be published soon.

 

My current TBR is as follows:

Physical:

  1. Thomas Hardy: A Life by Claire Tomalin hardy1
  2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  3. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
  4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  5. Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba
  6. Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth
  7. Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd
  8. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
  9. The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicolson
  10. Hagseed by Margaret Atwood

 

Kindle:

  1. Sweet Caress by William Boyd
  2. Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

 

Current total: 12
Goal for the end of September: 8

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TBR Tracker Update: July

I started the month of July with 25 books on my TBR; this includes both physical books, and those on my Kindle.  The majority of my leftover physical books are now at my parents’ house, and I need to pick them up during August.  I have therefore mainly been focusing upon reading the books which I have bought over the last year or two on my Kindle.

51b1g92btpjl._sx324_bo1204203200_I have added three books to my TBR this month, but did not actively purchase any of them during July.  I received a copy of Irène Némirovsky’s All Our Worldly Goods.  This however is not a recent purchase.  I had ordered it from AbeBooks in March, and had not received the copy, so was given a full refund by the seller.  It finally – and luckily – turned up in the post on my last week in Glasgow before I moved.  The other two books which I added to my TBR were copies which I received as belated birthday presents – A Castle in England by Jamie Rhodes was a graphic novel given to me by my good friend Katie, and my sister gifted me a copy of My Mum, Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson for nostalgic purposes.  I have read each of these books, and very much enjoyed them all.

With regard to my original TBR list, I have managed to read seven titles.  My TBR therefore stands at 18 books.  I had intended to get this down to 15 by the end of July, but with moving and discovering my great new public library, this did not quite go to plan.  I am pleased with my progress however.

I have written up short reviews of the books which I have managed to read below.  Two of them – The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester, and Clara by Janice Galloway – will be appearing as full-length reviews early next year.

 

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson (abandoned) 512bzxe5v1ol._sx324_bo1204203200_

I purchased James Robertson’s The Testament of Gideon Mack quite some time ago, and it had been languishing on my to-read pile for ages. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, this is the first of Robertson’s books which I have read, and it will sadly more than likely be the last.

In some ways, this is not the kind of book which I would usually go for, as I tend to steer clear of largely religious content. However, the elements of satire and the unusual quality which the story promised drew me in. Whilst not badly written, The Testament of Gideon Mack simply failed to pull me in at all. I did not find Mack convincing or quirky enough for a story of this kind. His first-person narrative voice was rather vague at times, and meandered with little direction.

I read around a quarter of the novel, but found that it was doing very little for me, and that I did not care at all about its characters. I can see why a lot of readers would appreciate The Testament of Gideon Mack, but it is simply not the book for me.

 

Chernobyl: The History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy *** 9780141988351

I am so interested in Chernobyl and its aftereffects, and therefore felt as though Plokhy’s scholarly account of the nuclear disaster would be well worth picking up.  The facts that it won the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction in 2018, and that it is written by a professor of History at Harvard University further piqued my interest.

I found Chernobyl: The History of a Tragedy fascinating from the outset, and learnt a great deal from it.  Plokhy focuses on both individuals and the collective community, in both Chernobyl and its neighbouring town of Pripyat, and in Ukraine as a whole.  Plokhy’s tone is, as I expected, academic, and those chapters which deal with the explosion of the nuclear reactor are incredibly dense, and packed with almost too much information to process.  

I did not feel as though the book was entirely consistent, as some of the chapters felt rather choppy, and others flowed well.  In this manner, Plokhy’s account does tend to feel a little disjointed.  Whilst Chernobyl: The History of a Tragedy is highly saturated at points, as I have mentioned, it is worth persevering with.  I have a few qualms with it, and it is undeniably dry in places, but this weighty tome will be useful to anyone wishing to learn about the science of the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl, and its later impact.

 

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick ***

nothing_to_envyWhilst I found Demick’s accounts of several citizens of North Korea, some of whom have since defected, interesting, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea did not prove as engaging as I was expecting.  Often, I found Demick’s tone to be impersonal and detached, and this was curious in a piece of reportage which focuses so closely upon individuals.  Some of the chapters here kept me more interested than others, and I must admit that there were one or two which I did not really enjoy at all.  Whilst Demick ties together her points well, Nothing to Envy is by no means the best book about North Korea which I have read, and I would hesitate to recommend it.

 

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin ****

I had originally intended to write a full review of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could 41-708jgc9l._sx324_bo1204203200_Talk, but decided that I would simply read it and jot down some thoughts instead.  This is not my first taste of Baldwin’s work.  I have read his wonderful and touching Giovanni’s Room, the novella which he is perhaps most famous for, as well as his lovely compendium of Greek mythology, and the Penguin Mini of his selected essays (review here).  

Tish, the nineteen-year-old narrator of If Beale Street Could Talk, has just discovered that she is pregnant.  Her boyfriend, twenty two-year-old Fonny, is in prison, accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman.  I very much enjoyed the way in which Baldwin unfolds and probes into their relationship from their childhoods, and found his approach convincing.  The characters, too, are entirely believable.

Baldwin’s prose is strikingly contemporary, and his story so poignant.  I was surprised throughout the novella, particularly with regard to the graphic scenes and coarse language which Baldwin includes.  If Beale Street Could Talk has a markedly different feel to Giovanni’s Room, and I found it far grittier.  Baldwin comments wonderfully, and often scathingly, upon the society of 1970s New York, and what life was like for the black community, who were so often scapegoated and unjustly treated.

 

Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum

9780141978284I read Anne Applebaum’s Gulag several years ago, and thought it excellent.  I was therefore very much looking forward to diving into her oeuvre of non-fiction.  For some reason, it has taken me an awfully long time to pick up another of her books, but <i>Red Famine<i> was just as thorough and well-written as I was expecting it to be.  Applebaum’s writing is always so considered, and is highly accessible, whether one knows a great deal about the famines in Ukraine engineered by the Soviet Union, or whether it is a new topic altogether.  Applebaum uses facts and testimonies alongside her own commentary, and remarks on how so many different topics interlink.  A fascinating tome, and one which I would highly recommend.

 

My current TBR stands as follows:

Physical:

  1. Thomas Hardy: A Life by Claire Tomalin
  2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  3. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence 9780226469355
  4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  5. Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba
  6. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  7. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  8. Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth
  9. Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd
  10. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
  11. The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicolson
  12. Hagseed by Margaret Atwood
  13. Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers by Valerie Lawson
  14. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

 

Kindle:

  1. Sweet Caress by William Boyd
  2. Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
  3. The Complete Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  4. The Necessary Marriage by Elisa Lodato

 

I am keen to get my TBR down to 10 books by the end of August.  Having a TBR of between 5 and 10 books is my goal, but ultimately, I have decided that I would like to completely eradicate my TBR.  I will then be able to focus on reading books from my local library, and all of the galleys which have mounted up on my Kindle over the last couple of years.  Any books which I therefore add to my TBR, whether purchased by myself or received as gifts, can be read very quickly to maintain a zero books TBR.

Please wish me luck for the next leg of getting rid of my TBR altogether!

2

TBR Tracker: July 2019

I have been trying for a long time to make my TBR pile more manageable, and ideally want to get it down to between five and ten books, and then maintain that number.  This will enable me to read things much faster, and ensure that the excitement which I feel in the books I select stays until I read them.

I asked last week whether it would be a good addition to the blog to keep track of my TBR, so we can all see how I’m doing with it.  I received some positive feedback, so in consequence, here is the first of my TBR Tracker posts.  I will be updating it either monthly or bimonthly, dependent on my progress.

Here is my TBR pile as it stands at the beginning of July.  I have split it into physical and Kindle books, and have kept them in my purchased order, oldest to newest.  In my next post, I will be showing you which books I have read, giving short reviews for each of them, and noting any new additions which I have purchased or been gifted.  I will be writing full-length reviews of some of these books; if this is the case, I will just note my star rating, and perhaps one or two details about it before the full-length review is published.

 

Physical:

  1. The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester
  2. The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
  3. Thomas Hardy: A Life by Claire Tomalin
  4. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  5. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence 9780226469355
  6. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba
  8. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  9. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  10. Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth
  11. Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd
  12. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
  13. The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicolson
  14. Hagseed by Margaret Atwood
  15. Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers by Valerie Lawson
  16. Clara by Janice Galloway
  17. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

 

Kindle:

  1. Sweet Caress by William Boyd 9780141978284
  2. Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
  3. Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, 1921-1933 by Anne Applebaum
  4. The Complete Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  5. The Necessary Marriage by Elisa Lodato
  6. If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
  7. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
  8. Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy

 

This makes 25 books in total.  I’m hoping that it won’t take me too long to reach my target, and I am going to try and ensure that no new books will come into my possession in the next couple of months…