My Year of Reading in 2016: Reviewing, A Challenge and My Favourites

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In 2016, I read seventy-one books, twenty-five of which were part of a reading challenge, and most were books I had been sent to review from various publishers and their imprints. It was the year I started reviewing properly, and got things moving with my blog. As I began this journey of book blogging, I found that I discovered books I would not have otherwise picked up in store – some for good reason because they most certainly were not what I enjoy reading, others because I would have had to given it some thought, whilst there were many that I devoured and enjoyed, and not just review books. I finished off the year with one that I wasn’t so keen on from Hachette, due out on the tenth of January 2017. It is one I am unlikely to read again, unlike the Inspector Chopra books, or Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair books, or Harry Potter.

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My high school ancient history teacher ran the challenge I took part in this year via Facebook, and there were several categories that I struggled to fill. By the end of the year, though, I had completed the challenge, and below is the list of categories and what I read for each one:

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2016 Reading Challenge

A Book That Became A Movie: The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

A Book with a Number in the Title: Third Time Lucky by Karly Lane

A Book Written by Someone Under 30: Raelia by Lynette Noni

A Mystery or Thriller: The Falls by B. Michael Radburn

A Book With A one word Title: Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

A Non-Fiction Book: The Jane Austen Writer’s Club by Rebecca Smith

A Popular Author’s First Book: Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling

A Pulitzer Prize Winning Book: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Book Based on a True Story: Is It Night or Day? By Fern Schumer-Chapman

A Book That Came out the Year You Were Born (1986): Going Solo by Roald Dahl

A Book Published this Year: Confused by Wanda Wiltshire

A Book With a bad review: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

A Book from Your Childhood: Northern Lights/The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

A Book Set in the Future: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A Book with a Colour in the title: Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

A Book with Magic: The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irina Brignull

A Book With Antonyms in the Title: Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

A Book that has been translated: Between Enemies by Andrea Molesini

A Book written by an author with the same initials: When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

A Book with a female heroine: The Blood of Wolves by S.D. Gentill

A Book set in Spring: The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell

A Book with a Green Cover: Fearless by Fiona Higgins

A Book Set Somewhere You Want to Visit: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan (Cornwall)

A Book with Pictures: A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

A Book You Own but have never read: The Winter Isles by Antonia Senior


Challenge Completed

Raelia

Perhaps one of the trickiest to fill was a book with a bad review as reviews are always subjective. The book I filled that category with had a mix of bad, good and average, and I gave it a good review, but with at least one bad review, I felt that it was okay to use it there, and another was a book set in he future – of which there are many, yet the only one on my shelf at the time was The Hunger Games. In order to complete this challenge, I had to re-read a few books, such as a book from my childhood, and a popular author’s first book. Many books on this list were also review books, which solved my problem of filling categories such as a book with a green cover, and a translated book. I enjoyed this challenge, and am eager to attempt it with the same group of people this year again, and hopefully my review books will fill some categories.

Reviewing was new to me this year. I started in 2015, during an internship and worked from there, reviewing what I could, and requesting review copies, which come at least monthly now, sometimes with several books due out on the same day. This is where scheduled posts come in handy, where I can write the post and get it ready once I have read the book. In doing this, I free up time to write other posts and read other books when I get them.

born-a-crimeWriting reviews for books that aren’t my taste or that I don’t enjoy, or just find a bit boring or not quite up there can be hard. I want to be honest, but at the same time, be positive, so I’ve taken to giving balanced reviews, saying good and bad things about them, and hopefully that doesn’t hurt anyone, reader, reviewer or author. Honest reviews can help guide people too. My review website has slowly been improved over the months as I’ve found my way around WordPress and it’s functions – I tend to learn by doing it on my own, before asking for help with some things. I hope to review much more in 2017, without having to juggle studying as well, but at some stage will likely be juggling a job whilst reviewing.

Now onto the hardest part of my wrap up post – choosing my top reads. I’m never quite sure whether to do a top five or a top ten, nor do I feel like putting them in any order that rates one book over another – some books are hard to rate above or below another, so in no particular order or preference, the top seven books I enjoyed this year:

  • The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth – I always enjoy Kate’s books and her fairy tale retellings are exceptional. Her latest, The Beast’s Garden, takes place in Germany during World War Two, and the horrors endured by Ava and those close to her. It is a disturbing yet fascinating read.
  • Raelia by Lynette Noni – book two in the Medoran Chronicles Series, Raelia takes us back to Akarnae and Medora, with Alex, Bear, Jordan and D.C. and an ongoing fight against people who wish to harm Alex and those she cares for.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – a memoir about growing up mixed race in South Africa – and not fitting into any of the legal categories, at a time when his very existence was a crime, Trevor Noah handles those dark days with humour and grace, and a mother who he knew never to cross.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer – an origin tale for the Queen of Hearts from Lewis heartlessCarroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Meyer’s story shows how the Queen of Hearts became the character in the original, a girl who had dreams that fate thwarted.
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz a murder mystery within a murder mystery, a fictional author and his manuscript lead an editor on a real life mystery that is written in an extremely clever and effective way.
  • The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan 
  • The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan – I enjoyed both Baby Ganesh books and their characters for the refreshing take on the crime genre and the private detective. Chopra has a place with Rowland Sinclair, Phryne Fisher and Mma Ramtoswe as a private detective who tends to get himself into a little bit of a pickle with each case, but his loyal friends and family are always there to back him up, along with his elephant, Ganesha.

There are many more books I enjoyed this year, but these are definitely amongst my favourites. For various reasons, of course, and I have the third book by Lynette Noni, Draekora, to look forward to in April.

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In 2017, I hope to read as many, if not more, wonderful books. Keep watching this site for more reviews over the coming months.

Many thanks to Hachette, Pantera Press, Allen and Unwin, Bloomsbury, and all their imprints who have sent me some wonderful books to read, enjoy and review, and share with the world.

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The Word Detective by John Simpson

 

 

Title: The Word Detective: A Life in Words from Serendipity to Selfieworddetective

Author: John Simpson

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Little Brown/Hachette

Published: 11th October 2016

Format: paperback

Pages: 366

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Language is always changing. No one knows where it is going but the best way to future-cast is to look at the past. John Simpson animates for us a tradition of researching and editing, showing us both the technical lexicography needed to understand a word, and the careful poetry needed to construct its definition. He challenges both the idea that dictionaries are definitive, and the notion that language is falling apart. With a sense of humour, an ability to laugh at bureaucracy and an inclination to question the status quo, John Simpson gives life to the colourful characters at the OED and to the English language itself. He splices his stories with entertaining and erudite diversions into the history and origin of words such as ‘kangaroo’, ‘hot-dog’, ‘pommie’, ‘bicycle’, not ignoring those swearwords often classed as ‘Anglo-Saxon’! The book will speak to anyone who uses a dictionary, ‘word people’, history lovers, students and parents.

 

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Words are what make us human. They create societies, cultures and nations, and in turn, are also created by societies, cultures and nations. Within each of these groups, sub-groups emerge that develop their own linguistic patterns and dialects, their own words that signify membership to these groups, and that can perhaps exclude those who are not part of these groups. As humans, we are all part of different groups and sub-groups that have shared and non-shared words and language that help us identify with people we have things in common with.

As language can unite and divide us in many ways, understanding each other was a lot harder before the advent of dictionaries. One person using a word may have used it to the exclusion of others, and been smug in the knowledge that only a select few will understand. The advent of a dictionary that all could access has changed things.

Since its humble beginnings in Victorian Times, the Oxford English dictionary has endeavoured to include as many words and their origins as possible. Over the years it has evolved, and it perhaps saw a fair amount of evolution during John Simpson’s thirty-seven years there, from 1976, where he started as a reader, helping compile words to investigate and include, to his time as chief editor, when the dictionary began to enter the digital age, first being compiled on CD ROMS, and eventually, though slowly, moving towards the Internet.

The Word Detective is John Simpson’s journey with the dictionary over the years and the developments, from working out possible new words, to establishing partnerships with the US, Australia and New Zealand, and tracing origins of words from those nations for inclusion, to talks with European counterparts about finding ways to protect European languages and allow cross-cultural and international communication at the same time. Through his journey with words, John also delves into a few personal anecdotes about his family that he links to his love of language and words, and what this meant for his second daughter, who never learnt to talk. John’s high regard for words shines through, and while he marvels at some words and developments, he laments the struggle with some words of finding an origin, and the administrative side wanting to save money.

In his role as a lexicographer, John also describes the process he implemented to recruit new lexicographers, stating that a love of words would simply not be enough. His efforts to move with the times, but also keep traditional methods of working alongside the new ones made for an interesting read. How does someone who has seen so much change, and often in rapid succession over the final years of their tenure, decide how to proceed? In keeping the old and the new, John gave his team the opportunity to learn both methods, where they could use one or the other, use them together or even have a back-up with the manual system should there be a temporary technological glitch – something anyone working with computers must keep in mind.

There were a few amusing anecdotes in relation to some words and phrases. One such phrase was couch potato. Around 2000, this word was put forth for inclusion. When this happened, there was a small demonstration by the British Potato Council. They were protesting the inclusion of the phrase in the dictionary because it was derogatory to the poor potatoes who could not stand up for themselves. As John tells it, the argument was peaceful and civilised, and the whole issue died down after the company received the publicity it was after. With the inclusion of the couch potato entry, the OED settled back down into their lexicographical den.

Reading this story was intriguing and eye-opening. It opened up the world of lexicography and dictionary compilation to the reader, and made me realise that the dictionary did not just appear out of nowhere, that there has been decades, centuries even, of hard work going into compiling words – relevant and irrelevant, used and unused into a book or online resource for everyone to use when necessary. A fascinating read, especially if you are interested in the development of language.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

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Title: Magpie Murders

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Orion/Hachette Australia

Published: 11th October 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pünd, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway…

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the cosy crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

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With Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz delivers a novel within a novel, a mystery within a mystery. The novel begins with editor of Cloverleaf Books, Susan Ryeland, sitting down to read to read the latest from her company’s most popular author, Alan Conway, the ninth book in the Atticus Pünd series. Horowitz has included the manuscript for the reader to read along with the editor, Susan.

The first chunk of the book is dedicated to this manuscript, and as such, the pages are numbered unconventionally – going backwards once Susan has read what she has of the manuscript, sans the closing chapters that reveal the conclusion to the mystery. Conway’s mystery revolves around two deaths: Mary Blakiston, and her employer, Sir Magnus Pye. As Susan Ryeland settles in to read the story, and as I did, it was not evident that Susan’s life and the mystery of the missing pages would soon come to mirror the story she was reading.

Horowitz has taken the cosy crime genre, made popular by Agatha Christie and Poirot, who rate several mentions, along with television shows the author has worked on himself, and refreshed it. An amateur detective, following the trail of clues left from a manuscript, and interactions with people involved. Slowly, and
without extensive police involvement and technology, Susan’s story reaches a climax alongside that of the closing chapters of the mystery of Alan Conway, and the final chapters of his book.

Anthony Horowitz has written a work that is meta. That is, a creative work that is self-referential. It refers to the conventions of the cosy crime genre through the story Susan Ryeland is reading and the mystery she becomes embroiled in, and in making reference to television shows Horowitz himself has worked on and the imprint, Orion, Horowitz has referenced his own world of writing and the world of publishing.

This was a book that I wanted to devour and savour at the same time – the deaths are not seen on the page, but rather mentioned, both in the Conway story and the over-arching story by Horowitz, homage to the genre conventions. As the last few pages ticked over, everything fell into place. The detail, down to reviews for the fictional series by Alan Conway at the beginning of the manuscript, to Anthony Horowitz writing as himself and as a friend of Alan Conway, all make this a worthy read of any fan of the genre, or author.