Reading Challenge – A Book With More Than 500 Pages

Book Number Fifteen – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.


I remember this book being spoken about a lot during the time of its release and it’s often been one of those books that I’ve picked up and flicked through every time I’ve seen it in a book store, but it’s always lost out to something else. Recently the book was selected by the Book Club I run as part of the Manchester Women’s Institute. One of the reasons it was nominated was because we wanted to cover a book written by a female author with a female protagonist.

The story starts off with the birth of a baby girl who dies when the umbilical cord is wrapped around her neck, the next chapter is the same baby girl being born but this time surviving. Early on it’s clear to see that this is going to be the pattern of the book. In a repetitive manner most chapters of the book start with Ursula living her life and then dying and restarting that segment of her life all over again. In essence you’d think that this could make for something of an interesting read but I couldn’t get over a few things. First of all in some segments of the book Ursula has a clear feeling that something bad is going to happen and acts out to make circumstances different in order to change the outcome. For example she pushes Bridget down the stairs to prevent her and her brother dying from the flu. But at other times it’s like she has a ‘shadow’ of something not being right, almost like a faint sense of déjà vu.

Because the storyline is so disjointed it’s hard to build any kind of connection with the character of Ursula, she’s a little one dimensional, as her personality doesn’t seem to change when she starts each new life. Some of the storylines lack any closure and often the other characters in the novel are stereotypical or so dull that they tend to mould into one. That being said there were some great chapters that were both powerful and at some points distressing to read. These included subjects that were dealt with in a very emotive way such as when Ursula falls pregnant due to a violent sexual attack, and later on in life when she finds herself in an abusive relationship. But perhaps the saving grace of this book is the honest and raw way in which the author describes the Blitz. There was something so visceral and frightening about this section of the book that it really made me so much more respectful of the time period.

There’s no arguing that Kate Atkinson is a talented writer, some of the writing is at times both beautiful and personal, however the novel is quite convoluted. Nothing really happens, there’s no character development and some things that have the potential to make great storylines are mentioned once and forgotten about. I didn’t get any real sense of following a story and found the whole thing rather disappointing.

Star Rating out of 5: 2.5

‘I like to think of him – of all of them – playing a never ending game in heaven. A perfect afternoon in June, always just before they break for tea.’


If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you thought so why not comment below. I always like to hear different perspectives.

Happy reading fellow bookworms.



Reading Challenge – A Mystery or Thriller

Book Number Fourteen – The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey


The book first came to my attention on one of those Buzzfeed lists that informs you of the ‘Books you should not miss this year’ or something similar. I’d picked up and read the blurb many times during my trips to Waterstones and the fact that you don’t get much from it only piqued my interest more, it was upon seeing the glowing praise from Joss Whedon that convinced me to finally take the plunge and hand over my £8.99. I’m a self-professed Whedonite so I hold his word in high esteem.

The book starts off open enough that you’re not really sure what’s going on, again I’ll relate to something Joss Whedon related and openly admit that at first I thought this was some type of government programme similar to the Initiative but doing experiments on people instead of monsters and demons. But as the book progressed I realised that it was a post-apocalyptic world where humanity seems to have been wiped out by a virus. Yes, this is a zombie book, but quite fresh in the sense that it’s not like other books in the genre. For starters you have Melanie a young girl of 10 years of age whom the book very much centres around. Perhaps it’s the voice of innocence, of a girl who has been closed off from the world that makes this such a compelling read, either way it’s hard not to feel some empathy for her, even when you (and Melanie) realises that she’s a ‘hungry’ The book has a few other central characters too, Sergeant Parks who has been tasked with the job of securing the children in the compound and ensuring the safety of all those who dwell in it from the hungries roaming outside the walls, Miss Justineau a teacher who is meant to assess the children and report back to the cold yet driven Doctor Caldwell.

When the compound is overthrown by a group of Junkers (humans who have decided to live wild outside of the Beacon – the place of safety) Melanie, Justineau, Parks, Caldwell and reluctant young soldier Gallagher take to the road on foot. There’s plenty of drama and tension along the way and the author does a great job of really developing the characters and changing the dynamics of the relationships.

There are moments that I found difficult to read, the sections where Caldwell discusses the science and biology of the virus, whilst clearly well researched, just prevented the narrative of the book to flow as smoothly as it could. There are two particularly eerie moments in the book, which I’m sure you will know what they are if and when you read it. The great thing about this book is that it’s easy to imagine in your mind, it’s written in a visual and cinematic way. So I conveyed no surprise when I was told recently that the author was writing the book alongside the script for the movie adaptation (She Who Brings Gifts due to be released in 2016) it really is easy to imagine this as a film. Also props to the author for setting it in the UK, it could easily have been another American based tale, but I appreciated the avoidance of the cliché.

Although incredibly well written and unexpected the ending just felt a little flat, and whilst thought provoking and kind of despairing (which I feel it was meant to be) there were just a few things I don’t feel were fully resolved and a couple of moments that seemed to lack progression.

Star Rating out of 5: 3.5

‘Of course she’d save the kids if she could, if there was any way, but you can’t save people from the world. There’s nowhere else to take them.’


Happy reading folks.



Reading Challenge 2015 – A Book With a Number In The Title

Book Number Twelve – Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel.


This book has been on my radar for a while now, the first I read of it was in a Buzzfeed article that discussed the novels to look out for this year and I have to say they got it spot on.

It opens with famous actor Arthur Leander dying on stage during a performance of King Lear, that same night a deadly virus, known as the Georgia Flu, touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again. Anyone who contracts the ‘flu’ is usually hospitalised within a couple of hours and dies hours later.

Twenty years on and the novel picks up with the Travelling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors who travel the settlements of survivors and perform for them. When they stop off at a previously visited town, all does not seem right and pretty soon they come under threat. The novel flits between present day and the desolate world following the flu and the past, the years and days leading up to that fateful day when most of humanity was wiped out.

This is a really gripping novel, beautifully written with the paths of the characters being cleverly and expertly woven, I found it hard to put down. What was most noticeable though was how thought provoking it was, perhaps because it wasn’t a book that went with a zombie-esque style, which it could have easily done, but instead focused on the frailty of the human race when faced with a virus they can’t fight. I love authors who have the ability to take something painful or raw but write about it in such a poetic way, and for me that’s exactly what Emily did.

It makes you stop and think about the things we place value and dependence on, makes you appreciate even the smaller things we take for granted. Station Eleven is an intelligent page turner that balances tension, heartbreak and questions about the important things in life perfectly. One of the best books I’ve read all year.

‘Outside the world was ending and snow continued to fall.’


Star Rating out of 5: 5

Happy reading my lovely bookworms.



Reading Challenge 2015 – A Popular Author’s First Book

Book Number Eleven – This Side of Paradise by F.Scott Fitzgerald.


I know that The Great Gatsby is one of those books that you either love or hate, but for me I adored it. From the moment I read it, I became obsessed with all things Fitzgerald and greedily researched his other work. When it came up in my reading challenge that I had to read the first novel of a popular author, I thought this would be ideal.

I’d never read This Side of Paradise before now and instantly I found that familiar charm and romantic word use that is well known in Francis’ other work. Like his other work we have a charming protagonist by the name of Amory Blaine. A young man who after being raised, predominantly by his mother, in a rather unusual way heads for Princeton in the hope that it will provide him with the answer to his calling in life.

Along the way there are many friends. Philosophies on life, politics and religion are shared and of course there are different girls who touch Amory’s life at various points in his life. The novel is split into three books, and this really allowed me to get a greater understanding of Amory and how he changed and grew as person. But perhaps one of the main themes I took away from the book is desire to find something in life, whether it is the ability to write, or have faith in religion or the shared love of a woman, as human beings we are always searching for that extra thing that we feel will make us whole.

There are some dark elements to the book, when Amory turns to alcohol to numb himself from the painful break up from Isabelle, I found this particularly well written and it comes as no surprise that F.Scott Fitzgerald based it on his own experiences. If you’re hoping to read this novel and feel inspired with romance I’m afraid you will be disheartened. However what you will get is another beautiful novel that perfectly captures the confusion, anger and heartbreak of life when you’re young, trying to find your place in the world and be understood.

‘The early moon had drenched the arches with pale blue, and, weaving over the night, in and out of the gossamer rifts of moon, swept a song, a song with more than a hint of sadness, infinitely transient, infinitely regretful.’


Star Rating out of 5: 4

Happy reading fellow bookworms.



Reading Challenge 2015 – A Book From Your Childhood

Book Number Nine – Matilda by Roald Dahl.


When I first sat down and looked at the Reading Challenge, the first item my eyes were drawn to was the ‘book from your childhood’ I remember thinking instantly what book I would choose, I mulled over many options but my memory kept taking me back to many a content afternoon sat reading Matilda.

There’s something really interesting about going back to a book that you read in your younger years, especially a book that was written for children. It’s always interesting to see if you take something else from it, or begin to understand hidden messages that may have been acknowledged but not fully understood by your innocent mind. I have to say I had many moments like this reading Matilda this time round.

I found the novel still had the ability to make me laugh, and there was even something brilliantly nostalgic about the fact that a ‘twelve-inch’ TV was considered a big thing back in 1989. I realised as the book progressed how, as a child, I understood that Miss Trunchbull was a tyrant and that Matilda’s parents didn’t care, but reading it as a 29 year old, I began to see things much clearly.

Now perhaps I am reading too much into it, but Matilda’s parents seem guilty of neglect, they chose to put their own happiness ahead of her own. They provided an awful diet of microwave type meals and found that the TV was the perfect babysitter for both their children. The viewpoint that Mrs Wormwood holds about how a woman should always look well put together and marry a successful businessman smacks of a 1950’s mind set. ‘You chose books and I chose looks!’ This was an era in which women were only viewed as being a wife and a mother and not much else, education and careers were not viewed as of essential importance for women. But it is perhaps the chapter in which Miss Honey tells Matilda her story that I began to fully understand the extent of the abuse Miss Honey must have suffered at the hands of Miss Trunchbull. It is the silence and the unspoken words that seemed to speak volumes to me, and provided me with an uncomfortable feeling. One that I hadn’t really noticed or fully understood as a child.

The ending, although quite happy, was also difficult to read as an adult. As a child I remember thinking that it all turned out ok, Miss Honey recovered what was rightfully hers and Matilda was able to leave her neglectful parents and live with someone who truly loved, respected and nurtured her. But the flippant way in which her parents allow Miss Honey to take guardian ship of her made me feel quite upset. They didn’t even look back, and I found myself wondering what would become of Mike, her older brother.

That being said Roald Dahl wrote something that has stood the test of time, and I still found it thoroughly enjoyable. If anything, reading the book as an adult offered me a chance to feel nostalgic about my own childhood and how wonderful my parents were and are. I thought of the times spent with my beloved and sadly departed father, of how supportive he was of me as a little girl who loved books and literature. It reminded me how fortunate I was to have truly wonderful parents and not the mean, shallow and unsupportive parents that Matilda had. But it also opened my eyes to the dark tones of Dahls work that children, like myself, couldn’t fully comprehend or understand and further supported my belief that Dahl was one of the finest writers of his time, whose work will live on forever. Furthermore, to me, the following caption from Matilda perfectly articulates the beauty and magic of literature and I thought I would share it with you all.

‘The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English Village.’


Star Rating out of 5: 5

Happy reading my fellow bookworms.



Reading Challenge 2015 – A Memoir

Book Number Seven – Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro.


There are plenty of memoirs out there I could have picked in order to tick this one off the old Reading Challenge, but as something of a podcast nut (I listen to an awful lot) this one piqued my interest when I heard the woman herself perform an extract from it on the brilliant podcast ‘This American Life’

Slow Motion is about an event that struck Dani’s life and in doing so made her re-evaluate herself and the decisions she had been making. A beautiful young woman who became the mistress to her best friends, much older, stepfather, quit college to become an ‘actress’ and slowly became dependent on cocaine and scotch.

The thing that instantly struck me about this memoir was the style of writing, although being incredibly open and honest it was written in such a way that you could really relate to the sense of confusion Dani must have been feeling at that point in her life. Dani’s descriptions about times that are so incredibly bleak are beautifully written, despite the sometimes awkward and upsetting subject matter.

As the book progressed and Dani started to talk about how she slowly turned her life around, I began to feel somewhat disappointed. I felt that she had invested so much raw emotion into the book telling us about her life, the events that transpired, yet I don’t feel I was given enough information about the journey after she made the choice to stop drinking, doing drugs and making the decision to go back to college. The timescale seemed to jump around quite a bit, which affected the overall fluidity of the piece and made a somewhat hollow ending to an otherwise well written novel.

‘She’s wearing a pink flannel robe, and I want to be her. I want to have a life where robes and cats and mugs of tea are within the realm of possibility.’


Star Rating out of 5: 3

Happy reading fellow bookworms.


Reading Challenge 2015 – A Book Written By A Female Author

Book Number Six – Yes Please by Amy Poehler.


Like most people I’ve come to know Amy Poehler as the passionate, lovely Leslie Knope in the hit TV Series Parks and Recreation. I’m also familiar with her work in films like Mean Girls, Blades of Glory and her stint on SNL. So to say I was excited to learn more about her is an understatement.

After reading Bossypants and laughing so much, I guess I was expecting much of the same from Yes Please, but I was wrong to make any assumptions. You know that old saying, it is wrong to assume anything because it makes an ass out of you and me?!…Well…that!

Yes Please is an honest and unflinching account of Amy’s life, the highs, the lows and everything in between. Although not as humorous as Tina Fey’s book, I found this an inspiring read. Amy Poehler is a lady who I would love to meet and talk to, she’s had a fascinating journey to get where she is today and she’s certainly not afraid to be incredibly frank about how hard work is the key to success.

‘Good or bad, the reality is most people become “famous” or get “great jobs” after a very, very long tenure shovelling shit and not because they handed their script to someone on the street.’

The book isn’t braggy or self-pitying and Amy isn’t afraid to even highlight and discuss her flaws or mistakes she has made in the past. She’s insightful and driven and the more I read, the greedier I became to get through the book quicker.

‘Your ability to navigate and tolerate change and its painful uncomfortableness directly correlates to your happiness and general well-being.’

Amy’s book is well written, honest and uplifting. She is a, if not, the, true lady of comedy.

‘Things happened in real time and you watched them together. There was no rewind.’



Star Rating out of 5: 5

Happy reading fellow bookworms.