26 Books in 2017 Book 16: Books over 500 Pages Long

Big Books

Quality versus Quantity

Book 16 in the 26-Books-in-52-Weeks Challenge has to be a book that is over 500 pages long.

Now, in the world of books size shouldn’t matter. Quality isn’t necessarily linked to quantity. If it’s a big book but it’s also a page-turner, I’ll read it more quickly and with more enjoyment than a short, tedious one.

For example, Books 4 to 7 in the Harry Potter series were whoppers. I loved them. And I think it’s safe to say, so did plenty other people.

I haven’t read more recent bedside-table-busters such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, or George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but it’s evident their popularity hasn’t suffered because of their length. Similarly with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books which I also haven’t read, but isn’t it great that so many young folks have – because hey, they’re reading!

So what book would I highlight in this category? Well, in keeping with the outsize theme, I’ve gone for more than one book.


Favourite Books Over 500 Pages:

  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell


To-Be-Read Book Over 500 Pages:

  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


Couldn’t finish Book Over 500 Pages:

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy


And that’s it. Yes, more than one book named in this ‘big book’ category, but balanced by the fact it’s a relatively short post.

Over to you – Do you judge a book by its size? What bicep challengers have you read and enjoyed – or not?

26 Books in 2017 Book 15: Finding Alison by Deirdre Eustace @bwpublishing #bookreview #MondayBlogs


Book 15 in the 26-Books-in-52-Weeks Challenge has to be a book that someone else recommended to me.

As with many of the other categories in this challenge the list of potential choices was quite a long one. This is because I base most of my book choices on someone else’s recommendations. I sometimes go with suggestions made by bookshops or by reviewers in newspapers and magazines, but by far my main source of recommendations are a trusty group of book bloggers.

I’m a member of a Facebook group called Book Connectors set up by the utterly amazing and awesome Anne Cater. This is a group made up of readers, writers and reviewers. The reviewers are all book bloggers and many of them are amazingly dedicated and prolific. Their review posts are done out of a love of reading and a desire to share their thoughts on what they’ve read. Their reviews aren’t paid for by publishers and so there is no bias other than personal taste.

I follow quite a few blogs written by Book Connector members and some of them are almost entirely responsible for my rather large TBR (To-Be-Read) pile of books.

It was Book Connector, Joanne, whose blog you can visit here who recommended my most recent read. It is book number 15 in my 26 Books Challenge and it is Finding Alison by Deirdre Eustace.

Back Cover Blurb: In Carniskey, a small fishing village in Ireland, the community is divided, wracked by grief and guilt; love and resentment; despair and hope. Sean Delaney has been missing at sea for three years, and no one – least of all his grieving wife, Alison – knows what really happened to him. Having lost her husband, her financial security, and having grown distant from her daughter, Alison feels alone and estranged from the villagers. Sean’s mother has not spoken since her house was burgled after his disappearance, and Alison’s only friend, Kathleen, harbours secrets of her own. Isolated by their stunning, yet often cruel, surroundings, the community is forced to look inwards. But when artist and lifelong nomad William comes to town, he offers Alison a new perspective on life – and love. What she doesn’t realise is that strangers have secrets of their own, and William’s arrival threatens to unearth the mysteries of the past. A story of courage and humanity, we follow a community through their struggles and triumphs in love, loss and betrayal. As each of the characters strives to find their own sense of belonging, they are led to the realisation that it is only through the truth that they can truly find happiness.

My Review of Finding Alison:

I loved this book. It was a difficult book to put down and had me reading way past my usual lights out time. It was also one of those books where I desperately wanted to know how it ended, but I also didn’t want to finish it because it was so enjoyable a read.

The book tells the story of Alison who meets and falls in love with William whilst recovering from the loss of her husband Sean. As Alison gets to know William, she also gets to know her true self. Themes of redemption, recovery and mortality are woven through the story as Alison faces up to the challenges of parenting her teenage daughter, accepting her marriage was far from a happy one, and to moving on with her life.

On the face of it, it’s a contemporary romance, but it’s also so much more. A man and a woman meet and fall in love but the challenges their relationship faces are far from the usual sort. The characters are superbly drawn including the supporting cast.

This is a beautifully written, captivating, intelligent and very moving story.

Type of Read: Snuggle in, tea and tissues to hand, and immerse yourself.

Finding Alison is published by Black and White Publishing and is available as a paperback and as an e-book.

QUESTION: Where do you get your book recommendations from?

26 Books in 2017 Book 14: Anne of Green Gables

This cover is from the Puffin 1988 edition, published to link with TV series

Book number 14 in the 26-Books-in-52-Weeks challenge has to be a book with my name in the title and so I’ve chosen Anne of Green Gables.

This book, written by LM Montgomery and first published in 1908, was a childhood favourite of mine.

I liked it for lots of reasons and yes, sharing the name – and its ‘e’ at the end spelling – with the title character probably had something to do with its attraction. Other things that Anne Shirley and I had in common were an overactive imagination, a desire to make good, strong and enduring friendships, and worries about physical appearance,

At the beginning of the book Anne, an orphan, is adopted by a couple who originally wanted a son. The story tells how Anne is gradually accepted by her adoptive parents and the community on Canada’s Prince Edward Island and it follows Anne into early adulthood. She grows up to be a teacher – another thing I came to have in common with the eponymous Anne – albeit many years after reading the book.

It was a charming story and it’s one I remember with great affection.

Are there any books with your name in the title and if you’ve read one what did you think of it?

26 Books in 2017 Book 13: The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal @davcr @ProfileBooks

Book number 13 in the 26-Books-in-52-Weeks challenge has to be a book with a number in the title.

There are various books I could have chosen. For example, one favourite from this category would be The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, which is probably the first thriller I read aged about thirteen. Another favourite would be, The Seven Daughters of Eve by Brian Sykes, which is non-fiction and is about genetic heritage. It tells how all Europeans are descended from just seven females who lived thousands of years ago.

But the one I’ve decided on is The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal. This is an entertaining, dip-into sort of book. I studied the history of the English language as part of my MA back in the 1970s and my fascination with how this rich and complex language developed persists. And of course, as a writer, it’s not surprising that I have an interest in all things linguistic.

Here’s the inside front cover blurb:

Featuring Latinate and Celtic words, weasel words and nonce-words, ancient words (‘loaf’) to cutting edge (‘twittersphere’) and spanning the indispensable words that shape our tongue (‘and’, ‘what’) to the more fanciful (‘fopdoodle’), Crystal takes us along the winding byways of language via the rude, the obscure and the downright surprising.

In this unique new history of the world’s most ubiquitous language, linguistics expert David Crystal draws on words that best illustrate the huge variety of sources, influences and events that have helped to shape our vernacular since the first definitively English word was written down in the fifth century (‘roe’, in case you are wondering).

And from the back cover:

Fopdoodle – a lost word (17th century)

A fop was a fool. A doodle was a simpleton. So a fopdoodle was a fool twiceover. Fopdoodle is one of those words that people regret are lost when they hear about them.

There are several delightful items in Johnson’s Dictionary which we no longer use. He tells us that nappiness was the quality of having a nap. A bedswerver was ‘one that is false to the bed’. A smellfeast was ‘a parasite, one who haunts good tables’. A worldling was ‘a mortal set on profits’. A curtain-lecture was ‘a reproof given by a wife to her husband in bed’.

There’s such a great variety of words included in this book along with their history. There’s everything from Alphabet to LOL, from the commonplace to the, ahem, Anglo-Saxon, and from the fifth century to the twenty-first. Crystal even explains where ‘and’ and ‘what’ come from.

I’d say there’s definitely a 100 reasons to check this book out.

The Story of English in 100 Words is published by Profile Books.


26 Books in 2017 Book 12

Book number twelve in the 26-books-in-52-weeks challenge has to be a book with someone’s name in the title.

I’ve chosen My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.

This book is written in Strout’s usual economic style and in her customary honest voice. It’s a relatively short book but it says a lot. It’s about the difficult relationship between a mother and her adult daughter. It’s in no way sentimental, but it is a moving read. If you like Anne Tyler, another American author of contemporary fiction, you’ll most likely enjoy Elizabeth Strout too.

I’ve also read another book by Strout. It too has a name in its title – in fact the name is its title. And that is Olive Kitteridge. It too is a good read.

Back Cover Blurb for My Name is Lucy Barton: Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. They have not seen one another in years. As they talk Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually arrived in the big city, got married and had children. But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she’s made: wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.

26 Books in 2017 Books 9, 10 and 11

Gone With the Wind, The Ladder of Years, and the latest Rebus…

I know three posts for the price of one! Those of you who know me/follow me elsewhere will know I’ve recently moved house. Therefore there’s been a bit of slippage in the 26 Books in 52 Weeks posting. So it’s a bit of a catch-up today.

Book number 9 had to be a book that was made into a film. Lots to choose from here, but it was Gone with the Wind, set during the American Civil War, that came to mind first – so I’m going with that. This is the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Margaret Mitchell first published in 1936, and made into a film in 1939. I was given it as a Christmas present in the 1970s and at around a thousand pages long it was the longest book I’d ever read. I didn’t see the film until after I’d read the book. I loved both. I was a teenage girl and it was one exciting and epic romance. Nowadays the book’s portrayal of slavery and of African Americans is controversial. As an adult, I can see why that is, but I can’t deny that as a naive teenager it had me gripped.

Back Cover Blurb:Many novels have been written about the Civil War and its aftermath. None take us into the burning fields and cities of the American South as Gone With the Wind does, creating haunting scenes and thrilling portraits of characters so vivid that we remember their words and feel their fear and hunger for the rest of our lives. In the two main characters, the white-shouldered, irresistible Scarlett and the flashy, contemptuous Rhett, Margaret Mitchell not only conveyed a timeless story of survival under the harshest of circumstances, she also created two of the most famous lovers in the English-speaking world since Romeo and Juliet.


Book number 10 had to be a book published in the twentieth century. Again lots to choose from, and again I’ve gone for the one that sprang to mind first. Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler was published in 1995. It’s the book that confirmed for me that I’d like to have a go at writing a novel. It’s the kind of novel I aspire to write and it’s the kind of novel I love reading. It’s a wonderful example of contemporary fiction that is not only literary, but also tells a good story.

Back Cover Blurb: One warm summer’s day at the beach, forty-year-old Cordelia Grinstead, dressed only in a swimsuit and beach robe, walks away from her family and just keeps on going. After hitching a ride with a stranger to a new town where she knows no one, she reinvents herself as a single woman with no ties and begins living a new life altogether. But how long can she keep this up before her real life finds her?


And book number 11 had to be book set in my home town or region. No contest here. I love Ian Rankin’s crime fiction and I love his (now retired) police detective, John Rebus. So I’ve gone for the latest, the twenty-first in the Rebus series – Rather Be The Devil. Like all the books in the series, the novel is set in the city of Edinburgh where I was born and grew up and lived and worked in for many years. Rebus is a superb creation and Rankin’s writing is just fab. His portrayal of Edinburgh is one I recognise – somewhere between Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Alexander McCall Smith’s The Sunday Philosophy Club.

Back Cover Blurb: Some cases never leave you. For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria’s killer has never been found. Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

What would your choices for these three categories be?



26 Books in 2017: Book 8

Philips Essential World Atlas

Book number eight in the 26-books-in-52-weeks challenge has to be a book by someone who isn’t a writer. It was a bit of a tricky category for me. After all, how can you produce a book without being a writer? But after looking through my book shelves I came to my collection of reference books. And beside my various dictionaries and thesauruses, there it was, my Philip’s Essential World Atlas.

I love maps – and by maps I mean ‘old school’ paper charts. Google maps and sat navs are all very well and yes, they’re useful when driving, but you can’t beat the real thing for really getting yourself orientated.

I have no sense of direction whatsoever and get lost very easily so to be able to spread out a proper, paper map and learn by heart where one place is in relation to another place is invaluable for me.

Nowadays, I have a large collection of Ordinance Survey maps for when I’m out on long walks but my love affair with maps began when I was a child. When I was around seven-years-old, I had a world map on my bedroom wall complete with all the flags of the world printed around the edge. I was fascinated by it and memorised as many flags and capital cities as I could. It was also around that time that I got my first atlases – a UK one and a world one – and oh how I pored over them.

And my fascination has continued until now. So my book number eight is not by a writer but by a cartographer. I’ve had my Philip’s Essential World Atlas for many years now so it’s probably high time I updated and got a newer edition. Boundaries and country names will have changed over the years. And of course what fun it would be to have a new collection of maps to get metaphorically lost in.

What book not written by a writer would you choose I wonder?

26 Books in 2017: Book 7

Under the Spanish Stars

Under the Spanish Stars by Alli Sinclair – enjoyable, escapist romance with plenty of depth and intrigue.

Book number seven in the 26-books-in 52-weeks challenge has to be a book written by a woman. So, as with the book six specification of a book by a male author, it’s a wide field to choose from.

My fiction choices come mainly from the contemporary and crime genres and both male and female authors are on my favourites list. But choosing just one – of either gender – has proved difficult.

So I decided that for this category (male and female) I’d choose an author who is new to me and in a genre I wouldn’t normally read.

Hence I’m going for the romantic novel Under the Spanish Stars by Alli Sinclair as my Book Seven.

I do read romantic fiction but I usually prefer the protagonists to be a bit older than they are in this book. I like a heroine and hero who have lived a little. So Under the Spanish Stars was a bit out of my comfort zone with its twenty-something main characters and I suspected I might get a bit bored.

Not a bit of it!

Yes, it’s a boy meets girl tale, yes it’s highly romantic – but in the best way. The characters have depth. They have complex and interesting back stories. And there’s plenty of intrigue.

Charlotte is Australian but the need to solve a mystery in her grandmother’s past takes her to Spain where she meets Mateo.

Here’s what the back cover blurb says:

Amid the vivid beauty of Granada, a woman entrusted with unraveling a family secret will discover the truth about her heritage—and the alluring promise of love…   When her beloved grandmother falls ill, Charlotte Kavanagh will do whatever she asks of her—even if it means traveling to a country that broke her abuela’s heart. Can an unsigned painting of a flamenco dancer unlock the secrets of her grandmother’s youth in Spain? To find the answers she needs, Charlotte must convince the charismatic and gifted musician, Mateo Vives to introduce her to a secluded gypsy clan.     The enigmatic Mateo speaks the true language of flamenco, a culture Charlotte must learn to appreciate if she wants to understand her grandmother’s past—and the flamenco legend that has moved souls to beauty, and bodies to the heights of passion. As Mateo leads her into the captivating world of the music and the dance, Charlotte embraces her own long-denied creative gift and the possibility of a future rich with joy…

As the story goes back in time to when Charlotte’s grandmother, Katerina was young and in love with flamenco guitarist, Raul, the reader becomes immersed not just in the Franco era, but also in the spirit of flamenco and the Spanish gitano culture. Alli Sinclair has done her research but it’s deftly presented and woven into the story and she beings the beauty, architecture and culture associated with the Alhambra and Granada fully to life.

The novel is beautifully set – and set up. It’s laced with art, culture and history. It’s also beautifully told. Altogether a satisfying, romantic read.



26 Books in 2017: Book 6

See How They Run

See How They Run by Tom Bale – some nightmares you can’t wake up from…

Book number six in the 26-books-in 52-weeks challenge has to be a book written by a man. So, not exactly a narrow field there then.

I read books by male and female authors. I always have – and I’ve never really paid much attention to the gender of the writer. My fiction choices nowadays come mainly from the contemporary and crime genres and both male and female authors are on my favourites list. But choosing just one – and it’s a female author next – is difficult.

So I decided that for this category (and the female one) I’d choose an author who is new to me and in a genre I wouldn’t normally read.

Hence I’m going for the psychological thriller See How They Run by Tom Bale as my Book Six. I was first attracted to/alerted to this book through the wonderful Book Connectors group on Facebook. Several of the book bloggers there were praising it. Indeed their enthusiasm was so great that my curiosity overcame my usual resistance to the manipulations of thriller writers.

I’m so glad I overcame my prejudices. Tom Bale is a talented storyteller and See How They Run was a great read. The characters were interesting, believable and well-realised, and the storyline was taut and well paced.

The suspense and the shocks persisted throughout and there were several hide-behind-the-couch and look-through-your-fingers moments.

WARNING – This book is NOT for:

  • Those of a nervous disposition
  • Reading when alone at night
  • Reading at night if you (a) need to get to sleep at a reasonable time, (b) if you need to get to sleep

Here’s what the backcover blurb says:

How far would you go to save your family?

In the dead of night, new parents Alice and Harry French are plunged into their worst nightmare when they wake to find masked men in their bedroom. Men ruthless enough to threaten their baby daughter, Evie.

This is no burglary gone wrong. The intruders know who they’re looking for – a man called Edward Renshaw. And they are prepared to kill to get to him.

When the men leave empty handed, little do Alice and Harry realise that their nightmare is just beginning. Is it a case of mistaken identity? Who is Renshaw? And what is he hiding?

One thing is clear – they already know too much. As Alice and Harry are separated in the run for their lives, there is no time to breathe in their fight to be reunited. And with their attackers closing in, there is only one choice: STAY ALIVE. OR DON’T.

 My advice:

Risk it, live dangerously and read it!

See How They Run is published by Bookouture and is available as an ebook and audio


26 Books in 2017: Book 5

The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane – ‘a landscape of the feet and mind’

Book number five in the 26-books-in 52-weeks challenge has to be a non-fiction book. It was harder than I first thought it would be to choose just one book in this category. But when you think about it, it’s a wide field.

I have favourite cookbooks and gardening manuals. I also remain fond of my dictionaries, my thesaurus and my world atlas and still favour them over any online versions. I have a much-referred-to field guide for identifying British wild birds. All of these are elderly volumes but still much in use.

Apart from the above reference/instructional works, I also have several books on history, psychology, linguistics, and education. Some of these I’ve held onto since my long ago university days and some are more up to date.

I’m also keen on guide books and travel guides and have amassed quite a collection over the years. The US, Australia, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe – all feature and serve as reminders of places visited.

But my most recent reading in the non-fiction section has been from the creative non-fiction shelf. This genre includes memoir and personal, reflective writing, and my favourite so far has to be The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane.

Walking has a way of freeing and inspiring the mind, letting it roam, ponder, and understand. In this book Macfarlane shares the thoughts and insights on life that were prompted as he walked many ancient tracks, trails and paths. It’s a simple concept but beautifully done and I can recommend both the book and the value of taking these, or similar, walks yourself.

Back Cover Blurb:

Following the tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast ancient network of routes criss-crossing the British Isles and beyond, Robert Macfarlane discovers a lost world – a landscape of the feet and the mind, of pilgrimage and ritual, of stories and ghosts; above all of the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations.

The Old Ways is published by Penguin and is available as a hardback, paperback, eBook and audio book.