100 Books in a Year: Paper Towns

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it.

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before.

#11 – Paper Towns – John Green – 4/5

I am quite fond of John Green’s books; this is the third one I’ve read, but before this, I’d read The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. (In fact, I wrote a little bit out The Fault in Our Stars here, if you’re interested.)

And, you know, because of this, I thought I had the basic formula to a John Green book down, and pretty much all figured out. (Spoilers from hereon out, by the way.) I was, essentially, expecting the missing character, Margo, to be dead; given that John Green has a cancer death book and a road accident death book, it seemed to me that this was going to be his suicide death book. I mean, I know I’m oversimplifying with that, but still. That’s definitely something you’re lead to believe over the course of the novel, that’s true, but of course, in the end, Margo is alive.

Paper Towns is something of a discussion on the manic pixie dream girl trope; though it’s never invoked by name, it’s something that’s on the forefront of the main characters thoughts throughout the latter half of the book. It’s something they do explicitly condemn, in the end, which I thought was nice – you can’t just romanticise people and your relationship with someone, there needs to be something much more real there. It’s a good message, particularly for the general target audience of these books.

And, you know, as with all of the John Green novels, it’s a lot of fun to read, and very easy to get through. They’re all eminently readable, and generally just pretty good books all round.

Books Read: 11
Days since start: 99
Days until finish: 265
Currently reading: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

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100 Books in a Year: Postcards from an American God on the Edge of Mars

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it.

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before.

#8 – American Gods – Neil Gaiman – 5/5

This was the book where I really started to understand the acclaim that Neil Gaiman gets. Obviously, he’s an author who was on my radar; he’s written one brilliant Doctor Who episode, and one reasonable one, and I quite enjoyed Stardust (but I preferred the movie, admittedly), however I’d never quite seen where the bulk of his reputation came from.

And now I do. I totally get it – Neil Gaiman is a fantastic author. American Gods is a very well written book; it’s got a whole host of interesting and compelling characters, and it’s written in such a way that we really get to take the time to get to know the different characters. I’d almost describe it as a meandering style, actually; it’s a fairly slowly paced book, but it uses that pace remarkably well.

I mean, it’s one of those books that’s difficult to talk about in short form; I sort of want to just bullet point stand out moments, but that would very quickly turn into a transcript of the book itself. (Even more so considering I was reading an expanded tenth anniversary edition!) Certainly, something that stood out to me was the twist ending, which I shan’t ruin, but I think it can be considered amongst the more effective twists of this nature, ever. (Yes, it’s hyperbole, but making exaggerated statements is part of the fun of running a blog. Plus, it really is that good.)

#9 – The Martian – Andy Weir – 5/5

Next up was Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I was drawn to because the film looked good, but I never got around to seeing it. Since finishing the book, though, I found out that Andy Weir writes Doctor Who fanfiction, and also wrote rather wonderful short story called The Egg, which you’ll probably have read before, even if you don’t recognise the title. So, you know, definitely an author I’m likely to be interested in.

The Martian has a really excellent, distinct voice to it; large swaths of the book are in a first person perspective, written as log entries by Mark Watney, the astronaut stuck on Mars. Andy Weir infused the character with a certain sarcastic, irreverent wit, which makes the book really enjoyable to read. Often there’s a lot of technical jargon – which I respect a lot, because it draws a veneer of realism over the plot, and really adds to the tone of the novel, but it’d be a lot less interesting if it wasn’t being relayed by such a well drawn protagonist. So, that’s handled very well, in essence.

It’s actually quite tense in places, which is accentuated by the switches between Mark Watney’s log entries, and the third person descriptions of events on Earth with NASA trying to save him. Ultimately, though, what I was most fond of was the closing paragraph, which put forward a really hopeful view of humanity. It felt fitting, and I liked it a lot. (Matt Damon narrates it over the trailer for the movie, as it happens.)

 #10 – Postcards from the Edge – Carrie Fisher – 4/5

I found out recently that Carrie Fisher had OD’d on cocaine while they were filming the Hoth scenes for The Empire Strikes Back. Then I found out she wrote a semi autobiographical book about her experiences, called Postcards from the Edge. So I figured I’d give it a read. (They also made a film of the book starring Meryl Streep, but that’s not exactly pertinent to the matter at hand.)

I’m glad I read this book in the end. It’s very good, and it’s also very honest; there’s a clear sense that Carrie Fisher isn’t holding anything back here, not at all. Throughout the book, there’s a series of different perspectives and stylistic presentations – it’s divided into four sections, and each one is different from the last. It’s all very cleverly done, and you come away from it with a much greater understanding of addiction and recovery (or, at least, of how that process went for Carrie Fisher.)

Certainly, I’d recommend it – it’s a cleverly presented, well-told story, that has some genuinely impactful themes and ideas within it.

Books Read: 10
Days since start: 98
Days until finish: 266
Currently reading: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

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100 Books in a Year: The Noughts & Crosses Series

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it.

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before.

#4 – Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman – 4/5

This is something I’d been meaning to get around to reading for quite a while, but I never actually did. I am glad that I have read it, though, because it is a really rather excellent book.

I was reading the book’s wikipedia page recently, to remind myself of a few details – it’s been a couple of weeks since I actually read it – and it bothered me somewhat that Noughts and Crosses was described as a dystopian novel. Because it’s not, not really. It’s far subtler, and far cleverer than that; everything in that novel has been informed by a real life event. One that always stuck in my mind was a couple of lines of dialogue about the colour of plasters, and how they were only made in varying shades of brown. It’s not something I’d ever really thought about.

So, yes. This is an excellent book – it’s a subtle, clever representation of racism, with several strongly drawn characters, and an emotionally compelling plot. (And oh my god that ending. I found that genuinely shocking, in a way I’ve not found a book shocking for quite a few years now.)

Perhaps the one thing that doesn’t work quite so well is the more “mature” teenagery aspects, like the sex scene. It never quite came across as particularly natural, and it was made somewhat more uncomfortable given that just a few hundred pages earlier the characters had been about twelve years old. But, you know, that’s a minor fault, and it probably doesn’t really warrant me knocking a whole point off – it was an arbitrary choice (I’d given it 5/5 at first) motivated mainly by the fact I felt the later books were better, and giving them both 5/5 didn’t really reflect that. Swings and roundabouts, really.

#5 – Knife Edge – Malorie Blackman – 5/5

I wasn’t sure if I should read this one, to be honest, because I sort of felt like I should avoid series’ of books whilst on this 100 Books in a Year kick, to go for greater diversity and variety whatnot – but, frankly, I was going to have to read this book as soon as I finished the last one. They are, as I said, excellent books.

This one was a very dark book. I want to liken it to The Empire Strikes Back or The Temple of Doom to this quadrilogy, but frankly, it’s darker. One of the main characters, Sephy, is consumed with grief (that letter, man. It did a number on me. I refused to accept it) and the other, Jude, is entirely mad.

Actually, no, that’s a rather simplistic way of viewing it. Jude is a brilliant character – a very layered and complex one, who’s driven to violence after a lifetime of oppression. You can’t help but feel sympathy for him, at first – and, in a strange way, there’s a level of sympathy for him even as his actions become more and more heinous, but it’s one that’s mediated by horror at his actions.

Gotta hand it to Malorie Blackman – she is really, really excellent at characterisation, and character development. She’s an author that all writers could learn something from, I reckon.

#6 – Checkmate – Malorie Blackman – 5/5

There’s a great use of a non linear structure to this one. Lots of flashbacks to different points in the lives of characters (across about a ten year period) to gradually show the unfolding story of how Jude manipulates Sephy’s daughter, Callie Rose, into becoming a suicide bomber.

It’s a fairly dark story, even by typical YA standards, and given that it was published on the day of the 7/7 bombings, I can imagine it caused quite a stir. But it’s really well handled throughout, showing the subtle progression of Callie, as she transitions from a fairly normal child, to someone much more bitter and angry at the world, corrupted by her uncle, Jude.

Checkmate also works as a rather effective conclusion to this trilogy – which is good, given that that’s how it was intended! All of the major plot threads are resolved (I knew I was right about that damn letter!) and there’s a sense of closure and resolution to the story. Society isn’t fixed – there’s question as to whether or not it will ever be – but this family might finally be able to find some happiness.

Which was a rather nice note to end on.

#7 – Double Cross – Malorie Blackman – 4/5

Apart from the fact that it wasn’t the end, not exactly.

Of all the books, this one felt closest in tone to the original novel, most likely because the two main character perspectives were teenagers again. It ended up with the same flaw as the original, then – the sex references always felt out of place to me.

But! It had all the same strengths as the original novel too. Strongly drawn characters, authentic and interesting conflict, a compelling plot. You know, all of those fun things. It was also in a style that I’m quite fond of – an individual is driven to great lengths to take down something much larger than he is. Makes for interesting stories, methinks.

Another great book, then, in a great series of books, from a really rather excellent author. It’s books like these that make me really glad I decided to do this, because before imposing this slightly ridiculous challenge on myself, I’d have been rather unlikely to get around to reading these for quite a few more years.

I’ve slowed down considerably since when I started this challenge; I managed to read the first 7 books in 6 days, finishing Double Cross on the 18th September. It was a couple of weeks before I managed to start my next book, which I’m still in the middle of. Technically, this means I’m behind schedule, but I know I’ll be able to pick it up later in the year.

Books Read: 7
Days since start: 25
Days until finish: 340
Currently reading: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

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100 Books in a Year: Demons, Dying Girls, and the Homo Sapiens Agenda

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it. 

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before. 

#1 – Demon Road – Derek Landy – 4/5

So, here we are, at the beginning. Derek Landy. I’ve met him, actually. Very nice man. And a very good writer! He wrote, in case you did not know, the Skulduggery Pleasant book series, of which I am quite a fan. This is his first novel outside of the series, which has now finished. (I cried.)

It’s not really a huge departure from the norm, but it is noticeably different. It’s a little more adult – not in an offputting or overly edgy way, but something that much more deftly handled. I admit, I was going into it expecting something a lot closer to Skulduggery, particularly in terms of the humour of it, which wasn’t present in the same way. There were definitely glimpses of it, and the character Glen really embodies it, but it wasn’t there to the same extent. But that’s fine, really. I can (and will) re-read the Skulduggery series one day again, and there will be all that lovely, distinctive humour once again. (I owe so much to those books.)

But now, there’s Demon Road – an original novel by one of my favourite authors, containing the same strongly drawn characters and atmospheric prose that I’ve grown to love.

#2 – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews – 5/5

This invites comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars, I suppose, doesn’t it? To be fair, there are definite elements of a John Green novel to it. Not just in terms of the girl dying of cancer, but also the main characters. You’ve got Greg, with an interest in film making, and Earl, his weird friend, who makes films with him. They’re strongly drawn, they have weird hobbies, and there’s a girl who’s dying. If you did enjoy The Fault in Our Stars, this is probably definitely one to check out.

But, at the same time, the book is positioned as very much Not A John Green Novel. There’s a sort of low key reference to it at one point – the narrator very explicitly says that there will not be any schmaltzy messages or tumblr style quotes. He gives an example; I forget what it was, but it may as well have been “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” 

It works, I think. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is much more acerbic and rough around the edges than a John Green novel. It feels very real. At the end of it, there’s no real message. (At least, not one that I took away from it.) There isn’t a love story, or a great romantic climax.

Death just happens, and you’ve got to live with it. (I suppose that is a message. Shh.)

#3 – Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertelli – 4/5

Russell T Davies, who is a writer I very much admire, once said that homosexual love stories are more interesting than heterosexual love stories because they’re still quite new and different. The iconography of them is something we’re less familiar with; the images aren’t seared onto our brains in the same way. (He said that in The Writer’s Tale, if you’re interested. Definitely would recommend it. The quote is better served in context, too, rather than with my paraphrasing of it.)

He’s right, I think, and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a fairly good demonstration of that. It’s a love story (amongst other things) between two boys of 17. There’s an element of a mystery, too – at the beginning of the novel, the two boys (Simon and ‘Blue’) don’t actually know each other’s identities; they communicate through anonymous emails, and a fairly major aspect of the book is their slow realisation of who is who. In essence, it’s a very interesting take on the standard preconceptions of a love story.

It’s also a very 2015 book. It, more than any other YA novel I’ve read, captures the essence of “teenager in 2015″. Not perfectly, no, but very close. You’ve got references to tumblr and Adventure Time and Doctor Who and Harry Potter slash fiction, none of which feel forced, and all coming together to create something very easily identifiable. This is definitely something that people on tumblr should check out.

Books Read: 3
Days since start: 2
Days until finish: 363
Currently reading: Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

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