If I wasn't studying for a PhD, I would be working in publishing.

(I think. I mean, it's notoriously hard to get into but a girl can dream.)

Like many out there (and I think this might be particularly true of bloggers, who tend to be of a creative disposition), I am absolutely in love with books. Take me within a breath of a bookshop and I will be in there spending all of my limited disposable income (the portion not assigned to food anyway). My bookshelves at home are bursting full. Underneath my bed, you'll find boxes and boxes full of them. I own at least 100 novels that I'm yet to read and I still. Cannot. Stop. Buying. Them.

Michele constantly despairs.

Nevertheless, this doesn't really come across on this blog at all. I love reading book reviews but never seem to post them myself except for a scattering here and there. I particularly love the reviews by Audrey, who manages to keep a detailed record of her favourite quotes too (how does the girl do it? I must find out...) and wish I could do more myself.

So here is a kind of belated New Years' resolution in a way, and a comprehensive collection of the books I read in 2017. I set myself the challenge of reading 35 books in 2017 via Goodreads (which I only just managed to squeeze in, thanks to a lot of childrens' books in December, cheater cheater...) and here is my record of them.

(Note: blurbs/Amazon descriptions/Goodreads descriptions are in italics, with my own thoughts underneath)


City on Fire
Garth Risk Hallberg
Midnight, New Year’s Eve, 1976. Nine lives are about to be changed forever. Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, heirs to one of New York's greatest fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by the punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter and his idealistic neighbour – and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year’s Eve. Then, on July 13th, 1977, the lights go out.
I chose this as my first read of the year due to the book pivoting around a single moment on New Years' Eve. I remember this novel to be very engrossing and find that now (perhaps because this time of year has come around again), certain scenes keep popping back into my mind. The characters and their environments were described in a way that means its impossible not to be drawn into a very atmospheric 1970s New York. Nevertheless, I found some parts quite confusing and couldn't quite understand key parts of the plot.

Roald Dahl
Whether it is taking a troublesome cow to be mated with a prime bull; dealing with a rat-infested hayrick; learning the ways and means of maggot farming; or describing the fine art of poaching pheasants using nothing but raisins and sleeping pills, Roald Dahl brings his stories of everyday country folk and their strange passions wonderfully to life. Lacing each tale with dollops of humour and adding a sprinking of the sinister, Dahl ensures that this collection is brimful of the sweet mysteries of life.
Having only recently discovered that Roald Dahl wrote for adults too, I was keen to discover a wider breadth of his work. This collection of short stories was a little odd and not necessarily in the magical, whimsical manner expected of Dahl. There is certainly a sprinkling of the sinister involved as the blurb suggests - which I actually found quite disturbing at times! I'm not sure what the rest of his work for adults is like but I'd be interested to read more, despite this collection being slightly underwhelming.

Anita Brookner
Into the rarefied atmosphere of the Hotel du Lac timidly walks Edith Hope, romantic novelist and holder of modest dreams. Edith has been exiled from home after embarrassing herself and her friends. She has refused to sacrifice her ideals and remains stubbornly single. But among the pampered women and minor nobility Edith finds Mr Neville, and her chance to escape from a life of humiliating spinsterhood is renewed...
I found this to be a lovely, atmospheric little book with an interesting circus of characters and a strong sense of self in the narrator. The ending was unexpected and rather satisfying, I felt! Let's just say that things seem to be going a certain, traditional way, but not all of the foreseen conclusions are brought into fruition.

Ernest Hemingway
...Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway's slightly rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Here, too, is an evocation of the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man - a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafes and bookshops that comprised the city in which he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft. A Moveable Feast is at once an elegy to the remarkable group for expatriates that gathered in Paris during the twenties and a testament to the risks and rewards of the writerly life.
The good readers of Goodreads also gave the book a 4-star average - I only gave it 2. 
Whilst I have enjoyed the startling simplicity of Hemingway's works on other occasions, I have to admit that I didn't "get" this book. I took it with me on a trip to France, hoping to add to my travels with his words. On the whole, I found it quite dull and uninspiring although this is most likely down to personal taste than anything else (again, see that 4-star average). Hemingway seemed to be a rather unsympathetic character and whilst he was certainly a man of his time, I couldn't really warm to the text.
James Rebanks
...These modern dispatches from an ancient landscape tell the story of a deep-rooted attachment to place, describing a way of life that is little noticed and yet has profoundly shaped this landscape. In evocative and lucid prose, James Rebanks takes us through a shepherd's year, offering a unique account of rural life and a fundamental connection with the land that most of us have lost. It is a story of working lives, the people around him, his childhood, his parents and grandparents, a people who exist and endure even as the world changes around them. Many stories are of people working desperately hard to leave a place. This is the story of someone trying desperately hard to stay.
A beautiful and intimate portrait of identity, roots and culture in the north of England, I picked this book up (fittingly) from a little bookshop in Grasmere. Whilst the author's insistence that the Lake District belongs only to those who have lived and farmed there for generations initially felt slightly uncomfortable and antagonistic for me, this later appeared to be a test that the reader has to pass before being allowed into a wonderfully sensitive memoir of the fells and the people who have farmed them for centuries.


Family Life
Akhil Sharma
Ajay, eight years old, spends his afternoons playing cricket in the streets of Delhi with his brother Birju, four years older. They are about to leave for shiny new life in America. Ajay anticipates, breathlessly, a world of jet-packs and chewing-gum. This promised land of impossible riches and dazzling new technology is also a land that views Ajay with suspicion and hostility; one where he must rely on his big brother to tackle classroom bullies. Birju, confident, popular, is the repository of the family's hopes, and he spends every waking minute studying for the exams that will mean entry to the Bronx High School of Science, and reflected glory for them all. When a terrible accident makes a mockery of that dream, the family splinters...
The language of this little book is clear-cut and deceptively simple - it manages to create a world far richer than these truncated phrases would suggest. We are drawn into Ajay's world as it tumbles through delirious highs and lows. Sharma has skilfully portrayed the mind of a child and young adult, imbuing the reader with some of the hopeless hope, that only a child can possess, until the very last pages.

Seabiscuit
Laura Hillenbrand
In 1938 one figure received more press coverage than Mussolini, Hitler or Roosevelt. He was a cultural icon and a world-class athlete – and an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse by the name of Seabiscuit. Misunderstood and mishandled, Seabiscuit had spent seasons floundering in the lowest ranks of racing until a chance meeting of three men. Together, they created a champion. This is a story which topped the bestseller charts for over two years; a riveting tale of grit, grace, luck and an underdog’s stubborn determination to win against all odds.
Seabiscuit was a real surprise of a book. My copy had been left on my bookshelf for over 15 years after my mum bought it for my horse-mad younger self. I'd never had any interest in horse racing or spectator sports and a flick through the book did little to arouse my curiosity. Yet somehow, I managed to force myself to pick it up and once I did, it absolutely consumed me. In return, I devoured all 372 pages (including the acknowledgements because even they are fascinating) in less than 2 days. My heart was in my mouth during some of the racing scenes. Whilst Hillenbrand writes in a journalistic style, you can't help but become deeply and emotionally involved with the past through this book.

Push
Sapphire
This is the story of Precious Jones, a sixteen-year-old illiterate black girl who has never been out of Harlem. She is pregnant by her own father for the second time, and kicked out of school when that pregnancy becomes obvious. Placed in an alternative teaching programme, she learns to read and write. This is Precious's diary, in which she honestly records her relationships and life.
This was an uncomfortable and incredibly moving book. Our protagonist, Precious, practically leaps off the page. Some moments were particularly difficult to read and have a profound effect on the reader and whilst the book ultimately deals with an incredibly sad storyline, hope overrides all by the end. This is definitely one that will stay with you for a long time afterwards.

Scoop
Evelyn Waugh
Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of the "Daily Beast, " has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another. Acting on a dinner party tip from Mrs. Algernon Stitch, Lord Copper feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. So begins Scoop, Waugh's exuberant comedy of mistaken identity and brilliantly irreverent satire of the hectic pursuit of hot news.
An amusing but occasionally dull satire of journalism. Definitely a few chuckles, almost of the Monty Python school of humour. I'd like to see the film to see if they captured the spirit of the comedy well.

The Essex Serpent
Sarah Perry
London, 1893. When Cora Seaborne's controlling husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Along with her son Francis - a curious, obsessive boy - she leaves town for Essex, in the hope that fresh air and open space will provide refuge. On arrival, rumours reach them that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for superstition, is enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a yet-undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter's vicar, who is also deeply suspicious of the rumours, but thinks they are a distraction from true faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, Will and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves at once drawn together and torn apart, affecting each other in ways that surprise them both. The Essex Serpent is a celebration of love, and the many different shapes it can take.
This was a gorgeous book that was easy to devour in a very short time. I normally try to underline quotes and phrases that are particularly beautiful but I think I would have scribbled over half the book in this case. A wonderful study of human relationships with excellent characters.



Small Great Things
Jodi Picoult
When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father.
What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.
Wow. This book had me staying up late, getting up early, making excuses to leave social gatherings...(sadly I'm not kidding). I was absolutely hooked with this incessant page-turner. It's certainly an important read and one that will be uncomfortable for most. The segue from Ruth's first chapter into Turk's first line almost felt like a physical blow. The most remarkable thing is the way she constructs characters on opposite ends of a social dichotomy and paints their lives so richly. Even the white supremacist characters are made human in the strong emphasis on their love for their families and frustration with a system that they don't perceive as benefiting them. Of course our sympathies lie with Ruth who speaks to all of us whether we identify with her experiences or whether we must learn from them. Like Kennedy, I like to think of myself as a non-racist white woman but of course, as she realises, I too benefit infinitely from this system. I am kind of uncomfortable about the fact that many of the book's lessons and messages are coming from another white woman, rather than from a person of colour/black person as I think this is another symptom of a society that gives voice to those who have white skin and not others. On the other hand, as is a defining point of the book, sometimes white people need to hear about these things from someone who looks like them in order for them to open their eyes (our eyes). For me this is certainly going to be a diving board into this topic, so that I can start reading the direct experiences of those who encounter racism every day of their lives. 


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (reread)
J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!
I had forgotten how utterly spellbinding these books are. It's been at least 15 years since I last read the Philosopher's Stone and I absolutely devoured it this time around. The humour in her writing is impeccable; I almost wanted Harry to stay with the Dursley's for longer as these were some of the funniest scenes in the book. J.K.Rowling is marvellous for having managed to work simple words into such fantastical life, making this series an excellent choice for both children and adults.

The Tobacconist
Robert Seethaler
When seventeen-year-old Franz exchanges his home in the idyllic beauty of the Austrian lake district for the bustle of Vienna, his homesickness quickly dissolves amidst the thrum of the city. In his role as apprentice to the elderly tobacconist Otto Trsnyek, he will soon be supplying the great and good of Vienna with their newspapers and cigarettes. Among the regulars is a Professor Freud, whose predilection for cigars and occasional willingness to dispense romantic advice will forge a bond between him and young Franz. It is 1937. In a matter of months Germany will annex Austria and the storm that has been threatening to engulf the little tobacconist will descend, leaving the lives of Franz, Otto and Professor Freud irredeemably changed.
At the beginning, I didn't really care much for Franz, the book's protagonist. He was rather annoying; overly concerned with himself and his single-minded pursuit for a girl (on the advice of Professor Freud himself). On that note, I was also pretty sure that I'd find the book a little too absurd with it delving back into early 20th century Vienna to host conversations with Psychology's most infamous member. However, it really grew on me. The episodes with Freud were not as fantastical as I had predicted and the development of Franz is subtle yet pronounced, a great feat considering the short length of the book. The absence of distinct chapters also helps to set the reader rolling through the book, giving us a sense of periods of time falling into each other. It has stayed on my mind for a surprisingly long time.

Mad Girl
Bryony Gordon
Bryony Gordon has OCD. It's the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn't repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It's caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty...
This is an easy but important read for many people. Bryony Gordon discusses mental illness in a way that is accessible and relatable, making it an indispensable companion for those who have suffered the same experiences as her and eye-opening education for those who haven't.

Clever Girl
Tessa Hadley
Stella was a clever girl, everyone thought so. Living with her mother and rather unsatisfactory stepfather in suburban respectability she reads voraciously, smokes until her voice is hoarse and dreams of a less ordinary life. When she meets Val, he seems to her to embody everything she longs for – glamour, ideas, excitement and the thrill of the unknown. But these things come at a price and one that Stella despite all her cleverness doesn’t realise until it is too late.

Tessa Hadley is one of my favourite writers for her gentle handling of human relationships and lives. I enjoyed this (didn't love it though) and found it to be realistically uplifting.


White Teeth
Zadie Smith
One of the most talked about fictional debuts ever, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing - among many other things - with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, one brown mouse, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous must-read of a book.
I've read some of Zadie Smith's more recent works and found that this one was almost more reminiscent of de Berniere's Captain Corelli's Mandolin with the pace and comedy of the characterisation. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly amusing.

Hot Milk
Deborah Levy
Two women arrive in a village on the Spanish coast. Rose is suffering from a strange illness andher doctors are mystified. Her daughter Sofia has brought her here to find a cure with the infamous and controversial Dr Gomez - a man of questionable methods and motives. Intoxicated by thick heat and the seductive people who move through it, both women begin to see their lives clearly for the first time in years. Through the opposing figures of mother and daughter, Deborah Levy explores the strange and monstrous nature of womanhood. Dreamlike and utterly compulsive, Hot Milk is a delirious fairy tale of feminine potency, a story both modern and timeless.I drove my family mad with this one, forcing myself to read to the end even though I became more and more despairing as I continued. I'm sure there's lots I haven't picked up on and I'm probably not nuanced enough to "get" this book, but dear lord - it struck me as overly philosophical for the sake of it. Not for me, personally.
The Gastronomical Me
M.F.K Fisher
In 1929 M.F.K. Fisher left America for France, where she tasted real French cooking for the first time. It inspired a prolific career as a food and travel writer. In The Gastronomical Me Fisher traces the development of her appetite, from her childhood in America to her arrival in Europe, where she embarked on a whole new way of eating, drinking, and living. She recounts unforgettable meals shared with an assortment of eccentric characters, set against a backdrop of mounting pre-war tensions. Here are meals as seductions, educations, diplomacies, and communions, in settings as diverse as a bedsit above a patisserie, a Swiss farm, and cruise liners across oceans. In prose convivial and confiding, Fisher illustrates the art of ordering well, the pleasures of dining alone, and how to eat so you always find nourishment, in both head and heart.
I saved this for a holiday in France and devoured it. It was absolutely delicious to be transported back in time for a feast of memories. The imagery becomes very vivid and the memoir is about love, life and food in equal measure - a perfect mix!
Handle With Care
Jodi Picoult
Every expectant parent will tell you that they don't want a perfect baby, just a healthy one. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe would have asked for a healthy baby, too, if they'd been given the choice. Instead, their lives are made up of sleepless nights, mounting bills, the pitying stares of "luckier" parents, and maybe worst of all, the what-ifs... What if Charlotte had known earlier of Willow's illness? What if things could have been different? What if their beloved Willow had never been born? To do Willow justice, Charlotte must ask herself these questions and one more. What constitutes a valuable life?
I find it hard to put anything by Jodi Picoult down but found this a little over the top at times. I wasn't sure whether we were supposed to sympathise with Charlotte or not (but I guess this might have been the point!)

The Bones of You
Debbie Howells
...When eighteen-year-old Rosie Anderson disappears, the idyllic village where she lived will never be the same again. Local gardener Kate is struck with guilt. She'd come to know Rosie well, and thought she understood her – perhaps better even than Rosie's own mother...
I found this quite simplistic and underwhelming. The characters seemed rather underdeveloped and the pace felt a little off. A quick read but not worth much attention.


Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly
Agatha Christie
As a favour to an old friend, Hercule Poirot finds himself at a summer fete in Devon, taking part not in a Treasure Hunt, but a Murder Hunt, in this never-before-published novella version of Dead Man’s Folly. Sir George and Lady Stubbs, the hosts of a village fĂȘte, hit upon the novel idea of staging a mock murder mystery. In good faith, Ariadne Oliver, the well known crime writer, agrees to organise their murder hunt. But at the last minute Ariadne calls her friend Hercule Poirot for his expert assistance. Instinctively, she senses that something sinister is about to happen…
My Mum bought me a beautiful hardcover copy of this from the gift shop at Greenway, Agatha Christie's holiday home and the setting for this little story. It was my first Christie and I enjoyed being taken through the rolling hills of Devon (where I currently live) and onto the lawns of the lovely old manor house. It felt a little quick paced and a little simplistic but it was an enjoyable short read.

The Travelling Bag
Susan Hill
From the foggy streets of Victorian London to the eerie perfection of 1950s suburbia, the everyday is invaded by the otherworldly in this unforgettable collection of new ghost stories from the bestselling author of The Woman in Black. In the title story, on a murky evening in a club off St James, a paranormal detective recounts his most memorable case, one whose horrifying denouement took place in that very building. A lonely boy makes a friend in 'Boy Number 21', but years later is forced to question the very nature of that friendship. 'Alice Baker' tells the story of a mysterious new office worker who is accompanied by a lingering smell of decay. And in 'The Front Room', a devoutly Christian mother tries to protect her children from the evil influence of their grandmother, both when she is alive and afterwards.
This collection of Susan Hill's short stories is perfect for anyone who wants to absorb entire ghostly tales in one sitting. They play on a range of moods and settings, showing her versatility as a writer of ghost stories and ensuring that at least one will get you spooked! I found the language a little simplistic at times and the dialogue and behaviour of the characters also came across as undeveloped in some stories but overall, I enjoyed reading it.

The Red Book
Deborah Copaken Kogan
Clover, Addison, Mia and Jane were college roommates until their graduation in 1989. Now, twenty years later, their lives are in free fall. Clover, once a securities broker with Lehman Brothers, living the Manhattan dream, is out of a job, newly married and fretting about her chances of having a baby. Addison's marriage to a novelist with writers' block is as stale as her artistic 'career'. Mia's acting ambitions never got off the ground, and she now stays home with her four children, renovating and acquiring faster than her Hollywood director husband can pay the bills. Jane, once the Paris bureau chief for a newspaper, now the victim of budget cuts, has been blindsided by different sorts of loss. The four friends have kept up with one another via the red book, a class report published every five years, in which alumni write brief updates about their lives. But there's the story we tell the world, and then there's the real story, as the classmates arriving at their twentieth reunion with their families, their histories, their dashed dreams and secret longings, will discover over the course of an epoch-ending, score-settling, unforgettable weekend.
I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would - it was a lot sharper and wittier than I expected and grappled with some topical issues such as the loss of parents, discovering that others aren't who you think they are, and the lengths people will go to for their families (the copy I bought was dressed up as chick lit so I wasn't really expecting much!)

The Shining
Stephen King
Danny is only five years old, but in the words of old Mr Hallorann he is a 'shiner', aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny's visions grow out of control. As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in Room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive? Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel - and that, too, is beginning to shine . . .
Wow! I fell into this book headfirst. I thought it was going to take me ages to read as I picked it up during a hectic time at work but I absolutely rushed through. Even just thinking about it makes me feel as if I'm being drawn back into the Overlook. And wonderfully, it's just creepy enough without being too horrific to read at home alone (well, as long as you don't live in a big old hotel in the middle of nowhere..)

The Haunted House
Charles Dickens
The popularity of A Christmas Carol excited demand for more tales of ghostly visitation, and the great Victorian storyteller happily obliged. A Yuletide gathering in an eerie country retreat provides the backdrop for Dickens and his friends -- including acclaimed authors Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins -- who take turns spinning supernatural yarns.Whilst the beginning of this book is decidedly eerie, the collection of short stories that succeed the first chapter are anything but. Charles Dickens invited a circle of his closest writing companions to contribute to this volume which brings a group of friends together on the twelfth night of Christmas to recount the hauntings they have experienced within the very same house in which they sit. Instead of being an anthology of ghost stories as we might think of them, they are the life stories of the ghosts living in the rooms of the old house. These are seldom tragic tales of damned souls but simply human interest stories which seem to reveal the psychologies of their tellers more than anything else. I was hoping for something a little eerier (I read this over Hallowe'en).



Florence & Giles
John Harding
1891. In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself - and narrates this, her story - in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house's many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn't sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children's first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world.
I really enjoyed this odd and absorbing gothic story. I loved the subtle creepiness throughout and thought the twist in the tale was excellent and like watching a car crash in slow motion.

In the Unlikely Event
Judy Blume
In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen and in love for the first time, three planes fell from the sky within three months, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, Judy Blume weaves a haunting story of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, whose lives are for ever changed in the aftermath.
Whilst the writing style is definitely more "tell" than "show", the plot of In the Unlikely Event kept me hooked. The narrative shifts perspective multiple times although if you've unravelled the plots of the Game of Thrones books, this will be comparatively easy. The one flaw that particularly stood out to me was the lack of depth surrounding Natalie's reaction to the events of the book. I feel that there were some important messages that could have been communicated here but she is treated rather unsympathetically.

First Bite
Bee Wilson
We are not born knowing what to eat; we each have to figure it out for ourselves. From childhood onwards, we learn how big a portion is and how sweet is too sweet. The way we learn to eat holds the key to why food has gone so disastrously wrong for so many people. But how does this happen? And can we ever change our food habits for the better? An exploration of the extraordinary and surprising origins of our taste and eating habits, in First Bite award-winning food writer Bee Wilson explains how we can change our palates to lead healthier, happier lives.
This is a fascinating and practical guide to how our tastes have (and still can be) developed over our lifespans. If you've ever worried about a fussy eater, or wished you could learn to like a different range of foods, this is the book for you.

Like Water for Chocolate
Laura Esquivel
A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.

I reread this for the first time in about 8 years and I didn't love it quite as much as I did the first time. When I was younger, this was an exciting and magical foray into a historical world of food and love. This time, I just felt really sorry for Rosaura! And Pedro is such a dick. It didn't quite leave me with the sense that all was well in the end; which is fine because not every book needs a happy ending but when it's *supposed* to be a happy ending and you consider it to be otherwise, it's rather unsatisfactory.

Upstairs at the Party
Linda GrantIn the early Seventies a glamorous and androgynous couple known collectively as Evie/Stevie appear out of nowhere on the isolated concrete campus of a new university. To a group of teenagers experimenting with radical ideas they seem blown back from the future, unsettling everything and uncovering covert desires. But the varnished patina of youth and flamboyant self-expression hides deep anxieties and hidden histories. For Adele, with the most to conceal, Evie/Stevie become a lifelong obsession, as she examines what happened on the night of her own twentieth birthday and her friends' complicity in their fate. A set of school exercise books might reveal everything, but they have been missing for nearly forty years. From summers in Cornwall to London in the twenty-first century, long after they have disappeared, Evie/Stevie go on challenging everyone's ideas of what their lives should turn out to be.An interesting, but not particularly enthralling, portrait of an insecure young life and a strange obsession - I never quite understood the fascination with Evie and expected a little more "oomph" from the story.


The Past
Tessa Hadley
Three sisters and a brother meet up in their grandparents’ old house for three long, hot summer weeks. The house is full of memories of their childhood and their past -- their mother took them there when she left their father – but now they may have to sell it. And under the idyllic surface, there are tensions. Roland has come with his new wife and his sisters don’t like her. Kasim, the twenty-year-old son of Alice’s ex-boyfriend, makes plans to seduce Molly, Roland’s teenage daughter. Fran’s children uncover an ugly secret in a ruined cottage in the woods. Passion erupts where it’s least expected, blasting the quiet self-possession of Harriet, the oldest sister. A way of life – bourgeois, literate, ritualised – winds down to its inevitable end...Tessa Hadley's writing is marvellous in this. Some phrases evoke such vivid images in the mind - the summer rain coming down on the driveway in the twilight and sending little puffs of dust into the air; the way in which one desolate character heaves her voice out of the very depths of her in response to her family's questions... wonderful.


Coming to England
Floella Benjamin
Floella Benjamin was just a young girl when she, her sister and two brothers arrived in England in 1960 to join their parents, whom they had not seen for fifteen months. They had left the island paradise of Trinidad to make a new home in London - part of a whole generation of West Indians who were encouraged to move to Britain and help rebuild the country after the Second World War. Reunited with their mother, Floella was too overwhelmed at first to care about the cold weather and the noise and dirt from the traffic. But, as her new life began, she was shocked and distressed by the rejection she experienced. She soon realized that the only way to survive was to work twice as hard and be twice as good as anyone else.
Having received the famous Floella Benjamin hug at my graduation ceremony (Uni. of Exeter where she was the chancellor until recently), I was very interested in finding out more about this inspirational woman. Whilst this is a kids' book (and ok, the deadline for the 2017 reading challenge was also a motivation to pick up this short read), it doesn't shy away from discussing issues such as colonialism and racism - which is so refreshing!! We need more like this for young readers.

Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Fifty-one years, nine months and four days have passed since Fermina Daza rebuffed hopeless romantic Florentino Ariza's impassioned advances and married Dr Juvenal Urbino instead. During that half-century, Flornetino has fallen into the arms of many delighted women, but has loved none but Fermina. Having sworn his eternal love to her, he lives for the day when he can court her again. When Fermina's husband is killed trying to retrieve his pet parrot from a mango tree, Florentino seizes his chance to declare his enduring love. But can young love find new life in the twilight of their lives?
Second time reading it through and I still love the lyrical language and the hilarious characters. Also, still on Team Urbino. Michele and I were both reading this together when we got engaged!

Josie Smith at Christmas
Magdalen Nabb
Josie Smith is the irrepressible little girl who’s been on Granada TV in several series. She’s the one who’s jealous of her best friend Eileen (who always gets whatever she wants). She’s also the one who gets into trouble all the time, but generally seems to come up smelling of roses! This Christmas title sees Josie making an angel for the school crib – then losing it; winning a prize and waiting up all night for Father Christmas.Admittedly, I read this in a desperate attempt to hit my Good Reads 2017 reading challenge. Eep. But, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The Josie Smith series was a childhood favourite and it's incredible how much these stories have endured and remained familiar to me. Whether this is due to the number of times I read it when I was younger, or to the craft of the writing having left an imprint, either way it is a testament to this being an excellent book for children.

A Christmas Carol
Charles DickensEbenezer Scrooge is a mean, miserable, bitter old man with no friends. One cold Christmas Eve, three ghosts take him on a scary journey to show him the error of his nasty ways. By visiting his past, present and future, Scrooge learns to love Christmas and the people all around him.
I wish I'd read this sooner! Absolutely enchanting and definitely a new Christmas favourite. 2017 reading challenge complete!

Phew! So there you have it, 35 books in 2017. What should I read this year?