Desert Island Books #bookblogger #bookblogging #amreading #readinggoals

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If you read my update post on Tuesday about my plans for the blog this year, you will recall my mentioning the new feature I am introducing called Desert Island Books.

The premise is fairly simple and not particularly cryptic, the title says it all. I will be revealing and reviewing the twelve books that I would take with me, should I be stranded alone forever on a desert island. One per month throughout the coming year. I’ll tell you what it is I particularly love about them; why they are books that I can read over and over again without getting bored and why they would be my ideal forever companions.

To be honest, the feature is really just an excuse for me to reread some of my favourite books of all time and share them with you, but it is also an interesting exercise. Could you narrow down the twelve books that you could bear to read over and over again in perpetuity without getting sick of them? Would you take books you have been meaning to read for years and never had time to tackle (risky if you end up hating them!) Old favourites to keep you company (but would you ruin them for yourself if you had to read them forever?) A mixture of old and new? What genres? Fiction or non-fiction? Food for the mind or the heart? Uplifting? Challenging? Comforting? Scary?

There is probably a psychological profile in our choices somewhere!

I will be reading one of my twelve picks per month and reviewing it on the last day of the month but, as a precursor, I thought I would reveal the thirteen books which made it on to the shortlist but fell at the final cut. A sneak peek of what is to come maybe.

I hope you will enjoy a little glimpse this year into some of my favourite books of all time and the kind of literature I would choose to read on a daily basis if I never got to pick up a new book again, and I’d love it if you’d like to share your own Desert Island Books with me, either in the comments here or on your own blogs with a link back.

So here are books 13 to 25 on the list of books I’d take to a desert island. The ones that didn’t quite make it on to the life raft with me, but over which I would weep as they sank beneath the waves.

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Jamaica Inn  by Daphne du Maurier

I love du Maurier’s books, and it was a toss up between this and Rebecca, but in the end I think this is my favourite just because it is such a marvellous combination of wild adventure story, mystery and romance, and perfectly captures the isolation and cruel beauty of the north Cornish coast and moors, and it fills me with the same thrill and dread every time I read it as it did the first time. And the heroine, Mary Yelland, really has some gumption!

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Rivals by Jilly Cooper

I would say Jilly Cooper’s books were my guilty pleasure except I don’t feel remotely guilty about loving her. Her novels are great fun, and written so tongue-in-cheek that you can’t be snobby about them. Rivals is my absolute favourite of her books because this is when Rupert Campbell-Black redeems himself  and becomes worthy of the love of the gorgeous Taggie, plus it has a hunky Irishman in it. The ultimate beach read.

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Oh, how it has broken my heart to jettison Wuthering Heights and if I could have squeezed one more book under my life vest, this would have been it. However, when it came down to balancing the twelve books I was going to be reading repeatedly forever alone on a desert island, I decided that this bleak tale of destructive love may just be too depressing to keep my spirits up, and I chose another classic love story that was not doomed to end so badly, as you will see.

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The Russia House by John le Carre

The perfect spy thriller, for me. I fell in love with Barley Blair the first time I read this book, and it is a love that has endured. A reluctant and damaged man finds himself in a situation he is ill-equipped to deal with, and it has another doomed love story at its heart (I’m sensing a pattern developing!)

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Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I’m going to make a controversial statement now – I have always preferred Through The Looking Glass to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’m not sure I can explain why. Maybe it is because it hasn’t been done to death in movies, but for me it has a more interesting premise (a giant game of chess), better characters (the contrasting Red and White Queens) or the really imaginative writing (the Bread-and-Butterfly and Rocking Horsefly, with attendant illustrations, appealed, and still do appeal, to my childish heart). One of my favourite childhood books that takes me back to the days when my love of reading started and will always have a place in my heart.

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The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

One of my favourite ever historical novels and the root of my abiding fascination with Richard III. Before Philippa Gregory, Sharon Penman was my go to author for history told through fiction and this book gives a detail glimpse into the life of Britain’s most controversial monarch from a different perspective. This was one of the first books that taught me that people can have different interpretations of historical ‘facts’ and that perspectives can be questioned. Plus the writing is vivid and beguiling.

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A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

I love to read novels that take me to foreign soil and this is the ultimate in travel literature. I defy anyone to read this book and not want to book a flight to Florence immediately. And the writing is sublime. Gorgeous, but as I’ll be having an overseas adventure of my own, I have very reluctantly let it go.

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A Time To Kill by John Grisham

I love a legal thriller and courtroom drama and, regardless of what you think of him personally, Grisham is the king of the genre. A Time To Kill was his first book and he would probably be horrified to know that I don’t believe he has bettered it. This book has everything, tight plotting, action and a moral dilemma to wrestle with. Is killing ever justified? Even though I have read this many times, it still keeps me on the edge of my seat.

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Staying On by Paul Scott

Whilst Paul Scott is more famous for writing the Raj Quartet, including The Jewel in the Crown, it was Staying On that won him the Booker Prize in 1977 and I think it is easy to see why. The story of Tusker and Lucy, trying to hang on to their old life in India after independence as the world around them changes faster than they can keep up, will break your heart. Actually, I’m not sure I can leave this one behind after all.

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The Harry Potter Series

I doubt this needs any explanation. The rich world that J.K. Rowling has built around Harry Potter would be the ideal thing to stave off boredom and loneliness on a desert island. I know taking all 7 may be classed as cheating so, if you twisted my arm, I would choose Goblet of Fire as my favourite.

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The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

There are historical novels, and then there is the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. Set at the time where Homo Sapiens first starts to walk the planet, her books give a fascinating glimpse into how our ancestors came to be and became the dominant species against the backdrop of an extreme landscape. This is the first book in the series, and sets modern man in direct comparison to the species that came before. The way the story is told is a fascinating method of illustrating the history of this period and the level of detail in the books is mind-blowing. It is obvious Auel did copious research, but this is fed into the books appropriately and seamlessly. These books are a stupendous achievement.

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Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Another story about a hapless and unwitting stooge who is co-opted into espionage by circumstances outside of his control. However, unlike the le Carre book, Our Man in Havana has a thread of wit and humour running through it that just makes it a joy to read. The thought of James Wormold and his enlarged vacuum cleaner parts never fails to raise a smile. The fact that Greene himself worked for the intelligence services before writing this book adds a frisson of credibility to the plot and the setting of Cuba is another attraction. A perennial favourite.

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The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell

Everyone is familiar with Gerald Durrell’s book, My Family and Other Animals, detailing the years of his childhood spent in Corfu with his eccentric family, but fewer are familiar with the rest of his vast body of writing. However, as a child I was obsessed with the books he wrote detailing his collecting expeditions and his life at his conservation trust and zoo in Jersey and I read them all, over and over. We never travelled abroad when I was young, and these books were my first gateway to a host of impossibly remote and alien countries in Africa and South America, and hundreds of exotic animals that I had never heard of before. These books fuelled my obsession with travelling, as Durrell’s writing is so descriptive and enticing. The Bafut Beagles, detailing his 1949 trip to Cameroon, was my favourite and, although I would like to take his whole collection to the island with me, if I had to choose one it would be this. However, there isn’t any room on the raft, so I’ll have to be my own naturalist on my desert island.

So, these are the thirteen that didn’t quite make it. Join me on 31 January for the unveiling of the first of the books that are in the top twelve.

 

 

2019 Blogging Intentions & Reading & Writing Goals @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019

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As it is new year, and my second blogiversary is approaching, I thought I would do a little post setting out my reading and blogging goals for the coming year, such as they are.

To be honest, after the overhaul I gave the blog last summer, I am fairly happy with where it it as and am inclined to let it coast along unchanged for a while. I have the weekly slots for my Tempted by… and Friday Night Drinks features filled up to the end of May, so they will be carrying on, along with my staple book reviews. I also intend to try and do more regular posts in the Travel, Bucket List and Writing categories, as those have been somewhat haphazard so far. I have a few exciting trips already planned for the coming year, so I’m looking forward to sharing those with you.

I am introducing one new monthly feature this year, which is called Desert Island Books. Not exactly a cryptic title so you may work out the gist of what this is about but look out for a post coming on Thursday of this week for more details on this. Otherwise, it will be business as usual on the blogging front.

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On the reading front, I decided to go back to the principles which were originally behind the blog, and spend the year trying to reduce my TBR, which has gotten completely out of hand if I’m being honest. I just made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I own but haven’t read across all mediums and the tally is frankly embarrassing. So, I’m cutting back a bit on blog tours and focusing on reading some of my existing titles.

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To this end, I have set my Goodreads Challenge 2019 goal at 125. I am also going to attempt my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2019, which involves reading 25 books which fall into a specific categories – one every two weeks. I’ll be fitting books from my existing TBR into these categories where possible. Here are the details of the challenge, if you are interested. Watch out for the reviews of these books popping up fortnightly under the FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 hashtag.

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(If you are interested in joining The Fiction Cafe Book Club, please follow the link above and send a request. I highly recommend it, it is the friendliest corner of the internet for book lovers.)

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for another year, working on edits to my work in progress following my report from my reader last year and planning on having the manuscript ready to pitch as soon as I can. I have a writing retreat booked for March and it is all systems go on the novel front. Wish me luck as this will be me for the next few months:

What are your goals for this year?

I Spy Book Tag

BOOK TAG

I don’t normally do tags or challenges but I was tagged by Inge @The Belgian Reviewer  and I thought it looked interesting so I gave it a go. Thank you, Inge!

The challenge is: Find a book that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example for each category. You must have a separate book for all 20, get as creative as you want and do it within five minutes!!

Here goes. These are all books on my Goodreads TBR:

Food

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Transportation

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Weapon

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Animal

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Number

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Something You Read

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Body of Water

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Product of Fire

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Royalty

Unknown-5

Clothing Item

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Family Member

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Time of Day

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Music

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Paranormal Being

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Occupation

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Season

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Colour

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Celestial Body

Unknown-13

Something That Grows

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Now to tag some other people! I nominate:

Viola Bleu

Novel Gossip

Zooloo book Blog

Jill’s Book Blog

Books From Dusk Till Dawn

Susan Loves Books

Florida Straits by Laurence Shames #BookReview (@LaurenceShames) #FictionCafeBookClubChallenge @PaigeToonAuthor @CarrieJoHowe

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“People go to Key West for lots of different reasons. Joey Goldman went there to become a gangster…”

So begins this classic Key West caper, the hilarious and touching book that launched a much-loved series and introduced the world to Bert the Shirt and his chihuahua Don Giovanni, two of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction.

Joey, the illegitimate son of a major NY mafioso, decides to break away from a decidedly unpromising future in the old neighborhood of Queens. But will the old neighborhood and the Family let him go in peace? Not if knucklehead half-brother Gino has anything to say about it. As Joey is finally establishing his new life in sunny Florida, Gino involves him in a disastrous scam featuring a boatload of stolen emeralds and several squads of very nasty thugs. Finding within himself resources of smarts and courage he never knew he had, Joey beats long odds and muddles through to a brilliant solution to the problems dumped on him by Gino.”

The latest fortnightly challenge in my online book group (The Fiction Cafe Book Club – check it out, it is a great place for book lovers to hang out) was to read a book set in my favourite holiday destination. Where is that, Julie, I hear you ask? Well, it’s here:

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Key West!

There are a surprising amount of books set here. One of my favourites is Paige Toon’s The Longest Holiday. I am reading another for my classic of the month, which is Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and next month I will be reviewing another as part of the blog tour for Island Life Sentence by Carrie Jo Howe so come back on 4 June to check out that post. However, for this challenge I have stepped outside my usual genre choices and read Florida Straits by Laurence Shames.

This is the first book in Shames’s Key West Capers series which now stretches to thirteen books. I was initially drawn to it by the funky cartoonish cover. The gangster genre would not be one I would usually be drawn to but the promise of a humorous storyline intrigued me and I am always trying to stretch my reading outside my comfort zone so I decided to give it a try and I am very glad I did.

The main protagonist is Joey Goldman, the half-Jewish illegitimate son of a New York Mafia kingpin who is failing spectacularly in the family business. On the lowest rung of the gangland ladder and with no hope of getting ‘made’, he decides to swap being a tiddler in the huge pond of New York and travel to the sunnier climes of the Florida Keys to set up on his own. Dragging his reluctant girlfriend, Sandra, with him, he sets off with high hopes. Unfortunately, all does not go according to plan as you would expect and he has to battle Cubans, Colombians and his own half brother along the way.

This book is fantastic. The plot is smart and funny, the dialogue is snappy and the characters are diverse and colourful. My favourites are the staid Sandra and Bert the Shirt, a retired mafioso from New York who becomes a kind of mentor to Joey, and pretty much his only friend in Key West. Bert’s chihuahua, Don Giovanni steals the show without any lines.

What I enjoyed most about the book though was the way Shames really brought the setting and the inhabitants of Key West to life. His descriptions are spot on and very evocative – you can practically smell the sun cream and seaweed. The characters, especially the inhabitants of the condo community where Joey and Sandra end up living are so off-the-wall in the way that so many real inhabitants of Key West are (my favourite sighting there has been an elderly lady with two cats dressed in tutus on leads walking around a museum!), I particularly loved the naked landlord. This book really gave you a true flavour of Key West, which is what is what looking for when I picked it up.

I loved this book. It made me laugh, it kept me hooked and it took me back to one of my favourite places on earth. What more could you ask for, except maybe to be drinking a frozen strawberry daiquiri at Sloppy Joe’s as we speak. I wish I was there.

I enjoyed this book so much, I bought the next three in the series. If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Florida Straits yourself, you can buy it here.

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Now, here is a gratuitous picture of a pelican that I took in the Keys, just because why wouldn’t you want to see a photograph of a beautiful pelican?

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About the Author

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Laurence Shames has been a New York City taxi driver, lounge singer, furniture mover, lifeguard, dishwasher, gym teacher, and shoe salesman. Having failed to distinguish himself in any of those professions, he turned to writing full-time in 1976 and has not done an honest day’s work since.

His basic laziness notwithstanding, Shames has published twenty books and hundreds of magazine articles and essays. Best known for his critically acclaimed series of Key West novels, he has also authored non-fiction and enjoyed considerable though largely secret success as a collaborator and ghostwriter. Shames has penned four New York Times bestsellers. These have appeared on four different lists, under four different names, none of them his own. This might be a record.

Connect with Laurence:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurence.shames

Twitter: @LaurenceShames

Website: http://www.laurenceshames.com

Big Skye Littleton by Elisa Lorello #BookReview (@elisalorello) @AmazonPub

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Skye Littleton said goodbye to her job, her best friend, and her home in Rhode Island to start over in Billings, Montana, with Vance Sandler, a gorgeous guy she met online. On her cross-country flight, Skye shares her happy story with her seatmate, Harvey Wright, a Billings resident who knows Vance—and his reputation for heartbreak. Harvey’s infuriating advice to Skye? Go home.

When Skye arrives, she discovers that Vance has changed his mind and wants nothing to do with her. Despite the setback, Skye is determined to rebuild her life and begin a new chapter in Montana’s largest city, which sometimes feels like a small town. With Harvey’s help, Skye finds a job—and a passion for organizing closets and clearing out clutter. But as she grows closer to Harvey, she finds herself homesick for her former life. Could Harvey be her future, or is she his chance at revenge? Can Skye finally trust her own heart enough to let it show her the way home?

This was my first read of the year for the 2018 Reading Challenge of my online book club,   The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The first challenge was to read a book with food on the cover.

I’m not sure why I picked up this book originally, I think I must have read a review somewhere, but it has been sat on my TBR for a while (as have hundreds of other books, that is no indication of how much I wanted to read it. There are just too many appealing books out there and too few hours in a day!). The setting of Montana was the main draw for this book originally – the USA is my favourite place to travel and Montana is a state that I long to visit – but once I dove in, I was charmed by the whole story, not just the setting.

Refreshingly, the main character in this book is not some fresh-faced, lithe twenty-something, but a real-life, realistically-shaped, flawed but likeable woman in her mid-thirties to whom I could totally relate. At the beginning of the book, Skye Littleton is having a personal crisis which leads her throwing caution to the winds and moving across the country to a strange state where she knows no one, for a man she met on the internet. Predictably, it all goes horribly wrong and Skye has to face up to crawling home with her tail between her legs to the life with which she had become disillusioned or start again from scratch.

I was concerned that I wouldn’t buy in to anyone being so reckless, but Elisa writes Skye’s story so emotively and with such understanding that I totally bought in to why she would do something so foolhardy, and why she then can’t bring herself to go back. I was rooting for Skye from the beginning, wishing her the best and feeling every setback and every triumph with her throughout the book. The story is beautifully put together in this regard.

The location of Billings, Montana was fabulously brought to life in the book, as I’d hoped, and it has only increased my desire to visit this state. The romantic hero of the story is also realistically and sympathetically drawn, and it seems to be the perfect match for Skye, although the path of true love never did run smooth as we all know and, cleverly, I really was not sure right until the end whether Skye would get a happy ending, or even what I wanted that happy ending to be. Ultimately, I found myself wanting what was best for Skye, whether or not that was as part of a couple or single, and I could not decide what that was going to be until Skye herself realised what she wanted.

Ultimately, this is a story about a woman who has lost her sense of self and is trying to find it again, but not in a spiritual ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ way. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, I loved that book, but this isn’t the same). It is the story of someone who doesn’t love or respect herself very much and who is on a journey to understand that, until she learns to do that, she will never find a man who can love or respect her either.

This book is a cut above the standard romantic fiction. It is believable, thoughtful, emotive and warm and I totally loved it. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read an honest story about a real woman and real love.

Big Skye Littleton is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Elisa Lorello is a Long Island native, the youngest of seven children. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and taught rhetoric and writing at the college level for more than ten years. In 2012, she became a full-time novelist.

Elisa is the author of seven novels, including the bestselling Faking It, and one memoir. She has been featured in the Charlotte Observer and, more recently, Last Best News and was a guest speaker at the Triangle Association of Freelancers 2012 and 2014 Write Now! conferences. In May 2016, she presented a lesson for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association spring workshop. She continues to speak and write about her publishing experience and teach the craft of writing and revision.

Elisa enjoys reading, walking, hanging out in coffee shops, Nutella, and all things Duran Duran. She plays guitar badly and occasionally bakes. She moved to Montana in 2016 and is newly married.

On The Horns Of A Dilemma

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I was going to start this post by apologising, yet again, for the lack of regular updates. However, I read a post earlier this week by another book blogger on the topic of pointless blogging guilt, so I won’t. This is my blog, which I am writing purely for fun, and I am doing the best I can given all the other current demands on my time and energy, so we will all have to be content with that for now!

Doubtless you will want an update on my progress and I am pleased to report that I have not yet succumbed to temptation and I have not purchased any books so far this year, which is good going. Cora, who blogs over at Tea Party Princess asked me how I am doing it. Sheer force of will and a good dollop of stubbornness (which my family and friends will know I have in abundance), plus giving any place that harbours books a very wide berth. I even sent my step-children into Waterstones the other week to collect my copy of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project , which has been sat there since December waiting to be picked up, because I daren’t go in myself for fear of falling off the wagon.

However, I now find myself on the horns of a dilemma, and would seek guidance from you as to how to reconcile the problem with my current challenge.

Wednesday was my elder daughter’s 12th birthday (Happy Birthday, Mini-Me – please stop growing or I will have to stop calling you that) and she was given a copy of Caraval by Stephanie Garber. My sister, who has read the book, mentioned that it had some adult themes and suggestive passages in it that I may be uncomfortable allowing Mini-Me to read and suggested that I might want to read it first.

So here is my quandry. I have pledged not to buy, beg, borrow or steal any new books in 2017, but only read books that were in my TBR pile on 1 January 2017 and this book does not fall in to that category. I really do not want to fail in this challenge. At the same time, I do not want to allow Mini-Me to read anything unsuitable and I cannot really expect her to wait until next January to read her new book just so I can read it first.

What do I do? Is Caraval suitable for a 12-year-old who is fully conversant with the birds and the bees but not especially worldly for her age? If I read the book now, have I failed in my challenge? If I don’t, and allow Mini-Me to read it, will she be turned off literature, except books about horses, forever? (Although, they can be less than innocent – hello, Jilly Cooper!*) My sister is rather more prudish than I am (sorry, C, but you know it is true, it is one of your most endearing characteristics) so it may be that something she thinks is suggestive, I will think is perfectly acceptable. Maybe I should give it to a third party to read and assess in my stead – any volunteers? Has anyone read this book and can let me know what they think?

Any guidance gratefully accepted. Will I give in and read the book (which I really want to, it sounds great)? Will the challenge be all over? Will Mini-Me read the book and be scarred for life? Will C enter a convent? Tune in next week to find out what happens following this exciting cliffhanger!

*Before anyone calls social services, I have not allowed my daughter to read Riders yet, or any other Jilly Cooper for that matter, although I love her and do have the complete set!

A Test of Willpower

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Firstly, apologies to those of you who started following my blog after my initial post for my failure to follow up until now. It was my intention to post at least two book reviews and one other post a week, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. I should have known better than to start a new project in January – otherwise known as silly season for travel agents. I promise to try and do better going forwards.

Anyway, I am currently writing this on my iPad in the Plaza Premium Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 2, waiting to board a flight to Chicago for a 4-night city break in the Windy City with my other half (henceforth to be known as The Irishman).  Following my intention to use this blog as a record of my attempt to buy no new books this year, and use it as a tool to keep me on the straight and narrow, this post is my equivalent of attending an AA meeting for book addicts, as today is my biggest test so far of my willpower.

BECAUSE I LOVE BUYING BOOKS AT AIRPORTS!

And I mean, really, really love it. They might be my favourite place to buy books, and browsing book shops is definitely my favourite way to while away the tedious minutes between check-in and boarding. There are numerous reasons for this:

– all the new titles are here

– I’m going on holiday, so unfettered, guilt-free reading time lays ahead

– buying things for holidays is a necessity, not a treat, so totally justified

but mainly because of

– TRADE PAPERBACKS!!!!!

For those who don’t know what a trade paperback is, they are the over-sized paperback version of new books that are only currently available outside airports in hardback. So, hardback books in a cheaper, paperback version so it’s lighter to carry – what’s not to love about that? I adore a trade paperback.

My favourite author to buy in this format, and most of my complete set of his books are trade paperbacks, is John Grisham. John Grisham is the perfect holiday read. His books are well-written and gripping but not so arduous as to be hard work, because who needs to work hard on holiday? And, as a former lawyer myself, I do love a legal thriller.

But, no new John Grisham for me on this trip. We dashed straight from Security to this lounge,body-swerving all enticing purveyors of papery temptation en route. So far so good, but I fear a long 10 months and several more treacherous trips to airports lay ahead.

For now though, the second half of Claire Macintosh’s I See You awaits on my Kindle to keep me company, and 9 hours of unadulterated reading time lays ahead, so it ain’t all bad.