I have been powering through my 100 books reading challenge, but in the last few weeks I've come to a bit of a halt. It feels like life has been super busy the past couple of weeks - and so many people I know have said the same - that reading is getting pushed aside for other tasks. The point of this challenge, though, was to make that time for reading, to make it a part of my life, so this week I've been resolving to set aside time before bed to get through some more of my 'to-read' pile. It's so much better for me than endless episodes of TV and it helps my brain switch off, which is sorely needed at the moment. Hopefully I'll get captivated by a story and get back into my stride in no time.
Stardust, Neil Gaiman
I'll be honest and say that, although I am a big fan of the movie, I didn't know that it was based on a book - and by Neil Gaiman of all people, whose work I have heard so much about but which I have never had chance to pick up myself. I usually like to read the book before I watch the movie or, as I did with this, I spend the whole time trying to work out the differences - and there were many. That said, this is a fantastic book - and fantastical, with plenty of imaginary folklore and mystical doings. It's witty and heart-warming, with brilliant moments of tension. I raced through it and would thoroughly recommend for a touch of escapism.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Calahan
Quite the opposite to escapism, Brain on Fire is harrowing and alarming - the true story of a journalist who 'went mad' in just a month, going from normalcy to violent episodes, seizures and paranoid delusions in the space of a few weeks. The book charts the beginning of her illness, through her time in hospital and her eventual recovery (which, although you know it's coming since she wrote the book, still feels on edge throughout as you watch her family go through it with her). It's both interesting and terrifying; there's a little bit of mystery as she is continuously mis-diagnosed until the true cause is determined and treated, but it's worrying to think about - there were no signs before this happened, so it's certainly not one for hypochondriacs to read!
Yes Please, Amy Poehler
The Internet has been raving about this book for weeks, and I absolutely devoured it as soon as I got my hands on it. Everyone was right, it's excellent and full of pearls of wisdom. I have long admired Amy Poehler's work - she is obviously very talented and successful - and although I have read in various anecdotes (particularly in both Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling's books) that she is a lovely person on top of all that, I was still (pleasantly) surprised at just how kind and gracious she is. I know it's her book so she gets to decide how she comes across, but it felt very genuine, and was corroborated by the bits and pieces written by others and inserted into the book. This is just a lovely, funny book and definitely one worth reading - her mantra 'good for her, not for me' needs to be taken up in force - and I like to think that since we share so much else - short stature, blonde hair, the name Amy - that I might one day grow up to be just as wonderful as Amy Poehler. A girl can dream.
Her, Harriet Lane
A bit of a psychological thriller, Her focuses on the life of two women - Emma and Nina - the former a struggling stay at home mum of young children, the latter a glamorous artist who befriends her. However, this isn't the first time the two have met, and Nina's desire to insert herself into Emma's life has another motive and a nefarious bent - both of which are revealed as the book goes on. Although it's gripping at first as you try to solve the mystery and the characters are excellently written, I found the eventual ending to be very disappointing and the motivation behind Nina's actions to be flimsy at best. I wanted more from the story, which I felt very unsatisfied by.
The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
This book was unlike anything I've read for a long time - in a very good way. It's easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to reading - sticking to what you know and love - but this was a little departure from my usual style and I'm so glad I picked this up. Telling the stories and secrets of four mothers and four daughters, exploring the mother-daughter relationship and what it means to be a Chinese immigrant in the USA, I found this book very moving as well as fascinating. It was a little difficult to keep track of all of the different stories and threads that wove through as the stories shifted in time and place, but each story was wonderfully told and incredibly compelling.
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
I finished this just yesterday, with tears streaming down my cheeks. At first I was sceptical of this book, which tells the true story of how Cheryl Strayed hiked a big chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother. I think I'm weary of 'finding yourself' narratives - but once I was stuck into it, I forgot to be sceptical and allowed myself to be swept along through Cheryl's trials and tribulations. She beautifully wove the stories of the difficulties of hiking such a gruelling trail with stories about her life, before, during and after her mother's death. Although I felt the elation as she came to the end of her journey, for me what was most striking was the stories of kindness she was shown along the way, of human's infinite empathy, compassion and connection with one another. I'll be watching the movie, for sure.