Book Chat Back-chat #3: Best books of 2018*

It’s been a long while since the last instalment of Book Chat Back-Chat, and that’s mainly because my foolish decision to relax the kids’ phone restrictions on holiday last summer led to a severe reduction in reading. Quelle surprise.

However, they’ve managed to get back into their reading groove over the last few months so, without further ado, here’s the latest round of book recommendations from my daughters (aged 12 & 14), my husband and myself, over a breakfast of pancakes and syrup.

B (age 12): My favourite book last year was Splash by Charli Howard. It’s about a 10-year-old girl called Molly who lives with her grandparents because her mum left when she was younger. Molly loves swimming, but her best friend says swimming isn’t cool so she keeps her swimming club a secret. Then her mum comes back into her life but she’s not a good mum.

Mrs H: So what happens to Molly? Does she fall out with her best friend?

B: I don’t want to give anything away but basically it’s about how Molly needs to learn to stand up for herself. I loved this book so much – I read it in four days. [Squirts kingsized dollop of golden syrup onto her pancake.]

Mrs H: WHOA – that’s an obscene amount of goo! You should aim for a puddle, not a lake.

B: That is a puddle.

Mrs H: An enormous puddle. Anyway, what are you reading now?

B: The one you gave me – After The Fire by Will Hill. I’ve only read a few chapters but I’m already hooked. I want to know what happens next.

Mrs H: Well I read After The Fire and I couldn’t put it down! I’d say it’s a great book for anyone aged 12 or over, male or female. It’s about a girl who grows up within a religious sect in America. They live in a walled compound where she has always felt safe, but when a devious new leader takes over and forces her mum to leave, she starts to question the world she’s grown up in and all the people around her – and realises she must escape before it’s too late.

R (age 14): My turn! So the book I most enjoyed reading this year was Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso.

Mrs H: Is that fiction or non-fiction? [Removes golden syrup from table before 12yo can squirt a second dollop on her pancake.]

R: Non-fiction – although it’s also a TV drama series. It’s about how Sophia Amoruso started up a company by selling vintage clothes on ebay. She went from dropping out of school and never being very good at any jobs to being really successful. Her company Nasty Gal is mega-famous now. It really inspired me.

Mrs H: What are your other favourites from this year then?

R: I loved The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. I think I talked about that last time. And I also loved re-reading The Letter For The King by Tonke Dragt. It’s a medieval fantasy story and one of my all-time favourite books – I re-read it because I wanted to remind myself of the story before I read the sequel, The Secrets of the Wild Wood – which was also really good, though not as good as the first book.

Mr H: So my favourite book this year was The Choice by Edith Egur, who is a Holocaust survivor. She tells the story of her life from her time in Auschwitz to how she became a psychologist and public speaker.

B: So is she very, very old then? [Retrieves golden syrup and puts it back on the table.]

Mr H: Yes, in her 90s.

R: How old was she when she was in Auschwitz?

Mr H: She was a teenager. She wanted to be a professional dancer.

Mrs H: Why is it called The Choice?

Mr H: Well she says that we all have choices and that being a survivor requires acceptance of what was and what is. She also says that one person’s suffering is no less significant or important than anyone else’s. I found it very thought-provoking.

Mrs H: Any other faves from 2018?

Mr H: Yes, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was a really helpful book about the spiritual side of the creative journey. She’s really good at explaining things in a matter-of-fact, non-cheesy way. And I also read a biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson which was fascinating.

Mrs H: Um, kids – where do you think you’re going?

B & R: To watch That 70s Show.

Mrs H: Don’t you want to know what my favourite books are?

B & R: No.

Mrs H: Oh. That’s nice. [To husband]: Looks like it’s just you and me then. OK, so the books I enjoyed most over the last year are: The Power by Naomi Alderman – a story that flips the power-balance between men and women on its head – very thought-provoking; Breath by Tim Winton, which is about a thrill-seeking teenager in 1970s Australia, whose passion for surfing keeps him in a constant dance with death. LOVED that book!; The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah which is about two sisters fighting in the resistance in World War Two. The story really makes you feel the fear and pain of everyday life in Nazi-occupied France. But my absolute favourite book of the year has to be A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne, (lent to me by my good friend Jen who has a hound-like nose for a meaty page-turner).

Mr H: I just don’t see what was so great about A Ladder To The Sky. I nearly gave up on it several times.

Mrs H: What?! Are you mad? It was brilliant. An ambitious and emotionally bankrupt author who steals other people’s stories in order to ruthlessly further his own career? How is that NOT gripping?

Mr H: It was just all a bit meh.

Mrs H: Meh? MEH?

Mr H: Is that your impression of a disgruntled sheep? OK, to be fair, I liked the bit where his wife was narrating – that bit was good.

Mrs H: It was UNPUTDOWNABLE.

Mr H: It was VERY putdownable. Don’t look at me like that, Mildred. I’m entitled to my views.

And that, book-lovers, is where we’ll leave this episode of Book Chat Back-Chat. Suffice to say the husband and I are still married, but I am banned from recommending him any more novels for the whole of 2019. (But we’ll see about that…)

* (Some of the books mentioned were published in 2018, but some have been around much longer.)

Book Chat Back-Chat July 2018

Despite being struck by severe End-of-termitis and being a bit slow on the reading front (and being sucked into the vortex that is Love Island), here’s the latest instalment of Book Chat Back-Chat from my daughters (aged 12 and 14), my husband and myself, over a meal of Tortelloni that virtually cooked itself. (Simmer for one minute? My kind of meal!)

Mrs H: So R, what are you reading at the moment?

R (14): I’ve just finished The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. I really enjoyed it. It’s about a girl called Starr who lives in a rough part of Los Angeles but goes to a top school in a posh part of town. Starr is African-American and feels she’s two different people depending on whether she’s hanging out with her white school friends or her friends from her neighbourhood. The story starts when one of her oldest friends is shot by the police. The police make out he’s a criminal but he didn’t do anything wrong.

Mrs H: I enjoyed reading it too. Did it make you think about racism?

R: Yeah, like how racism can be really subtle sometimes. Like one of Starr’s white friends doesn’t realise she’s being racist, and when Starr points it out to her she refuses to say sorry.

Mrs H: And has it made you want to listen to songs by the late Tupac Shakur?

R: Mum, it’s just Tupac.

Mr H: Or Mr Tupac Shakur.

R: Mum, I’ve already got loads of his songs on my playlist.

Mr H: Get with it, Mildred. Anyway I’ve been reading a non-fiction book called Factfulness by Hans Rosling, who’s this clever Swedish scientist bloke. It’s basically about how we view the world very negatively, from watching the news and believing that everything’s getting worse all the time – things like poverty and equality, for example. But Hans Rosling has done tonnes of research and actually the world’s getting better in so many ways, but that doesn’t make an interesting news story. You see, the media don’t often report the good stuff, which leaves us all thinking that there isn’t any good stuff. But there is.

Mrs H: I’d like to read that after you. What are you reading, B?

B (12): I’ve just started I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. I really enjoyed the first chapter. It’s a sort of love story set in a crumbling castle where this family live, but they haven’t got any money anymore. I’m going to take it on holiday.

R: I thought that book was so boring. I gave up half-way through.

Mrs H: Didn’t Uncle Ollie give you that book for Christmas last year?

R: Yeah, two years running. He forgot he already bought it.

Mr H: Glad I’m not the only one having senior moments.

Mrs H: Didn’t Dodie Smith also write 101 Dalmatians?

B: Dunno. Anyway, I also started reading a book from the school library called The Selection by Keira Cass, which I was really enjoying but I left it at school. It’s about a reality TV show where these girls have to compete with each other to get noticed by a rich prince.

Mrs H: Maybe we can borrow it from the library in town? So who wants to hear what books I’ve been reading?

[Silence.]

Mrs H: Anyone? Well I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction roll lately. I’ve just read two books about meditation.

R: Oh my God, you’re turning into Grannie.

Mrs H: I’m most certainly NOT turning into Grannie. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d find these books interesting, but they were. One was called Not I, Not Other Than I by Russel Williams about a man who became enlightened just through working with circus horses – fascinating! And the other one (that Dad recommended to me) was called There’s Nothing Wrong With You by Huber Cheri, which is all about how harsh we can be towards ourselves without realising it. It’s written in a really simple way – I’d love it if you kids would read a few pages of it.

R: No thanks.

B: Bluuurgh.

Mrs H: But I’m sure, just like the majority of the human race, sometimes you tell yourself stuff like, “I’ll never be any good at that” or “Everyone else is cleverer than me” or “more successful than me” or “I don’t deserve blah blah blah”.

R: Yeah, sometimes.

B: Suppose so.

Mr H: I found it really helpful. We all need to learn how to be kind to ourselves.

B: Can I be kind to myself and not finish this yucky pasta but just have some ice cream instead? That’d be like two acts of kindness in one.

Mr H: Touché.