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 this 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 Boxing Day breakfast of pancakes.

B (age 12): My favourite book this 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

Despite everything I said about not joining a book club again, I still love to talk about books –especially with my family. Last night, over tea, Mr H, our two daughters, B and R, and myself discussed our favourite books that we’d read recently…

B (12): My favourite books that I’ve read recently are The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter – especially Book 2. Book 2 was the most exciting cos it was really unpredictable – not like “oh my god that person is so bad how can you not see it?” You just didn’t know what was going to happen next.

R (14): Those books were OK but I thought they were predictable, although I did skip forward to read the last page when I was half-way through.

Mrs H (46): NO! You can’t read the last page first. That spoils the ending.

R: I said I read it when I was half-way through. And you’re wrong, it doesn’t spoil the ending – it just adds to the suspense. Don’t look at me like that.

Mr H (47): So, R, what’s your favourite book that you’ve read recently?

R: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs. The books were so much better than the film which was like all three books squashed into one. The books were scarier. I also liked Twilight and New Moon by Stephenie Meyer, which I read after watching the films. And I loved the Murder Most Unladylike series which I started reading in Year 6 but carried on reading as they came out. I don’t care if it’s middle grade.

B: Murder Most Unladylike was rubbish.

R: Shut up – it wasn’t rubbish, it was really good.

B: You shut up! It’s my go. I also liked Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. It’s about a girl who writes fan fiction and has a big following on the internet and then she goes to college with her sister but they fall out with each other.

Mrs H: I read that one too. I found it a bit slow.

B: It’s brilliant.

Mr H: Does anyone want to hear my favourite books?

B & R: NO!

Mr H: So my favourite book that I’ve read in the last year is Wild by Cheryl Strayed, about a woman who goes trekking and camping on her own in the wild.

Mrs H: R, what are you doing with that wine bottle? Put it down.

R: Just sniffing it. It says it’s got a cherry and pepper aroma.

Mr H: Um, is anyone listening to me?

Mrs H: Sorry. Go on.

Mr H: There’s a film of it starring Reece Withoutaspoon which I think you girls would enjoy.

B: Dad, I think you’d enjoy Wonder by RJ Palacio about a boy with facial deformalities.

R: Deformities.

B: Whatever. It’s a really good book. Can I leave my courgettes?

Mrs H: No.

B: [Groans.] Mum, for you I’d recommend My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley which is like fiction mixed with non-fiction with a twist. Oops – I’ve given a spoiler away!

Me: I’m none the wiser.

B: And R, you should read the rest of The Gallagher Girls series. They’ve got them all in the school library.

R: Not happening.

Mr H: I think you’d all like 438 Days by Jonathan Franklin. It’s a true story about a South American fisherman who gets lost at sea for 438 days and miraculously survives.

Mrs H: Yes I loved that story. It was totally gripping. Right, my turn. The book that’s stayed with me the most is The Power by Naomi Alderman. I think all three of you should read it, although perhaps it’s a bit old for B at the moment. It’s about how the world changes when all girls all over the planet discover they’ve developed an organ in their bodies called a skein, which gives them an electric current that they can use to give people electric shocks. They soon realise this makes them physically more powerful than men – which changes everything. It’s very, very thought-provoking.

R: I’d like to read that.

B: I’d like to give people electric shocks.

Mrs H: [Presses fingers to Mr H’s neck.] ZZZZZap! Make me a cup of tea, NOW, man-slave.

B: [Zaps her dad]. Get me a chocolate biscuit, man-slave.

R: Man-slave, do you want to watch Love Island with us now?

Mr H: Very tempting, but man-slave seeks permission to retreat to his man-cave.

R: [Zaps her dad] You’re watching Love Island.