The Challenge

Last September, I set myself a literary challenge to see how many books I could read in a year. After six months my total reached 23 (read about those books here). Read on to find what my end of year total was… and what my choice of books revealed about me. Once again, you get bonus points if you can figure out the book titles or authors before I tell you (they’re listed at the end of this post).

books I may or may not have read during the past year


This month was a struggle, and I only managed two books. One was a famous chef’s memoir, mainly set in Cornwall but served with a side dish of Australia, and the other was a children’s book about mythical mountain creatures. Neither was particularly satisfying; I felt like I was reading them just to boost my numbers, or eating something tasteless just to fill my stomach. Word of the month: work.

Total so far: 25


I still wasn’t back on form in April but I did read more Hollywood memoirs of a space princess, and for good measure, a superheroes love story. A regular guy falls in love with a superhero called The Perfectionist; what could possible go wrong? Word of the month: other.

Total so far: 27


I began with a trip back in time to London in 1989, following the story of a young British-Pakistani man and his experiences in the drug-fueled youth culture of the city; the book is meant to be a classic, with the title inspired by a Prince album, but to be honest, I really struggled with it. Next, I went back further in time to the American frontier of 1823, to a novel based upon the real experiences of a man who was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead. I wanted something lighter to read after that, so I jumped into a contemporary children’s book about a greyhound dog, This was followed by another step into the past, right back to Tudor times and (spoilers!) the fall of Anne Boleyn. My final read of the month was a YA novel about a 19th century bride in rural England, who decides to run away the night before her wedding; I wouldn’t normally read this kind of thing, but the cover caught my eye and the premise sounded intriguing. Word of the month: fate.

Total so far: 32


I’d heard so much praise about the first book I read in June, but I found it hard going, and for me, it failed to live up to expectations; the story of a Hollywood star who goes to rehab for a drug addiction just didn’t get me hooked. Stars of a different kind definitely did get me hooked, though; this next story, a children’s science fiction novel,  is one of the best books I have ever read, so I am not going to hide the title from you. Go and read Phoenix by S F Said as soon as you can, you will be whisked away on a galactic adventure (and the illustrations are simply amazing). After this supernova of a story, I went back to a favourite genre of mine, and read a dark dystopian novel, set in a totalitarian state where the government continually manipulates the public, and persecutes those  displaying independent thought. Sounds like a lot of places right now, doesn’t it? I picked up a children’s book next, this time about a young man who tries to fulfill his dream of working as a clown in an African orphanage, and followed that up with a dystopian (yes, that D word again) science fiction novel, which has a lot of feminist spark to it; quite shocking, in fact. I ended the month with two more children’s books, both by the same author, and both set in WWII; one set in France, about smuggling Jewish children across the Spanish border, and the other set in England, a tale of German pilots who crash land their plane on the moors, only to be discovered by two boys, who have been evacuated from London. Word of the month: battles.

Total so far: 39


The first page-turner this month was a biography written by a daughter about her ageing father, who had developed dementia. This was a quest to unearth his past, to save his memories before they were lost to him. This thrilling book takes you on a journey to his adventures as an undercover agent parachuting into France during WWII, looks back at his marriages and family life, and tries to discover the truth about who he really was; memories, intrigue, and family secrets. How to follow this? Well, with the true story of a Victorian murder, of course! A young boy murders his mother, in a crime that shocks the country. Why did he kill her? How does Victorian society punish someone so young? What happens to him after he grows up? Murder and morality; can we ever really forgive a killer? Violence and death were also all over the next book I read, a re-telling of the King Arthur legends, this time written by a children’s author. In this version, King Arthur has been hiding in a secret cave for centuries, and recounts his adventures to a boy who has stumbled upon him. Word of the month: gripping.

Total so far: 42


I began the month with the autobiography of a drummer, who accidentally became one of the world’s most successful singer songwriters, having a solo career as well as singing with a band. From drumming, to a children’s book, this time set on a farm where a boy visiting for the summer yearns to become a permanent member of the family. Another musician’s autobiography came next, from the height of Britpop in the 1990’s to his current family life on a Cotswold farm, followed by a memoir about an author’s early life, including her descent into illness. Word of the month: family.

Grand total for the year: 46

What did I learn?

Well, 46 books in 12 months isn’t bad, is it? I suppose, deep down, I was hoping to achieve a convenient 52, or an average of 1 book per week, but alas, it didn’t work out that way. So, what has this literary adventure taught me? That I have a penchant for dystopian novels, that I enjoy reading children’s books for my own entertainment, that I read memoirs mainly to inform how I write, and that I rarely give up on a book once I have started it, no matter how hard going it might be.  It has been fun looking back at all the books I read in the past year, so I am going to be doing it again, with the goal of achieving the magical 52 next time. See you in 12 months…

Under A Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein, The King of the Cloud Forests by Michael Morpurgo, Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, All my friends are superheroes by Andrew Kauffman, The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi, The Revenant by Michael Punke, Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo, Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher, Phoenix by S F Said, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Dear Olly by Michael Morpurgo, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo, Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo, Dadland by Keggie Carew, The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale, Arthur High King of Britain by Michael Morpurgo, Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins, Long Way Home by Michael Morpurgo, Bit of a blur by Alex James, and Giving up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel.