41 Books in 2015

I almost didn’t write anything for a books roundup for 2015, because I’m so annoyed with myself at how little I read last year. Having set myself a goal of 75 for the two previous years, and met or surpassed it, I was sure that I could do the same again.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. I don’t really know what happened, but between my first full-time job in a while, moving out, and just… doing other stuff, I only managed 41 books.

I know that for some people, that’s still a lot. And I also know that it doesn’t count as a failure, because it was a self-imposed target, and it matters to nobody that I didn’t reach it. In fact, I’ve been tidying up my blog, and updating various book journals that I have, and in doing so, I’ve been reflecting on some of the books I have read, and it feels even less like a failure now than it did before.

Final

I read some cracking books last year, so it’s easy to take pleasure in that – quality over quantity. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I read this very early in the year, and it set the bar very high! Following the story of a group of nomadic travellers in the years following the collapse of modern civilisation, Emily St. John Mandel’s novel is a masterpiece. Read my review here.
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber – I was simultaneously disgusted and intrigued by this book, and that’s not a feeling that has gone away thinking about it with several months distance. I still haven’t seen the film adaptation, but I thought the book was excellent; Isserley is a character who will stay with me for a long time.
  • The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton – On the subject of characters who stay with you, Ruby from The Quality of Silence is ten years old, deaf, and provides a compelling voice from whom we hear this incredible story of a terrifying journey across the Alaskan landscape. Read my review here.
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katrina Bivald – Books about books are my favourite. If I’m presented with a character who finds it easier to relate to the people in her favourite books than the people she encounters in real life, I’m instantly won over, and that’s exactly what happened here. Read my review here.
  • The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows – I’m rarely moved to pay full price for a brand new book; I’m usually much more inclined to wait for it to come in at the library, or pick it up in a charity shop. But I enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society so much that I couldn’t wait to read Annie Barrows’ new book. I wasn’t disappointed; it’s a richly dense novel with some wonderful characters.
  • In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – There’s no denying the power of Judy Blume; it took months and months for this book to become available at the library! When I finally got my hands on it, I absolutely loved it. Drawing on her own teenage experience of three planes crashing in her home town, Blume tells the story not only of her adolescent protagonist, but of the community at large, and does so with a skill and dexterity that I’ve admired since my own teenage years.

I also loved Jurassic Park, The Lost World, The New York Four, The Sky is Everywhere, and The Royal We amongst the 41 that I read in 2015.

So even though I’m disappointed that I didn’t hit my total in 2015, I am pleased that I took the time to write this post, because it shows that I read some great books!

140 Films in 2015

For the last few years, I have set myself a goal to watch 52 films each year. Obviously, this works out at one film a week, which, when I started doing this, felt realistic, and something that would help me watch more new-to-me films, instead of endless rewatches.

In 2014 I surpassed that total, ending up on 73, but I kept the goal of 52 the same, because I didn’t want to set an unrealistic target and then fail to meet it. As you can tell from the title of this post, I ended up watching nearly three times as many as I wanted to, finishing the year on 140! Even to me, that’s a fairly astonishing total, especially given that when I first started logging my films, in 2011, I finished on 30!

With so many films to consider, it was hard to make a collage that showed them all properly without it overtaking the whole post, so here’s what my 2015 in films looks like.

Final

  • In terms of how I watched the 140, it’s a pretty even split between the cinema (52) and online streaming (57). My cinema total has gone up massively due to having an Cineworld Unlimited card for the first time, and it actually works out at one a week, which is good going. The remaining films were either DVD (12), television (15), or iPlayer (3).
  • I have actually taken the time to work out which actors are my most watched this year! This has taken a fair amount of work, but it’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing. My most watched male actors were Vin Diesel and Oscar Isaac, both coming in at seven a piece. The runaway winner for the females looked like being Jordana Brewster for a while (darn that Fast and Furious marathon), but ended up being Allison Janney, with six.
  • I also worked out my most watched director (Steven Spielberg), and my most watched screenwriter (Chris Morgan – he of Fast and Furious fame).
  • I wanted to do a separate post for my favourite new releases of 2015, but it didn’t happen, so here they are, in no particular order: Inside Out, Ex Machina, The Martian, Carol and Brooklyn.
  • In terms of older releases, my favourites that I watched in 2015 were: The Way, Way Back, Spellbound, Begin Again, Chef and School of Rock (which I can’t believe it took me so long to watch in full!).
  • As always, there are very few on the list that I didn’t enjoy, as I’m pretty good by now at knowing what I will like. But the humour of Wet Hot American Summer went right over my head – I didn’t get it at all. And the worst film I watched at the cinema was The Last Witch Hunter. If I hadn’t bothered with it, Oscar Isaac would have won most-watched actor outright.

That may seem like a little bit too much work in terms of analysing my film watching. But I honestly enjoy all of this almost as much as I enjoy the films themselves!

I tried to keep up with writing a small amount on each film for the blog this year, but it didn’t work, and it won’t work any better next year, as I intend to watch more films. But I am starting to use Letterboxd more, and I’m hoping to log each film for 2016 there, along with a couple of sentences giving my thoughts on each one. If you’d like to, you can follow me here.

Do you set yourself film goals? What are you aiming for in 2016?

A love letter to… 2015

EST. 2015

Dear 2015,

Well, what a funny old year it has been. I dropped a line to your predecessor this time last year, and I thought it would be a nice tradition to continue.

You’ve not been a great year for blogging. I’ve always had an up and down relationship with this strange hobby, but this is the first year it has taken a real back seat to real life. This is mainly due to the fact that I just haven’t had the time, but also because for a while, I fell out of love with blogging a bit. We’ll see how things develop, but I finally feel excited again about things at Is That You Darling.

Personally, you were something of a milestone year, as I officially moved out of home. I went to university as a mature student, and when that was over I wasn’t in a position to move out, but finally, at the grand old age of 32, I managed it! I now live with my friend Hannah in a tiny little flat near Colchester, and aside from the fact that it’s almost unbearably cold in the winter, I love it, and I’m happy to have finally ticked off a major box in the adult column.

I’ve had a lot of fun with you, 2015. As with last year, though I might have spent too much money on clothes, I’ve been trying to concentrate on making memories, and I have some special ones to cherish. I saw Ward Thomas (again), and visited a town called Ugley. I went to Scotland for the first time, visiting Edinburgh to see Radio 2 broadcast live (a dream come true). I went on yet another caravan holiday with my best friends, and had the usual amazing time. I went to my first book launch, and was in the same esteemed company as Stanley Tucci for a couple of hours. I went to see The Proclaimers (!), I went back to Hyde Park for Radio 2’s Festival in a Day and saw, amongst other people, Bryan Adams, The Corrs and, yes, of course, Ward Thomas and The Shires once more.

I’ve gained a couple of new members of the family too, in the form of a new niece and nephew. I’ve seen my family much less than I used to when I lived at home, which has taken some getting used to, but I guess it just makes the times I do see them all the more special. It would help if I could drive, as my new home isn’t *that* far away from most of them, but I can’t. Hopefully that will change in the coming year, however!

And, even though this letter is already too long, I can’t finish it without a mention of my continuing interest in the work of Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. You were the first year in many that saw a live broadcast of Wittertainment, but as I was working, I was spared the disappointment of applying for tickets and inevitably failing to get them! I did, however, see Simon Mayo during my aforementioned Edinburgh trip, and I finally managed to see a Dodge Brothers gig, in Camden, with my Wittertainment friend Chloe. And miraculously, you were a year in which the good doctors released a book, which I was lucky enough to review, and when I headed along to the accompanying tour date in London, Mark and Simon were very kind to know who I was based on my review. When I headed along to the second London date, I ended up on stage, which was amazing and surreal, and resulted in my receiving a t-shirt that says ‘I’ve been seen by the Movie Doctors.’ All in all, quite an amazing turn of events!

All in all, 2015, I’d say you’ve been an up-and-down kind of a year. Some very exciting things have happened alongside some real contemplative moments, and while I know I’m lucky in many ways, I won’t look back on you as the best year of my life. So thanks for the memories, and I hope 2016 is even better!

Love Jane

A Love Letter to… is an ongoing series (that admittedly could do with a few more entries!)

August 2015 Books

 The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

I’m a big fan of Go Fug Yourself, and I’ve wanted to read the previous books that Cocks and Morgan (its founders) have written, but The Royal We was one that particularly tickled my fancy. It’s the story of a young American woman who arrives at Oxford university to study on a year abroad, and finds herself living down the hall from the heir to the throne, Prince Nicholas. The story is entirely inspired by William and Kate, and the pair make no bones about that: they are huge fans. Nick even has a irascible younger brother, Freddie, modelled perfectly on Prince Harry. The Royal We is such a fun story; melodramatic and romantic, and everything you want this type of book to be. There’s a sudden death that particularly hit home for me, and one that I think has to have been written by someone who has experienced that particular loss. It’s well worth a read if slightly trashy but well written romances are your thing.

The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Having read and adored Jurassic Park last month, it actually took me a little while longer to get into The Lost World. I’m not a fan of the film, and I think I kind of expected the drop in quality to be reflected in the books. This isn’t the case at all; as it turned out, The Lost World is actually probably the more interesting of the two, exploring different ideas about evolution and extinction. I’m pretty bereft that there are no more stories in this series; while I love the films and I welcome new additions to the franchise, I think Michael Crichton’s writing is amazing, and I would have loved to have read more. In lieu of anything else in this series, I’m going to seek out some of his other work. Does anyone have any particular recommendations?

Paper Towns by John Green

I read Paper Towns for the simple reason that I was planning on seeing the film, and I always, always want to read the book before I see the film. It’s only the second John Green book that I’ve read, the other being The Fault in Our Stars, and I can’t say that I loved it. It was perfectly fine, and it’s always interesting for me to read a book from the perspective of a male character, as I rarely seem to. But ultimately I was a left a little underwhelmed by the end of the story. The film deals with the ending so much better; rather than feeling let down by the ending, I felt uplifted.

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Another YA book; I appear to be on a bit of a run of those at the moment. This one is written from two perspectives, with Cohn writing Lily’s story, and Levithan writing Dash’s. It tells the story of these two teenagers and their quest to find each other across New York City. Lily leaves a notebook in a The Strand, a bookshop, where Dash finds it. The book has instructions in it for whoever finds it to follow, and Dash does, and this sends them on an adventure in the lead up to Christmas. It’s a really lovely, heartwarming book, with characters who feel entirely real and relatable. My only gripe with it was that Hermione Granger was referred to as Hermione Potter, without a hint of irony; it’s a cast iron mistake that should have been picked up on!

30 down, 45 to go in my goal to read 75 books in 2015

July 2015 Books

As the year goes on, and I find myself saying “Yet another less than excellent month”, my hope that I’m going to reach 75 books slips further away. I’m just going to stop saying it!

The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume

It feels a bit of a cheat including this book in my total, because it honestly took me about twenty minutes to read it. But when I first started making my lists, I declared that I was going to include everything, and that’s what I’m doing. And this is part of my Jane reads Judy ongoing challenge (though challenge gives it a certain gravitas, that, in reality, it lacks). It’s obviously a small child’s book, about a pair of siblings who claim not to like each other, but of course, turn out to have each other’s backs when it counts.

Freckle Juice by Judy Blume

If The Pain and the Great One took me twenty minutes to read, Freckle Juice took me around ten minutes! It’s entirely possible that I’ve read this one before, because I have a vague memory of it. It’s simply about a child who wishes he had freckles, and gets conned into buying a secret recipe from a horrible girl at school who says she canhelp him get some. She doesn’t really get her comeuppance either, and I think if this book was written now, she probably would!

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

I’ve written about this book a bit already, but suffice to say, I absolutely adored it. Given how much I’ve always loved the film, it’s a bit of a mystery that it took me so long to read it, but I am glad I did. I’m already planning a re-read of it next year, and possibly every year.

Forever by Judy Blume

Yet another Judy Blume, this was one that my friend Anna lent me. It’s the famous one; the book that every teenager wanted to read, and most of America wanted to censor or ban. It’s a frank look at teenage sex, and includes a gay character, and for a book published in 1975, that was racy. I didn’t read it as a teenager, I think I was more into the Judy Blume books about friendship, rather than the ones about sex! For all that it’s a trailblazing book, ultimately I didn’t feel that strongly about the characters; I didn’t like Michael, the boy with whom Kath falls in love, and Kath was just OK. I was more interested in the secondary characters; Artie, the aforementioned gay character, and Sybil, the teenage mum.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is one of my favourite books of recent years, so when I saw that Annie Barrows was releasing a new one, I downloaded it. At full price! This is unusual for me, because I usually only download free or nearly free books. I guess I could have waited, but I’m very glad I read it. It’s a very dense story, taking place over the course of a very hot West Virginian summer in 1938, and has some truly memorable characters, none less than Willa Romeyn, a young girl who starts to realise that there is more to her family than perhaps she has ever realised.

26 down, 49 to go in my goal to read 75 books in 2015.