I’m Back! And Here’s What I Read On Holiday…

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I’ve been back in England for a week, enjoying unseasonably warm weather! I had a wonderful time travelling round Europe with my husband, Paul. We went to:

  • Bucharest and Brasov, in Romania
  • Budapest in Hungary
  • Vienna in Austria
  • Venice and Rome in Italy

We saw lots of wonderful buildings, ate fantastic food, and got to know several different metro and train systems. It was a fantastic adventure (though by the end of our trip, we were kinda glad to be returning to the comforts of home…) I’ll be posting a few photos in due course. 🙂

Today, though, I’m going to tell you about what I read while I was on holiday. Thanks to my trusty Kindle, I was able to take lots of books with me – and I thoroughly enjoyed having more time than usual to dig in to some great fiction and non-fiction. I expect you’ll enjoy some of these too.

In the order that I read them, here’s my holiday reading list: 17 books! I’ve linked to the Kindle versions – if you don’t have a Kindle, you can get a free Kindle reading app for your computer from Amazon.

Note: The below ebooks will probably be slightly cheaper if you live in the US – I’m giving the Amazon.com prices that I see, but as I’m in the UK, I have to pay value added tax on ebooks.

Witness by Cath Staincliffe – Amazon.com: $3.16 / Amazon.co.uk: £2.00

I’d started this one, but the holiday was a good opportunity to finish it! I loved the structure of this – four very different characters with interweaving plot lines (they’re all witnesses to a murder). Great writing, with each character’s voice coming across distinctly.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch – Amazon.com: $7.86 / Amazon.co.uk: £4.99

I loved this – a gripping blend of fantasy and coppers. It works far better than you might imagine, and the characters were especially engaging. Not too taxing, but a great read.

Dracula by Bram Stoker – Amazon.com: free / Amazon.co.uk: free

I read Dracula a few years ago, but decided to re-read it while we were heading into Transylvania. If you’ve never read it, give it a try – it’s a genuinely creepy story, and rather more accessible than a lot of 19th century fiction.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu – Amazon.com: $4.97 / Amazon.co.uk: £3.19

This one seemed promising, and I enjoyed the premise and voice to start with: it was reminiscent of Jasper Fforde (see my note for Jane Eyre, below). Sadly, I gradually lost interest and abandoned it half-way through – I just wasn’t engaged enough with the characters, and the timey-wimey trickery was getting irritating.

Greyhound by Steffan Piper – Amazon.com: $3.10 / Amazon.co.uk: £1.99

This was an engaging coming-of-age story set in the 1980s, with a likeable 12-year-old narrator travelling across the United States on Greyhound buses. I did find the narrative voice a bit unconvincing at times for a just-turned-12-year-old, but it was still a great read.

Drive by Daniel H. Pink (non-fiction) – Amazon.com: $7.75 / Amazon.co.uk: £4.97

Drive had been recommended to me by several friends. It’s an extremely well-written book about what really motivates us, and though some of the material wasn’t new to me, I found it thought-provoking. Especially worth reading if you’re responsible in any way for motivating other people.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin – Amazon.com: $6.22 / Amazon.co.uk: £3.99

I’m not normally an epic fantasy fan, but I was hooked by the Game of Thrones T.V. series. The book is great too; far better written than a lot of genre fantasy, and with a sweeping cast of characters. I suspect that if I hadn’t seen the series, though, I’d have struggled to remember who everyone was and to follow the plot.

The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education (non-fiction) by Josh Kaufman – Amazon.com: $15.98 (hardcover, no Kindle edition) / Amazon.co.uk: £7.99 (Kindle edition)

Although I’ve read a fair bit about online business, I wanted a broader perspective – and this book definitely delivered. I’d not come across Josh before (my loss!) – he runs the blog PersonalMBA.com. If you run your own business, or if you’re thinking about doing so, then I’d highly recommend this book for a clear introduction.

How to Do Everything and Be Happy (non-fiction) by Peter Jones – Amazon.com: $3.07 / Amazon.co.uk: £1.99

Okay, I’m a bit of a sucker for self-help guides … but I wanted to keep that holiday feeling going once I got home, and this one was cheap! It was a good ebook with some innovative advice that I’ve not seen elsewhere, and a conversational writing style.

Disturb by J.A. Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn) – Amazon.com: $2.66 / Amazon.co.uk: £1.71

Trapped by J.A. Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn) – Amazon.com:  $3.33 / Amazon.co.uk: £2.14

J.A. Konrath is one of indie-publishing’s biggest success stories, so I’ve picked up a few of his ebooks (it helps that they’re cheap)! His novels are consistently entertaining – fast-paced and plot-driven – though I’m always left a bit dissatisfied with the characterisation. Trapped includes a first draft version and the author’s notes about the changes: interesting reading for any writer.

Write Good or Die (non-fiction) by various authors – Amazon.com: $1.36 / Amazon.co.uk: £0.86

This was a great compendium of essays from some fantastic writers, with a ton of experience between them. They include traditionally-published folks and those who’ve used new media very successfully.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Amazon.com: $5.16 / Amazon.co.uk: £3.31

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – Amazon.com: $6.09 / Amazon.co.uk: £3.91

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – Amazon.com: $6.09 / Amazon.co.uk: £3.91

These three books form a young adult trilogy; it’s well worth reading even if you’re a bit older than that. 😉 The books are pacy reads, set in a dystopian future, and the narrator, Katniss, is brave, tough and likeable. I enjoyed the first book the most, and found the third a little disappointing.

The Penal Colony by Richard Herley – Amazon.com: currently free / Amazon.co.uk: currently free

Written in the 1980s, this book is set on an island off the north Cornish coast where British prisoners are being dumped and essentially left to their own devices. The strength of the central premise didn’t quite carry the book – too many characters and plot-threads were introduced too early. The writing, however, was extremely good, and carried me through to the end!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Amazon.com: free / Amazon.co.uk: free

I was re-reading this one, for the first time in a few years. It’s another great 19th century read, with a spirited heroine who you can’t help but root for. (Bonus: read Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair afterwards – a very fun sci-fi novel that’ll appeal to book geeks.)

(Note: the Amazon.co.uk links are affiliate ones, which means that Amazon pays me a few pence if you buy through the links.)

A Brief Note About Ebooks

You might well have seen the news that Amazon’s brought out a new, cheaper, Kindle (and, soon, there’ll be a Kindle Fire tablet computer too). It’s a great time for readers and for writers, with easy access to classic books for free, and lots of new books available at bargain prices.

But if you’re a bit suspicious about ebooks, I don’t blame you! I’ve loved reading all my life – and I had my doubts about whether words on a screen could ever compare to those on paper. I’m going to be writing about my experiences with the Kindle in my next post…

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading recently – or how your reading has impacted you as a writer. The comments are open!

Thanks for commenting! I read all comments, and reply to as many as I can. Please keep the discussion constructive and friendly. Thank you!

34 thoughts on “I’m Back! And Here’s What I Read On Holiday…

  1. I feel too embarrassed to say what I’ve been reading after you trot out that list of yours. 🙂 I need to start reading more than blogs and news bulletins, I suppose. Reading Busy Monsters by William Giraldi and Karen Woodward’s Until Death. (One hardcover, the other on my computer, btw. Enjoy both formats.) And welcome back.
    MT Nickerson’s last blog post ..To be, Not to Be, A Writer’s Dilemma

    • Trust me, my usual monthly reading list wouldn’t look nearly so impressive … just shows I need to take more holidays, I guess 😉

  2. Hey Ali!

    Glad your back to blog-posting. Though, I always have a multitude of books I’m reading on the go, here’s what I’ve started, in the middle of, and almost finished reading.

    I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (for my bookclub)
    – Not my choice, but interesting fictionalized version of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson

    I’m almost finished Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown
    – An autobiographical coming of age story by the author of what is was like to grow up African American in Harlem in the 1950’s.

    I started Think Better by Tim Hurson
    – A thought provoking book on thinking…LOL! This book has fascinating stories. Tim says that most of the time we aren’t actually thinking but following, reacting, and repeating well worn thought patterns.

    I just picked up Poke the Box by Seth Godin
    – The maverick marketer has done it again! Just the title alone hooked me and the few first pages want to make me read on. Basically it’s a manifesto about starting…so far, but with Seth you never know what to expect. He is one of the most fascinating marketing gurus I always look forward to reading.

    I’m also reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

    You know what they say ‘if you want to become a better writer, read more’ or something like that…
    Zac’s last blog post ..A New Direction For Turning Point Motivation Blog, Plus Bonus Preview Links!

    • Awesome stuff, Zac! Hadn’t heard of several of those before, so will keep an eye out…

      I read The Help a couple of months back; great, gripping book. I was particularly impressed with the way Kathryn Stockett created three very different narrative voices.

  3. Glad you had a good holiday Ali!

    I went to see PD James & Ruth Rendell in conversation the other day – 91 and 81 years old respectively. Both Baronesses for services to literature, both active in the House of Lords. Both have many honorary doctorates, both have written 50+ books. They are formidable ladies. So I did just read Children of Men by PD James – it was turned into a movie with Clive Owen, not much like the book though. It was fascinating and disturbing in a way but much is set in Oxford, our stomping ground. Recommended.

    I also read The Help recently after seeing a preview of the movie. I hadn’t been attracted to it as I feel it’s more of an American story. But the book is excellent and deserves the attention it gets. The theme of racism and treatment of African Americans is clearly important but the style is fast paced, there’s plenty of story and suspense, and the characters shine. Highly recommended.

    I have been hoovering books up lately so there are many more, but these 2 stand out. Hope we can catch up soon.
    Joanna
    Joanna Penn’s last blog post ..How To Write A Book Proposal

    • Thanks, Joanna! Will keep a look out for Children of Men … I’ve not read much PD James, and probably should! And hey, anything set in Oxford… 🙂

      I completely agree with you about The Help: extremely well-written, great characterisation and not preachy — the story speaks for itself. I picked it up when it was in the Kindle summer sale, and was very glad I did!

  4. Funnily enough, I also read Dracula on my Kindle recently. I was kind of rooting for Dracula by the end of it 🙂

    As for what I’ve been reading recently that got me thinking a lot. On the non-fiction front “Your Brain at Work” (which I would HIGHLY recommend). And on the fiction front the brilliant fanfic “Harry Potter And The Methods of Rationality”. That one is available for free online when you google it. It only makes sense if you’ve read the original Harry Potter books, but if you have, then drop every other piece of fiction you’re reading and go read that. It’s genius!
    Vlad Dolezal’s last blog post ..Remember The Bad

        • No worries, I’m quite fond of not acting my age. Whether it’s joining a Toastmasters club when I was 18 (and where I was generally surrounded by business people in their 30s, 40s and 50s), or occasionally having my girlfriend read out a book to me before bed 🙂
          Vlad Dolezal’s last blog post ..Remember The Bad

          • I’ve been a member of my Oxford writing group since I was 14 (everyone else in it has at least a decade or two on me). On the other hand, I still put hula-hoops crisps on my fingers before I eat them…

            (Maybe Fun Life Development needs a post on “Why You Shouldn’t Act Your Age” ;-))

  5. Ali,

    We missed you here! Welcome back! I was overjoyed to read one of your posts, finally.

    I am happy that you enjoyed your hollies with husband, Paul. You deserved the break. You’ve been working hard for so many years now. However, please be sure to post nice photos and provide the juicy details of your travels.

    We want to see the places you visited in Europe through your eyes. We won’t take no for an answer: it is a must for you to share. We would be delighted by such a narrative, such a description of these beautiful locations.

    After all, when you read a book (or a blog like this one), you tend to live vicariously. If you can’t visit yourself, at least you can live in the imagination by reading fine works by fine authors like yourself and others you have mentioned. It is also great you had a chance to play catch-up with your reading. Well, good for you.

    Currently, I am reading only one book: it is a book on global trends by John Naisbitt. Megatrends is the name of the book. Very interesting although a bit dated, but some of the principles and ideas still apply, me thinks. Your reading list gave me the heebie jeebies: I now suffer from such an inferiority complex: you have all the bases covered and I am not even in the game yet. Ah, we foolish mortals just cannot compete with the likes of you.

    Cheerio.

    • Thanks, Archan! I’m trying to keep Aliventures focused on writing … but I’m sure I can work in a fair few photos and a bit of travel-narrative. Stay tuned… 🙂

  6. Hey, good to know you are back and better. Ultimate post. Very innovative as well as informative. Great read. And even I am not the epic kind, but this GAME OF THRONES surely caught my eye too.
    Tony’s last blog post ..Physical Therapy Assistant

  7. Thanks for the reviews on your reading list. I’m definitely going to check out a few of the self-help type books. I need to mix up my fiction with some non-fiction. I’m also waiting to get “Catching Fire.” I really hope the trilogy is good since “The Hunger Games” starts off so strong.
    Deborah Fike’s last blog post ..Life Lived as a Whole

  8. hey Ali Welcome back
    i want to check out Dracula
    for some reason i want more excitement these days
    thank you for the amazing list 🙂

  9. My goodness! You read 17 books while away? Thanks so much for the great recommendations, especially Daniel H. Pink’s DRIVE, which looks really interesting. I’m currently reading Torre DeRoche’s SWEPT (guess I’m drawn to one-word book titles), which is inspiring me to be less fearful and more daring. I’m also reading Sue Monk Kidd’s TRAVELING WITH POMEGRANATES, a memoir written with her daughter. I had so much to say about my experience reading this book that I wrote about it this week in my blog.
    Lisa Duran’s last blog post ..Sue Monk Kidd, My New BFF

    • Well, I was half-way through the first, and I abandoned one of the others part-way, so I guess it was 15 full ones, plus two separate halves…!

      Drive is great; definitely a new favourite of mine. 🙂 Will keep a look out for Swept and Traveling with Pomegranates, too…

  10. Wow, Ali. You were on vacation but still had time to read all those book 🙂 I admit I haven’t done a lot of reading lately but I hope I allocate more time for it now. Reading feeds our mind and the more you read, the more creative ideas flow. That’s why I haven’t been very creative lately! I’m not really a traveler and I’m glad I can still read books the old-fashioned way 🙂

    • We had a lot of lengthy train/plane journeys, which definitely helped with the reading… 🙂 I’ve not done all that much travel before, so it’s all very new and exciting and occasionally a bit scary — I like being able to retreat into a book once in a while!

  11. Hi Ali, welcome back and goodness, what a list! 🙂
    I read “The Importance of Being Earnest” just for fun, “Linchpin”, “Thank you Economy”, “Life of Pi”, and working through a few others right now…. I must say Life of Pi was a big transformation. I still think about the survival and the faith of that boy a lot. Great great list. How’d you like Hunger Games?
    Farnoosh’s last blog post ..Best 18 Quotes From Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”

    • Ah, “The Importance of Being Earnest” is probably my husband’s favourite play! We’ve been to see several live productions (it’s a good thing that I like it too!)

      It’s a few years since I read “Life of Pi”; it’s stuck with me, though. A great book.

      I enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy; I feel it’s been a bit over-hyped, but it’s a very solid and entertaining read nonetheless.

  12. Hello there,
    I appreciate how balanced you are with your reading goals. I will attempt to emulate your example:)
    Been bouncing back and forth between Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, which is taking me forever because the man really didn’t have anything good to say, granted, that was his point but makes for a dry read regardless, and the last two books of the original Dune series by Herbert’s son Brian!:)
    The exclamation point should carry how excited I am about the last two:) I have been trying to find the last two at the library for so long! But I have prevailed and will dive in with relish.
    Hope you continue to thrive with your reading and writing.
    Early Bird

    • I’ve never actually read the Dune series — it’s one of those that’s been on my list for quite a while! (I’ve never read The Way We Live Now either, but I’m thinking I might not bother ;-))

  13. Kindle is awesome. I bring it with me wherever I go 🙂

    I think I will purchase Personal MBA book instead of just subscribing its course online.

    Thank you for the list!

  14. I love my Kindle. Now instead of stacks towering on the floor I have my Kindle loaded with inexpensive or free books. Just yesterday I heard John Maberry speak and he mentioned Dracula. I decided to read it. Then you have it on your list, so I downloaded it from Amazon (free). I downloaded a few other suggestions, too. Thanks. I have been reading a few ebooks: Making Toast by Roger Rosenbloatt (grieving the loss of his daughter); Children of the Plantation by Faith Mortimer (mystery set in Malasia); Chasing Amanda and Megan’s Way by Melissa Foster (Amanda kept me guessing, but Megan made me cry); Murder in the Senior Mannor by 90 year-old Kathryn Braund (@kittywriter). Now I am readingGhost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry (good one for Halloween), and maybe next Dust & Decay (YA Zombie) by Jonathan Maberry. (Getting ready for Halloween.) ThDust & Decay is the only hard cover on this list. I am retired now, so I can read almost to my heart’s delight.

  15. Hi Ali
    holiday reading! I’m impressed. With me its usually take a pile of books and barely open them. Recently I had a few days in Melbourne and took Siri Hustveld’s ‘What I loved’ which was a great disappointment because the male protagonists voice didn’t convince at any stage,something I’ve not come across before in my reading. It did make me wonder whether female readers have the same experience with all those male authors writing from a female voice.
    I’ve also been reading Tara Moss ‘Siren’ a bit of crime fiction that is making me realise just why I need to keep tight control over my penchant for alliteration. I’m not sure that I’ll finish this one but it is making reading Monica Ali’s ‘In the Kitchen’ easier. The way Ali writes this novel is giving me plenty of food for thought about my own descriptions around a scene: the role it plays in my story, and the readers experience of it.
    In non-fiction I read Steven Levy’s ‘In The Plex’ which was an eye-opener about the sheer scale of google; and thought provoking, especially about what happens to all the information they collect when the two founders and their vision pass away. And I’m just about done with T Storm Heter’s ‘Sartre’s Ethics of Engagement’ which is a useful although not always convincing argument for authenticity as a modern day virtue.
    Thanks for sharing your list, Drive sounds like a must read.

    • Thanks, Michael! I’ll keep an eye out for “In the Plex”…

      Interesting one about female writers writing male protagonists and vice versa; I can’t think of any examples where I thought a voice was particularly badly done. I’ve certainly read (or, more accurately, abandoned!) books where the narrative voice didn’t convince, but I’m not sure this was purely a gender issue.

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