Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

The Best Books I’ve Read… So Far!

Ohhhh, we’re half-way there! (And if you’re half the 80s rock fan I am, you sang that line in your head.) I am officially halfway through my reading list: 55 books down, 54 books to go. It seems incredible to me that what started as a half-hearted joke with my husband about how much literature I was missing out on has become this huge project, and I’ve managed to make it halfway through (relatively) unscathed. What’s a girl to do but write a celebratory list post of the highlights? Here are the best books I’ve read so far, at this point, halfway to my ultimate goal of Keeping Up With The Penguins.

The Best Books I've Read... So Far! - Book Covers in Collage and Text in Black and Red - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The First Book I Loved: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - two volume green hardcover set laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I always knew Charles Dickens was the Grand Poobah of English literature, but I had no idea I was going to discover a book I loved so much, so early in this project. I devoured David Copperfield like a drunk woman eating a kebab. Every word is purposeful, every character is a clever caricature, every element of the story is consistent and compelling, and every emotion is beautifully rendered. Critics have hung a lot of shit on Dickens for what they call “supermarket” writing; novels were the primary source of family entertainment back then (the Netflix of Victorian England, really), so Dickens had to weave a bit of everything into his stories to keep the everyone happy. Critics be damned, I think it’s precisely this “just chuck it all in the pot and give it a stir” style that makes David Copperfield such an incredible book. Read my full review of David Copperfield here.

The Best Non-Fiction Book I’ve Read: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I realise that, given the creative liberties that Truman Capote took with the story of the Clutter murders, calling In Cold Blood “non-fiction” might be a bit rich… but I stand by it. I’ve read some great pop-science books, of course (Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Everything gets an honourable mention), but In Cold Blood was definitely the most beautiful and readable non-fiction book on my reading list (so far). I hate the term “page-turner”, but there’s really no other way to describe it. I was fucking gripped, with white knuckles, the whole way through. Read my full review of In Cold Blood here.

The Most Underrated Book I’ve Read: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m still not over my shock that I hadn’t heard of (let alone read) this incredible book before I began Keeping Up With The Penguins. It’s a travesty, I tell you – a criminal oversight of the book-loving community. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is also one of the very, very few books that gets an actual spoiler warning in my review, which should be testament enough to the strength of the plot-twist. If you ask me for a book recommendation these days, it’s almost inevitable that We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves will be top of my list; even if you tell me you’ve already read it, I’ll tell you to read it again. Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

The Best Classic Book I’ve Read: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Bearing in mind that I usually define a classic as a book that has lasted over a hundred years and maintained a level of popularity and interest, my favourite so far has to have been Jane Eyre. In fact, I clutched this book to my chest and smiled so often I started to look like a woman in a bad infomercial. Plus, the love story – even though Mr Rochester is problematic AF, it really set my heart all aflutter. I know Wuthering Heights gets most of the love and attention, but to me Jane Eyre is clearly superior (and it’s on that basis that I declared Charlotte to be the best Brontë). Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.

The Most Fun Book To Read: The Adventures of Sherlock Homes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes isn’t typically billed as a “funny” book, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it: it was just really fun to read! Sherlock’s adventures are presented as a series of short stories, and I was blown away by Doyle’s economy of language – how he managed to cram so much into so few words is still beyond me (it takes me longer to describe what happens in one of the cases than it does for Doyle to tell the whole story). It’s good, clean fun, too, which is not usually my kind of thing, but it’s great for anyone looking for a classic that the whole family can enjoy. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.

The Book That Lived Up To The Hype: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I know it’s super-weird that I hadn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird prior to Keeping Up With The Penguins, given that it’s a staple of high-school required reading lists, but somehow I squirmed out of that particular rite of passage. So, I came to it later in life, cynical enough to think there was no way that Harper Lee’s only true novel could live up to the hype. Imagine my surprise when it did! In fact, it exceeded it. It’s not without its issues, of course (which I address, very briefly, in my review), and the release of Go Set A Watchman was controversial at best (and a disgusting violation at worst), but I hate to think that any of that detracts from our appreciation of Lee’s masterful writing. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

The Most Beautifully Written Book: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My Brilliant Friend is so wonderful, I was actually nervous about posting my review; I didn’t think there was any way that I could possibly do Elena Ferrante’s beautiful writing justice. It is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve ever read in my entire life. Of course, credit doesn’t go only to Ferrante – there’s also her translator, Ann Goldstein, who somehow retained the beautiful rolling lyricism of the original Italian without the slightest hint that the work was not originally written in English. Luckily, My Brilliant Friend is just the first in the series of Neapolitan novels, so there’s plenty more Ferrante to sustain you once you’re done. Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.

The Biggest Surprise: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Crime and Punishment ended up on my reading list almost as a joke: my husband suggested it, never believing for a second that I would actually read it. In fact, I didn’t even believe that I would actually read it! I thought this Russian classic was for pretentious losers who name-drop at parties and wear fedoras inside. And then I had to eat my fucking words, because I did read it and I loved it! Raskolnikov is (and I know I probably shouldn’t say this about a literal axe-murderer, but whatever) so damn relatable, a bundle of nerves slowly unravelling in 19th century St Petersburg, and it’s so readable I would have totally believed it was a contemporary historical novel. Read my full review of Crime And Punishment here.

And there we have it! Of course, many thanks go to all of you who have stuck with me for the last year and a bit; I can’t wait to see what adventures we go on as we cruise through to the finish 😉 And my question for all of you today: what have been YOUR favourites so far in the Keeping Up With The Penguins project? Let me know in the comments (or tell me over at KUWTP on Facebook)!

I’d love to keep on Keeping Up With The Penguins, and find more wonderful recommended reads to bring to you! If you’d like to help, you can tip – any amount you like – through the banner below. Thanks a million!


  1. I’ve only actually read two of these (Jane Eyre and To Kill A Mockingbird—both of which I love, too!), but I’ve got David Copperfield and Crime and Punishment on deck for 2019!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 1, 2019 at 1:10 PM

      Wonderful! Both are long reads, but well worth the time and effort. Can’t wait to hear what you think of them – enjoy! 😍

  2. I hereby crown you ‘Queen Sheree of The Book List’ and hope you live a long and happy life reading books and telling us about them because we are too lazy to read them ourselves (actually, I speak for myself here). You are an inspiration KUWTP. Thank you for your amazing reviews. Off to read Henry James. Rusty fork to hand.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 1, 2019 at 4:07 PM

      HA! You magnificent wonderful creature, thank you ❤️ happy to read alllll the books if it saves you the bother! 😘🥂

  3. Congratulations on making it halfway. Reading projects such as yours can be fun and enlightening.

    I love your picks. Jayne Eyre, David Coperfield and To Kill a Mockingbird are some of my favorites too. Of the books that I have not read, I would like to read.

    Have fun with the second half!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 2, 2019 at 8:46 AM

      Cheers, Brian! Always appreciate your comments and insights, so looking forward to seeing what you think of the next half! 😉❤️

  4. oh no the poodle perm set, still I’m less of the svelte bum and more of the Whitesnake fan myself (don’t remember him swinging about over a stage on wires for example.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 7, 2019 at 10:24 AM

      HA! Goodness, I haven’t heard any Whitesnake in aaaaages… off to fire up the Spotify catalogue!

  5. You have some impressive choices! But your choice of words – dropping the f-bomb is unnecessary and offending!

  6. I’ve read most but there’s a book missing. My favourite book I ever read was To Kill a Mockingbird until I read The Power of One by Bryce Courtney. My most recent fave is Maid by Nita Prose. It was so well written that I knew almost from the start that “the maid” had learning limitations just by the way she talked. I could hear it! Very very good read.

    • Sheree

      October 10, 2023 at 10:44 AM

      Oooh, I do have a copy of that one on my shelves – thank you for reminding me to get to it sooner rather than later!

  7. Leonie Truter

    May 8, 2024 at 7:44 PM

    For a fairly erudite reader I am surprised that you use the ‘f’ word. You don’t need bad language to conform with the world.

    • Sheree

      May 18, 2024 at 3:20 PM

      Ahahaha thank you, I guess, Leonie. I don’t ‘need’ the language you call ‘bad’, but I happen to enjoy it! 😉

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