2018 has started with a bang.
For the first time ever, I actually read all of the books I was given for Christmas in January. Granted, I was only given 4 books this year (well, 5 if you include a picture book version of Pride & Prejudice!) – but I’m still feeling pretty smug that I got my butt into gear and read my new books straight away, rather than leaving them on the shelf for months [years] and feeling guilty for never quite getting round to reading them…
It’s funny how that works – I can be so excited to read a new book, then somehow it’s two years later and it’s still sitting on my shelf…Something new comes along, or I fancy a re-read, or I’ve got to read a book club book, or it’s just too damn heavy to carry around and read on the train (I love a hardback but they have their disadvantages!)…There are many
excuses reasons why some books wait a long time to be read. A mini-resolution for 2018 is to get to a few more of these unread books waiting patiently on my shelves!
Back to January, and the success that was my reading month. I finished seven books (which is a lot for me!) so without further ado, here’s what I read and what I thought of it…
Lost for Words, by Stephanie Butland
This was a quick, easy and enjoyable read – a great way to start the year. The story follows Loveday, who works in a bookshop in York. She loves books and keeping herself to herself – she’s a private person and isn’t interested in making friends. Through ‘flashback’ chapters following two other timelines – events from a few years previously and from her childhood – we gradually get to know more about Loveday and why she is the way she is. There’s an element of mystery – trying to unpick what’s happened in Loveday’s past and what’s going on on her present – which keeps you turning the page. There are some similarities to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine so if you enjoyed that (or it’s on your TBR) then I recommend Lost for Words (and vice versa!).
A Portable Shelter, by Kirsty Logan
This was quite a different read for me, but one I really enjoyed. It’s essentially a collection of short stories, but which are set within a single story (if that makes any kind of sense!). There are two characters – Liska and Ruth – who are having a baby. They have promised each other that they will not tell their baby any stories, only the truth. However, each takes it in turn to tell the unborn child stories in secret, and the chapters alternate between their stories. The stories have magical, mythical elements and speak of home, relationships, love. It’s an atmospheric and beautiful book.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
I’m already desperate to get my hands on Celeste Ng’s debut – Everything I Never Told You – as I need to read more from this author. Little Fires Everywhere was one of my favourite books this month. It’s a slow, small-town, character driven book which drew me in from the start. Part of the plot involves a custody battle and the moral/legal questions this raises are interesting – it reminded me a little of Ian McEwan’s The Children’s Act in terms of using a legal case to consider complex, perhaps controversial, moral issues. Thoughtful, thought provoking, thoroughly enjoyable.
The Martian, by Andy Weir
My book club book for January. I don’t tend to read science fiction so this was something a bit different for me. However, I had seen (and enjoyed) the film three times and so I was keen to read the book…
My experience of reading the book was completely altered by the fact I’d already seen the film, so I can’t separate the two in my mind. Unfortunately I found myself disappointed by the book – for me, it felt like the plot was better served using the visual medium of film and the options that this gives to show the action and make the ‘science’ accessible and easy to follow. If I hadn’t already seen the film – and could therefore easily visualise what was being described – I think I would have struggled to get through the book, as the early chapters include a lot of ‘science’ calculations, as the character (Mark Watney) tries to figure out how to survive alone on Mars. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the style of the book, with the majority written in a pseudo diary format. I didn’t feel like the character’s voice really rang true and much preferred the sections written in third person narrative. For me, the diary format also takes away some of the tension – whilst he’s still writing in his log, you know he’s survived and is telling you after the event if something dramatic has happened, which takes away some of the tension.
To counter this less than enthusiastic review – the other people in my book club all enjoyed the book far more than me, and none had seen the film first. The ones who watched the film after having read the book all preferred the book to the film. So perhaps I just enjoyed the film so much the book couldn’t live up to it – there’s a first time for everything!
Life’s a Drag, by Janie Millman
I was given this for Christmas and unlike the other books I received (A Portable Shelter, Little Fires Everywhere and Northanger Abbey) this was a surprise – my manager at work picked it out for me. I’m so glad she did! I’m not sure I would have come across this otherwise, but I absolutely LOVED it and devoured the whole thing in less than 2 days. The story follows two sets of characters – Jamie and Ros, who have recently moved to rural Suffolk and quickly become involved in village life; and Drew, a drag queen and club owner in San Francisco. Two completely different and seemingly unrelated worlds end up being intertwined in unexpected ways.
I loved the eclectic characters in the Suffolk village and the sense of community and fun they all brought, along with the charismatic and kind Drew and the family he creates with his cast of drag queens. The story could be considered somewhat twee in places, and overall it’s a happy, positive read – whilst there are plot twists and ‘villains’, along with some poignant moments with various characters – but there is a sense of joy throughout which makes it a thoroughly enjoyable, fun and easy-going read. I could happily dive back in and reread straight away just to spend more time with these characters!
The Mirror World of Melody Black, by Gavin Extence
I went into this book with no real expectations. Although I read and loved The Universe Versus Alex Woods – the debut novel by this author – I hadn’t heard much about this book. It’s also one that I bought on my Kobo ages ago and so although I must have read the blurb at the time, I had completely forgotten what it was about.
The story follows Abby and explores mental health. It’s told in first person, which gives you a real sense of her thoughts and emotions as her life very quickly spirals out of control. Although it covers serious issues, the book doesn’t feel heavy or hard-going – Abby is relatable and likeable in all her flawed human-ness.
Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
I received the Vintage Classics edition for Christmas to complete my set of Austen novels. Although I’ve read all of her novels numerous times over the years, I decided I wanted a collection of all 6 of the same edition, and was fortunate enough that my family gave me the Vintage Classics for my birthday and Christmas last year. It therefore seemed like the perfect opportunity to reread Northanger Abbey, and I plan to reread all of Austen’s novels throughout the year, in the order they were written (not something I’ve done before).
Northanger Abbey is always an enjoyable read. It has quite a different feel from Austen’s other novels, with its young naive heroine, Catherine Moreland, frequent authorial inputs and Gothic satire. There’s a lightness to the story which makes it a breeze to read, with humour, the endearing (if sometimes foolish) Catherine and our intelligent, witty hero Henry. It could be said that Henry is a little too good for Catherine – she often can’t keep up with his wit – but her sense of right and honesty give her a strength of character which has you rooting for her happiness. A must-read for any Austen fan (or novice!).
Phew! January was a great month of books. I don’t expect to have quite the same momentum all year, but I’m glad to have started 2018 with so many wonderful stories.