Literature

What I read in January

Hallelujah, it’s February at last. I like February, because it means Spring is getting nearer and nearer. I used to always hate on Spring for being a boring season, but I’ve realised recently it’s actually my favourite – the days get longer, the crocuses spring up (pun unintended…) on every available patch of grass, there’s crisp sunshine and a legitimate reason to spend days with the family eating chocolate. I helped combat the January blues by reading lots and lots of books. My Goodreads challenge is 60 books this year, and I managed 11 in January – yay! Here’s a run down of what I read…

1. Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi – ★★★

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I would have liked. I adore Scandinavian literature, the more rural the better (Tove Jansson being one of my favourite authors of this style), and I liked hearing about Matti and his friends’ adventures in northern Sweden in the 1960s. There’s rock and roll, there’s masculinity contests involving saunas (not in that way), there’s hooch, there’s funeral pyres of mice in the woods. But I often found myself tiring when reading this, especially in the more family-centric stories.

2. We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver – ★★★★

This has been on my TBR for a looooong time, but my mum owns it and I don’t, I waited until I was home for a decent amount of time to read it. There was a shooting at my primary school a few years before I started, so school massacres are often a sensitive subject for me, but thankfully I didn’t find WNTTAK too upsetting. There were lots of reasons why I really liked this book: the characters were compelling and well-developed, the POV of the mother made for an interesting, potentially unreliable narrative, and there was a wonderful sense of fridge logic when the ends arrives and suddenly you realise you’ve missed all these clues scattered throughout the book.

3. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – ★★★★

This was an impulse buy while I was waiting for a train – my mum had mentioned wanting the paperback edition of The Miniaturist, so when I saw it in the “buy one, get one half price” section of WHSmith at Glasgow Queen Street, I decided to treat her and get Elizabeth is Missing for myself as part of the offer. I really liked this book; more contemporary novels need elderly protagonists. However, it was heartbreaking to see Maud’s dementia progress throughout the book, and the ending left me in pieces. I went in thinking it would be a sort of “octogenarian detective” story, and what I got was something a lot more poignant, but in retrospect, I don’t think any other approach would have worked for this lovely, tender novel.

4. Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson – ★★★★

If there’s one thing you should know about my book tastes, it’s that I love Kate Atkinson. I’ve read all but two (Human Croquet and Life After Life, although I’ve owned the latter for a year) of her books. They’re never particularly heavy-going, but she spins some amazing webs of intertwining characters and plots that you can’t help but get absorbed by. If I ever need a comfort book, Kate has my back. SE,TMD is the fourth and final installment in her Jackson Brodie detective series, and while I would say it’s my least favourite of the series (When Will There Be Good News? is probably my favourite), it still made for an enjoyable read.

5. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened by Allie Brosh – ★★★★★

Hooray, my first 5★ book of the year! I’ve been a huge fan of Hyperbole and a Half for a couple of years now, and I’ve been meaning to buy the book for a while. I finally got around to it a few weeks ago and ended up devouring the whole thing in an afternoon. Allie’s stories are just so fun and moving, and I could relate a lot to some of her experiences. The whole thing is a colourful, endearing delight. You can read Allie’s Hyperbole and a Half blog HERE.

6. Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland – ★★

I had high hopes for this one, as I read Hey, Nostradamus! a few years ago and seemed to remember liking Coupland’s writing style. Imagine my disappointment when I realised that, well, I really disliked this book. The first half was…okay, as it focussed more on the characters, their relationships and their responses to tragedy. Sure, the tragedy in question was totally unbelievable, but I read magic realism, so suspending disbelief is something I regularly manage. But then, BAM, it turned into an OTT, ridiculously preachy, apocalyptic sci-fi story. I was so angry at how stupid it was that I wanted to throw this book against a wall. The first half was the only reason it scored a second star.

7. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell – ★★★★

Jen and I used to talk a lot online (we were part of the same Holby City/Casualty forum mentioned in my previous post), and while we’re not in regular contact anymore, I’m still an avid follower of every bookish thing she does, whether it’s writing them or talking about them over on her BookTube channel. I’ve been meaning to read her books ever since they were announced, but due to lack of money, I never got around to buying them. It was only recently that the very obvious idea of the library popped into my head. Weird Things made me laugh a lot, hence why the next book I read was…

8. More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell – ★★★★

MORE Weird Things?! YAY!

9. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – ★★★★

I’m not a massive fan of YA, but Wintergirls sounded so intriguing and had such good reviews on Goodreads that I decided to give it a go. I really loved Anderson’s writing style, with words and phrases crossed out to show Lia’s real voice battling against her illness’ voice. It was a very real, gritty portrayal of how mental illness can destroy a family, and my heart ached for each and every one of the characters – Lia for struggling with an illness as horrible as anorexia, her sister for being so innocent and well-meaning, her parents for seeing their daughter become sicker and sicker before their eyes and knowing that it was outwith their control. One thing that made me really sad about this book was not actually the story itself, but the way that I found the book in the library: there was a note slipped inside, with pencil drawings of girls’ faces and the title “autobiography” before summarising a stay in a local CAMHS ward, detailing everything from her friends’ names to the constant self-harm and suicide attempts. The book itself had passages underlined, presumably by the same person as a source of comfort. I hope this reader is okay and being looked after, wherever she is.

10. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – ★★★

I can’t resist some Murakami, and our local library has a great selection, so I picked up his recent Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki. I did enjoy it, as it was a really interesting premise and the characters all fitted in well (apart from poor Haida, who I liked but seemed to disappear and never be mentioned again), but I felt it was lacking…something. I don’t know what. I think, for me, the titular protagonist felt too similar to many other Murakami protagonists so I couldn’t really get on board with him as a living, breathing character. Th ending was also a little disappointing, but I’ve become used to Murakami leaving his endings quite open, so it wasn’t a major issue for me. I wanted to love this book, but it just didn’t seem different enough to me.

11. The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell – ★★★★

Following on from 7. and 8., I decided I might as well devour Jen’s entire oeuvre in one big gobble! I’ve always had a dream of opening a bookshop and café (a childhood dream shared with my mum, with whom I spent countless hours drawing out felt-tip plans for this magical place), so The Bookshop Book was really inspirational to me. I loved hearing all the booksellers’ stories and learning about how they’re reeling in business in this digital age – I particularly loved how many bookshops offer a “book consultation” service, where the booksellers will put together a tailor-made reading list for you! People may gripe about how eBooks are going to take over soon, but if The Bookshop Book proved anything, it’s that the spirit and community of bookselling will ensure that paper and print lives on forever. Basically, I now want to go on a bookshop tour of the world. Someday…when I have money…

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