As you can see from the title of this post I am averaging 1 book a month, which has dropped off slightly since last year but I’m pretty happy with that. And since March I have been attempting a WhatsApp book group with some friends, which means that this list of recent reads is quite varied (which is the point of a book group after all). I have listed my mini book reviews from most to least favourite, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books and some recommendations for what to read next.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
I am so in love with this book, I can’t even explain! I didn’t know much about it other than it being set during World War II, and I’m not sure knowing what it is “about” really does it justice. It’s narrated by Death, who tells the story of a young girl living in Nazi Germany, during which time her foster parents hide a Jewish man in their home; and she discovers her love of reading books. But it’s not really the story that I found so entrancing about this book – it’s just so beautifully written! It is poetic, thought-provoking and emotional, with characters and relationships that develop gradually though the book. I’ve thought about it so much since I finished it, and I actually cried buckets during the last chapter. There aren’t many books that have such a major effect on me, and I’m so glad that I finally got around to reading it!
Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
This is a little bit of a lie because I’ve only read The Fellowship of the Ring, which (depending on how you want to look at it) is either only a third of a book, or 2 books out of 6. I first read LotR when I was about 15, but decided that as I am so obsessed with the films and I really enjoyed reading The Silmarillion last year I’d give it another go, and I enjoyed it so much more this time round! In a book filled with so many minor characters, it really does make a difference being able to picture some of them. And I really loved those extra bits that were cut from the film, so it’s been a really nice adventure for me to read this. I’m looking forward to reading the other parts at some point too.
Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
This is not the sort of book I’d pick out for myself, but it was highly recommended by a friend so I wanted to give it a try. It was also the first audio book I’ve ever tried, which was an interesting experience in itself. Shantaram is the story of an escaped Australian convict, Lin, who ends up living in India, and it’s about the friends he makes there, his time living as a slum doctor, and his dealings with the local mafia. Many aspects of it are based on the author’s real life, which makes it all the more interesting and amazing! It’s also a love story between Lin and a beautiful but complicated woman, Karla. But mostly it’s a book about India, and you really get a feel for the character of the country reading it. It’s very long though, and a lot of people complain that the author “over-writes”. I have to agree he tries very hard to be poetic and philosophical, which can be quite annoying at times. But overall it was one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read, so I think it was worth it.
The Hand that first held mine, Maggie O’Farrell
I’ve now read 3 Maggie O’Farrell books and have enjoyed them all. I just love her writing style and the way she focuses on details to make something interesting out of the ordinary. This story is set both in the 1950s, following Lexie as she leaves her rural ordinary life to make something of herself in London; and also in the current day, where we see Elina and her partner Ted struggling to adapt after just having their first child. I enjoyed reading Lexie’s story as she falls in love and starts working as a writer, and I really got a feel for the exciting world of 1950’s London through a young woman’s eyes. Elina’s story was harder to read as it was about a woman losing herself and her creativity because her new baby takes over her life, but it was very well written and I could completely empathise with her. There is a connection between the two stories which adds an element of mystery, and although I did guess what it might be about two-thirds through, I didn’t think it was obvious.
Life after Life, Kate Atkinson
This was my second Kate Atkinson book, and this one definitely had more of a concept. Ursula is a character who lives her life over and over again. Every time she dies (the first time being the moment she is born) she unconsciously learns something which prevents her from dying the same way in her next life. In the book we read about many versions of her life, and because her adult years are set during World War II we see different perspectives of England and Germany during this time. It’s an interesting idea – what would you do with your life if you could live it again? Some of her stories are sad and others more positive, and I enjoyed seeing the changes she made in her life after experiencing a particularly bad one. I also thought it gave a real sense of what it was like to live at that time. But it was quite a slow read and hard to get into.
Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
This is a young adult book, and the only one I have read that has been set in the present day. It’s actually similar to the above book in that the main character Sam re-lives her last day on earth over and over again, making changes to see if she can escape her death. After reading the first chapter I wasn’t sure I could continue – Sam is a selfish teenage girl, part of the popular clique and not a nice person. It was like Mean Girls but without being funny or ironic! But I persevered and thought it was worth it – the first chapter has to be written the way it is to make Sam’s changes of heart rewarding to read. I liked the way different characters were gradually developed, how certain secrets were revealed and how Sam discovered new feelings each day. It also made me want to appreciate every single day and to value the most important things in life, which is never a bad feeling to have.
Funny Girl, Nick Hornby
On paper this sounded promising – set in the swinging sixties, Northern girl Barbara decides to move to London to try and make it as a TV comedy star. However, this was my least favourite book in the list for a reason. I thought it was very lazily written, with no attention to detail, no tension or pace, no character development and no interesting relationships… it was basically just a list of events in Barbara’s life, as if it were the biography of a real person. Except it wasn’t! And it may as well not have been set in the sixties at all, as I didn’t really get a feel for the era while reading it! It wasn’t awful, but it was very disappointing.