Wednesday, 5 February 2014

What I Read in January

I purposely, for reasons pertaining to my health, my diet and my bank balance, had a very quiet January. I made almost no social plans and committed to a month of eating well, going to bed early, and reading lots. The last few months of 2013 were so hectic that I felt I really needed this, and I did, because I've come out the other side of January feeling quite refreshed.

Having so much free time did mean that I stormed through books, totting up 9 in total for the month. I want to share with you all the books I read this year and think a monthly round-up is the best approach so here goes.

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt (Kindle) 9/10

It is a long time since I've read a big book. And as books go, this one is a big of a stonker, at 785 pages. I

won't lie, I was a bit nervous about taking on such a big book, but the few quiet days between Christmas and New Year gave me plenty of time to devour the pages.

The Goldfinch is the story of 13 year old Theo who survives a tragic accident which kills his mother. Taken in by family friends, he grows up in a world he doesn't feel he belongs in, anchored only by his ties to a small painting that he can't forget.

This is a deep and dense book that takes us Theo's wild journey and I loved every bit of it. At times it made my heart soar, at others it ached. I wanted some parts to go on forever and others to end immediately.

I still think about The Goldfinch lots over a month later. A must-read if you fancy tackling something bigger than your usual 350 pages.

In Between Days - Andrew Porter (Hardback) 7/10

I've had this on my wishlist since it came out and was waiting for the paperback release but managed to pick up a cheap hardback over Christmas. I don't normally read paperbacks, mainly because they are hard to read in bed, but I was happy to make an exception for a bargain.

This is the story of the Harding family who, following the divorce of parents Elson and Cadence, are struggling to find direction. When daughter Chloe is sent home from college, pending an investigation that she will not discuss, the families secrets and lies can only push them further apart.

Whilst I enjoyed this book, I didn't feel very invested in any of the characters, but did love the exploration of the depths we go to to protect the ones we love.

The Dinner - Herman Koch (Kindle) 8/10

On reflection, The Dinner was probably a bit too similar to follow In Between Days, another tale of families in conflict, but this one was much better.

With chapters matching courses, we follow the story of two couple meeting for dinner. Their children have committed a terrible crime, and only they can identify them from the hazy CCTV footage, but nobody can agree on what should be done next.

Despite the dark subject matter, this book was actually very funny in places, perfectly describing the frustrations of fine dining and eating in powerful company. It was also tense in all the right spots, and I roared through it in less than 48 hours (it's not very long).

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls - Anton DiSclafani (Paperback) 5/10

I thought I would love this, the story of Thea Atwell's coming of age in a Mountainside horse ridning camp. Yonahlossee is a place for rich girls, sent away from their families during America's Depression in the 30s, both to protect them and to avoid them.

The writing was great, and very much of its time but I just don't think I was quite in the right frame of mind for a book about privileged teens and their ponies.

It reminded me a little of Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, which I read last year and much preferred. If you like stories about horses, boarding school or the mountains then do seek it out. Actually the descriptions of the surroundings were some of my favourite bits of the book.

Also the sexy bits creeped me out a little bit.

Eating with the Pilgrims and Other Pieces - Calvin Trillin (Paperback) 10/10 

My boyfriend was given the GLORIOUS Penguin Great Food Collection cookery book set at Christmas and I'm managed to convince him to leave them at my house for a while. This is the first I've read, and though I've read plenty of Calvin Trillin's food writing in the New Yorker before, it was just such a joy to have some favourites collected this way.

At 100 pages, it took me all of a long lie in to get through it, but what's really nice is that it features essays from five decades. Trillin's writing isn't just about food though, it's about people, and places, and geography, and memories. All I can say is that I envy the man's tastebuds.

OH BOY did it make me hungry. Do not read The Magic Bagel on an empty stomach, it would be simply too unkind.

The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker (Kindle) 8/10

I really loved this book, about eleven year old Julie, growing up with an ordinary family in an ordinary Californian suburb, until one day the world starts to turn more slowly. Days become 24 hours and 17 minutes long, then 27 hours long, then 35 and so on and so on.

The slowing forces Julia to see the world in a different light, quite literally, as day becomes night and night becomes day and day becomes day again. As well as dealing with all the usual dramas of being an eleven year old; Will the boy she likes be on the bus today? What will she eat for dinner? What happens in that house over there?

What I really loved about this story was how it described so many aspects of life that changed by the slowing. It was both exhilarating and terrifying and almost made me want to start stowing some cash and tinned foods under my bed (ATTENTION BURGLARS! I'm not!)

This Is Where I Leave You - Jonathan Tropper (Kindle) 9/10

Along with The Goldfinch, this was my joint favourite book of the month, a nice quick read, mainly because it was so funny and absorbing.

Judd Foxman's wife has left him for his boss, and now as his Dad dies, he is forced to return home to sit Shiva with his family where HILARITY ENSUES.

Well not quite, there are a lot of funny moments, and a lot of sad ones too, as Judd and his siblings come to terms with their loss and the myriad of other home truths that reveal themselves throughout the week.

The film will be released later this year and stars some of my favourite actors including Tiny Fey, Jason Bateman and Connie Britton. After reading I think it'll translate really nicely on screen.

Amity & Sorrow - Peggy Riley (Paperback) 6/10

I'd had this on my wishlist for a long time and picked up a cheap second hand copy in a boxing day book buying spree.

Described as 'a story about sex and God and farming', this is the tale of a woman who flees with her daughters following a fire on the commune where the children have always lived. After driving for four days then end up on a farm, with a stranger who is as confused by them as they are by him.

This book made me so anxious, about the cult the women fled, their attempt at a new life and the heartbreaking relationship between two sisters who can't understand their place in the world.

I did enjoy this, and it was a real page-turner, but I was so glad to finish it.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed (Paperback) 9/10

I've had this on my bookshelf for a while, and it's another one to see a cinematic release this year so I wanted to read it first.

I loved almost every minute of Wild, and following Cheryl's journey along the Pacific Crest Trail in a bid to find herself following the death of her mother and a divorce in her early twenties. I admired her so much, and often wanted to put the book down and get my own walking boots on.

A few parts were tough going, I felt like a mother myself as I worried for Cheryl's safety, hiking alone on a challenging trail she was in no way prepared for.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how this plays out on screen, if anything the scenery will be absolutely gorgeous, and the book has definitely inspired me to get my walking boots on a little more often.

So those are January's books! I don't think I'll get through nearly as many in February but I love that I've started off my year this way. Do let me know in the comments or on Twitter if you buy/read any of these and what you thought!

Just to say all links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you buy these books using those you'll help me make a little money from my blog (which is one of my 30 Things To Do Before Turning 30). Bookshops are also a very good place to get books so don't forget to shop there too.