Saturday, 3 January 2015

What I Read In December 2014

Apart from the fact that it's Christmas and you get to drink fizz at 10am and eat entire chocolate oranges in one sitting, clearly the best thing about going home for a break is that you get a lot of reading done. In fact, 3 of the 6 books I read in December were read in the last 10 days of the month, an excellent way to end an excellent year.

I hope you all got lots of bookish treats under your trees!

Here's what I've been reading over the past month:

Etta and Otto and Russell and James - Emma Hooper (Kindle) 9/10

A spellbinding debut, I've was unable to put Emma and Otto and Russell and James down and think it will deserve a place on every bookshelf in 2015.

The book follows 82 year old Etta as she embarks on a mission to walk 2000 miles to see the ocean for the first time, leaving behind her loving husband Otto and their neighbour Russell. It flits between what is happening now and what happened over 60 years ago, when the three first met as teenagers. It is a beautiful exploration of love and longing, and how feelings both do and do not change as we get older.

I loved Etta's sense of purpose, Otto's belief in her mission, and Russell's unwavering faith in them both. The characters felt vulnerable and naive in their youth, and yet refused to be beaten down by the Depression, war, loss, and the remoteness of their lives in rural Saskatchewan.

I miss these characters so much already!

Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion - Sali Hughes (Hardback) 9/10

I'm not really a classic "beauty" fan, I have a few products I consistently use, and don't experiment too much with anything else, mainly because I don't know how to use things properly. Pretty Honest has completely changed that for me.

It's a frank and honest look at the reality of what products actually do, whether you need them at all, and how to use them if so. It's completely changed my relationship with my face and given me the confidence to pay attention to my skin, something that I feel I really out to be doing more of as I approach 30. I should probably mention that this book did prompt me to go to Boots and splash out on some new products.

Whether you are already beauty obsessed, or like me you feel a bit confused by it all, this book is definitely worth an investment. It also has sections on teenage skin, older skin, pregnancy and wedding makeup, so it's the kind of book I'll go back to again and again.

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion (Paperback) 7/10

In 2003 Joan's daughter is hospitalised with suspected pneumonia and is gravely ill. Following a visit, she and her husband John return home, where he suffers a heart attack and dies just before dinner. This book is the year that follows, as Joan struggles with her grief, at times refusing to believe that John has died and rethinking her actions as if she can change the past.

This was my last book club read of 2014 and the first of Joan's books I've had read. Though I didn't love it as much as some of the other books I read this month, it's undoubtedly a great piece of work.

Joan's writing is much revered and she certainly has a knack for capturing the small realities of grief. It is an achingly beautiful book and a must read for anyone interested in how we cope with loss and change. I know I'll read it again next time I am coming to terms with a bereavement.

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel (Kindle) 9/10

Twenty years after an outbreak of Georgia Flu has killed off 99% of the population, Station Eleven follows those who have survived, and their continuing struggle to do so. The Travelling Symphony are a group of musicians and actors, making their way between the settlements which remain and spreading the word of Shakespeare, while elsewhere a new community is flourishing in an abandoned airport.

I loved the way the story jumped back and forth between timelines, and how the author explored the interconnected lives of the main characters slowly and tenderly. I thought the depiction of life years after such an epidemic was frighteningly realistic, from remembering the unthinkable "internet" to discovering a house unopened for twenty years. Unlike the horror in most post-apocalyptic novels, Mandel depicts a world where there is equally as much to admire as there is to fear and more than anything the book made me feel hopeful.

Station Eleven is a hauntingly beautiful novel that I couldn't stop thinking about, and I hope everyone will pick it up now that it's out in paperback.

The Bear - Claire Cameron (Kindle) 6/10

I'd had this on my wishlist for ages after hearing about it on the Book Riot podcast and finally picked it up when I saw it was cheap on Kindle.

It's the story of five year old Anna and her brother, affectionately named Stick, who is two. On a camping trip with their parents a bear visits their camp and wreaks havoc upon their tent, their stuff, and their parents. Anna must escape, and quickly, taking Stick with her and starting a fight for their survival.

It has been likened to Emma Donoghue's bestseller Room, in that it's told from the perspective of a 5 year old but where I loved that mechanic in Room, at times I found it a little hard to follow in The Bear and had to re-read a few sections.

The Woman Who Stole My Life - Marian Keyes (Hardback) 10/10

It's pretty embarrassing that this is the first of Marian Keyes' books that I've read, because she's written a LOT and they've been recommended before. I picked this up at a reading she did in Waterstones in December, her first in 5 years and she spoke so wonderfully about her experiences that informed the book. She was kind enough to sign the book "To the Smith girls" and so my Mum and sisters have all had a read too.

It's the story of Stella, a forty something woman recovering from an accident that changed her life completely, reshaped how she feels about men, and took her into a career she never thought possible. I don't want to reveal much more except to say that the book had me absolutely honking with laughter at several points.

Marian writes dialogue in a way that is so charming and funny that you feel like you know the characters in real life. I'll definitely be adding more Marian Keyes books to my to-read pile in 2015, this was a perfect book to end the year with.

So that's it! 65 books down for 2014, not bad at all. I'm looking forward to cracking on with my to-read pile in 2015 and will keep sharing reviews. Do let me know if you've read anything of these books, and let's have a chat on Twitter - I'm @hollyjunesmith!