I’m sure that many of you have bookshelves filled with books that have been sat there for years that you haven’t gotten round to reading…am I right?
As I’m grateful to have a lot of spare time on my hands, I have decided to set the goal of reading all of my existing books before I return to work.
It’s actually been a lot easier to do without the temptation of being able to rummage through the charity shop bookshelves.
Oh, and the glorious weather also helped as reading and sunbathing are two of my favourite pastimes.
Last month, I broke my personal record and managed to get through 8 books!
So in no particular order…
1. US – DAVID NICHOLLS (2014)
Douglas and Connie, scientist and artist, have been married for 20 years until suddenly, their marriage seems over. But Douglas is determined to win back the love of his wife and the respect of Albie, their teenage son, by organising the holiday of a lifetime: a ‘grand tour’ of the great art galleries of Europe.
I adored One Day by David Nicholls and bought Us around 2 years ago – I was so glad to have finally gotten round to reading it! Nicholls has a real talent for creating characters and situations so realistic and relatable, which I’m a big fan of (never been one for fantasy/sci-fi, I’m afraid). A funny, moving and a wonderful read. I also loved that each short chapter was not only numbered, but named, so it really feels like you fly through the book. If you enjoy reading in-depth stories about the span of a relationship from falling in love to the potential end, I think you’ll really enjoy this!
“Was it the happiest day of our lives? Probably not, if only because the truly happy days tend not to involve so much organisation, are rarely so public or so expensive. The happy ones sneak up, unexpected.”
2. STARTER FOR TEN – DAVID NICHOLLS (2003)
The year is 1985. Brian Jackson, a working-class kid on full scholarship, has started his first term at university. He has a dark secret—a long-held, burning ambition to appear on University Challenge—and now, finally, it seems the dream is about to become reality. He’s made the school team, and they’ve completed the qualifying rounds and are preparing for their first televised match. Oh, and he’s fallen in love with one of his teammates, the beautiful Alice Harbison. Life seems perfect and triumph inevitable, but Brian will come to learn the all-important difference between knowledge and wisdom.
I watched the film way back in 2006 when it came out, not realising that it had been based on a book. Knowing how much I enjoyed David Nicholls’ writing style, I couldn’t leave this on the shelf of the charity shop! I love reading about peoples’ university experiences and the potential to reinvent yourself. Brian is a great character who embodies the struggle of an awkward working-class boy, still grieving for the father who died 6 years earlier, to fit in with a very different crowd. The only thing that I didn’t love about the book was his crush, Alice, who led Brian on and treated him as if he were beneath her most of the time. Nevertheless, his inner monologue is hilarious throughout.
“At the end of the day, the harsh reality is that if you’re a fan of Kate Bush, Charles Dickens, Scrabble, David Attenborough and University Challenge, then there’s not much out there for you in terms of a youth movement.”
3. I AM MALALA – MALALA YOUSAFZAI (2013)
I am Malala presents a young women’s message of freedom to eradicate child illiteracy and the courage to stand for woman’s rights and human rights in Pakistan in the face of religious and political intolerance.
I expected Malala’s book to have focused a little more on the incredible work that she has done as a human rights advocate, especially for the education of women, and her life since being shot by the Taliban in 2012. However, the majority of the book focuses on life in her hometown of Mingora, Pakistan, and how it has changed in the last decade. It made me incredibly sad, angry and frustrated to read about the inequality, violence and cruelty under Taliban rule, which continues to pose a threat to advocates for education and human rights. Malala and her father, Ziadduin (a charismatic, educated man) were a ray of hope and exhibited great bravery in passionately advocating for free speech, education and women’s rights. Malala and the work that she does is incredible, but the book didn’t focus as much on areas that I was also interested in discovering.
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
4. IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL’S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM – YEONMI PARK (2015)
Yeonmi Park was not dreaming of freedom when she escaped from North Korea in 2007. She didn’t even know what it meant to be free. All she knew was that she was running for her life, that if she and her family stayed behind they would die – from starvation, or disease, or even execution. This is the story of Park’s struggle to survive in the darkest, most repressive country on earth; her harrowing escape through China’s underworld of smugglers and human traffickers; and then her escape from China across the Gobi desert to Mongolia, and from there to South Korea and at last to freedom; and finally her emergence as a leading human rights activist – all before her 21st birthday.
I think that a lot of people take the things that they have for granted; freedom of speech, access to electricity, clean drinking water and food at all times; feeling safe and not having to witness public torture or people who have died of diseases of starvation in the streets. Yeonmi experienced hardships that no-one should ever have to – her story is remarkable and incredibly insightful. Her level of resilience and hope was astonishing. From being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers to finally making it to the safety of South Korea, her survival story is one that everyone should hear as we all need to be aware of the difficulties that countless North Koreans face.
“We all have our own deserts. They may not be the same as my desert, but we all have to cross them to find a purpose in life and be free.”
5. NINE PERFECT STRANGERS – LIANE MORIARTY (2018)
Nine Perfect Strangers, each hiding an imperfect life. A luxury retreat cut off from the outside world ran by an eccentric owner. Ten days that promise to change your life.
I first remember hearing about this book on Zoella’s Book Club last year and I’d also heard great things about the Big Little Lies series, so it was a no-brainer that I’d be nabbing this book from the charity shop shelf! Despite being told from the voices of 12 characters (9 resort members and 3 staff), Moriarty has written the characters so well that it actually makes the book really easy to read. The transformations that the characters went through were interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed this book; my only qualm would be that it wasn’t as dark as I’d hoped it would be.
“The lowest point of your life can lead to the highest.”
6. THE GUM THIEF – DOUGLAS COUPLAND (2007)
Roger is a middle-aged and divorced ‘aisles associate’ at a Staples outlet. His co-worker Bethany is facing fifty more years of shelving Post-it notes. Then Bethany discovers Roger’s notebook and finds that he’s writing diary entries pretending to be her – and weirdly, he’s getting it right. Bethany and Roger strike up a secret correspondence, and as it unfolds so too do the characters of Roger’s work-in-progress, Glove Pond, a Cheever-era novella gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Before I decide to buy a book, the first things that I look at are the blurb, the first page and the reviews – not necessarily through online research but more so the reviews on and in the book itself. All seemed well…alas, this book was a complete disappointment. As you may notice in all of my reviews, I’m a big fan of well-written characters but Coupland has managed to write completely unlikable characters in a way that I found really difficult to read or relate to. I’d also hoped that I’d get a laugh from the book considering the review on the front page, but no. What’s worse is that part of the book centres around a story within a story, a novel Roger is writing titled Glove Pond which is even worse (and not in a funny, ironic way – it’s just bad).
Here’s a little taster of the writing style which I’m not a fan of:
“Life always kills you in the end, but first it prevents you from getting what you want. I’m so tired of never getting what I want. Or of getting it with a monkey paw curse attached. All those Hollywood people are always saying to be careful what you wish for, yeah, but at least they first had a wish come true.”
7. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE – CELESTE NG (2017)
Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a placid, progressive suburb where everything is meticulously planned, nobody embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson. When Mia Warren, an artist who has been living a nomadic lifestyle as a single mother with her teenage daughter, Pearl, arrives in town, it threatens everything that Mrs. Richardson has known. When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides that town and puts Mia and Mrs Richardson on opposing sides. Mrs Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past but her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost to her own family – and Mia’s.
My wonderful friend, Harry, bought me this book a year and a half ago for my 28th birthday and I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it. It is beautifully written, well-paced and such an interesting plot with great characters that keep you captivated throughout. It absolutely lives up to the hype and the series came out just as I finished the book. Although I was a little sceptical as I’d heard it had quite a few changes to the book, I needn’t have worried as it was still brilliant!
“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”
8. EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU – CELESTE NG (2014)
The Lee’s are a mixed race Chinese/Caucasian American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
After reading Ng’s latest offering, I decided to give her debut novel a go as my friend Sarah had very kindly bought me a copy. I absolutely LOVED this book, even more than Little Fires Everywhere (and that’s saying something!). The characters are beautifully portrayed and I felt so much sadness for every single one of them: the loss of the person that they wanted to be, the racism they had to endure, the feeling of alienation and like they didn’t belong, the loneliness, feeling ignored and unloved or loved too much and buckling under the pressure. Honestly, this book is incredible, I’ve never read anything like it before despite the huge Asian immigrant community in America. It was truly refreshing to feel that their voices were heard. Despite it making me cry in the park, this book is a new favourite and I can’t recommend it enough!
This line alone makes me tear up:
“They never discussed it, but both came to understand it as a promise: he would always make sure there was a place for her. She would always be able to say, Someone is coming. I am not alone.”
Hope you’ve enjoyed these book reviews and as always, let me know what you think if you’ve also read any of these or if you have any recommendations for me!