What I read in January 2020: Part 1

One month of reading is done already and it was a good one in terms of quantity. Quality… I shall let you see for yourself. There were a couple of gems in there but also some duds. Since I managed a whole 22 books, I’ve decided to split my recap up again, so this will be part one and part two will be published tomorrow (hopefully!), which also happens to be Show Us Your Books day. I will then link up both posts with Jana and Steph. Sounds good? Okay. Let’s get on with it then.

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Into the Forest by Jean Hegland. Over 30 miles from the nearest town, and several miles away from their nearest neighbour, sisters Nell and Eva experienced a near-idyllic childhood. Despite the fact that their happy world is rocked when their mother dies of cancer, they and their father are determined to carry on even as society gradually decays and collapses around them. There is talk of a war overseas and upheaval in Congress, but it still comes as a shock when the electricity runs out and gas and groceries are nowhere to be found. When their father is killed in an accident, and a dangerous stranger arrives at their door, the girls are forced to confront the fact that they must find some new way to grow into adulthood. I loved the writing style and really enjoyed the beginning, then there’s a disturbing event in the middle (*SPOILER* and I’m not even talking about the rape scene that occurs randomly out of nowhere!). Then the end is just bizarre. I still enjoyed the experience of reading it, I’m just not convinced about the events of the story. 3.5 stars.

My Mum Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. Jess and Tracy Beaker are the perfect team. Jess thinks Tracy is the best mum ever (even when Tracy shouts at her teachers). Tracy is fun and daring, but she also works hard to give Jess the family home she desperately wanted when growing up in the Dumping Ground. Their flat may be small and a bit mouldy, but they’ve made it a home anyway. But when Sean Godfrey –Tracy’s rich new boyfriend – comes onto the scene, Jess is worried things are going to change. What if Sean wants to turn Jess’s brilliant mum into a new person altogether? Sean’s superstar mansion and fancy cars might have been Tracy’s childhood dream, but maybe the Beakers’ perfect home was right in front of them all along. I loved watching the Tracy Beaker TV series back when I was at university (yes I was too old for it; no I didn’t care), and I enjoyed the original books when I read them for the BBC Big Read a few years ago. So when I saw that there was a new one, I both wanted to find out what had happened to Tracy and was apprehensive that it might ruin the originals. As it turned out, I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the earlier Tracy Beaker books but it was nice to revisit her as an adult and learn what she’s up to now. The book is written from Tracy’s daughter’s perspective and I kept being thrown out of the story when she used words and phrases that I couldn’t imagine any ten year old saying – no matter how intelligent. It was a nice quick nostalgic read though. 3.5 stars. (But a better 3.5 than the last one. Hmm. Ratings are hard.)

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone. Jane’s days at a Midwest insurance company are perfectly ordinary. She blends in well, unremarkably pretty in her floral-print dresses and extra efficient at her low-level job. She’s exactly the kind of woman middle manager Steven Hepsworth likes – meek, insecure, and willing to defer to a man. But plain Jane is not all she seems, and nothing can distract her from going straight for Steven’s heart. She will allow herself to be seduced into Steven’s bed, insinuate herself into his career and his family, and expose all his dirty secrets. Then she will take away everything that matters to Steven – just like he did to her. This is such a great book. At first the narrator’s voice reminded me of the main character from the Girl in 6E, but Jane quickly became very much her own distinct person. I absolutely loved this and will definitely read the sequel at some point. 5 stars.

Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. Once it had been the great forest of Lythe – a vast and impenetrable thicket of green with a mystery in the very heart of the trees.  And here, in the beginning, lived the Fairfaxes, grandly, at Fairfax Manor. But over the centuries the forest had been destroyed, replaced by streets named after trees.  The Fairfaxes had dwindled too; now they lived in ‘Arden’ at the end of Hawthorne Close. Here, sixteen year old Isobel Fairfax awaits the return of her mother, who mysteriously disappeared when she was a child, and occasionally gets caught up in time warps. Meanwhile, she gets closer to the shocking truths about her missing mother, her war-hero father, and the hidden lives of her close friends and classmates. This book is odd. I really loved the writing style, but I found parts of it very confusing. It’s kind of fairytale-esque, with a mystery and a coming-of-age story thrown in. It’s sad in parts, shocking in parts, and half the time it’s not even clear what’s real and what isn’t. I’m not selling it very well, but I actually quite enjoyed reading it. 3.5 stars.

The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh. When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. After spending six glorious days together, Eddie has to leave for a holiday, but promises to call from the airport, and Sarah has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call. Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened – there must be an explanation. As time goes by, Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth. I liked this more than I was expecting – I kind of enjoyed the romance with added mystery format. I thought I knew where it was going until the author threw in another twist. Sarah, the main character, was annoying at first and I couldn’t believe someone would be *that* upset about a man not calling after such a short time, but I did get into the mystery and find myself wanting to know what happened. And after the reveal I found myself feeling sorry for her. Another 3.5 star read.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmen Rushdie. Haroun is a 12-year-old boy whose father Rashid is the greatest storyteller in a city so sad that it has forgotten its name. But one day something goes wrong and his father runs out of stories to tell. Haroun is determined to return the storyteller’s gift to his father, which leads him on a quest to another world to turn on the storywater tap. This s a really hard book to rate. I enjoyed the beginning and I loved the end, but there was a part in the middle that barely held my attention and I was honestly unsure whether to continue. I like whimsy but it became almost too fantastical or something. I don’t know. Overall I liked this book but didn’t love it. 3 stars.

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella. In 1895, impoverished poet Robert Wallis is sitting in a London coffeehouse contemplating an uncertain future when he meets coffee merchant Samuel Pinker and accepts a commission to categorise the different tastes of coffee. He meets Pinker’s three daughters, Philomenia, Ada and Emily, and falls in love with spirited suffragette Emily, but is soon separated from her. Sent to Abyssinia to make his fortune in the coffee trade, he becomes obsessed with a slave girl, Fikre. He decides to use the money he has saved to buy her from her owner – a decision that will change not only his own life, but the lives of the three Pinker sisters. This is an interesting book. It immediately grabbed my attention, quickly became a little dry, but then picked up again. The Africa parts were fascinating and I enjoyed reading about the suffrage movement, but every time I got interested in one aspect of the story it skipped to something. To me it felt like too much was packed into one book. I did like it but not enough that I would read it again. 3 stars.

Off With His Head by Ngaio Marsh. The village of South Mardian always observes the winter solstice with an ancient, mystical sword dance – complete with costumed performers. But this year the celebration turns ugly when one of the performers is murdered. Now Inspector Alleyn has to perform some nimble steps of his own to solve the case. The beginning of this was quite frankly weird and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. But once the murder had happened (which did, in fact, involve a beheading, so the title was pretty apt) and the detective turned up I started to enjoy it a lot more. In hindsight, I should have been able to guess who did it, but alas I did not. I did work out what the murder weapon was though. Not on the level of an Agatha Christie mystery but a decent enough read. 3.5 stars.

Beneath the Skin by Nicci French. Zoe. Jenny. Nadia. Three women of varying ages and backgrounds. They don#t know each other and have little in common, except one thing. Someone has sent them each a note informing them that they will be killed. Invisible and apparently unstoppable, the letter-writer delights in watching the women suffer, thrilled by his power to destroy their lives and their faith in those closest to them. And now, with no clear suspect and amid the growing threat of violence, the victims become the accused as authorities dig into their backgrounds for clues as to why they might have attracted the unrelenting attention of a killer. This is good but not amazing. It’s surprisingly escapist for a suspense thriller. A little predictable in parts. I liked Nadia best of the three women. There are better Nicci French books though – this one isn’t a patch on the Frieda Klein series. 3 stars.

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. In 1963, after the last conventional attempt to assassinate President de Gaulle has failed,  an anonymous Englishman has been hired by the Operations Chief of the O.A.S. to murder General de Galle. Known only as The Jackal this remorseless and deadly killer must be stopped, but how do you track a man who exists in name alone? I admit I was not expecting to like this book, and I was bored for roughly the first 200 pages. Far too much politics/detailed descriptions of French history that read more like non-fiction. Once the investigation into who the Jackal was actually started things picked up and I started to enjoy it a bit more. The political stuff at the beginning is probably fascinating for the right kind of reader, but it’s not for me. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook. Chaya has just stolen the queen’s jewels. She promises she had a good reason for it, but unfortunately she got caught… and her friend is being blamed. One thing leads to another, and soon she is escaping into the jungle with her friends. And the King’s elephant. This is such a difficult book to review. On the one hand I loved the setting and descriptions – it was great to read about an entirely unfamiliar culture. It’s also fast paced and you never get bored. But as a result the story felt a little simplistic and rushed, and there was never any real sense that Chaya learned any lessons or actually changed. Even if she thought she was doing the right thing she came off as kind of a brat and honestly not a very likeable person. I loved Ananda the elephant though. 3 stars.

TL;DR. I mean, this post is already a kind of tl;dr by virtue of me splitting my reviews across two posts, but okay. The only book from this section that I fully, wholeheartedly recommend is Jane Doe. Other than that none stand out as being amazing. Human Croquet is a fairly enjoyable read and if you like political thrillers I can imagine The Day of the Jackal would appeal to you much more than it did me. But for most of the books I truly enjoyed in January you will have to wait for part two.

Did you read anything amazing last month? And if you’ve read any of these did you enjoy them more than I did? (Or even just as much in the case of Jane Doe.) Stay tuned for more reviews!

25 thoughts on “What I read in January 2020: Part 1

  1. Wow – you read alot of books! I only read 2 in January 😦

    Beneath the skin sounds really good. I’ve read books by Nicci French before – husband and wife that write together? Jane Doe sounds like a page turner – off to update my Goodreads TBR list!

  2. I loved Jane Doe also. The sequel wasn’t the best, but it was good and I totally recommend you grab a copy and read it, especially if you want a peak into the psyche of Jane.

  3. I loved Jane Doe. I like authors who can write sociopaths well and have you not automatically hate them. I agree with Kay, the sequel was not as good but I still liked it just fine.

  4. OMG so the book “The Man Who Didn’t Call” is called Ghosted here so at first I was like wow, didn’t realize Rosie Walsh had written a new book and then I realized it is that book. I liked that one about as much as you did but it did blow my mind a little bit. Wow.

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