2021 January Reads
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
Ohhh January. The month that never seemed to end. Yet another lockdown did mean that I got through a lot of books, and I’m so grateful I was able to escape through reading. It was also Evie’s first birthday, it wasn’t the celebration I’d envisioned for her, but we went for a lovely snowy walk and she was very happy with her first pair of wellies (which I think were an excellent birthday gift!)
I don’t want to make this a ridiculously long posts, so I thought I’d use this post to share reviews of the physical books I read…
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives, presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
Okay. So. I know how much everyone loves this book, but I didn’t totally fall under the spell of Rebecca. I can’t fault the writing at all. I think it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read. The descriptions of Manderley were my favourite part, the house because like a character itself and I loved the detail.
I found the story a little slow at the start, but it did pick up pace and I was intrigued about how it would unravel. Rebecca is definitely the most dominating character in the story, and I liked the fact the new Mrs de Winter was never actually named, which only served to show what a huge presence Rebecca was.
It’s an extremely readable book, and I can totally see why so many people love it, I just felt like I was waiting for something and found myself a little underwhelmed…
The Vanishing Half ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
There are a LOT of incredibly important themes raised in the book, including race, colourism, white privilege, domestic violence, LGBTQIA+.
The reason I’ve not given it five stars is because as there is so much covered, I found myself wanting a bit more depth in certain areas, particularly with Reece and his storyline. I thought this felt too vague and almost as though it was there for effect rather than to add much to the story, which is a shame as it could have been such a huge, important part, but his story stopped short of being fully explored.
Character-wise, I loved Desiree and Early especially, I thought Desiree’s character was so vivid, and I loved how Bennett wrote the novel through so many different perspectives, although it took me a bit of time to get used to the narrative style. Stella never fully came to life for me.
I really liked Bennett’s writing, it’s easy to read, and I think she masterfully weaves the story through different decades and generations.
Fifty-Fifty (Steve Cavanagh) ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨
Two sisters on trial for murder. Both accuse each other. Who do YOU believe?
Alexandra Avellino has just found her father’s mutilated body, and needs the police right away. She believes her sister killed him, and that she is still in the house with a knife.
Sofia Avellino has just found her father’s mutilated body and needs the police right away. She believes her sister, Alexandra did it, and that she is still in the house, locked in the bathroom.
Both women are to go on trial at the same time. A joint trial in front of one jury. One of these women is a murderer and a liar, but which one?
Cavanagh is an excellent thriller writer. I’ve read a couple of his other books, Thirteen especially is brilliant – and while they are part of a series featuring the brilliant Eddie Flynn, I think they can be read as standalone thrillers.
The story alternates between Eddie, Kate – the lawyer representing the other sister – and “She” – the guilty sister. The reader knows the killer is one of the sisters, and you’ll spend most of the book going back and forth, trying to decide who you think is guilty. Cavanagh is great at planting incredibly subtle clues, and while ultimately I did guess who it was, it was very cleverly done.
The reason I’ve not given it 5 stars is purely because there is SO much going on it felt a little rushed at times, although the book is fast-paced throughout, and because sometimes I thought it was a bit overly gruesome – though again, having read other books by Cavanagh, I was expecting this!
If you love thrillers, it’s definitely worth a read, I raced through it and was gripped the whole time.
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel. Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island, the novel depicts narrator Nick Carraway’s interactions with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and Gatsby’s obsession to reunite with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan.
I read this pretty quickly, and overall I enjoyed it. I’m trying to read more classics this year, and I think this was a good one to include. I’ve never seen an adaptation of the story so actually didn’t know what to expect. I was intrigued by Gatsby and the other characters, particularly Daisy and Tom. The descriptions of Gatsby’s parties are lavish and vivid, I felt like I was transported there every time I opened it. I found there was quite a lot to keep track of as there is so much packed into the story, but overall I really enjoyed it.
Beartown (Fredrik Backman) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
TW: Rape, assault
In a large Swedish forest, the small, isolated town of Beartown hides a dark secret…
Cut-off from everywhere else it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart, and each year more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest. Then the town is offered a bright new future, their ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. However, it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done.
Which side would you be on?
I loved A Man Called Ove and was excited to read more by Backman. When I first read the synopsis, I wasn’t entirely convinced as I have no knowledge or interest in ice hockey, but oh my gosh this book is amazing. I think Backman’s writing style takes a bit of getting used to but it works with the book and the story.
Love in Colour (Bolu Babalola) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
In her debut collection, internationally acclaimed writer Bolu Babalola retells the most beautiful love stories from history and mythology with incredible new detail and vivacity. Focusing on the magical folktales of West Africa, Babalola also reimagines Greek myths, ancient legends from the Middle East, and stories from long-erased places.
Aside from having an absolutely beautiful cover, this book is such a wonderful read. There are 13 short stories, and as Babalola explains at the end, she turned the stories on their heads, empowering females and creating strong characters, but all the while keeping them connected to their roots.
They’re cleverly done, all very different, and I absolutely love her style of writing, it was lyrical and beautiful. I think Yaa and Naleli’s stories were my favourite, and the final tale was the story of Babalola’s parents, which was wonderful to hear.
The Passengers (John Marrs) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.
When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.
The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?
Ahhh this was just the kind of thriller I needed. It was tense and fast-paced, horrifying and brutal at times, and while there were moments where it seemed a bit OTT, actually it felt like it wasn’t an impossible scenario, which did freak me out a little – I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like it’s very Black Mirror-esque. The ending felt a little rushed as there was suddenly an awful lot of explaining to do, and I got a bit lost, but overall I think it’s a brilliant premise and was a really good read.
Have you read any of these?