January 2021 Reading Recap

I’m so so happy it’s February! January is always the longest month of the year, and this year it felt especially fraught for those of us in the US. Thankfully a dark cloud has lifted, and despite the happenings in January, I got a decent amount of reading done, along with doing dry January! I was dreading doing it, but in the end it was actually totally fine — I read “How to Quit Like a Woman”, and while I was just taking a temporary break from alcohol, it was the kick in the butt I needed to complete my month. After the success of Dry January and noticing some great effects (better skin, deeper sleep), I’m planning on doing a “Sober October” too. I think it’s great to take a little reset and get my relationship with alcohol re-balanced after becoming a little too dependent on my nightly glass of wine during quarantine! Anyway… onto Reading!

Book of the Month
Promised Land by Barack Obama
This is a hefty read, and it’s only Part One of Barack Obama’s autobiography of his Presidency, taking us up to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Even though there’s a lot of dense description of the Affordable Care Act, the Financial Crisis, and geopolitics, I wasn’t tempted to skip or skim, as Obama is such a skilful writer that he can explain even complex matters in a way that’s simple enough to follow. I loved the little peeks into his more personal family life as he writes touchingly about his relationship with Michelle and his daughters, and there’s enough political gossip and intrigue to break up the dryer sections. If you’re intimidated by the size or commitment, I totally think it’s the kind of book you could dip in and out of alongside other reads.

The Push by Ashley Audrain
This highly anticipated psychological thriller is a cross between We Need to Talk about Kevin and Verity by Colleen Hoover. The Push tells the story of a mother, Blythe, who becomes concerned that her daughter is actually evil. It has a clever structure where the chapters go back to tell the story of Blythe’s mother and grandmother’s experiences of child abuse and neglect, to ask the question of how our childhood traumas in turn affect our parenting. Trigger warning: there are some chapters at the beginning of the book which make quite hard reading in their descriptions of child abuse. I nearly stopped reading at one point because I found it depressing, but I ended up pushing on because I saw so many glowing reviews. If you love a well-plotted thriller and don’t mind the upsetting content, this is a really great read. 4/5

The Mystery of Mrs Christie by Marie Benedict
Is there anything cosier and more comforting than a good murder mystery? Well, if you’re looking for something with the same vibe, but minus the murder, The Mystery of Mrs Christie imagines the explanation for Agatha Christie’s real-life disappearance in 1926, when the author went missing for eleven days, sparking a nationwide man-hunt. The Mystery of Mrs Christie alternates between chapters written by Agatha Christie’s unfaithful husband, Archibald, and chapters told in Agatha’s voice. If you’re like me and obsessed with anything Christie, you’ll love this. It’s definitely more character-driven than fast-paced, but it ticks along beautifully, with a satisfying twist at the end. 4/5

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
If you see a month with a lot of murder mysteries on this blog, that means I’m reading for comfort, and Anthony Horowitz is the ultimate expression of that for me! I loved Magpie Murders, and I think he has done one better with this new release. Moonflower Murders is a book within a book, and I think nearly totally unsolvable as a who-done-it! I certainly was just along for the ride. The protagonist is retired literary agent, Sue Ryeland, who is living in Greece and running a small hotel when she’s pulled into a disappearance connected to a book written by one of her former clients, Alan Conway (who you may remember from Magpie Murders). She goes to England to stay at Farlingaye Hall, the scene of both a real and a fictional murder, and tries to unravel what is true and what is false alongside an unsavoury cast of characters. It’s Christie for the 21st century. 4.5/5

How to Quite Like A Woman by Holly Whitaker
I first saw this recommended by Chrissy Teigen’s around Christmas-time, and was really intrigued as I was keen to try Dry January, but felt like I needed a bit of a push. I bought this on Kindle, and while I didn’t identify with all of the content, so ended up skipping or skimming a couple of chapters, there was enough I related to to make this a very worthwhile read. I loved Whitaker’s message that there isn’t really such a thing as an “alcoholic”; there is only a dangerous substance which is both damaging to our bodies and addictive. She makes this point to demonstrate that there is a false dichotomy between alcoholics and “the rest of us”, so if we’re not waking up and pouring vodka over our cereal, we get to tell ourselves we’re OK when we might not be. Viewing alcohol as a dangerous substance has really helped me to re-calibrate my relationship with alcohol, especially when it comes to acknowledging that as someone who has struggled with anxiety, my glass of wine to help me “wind down” in the evening is probably doing the opposite! Highly recommend. 4/5

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
If you’re looking for a feel-good, witty, life-affirming book, this is your pick this month! Set in a retirement community in Kent, four elderly people have formed a “Murder Club” where they pick over clues from unsolved murders and generally stick their noses in where they don’t belong, until a murder falls right in their lap. The characters are charming and believable, and you’ll root for them all, while secretly hoping that this is the kind of old person you will be yourself! 4/5

Before the Ruins by Victoria Gosling
It might take a few chapters to ease yourself into Gosling’s writing style, which seems to start off very poetic and flowery, and gradually becomes a little less so, but this is worth sticking with. From the blurb about an abandoned manor house, a murder, missing diamonds and a group of friends, I thought I knew what to expect, but Before the Ruins is actually a beautifully poignant coming-of-age novel set in 90’s England (hello my era!!) and flashing forward to the present day. It needs quite a bit of concentration, but if you’re happy to immerse yourself, you’ll be rewarded. 3.75/5

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
A modern day Great Gatsby, set in Nashville. The child of a poor, down-on-her-luck single mother suddenly finds his life transformed as he gets a scholarship to a prestigious private school, and makes connections with wealthy families with political aspirations. When he finds out what (or who) was responsible for his dramatic turn of fate, he has to decide whether to bask in luxury and comfort at the expense of his principles, or to follow his own path. The Fortunate Ones is very well-written, but ultimately for me fell a little bit flat in the second half where it becomes increasingly implausible. 3.25/5

My Meh’s of the Month

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I’ll never ever learn my lesson about being distracted by Bookstagram with shiny objects! Fantasy just isn’t my genre, but somehow I can never resist. If you like a good fantasy/romance combo with lots of world-building and sexy roaring etc., give this a go.

The Survivors by Jane Harper
I normally LOVE Jane Harper, and The Dry is one of my favourite thrillers, but for some reason I couldn’t get into The Survivors. I loved the Tasmanian setting, but I found the characters rather flat and hard to keep straight.

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