Books, Musings

My Year In Books – 2021 (part 1)

Back at the start of 2021 I wrote a two part blog post My Year In Books. There wasn’t must going on in life, and that doesn’t seem to have changed that much.

With yet another lockdown through the first part of this year, and more shielding to be done, I reached that stage where I just wanted to read and craft and craft and read.

Reading can take you places and give you experiences without even leaving your house. And that’s what much of the past 16 months has been about.

So as I can’t really get back to my escapades at full speed just yet, and the one time I did go to a restaurant access was still at the forefront. Here’s the places I’ve been… In my head.

Book cover for The Snow Child. A dark blue background with title text in white. There is the silhouette of a girl and fox in white too.

The One I Read While It Snowed In Real Life

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

Even though this was a book club read it’s one I’ve had on my digital shelf for quite a while. It was the cover that made me click ‘buy’ if I’m honest.

Mabel and Jack move to the Alaskan wilderness to forget life’s troubles, however instead of finding the silence and solitude they believed would help, they start drifting apart. Their relationship crumbling as they struggle to build a homestead and new life for themselves. It feels like everything is against them, the environment, the weather, money. And themselves.

Until one playful evening when Mabel and Jack build a snow child. One that seemingly comes to life.

Nature at it’s most beautiful yet most brutal, this is a story of survival through the toughest times. Emotionally and physically. The importance of family and a sense of belonging.

“It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.”

I wanted to love this book more than I did. I had expectations of a magical fairytale, whereas in reality I struggled to get into it. With a kind of eerie, foreboding vibe that would usually grab me from the start, for some reason I didn’t feel the flow until about midway. From then I learned to appreciate its greatness and style. A bit like Mabel did I guess.

It’s a story I think would make a brilliant audiobook listen, and maybe that’s what I should have done. It’s one you need to sink into, of which took me too long.

I would however love to hear your thoughts on Faina?

Thursday Murder Club book cover. Cream with bold red and black text. There is the silhouette of a black and red Fox in the centre.

The One I Want To Be In When I Grow up

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

I’d been meaning to read this since I knew of its existence, so when it came up as a book club option I was there.

In a Kent retirement village a group of elderly residents meet every Thursday (the clue is in the title) to discuss old crime cases. Until a murder happens right on their doorstep, which they take it upon themselves to solve.

“After a certain age, you can pretty much do whatever takes your fancy. No one tells you off, except for your doctors and your children.”

Being involved in solving a murder mystery as an elderly busybody in a retirement home is pretty much my dream. I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind and what makes us do the things we do. I’m one of those people that watches crime docuseries to relax.

Anyway, think Miss Marple but with a bunch of oddball oldies. Each with their individual quirks, wealth of knowledge, wisdom and intriguing history.

“In life you have to learn to count the good days. You have to tuck them in your pocket and carry them around with you. So I’m putting today in my pocket and I’m off to bed.”

I love this character driven book and how it shows the intellect and ability of older people. The forgotten. Much of the time when they move into places like this their life is written off. Much like those with anything seen as a weakness or disability. But maybe as some abilities dwindle, other strengths come through.

“I think that if I have a special skill, it is that I am often overlooked. Is that the word? Underestimated, perhaps?”

Let’s put it this way, I can’t wait for the sequel.

The book title for The Last Story of Mina Lee. There is a portrait shot of a figure from behind with dark shoulder length hair. The title text is placed over this image in white.

The One Made By Its Characters

The Last Story of Mina Lee – Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Although a little repetitive and slow-coming with the plot, I really enjoyed this read for the characters it explored.

All Margot ever wanted was to fit in.

“For me, being different wasn’t a good thing. All I wanted growing up was everything on television—dishwashers and windows that shut properly and a yard.”

She had an unconditional love for her mother but was ashamed of everything she represented. Her culture, language, poverty, and their apartment.

Margot had little understanding of why her Mother Mina was the person she was.

Until a devastating moment forces her to take a look at who her Mother was, how she landed in LA, and what life was like before Margot was born.

Mina’s life was heavy with history. Everything she did was to survive and bring up her daughter in a world she didn’t feel a part of, one she felt wasn’t created for her.

“She didn’t need a language that wasn’t big enough for her, didn’t want to make room for her.”

A mystery centred around the relationship of mother and daughter Mina and Margot. I enjoyed how the narrations ran parallel as we learn more about Mina through her own telling and her daughters.

Reading this really made me consider the lives people have before we know them.

It even featured Bob Ross. I think…

“…she perched on the edge of the couch and watched a PBS show on painting, a bearded man with curly brown hair, dome-shaped, swiftly conjuring the curves and shadows of a dramatic alpine mountain, sublime and white.”

Hidden Bodies book cover. A close up of blue underwater with ripples. Title text is in black.

The One That’s a Sequel

Hidden Bodies – Caroline Kepnes

Just over a year after reading ‘You’ I got round to starting its sequel. My hopes were high. I loved the character of Joe and wanted to see where life (and his awkward ways) had taken him.

While reading ‘You’ I became a little too obsessed with Joe. I grew a disturbing fondness for his charming yet dark narration, philosophical thought process and witty way with words. The stream of consciousness inside his head that felt like poetry.

Now though, Joe has changed.

We continue to follow Joe on his never-ending quest to find true love.

“The real horror of my life is not that I’ve killed some terrible people. The real horror is that the people I’ve loved didn’t love me back.”

Only this time it doesn’t feel as real, as urgent or as powerful. It felt more like a killing spree without reason, rather than a troubled romantic that just wants a perfect and happy life.

I feel this was an unnecessary sequel, not what I wanted it to be at all. The plot becomes so far fetched, even for a stalking accidental serial killer, that it turned a bit too unbelievable. ‘You’ was something fresh and new. A perspective and character I hadn’t met before. ‘Hidden Bodies’ felt like more of the same but with less charisma.

We get some peeks of the Joe I love, and the prose is still there. If only we had more of this.

“I gave her as much as I had, but it’s like the difference between a movie and a book: A book lets you choose how much of the blood you want to see. A book gives you the permission to see the story as you want, as your mind directs. You interpret. Your Alexander Portnoy doesn’t look like mine because we all have our own unique view. When you finish a movie you leave the theater with your friend and talk about the movie right away. When you finish a book you think.”

I heard there’s a third book. I don’t know what to do… has anyone read it?

I’m also still yet to try the tv show.

Book cover for The Other Half of Augusta Hope. The background is mottled orange and yellow. There is a Polaroid style photo sliced in half on either side of the cover. It’s of a girl standing by the sea

The One Where My Heart Is

The Other Half Of Augusta Hope – Joanna Glen

I felt an instant fondness for Augusta as we flip through her life from childhood, to teenage years and becoming an adult.

Augusta never felt like she quite fitted in, struggling to understand her family, she was always seen as the weird one. But Augusta isn’t a follower. I loved the way she was so true to herself, even from a young age. How she didn’t just do or act as expected. How she called Graham her friend and saw more than what’s just on the edges of life (you’ll have to read it to know what I mean!).

Full of wit, sarcasm and a fantastic dryness, Augusta is straight talking, honest and inquisitive.

Augusta has a lifelong obsession with the dictionary, is fascinated by words and the power they hold.

‘I thought about the size of different words – or should I say the depth, or the space they take up? I wasn’t referring to the number of letters they had but to what manner of thing or things were held within those letters.’

Alternating between the chapters of Augusta is a story from across the globe. Parfait is growing up in a war stricken Burundi, dreaming of a better life for himself and his family.

The story of one individual sparks the telling of another as the dual narrations intertwine through natural links and parallels. Both Augusta and Parfait suffer tragedy as they go on an exploration of identity, feeling trapped by the restraints in their lives, they try to find somewhere they belong and discover what home really is.

“None of us can ever imagine being someone else. Isn’t that why being human is lonely? Because however many words there are in a language, they never express the actual thing, the actual feeling, the actual being ourselves?”

I really did love this book, it’s beautiful written and lyrical. Heartbreaking with just the right dash of humour. Augusta will stay with me for a long time yet.

My only 5 star Goodreads rating this year thus far, I need to get me some more Joanna Glen.

Strangers book cover. At the top are the legs of 3 people standing on a blue flooring. You can’t see the people, you can see their shadows on the floor. Text is in white and bright orange.

The One From An Author I Can Count On

Strangers – C.L Taylor

The first book I read by C.L Taylor was The Lie, and I’ve been a fan ever since. A master of the plot twist and expert at creating vividly relatable characters.

When I saw Strangers pop up on my library app with no wait list, I just had to start it.

I have a whole hoard of books, physical and digital, that I keep meaning to read. But sometimes you just know what you need, and I knew from page one that this was it.

Opening with three strangers standing around a body, I was hooked on this mystery from the start.

A story of three individuals. Alice, single mother and clothes store manager. Ursula (my personal favourite) delivery driver and hoarder of others things. And Gareth, shopping centre security guard and carer for his mother. Are all trying their best to get by in life.

I enjoyed trying to figure out, (the often misleading), connections between the characters as we backtrack seven days to unravel the stories of each of these very different personalities, and how they came to be part of the same event.

Loaded with loneliness, grief and regret. The structure of this book, with multiple perspectives and intertwining characters is one of my favourite styles. It keeps you hooked by drip feeding details tantalisingly and creates the perfect amount of suspense.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding plot, it’s one of those where every little discovery makes you feel and want to know more.

You Said This Would Work book cover. A bright yellow background with a pale pink road winding across. There is a blue and white camper van on the road at the bottom. The title text is bold and three dimensional in blue.

The One When I Needed A Laugh

I Thought You Said This Would Work – Ann Wertz Garvin

I’d just finished the previous book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, when I had a phone call with a date for my attempted operation. Happening very soon.

I needed something to read that didn’t take too much brainpower, was lighthearted and easy to pick up and put down. Well this wasn’t as easy to put down as I’d expected.

‘I Thought You Said This Would Work’ came up on my Amazon First Reads. It wasn’t a title that caught my eye, and isn’t the type of book I’d usually go for. I’m more of a mystery reader. But fancying something a little different, I gave it a go. It was free!

Sam, Holly and Katie became a close knit trio of friends in back in college, but after a mysterious misunderstanding Holly and Sam drifted apart.

Twenty years later, when Katie is no longer in remission from cancer, there’s one thing she now needs from her two best friends. To track down and dognap her giant diabetic dog Peanut.

I enjoyed this caper of a tale, my favourite character being the wacky psychic Summer. Although I’m not sure I’d want to be confined in a small space with her, she really brought something to the story and the best out of those around her.

They say distraction leads to truth, and that the best place to talk serious is while driving (well I swear I heard that somewhere anyway). Sam and Holly have no choice but to work together, open up, and maybe figure out what happened to their friendship.

“Safety and the idea that you can keep anyone safe is an illusion. But, loving someone is the ultimate safekeeping.”

It’s not groundbreaking literature, but if you want a fun and heartwarming bit of escapism with some quirky characters then I’d highly recommend.


To be continued…

Title text My Year In Books - 2021 (part 1) is in grey text on a cream background and the bottom of image. There is a cup of tea and open books at the top.

What have you been reading lately?

21 thoughts on “My Year In Books – 2021 (part 1)”

  1. I came across the Richard Osman book a while ago too and despite my curiosity I’ve not got around to it. I’ve read some hit and miss reviews though, so it’s great to see you enjoyed it. I’ve not come across the Caroline Kepnes books. What’s the TV show?

    You’ve devoured some great books lately, Gemma! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Osman book is probably a little quaint for some. Not very action packed or violent. I loved its pace and Britishness.
      ‘You’ is the title of the first Kepnes book and tv series. It’s currently all on Netflix. I’ll give it a go sometime. Let me know if you do!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We read Joanna Glen and Richard Osman for book club choices this year – thoroughly enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club (and have booked my place to retire there!), but I loved Augusta Hope and would also give it 5 stars. The characters, the 2 storylines that gradually became intertwined and the beautiful descriptions of the settings – I just loved it all. I will definitely give your other recommendations a go, Gemma – perfect holiday reading list, thank you!! C x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Book me a place too please! I’m looking forward to the sequel and also intrigued on how the film version will turn out.
      Augusta Hope was just stunning. It’s not often you find a book like that.
      Do you have any recommendations?

      Like

  3. Terrific list! I have been on a non-fiction tear in 2021 – lots of travel stuff, perhaps because of being locked down for much of 2020…looking forward to what’s next for you, and thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. have been on a reading slump no one knows why including me. was craving books the whole June but never picked one up. seems like the slump is over and I’m so glad! lovely post. some of the books mentioned seem super interesting! will add to my TBR

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a bit of a slump the past few weeks too, where like you describe, I crave books but just cannot settle reading. Sometimes when that happens I try something totally new and different to what I would usually read. So a comedy or lighthearted read, it can get me back in the flow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad to say i’m back reading🙂 i’m so happy. Was becoming a little concerned abt my love for books.
        I’ll be sure to try your advice next time it happens 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I didn’t make good predictions either! I saw that it’s being adapted to film, it will be interested how the characters are created. I hope it’s as good as the version in my imagination. I’m always dubious when a book I love becomes a film.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It must have been incredible reading The Snow Child while it was actually snowing outside. Thanks for sharing about the books you’ve read so far, I didn’t know you were such an avid reader – I am too so I enjoyed reading this. I’ve heard about The Thursday Murder Club Before, I really need to read it. I think I heard that Steven Spielberg brought the film rights to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It did add to the magic having actual snow to look at. It’s never as pretty in real life though, just turns to slush!
      I’ve enjoyed reading since I was a teen. It’s an escape and i find it good for relaxing and forgetting where you are.
      Ooh I do hope that do the book justice when they put in on screen.

      Liked by 1 person

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