My reading life – January 2024


January is always a two faced Janus of a month. On the one hand I have lots of resolve, a clean slate and a desire to attack some of the books that have been languishing on my shelf, meaningful tomes and brain-expanding books. And then there’s the half of me that wants to hibernate with easy, cosy reads and let my head relax after what is usually a busy end to the year. And again that’s been reflected in what I’ve read in January.

I started the month by finally finishing the last pages of A Suitable Boy, a doorstop of a book which had such a woven cast of characters, I felt I lived the year with them. At over 1300 pages, it felt like an achievement to have even finished it. Next stop War and Peace!

Early in January, I saw a post from a fellow book blogger, Bestbookforward, that she was hosting an online book club and the chosen book of the month happened to be one of the many books on my to-be-read shelf. A couple of Christmases back, my sister bought me Old Baggage by Lissa Evans. I’d made a start once before but wasn’t ready to read it then, and I’d never picked it up again. This was the perfect opportunity. Bestbookforward played a blinder and managed to get the author to join the book club call, which was a great opportunity to hear more about the book came to life. The middle book of a three story trilogy, Old Baggage also works as a standalone story of a former suffragette in her middle aged years figuring out how to keep fighting for equality and find her place in a changing world. Her character really comes off the page, strong, forthright, sometimes a little oblivious of her own impact and the book is a gem. I’d be interested to read the other books in the series to see where some of the other characters develop.

Next on my list was the first book sent to me from my Mr B’s book emporium subscription. Finding Hildasay follows the real life journey of Christian Lewis who has been struggling with civilian life after being in the army and who finds himself with no home other than his tent. He starts to walk the entire coast of the United Kingdom, following the water’s edge as much as possible. It takes a couple of years to wend his way around the Welsh coast to the west of Scotland, across to Northern Ireland and back. Each inhabited island and sea loch, no shortcuts. The weather is brutal and his reliance on the generosity of strangers to help keep him fed make each day challenging. The book finishes part way around the coast, paving the way for another book to complete the coast. I enjoyed reading about this incredible feat but occasionally found the way the book was put together disjointed, particularly Christian’s back story and relationship with his daughter which gives context to how he ends up on his coastal odyssey.

A couple of months ago I was drawn to a book title and cover while mooching in Waterstones. Bob Mortimer, the British comedian, has written The Satsuma Complex. It’s a rambling, farcical caper of a boring, invisible man who finds himself caught in the middle of gangsters and a murder. With the help of his tech wiz geriatric neighbour, he tries to keep himself out of hot water and find out who killed his work acquaintance. It’s filled withthe bizarre quirkiness of Mortimer’s comedy and moves along with a well-paced plot.

I’ve made a start of Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead, the modern retelling of Dicken’s David Copperhead. It’s as good as you would expect if you have read any of her other stuff. But boy is it bleak. I’d seen other book bloggers saying they had to read it in chunks because if was so heavy. Now I get it! Unfortunately, making a start on the book also coincided with me coming down with a chest infection which laid me low for close to two weeks. I really struggled with the tragic story and so have read some other lighter bits in parallel.

First of these diversions was an art crime thriller by Jeffrey Archer. This book had found its way on to my shelf via my parents’ book shelf. It’s perhaps one of the last books that my dad read before he died. He always had a book on the go, his favourites genres being Westerns, crime and thrillers. False Impression tells the tale of a New York art historian working for a finance company. After valuing the art collection which makes up the collateral of one of the company’s borrowers, she finds herself mysteriously fired on the morning of 9/11. As she’s being unceremoniously escorted from the office, a booming explosion rocks the building. She’s in the north tower. Barely escaping with her life, she has an opportunity to disappear to try to get to the bottom of her former employer’s questionable lending practises. The book was light, pacy and intriguing enough to get me through a couple of bad days of flu.

Looking for something suitably light, and needing an e-book to read in the night when my cough would keep me awake, I scoured my kindle library for something that would be a hug in a book. The Library by Bella Osborne fitted the bill and didn’t disappoint. A young boy with a secret love of romance novels reacquaints himself with his village library. While there he makes an unlikely friend in the shape of an elderly book club member who he tries to help when he spots her being mugged. Each filling an unspoken need of the other, they join forces to help save the library from pending closure. The story is similar to The Last Chance Library which I read last year but this one was better written, with some lovely characters.

Back to my paper TBR, I was scanning my shelves last week and fixed on a hard back book called Cooking Lessons by Daisy Garnett. This was a long time resident of the TBR shelf after I had acquired the book based on a magazine recommendation/plug but then never got around to reading it. It was Daisy’s story of how she came to be a keen cook after a childhood where her family were looked after by a housekeeper and cooking was rarely necessary. That was until she was on board a small yacht crossing the Atlantic and was volunteered to be the cook. Learning to cook in a listing galley was a baptism of fire (or it would be if she could get the gas to light). Having the privilege of being acquainted with Rose Gray of the River Cafe and other talented chef friends, Daisy rapidly develops skills to create classic dishes.

I’m still only a third of the way through Demon Copperhead. I hope it doesn’t take me as long to digest as A Suitable Boy, it is after all only half as thick. But I have to take abject misery in small doses. Maybe next month I can report on having completed it.

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