Ever since I learnt how I have loved reading. Something about getting lost in another person’s words, world, fantasies, is magical to me. Whether it be fiction or non-fiction, there’s a lot to explore. As Matt Haig said, “There is this idea that you either read to escape or you read to find yourself.” I read for both, but usually the latter. There is nothing greater than words, and our own imaginations, to discover who we are.
Despite this natural love for the written word, I have never spoken in depth about books here on my blog or any of my social media platforms. I think this is such a shame, as sharing stories is one of the best parts about reading. Discovering books you may not have found by yourself, or perhaps ones you may not have even considered before. Reading is one of my favourite pastimes. Listening to someone talk about them is equally as exciting for me. Therefore, I’ve jumped onto this idea; a monthly round up of all the books I read in the previous month. I’m hoping to continue What I Read Last Month [WIRLM] throughout 2017 in the hope that it inspires you to pick up a book for the first time in months or something in a genre outside of your usual preference(s). To coincide with this, I have started a 2017 read books thread on my twitter. If you want to see my most recent reads as soon it happens, then you can see them all here. Advanced warning; there may be some spoilers but I will try my hardest not to reveal too much about the stories. After all, the magic is in you discovering the adventures and shaping them in your own mind. I’m not here to relay the storyline to you.
January was a weird one. I’ve always considered myself a slow reader, but here I am writing about 6(!!!) books. Granted, some were short stories. On the other hand, I did also have a week out watching Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime. I watched both series in 6 days, whilst also working full time! This is why I don’t watch film/TV, I get hooked so easily and HAVE to know what happens!!!!! (Would highly recommend this series. I cannot wait for series 3 later this year). Back to the books. From Politics to self-help to stories about stories, here is what I read this month.
1. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
Blurb: All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to follow world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements – but if you don’t know geography, you’ll never have the full picture.
If you’ve ever wondered why Putin is so obsessed with Crimea, why the USA was destined to become a global superpower, or why China’s power base continues to expand outwards, the answers are all here.
Prisoners of Geography looks at the past, present and future to offer an essential insight into one of the major factors that determines world history. It’s time to put the ‘geo’ back into geopolitics.
Find it: ISBN 9781783962433
Buy it: Blackwell’s Waterstones
My Thoughts: I do not profess to know a lot about politics, and I know even less about Geography. Safe to say, when I opened this book I knew barely anything about geopolitics. At most I knew that like most things, geography had an influence over politics. I wasn’t expecting this influence to be as drastic as it is! How naive I have been.
The book is broken up into different regions and explains how the geographical landscape has influenced each nation and its political success. Of course, I knew that the USA was the powerhouse, and Africa fared off a lot worse. However, the detailed ins and outs were a little hazy for me. I have finished this book with a higher understanding of geopolitics, and why the ‘geo’ part is so crucial in political decisions and understanding. I still think walking in with so little knowledge, I was never going to walk away a genius. A second read, however, might just fill in the foundations of my knowledge.
If you’re educated in geography, politics, or geopolitics, I think you’ll get a lot out of this book. The ideas are thoroughly evidenced and link together between the different nations. However, if like me you lack the knowledge in any of the fields, then please do not feel daunted. Of course, there will be parts that may seem to fly over your head, but there is still a lot of knowledge you can take away from this book.
2. Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger
Blurb: His mother calls him a worthless halfwit while his fellow drunks at the local bar ensure he’s the butt of all their jokes. He spends his days whittling wood, counting pigeons and adding his own name to the list on the town war memorial. So how could Germain possibly anticipate what a casual encounter on a park bench with eighty-five-year-old Margueritte might mean?
In this touchingly comic tale of an unusual friendship, that first conversation opens a door in a world Germain has never imagined – the world of books and ideas – and gives both him and Margueritte the chance of a happiness they thought had passed them by.
Find it: ISBN 9781782271581
Buy it: Blackwell’s Waterstones
My Thoughts: I added this book to my Christmas wish list after a recommendation from a friend at work. One of the most uplifting stories I have ever read. The two characters described in the blurb are prime examples of what it’s like to be human. There is goodness inside of all of us and it’s in our smallest actions that we share it with others. In some ways, Germain reminded me of Lenny in Of Mice and Men; An innocent soul who finds himself surrounded by a couple of rubbish people.
Margueritte is such a sweet lady, and I hope I end up with half the heart she has as an elderly lady. In part of the story, she mentions how it’s our childhood that determines our love of reading and stories. Margueritte suggests that perhaps the reason Germain has never been interested in reading before is because no-one read him stories as a child. Growing up, I could always rely on my mum to read me stories. When I started learning to read, my mum was there to help and encourage me. I don’t think I’d be as into books as I am today if she hadn’t read so much to me when I was younger, nor helped me grasp the ability and understanding so early on. (Thanks mumma!)
In the pages of this short story, Margueritte also says ‘books should not be loved selfishly’. Boy-oh-boy is the woman right! I’m always so desperate to talk about books with anyone who will listen. I think it’s an honour when people want to share with me the things that make them excited and passionate. When I’m given a book or a recommendation, I cannot express my happiness and gratitude. Books are easily the way to my heart, and I think this is why I could connect with Margeuritte so easily.
A short, easy read full of just the right hints of humour, sweetness and emotion. This story will stay with me forever. Marie-Sabine Roger got this book soooo right.
3. In the Beginning Was the Sea by Tomás González
Blurb: The young intellectuals J. and Elena abandon the parties, the drinking and the money of the city, and start a new life on a remote tropical coast. Among mango trees, hot sands and everlasting sunshine, they plan to live the Good Life, self-sufficient and close to nature.
But with each day come small defeats and imperceptible dramas. Gradually paradise turns into hell, as brutal weather, mounting debts, the couple’s brittle relationship, and the sea itself threaten to destroy them.
Based on a true story, In the Beginning Was the Sea is a dramatic and searingly ironic account of the disastrous encounter of the imagined life with reality – a satire of hippyism, ecological fantasies, and of the very idea that man can control fate.
Find it: ISBN 9781782270416
Buy it: Blackwell’s Waterstones
My Thoughts: I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this book. It was really well written, the character development was superb. I understood every character and could predict how they would respond to different situations.
I think what holds me back from loving this book is that I couldn’t connect to any of the characters. Whilst I understood them and their development, I simply couldn’t relate to any of them. Being based on a true story, there was only so much the author could do with this one. I personally feel Tomás González did a good job, the storyline just wasn’t for me.
From the start, right through to the end, Elena and J.’s relationship is pretty dysfunctional. Without giving away too much, I think this was a real eye opener into the situations we could easily find ourselves in. I’ve heard, read and seen it happen. If I took anything from this book, it was to make sure the relationships I have (of any kind) are full-hearted goodness.
Despite all this, I am slowly falling in love with Pushkin Press publishing house. This book is pocket size and part of their ‘Pushkin Press Collection’. This book is so nice to hold and has a gorgeous illustration on the front. They also published Soft in the Head, so how could you not love this publisher?!
4. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Blurb: Sara has never left Sweden but at the age of 28 she decides it’s time. She cashes in her savings, packs a suitcase full of books and sets off for Broken Wheel, Iowa, a town where she knows nobody.
Sara quickly realises that Broken Wheel is in desperate need of some adventure, a dose of self-help and perhaps a little romance, too. In short, this is a town in need of a bookshop.
With a little help from the locals, Sara sets up Broken Wheel’s first bookstore. The shop might be a little quirky but then again, so is Sara. And as Broken Wheel’s story begins to take shape, there are some surprises in store for Sara too…
Find it: ISBN 9780099593676
Buy it: Blackwell’s Waterstones
My Thoughts: Oh my goodness this book. I have not stopped thinking about it since I read the final page. I was leant this book by the same work friend who recommended Soft in the Head and because I loved this one so much she let me keep it.
“I’ve always thought that books have some kind of healing power and that they can, if nothing else, provide a distraction.” The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is officially one of my comfort books, I am so thankful I got to read this story.
Sara is such a sweet woman. I hope to grow up with her courage and bravery. To set off across the world all by herself, to somewhere she’d only read about in letters is admirable. The life she creates for herself is inspiring. Also, she opens a bookshop. What book lover is not going to love that idea?!
“There’s always a person for every book. And a book for every person.”
There are hints of romance in this book, which can be momentarily cliché and other times sweet. Romance in fiction is rarely ever my thing. Instead, it’s definitely the friendships and life lessons this book shared with me that have me so caught up in its love.
Every single character in this story is so well crafted that I could visualise them all and the way they behaved. I could feel them as if I’d known them for years, not a few hundred pages in a book. Katarina Bivald created individuals, that actually felt human. None of them were clean cut, fantasy, flawless versions of people. They were raw and real. They felt pain. They laughed and they cried. What Katarina created in this book is a community. If you read only one book in your life, make it this one or at least as feel good as this one. Learn about humanity and how to treat others. Learn how kindness is in the simple actions that you may often overlook. Learn what it is to be human.
5. The Humans by Matt Haig
Blurb: THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME. OR IS THERE?
After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where he is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confuse him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.
Who is he really? And what could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race…?
Find it: ISBN 9780857868787
Buy it: Blackwell’s Waterstones
My Thoughts: Matt Haig, what a man, what an author. He may just be one of my favourite authors, ever. I really love his approach to fiction. It’s accessible, it’s feel good, it’s scattered with realism; The Humans is everything you could want from an alien on Earth story. (Spoiler alert: the blurb is a play on, and the main character is actually an alien on Earth – so effectively he is ‘amongst a crazy alien species’)
I felt the story focused more on the idea of being human and the emotions we face. It’s less about the sci-fi and more about our complex beings. I’ve never felt so removed, in the best way, from my own kind. It was like looking at ourselves from a new perspective. The weird things we do, the way we feel about things. Humans are weird, and Matt Haig represents this idea in every page.
I am so excited to add the rest of his novels to my birthday wish list. Fingers crossed I get them!! (If not, I’m totally buying them)
6. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Blurb: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FEEL TRULY ALIVE?
This is the true story of how Matt Haig came through crisis, triumphed over a mental illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again. Moving, funny and joyous, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.
Find it: ISBN 9781782116820
Buy it: Blackwell’s Waterstones
My Thoughts: Well we already know I love Haig’s fiction. His approach to non-fiction feels very similar in style; short chunks, easy to dip in and out of, easy to connect and follow the ideas. I love it just as much.
There are a wealth of people standing up and sharing their stories with mental health illnesses. You can tell the real from the fake. If you want to understand what living with depression/anxiety is actually like, I think this is the best book you could ever read. It’s first-hand experience. It’s real. It’s not dramatic or full of frills. It’s plain and simple. It’s honest and pure. We need more people like Matt Haig sharing their stories to raise awareness. It’s not about being sad, there’s so much more to it than that. Whatever it is, there’s hope. Not once does Haig forget to remind the reader of this. “Life is always worth it.”
This book is worth the hype and so much more. There’s a reason it’s a number one bestseller.
I am in awe of Haig’s writing style and literary voice. Authors like this are ones I always wish I could personally thank for sharing their words with the world.
My favourite books from this month were 2, 4, 5 & 6. After all;
“Feel-good books were ones you could put down with a smile on your face, books that made you think the world was a little crazier, stranger, and more beautiful when you looked up from them.”
Non-fiction is a rare pick for me, but I’m pleased I gave it a go this month. From politics to mental health, I feel more rounded and grounded. Fiction always teaches me a trillion things non-fiction never could, so it will always be my first choice. I am always grateful that people write, without authors I may not be who I am. I truly believe books have the power to shape and change a person.
A big thank you to my mumma and brother for buying 5/6 of these for me for Christmas, and the rest of the ones off of my wish list. I love you both a lot. And a big thank you to Kay, my friend from work, for always lending/recommending incredible books. You are such a lovely, intelligent lady. I wish I knew literature as well as you do. I am so grateful you spend so much time indulging me in endless conversations about books and their magic. You are a treasure.
This post was not sponsored, and all opinions are my own. Blurb excerpts and any quotes belong to their respected authors and publishers. No copyright was intended.