December/January Summary and Plans for February

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I’ve had a mixed few months. December seemed to produce one amazing read after another, but 2014 has been disappointing so far. Many of the books I’d been looking forward to didn’t live up to expectations. Hopefully my run of bad luck will be broken soon. 

In the meantime I’ll focus on the positives. I read three outstanding books in December:

  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert was a wonderful piece of historical fiction. It was rich in period detail, had a fantastic female protagonist, and was good old-fashioned story telling at its best. I’ll try not to put you off by mentioning the moss!
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was a entertaining book about a man with Asperger’s finding love. It was refreshing to read such a positive portrayal of someone on the spectrum and it made me cry with laughter – a rare event!
  • Tampa by Alissa Nutting was the most controversial book I read last year, but underneath the graphic sex scenes there were many important messages about our society and its attitude to female paedophiles. 

Books of the Month

The Rosie ProjectThe Signature of All ThingsTampa

Books Reviewed January/December:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 

Tampa by Alissa Nutting 

My Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty 

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami 

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson 

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser 

Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki 

The Lie by Helen Dunmore 

The Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku 

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd 

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino 

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward 

Jack Glass by Adam Roberts 

Back to Back by Julia Franck 

The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller 

DNF: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, Strange Bodies by Marcel TherouxUnderworld by Don DeLillio

Plans for February

I don’t have any firm plans for February, but I hope to read Traveller of the Century by Andres Neuman for Stu’s Pushkin Press event.  I also hope to try most of these books:

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

The Last Word by Hanif Kureishi

The Free by Willy Vlautin

Feeding the Ghosts by Fred D’Aguiar

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

I hope that you have a wonderful February!

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  1. Sandy says:

    Our book club loved The Rosie Project. And next month we are coincidentally reading Joshilyn Jackson’s new one “Another Person’s Love Story” which is SCARILY like Rosie. Many similarities. You should definitely read that one too. The only book in your lineup that I’ve read is “Night Watch” by Sarah Waters. It is unlike anything you would expect from her. It is sneaky though, and caused me to mull it over for months and months. Plus the story is told backwards, which threw me for a loop.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, The Joshilyn Jackson does sound interesting. I’m not sure it could win me over more than Rosie, but I’ll keep an eye out for it and give it a try one day.

      I love the fact you’ve described ‘Night Watch’ as sneaky! That is what I most loved about ‘Fingersmith’ I read the first 90 pages of ‘Night Watch’ today and am very impressed by the writing. If she can surprise me I’ll be very happy :-)

    2. Anonymous says:

      Oh, thanks for reminding me Sandy … The book i’m reading now has two chronological sequences, one going forwards and one going backwards. I knew I’d read at least one going backwards before but couldn’t remember what it was. Now I do!

  2. I’ve only read Night Watch from the books in your February line-up. But I loved it! For a while it was my favorite Sarah Waters book, and then I swung back to Fingersmith, just because it’s so well-constructed and lovely. I hope you enjoy Night Watch!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Fingersmith is one of my all-time favourite novels. I can’t see how anything can beat it, but I look forward to seeing if ‘Night Watch’ can even get close!

  3. Kailana says:

    The Night Watch was really good! It was my first Sarah Waters book. There is also a mini-series which was really good. (There is nudity and such, so if you have an issue with stuff like that you might not like it. Just being clear on what I am recommending!)

    1. Jackie says:

      Kailana, Don’t worry – I’ve read Waters before so am aware of the sexual content of her books :-) I’m really looking forward to finding out what makes ‘Night Watch’ so special – it is very good so far, but I can’t wait to find out how it develops.

  4. I second your ratings of The Signature of All Things and The Rosie Project – they were ‘top shelf’.

    The pick of my reading in January was The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy. Hope you find some gems in February Jackie…

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, It’s great to know you agree with me on those books! I haven’t tried the Kilroy book, but I have a copy here so I’ll push it up the pile :-)

  5. tanya says:

    The Night Watch may be my favorite of all of Sarah Waters’ books. Good luck with February. Looks ambitious.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tanya, It is great to hear that you enjoyed it too!

  6. Lu says:

    THE NIGHT WATCH! One of my favorite books of all time. I hope you enjoy!

    1. Jackie says:

      Lu, Fingersmith is one of my all-time favourites. I wonder if Waters can write 2 books in my top 10?

  7. David says:

    Of the three Sarah Waters books I’ve read so far I probably liked ‘The Night Watch’ the least, but it was still good. It is a long time since I read ‘Feeding the Ghosts’ (just checked and it was back in 1997) and I now recall almost nothing about it, though I must have liked it enough to buy two more of D’Aguiar’s novels (still not read either of them yet!). ‘A Long Long Way’ is wonderful, much better than Barry’s two subsequent novels in my opinion. And I’ve just started reading ‘All the King’s Men’ today so I look forward to comparing notes on that one – some of the writing so far is just lovely: he really makes you feel the heat and see the haze and hear the languorous buzzing of the flies.

    January for me was a great month with some very good reads. I managed to get through nine novels and six story collections.

    The stand out novel was Jerry Pinto’s ‘Em and The Big Hoom’ which came out in India a couple of years ago and is published in the UK this May – a really affecting novel about mental illness, but told with a mordant humour and some of the wittiest dialogue I’ve read in a long time.

    I read the final two volumes of Olivia Manning’s ‘Fortunes of War’ sequence and feel sad to have finished them – the characters had become a part of my life over the last three months. The individual novels are far from perfect but definitely add up to more than the sum of their parts.

    Brian Payton’s ‘The Wind is Not a River’ was good – slightly contrived in places and with an ending that you could see coming, but the story is so compellingly told (and is about an event of the Second World war I knew nothing about) that I can forgive it.

    Fiona McFarlane’s ‘The Night Guest’ I really enjoyed. Great writing, great characters, I wasn’t as surprised by the ‘twist’ as I think I was supposed to be and I’d have preferred a more ambiguous ending, but I reckon she’s going to be a writer to watch in years to come.

    Cynan Jones’s ‘The Dig’ was brutal, visceral and utterly devoid of sentimentality. Even in its bloodiest moments it is nonetheless marked by a deep feeling for nature and the countryside, and is infused with a poetry (“long-decayed bouquets” is a phrase that has lodged itself in my mind) that gives it an almost parable-like quality. Beautiful stuff.

    What else? I rather belatedly got around to reading Tash Aw’s ‘Five Star Billionaire’ and whilst it was an enjoyable read I really wasn’t that impressed – it certainly didn’t deserve to be on the Booker longlist. And a book I’ve had on my shelves for years: Matt Cohen’s 1999 novel ‘Elizabeth and After’, which is pretty much quintessential (or stereotypical) CanLit, but very involving and satisfying, the sort of book that you keep finding new layers to the more you ponder it.

    I won’t bore you with the short stories I read, except to say that I read Bernard MacLaverty for the first time and am wondering why I’ve not tried him before – I’ll definitely be trying some of his novels; and why haven’t I heard of Elizabeth Spencer before? She’s been writing stories and novels about the American South since the 1940s and her latest collection ‘Starting Over’ is superb and has made me want to read everything she’s written.

    Willy Vlautin’s new book is definitely one I’ll be reading in February too, along with the new ones by Adam Foulds and Tim Pears. Other than that I’m just going to go wherever the fancy takes me. Hope you have a great month, Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, You did have a good January!

      I’m about half way through ‘All the King’s Men’ and am not really connecting with it. I have considered abandonig it on several occasions, but I’m ploughing on as it is such a classic. I’ll be interested to compare notes once we complete it.

      ‘The Dig’ is near the top of my TBR pile. I’m a bit scared of it at the moment as it sounds disturbing, but I’ll give it a try as soon as I’m in the mood for that sort of book.

      I’ve just finished ‘The Free’. It is my first Vlautin and I am very impressed by the writing quality. He doesn’t quite have the story telling ability I need, but I can see why so many people love him. He is quite similar to McFarlane actually. I read ‘The Night Guest’ and was impressed by the writing, but again found the plot/forward momentum a bit lacking. I’ll get around to reviewing it soon.

      ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ sounds fantastic! I hadn’t heard of that one before, but I’ve made a note of the title and will keep an eye out for it later this year. Thanks for the recommendation!

      I hope your February is just as wonderful!

      1. David says:

        Interesting that you see storytelling as a weakness with Willy Vlautin – I found that to be one of the great strengths of his first two novels and of his songwriting.
        Having started ‘All the King’s Men’ yesterday, I’m about 200 pages into it and am absolutely loving it – I don’t want to put it down! – so I definitely look forward to reading your thoughts on it as it sounds like we’re having very different responses to it.

  8. You read some terrific sounding books Jackie. Anxious to try The Elis Gilbert book. Happy February Reading.

  9. I’ve not read – or probably even heard of most of those books – but I did think The Rosie project was a real hoot. Predictable but still funny. Questions of travel was among my top books for the year – seems like I liked it more than you. It was about 4.5 stars for me. I’ve heard that the Gilbert is very good.

    1. Jackie says:

      Whispering Gums, Glad you agree with me on ‘The Rosie Project’! I can see why you loved ‘Questions of Travel’ – I loved the writing, but I prefer books with a stronger plot. I hope you enjoy ‘Signature of All Things’ as much as I did!

  10. Oh and I second The night watch. An interesting, clever book.

  11. It seems like I see The Rosie Project EVERYwhere these days, and it was starting to reach that stage where I didn’t want to read it out of sensory overload with the cover image. BUT now I hear that it made you cry with laughter and, okay, I’m impressed. Hope you have a good February?

    1. Jackie says:

      Buried In Print, I sometimes get annoyed when books are everywhere, but in this case I’m very happy. It spreads such a positive message about Asperger’s that I’d love the world to read it and I hope the hype continues :-) I hope you decide to give it a chance.

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