If you’d like to watch my first YouTube video discussing the books I read in January this year, please see below:
Some of the reviews below may differ slightly from those in the video because it’s now been longer since I read those books and some of my opinions have changed.
January was such a good month for me! In terms of volume, I read a total of 12 books, and in terms of quality, I enjoyed nearly all of them!
If you’re interested in keeping more up-to-date with my reading habits, you can visit my ‘Bookstagram’ (Instagram book account) here: https://www.instagram.com/emmarusson/
- The Martian by Andy Weir
Premise: One of the first men to walk on Mars is left behind and must put together a survival plan while he waits for over 400 days until the next ship is due to land on Mars and unknowingly rescue him.
My rating: 5/5
This was the first book I read in 2016 and was a great start to the new year (in terms of reading, at least!). It gripped me from Page 1, surprisingly so because the first few chapters are essentially made up of sums, as the main character, Mark Watney, works out how much time he has before he will begin to starve to death, then how much food he needs to create to delay that, and so on. This could be tedious but Weir’s writing style is fun and keeps the reader worried enough for the character that you keep turning the page despite all of this maths flying at you.
My interest waned in the middle of the book – some of the obstacles in Mark’s way became a little too frustrating to handle – but picked up again at the end, which I won’t spoil. Overall I really enjoyed The Martian and am glad that I picked it up, seeing as it’s not the sort of novel I would normally bother to read.
2. Room by Emma Donoghue
Premise: This story is narrated by Jack, a five-year-old boy, who has lived for his entire life in one room, where he and his mother are kept hidden by his mother’s abuser.
My rating: 5/5
My 3rd favourite book that I read in January, Room is contemporary writing at its finest. If any readers are dubious at the thought of a book narrate by a small child, don’t be. Jack’s innocent viewpoint was exactly the right way to go and it certainly does not gloss over the worst parts of Jack and Ma’s incarceration.
I sped through this book and found little that I didn’t like about it. However, the second part of the book, which takes place outside of the room that Jack has known as the whole world up until now, might have worked better if it had been narrated by his mother. Jack’s naive viewpoint is fine at the beginning of the book, when Ma has to be strong for him, but when he has more people to turn to in ‘Outside’ and Ma feels like she can turn to no one at all, I would’ve liked to know what was going on inside her head.
3. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5/5
Like I said, this was a great month for me, since my first three reads of 2016 were all worthy of five-star ratings!
It’s difficult to describe what A Man Called Ove is about, and why I enjoyed it so much. Essentially it boils down to the fact that it is about ordinary people with ordinary lives, to whom ordinary things happen, and there’s nothing more relatable (for most of us) than that.
Ove is a grumpy old man who likes things to be just-so, and his story is both sad and uplifting, with lots of ups and downs. We flashback to when he was a young man finding his first jobs, first love and first house, and we also see him in the present-day when he is trying (and failing) to commit suicide due to grief over his dead wife. The suicide attempts make for some black comedy moments, as Ove gets so irritated by trivial things like cars outside not being parked properly that he abandons his attempts and goes to air his disapproval with the neighbours.
This is very simple, effective storytelling, with an abundance of emotions all wrapped up in one perfect little book.
4. The Small Hand by Susan Hill
Premise: A man, driving unfamiliar roads at night, comes across an abandoned house where he feels the urge to stop and stare at for a while. As he stands there, he feels an invisible child’s hand take hold of his own. The ghostly presence doesn’t feel evil at first, but as the story goes on, the hauntings become more and more violent.
My rating: 2.5/5
As an avid fan of The Woman in Black, I am always willing to give Susan Hill’s novels a go. She has a wonderful way with words and her prose is beautifully eerie. She is the mistress of the slow scare. The spookiness of the story creeps up on you until your heart is beating fast and your hands are shaking as you turn the page. Her words have an ability to frighten that is rare to find within literature.
Unfortunately, in this case I was disappointed. Hill’s beautiful prose is still there but she gets so bogged down in description that it hinders the storytelling. The plot is interesting and doesn’t stop being so throughout the book – it just takes so long to get to the point.
Luckily, the ending saved me from giving this book only 2 stars because the reveal at the end was very effective and I was frightened enough that I felt it deserved a higher rating. However, I wouldn’t recommend this book if you want to start reading Hill’s work – I’d suggest you start with The Woman in Black.
(And go see the play, now.)
5. The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain) by Lloyd Alexander
Premise: An assistant pig-keeper called Taran is desperate to be a hero. He is given his chance when the oracular pig he looks after runs away and Taran must retrieve her before the evil Horned King gets there first. Along the way he meets an array of characters who help and hinder him in his quest.
My rating: 3.5/5
If that premise sounds familiar to anyone, it’s because the Disney film The Black Cauldron was based on this series of books. The book is not a disappointment and would probably be an epic read for someone who is more into the fantasy genre than I am. To me, it was just a good example of your classic children’s adventure/quest-type story.
The characters were fun and I absolutely loved the princess. She reminded me of Hermione in the Harry Potter series, just in her way of speaking and how she wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself and her friends. Gurgi also has much more of a sympathetic role in the book than he does in the film.
This was nothing special to me. I might give the rest of the series a go; I downloaded a sample of the second book and quite liked the look of the first chapter. However, this isn’t very high on my TBR list.
6. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness
Premise: Set in a dystopian future where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts, this is the story of Todd Hewitt, meets a girl whose thoughts he cannot hear. He quickly realises that she is not safe in his hometown and he might not be either.
My rating: 5/5
AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH I LOVE THIS BOOK I LOVE THIS BOOK I LOVE THIS BOOK.
Seriously guys, I loved this book. This was the most amazing budget buy for me as well, because I only spent 50p on it after picking it up and going, ‘Huh,’ and the enjoyment I got back out of it was PRICELESS.
It was hard to write a description of this book because I don’t want to spoil ANYTHING for any potential readers out there. Basically all you need to know is that it’s very fast-paced and exciting and that there is a TALKING DOG.
7. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Premise: Miss Brodie is a teacher at a girls’ school, unpopular with the conservative female staff but very popular with both the male staff and the girls under her tuition. She makes up a ‘club’ of some of her students, introducing them prematurely to the adult world.
My rating: 3/5
I’m disappointed to say that I didn’t think much of this book despite having loved the film for years. I expected it to become a favourite but found that it didn’t pick up until it was almost over.
I would have liked to have seen a little bit more personality injected into some of the girls. Unusually I found myself siding with the headmistress a lot of the time, which I don’t think is the intent, but I found Miss Brodie so frustrating and the girls so vapid that I could see perfectly well where Miss McKay was coming from.
For me, the writing was somewhat tedious and this is a book where nothing much happens.
8. Us by David Nicholls
Premise: After years of marriage, a man’s wife tells him that she wants to leave him once their son leaves home. They have a trip around Europe planned which she doesn’t want to cancel and so her husband decides to take this as an opportunity to fix his relationship with both her and their son.
My rating: 1/5
I think on Goodreads I gave this 2 or 3 out of 5 stars, but the only reason I can think of for that is that I just felt guilty giving it a 1-star review. David Nicholls wrote one of my favourite books, One Day, and I find it really annoying that I didn’t enjoy Us – but I didn’t really enjoy any of it at all. The characters were horrible and I didn’t want them to get back together, which is the main goal of the story, and as a result I didn’t care at all about how it would end. I was so relieved when I finally finished this book and could return it to the library.
The reason I loved Nicholls’ previous works was because of his witty, sometimes scathing, writing style, his easy humour and his made-it-look-easy turn of phrase. However, Us is lacking in all of these departments. It has none of Nicholls’ charming similes or metaphors that turn up in his other books. All in all, it was a massive let-down.
9. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Premise: Molly is a woman, a lesbian and a fighter who does not let herself be labeled. The story follows her struggles with how society tries to box her in and beat the ‘abnormal’ out of her.
My rating: 3/5
The writing style in this novel was fun and drew me in but thinking back it’s hard to say what exactly happened in the plot. This was much more of a character-driven novel. Molly is a great female character who reminded me, especially in the first few chapters when you see her as a child, of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird (my favourite book). They both want to do their own thing and won’t let anyone else stop them from doing it or tell them it’s wrong.
I enjoyed the book and think it had some very interesting points to make, but now that it’s been a couple of weeks since I read it, I can’t say that anything about it really stuck in my mind, apart from the fact that I really liked the main character. The ending was very abrupt and a little disappointing – which I think was the point. I wanted to see Molly succeed and get a bit of recognition for it, but I believe Rita Mae Brown was telling us that Molly – and women in general – still have a long battle to fight.
10. Weight by Jeanette Winterson
Premise: A retelling of the myth of Atlas and Heracles, wherein Heracles must take the weight of the sky (I said world in the video – oops!) from Atlas the Titan while Atlas goes to complete part of one of Heracles’ labours.
My rating: 4/5
The premise of Weight was very intriguing for me; I’m a big fan of Greek mythology and love to read or watch modern interpretations.
On the whole, I enjoyed the writing but the story itself felt a little drawn out by the end of this book (and it was a short book). I loved the touch where Atlas met the dog, Laika, and thought the ending was quite poetic. Heracles’ character was very unlikeable – which was the point – and I loved Atlas.
I would definitely recommend this book, especially for anyone who wants to know more about the Ancient Greek myths and legends. This is a much more readable option than an anthology of the classic stories.
11. The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness
Premise: The sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go (discussed above), this is the continuation of Todd and Viola’s story. They have now reached Haven but it has been taken over by the mayor of Todd’s hometown and they must now live under his regime.
My rating: 5/5
I’m loving this series and am really looking forward to reading Monsters of Men.
It saddens me that people don’t seem to love Chaos Walking very much. I think it’s one of those series where it was very hyped up (although I seem to have missed all that) and people have been turned off by it. Please don’t let the hype put you off – this is a really exciting series.
I won’t go into too much detail here because it is the middle book of a trilogy and so I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say the characterisation was really good, the villain felt real and frightening, and I’m very pumped to see how everything goes down in the finale.
12. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green (also published as Matthew Dicks)
Premise: Budo is the imaginary friend of Max, and he is not imaginary. He has his own thoughts and feelings but cannot touch the physical world or be seen by any humans except Max, so when Max goes missing, Budo must rely on his own skills and the help of other imaginary friends to save Max and get him back to his parents.
My rating: 5/5
I love this book so much that I want to cry whenever I think about it.
Budo looks like a human but for some reason I imagine him as this cute little blob thing and I love the idea of him bouncing along. That’s just my weird input though, he doesn’t actually bounce along at all.
Nonetheless, this is a fabulous book. It makes you feel all kinds of emotions. I finished it far too soon and when I put it down I wanted to pick it right back up again.
Just go out and get it. PLEASE. I promise it will become one of your favourite books.