For two years, I struggled to find a book I could connect with. I wanted to read the classics, but having read many at university, I felt the urge to try something easy. After attempting to read several books with simple narratives, I became entirely disillusioned with reading in general.
As a child, I read on a daily basis. Since my teens, I have kept a record of every book I've ever read. Last year, I started to read more regularly again and felt my passion slowly returning.
January - The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary
This book is a comfortable, light-hearted read. It follows the story of Tiffany and Leon, two strangers who share a flat and a bed but have never actually met… The story is heart-warming and honest, though perhaps a little predictable in places. It is the type of book that can be dipped into at any time or read in one sitting. Despite its rom-com style and occasionally irritating characters, the plot is entertaining in a light-hearted way.
February - The Cement Garden, Ian McEwan
Having loved Atonement and appreciated On Chesil Beach, I thought I would try another McEwan novel. The Cement Garden wasn’t what I expected, however. It tells the story of four orphaned children who, afraid of losing their home, bury their mother’s corpse in the cellar. The story is dark and uncomfortable, driven by twisted thoughts and disturbing actions.
March - The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley
With its blend of historical events, atmospheric settings and unexpected occurrences, this book is utterly captivating. Pulley’s understanding of language is exceptional and her ability to play with time is equally striking. The story revolves around a mysterious timepiece and its connection with a strangely magical past. Filled with twists, turns and curiosities, it is an excellent book from start to finish.
April - The Starless Sea, Erin Morganstern
I confess that I judged this book almost entirely on its cover and title. The cover exudes mystery and magic and I couldn’t help but buy it. I was already familiar with Morgantern’s work however, having readThe Night Circus some years ago. Unfortunately, I found The Starless Sea a little disappointing. There were too many narratives and opulent descriptions for my taste. While I could appreciate the artistic style of the writing, I found it to be overly embellished and the thread of the plot was easily lost.
May - The Midnight Library, Matt Haig
There is something bewitching about stories that discuss the magic of books. The concept of Matt Haig’s novel is brilliant. It tells of a library, caught somewhere between life and death, where each book offers a chance at a new life. While I enjoyed the mysterious atmosphere of the book, I felt that some of its charm was lost through the self-pitying tendencies of the main character. The style became slightly repetitive but I was able to appreciate the overall message.
June - The Lemon Tree Cafe, Cathy Bramley
This book can only be described as heartwarming. Like all of Cathy Bramley’s books, it is joyful and easy to read. You know exactly what to expect when reading her books, but this is part of their charm. The Lemon Tree Cafe is about the importance of finding a sense of purpose and understanding dark secrets hidden away in the past.
July - Appleby Farm, Cathy Bramley
Called back to her family home in Cumbria, Freya is faced with the task of saving Appleby Farm. With tragedy brewing, she must decide what she really wants from her life. In typical Cathy Bramley style, the book is light-hearted and endearing. It is a straightforward read and easily put a smile on my face.
August - Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler
Having watched the film version of this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t often watch film adaptations prior to reading the book, but this time it couldn’t be helped. The book follows the story of five women and one man as they come together to discuss the wonderful works of Jane Austen. Unfortunately, the story didn't live up to my expectations. I didn't feel that the narrative did Jane Austen justice. I wanted to learn more about the book club discussions rather than the characters' personal histories.
September - The Feast, Margaret Kennedy
Back in August, feeling at a loss for what to read, I attended a book spa at Mr B’s Emporium in Bath. The Feast was one of their wonderful recommendations. Although not usually a fan of books with multiple narratives, I thought The Feast was excellent. Set in Cornwall, it tells the stories of several strangers all visiting the same hotel one summer. The plot reveals details about each character and is cleverly constructed throughout.
October - All Our Broken Idols, Paul Cooper
This book was another recommendation from Mr B’s Emporium. It was an excellent read and has been placed on my top five novels list. Set across two starkly different centuries - the 7th century B.C. and modern times - it follows the stories of two female characters and their connection to a rare stone carving. Cooper’s writing is vivid and his use of imagery exceptional, allowing the reader to become fully immersed in the story.
November - Once Upon A River, Diane Setterfield
Towards the end of the year, my passion for reading began to return. Perhaps this is why I read two books rather than one, something I hadn’t done for a long time. Once Upon a River was another Mr B’s recommendation. Mysterious and captivating, it takes the reader on a winding journey down the banks of the river Thames. Characters and readers alike are bound in a web of stories that continue to surprise until the end.
- Dear Reader, Cathy Rentzenbrink
This book was not as I expected. I confess I was intrigued by the title but didn’t know much about it when I started reading. An autobiography of sorts, it shares the story of Cathy Rentzenbrink's life through literature. From childhood tragedy to a career as a bookseller and writer, books shaped her world. To see someone’s life journey through a world of books was joyous, moving and utterly enchanting.
December - Coming Home to Winter Island, Jo Thomas
Despite a series of enjoyable reads, I felt tentative when it came to choosing the final novel for 2021. I had a few options on the shelf that I hoped I would like, but wasn’t yet brave enough to try. Instead, I dived into the comforting world of Jo Thomas. This book, like Cathy Bramley’s fiction, was simple and predictable. At times the central character was utterly frustrating but overall, the book was enjoyable and to some extent charming.
A Poem for Every Night of the Year
Throughout the course of 2021, I spent most nights reading this wonderful poetry collection. The pages take readers on a journey through the months, sharing some of the most famous and exceptionally brilliant poems of all time. From ancient verses to the age of the romantics and into the modern era, the poems in this book are brilliantly mesmerising.