I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm, but for some reason I didn’t read half as much as I usually do, throughout 2017. So I was determined to put things right, this year, and set myself a challenge to read at least two books a month.
I’m making good progress, so far. Since the beginning of the year I have finished nine books. (I gave up on one – The Deer Park by Norman Mailer – because I found it dreadfully boring). And below you’ll find everything I’ve read, since January 1st, along with my honest opinions…
CTP Book Club Recommendations for 2018
1. Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell
I purchased Three Martini Lunch on my Kindle because it was on special offer, last year, and it had good reviews. I’d never heard of the novel before – and also wasn’t familiar with Suzanne Rindell – so I didn’t know what to expect. The book is set in 1950’s New York, and follows three twenty-somethings (Cliff, Eden and Miles) who are all eager to make it the competitive world of publishing.
MY VERDICT: This was the first book I shared as part of the #CocosTeaPartyBookClub, and I really enjoyed it. I found myself drawn to Eden’s story, in particular, as she struggles against the patriarchy and ambitiously attempts to move beyond her secretarial position.
2. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Commonwealth was on my “must-read” list for 2017, but I didn’t get around to it until February, this year. The New York Times bestseller opens at a christening party in 1964. An uninvited guest captures the attention of the host’s wife, and from that moment on their two families are connected forever. As the novel jumps forward to the late 1980’s you meet Franny – who was the child being christened – and discover the secret that tore both families apart.
MY VERDICT: Surprisingly I didn’t enjoy this novel half as much as I expected to. I thought it was beautifully written, and all of the characters interested me, but for some reason I couldn’t get enthralled in the story. It’s possible I just wasn’t in the right mood for it at the time, so I might try reading it again in a year or so. Either way, I’m keen to read more of Ann Patchett’s work. Any recommendations?
3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I put off reading When Breath Becomes Air for a long time, because I didn’t think I could handle the heartbreak. By now you’re probably all familiar with Paul Kalanithi’s story (to some degree, at least) . Kalanithi was in his final year of neurosurgical residency when, at 36, he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. His stunning memoir was published posthumously, and attempts to answer the question: What makes a life worth living?
MY VERDICT: This is without a doubt one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. Paul Kalanithi’s writing is exquisite, and very poetic. You must read it. The final chapter, written by his wife Lucy (who, FYI, is the twin sister of A Cup of Jo’s Joanna Goddard) left me with tears streaming down my face.
4. The Wild Other by Clover Stroud
I don’t often read memoirs, but somehow ended up racing through two in a row. Clover Stroud is a journalist who writes for The Sunday Times and Conde Nast Traveller, among others. And her memoir documents her peaceful English childhood, which was interrupted when her mother was left permanently brain-damaged after a riding accident.
From there, Clover embarks on a journey to find herself – moving through Ireland, Texas and Russia.
MY VERDICT: The Wild Other is so beautifully written, and I was moved to tears on multiple occasions – always when Clover wrote about her mum. Horses play a key role in Clover’s story, and at first I worried I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the memoir because I’m not a “horse person” at all. However, I quickly came to appreciate the theme. The chapters where Clover wrote about her experience working on a ranch in Texas were my favourite, and I happily would have gobbled up more of them.
5. Small Great Things by Jodie Picoult
I downloaded this book on my Kindle for three reasons: it was 99p, Monica had recently read it as part of her book club, and it had been a few years since I last read a Jodie Picoult novel.
The story is pretty morbid. A newborn baby dies whilst in the care of a black nurse, and its white supremacist parents take her to court, claiming she killed their son.
MY VERDICT: Honestly, I didn’t enjoy this book at all. The story was depressing (with an unrealistic ending that tied everything up far too neatly), and the characters felt a bit two-dimensional and standardised, to me.
6. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Hot Milk is another book that had been on my “must-read” list for a very long time. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, in 2016, and was recommended to me countless times, last year. The story centres around Sofia, a twenty-something who moves to the Spanish coast with her mother, Rose.
Rose has been suffering from a mysterious “illness” for many years, and they hope to finally find a cure at a controversial local clinic.
MY VERDICT: Sadly this book really didn’t live up to my expectations. There were elements to it that I enjoyed, but overall I found it quite strange. And, dare I say it, boring… On Amazon and Goodreads the reviews are a real mixed-bag, so clearly it’s a novel that divides people. Have you read it yet? What was your verdict?
7. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I read Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, late last year, and absolutely adored it. So I was very excited to get stuck into Little Fires Everywhere. The story follows the well-to-do Richardson family, whose lives are turned upside down when artist Mia Warren moves to town with her beautiful, teenage daughter.
The novel plays with the theme of motherhood, building to a climax when Mia and Elena Richardson take opposing sides in a custody battle that divides their small, Ohio town.
MY VERDICT: I absolutely loved Little Fires Everywhere, and it’s easily my favourite book on this list. I didn’t want it to end, and cannot wait to see the TV adaptation, which is being produced by Reese Witherspoon. Celeste Ng has quickly become one of my favourite authors, and I can’t praise this novel enough. Read it, read it, read it!
8. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
I read this Anne Tyler novel over the course of a weekend, and really enjoyed it. It’s a re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew, following Kate Battista, an apathetic pre-school assistant who still lives at home with her eccentric scientist father and Queen Bee younger sister.
Kate’s quiet, uneventful life gets interrupted when the visa of her father’s research assistant runs out and Dr Battista comes up with a creative solution to the problem: Kate should marry Pyotr to save him from being deported.
MY VERDICT: This is a great book to take on holiday with you. It’s an engaging, well-written easy read, which you can quickly power through. One thing was niggling away at me throughout, however. And that’s the fact that the book appeared to be set in the present day, but many of the characters’ names seemed so out of place (particularly the pre-school students – Donny, Jilly, Gregory, for example). Such a minor thing to note, but I just thought I’d mention it in case anyone else noticed the odd choice of names.
9. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I feel like I’m quite late to the party when it comes to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but I was waiting for it to come out in paperback (I hate reading hardback books). And it was definitely worth the wait! At its heart it’s about loneliness, and shows how one simple act of kindness can change a person’s life forever.
MY VERDICT: I didn’t want this novel to end. I thought it was touching, sweet, funny and human. And it’s definitely a book that I will read again! Reese Witherspoon has optioned the book for film, which I’m now quite nervous about. Unlike Little Fires Everywhere, I can’t imagine how the story could be translated onto screen, and hope it’s not a complete disaster like One Day. Fingers crossed…
Will you be adding any of my book club recommendations for 2018 to your reading list? And, if you’ve read any of these novels and memoirs I’d love know what you thought of them. So feel free to have your say in the comments section below…
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