January: That’s a Wrap!

Hello lovely book people!

Well, January finally came to an end, after lasting about a million years! I didn’t really mind that though, as feel like I needed to take a bit of time to get back into the swing of things after the end of year rush and busyness.

I also feel like the New Year has put me right back in the midst of reading and blogging! Maybe without realising it I needed a brief time away from keeping up with the pace of it all. Getting back into things in the New Year, I thought about the bookish things I wanted to do this year. My reading goals I have for 2020 are:

  1. Read more of the books that are already on my shelves, (instead of continually acquiring more and more!)
  2. Spread the word about my favourite independent Publishers
  3. Support some book prizes (that aren’t the Booker Prize!)

Some of these you can see reflected in the below books I read this month. For the others, watch this space…!

A Pure Heart, by Rajia Hassib

As well as the New Year induced good intentions, I can also thank this book for getting my reading mojo back. It was on the list of my Top 5 Most Anticipated Books for 2020, so what better book to kick off the decade with?!

It is the story of two Muslim sisters born in Egypt, who see the world quite differently and follow completely different paths in life. There’s an element of mystery to it, which kept me just turning and turning pages! I really enjoyed it – you can read my full review here.

Unfollow, by Megan Phelps-Roper

I had seen this book everywhere when it was released, and being a super huge Quercus fan, I was very keen to read it! I ended up listening to this as an audiobook, so I am pleased that I didn’t get a copy at the time, as it would have taken me a lot longer to get to. It was super easy to listen to this – it is exactly the sort of thing I love to absorb in this format and it is narrated by Megan Phelps-Roper herself, who is just sublimely articulate and engaging. It also felt very fitting and brave for her to be telling her own story.

I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction, but do love memoirs and this one particularly made me appreciate the power of non-fiction and its impact on real life issues. After I finished it I found myself binge watching Louis Theroux’s documentaries about the Westboro Baptist Church. Reading this book also got me listening to more podcasts, as I listened to a couple of episodes of different book podcasts which Phelps-Roper appeared on (like The High Low with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes, and The Guardian Books podcast) and have since become hooked on them for all my latest book news!

All the Water in the World, by Karen Raney

This is a book I hadn’t really heard too much about, but the description on Netgalley caught my eye. When I saw that it was recommended for fans of  Celeste Ng and John Boyne, I thought I’d give it a go.

There was lots I liked about it, mainly the central character Maddy, who has tragically been diagnosed with cancer, aged just sixteen. There was a YA feel to this book which I hadn’t expected and although I don’t often read this genre, those sections of it (narrated by Maddy) were actually my favourite parts.

You can read more here in my review about what I liked and didn’t completely gel with in this novel.

Ironopolis, by Glen James Brown

As mentioned, one of my 2020 reading goals is to keep up more with book prizes and read more of the nominated books. I’m especially keen to find prizes that tie in with my reading interests, or what I’d maybe even think of as sort of reading values. So (prior warning) I’m going to be all over the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, and another prize that caught my eye was the Portico Prize – for its celebration of writing from and about the North of England. Although the nomination process passed me by last year, when I saw the shortlist a week or so before the winner was announced I decided I’d try to read them all in 2020.

First up was Ironopolis by Glen James Brown – I’d not heard much about this book, which was exactly why I wanted to pick it up first when I saw the prize shortlist. And I’m so glad I did! It weaves together narratives from various residents of a council estate in Middlesbrough. I loved the format – a series of intertwining short stories, through which we meet lots of vibrant characters whose experiences reveal the layers of this place over several decades.

I’ll try to do a write up of my Portico Prize reads at some point, so expect more attempts to persuade you to read this book to come!

Adults, by Emma Jane Unsworth

This book was also on my list of most anticipated reads of 2020 (two in one month…I’ve been completely spoilt!). And it is fair to say that Emma Jane Unsworth didn’t let me down! I know many people who absolutely loved her novel Animals – I haven’t actually read it yet, but I have definitely added it to my list now.

Adults is the story of Jenny, a 30 something who on the surface (well, on Instagram…) looks like she has everything under control. But in reality, she doesn’t really feel that way – and certainly doesn’t feel like ‘an adult’! As I approach my 30th birthday this year, this premise really spoke to me!

You can read more ramblings about this one in my review here.

My Name is Why, by Lemn Sissay

This was another audiobook listen, again a memoir read by the author himself, poet Lemn Sissay. Norman Greenwood (as Sissay was known as a child) spent his childhood first with a foster family, and then several years in care homes. In this memoir he tells us of his past, through both his memories and excerpts from the files in his social services records (which he was only given access to in 2015, after his request for them was finally honored after a 30 year campaign).

Sissay’s experiences made me think of the novel My Name is Leon, by Kit de Waal (and I’ve also just noticed the similarity with the titles!). The language with which Sissay tells his his story has such a beautiful simplicity. The voice of Sissay as a young boy, full of love, energy, sadness and joy shines through, making this a book with true heart.

I’d love to hear all the bookish things that you’ve been up to this month, and your reading plans, goals, hopes and dreams for 2020!

Sophie @Sophie_Jo_Books  📚 🐾

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