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Bert’s January 2021 Reads

I’ve decided I need to actually keep track of the number of books I read each month – and what better way to do that than blogging about them?

In January I read 12 books – and I enjoyed them all, but for those that care about that sort of thing, I’ve ranked them!

They’re all available to purchase – or pre-order. If it sounds like your thing, or if you’d just like to find out more, then just click on the links

13. Acts of Kindness by Heather Barnett

Bella Black starts a new job at Acorn consultancy, and soon finds herself working for the mysterious OAK Institute.

This a high-camp, adventure – if you’re thinking a female James Bond (one of the later Roger Moore ones) you wouldn’t be far off.

This suffers a little bit from not really knowing what genre it wants to be – but if you go in knowing that you’ll get a fun story about a woman who doesn’t quite know who she is or even who she works for, you’ll not be disappointed.

12. The Spiral by Iain Ryan

Erma wakes up in bed to find one of her colleagues standing at the foot of her bed. Her colleague points a gun, fires at Erma, then shoots themselves. Erma then tries to understand just what was going on.

Erma herself isn’t that likeable, she’s not really trying to find out why her colleague did what she did – instead, she’s just trying to track down her work so she can complete her own work. She’s been studying the Choose Your Adventure type of books from her childhood and as she gets closer to tracking down her missing research, she finds out some truths about herself.

There’s a clever – and fun! – Choose Your Own Adventure-style section in this book, which really fits the jumbled moment it appears in and helps both us and Erma uncover the truth.

11. The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

When Eddie dies, he goes to heaven and here he meets five people he previously knew in his long life. Some of them he knew very well, some barely at all – but they all marked key points his life and they help him realise just what his life was worth.

This year, as I clear out my bookcase, I’m re-reading some of my favourite books. This one was one that I looked at a lot in a bookshop, before finally getting around to buying it. I loved the moral of this story as well as the writing.

Now, looking back on it, I can see how this story has helped shape my outlook on life – but also, how simple a story it is. I didn’t love it as much this time around, but it’s still a great book.

10. The Shelf by Helly Acton

Amy and Jamie have been together for two years, and she’s pretty sure that as she careens into her mid-thirties, he is her last chance of happiness. So, when he announces a mystery trip away – she’s convinced this is it. This is when he’s going to propose.

Instead, he takes her to a TV studio, dumps her and leaves her there – one of six women taking part in a new reality show ‘A Keeper’ – where each of the contestants stand to win themselves £1,000,000 if they can prove they would make the perfect wife.

At first, this book made me angry – at Jamie, at the producers of the TV show, at the audience, but as time goes on, I started to really enjoy Amy’s personal discovery of just who exactly she is.

9. Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean

Archie Albright just wants everything to go back to normal. He wants his parents to stop arguing, he wants his dad to move back in and he wants to be able to just enjoy his life like any other normal 12 year old would.

So, when he overhears his parents arguing and learns something surprising about his dad, he and his best friends  decide that the only way to fix things is to travel to London.

This is a lovely book about a young child coming to terms with the fact that his father is gay – and finding a whole new family along the way. In fact, Archie handles everything remarkably well – it’s the adults who don’t in this charming book.

8. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton – Published 20th April 2021

Opal & Nev are two of the most iconic rock stars of the 70’s – they only had one album together, but one iconic photograph taken on the night of a riot at a musical showcase has catapulted their fame.

Now, nearly 50 years later, they’re getting back together for a one-off show, and music journalist S Sunny Shelton is pulling together interviews for a book to chart their rise to fame. Only Shelton has a personal connection and agenda to wanting to learn more about them.

Like Daisy Jones and the Six this is a book told in transcript form, and it’s about the rise and fall of a rock duo. If you liked Daisy, you’ll like this – it’s different in places as it tells, perhaps a more personal story, and has a wonderful, cinematic ending.

7. The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Nat Davy is the smallest man in England. Nobody really knows why he’s stopped growing, but he has and his parents are struggling to know what to do with him. His father, eventually sells him to a local Duke for eleven shillings, who, in turn presents him to the Queen of England.

The Queen and Nat become firm friends and as the English start to uprise against her and her husband, he helps her escape to safety.

This is a sweet tale told around the famous story of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, but it’s the personal story of one of the courtiers, so the drama isn’t around the political nature, but about how Nat can learn to live in a world that isn’t designed for him.

6. The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr

Samuel and Isaiah live together in a barn on The Halifax Plantation – but they’re not free men. They’re slaves, along with many other people. But they’re also in love – and as the rest of the slaves are slowly converted over to Christianity, this is a dangerous place to find themselves in.

This isn’t just a story about Samual and Isaiah, this is the story of a whole community of people. The slaves and the plantation owners. How they work and live together, but how they remain forever different, no matter how much some of them pretend they might not be.

5. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Three separate cases in Jackson Brodie’s first appearance all come together to reveal that perhaps we’re all more connected than we previously thought.

This was another book from Bert’s Bookshelf that I re-read this month – and it’s as good as I remembered. Jackson is a brilliant central character, but so are all the characters around him.

It’s a great book, one that suckers you into it and guides you effortlessly through what are some quite traumatic stories. Definitely not cosy crime, but it makes you feel safe, warm and comforted all the way through.

4. The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean

He’s her husband, but she’s not his wife. She’s his captive. He calls her Jane, but that’s not her name. She’s trapped in a farmhouse in the UK with no idea of how she got there. Lennie records her every move and if he doesn’t like what he sees, she gets punished.

But something has changed. Now, she has a reason to live and to fight. And now, she’s watching him.

This is a claustrophobic and desolate read, you’re urging ‘Jane’ on throughout to rescue herself, but you can totally understand her motivations, why she holds back. Go to bed early with this one, because you won’t be able to put it down.

3. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Lenni is just 17 years old, but she’s destined to die. She’s living on the terminal ward of a hospital. She meets Margot, an 83 year old woman who is in the hospital as well and convinced she’s going to die.

Between them, they’re a hundred years old and in their art class together, they start painting scenes from their lives.

Along with Lenni, we learn all about Margot’s life, a life that could easily be similar to the one Lenni lived had she not fallen ill. This is a sad, yet uplifting story, perfect for fans of Joanna Cannon.

2. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

This might be a tricky one to explain. Like Daisy Jones and Opal & Nev it’s another transcript based book, but in between the chapters we get  redacted email exchanges between Joseph Knox himself and Evelyn Mitchell.

Evelyn is researching the story of Zoe Nolan who disappeared just before Christmas and no trace of her was ever found. It’s told in the form of transcripts of interviews with the people who knew Zoe best – and along the way, these interviews are annotated by Knox.

So what happened to Zoe? And what happened to Evelyn so she couldn’t publish her own book?

The transcript style really suits this ‘true crime’ story and will appeal to fans of the Six Stories series by Matt Wesolowski.

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Perhaps no surprise to anyone that this was the best book I read this month. You can find out more about just why I loved it so much by looking at my previous blog post, but in summary…

A Little Life is the story of JB, Malcolm, Willem and Jude. But mostly it’s the story of Jude, a man whose life has been touched and defined by trauma. As he grows, he learns to trust those around him, even when some of them throw it back at him.

This is the sort of book that will stay with you forever once you’ve read it. A must for… everyone.