2021 Popsugar reading challenge update: January – March

Well it’s been a minute hasn’t it??

I’ve not really been in the right headspace to blog lately, but now with sunshine and hopeful days ahead, I think it’s time to dust off the old keyboard and actually connect with myself again. I miss rambling on here a great deal.

This year, I signed up to complete the Popsugar reading challenge and I thought as the first three months are out of the way (and I’m already behind…!) I would share my progress and thoughts on the novels I have read this year!

Before I go into details on my reads, I just want to say I started off with a phenomenal selection of books! I don’t expect to be giving 5 star reviews all year, but there’s TONNES of great reads out there at the moment and I just so happen to have started with some corkers!

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell – ★★★★★

A book that has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction

“She is like no one you have ever met. She cares not what people may think of her. She follows entirely her own course.” He sits forward, placing his elbows on his knees, dropping his voice to a whisper. “She can look at a person and see right into their very soul. There is not a drop of harshness in her. She will take a person for who they are, not what they are not, or ought to be.” He glances at Eliza. “Those are rare qualities, are they not?”

Hamnet is without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read. Hamlet is my favourite tragedy and in my top 2 Shakespeare plays, so as soon as I saw it I knew I had to read it. The story of Shakespeare beyond the playwright has always fascinated me – he is a man so renowned and yet so shrouded in mystery.

What stood out about Maggie O’Farrell’s novel was what Shakespeare became; the son, the Latin tutor, the husband, the father. I loved the dynamic of putting this historical giant on the periphery of the story of Agnes and the children.

I found the beginning a little slow going, but you cannot fail to become quickly enraptured as the story comes to pass. I found myself waking up in the morning and going to bed at night thinking about the characters – particularly Agnes. It’s a brilliant read – a work of fiction that feels as real as a history book. Brilliant.

The Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman – ★★★★★

A magical realism book

“You’re in a world full of colour and you want to see it in black and white.”

Twenty. Year. Old. Lyra. I mean do you need to hear any more?

This has been on my pile since the day it was released and for some reason I just didn’t find the time. I have loved His Dark Materials for as long as I can remember, and La Belle Sauvage was a fantastic prequel. Something about this being a sequel made me anxious – maybe preserving the integrity of the original trilogy made me put off reading this.

I don’t know what I was worried about. I bloody loved it, obviously. I genuinely don’t think Philip Pullman has it in him to write a bad novel and I deserve a slap on the wrist – more faith needed! I absolutely adore this world and I could spend FOREVER in it.

The Secret Commonwealth didn’t have the pace or urgency of La Belle Sauvage, but it delves into the mysteries of Lyra’s world in new and fascinating ways, without straying from the original premise. Nothing felt fanciful – a testament to PP’s world building I suppose!


The Humans – Matt Haig- ★★★★★

A book about forgetting

Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time and sometimes of postcode.

Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth, you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.

Another one that’s been on my list for a while. Matt Haig has taken the world by storm and rightly so – to hear someone speak so candidly about mental health is not only refreshing, but inspiring. He’s helped me through some dark times, and while I started with his non-fiction, I’ve been working my way through his fiction too.

The Humans is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. The main character is an alien. I mean, that’s nowhere near my usual genre, but the way this protagonist navigates a strange world really helps you to take stock of your own life, and laugh at the absurdity of humankind.

Even if you read it for no other reason, read it for Newton the dog. He really is a very good boy.

Bluebird Bluebird – Attica Locke – ★★★☆☆ (3.5)

A book set mostly outdoors

Her place had been born of an idea that coloured folks who couldn’t stop anywhere else in this county, well, they could stop here. Get a good meal, a little bite off a bottle of whiskey, if you could keen quiet about it; get your hair cleaned up before you made it to family up north to to the job you hoped would still be there by the time you got on eat other side of Arkansas. Forty-some-odd years after the death of Jim Crow, not much had changed; Geneva’s was as preserved in time as the yellowing calendars on the cafe’s walls. She was a constant along a highway that was forever carrying people past her.

This was an interesting one… it took me a really long time to get through, despite being short. I’m not sure if it was slower paced than I was expecting, but it just didn’t capture me as a page turner.

That being said, the story itself is compelling. Race narrative, folklore, Texan culture and crime fiction beautifully woven together. There was something quite noir crime fiction about it in some ways. Geneva Sweet was a brilliantly crafted character.

I’ve got to say, I don’t really care for Darren Mathews, the protagonist. He’s just a bit lacklustre and dull. Maybe that’s why I found it slow – he didn’t capture me.

This is the first in a series, so I might read follow ups, but not in any rush to listen to Darren at the moment…

Helen and the Grandbees – Alex Morrall – ★★★★☆

A book with less than 1000 reviews on Amazon or Goodreads

I was fourteen when I ran away and it was not all bad when I reached London, threaded with dirty Victorian railway bridges. There were some good things; I had nail varnish that was such an unbelievable pink. A pink that could only have existed in the nuclear age. Oh yeah, a radioactive bubblegum pink that was pure plastic.

And some mornings I would wake up and search out the least chipped nail and stare and delight in that pink in the daylight.. It was so elegant, so modern. Wherever I happened to have woken up, in someone else’s cluttered bedsit or in the doorway of a neglected building, and however broken and bruised I was, the pink nail varnish was something familiar, like an old bedspread, like a friend.

First, thank you to Netgalley and Legend Press for this ARC.

If you read and enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant, this one is definitely for you. A beautifully written, uplifting narrative that touches on race, trauma, mental health and family in a sensitive, honest and raw way.

Helen, the protagonist, is a wonderful character. I felt all her eccentricities, quirks, anxieties, emotions and confusion. her matter of fact nature and unconventional way of thinking filled me with joy.

I also loved Aisha – the tumultuous rollercoaster of teenage life captured perfectly, without detracting from or downplaying the very real emotion and trauma at the core.

Not quite a five star, as I felt like the exposition around Helen’s childhood was a bit too obvious and revealed too early on (I would have liked to have been kept guessing) and I wasn’t keen on Lilingrid – I think she was a bit one dimensional for a pivotal character.

But overall, a really strong debut and very reminiscent of some other books that I have read and loved.

So, five books down, 35 to go! I’m currently behind schedule because I didn’t read much in February, but I tend to fluctuate and read more over the warmer months when I can sit in the garden, so I’m sure I will catch up with myself.

I’d love some recommendations though, so if anyone has read anything good recently, let me know!

You can follow me on Goodreads at the bottom of the page too!


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