Blame it on the Books: Carmen Gee's January Reads

Hi readers. My name is Carmen Gee, and I am a faithful casual at Ike's Books. You may be familiar with my famous one-eyed cat, Sailor.

My reading goal for the year is to read 100 books, so I thought it would be fun to write a monthly review of what I read, and bring you along for the wild ride! Here is what I read in January:

#1/100 “The Bookseller at the End of the World” by Ruth Shaw ****

I am not the hugest non-fiction fan and if a childhood friend hadn’t sent me this book all the way from New Zealand, I probably wouldn’t have reached for it. But Ruth Shaw is a talented storyteller and she has lived a life full of adventure, tragedy, and wonder— resulting in pages that practically turned themselves. The chapters are divided up into stories from Ruth’s past interspersed with anecdotes from her “Two Wee Bookshops” in New Zealand. 

With stories of lost loves, pirates, and a plethora of odd jobs, I found myself utterly enthralled and was moved to tears more than once. A great book to start off the year.

#2/100 “Simple Pleasures” by Clare Chambers *****

After perusing the shelves of East London’s Oxford Book Exchange for some time, I came across “Simple Pleasures” by Clare Chambers and I instantly fell in love with the gorgeous cover. Upon reading the title, I recognised the book from one of Jack Edward’s book reviews and I had a feeling that I would enjoy it for more than just its cover art.

Chambers has an laidback, unpretentious writing style that makes the book an absolute pleasure to read. The storyline (which follows a woman claiming to have had a virgin birth) is something distinctly unique. The characters, despite their flaws, are completely lovable, and the book’s love story is beautifully pure yet somehow realistic. I’d love to read more of Clare Chambers. 5/5 stars!

#3/100 “Little Deaths” by Emma Flint ***

“Little Deaths” was a book that I picked up in a bit of a hurry and I must admit that I think I got it confused with a title of a similar name ("A Little Life" maybe?). The crime drama, based on true events, was not quite up my alley but it certainly made for pleasurable, easy reading on a road trip from East London to Port Elizabeth.

I found the characters to be a bit one-dimensional, even though the protagonist is meant to be “more than what she appears to be”. There is a bit of a twist at the end of the book that does add to the suspense and I was left wanting just a few more pages to round everything up.

#4/100 “Normal People” by Sally Rooney ****

Sally Rooney has been all over Booktube, Booktok and Bookstagram recently and is a celebrated young author. I was quite pleased to have found a seconhand copy of “Normal People” to sink my teeth into, but I will say that I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked the rawness of the dialogue and the way that it delves into the mind of the modern adolescent. However, I did feel as though the book lacked when it came to a plot and I could not work out whether this is meant to be Y/A or not. Either way, the characters were memorable, and there were some interesting takeaways. I will definitely try out more of Rooney if I can get my hands on it.

#5/100 “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert ***

This is another book that a friend gave me and it had been sitting on my TBR pile for around 6 months. While Gilbert is not my favourite writer by any means, I actually bought a guitar from Yude, who was an integral character in "Eat Pray Love", so I have always felt a strange connection to Gilbert.

“Big Magic” seemed interesting enough and I had actually heard great things about it. I will commend the book on being nice and concise, divided up into little bite-sized chapters that made the non-fiction (another one!) more digestible for me. 

There were some really great lessons about harnessing creativity, and I would recommend this book for any writers, painters, performers, etc. as you’ll definitely find value in her anecdotes and research regarding creativity.

#6/100 “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett *****

I had been wanting to read The Secret Garden for years and it is safe to say that I was not disappointed in the slightest. There is not much to say about this heartwarming tale that has not already been said, but in my humble opinion, this is one of the most beautiful children’s classics that I've ever read.

#7/100 “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh ****

The first few pages of this book had me a little nervous that I may be in for a cringe-worthy rollercoaster of seen-before tropes, but Diffenbaugh quickly assured me that I was in safe hands and the plot and characters straightened themselves out into a unique and fascinating love story.

If you love flowers and their symbolism, you’ll be especially enthralled, and the flower dictionary at the back of the book is perfect for decoding secret messages. A heart-warming, thoroughly enjoyable read.

That’s it for January! Do you think I’ll achieve my reading goal? If I had to pick a favourite it would be "Small Pleasures" and if I had to pick a least favourite it would be "Little Deaths".

See you in February for more reviews!