Favourite Reads from January and February

It’s been a great start to the reading year for me. Thanks to the introduction of audiobooks into my routine (seriously, why did it take me so long?), I’m now averaging 12 books per month. And, although physical copies of books will always be my preference, sometimes it’s lovely to have somebody read to you.

I’ve read a lot of fantastic books lately, but simply don’t have enough time to review them all on my blog. So I thought I’d do a little round-up of some of my favourite recent reads, all of which I’d highly recommend.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell
Synopsis: Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child. Set in Warwickshire in the 1580s, Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley Street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet. 

My boyfriend bought me the Waterstones edition of Hamnet for Christmas and it was as glorious as I’d anticipated. Rich full of dynamic characters, beautiful descriptions of enigmatic settings and an extremely poignant ending, this story was a delight from start to finish. Historical fiction is one of my typical go-to genres, but I’ve found I’ve read much less of it recently, and Hamnet has given me a push to dive back into the genre more frequently. The story was unlike anything I’ve ever read before; a breath of fresh air.

In some parts, Maggie O’Farrell went a little too descriptive-heavy for me, particularly early on in the book. It’s a slow-paced novel and at times, I found myself urging the author to hurry up with developing the plot. However, these intricacies are imperative for bringing the 1580s era to life, and O’Farrell does this flawlessly. The novel also delves into the complexities of grief, marriage and expectations on a family in light of tragedy, culminating in a deeply moving re-imagination of Shakespeare’s life.

Goodreads Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

One True Loves – Taylor Jenkins-Reid
Synopsis: In her twenties, Emma marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from their parents and their hometown in Massachusetts. On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever. Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. That is until Jesse is found. With a husband and a fiancé, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.

For me, Taylor Jenkins-Reid can do no wrong. This is the third of her books that I’ve read, having devoured Daisy Jones and Evelyn Hugo last year and once again, it left me wanting more. My friend has all of her books, so I can’t wait to raid her bookshelves after lockdown to get my hands on the rest. One True Loves is a gorgeous story of love, loss and everything in between. What an emotional rollercoaster – I’m not ashamed to admit it made me cry!

Emma is essentially forced to choose between a life she once treasured with a man she’s always adored and a new life, forged from tragedy but one which she’s grown to treasure with a man she cherishes. The author’s narration is so spectacular that I, as a reader, really went on the journey with Emma as she decided the life she wanted to live. The ending went the way I wanted it to, but I toyed with what outcome I wanted throughout the book, profusely changing my mind back and forth. The ending still felt somewhat tragic because both of Emma’s loves were engaging, unique and desirable – how could she choose? I feel like my words cannot describe the beauty of this book adequately, so I’ll leave it at just read it!

Goodreads Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If I Never Met You – Mhairi McFarlane
Synopsis: When her partner of over a decade suddenly ends things, Laurie is left reeling—not only because they work at the same law firm and she has to see him every day. When news of her ex’s pregnant girlfriend hits the office grapevine, taking the humiliation lying down is not an option. Then a chance encounter in a broken-down elevator with the office playboy opens up a new possibility. Jamie Carter doesn’t believe in love, but he needs a respectable, steady girlfriend to impress their bosses. With the plan hatched, Laurie and Jamie flaunt their new couple status, to the astonishment—and jealousy—of their friends and colleagues. But there’s a fine line between pretending to be in love and actually falling…

A wonderful choice for when you’re looking for something a little bit lighter-hearted. It’s very easy reading, although heart-breaking at times, and always very funny. Laurie is a fantastically loveable protagonist who you can’t help but root for, especially given the terrible time she has at the beginning of the book. In many ways, her story feels like a coming-of-age one that’s simply happening much further on in life than usual.

The other central character, Jamie, was much more of a grower for me, but as McFarlane began to peel back his layers and reveal more of his backstory, I began to really appreciate his character. So much so that Jamie’s interactions with his family turned out to be one of my favourite aspects of the book. I also loved the Manchester setting and delighted in all the subtle references to familiar places and feelings towards my hometown.

Goodreads Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Temp – Michelle Frances
Synopsis: Carrie is a successful TV producer with the perfect husband and the perfect life. But when she falls pregnant, everything threatens to fall apart. Emma, the temp, is everything she could wish for as her cover: smart, willing and helpful. But as she charms her way into Carrie’s life, winning over her husband and her colleagues one by one, Carrie suspects Emma is after more than just her job . . .

I’m a huge fan of reading thrillers, largely because they’re so fast-paced and addictive. I read Michelle Frances’ first novel, The Girlfriend, a few years ago and found it hugely enjoyable so I had high expectations for The Temp. Luckily, it didn’t disappoint. Like most thrillers, The Temp is very quick-moving with short, snappy chapters that can be easily devoured very quickly. There were so many twists to keep you hooked, and I always found myself on the edge of my seat, anticipating the next big plot change. With The Temp, I found that I was thinking about the book when I wasn’t sat reading and I love it when a book does that to me. Intriguing, gripping and action-packed throughout, it’s one thriller I’d highly recommend!

Goodreads Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Concrete Rose – Angie Thomas
Synopsis: If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing drugs. Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control. Until, Maverick finds out he’s a father. Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child, so when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it but when King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart as he tries to figure out what it means to be a man…

Wow, wow, wow, Angie Thomas has done it again! I absolutely loved The Hate U Give (THUG) by the same author and Concrete Rose, a prequel to THUG, was equally as fantastic. Thomas is extremely successful at bringing the neighbourhood of Garden Heights and its residents to life, making the reader feel like part of this frustrating and dynamic community. Covering so many hard-hitting topics, including teenage parenthood, drug dealing and even murder, the author tells every part of the story with ease and sincerity. I loved how important family was in this book, similar to THUG, and the dynamic between Maverick and his mother was particularly enjoyable. Overall, it was just a truly brilliant book!

Goodreads Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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