My favourite new reads of 2021

A very late Happy New Year! I am remotivated to post this then get on with some more up to date regular 2022 posts! I also love posting on Instagram @carlybooks_ and looking at bookish accounts, so please follow me there if interested! 😊 I never count rereads in this list because I reread old favourites, so here are my 5 favourite new reads of 2021 (p.s. there are fuller descriptions of each book in 2021 blog posts so these are just wee snippets):

Honourable mentions:

Klara and the Sun, Kitchen, After Dark, Luster, Exciting times. I’ve written about these books in more detail in 2021 blog posts, but they all have the sort of style of writing I love- character driven, almost plotless, somehow dreamy, reflecting on social issues and their impact on people in today’s society. I fell in love with Japanese literature this year, it’s very beautiful and almost magical!

Number five- Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes:

‘’Now, in Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.’’ (Pandora’s Jar synopsis)

I didn’t read as much non-fiction as I usually do this year, but this was a great one! I didn’t love Natalie Hayes fiction books as much when I read them, but the way this book was written weaved in all the characters with modern social issues so well, I’d recommend! I’d also recommend listening to the songs she mentions throughout, listening to Beyoncé lemonade during the Medea chapter was quite an experience.

Number four- Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

‘’Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young – but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?’’ (Beautiful World, Where are You synopsis)

I listened to this as an audiobook which I think is always the way to go with Irish narrators because I love the accent and it adds to the feeling of a conversation unfolding. I think this might be my favourite of her books. I love the storytelling, elements of mental health and the social commentary on social media/technology and climate change. I do feel the need to say that the characters are a bit pretentious (why do they always go on a spontaneous holiday hahaha) and Rooney’s characters are definitely privileged with first world problems. I think it’s important to keep this in mind whilst reading, but I do always feel for the characters (I was more interested in one perspective than the other though). I’d love to read more books that look at the impact of social media on our self-esteem and mental health.

Number three- Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

This book was so powerful, and the relationships were beautiful and very sad. I felt even more connected to the story because of the LGBT elements and the setting- some of my own family members have experienced some of these issues and I think they’re still sadly very relevant around Glasgow. I think this book manages to be filled with hopeful moments despite the poignant sad ones. I’m currently reading Young Mungo as I got a review eBook on net galley, woo (did not know that was a thing until last month!) and I think I like it even more, although I love wee Shuggie as a character so much. I’d 100% recommend reading some Scottish fiction if you’re from elsewhere around the world, I’d love to know if it still has the same impact or gives you a new perspective on Scotland. I’d also be curious to know where you are from and what books you’d recommend from your home country! 😊

Number two: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

’When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.’’ (Norwegian Wood synopsis)

This was one of the first books I’ve read translated from Japanese and I loved it! I always love books which are basically just about characters and relationships where nothing really happens, and this is exactly that bit with a kind of whimsical feeling. There was something so interesting and unusual about this book and it’s made me want to go to Tokyo one day even more than I already did. I”d really recommend this, although I’d first check the trigger warnings as there are themes such as suicide. I’d also recommend this as a first choice for Murakami’s books because it’s a lot more realistic and less insane than his others. I read 4 of his this year and I am finding some uncomfortable themes with the ways he writes women. Overall though, Norwegian Wood has become one of my favourite ever books!

Number one: Duck Feet by Ely Percy

’Twelve-year-old Kirsty Campbell used to like school – that is until she started first year at Renfrew High. Set in the mid-noughties and narrated in a Renfrewshire dialect, Duck Feet is an episodic novel comprised of 65 linked short stories, all following the lives of working-class school-girl Kirsty and her pals as they traverse from first to sixth year of high school.’’ (Duck feet synopsis)

Another Scottish book, they did well last year! I also went to a Waterstones reading and signing from Ely Percy and it was amazing to hear their perspective on their perspective on writing the story, it brought it to life even more. I’d like to go to more book events in 2022! I’m also happy that I joined an Instagram book club last year, hosted by @scottieandthebooks. It gave me the chance to read with others, making it a less solitary experience and creating a culture of celebration of Scottish literature (although I’m too shy to really speak in it haha!) Anyway, I loved book so much, I went to school nearby Renfrew a few years after this is set and it’s so close in time and place that I felt like I was reading about my own school (good and bad times haha!). My favourite chapter VL just flashed me back to forgotten (or repressed) times. I also loved the deeper moments and themes throughout and related to so many of the characters. I’d love to read more about the queer characters in Duck Feet if Ely writes this book. I’d 100% recommend this book to everyone!

Thank you everyone who read or commented last year, I honestly love reading comments and talking about books as reading can feel lonely otherwise! Please let me know of your favourites reads of last year, I’d genuinely love to know! 😊 I know we’re still in difficult times, but I hope you have an amazing year, and please reach out to me if you’d ever like to talk- about books, mental health or anything else!

Books I read in March 2021

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Murakami (physical book, new read)

‘His wife is growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he has recently been receiving.

As this compelling story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada’s vague and blameless life, spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table, are turned inside out, and he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided (however obscurely) by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.’
(The Wind-up Bird Chronicle synopsis)

I should start this by saying- this book is incredibly, incredibly weird. I think I got off lightly with Norwegian Wood as my first Murakami, I am now delving into the surreal world of confusion. The writing style is immaculate as usual, detailed, interesting, and unusual, and I loved some of the themes. These themes and style linked this book in a way that makes me feel that all of Murakami’s books and characters are likely set in the same world and could easily interlink with one another (I find this interesting rather than off-putting). However, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Norwegian Wood. Initially, the morality of the narrator struck me. He is an incredibly passive character and therefore very morally grey, overlooking some significantly disturbing stories (again, please search trigger warnings before reading any Murakami books). I think my main personal issue whilst reading this was that I often experience the emotions or themes of a story, and this one really made me feel quite low at times- this is testament to the writing style but not ideal during a lockdown hahaha. This was particularly evident after one chapter where we learn of a soldier’s story- I’m genuinely still scarred, if you’ve read it you know what I mean. I found the themes and the ending interesting, and as always, I enjoyed the mythology parallels to be seen, particularly Orpheus. I was intrigued by this book and very interested, although it was a bit long and spiralled me on a bit of a downer hahaha so I definitely preferred the less surreal roots of Norwegian Wood. I will continue to read his books eventually though (when I’m less scarred).

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (audiobook, new read)

‘When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves:
a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children; Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room; Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks; money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections. Exciting times ensue.’
(Exciting times synopsis)

I think this would definitely be classed as ‘millennial fiction’ and I really liked it! I always love listening to audiobooks by Irish authors as it’s honestly my favourite accent haha. The themes are some which have been covered many many times in this genre but I still found them interesting; class, identity and sexuality were the main themes. I’m always looking for more contemporary LGBT/lesbian books so please let me know of any! I enjoyed the exploration of these themes and found the narrator likeable (although she did do things that drove me insane, but these were part of her character so I lived to accept them). If you like these themes/this genre I’d recommend. 😊

A series of Unfortunate Events 10-13 by Lemony Snicket (physical books, rereads)

Once again, I’ve finished my reread of this series haha- this was especially necessary in getting some of the darker elements of the wind-up bird chronicle out of my mind! In these blog posts, I haven’t really mentioned too much about these books, but I would like to mention ‘The End’ in a bit more detail. I love a book series that develops in maturity with the reader, and the themes of morality change from black and white villains, to everyone is grey with a few existential breakdowns as the characters age, which I loved. Morality and family are central themes in these books, with loss of innocence. I love the way that this series explores the sense that being an adult does not mean being ‘good’ or right, and that children are capable and worthy of respect- beings rather than becoming’s. These themes reminded me of Roald Dahls books, he also did this so well. Rereading as an ‘adult’ the later, more detailed books are definitely more interesting, as the elements of mystery and morality come into play. ‘The End’ is a very philosophical book with strong ties to the garden of Eden/Adam Eve and the Snake whilst exploring the concept of innocence (there is a literal tree of knowledge, I honestly love religious parallels). There are also Animal Farm corrupt communism vibes going on, and I feel like Snicket/Handler is also influenced by dystopias like Lord of the Flies, although I haven’t read that and can’t be sure.

These books are flawed and a bit pretentious as I’ve previously mentioned, but I still feel a love for the nostalgia and comfort that they bring me. Ps. I also watched the Netflix series, and I’d recommend, they’ve done it so well! (I’m always pretty late to tv shows hahaha).

Heartburn by Nora Ephron (audiobook, new read)

‘Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel discovers that her husband is in love with another woman. The fact that this woman has a ‘neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb’ is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel is a cookery writer, and between trying to win Mark back and wishing him dead, she offers us some of her favourite recipes. HEARTBURN is a roller coaster of love, betrayal, loss and – most satisfyingly – revenge.’ (Heartburn synopsis)

I had to idea what this was about after randomly finding the audiobook- the main factors that drew me in were how short it was (I’ve been trying to motivate myself to go on more walks), and Meryl Streep as narrator. Only after finishing did I realise it’s based on Ephron’s own life, and she was a famous author (oops). This book is based on quite dark humour, with themes of the infidelity and anti-Semitism experienced by the main character. The book kind of read to me like a one-woman comedy show (although all I know about them is Chandler’s experience in friends with ‘why don’t you like me’, chapter one my first period hahaha). Sometimes I felt that the humour was controversial, and although sexuality wasn’t a main theme I noticed that comments on sexuality were borderline homophobic, so for this reason I wouldn’t recommend.

Overall this was a strange strange mix of books haha, I loved rereading a Series of Unfortunate Events and really enjoyed Exciting Times. Happy Easter, I hope you’ve read some good books recently! Please recommend me some books, particularly LGBT 🙂

Books I read in February 2021

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (physical book, new read)

‘’When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.’’ (Norwegian Wood synopsis)

This was just such an intriguing and atmospheric book. I was so incredibly happy to find my exact type of reading style- long detailed character centred books where pages can go by describing minor things in great detail. I loved the writing (and translation as I can only speak English sadly). I would strongly recommend that everyone read this book, it’s beautiful, however, please check the trigger warnings before it as there are many. The characters intrigued me as well as the depictions of Tokyo, I felt enveloped in the setting whilst reading and I’d love to travel there one day. I’d like to learn more about the history of Japan, as I don’t know very much about this country and there were definitely references in the story that went over my head a little bit (although they weren’t central elements). This could obviously be perceived as very stereotypical and is only reflective of the books I’ve read, but I’ve loved every book I’ve read by a Japanese writer. I feel such a shift of focus, tone and atmosphere to more Western books I’ve read, and something about it really appeals to me. I feel that Murakami will discuss elements and include themes in a way that a lot of American writers, for example, may shy away from. It was just incredibly interesting and powerful. I also bookmarked one of the letters near the end of the book as I believe this message is one that everyone can take something from, and that really provided a frame for me to think about my own grief and loss (grief is a strong theme throughout). I’d recommend this to everyone, and I think it will be a favourite read this year. I’ve already started another Murakami and now plan to get to all of his books, however, I’m slightly worried that I won’t feel the same as I have heard it said that he doesn’t write women very well.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

”My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”

Rage of Queens: The Homeric Chronicles book 3 by Janell Rhiannon (e-book, new read)

‘’After years of fighting, the fate of Troy hangs precariously in the balance. Rage and revenge rule the final days, as the heroines and heroes come face to face with their fates. Some will be victorious. Some will die.’’ (Rage of Queens synopsis)

The third book in a retelling of the Iliad. I read the first two last year, and the first was in my favourite books of the year. 😊I’d recommend the series, especially as a starting point to Greek mythology as the books as so detailed but incredibly easy to read! At times, I felt that this book was a little slower, however, this one focused more on the war itself and I’m always a bit lazy when it comes to reading action sequences haha. I think at times the writing was a little bit cheesy, especially some dialogue, as this was maybe due to the pressure to focus on ensuring chapters emphasised the powerful women of the Trojan War, as this was Rhiannon’s aim. Overall, though, I’d really recommend this series! 😊 Especially as it is relatively unknown, I don’t think it’s been given the credit it deserves yet!

A Series of Unfortunate Events books 4-9 by Lemony Snicket (physical books, reread)

Continuing the childhood nostalgia reread. As I said in the January blog, these books are gothic, eccentric, unusual and a bit pretentious at times but they feel so nostalgic and bring me back to childhood times (although I remember even then being annoyed by some of the pretentious elements hahaha). They are so unsusual, I’d recommend these books for children as something a little bit different 😊 (and the mystery like elements are woven through the books so well). I’m not really going into individual books; however, I would say book 9 features a carnival where the main characters are disguised as ‘freaks’. These books are set in times where carnivals and circuses of this nature still existed, and the characters themselves frequently reference how disgusting and wrong freak shows are, with the author obviously trying to educate children around the importance of treating everyone equally. I don’t however, feel that this excuses the representation of disfigurement. I felt uncomfortable reading this book and do not believe the characters moral discussions make the setting okay.

I feel like this blog would have been a lot better if I wrote it earlier in the month and remembered more about the books haha, but online teaching involved a lot more planning that you would think and I honestly couldn’t bare to look at a computer screen anymore hahaha. I hope you’re well, please let me know what you’re reading. Also, please let me know your favourite Murakami book if you’ve read any! 😊