Books of the Month: January

It’s been a busy start to the year but I did manage to set time aside throughout January to read some books and I’m really happy with what I managed to complete.

Before I give a run-down of my list, I should say that I don’t have a specific reading list to get through, so there will be a whole mix of genres included, but most of January’s selection came from my own bookshelf. I’ve also tried to avoid spoilers but if there are any I’ll be sure to flag them up beforehand. However, if anyone wants to know more about any of the books, I’ll happily answer any questions. 

So, for January, I managed to read eight books. They were:

The Swearing Jar by Kate Hewlett
This book was a gift from a friend and the main reason I own it – and subsequently chose to read – is because of the author (for those who don’t know Kate, she appeared in Stargate Atlantis as Jeannie, the sister of the character Rodney McKay).

The Swearing Jar is a play and the text is set out in that format, so it can be a little jarring if you are expecting a novel. However, it isn’t a long read (I read it in less than an hour) and I was soon hooked by the premise but the story does jump between two different plots so you need to read the accompanying stage directions / information carefully to know what scenario you’re following in each scene. As the story built, I knew a twist was coming – it just wasn’t the twist I was expecting, nor did I expect to get so emotional over the situation when it happened… but if a writer can completely suck me into a story in that way, then they are a good writer in my eyes. The only character I didn’t particularly warm to was Owen; he was too forward, too creepy, and just too much for me. Overall, I can understand why The Swearing Jar is an award-winning work.

The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel

Based on Strobel’s own experiences, The Case For Christ was recommended to me on two separate occasions last year so I really wanted to read his story. Strobel was once an investigative journalist and the former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. He was also an atheist, but one day his wife came home and announced that she had become a Christian. Immediately, Strobel noticed a difference in every aspect of his wife’s life and he started to wonder what had caused the changes. So, he decided to use his journalism experience to investigate whether there was any credible evidence that Jesus existed.

Strobel’s quest took him on a two-year journey, interviewing leading scholars and experts regarding Christianity – but here’s the clincher; he used historical, scientific and archaeological evidence, among other investigative techniques, to get to the bottom of his questions. It is a fascinating read as Lee pushes these distinguished leaders for facts and figures, as opposed to opinions and hearsay, and how – after his investigation – it reshaped his own beliefs. So much so, that he became a Christian himself.

I know this type of book is not for everyone, but Christians – or anyone with an interest in Christianity or religion – should definitely give The Case For Christ a chance. I thought it was a fantastic and really informative read.

Stargate SG-1 by Ashley McConnell

At the beginning of this article I said I didn’t have a set list of books to read – and I don’t – but I do have a lot of Stargate novels, so I thought this challenge might also be a good way to go through them (there’s almost 70 in total).

This book is based on the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1 and is actually really good. For those who’ve watched the episode (Children of the Gods), Ashley’s book sticks closely to the script – there’s just a few slight differences but nothing that takes away from the story. Most of the dialogue is the same and there’s still a few potential Sam/Jack moments, although O’Neill comes across as more derisive and untrusting towards Carter in the book. The author has also managed to keep O’Neill’s sense of humour intact, whether it’s via a sarcastic one-liner, a roll of the eyes or his inner thoughts; but there are times when it feels like Ashley has rushed parts of the story – such as the characters’ interactions with each other – in order to get to the end. Overall, it’s a decent novelisation of the pilot and even though I’ve read it a few times now, I would read it again.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I initially picked up this book because of its front cover (yeah, I know) and when I read the blurb it still sounded intriguing, so I decided to give it a try. The premise sees nine people pay a considerable amount of money to attend a health resort – Tranquillum House – in the Australian countryside for a 10-day retreat. We aren’t told about their specific reasons for attending straightaway but some are there to lose weight, others want to restart or rebuild their lives, others want to save their relationship. There are tailored meals, a spa, hot tub, and daily yoga sessions, but it soon turns out that the owner of the resort – Masha – also has some unconventional treatments in store for the guests. 

A majority of the story is told from the perspective of Frances Welty – a romance writer whose latest book has just been rejected – but it’s interesting how Moriarty has tried to interweave every character’s story into the narrative. Every chapter alternates between the characters, giving them all space to slowly share their life story with the reader. There were lines in the book that made me laugh; others made me choke back a sob as to the real reason why some of the guests are at the retreat. 

The story itself slowed around two-thirds of the way through and I was close to calling it a day, but as I’d already invested a lot of time in the novel (it’s 400+ pages) I decided to stick with it to discover the twist. Boy, was I sorry. I thought the twist was bizarre and unrealistic (I think I even uttered the words, “that’s just plain stupid”) and the whole storyline descends into chaos. I could be missing something though, because Nine Perfect Strangers has been named The Sunday Times No.1 Bestseller and Richard & Judy’s Spring Book Club Pick.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (Warning: small rant ahead)

With hindsight, Nine Perfect Strangers is amazing compared to All Our Wrong Todays and I really, really wanted to like this story as I’d heard a lot of positive feedback… but I hated it. I can’t even pretend to find one thing about the book I enjoyed. I struggled through the 130+ chapters (skim reading a few of them) but it just angered me. 

The way the story is told is annoying; it’s written as a memoir but an exceptionally casual memoir and even though the narrator tries to tell his time-travelling story, he just goes off on tangents and repeats himself endlessly. There is also too much lampshading.

Another problem I had, and I know I’m whining on here a bit, but Tom (the narrator) is SUCH a whiny storyteller. Honestly, every second page he seems to acknowledges that he is annoying and obnoxious and unintelligent; he admits to this self-pity party he’s got going on and how he’s only able to get a job because of his father’s influence; he is also aware that everyone hates him. Well, with all due respect, I hated him as well by the time I got to the end of the fourth chapter. There was absolutely nothing about his character that I liked.

I also had severe issues with the plot. It sways from a sci-fi/time travel premise to a very average rom-com and back. It is also incredibly misogynist and just plain awful in how the female characters are portrayed and the situations some of them are put through.

In summary: I genuinely would be so happy to never, ever set eyes on this book again.

Only Fools And Stories by Sir David Jason

Would I lose a little credibility if I said this was an adorable read? No? Cool. Well, this was a pure joy to read. I am a huge fan of David Jason and his work but this book is slightly different to his first autobiography. This time around, he delves into the stories behind the characters he has played over the years, giving behind-the-scenes insights and sharing interesting stories from the shows. You can tell Sir David has undertaken this project himself (it just screams “his” style, if that makes sense), which makes a nice change from the celeb books by ghost writers; and it’s a relaxing read in that you could almost imagine he’s sitting opposite you and telling you these stories. He comes across as a humble man and a gentleman throughout. While most of the book does focus on his Only Fools And Horses days, there are also references to PorridgeA Touch Of Frost and The Darling Buds of May. I’d recommend this to any DJ fan. 

The Price You Pay by Ashley McConnell

This is the second companion book to the Stargate SG-1 series by Ashley McConnell and was written when the show was still in its early days… but it felt like I was reading a poor attempt at fanfiction as opposed to an official, approved novel. 

There was, in my eyes, a huge plot hole that made it difficult for me to move on from, while the author’s handle (or lack of) on some of the characters was another issue; Ashley tried, but for fans reading this book, they’ll know it’s not in keeping with the TV counterparts. The character of Sam Carter in particular is just way, way off.

The storyline itself was thought-out; I had an idea of where the situation was heading – and how it was going to go down – so there was episodic-like potential there, but it never quite broke through. The ending especially felt rushed, and potentially important moments were glossed over (or not addressed at all), possibly for convenience, who knows? Overall, it just fell short where it became an ‘okay’ story, instead of a ‘great’ story.

I wouldn’t be in a hurry to read this novel again and I can’t say I would recommend it to other fans. In fact, the best part about this book, is that my copy is signed by the original SG-1 team.

The First Amendment by Ashley McConnell

Disclaimer: I am a fan of Stargate so I feel bad slating these early novels, but if you’re going to do a companion story, it needs to be in keeping with the show.

This is the third novel by Ashley and focuses on a news reporter – he just also happens to be the son of an American Senator (Kinsey, for those of you who watched the series) – who manages to get access to the SGC. After his initial introduction to the complex, he is taken hostage by a member of the SGC (Major Dave Morley) who argues that the public has a right to know what actually goes on beneath Cheyenne Mountain. However, after inadvertently seeing the Stargate in action, Kinsey is released by Morley but he now has a whole lot of questions and decides that there is a story to tell. After a little discussion, the SGC feel they might be able to convince Kinsey to stay quiet – by SG-1 reluctantly agreeing to take him off-world. They gate to a planet they’ve previously visited, but things quickly go south; a war has broken out on the planet and no-one seems to have any explanation as to how (or why) it started.

With regards to the story itself, nothing really happens for the first 100 pages or so. It is nice to see General Hammond take a lead role in the beginning of the story (as well as an insight into the actual running of the SGC), but the detail is painstaking at times and makes the entire thing boring. There were also a few continuity issues and the ending felt rushed… to the extent where we weren’t really given any answers to anything.

And that’s my January reading list in a nutshell. I was expecting the reviews to be slightly more positive than they turned out to be, but I guess that’s why someone once said reading is subjective. Someone reading this might love one of the books I didn’t. If that’s the case, please let me know – I’m always up for a discussion! 

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