Crime and thrillersJapanese authorsReading plans

What I’m Reading: Episode 25, January 2020

For the first time in 2020 I’m sharing with you all what I’m currently reading, what I recently read and what I plan to read next. 

What I’m reading now

Last year I had the opportunity to listen to Matt Johnson, an author from Wales, explain how writing had helped him deal with post traumatic stress disorder. Matt had served in the army in Northern Ireland and then as a senior police officer in London, both experiences taking a toll on his mental health. 

Wicked Game by Matt Johnson

I’ve now been reading his debut novel: Wicked Game. It’s a fast-paced novel that draws on his experiences in the front line through the character of former special forces operative Robert Finlay. He’s just moved from the Royalty Protection team to a new job as a police inspector in a London suburb. But his past involvement in a terrorist siege is putting his new life in danger.

Matt self published this novel in 2012 but in 2015 it was picked up by Orenda Books – they also published his next two titles.

I’m half way through and can’t help wonder why we haven’t heard more noise about this author.

When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi

My current audiobook is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. It’s an extraordinary book. Kalanithi wrote it after he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer at the age of 35 when he was on the verge of completing a decade of training as a neurosurgeon. He didn’t live long enough to see it published.

It’s more than a memoir about a man facing mortality; it’s a meditation on life; the relationship between doctor and patient, and the intersection of science and literature.

This is such a deeply moving book that I have to take it in small doses.

What I just finished reading

The year got off to a fabulous start with The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

But then it came crashing down with two books I had to abandon.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was the book club choice for January. As a fantasy novel it was always going to be a challenge for me but I was willing to give it a go. After 50 pages I’d had enough. It had neither a plot or characters that interested me, nor was it particularly well written.

Independence Square by A D Miller

My attention turned to Independence Square by A. D Miller which is due to be published next month. I’d read his earlier, debut, novel Snowdrops set in post-Glasnost Russia and thought it was well paced and well observed but lacked good characterisation.

I expected he would have ironed out those flaws by his second novel only to find more of the same issues. His new book has a dual time narrative (frankly I’m getting rather tired of those now), moving between Ukraine at a time of political turmoil and London, 10 years later. Connecting the two threads is Simon Davey, a former senior British diplomat who lost his job because of something that happened in Kiev a decade earlier.

It had potential but fell far short of my expectations.

What I’ll read next

Usually this is a hard question because I simply don’t like to plan my reading.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

But my reservation of the next book club selection Little by Edward Carey came through in the library. So of course when I went to collect it, I absolutely had to have a browse (yes you can roll your eyes given it was only a few days ago I said I had 264 unread books at home). And I found Revenge by Yoko Ogawa. I’ve been keen to read more by her ever since experiencing The Housekeeper and The Professor. It’s currently the Japanese Literature Challenge so what a perfect opportunity to do just that with this novella.

That should keep me quiet for a little while.

Those are my plans. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks? Let me know what you’re currently reading or planning to read next.

This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

24 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: Episode 25, January 2020

  • I recall the audiobook of When Breath Becomes Air …. his wife’s part at the end …. just about ruined me. It was very good.

    • it was the final moments of his narration that did it for me, where he talks to his baby daughter

  • Oh wow, going from the fabulous Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage to The Night Circus, I can imagine the pain. I had to DNF that one. I haven’t read yet Revenge, but I highly recommend her The Memory Police.

  • I am currently reading the science-fiction thriller, Cold Fire by Dean Koontz and the Christian non-fiction, No God But One by Nabeel Qureshi. Next I am re-reading Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, which was my result for the last Classics Club Spin event. Happy reading! 😀

    • Lucky you getting the Hardy for classic club spin – such a great book….though my absolute favourite is Mayor of Casterbridge

      • Far From the Madding Crowd is the only full-length novel of Hardy’s I have read, so I will have to keep the Mayor of Casterbridge for future reading, thank you. 🙂

        • Then you have some delightful reading in store. My least favourite is Jude the Obscure simply because i find the central character so irritating!

  • You are so right to point out that dual narratives are a little overdone this days. I hadn’t really realized it until you mentioned it, but so true!!!

    • I suspect once you notice it you will find it appearing even more frequently

  • I was late to When Breath Becomes Air as well (only read it late last year). An extraordinary book. I went back to-back with The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs (for a while the widows of Rigg’s and Kalanthi dated!), which was equally wonderful and devastating.

    • Reading them back to back was brave. I think I need a break between them to recover

  • Shame about Independence Square. I quite enjoyed Snowdrops. It was holiday reading for me – I tend to be more forgiving and less analytical with that.

    • I know some people have a different reading approach while on holiday. It’s not something I’ve ever been conscious of doing myself. But neither do I change what I read when the winter comes….

    • I’ll know next time he has a book that I won’t be in a hurry to read it

  • When Breath Becomes Air is on my list. Hope I get to it this year.

    I didn’t like The Night Circus either, and my reading roots are in fantasy. To me it seemed inauthentic, like someone sat down to concoct a successful fantasy novel out of various disjointed ingredients, without the true breath of life that brings an imaginative work into reality. And it succeeded, becoming a beloved and lauded book in many quarters — but for me it just didn’t work. (I know I am a heretic for saying so, but to me Harry Potter has some of the same issues.)

    Anyway, sorry you had to go through that but it’s good you gave yourself permission not to spend time on it. As for me, I am reading a really interesting book about trauma recovery, The Body Keeps the Score. And for a book club I was invited to join I have Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky – I will be interested to see how the discussion goes. I’ve read nearly all of Atkinson’s books, and I have mixed feelings…

    Enjoy the end of January!

    • One of the issues with Night Circus that another book club member mentioned was that the author’s effort had all gone into creating this imaginary world – and she’d devoted very little to creating a plot…. Which to me means that if I don’t buy into that fantasy world, I’m not left with anything to keep my interest….

  • An interesting bunch of books. I had heard good things about When Breath Becames Air . Memoirs written by people with fatal illnesses are, sadly, fairly common. This sounds worthwhile. I can understand why it was moving.

    • I finished it today with a proverbial lump in my throat. I don’t care for the new trend of misery memoirs which seem to be often to just over egg the situation. This book was the real thing

  • I loved the story When Breath Became Air. A lot of people were raving about it a couple of years ago. I just kept thinking, all of that training and all he had to offer the world. It made me angry at the unfairness of it. Don’t worry about getting a library book. Haha. I always check books out of the library. Something pops up I can’t resist and I also believe in using libraries so governments won’t close them! Enjoy.

    • Every time I take a book out of the library I feel I’m at least doing some good for the author through the public lending rights scheme (they get a payment each time the book is borrowed) so even if I have to return it unread, at least they get a benefit


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