Although I can barely remember making this year’s book pledge, I thought I’d take a moment to check in on the 12 books I pledged to read way back at the start of the year. In 2020, I barely read a thing because it was nigh on impossible to focus on my life never mind those of fictional characters. So when 2021 rolled around, I was committed to reading more-than-in-2021. I find that my annual book pledges help me to plough through the titles that’ve been on my TBR list for far too long and they give me a small sense of purpose, too, when it comes to reading.

That being said, I certainly had a year of mood reading rather than anything particularly focused. In some ways this was good, because it meant I didn’t abandon many books. In others, it meant I jumped between genres a lot in a very non-committal way. And one other thing that I noticed was, overall, I found many of my chosen 12 books to be quite forgettable? I suppose that speaks to how much changes in the course of a year! What I thought I’d love turned out to be not so great.

Without further ado, here’s how I got on with this year’s book pledge…

Cobble Hill by Cecily von Ziegesar

I read – no, devoured – Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl books at the tender age of 14, when I was far too young to be reading salacious tales from the Upper East Side. So when I heard she was publishing a new fiction book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Sadly, Cobble Hill fell short of my expectations. It felt too long and slow, yet too short at the same time. I felt like Ziegesar was slowly building up a plot that didn’t really ‘land’, and none of the characters felt well-fleshed out or even likeable. Of course, likeable characters aren’t always a must, but I remember feeling a little lost at sea with no ‘great’ thing keeping me avidly turning the pages.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

There was plenty of talk about this book last year, and I knew that once I could get back to a library, I’d borrow it. I really enjoyed this How Much of These Hills Is Gold but ultimately I still found that it fell a little flat. The story follows siblings Lucy and Sam as they traverse the American West during the Gold Rush. Their immigrant father has passed away, and they must seek out a place to rest his body. Along the way, family secrets are uncovered that threaten to break them apart. I really loved much of the imagery in this book; Zhang does an incredible job of painting an intricate picture through their language. However it really fails to move the plot along at any significant pace, and as a consequence the book lost me at many points.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

After being completely transfixed by Homegoing by the same author, I was really excited to read Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom. Markedly different from her debut, this novel focuses deeply on mental health and wellbeing in an African family. I really enjoyed this book, but not in the way that I expected to. Our protagonist Gifty is likeable and you really empathise with her throughout. Following the loss of several family members to addiction, Gifty turns to science for answers. There’s a beautiful blend of raw human emotion and cold hard science, and I really enjoyed the slow untangling of trauma in this. My only wish? That it was slightly faster paced and could’ve lasted a touch longer too.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier is one of those authors that I’m forever captivated by. After loving Rebecca, I knew I wanted to try another of her novels soon, and stumbled upon My Cousin Rachel at my local library.

“Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will come to love his grand house as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two have constructed is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly.

In almost no time at all, the new widow – Philip’s cousin Rachel – turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet… might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death?”

This is another gorgeously written gothic mystery with an incredibly picturesque set of surroundings. Beyond the plot, which is well-executed, you can’t help but be completely drawn in to du Maurier’s worlds. The plot unravels slowly, but that works supremely well in du Maurier’s storytelling, and the evocative language she uses throughout does a perfect job of keeping you tightly reeled in anyway.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Hands up here to say I can barely remember any comprehensible thoughts about this book, for I read it at the start of Lockdown 3.0 when I was going through a break-up. What I do remember is that I really loved it, and it has pride of place on the ‘favourites’ shelf in my bookcase.

Chinglish by Sue Cheung

Something that I’m really committed to lately is reading more and more from East and South East Asian authors. Chinglish by Sue Cheung has been on my radar for ages, not least for its catchy title that I’m sure many of my fellow British-born Chinese pals will know! The novel follows Jo Kwan, a teenager growing up in ‘80s England, living above her parents’ takeaway. She dreams of becoming an artist, but has secondary school to contend with first. This is very much a YA novel, Kwan’s world brought to life through diary entries and doodles. There’s teenage life, food (the food!), family life and budding relationships, all through the incredibly raw and real lens of a teenage British-Chinese girl.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

A huge Sherlock Holmes fan through and through, I was over the moon to discover that somebody had created a YA series based on Sherlock’s descendants. I’m now halfway through the series, but sadly it hasn’t captured me like I so wanted it to. Charlotte Holmes isn’t hugely likeable, and the dialogue throughout A Study in Charlotte is what really throws me off: it feels starkly different from what I imagined and is incredible superlative throughout.

And that leaves a total of five books unread from this year’s book pledge! I don’t think I did too badly, given we’re in the second year of a pandemic-turned-endemic. I’m pleased that I managed to check off 12 more titles from my ever-expanding TBR list – it’s proved a great tactic to keep me somewhat focused in my reading goals.

Come back in January to discover which books I’m desperate to read in 2022.

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