January 2014 book reviews

These book reviews are part of an annual series where I read a book a month and then report on what they were like. It’s all part of achieving my goal of reading one book a week in 2014. You can check out my list of goals for the year here.

I’ve been keeping at least one of the goals I made at the beginning of the year – to read one book a week. (I’ll keep you updated on the other goals in another post…) Even though my Kindle broke in the first week of January (shock, horror!) I’ve managed to keep up with my reading via either my iPhone or our tablet computer.

Thanks to travelling on overnight buses in Bolivia throughout the end of January, and lazing on the beach in Guadeloupe for a week at the beginning of the month, I managed to get a whole heap of reading done.

And as promised, I’ll review all of the books I’ve read in case you’re looking for something to read this month!

January book reviews:

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The hundred year old man who climed out the window and disappeared Double-Barrelled Travel

Plot

This story from Sweden is nothing short of quirky. On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson climbs out of the window of his nursing home and goes on an adventure.

He mixes with criminals, becomes friends with an elephant, steals a suitcase full of cash and is involved in a number of murders.

All the while, he tells his newlyfound friends about his younger days, when he developed the atom bomb, was best friends with American presidents and survived a few wars.

Thoughts

This story was a history lesson. Dave is certainly the history buff in our partnership and I don’t generally enjoy learning about the past – especially if it’s to do with war – but I really enjoyed this book. Even though Allan Karlsson may never have really existed, it was fascinating to learn about the past 100 years through the eyes of this interesting character.

Sometimes I felt the translation wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, as the writing seemed a little jarring, but I always seem to have this problem with translated books. (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was awfully translated, I thought, but I still loved the story.)

I loved the moral of the story. It was basically saying that no matter how old you are, it’s never too old to escape your mundane life and go off on a new adventure.

And as someone who’s currently exploring the world, I couldn’t agree more!

Rating: 4 / 5

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the mountains echoed Double-Barrelled Travel

Plot

Yet another thoughtful and reflective book from Hosseini. This time he looks at the decisions we make through life and how they can have everlasting effects – not just on those around us but on the moral makeup of our own beings.

The book begins with a fable that highlights these choices and I loved the use of this fairy tale to illustrate how our decisions can stay with us for a lifetime.

Two siblings are separated at a young age – the son is 10 and the daughter about 3 – and the book follows their separate lives, and the lives of those around them, before bringing them back together at the end.

Thoughts

As an only child, sibling relationships have always interested me and I found the bond between two of the main characters – Pari and Abdullah – fascinating. Although Pari is adopted by a wealthy family at a young age, and Abdullah is left to grow up in relative poverty, the bond that ultimately ties them is strong enough to last a lifetime.

Hosseini had a lot to live up to following his best-selling novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, and I felt he fell short a little.

Although the basis of the story was well-written, I felt Hosseini got a little off track at times, weaving in other sad stories about relatively un-related characters to further tug at the reader’s heartstrings.

And just as I was getting involved in these characters, he’d end his narrative about them, leaving me irrated because I’d want to know what happened – and yet these endings were never told.

The conclusion of the entire novel itself was anticlimactic and somewhat unsatisfying – although in retrospect I’m glad it didn’t have a cheesy ending that so many American novels have.

Rating: 3 / 5

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The art of racing in the rain Double-Barrelled Travel

Plot

A story about a man’s hardships following the death of his wife and the battle for custody of his daughter, told through the eyes of his… dog.

Yes, that’s right. It sounds absurd but it works oh-so-well.

As Enzo the dog nears the end of his days, he believes that he’s going to be reincarnated as a human. Having learnt all there is about life through watching documentaries on TV and observing the human interactions around him, Enzo believes he’s ready to move up the evolutionary chain.

He has so many human characteristics already that he just needs to be able to walk on two legs and have a tongue that can form words and he’d be all it takes to be a man.

As he watches life unfold around him, he learns about the strength of the human spirit – demonstrated by his racing car driver owner – and about how if you are determined enough, you’ll be able to get to where you want in life.

Thoughts

I absolutely adored this book. I previously had a pet Labrador and I imagine that if he could’ve talked to me, he would’ve been just like Enzo.

This is a must read for dog lovers.

The plot sounds corny and perhaps a little silly, but this book really does have to be read to be believed about how brilliant it is.

At points I was laughing out loud and in other sections of the tale I wept. I can’t remember the last book to do that – if ever.

It was so great, I nearly shed another tear when the book was done.

Rating: 5 / 5

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half blood blues double-barrelled travel

Plot

So how much do you know about Afro-Americans in Germany during World War II? If you’re like me – and possibly the rest of the global population – not much at all.

This historical fiction novel delves into the jazz scene within Germany from the beginning to the end of the war – showing how difficult it was for the Afro-Americans living there.

Easier to recognise than even the Jewish population, Afro-Americans lived a suspenseful life in Europe at this time and the story takes you on the journey of a group of close knit friends who do their best to survive.

The war puts a dark shadow over their lives as romance, jealousy and betrayal get in the way of their fight for survival.

Thoughts

Although this novel is rather dark in places, I really enjoyed the insight into a part of history that I’d frankly never even considered or known about – Afro-Americans in Nazi Germany.

Ultimately a tale of friendship, it shows that true friends will stick by you no matter how terribly you might treat them under duress.

Shocking in places and depressing in others, Edugyan really captures the culture of her characters through her writing style and narrative, making you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time and are listening to them play the trumpet and strum their guitars in front of you.

Rating: 4 / 5

And there you have it – my January book reviews!

Any thoughts on what books I should read in February?

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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