How has your month of reading been? Are you fully immersed in chunky books, or are you still struggling to concentrate and feeling a little scattered following the stress of the last few months?
Wherever you are at with your reading, we can all celebrate the re-opening of independent book shops again. What a delight to finally browse again, despite the distancing and masks…
I am still struggling to read in a pre-pandemic ‘normal’ way, but I have been embracing armchair travel, working my way through the collected works of Tahir Shah. June finds me joining him in India as he becomes apprenticed to Hakim Feroze, the eccentric and somewhat sadistic master illusionist in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This is a completely engrossing journey from one end of India to the other in the company of sadhus, magicians, sages and tricksters.
Seeing as the month of June covered the equinox I also read Moominsummer Madness. When Moominvalley floods after a volcano eruption the Moomins escape by boat, then seek refuge in a floating theatre. Moominous magic ensues!
Although Moomins are a year-round reading delight they always get a ceremonial read in summer and in the depths of winter (Moominland Midwinter). You might also enjoy The Summer Book- a short novel by Tove Jansson about an elderly artist and her young granddaughter whiling away the summer on their island.
Read on to see what titles the Willoughby team have been enjoying this month:
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
I really enjoyed this book, it’s told from both sisters point of view and set in New York and the Dominican Republic. As you read, you get to see how they both live their lives and how the death of their dad affects them.
I enjoyed the way they learnt of each other and to accept that their dad was not the perfect person they both thought he was. It was also really nice to read about their growing relationship as sisters, and the love they already have for each other, despite not knowing of each other’s existence for most of their lives.
The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
Having read and loved all of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series I was keen to give her first stand-alone novel a go. Some might say that the height of summer is not the best time to pick up an atmospheric gothic ghost story, and to be fair, reading it at Halloween would have added an extra level of spookiness to it, but I found myself engrossed none-the-less! Griffiths really excels at evoking a sense of place: one of my favourite things about the Ruth Galloway series is her descriptive passages about Norfolk. The Stranger Diaries is set further South but the strong location prevails and is almost an extra character in the plot. Having struggled to settle to a book recently I found this to be just the ticket. Pacy, short chapters and well-drawn protagonists made it easy to pick up and while away half an hour. If you’ve never read Elly Griffiths before then this is a great place to start and a perfect piece of escapist reading.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren.
The Unhoneymooners centres around two main characters, Olive and Ethan. Olive’s identical twin sister Ami, is getting married to Dane. After they eat their seafood buffet, all the guests come down with food poisoning except Olive (who has a seafood allergy) and Dane’s brother Ethan (who is ‘germ ridden’ buffet averse). Not wanting to let her all-inclusive, luxury honeymoon in Hawaii go to waste, Ami encourages Olive and Ethan to go in her place. Unfortunately for Olive, Ethan is her arch enemy who she has never got along with since their first encounter years ago.
Yes you guessed it! It’s the perfect enemy to lovers rom-com! It was sweet, fluffy and laugh out loud funny in parts and although it was totally predictable it wasn’t too cringey. I read 75% in one sitting, completely ignoring my children’s cries for attention in order to finish it.
I am now hoping to read more by the author for times when I need some total escapism, and I think if you enjoyed Beth O’Leary’s Flat Share you would also enjoy this too.
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
The title may evoke images of beautiful beaches and smiling faces, but this is a tough, gritty read revealing the struggles and realities of life for three women: Margot, her mother, Delores, and her younger sister Thandie – whose small community is both supported and ravaged by tourism, and I rated this four out of five stars.
It really feels that you’ve been afforded a look behind the veil of tourism promotion with this book. Nicole’s detailed descriptions of the landscape are excellent – we’re given a look, smell and taste of Jamaica. I particularly enjoyed her use of Jamaican dialect throughout, though it was a little hard to understand at times.
Nicole explores themes of racism, colourism and colonialism, homophobia, sexism and sexual assault, class and economic disparity. She is undeniably a very talented writer, juggling all these heavy topics without ever dropping the ball. The misery, though, is unrelenting, and while I strongly suspect that this is the point, I feel readers should know this going in.
This wasn’t the reason that this was not a five star read for me, though. While I did wish that we were given even a morsel of hope for the future of even just one of the characters, I never expected, or wanted, some kind of miraculous happy ending. I rated the book four stars for two reasons.
Firstly, I did take issue with the ending but not because it was an unhappy one. Instead, it was the lack of closure for Delores and Thandie that bothered me. We follow the three women for so long, their paths and lives inextricably linked, and yet only Margot is featured in the closing chapter. This was unsatisfying for me.
Secondly, I found the narrative style was disruptive of my reading experience. It’s written in third person, which isn’t an issue for me. In fact, I think I prefer third person narratives to first person ones most of the time! The issue was that I could really feel the presence of an omniscient narrator, like a fourth protagonist, throughout.
Although this worked well in terms of providing the descriptions of the setting, I found it hard to become fully engrossed in the story or make a real connection with the characters. I prefer to be shown rather than told when I am reading fiction. That’s just my personal taste, though, and I wouldn’t want it to stop anyone from giving this book, or anything else by Nicole, a go.
The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage
This is about a family moving to their dream home by the sea. However, the house is known as ‘the murder house’ as another family were killed there 15 year before. Predictably, ‘strange’ things start happening…it was bit claustrophobic and spooky at times, and I did guess the ending, but overall it kept me turning the pages and I really enjoyed it.
How to Grow by Hollie Newton
Being a bit of a newbie with my allotment, this book has been perfect in terms of being instructive but not overly technical, giving a wide range of helpful tips on fruit and veg to building raised beds and pub sheds.
As an added bonus, some lovely recipes have been thrown in as inspiration for what to do with your home grown veggies!
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
Part memoir, part history, this book blew my mind! If you want an accessible but thorough deep-dive into issues such as class, Empire, identity politics and the police through the lens of personal experience, I would highly recommend!
What books have you enjoyed recently? Let us know via social media- we love hearing what you’re reading!