What a month August has been. We’ve seen scorching days and storms, localised lockdowns and slight returns to ‘normality’. The crocosmia is in full flower in the hedgerows as a herald of the end of summer, and the evenings are beginning to get chilly.
Time is marching on to what I always think of as the real new year: the start of a new school term. I have been making resolutions (believe me it’s a far better time of year for it), setting goals and making lists, and so with gusto have decided to take my TBR pile in hand and be ruthless with titles I am never going to read, and focus my reading only on books that I really want to continue with. Why do we feel as though we ‘must’ finish a book we’re not enjoying, or read something that doesn’t necessarily appeal just because its current? My resolution is to ditch the reading guilt, and fully embrace all the brilliant new titles that are being launched this September. I need to clear a little bit of space: this September is going to be a busy one for publishing, and I’ll need the best of the new term’s stationery to list all the titles I’m after!
Here is what the Willoughby team have been reading this August:
Homing: On pigeons, dwellings, and why we return by Jon Day
Drawn to pigeons since childhood, the author built a coop in his garden after moving to a new area in a changing phase of his life. Gradually he becomes established in his local pigeon racing club, and rears a flock of birds to race longer and longer distances.
As his relationship with the pigeons develops, he meditates on the meaning of home and the pigeon’s domesticity and homing instincts, and becomes reconciled to his own chosen home.
I chose this book because I have rather a soft spot for unfairly maligned pigeons, with their beautiful shimmering colours and intelligent ways, but I loved it for its thoughtful meditations on what ‘home’ means, and how we make a home and return home. This was a beautiful book to read whist indulging in a little saudade.
The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Last Migration explores a world in which climate change has done irreparable damage and driven many animal populations across the globe to near or absolute extinction. The novel’s protagonist, Franny, haunted by a mysterious, dark past and driven by the search for her missing mother, is determined to follow what could be the final migration of the last living Arctic Terns.
Over the course of this story, the reader is transported from Greenland, across the crashing Atlantic Ocean to the diminishing ice of the Antarctic. Charlotte expertly crafts each location with descriptions so vivid you can practically feel the sharp sting of each splash of frigid seawater, the bite of the cold against your fingertips and nose.
Just as cutting is the raw emotion with which Franny’s story unfolds. There’s no doubt that she’s a complicated, disturbed individual. There are gnarled scars from childhood and fresher wounds that haven’t fully healed that drive Franny forward on her dangerous mission and will make your heart ache for her. Her personal torment is interwoven with the tragedy of a dying planet and mass extinction to tell a truly engrossing, thought provoking tale of desperation and despair.
I was incredibly impressed by Charlotte’s debut adult literary fiction title and would love to read more from her in the future.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
Evelyn Couch is visiting her mother-in-law at the nursing home when one day she stops by a lady called Mrs. Threadgoode. They begin a friendship and every week Mrs. Threadgoode begins to tell the story of the special characters at The Whistlestop Café in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1930’s.
Even though the book explores some tough subjects such as racism, abusive relationships and murder to name but a few, the southern American style of writing is absorbing and funny at times and encases you like a warm duvet. The story portrays that the solidarity of friendships and relationships will conquer in the end.
After finishing the book, I wished I could have known Mrs. Threadgoode, Idgie, Sipsey, Big George and the rest. I also wish I could try some fried green tomatoes and grits and maybe some of Sipsey’s pies!
Outsiders: An Anthology. Edited by Alice Slater
This collection of short stories, from micropublishers 3 of Cups Press, is amazing! Edited by Alice Slater (writer and co-host of bookish podcast ‘What Page Are You On?’), the book explores various meanings to the word outsider. Featuring stories from writers such as Lara Williams, Jen Campbell, Leone Ross, Beverley Ho and Anna Wood, there is not a dud in the bunch. Some stories are grounded in realism, others are more fantastical, but they all rooted in a sense of otherness and how it is to live on the fringes of society.
I’m generally quite fussy with short stories. I often cannot engage with the format for some reason. So when one comes along that contains such interesting, off-the-wall, visceral themes and characters, I’m invested.
Highlights for me include: The Lady is Not For Burning by Sarvat Hasin about a young, newly married woman who is tormented by a racist poltergeist; Skin by Lena Mohammad, set in a world where people’s sought-after skins are being stolen; and Sinkhole by Emma Hutton, where a girl working in a ‘floral concept’ store becomes obsessed with tracking down a stalker who is sending sinister floral arrangements from the shop to his ex-girlfriend. I told you they were weird.
If you like your stories dark, oddly sweet, a lil’ queer, and clever as hell, I’d highly recommend purchasing this one!
Verity by Colleen Hoover
Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling author and is trying to get by on very little when she gets the opportunity of a lifetime. The husband of best-selling author, Verity Crawford, gets in contact and asks Lowen to finish writing the series of books that she was writing before her accident. This is just what she needs to boost her name again and provide her with a healthy check, how could she refuse?
Upon moving into Verity’s home to utilize her office space and manuscripts, Lowen finds an autobiographical piece of writing which is so disturbing and twisted her mind can’t comprehend what she is reading.
A disturbing thriller like you can’t imagine. Even when you think you know the ending, you will be catapulted into another and make you rethink the whole book you have just read.
Sisters by Michelle Frances
This is a psychological thriller about the conflict between two sisters and their relationship with their mum, and how years of tension finally rises to the surface on a trip to Italy. I have read a few a her books now, they are always VERY easy to read but this was a bit far-fetched and unbelievable at times. Like most people, I won’t be going abroad on holiday this year now, so it was quite nice to travel through Italy, France & Spain via the book.
Permanent Record by Mary H.K Choi
This is set in New York and about Pablo, who is 20 years old, working at a 24/7 bodega and drowning in credit card debt. Whilst he’s at work he bumps into famous popstar Leanna Smart, and they try to figure out how to start and maintain a relationship together.
I did enjoy this book and the relationships Pablo has with his family and friends. It was very easy to relate to him as he was struggling to figure what he wanted to do in and with his life. It was interesting to see how meeting a famous person affected him and what impact it had on his life. However, it could it be slightly stressful at times, especially when Pablo was talking about his debt or hiding from it!