Hello reading friends!
I’m delighted to share my second monthly reading round-up that includes books enjoyed as Ebooks, paperbacks, hardbacks and audio.
This month I have enjoyed two Zoom catch-ups with my book group, as well as a couple of great contemporary reads recommended by friends. I was also delighted to win a copy of Hazel Barkworth’s excellent debut, Heatstroke, courtesy of Curtis Brown Creative’s monthly Twitter competition – #WriteCBC. Please share your favourite June reads in the comments.
Until next time… I hope you enjoy!
WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD by E M FORSTER
My usual to-be-read pile consists of recently released novels, so it’s great when my book club chooses a classic such as E M Forster’s, Where Angels Fear to Tread. When Lilia Herriton affronts the sensibilities of her late husband’s Edwardian family by marrying an Italian, disaster is sure to ensue.
The Italian mountain setting and witty swipes at the ridiculousness of English society manners reminded me of Muriel Spark, except the humour was gentler and, dare I say, funnier. However, this is a tragic-comedy, so be prepared for disturbing twists too. Perhaps what will stay with me most were the double standards of the time. Actions deemed fine for men were regarded as immoral when untaken by women, by both the English and the Italian.
I enjoyed this short palate cleanser of a classic before I return to my favourite diet of new releases.
THE SECRETS OF STRANGERS by CHARITY NORMAN
A good friend (and excellent reading buddy) has encouraged me to try Charity Norman’s novels for some time, and it was her excited enthusiasm for The Secrets of Strangers that made it leap to the top of my must-read pile. Described as a gripping emotional drama, The Secrets of Strangers opens during an ordinary Monday morning in London, when a young man enters a café with a shotgun and five customers are taken hostage.
Charity’s writing is pacey, in the vein of Jodi Picoult, whilst the café’s customers are excellently drawn. It may sound clichéd but the vividness of each backstory, added to the realistic level of suspense, made it easy for the reader to feel trapped in that ordinary café on that dreary Monday morning too. That said, by the end of the novel the over-riding emotion that remained was one of hope…Thanks to my wonderful reading buddy, I’m looking forward to enjoying loads more interesting dramas from this author.
THE HYPNOTIST’S LOVE STORY by LIANE MORIARTY
Settling down to a new Liane Moriarty novel is like catching up with a good friend, listening to her gossip. We all need that now and again, right?… And again, The Hypnotist’s Love Story was a recommendation from a friend. Whilst dating in her thirties, Ellen meets Patrick who confesses he has a stalker, something Ellen is convinced she can handle, until the stalker’s identity is revealed. Although the beachfront setting appealed (I’m a fan of novels set on the coast) it was Ellen and her hypnotherapy business that kept me hooked. Would she use her skills for her own ends? Or stay firmly on the moral high ground? I love Liane Moriarty’s writing and longed to give this five stars, but the endings of the many sub-plots were tied up just a touch too conveniently and, in honesty, probably weren’t needed. But I still enjoyed it. Escapist fiction that is balm for the soul.
THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by SARA COLLINS
Having heard Sara Collins speak so interestingly on the inspiration behind her character, Frannie Langton, I just had to try The Confessions of Frannie Langton on audiobook. What I need to make clear from the outset is that parts of this novel, set on a Jamaican slave plantation, focusing on the science of race, make for truly horrifying reading, but equally it is important that such a novel doesn’t shy from revealing the truth.
It’s a dark, gothic why-dunnit, as well as an unconventional-for-the-time romance, uncovering what happened in the months preceeding the murder of Frannie Langton’s employers, Mr & Mrs Benham. Frannie is an educated mulatto woman brought from Jamaica to work as maid, whom we know from the outset is accused of their murder. She is a woman ahead of her time, trapped, spirited – in the vein of Jane Eyre. A character to be reckoned with. One word of caution, although I loved the narrator’s voice, I did find the structure quite complex to follow on audiobook (details of what happened in Frannie’s early life are held back to aid the suspense), so would possibly recommend reading in print. Parts of this novel are incredibly sad and yet I would still urge you to make time to hear the story of Frannie Langton. This is not a book to be rushed.
HEATSTROKE by HAZEL BARKWORTH
It’s impossible to write a review of Hazel Barkworth’s Heatstroke without reverting to descriptors like searing and blistering, as the intensity of one white-hot summer shimmers as the backdrop for her atmospheric debut.
Rachel is Lily’s high school teacher. Rachel’s daughter, Mia, is Lily’s best friend. But who knows the truth when Lily goes missing? … Heatstroke pulses with the decadence of summer, the kind enjoyed by adolescents, when lust and fear circle like growing storm clouds. In Barkworth’s hands both emotions are beautifully evoked, as is the relationship between mother and daughter. Whilst Mia teeters on the cusp of womanhood, Rachel finds it impossible to fully let go. As each twist is revealed, Rachel melts in upon herself, the plot’s moral dilemmas holding the reader tight in its grip. Heatstroke is a tense psychological exploration of motherhood, teenage identity and consent that would make a great book club choice.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by DELIA OWENS
There are perhaps one or two books each year that become favourite book group reads and it’s fair to say that Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens has already bagged that title for 2020. So, I was delighted when my book group chose it as their June pick. The story of Kya, the Marsh Girl, set in North Carolina, shimmers with descriptions of soaring seabirds, spindly insects, wild mushrooms, the salty wilderness that makes up the coastline, in such a graceful, poetic way that it’s as if the reader is right there, hitching a lift, gliding along with Kya in her father’s rusted boat.
Part murder mystery, part coming-of-age novel, Where The Crawdads Sing hits the perfect balance of introducing the reader to the wonders of the marsh, whilst keeping the story skimming along. A five-star read, it is also that rare thing, a novel I will read again, just for the sheer beauty of it.
TEN LITTLE WORDS by LEAH MERCER
‘I am always with you. I will always be here.’ The promise Jude Morgan repeats to her five-year-old daughter, Ella, before disappearing, leaving Ella to be brought up by her Aunt Carolyn. Ten Little Words by Leah Mercer is a family drama with a mystery at its centre, although it’s fair to say I guessed the ending quite early on. This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel, although at times I found Ella’s impulsive actions puzzling, as at the beginning of the novel she is portrayed as a loner, content with her own company. This is a gentle read, following characters filled with pain who must reach out to find happiness.