Hello reading friends!
For no reason whatsoever and by some complete fluke, my July reading
round-up is filled with book titles beginning with THE! They are an eclectic
selection including a literary novella, women’s commercial fiction (my go-to
genre), as well as a humorous audiobook focusing on serious themes.
In addition, I was gifted a copy of Kate Weinberg’s debut, The Truants, in
exchange for an honest review which will to be published soon by Scottish online magazine, The Wee Review. As ever, I would LOVE you to share your favourite reads in the comments.
Until next time… I hope you enjoy!
THE BEEKEEPER OF ALEPPO by CHRISTY LEFTERI
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri is the most moving novel I’ve read this year. When war destroys the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo, Nuri, a beekeeper, along with his wife Afra, set out on the treacherous journey through Turkey and Greece, searching for somewhere to call home.
And the reader journey’s too, leaving behind the bees and sweet-scented heather-covered hills of Syria, to experience the horrors and loss of the present day, as Nuri and Afra use every ounce of their reserve, enduring the pains and emotional indignity of life within refugee camps. Having worked with refugees in Athens, Christy Lefteri avoids addressing the political rights and wrongs of Nuri and Afra’s plight. Instead, she shines a lens on the desperate experiences of a couple caught up in the shocking turmoil of war.
But it’s also a tale filled with hope and small kindnesses, as Nuri and Afra seek safety and to be with the ones they love. It is not in the least surprising that this touching, important novel has become a book club favourite. One I urge everyone to read.
THE MOTHER I COULD HAVE BEEN by KERRY FISHER
Vicky Hall is twenty-one when she travels to Greece and falls pregnant with Theo. Estranged from her family, she vows to always be there for her son. But Vicky is insecure and life as a new mother is tricky, failing to work out as she planned.
Meanwhile, Caro is a grandmother desperate to see the grandchildren her daughter, India, is equally determined she will never share. The Mother I Could Have Been by Kerry Fisher is an exploration of the mother/daughter relationship and how easily words misconstrued lead to tension and heartbreak that last years.
Fisher is skilled at conjuring believable characters with snappy dialogue that rings true, and I immediately recognised and understood Caro, with her heart-wrenching story. However, at times, I became a little frustrated by Vicky and her reluctance to reach out to her vulnerable young son, who endures so much. Despite that, the two halves of the storyline blend expertly, creating a touching examination of family feuds, loss and forgiveness.
THE TRUANTS by KATE WEINBERG
From the outset, Kate Weinberg sets the tone in her tense campus debut, The Truants by remarking on the work of Agatha Christie. On arrival at an east Anglian university, determined to shake off the dull restrictions of home, Jess Walker is thrilled to be accepted by a smart bohemian set, equally resolved on breaking rules. At the same time, she quickly becomes infatuated with her charismatic English professor, Lorna Clay, who harbours a mysterious past, with links to her students that step beyond the professional.
Filled with fierce friendship, obsessive longing and sexual chemistry, the brooding atmosphere of the first half draws the reader in, as Weinberg nails moody, coming-of-age suspense. The plot tightens further as a love triangle emerges, jealousies bloom, and loyalty is tested.
The second section of the novel moves away from the oppressive claustrophobia of the campus setting, switching between South Africa and an unnamed isle off the coast of Sicily, adding layers of shimmering heat and isolation. However, on foreign soil the plot slows as the story shifts to focus on backstory and an explanation of events which, to be fair, Agatha Christie does too but a touch more succinctly, retaining tension until the final reveal. That said, The Truants is a clever, intriguing read with more than a nod to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. A strong, compelling debut, as well as a beautifully written whodunnit.
THE CARER by DEBORAH MOGGACH
Whilst on the lookout for something light-hearted to read, I heard Deborah Moggach interviewed and knew The Carer would hit the spot. Don’t be mistaken, The Carer focuses on serious themes – relationship break-ups, grief, the hard decisions that must be made when caring for an elderly parent – but topics that might seem grim are sprinkled with Moggach’s trademark dry humour.
The novel is split into three parts and I enjoyed the first and last sections best, when the reader follows sixty-year-old, self-absorbed siblings, Robert and Phoebe. Each is handling mid-life issues as best they can, whilst blaming the other for shirking familial responsibilities and at the same time watching with both relief and suspicion as Mandy, their father’s new down-to-earth carer, replaces them in his affections.
This is a warm domestic drama with several surprises and one major twist, but Moggach is an astute observer of class, and it is the superb characterisation, rather than the plot, that makes The Carer speed along.
THE CALL OF THE WILD by JACK LONDON
When I noticed The Call of the Wild by Jack London had been made into a movie starring Harrison Ford, I recalled reading it, and White Fang, at around the age of 11 or 12. First published in 1903, the reader roots for Buck the dog, as he is stolen from his comfortable domestic life to work the gold trails in the wilds of Alaska, facing down danger, loyal to those he loves. A classic novella, The Call of the Wild doesn’t shrink from the brutality of the Klondike life, but it is beautifully written and the ending so poignant that when Buck makes mistakes we can’t help but will him on. Will I be brave enough to watch the movie? – I’ll need tissues at the ready!