RAE’S READING ROUND-UP FOR… OCTOBER 2020

Hello reading friends!

As the clocks went back here in Scotland, autumn tightened its grip and we battened down for the first couple of storms of the season. And although I love the restorative power of spending time surrounded by nature, the wild weather also gave me an excuse (who needs an excuse?) to snuggle up with some fantastic books.

I’d like to draw particular attention to You, Me, Everything by Catherine Isaac, which I was successful in bagging during last year’s Children in Read auction, which raises much needed funds for the BBC Children in Need campaign. If you are considering donating this year, then I’d encourage everyone to check out the wide selection of signed books up for grabs (remember Christmas is just around the corner) by simply following this link. The auction closes on 13th November, 2020.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you and yours stay safe and well.

Happy reading!

THE GOOD PEOPLE by HANNAH KENT

With nights’ drawing in and the spirit of Halloween upon us, it felt the perfect time to read Hannah Kent’s dark historical, The Good People. Based on a true story, Kent beckons the reader to early 1800s rural Ireland, where Nóra Leahy is not only consumed by grief at the recent loss of her husband, but also distraught that her four-year-old grandson, Micheál is not developing as expected. Folklore and superstition are a part of the fabric of daily life and when the true extent of Micheál’s disabilities become known throughout the valley, mutterings start, accusing him of causing the ills befalling Nóra’s neighbours. Loneliness and ignorance cause her grief to twist quickly into anger and fear. In desperation she turns to the local herbalist, Nance Roche, who uses rituals to appease the faeries (known as the Good People). With talk of changelings and individuals being swept, a sense of foreboding is present from the outset.  

Part of the joy of listening to The Good People was the richness of language employed, as the dialect and turns of phrase rang so true. Kent is exceptionally skilled at portraying the poverty and anguish that led the two women to believe that their course of action was the right one. Caroline Lennon’s narration – her beautiful lilting Irish voice – was pure perfection. If you fancy curling up on a dark evening with a story that whisks you to a time when faeries were feared, then The Good People is a brilliant place to begin.

Today, I’m sharing a beautifully romantic novel, You, Me, Everything by Catherine Isaac, one I was lucky enough to win during last year’s Children in Read auction, raising much needed cash for BBC’s Children in Need. This year’s auction is OPEN and bids are welcomed until 13th November 2020, offering the chance to win signed books by our favourite authors.

Back to the novel, and sometimes a book cries out to be read at a certain time. Our youngest has returned to study in France and given You, Me, Everything is set in the gorgeous French countryside and is essentially about the importance of family and love, it helped me feel closer to him. (Weird but true!)

Student sweethearts, Jess and Adam, imagined growing old together, but an unplanned pregnancy places a strain on their relationship and Jess is devastated when they parted company. Since then, Jess has had sole care of their young son, William, whilst Adam has spent his time restoring a chateau in the Dordogne to its former glory and establishing a successful holiday business. But when life throws Jess a curve ball, it is time for Adam to connect fully with his son.

I loved this novel on so many levels. Isaac’s eye for seeing humour in everyday family life is fantastic. Whilst, without creating a spoiler, it also includes a serious, heart-breaking theme which is handled with warmth and sensitivity. Peppered with descriptions of delicious food, fine wine, family barbeques and sweeping vistas, it is escapist fiction with a huge heart. I cried buckets at the end. Prepare to want to move to France!

AMERICAN DIRT by JEANINE CUMMINS

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is the second book this month that I believe has been enhanced by listening on audiobook. I know there has been much discussion about this novel, in terms of cultural appropriation and who has the right to tell migrant stories, as well as the highly insensitive marketing that was employed when the novel was launched, but for the purpose of this review I plan on concentrating on the novel as a work of fiction.

Lydia Pérez and her family live a comfortable middle-class life in the Mexican coastal city of Acapulco, but when Lydia’s journalist husband investigates a dangerous drug cartel, the results are catastrophic. In fear for their lives, Lydia and her eight-year-old son, Luca begin the journey from Acapulco to el norte (the United States), joining other South American migrants attempting the same.

I found this to be a powerful novel, filled with truly shocking violence and unimaginable fear, but I was even more touched by the huge amount of compassion, generosity and kindness shown by the Mexican people to the migrants (not always Mexican but from other South American countries too), who offered both practical help, in the shape of food and shelter, as well emotional support by lending a listening ear. The descriptions of migrants attempting to board la bestia, the trains that travel north, is writing that will stay with me for a long time. It was also interesting to learn how the culture and landscape of the country changes as Lydia and Luca travelled north.

Some reviews describe American Dirt as being too melodramatic and not a true depiction of the migrant experience, but as a work of fiction that introduces readers to individuals who have families, lives, back stories and dreams that could be ours, it caused me to stop and think, and I hope to pay more attention to the plight and discrimination faced by real migrants, wherever they are journeying in the world.  I encourage everyone to read American Dirt and decide for yourself.

PINE by FRANCINE TOON

As the nights lengthen, I enjoy including a touch of gothic in my reading choices, and when I discovered Francine’s Toon’s best-selling debut, Pine, is set near Dornoch, where I’d recently been glamping, then it had to be my next read. Pine opens with children guising (the Scottish word for trick or treating) at Halloween and the descriptions as they move from home to home were creepily unsettling, but also captured perfectly that nervous excitement felt as a child. I also loved the mention of Moray Firth Radio, the local radio station of my youth.

Lauren is ten and lives with her father, Niall, surrounded by thick forest, where the sense of eerie isolation is palpable.  From the outset we know that her mum is missing and much of the novel revolves around the mystery of what has happened. Gossip and second-guessing are rife in the Highland community, and as Lauren searches for answers it becomes harder and harder for her to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. Toon began writing as a poet and her ability to infuse dread into the seemingly mundane is excellent. The cover blurb describes Pine as a thriller, however I found it to be more of a gothic slow burn. Read it if you dare!

THE BOOKSHOP by PENELOPE FITZGERALD

Although I was familiar with Penelope Fitzgerald’s name, I had never read her work, so when I came across a movie entitled The Bookshop based on one of her novels of the same name, I decided to give it a go. Set in 1959 in the coastal village of Hardborough, Florence Green, a widow with a small inheritance, decides to open a bookshop. But in so doing, she sets herself against Mrs Gamart, queen of the local arts’ scene, and a quiet battle duly ensues. Described as a classic, there is something comforting in the pettiness of small-town life, whilst the ironic humour reminded me of Muriel Spark – dry and pinpoint sharp. Given it is near Halloween, I should also mention that this is a touch of the supernatural in the story, although I felt that this strand was never fully explored. I’m sorry to say that, for me, the movie didn’t do the novel justice. It lacked the wit and subtle humour and played too much on the sadder themes. If you are feeling nostalgic and are in the mood for a gentle read, I recommend you give the book a try.

Published by Rae Cowie

Check out my bookish chat at raecowie.com

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