RAE’S READING ROUND-UP FOR… MARCH 2021

Hello reading friends!

It’s that’s time again, when I share a round-up of last month’s reading. As days brighten, I tend to pull away from dark, gothic reads and return to some of my favourite contemporary fiction writers – David Nicholls, Kate Hewitt and Catherine Miller. Whilst Kiley Reid’s debut was one that kept cropping up on my social media feeds, and a John Boyne novel always makes a brilliant book group choice.

Also, please drop by on the 19th April when I’ll be enjoying an author Heart-to-Heart with New Zealand based author, Charity Norman.

In the meantime, stay safe and happy reading!

SWEET SORROW by DAVID NICHOLLS

Where do I start with Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls, other than to say that if you have teenagers, know teenagers, have been a teenager, then this novel will speak to you. Or perhaps it is because I am currently separated from the young adults in my family, that I so enjoyed a reminder of how fabulously unpredictable life with teens can be! Back to Sweet Sorrow – which is a coming-of-age romance that is beautiful, funny, poignant, sad and a masterclass in how to write about the painful angst and joy of teenage life. Set in a small town in England in 1997, Charlie Lewis is sixteen, with a gang of male school friends who enjoy banter and illicit booze, but as his homelife begins to crumble, so Charlie’s exam chances take a parallel nose-dive and the long, hot summer after completing school stretches endlessly ahead of him.

Until an unexpected meeting with the enigmatic Fran Fisher, who lives on the other side of town, presents Charlie with possibilities previously unthinkable. The story revolves loosely around an am-dram production of Romeo and Juliet, focusing on Charlie’s gradual awakening to a life beyond the tight lines drawn by his school mates. In a recent interview, Nicholls revealed that the movie Gregory’s Girl was an influence when writing, and Sweet Sorrow has the same innocent, fumbling-for-adulthood feel. It’s both charming and utterly sad. Enjoy!

A HOPE FOR EMILY by KATE HEWITT

Kate Hewitt writes gut-tugging, heart-wrenching fiction and from the outset it was clear that A Hope for Emily was a page-turner I’d find hard to set down. Little Emily is only four years old but has sadly developed an undiagnosed degenerative illness that has left her in a coma. Her mum, Rachel devotes herself to Emily’s care, whilst dad, James makes every effort to be by Emily’s bedside when he can. But the strain of caring for a very poorly child is immense and when Emily’s condition deteriorates even further, James’s new wife, Eva is drawn further into the family circle.

A Hope for Emily explores the lengthens a mum will go to, in the belief she is doing what is best for her child.  One aspect I found refreshing, was the relationship that develops between Rachel and Eva. Too often in the press and fiction, women are pitched against each other, and in A Hope for Emily it felt true that Eva would recognise a mum pushed to the limits and wish to help. Be prepared for a sad but utterly beautiful emotional read.

I’m excited to share Catherine Miller’s, The Missing Piece because it might be her best novel yet – and I’ve loved them all! Keisha Grant is a PHD student who has suffered in some way that impacts on her daily life. The anxiety she feels is palpable, as she focuses on work and the rituals that make her feel safe. But when she meets Clive, an elderly gentleman who agrees to participate in one of her PHD projects, she meets a kindred spirit in need of help and knows she can’t turn aside. A story of friendship and rebuilding trust, one of the main themes of the novel is about Broken Heart Syndrome, which I knew nothing about. There is something refreshing about the way the story is told and both Keisha and Clive felt like living, breathing people we might come across in everyday life. Although the story is a poignant one, there are also elements of romance and mystery woven through, and the kindness shown by Keisha friends, George and Tess, is a reminder of what’s good in the world. An enlightening, uplifting read.

SUCH A FUN AGE by KILEY REID

It was the cover blurb that attracted me to Kiley Reid’s debut novel, Such a Fun Age. When white Alix Chamberlain finds herself in a tight spot, late on a Saturday evening, she calls her African American babysitter, Emira Tucker, to come help with her toddler daughter, Briar. But when Emira takes Briar to a local convenience store, the security guard suspects Emira of kidnap, a situation that rightly horrifies Alix, who sets out to make amends.

Such A Fun Age is written as a pacey page-turner and could be mistaken for a light, quick read, but probe deeper and the reader discovers it is really about class, race and privilege. Although the story is told from both Alix and Emira’s point of view, I was more interested in Emira’s world – her relationships with her boyfriend, her friends, little Briar; her struggles to pay rent; her worry that on her 25th birthday her name will be removed from her parents’ health insurance. And it was the voices of Emira, and Briar, who drew me in.

At times, I felt confused by Alix’s motives. I understood she wished to appear ‘woke’ and carried issues of guilt from her past, but I was still unsure why she became so obsessed with Emira, particularly when the Chamberlain’s lifestyle seemed hectic, juggling work and family time. Such a Fun Age is interesting as it focuses on ‘white saviourism’, but having spent the novel rooting for Emira, I couldn’t help but wish that she had learned to value herself more. Still, Such a Fun Age is a novel I will remember for its thought-provoking themes.

A LADDER TO THE SKY by JOHN BOYNE

It’s a while since I’ve read a slow-burning novel but A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne was my latest book group read and is a brilliant example of the genre. We discover from the cover blurb that young, handsome Maurice Swift is an author prepared to steal others’ stories to fuel his success. But just how far is he prepared to go for his art?- A fascinating topic for creatives to consider.

The literary world Boyne creates is fascinating, full of egos and back-stabbing. Very different from the supportive writing community I know and love! Initially, it was the European settings and Swift’s louche character that drew me in, but it was an incident midway through the novel that had me completely hooked.

Manipulative and totally lacking in empathy, Swift’s ambition knows no bounds, so that I found myself willing him to be outed and to receive the punishment he deserved. With themes of obsession and jealousy, this makes a fantastic book group read, with numerous moral issues that are ripe for discussion – who owns an individual’s story? When does someone’s story become fair game? Fiction versus fiction based on fact. How close to the truth should a novelist tread? When should a writer obtain permission to use someone’s story? A Ladder to the Sky considers the damage done when the search for inspiration trumps all.

Published by Rae Cowie

Check out my bookish chat at raecowie.com

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