Wow! What a reading month I’ve had. It’s been a tough month, but I’ve been kept going by my bookish friends and being able to escape into the very different worlds of these books. I’ve been to China, America, Italy, Scotland, New Zealand, Russia, Australia and London! It’s been a great distraction. I lost my familiar and reading buddy this month, very suddenly. I’d had my cat Baggins since he was one and rescued as feral from a scrapyard. Slowly we became inseparable and now I feel genuinely lost without him. I’ve included some of his pictures at the end of the post, where he’s using me as a cat bed while I read.
Remember Me by Charity Norman
I love Charity Norman’s books. She takes big sensitive and divisive issues and brings them to an everyday human level. She’s written the story of two grandparents, who are the guardians of their grandchildren and fighting the request for visitation from their father, the man who killed their daughter. She wrote about Luke, a middle aged father and husband who has the bravery to come out as transgender. Last time she wrote about a shooting in a local coffee shop and the interesting people held hostage together. This time we follow Emily, a children’s illustrator from London, who grew up in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. She’s telephoned by her father’s neighbour Raewynn, because he’s had an accident and it’s clear his dementia is deteriorating. As Emily tries to look after her father she realises he’s still very distressed by the disappearance of Raewynn’s daughter, which happened twenty years before. Her father had been the local doctor and spent a lot of time supporting Raewynn who’s husband had Huntington’s Disease. Emily was the last person to see the missing young woman alive, and her father was the first person to take a group up to the mountains to search for her. Is there more to his distress than meets the eye? The more he deteriorates, the more secrets he unwittingly lets slip. This story was heart breaking and incredibly moving. Norman writes about long term health conditions with such honesty and reminds patients are always a human being first.
I fell in love with this story on the first page as the author describes a nightmare baby shower where Yinka’s Nigerian mum and aunties all pray out loud,for her to soon find a ‘huzband’. Look at her baby sister Kemi! She already has a husband and a baby on the way. This is about the pressure that a young woman gets from her British Nigerian family. Despite having a degree from Oxford and a great job with an investment bank, they worry that Yinka is in her thirties and might get left on the shelf. I loved the comic potential in these scenes with her family and all the ‘aunties’ in her community. They are always trying to match her with some young man at church and I recognised this type of pressure because it seems common in evangelical churches. I’ve been through it myself. The book poses some great questions about identity and self-worth. Should Yinka’s worth be measured by having a man, having a career or how she looks? Yinka has cut her hair, keeping it short and natural, but is pressured to use wigs or have a weave in order to look more feminine. One potential suitor is very judgemental, surprised she doesn’t speak Yoruba and doesn’t cook proper Nigerian food. What sort of wife will she be? This is a funny and moving book about authenticity, self-worth, finding someone to be with (if you want that) and learning it’s okay to be a single woman.
If counsellor Avery Chambers can’t fix you in ten sessions, she won’t take you on as a client. She helps people overcome everything, from domineering parents to assault. Her successes almost help her absorb the emptiness she feels since her husband’s death. Marissa and Mathew Bishop seem like the golden couple, until Marissa cheats. She wants to repair things, both because she loves her husband and for the sake of their 8-year-old son. After a friend forwards an article about Avery, Marissa takes a chance on this maverick therapist, who lost her license due to controversial methods. When the Bishops glide through Avery’s door and Marissa reveals her infidelity, all three are set on a collision course. Because the biggest secrets in the room are still hidden, and it’s no longer simply a marriage that’s in danger. This is an absolutely cracking read, compulsive and clever. All counsellors feel restrained by their governing body at times, so it was interesting to see the idea of a therapist working openly and unapologetically outside that. Avery has interesting methods that seem to position her between counsellor and private investigator! It’s very confrontational and it’s impossible for the client to hide or or tell half truths. Meanwhile, in the background, there’s another case lurking, the result of Avery’s lack of boundaries with a client who was struggling over whether to be a whistleblower. There’s plenty of action and intrigue here, the pace never lets up and you will want to keep reading just a bit more before bed so get ready for some late nights.
This book is an absolute ray of sunshine, which might seem strange considering it’s a book about grief. Katy has just lost her Mum and is devastated. The loss has her questioning everything in her life, including her marriage to Eric. At the wake, Katy tells him she isn’t sure if they should be married anymore. Her Mum Carol was her absolute world, there for everything from a recipe, to a night out, for shopping and for what to do when something went wrong. She was just so sure of everything and Katy isn’t. How could she have left her so ill equipped to deal with life? Katy had booked a trip for both of them to the Italian town where Carol spent time before she was married. Carol spent a summer in Positano, a picturesque town on the Amalfi coast. Maybe if Katy still takes the trip she will be able to recapture something of her mother and get some space from the burning questions about her marriage? The author’s descriptions of Italy are so vivid you will feel the sun and sea spray on your face. The food sounds utterly mouthwatering and the hotel’s balcony view is to die for. For Katy it feels as if her mother’s spirit has been caught up in this place. Yet it’s still a surprise when she sees a familiar young woman bringing her post to the hotel to be sent out. Katy is overcome and collapses, but when she comes round the woman is leaning over her, ready to help. There’s no mistaking her, it’s Carol, but from her Italian summer. She has no idea how her mother has stepped into the present, but Katy isn’t going to pass up the chance to spend time with her and be shown round the Positano her mother loved. This is a magical story, full of wisdom and with a bit of romance thrown in too. You will want to book a holiday to Italy immediately.
This is another book set in a far flung place, this time it’s Tasmania, 1886. The Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them in Bannin Bay beyond stories of shimmering pearls and shells the size of soup plates – the very things her father has promised will make their fortune. Ten years later, as the pearling ships return after months at sea, Eliza waits impatiently for her father to return with them. When his lugger finally arrives however, Charles Brightwell, master pearler, is declared missing. Whispers from the townsfolk point to mutiny or murder, but Eliza knows her father and, convinced there is more to the story, sets out to uncover the truth. She soon learns that in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, answers can cost more than pearls, and must decide just how much she is willing to pay, and how far she is willing to go, to find them. Lizzie Pook creates this place, making it so vivid it’s a complete assault on the sense. It’s like an alien landscape, so different from Victorian England, and it changes Eliza. Her sense of adventure takes over as she tries to negotiate the town’s seedy underbelly of corruption, the terrible way the English treat the aboriginal people and finally jumps on a boat with an unlikely crew and sets about finding her father herself. If you like feminist heroines then you’ll love this brilliant debut novel.
Vanda Symon is a brilliant storyteller and this latest novel is typical of her minimalist style. She lets her three main characters tell the story for her, a young street girl called Billy and a hardened homeless veteran called Max. Ever since Billy stumbled into the same doorway one cold night, she and Max have had a connection. He showed her how to use cardboard boxes to keep warm and where to find the best thrown out food. They have a pact to take care of each other and wherever they go in the day, they always make their way back to the same adjoining doorways at night. So, when Billy doesn’t appear one night, Max knows something is wrong. He needs to find her, but where to start in a city of this size and will anyone take him seriously? The problem is that Billy has stumbled into someone having a very bad day indeed. Bradley is exhausted. Over-mortgaged, overworked and under appreciated, he is reaching the end of his tether. Having neglected his family all weekend to work, Bradley has been in the doghouse with his wife Angie. Yet it’s not enough for his boss who doesn’t seem to appreciate that five people used to do the same job Bradley is now doing alone. Bradley sees the prostitutes on their usual patch as he drives home and knows he wouldn’t have the nerve to approach them. Then he sees a young, tomboyish girl standing a little way from the others. She’s not a regular and he is less intimidated by her. When their interaction goes wrong and he hits her, Bradley is surprised by how much it calms his stress. So, he ties her up with cable ties and takes her to an empty building he owns. He might come back tomorrow. Max needs someone to take him seriously, but will he have the nerve to approach the police and what’s stopping him? This is another thriller to devour with characters you will develop real empathy for. Absolutely brilliant.
This novel is so beautiful, inside and out. This is a story of inter-generational trauma, set in three sections, each one from the point of view of a family’s next generation. We start in China around the time of WW2 when Meilin and her son Renshu are having to flee their home due to the advancing Japanese army. The descriptions of this terrible journey are so vivid and have extra resonance after watching streams of Ukrainian people fleeing their homes at a moment’s notice. Renshu is distressed by the noise of incoming bombers, but also hates going into the underground shelters. There are too many people and not enough air, with the endless bombing above drowning out his thoughts. To keep her son calm on these journeys they have to make from city to city, and eventually to Taiwan, she tells him folktales. One being of Peach Blossom Spring, where a fisherman climbs through an opening in a cave and finds a beautiful valley with an orchard of blossoming peach trees. There is only once catch to this beautiful Eden he has found, if he chooses to stay he can never go home, but if he chooses to go home he will never be able to find this place again. I love how this story becomes a metaphor for life, as Meilin’s sacrifices for her son get him all the way to university in Taiwan, then for post-graduate study in America. For Renshu, or Henry as he now wants to be known, America holds so much promise. It is where he meets his wife Rachel and the birthplace of his daughter Lily, but he worries about his mother and thinks a lot about where he has come from. The scars of a childhood spent at war are all too evident and he misses his mother. Meilin, in her patient and wise way, tells him to grow an orchard. A thoroughly beautiful book from this talented debut author.