The Hate U Give is a really powerful book about the value of every life. One night, two black teenagers in the US, are pulled over by police, and one of them is shot dead. Even from the other side of the world, this is a familiar story, and this book does a great job of showing the impact of these events on the community, and society. The characters are well drawn, the complexity of the situation is well handled, and the book is as compelling as it is thought-provoking.
I love a story of belonging, and that’s what this is; one man’s sense of his family’s place in the world. It’s extremely local – shepherds in the Lake District – but very relatable. We go through the seasons on his family farm, getting to know its rhythm, his family members and an awful lot of detail about sheep. Somehow, it just works. It encourages us to look more deeply at landscapes we are drawn to, to value history and historical practice, and to be community minded. It’s cold, wet, muddy, bloody and smelly, but the view and sense of purpose, are glorious.
Cloudwish is the story of a girl whose parents came to Australia by boat, after the fall of Saigon. She has a scholarship to a fancy, private school in Melbourne, and tries to find her own space in two different worlds. There’s lots of typical, coming of age issues, but also plenty of diversity, a hint of magic, a sweetly complicated romance and Jane Eyre; a lot to like about this book.
There’s a lot to love about this book. In 1922 a Russian aristocrat is sentenced to house arrest in a luxurious hotel, spending the next thirty or so years of his country’s upheaval, confined to the hotel with a cast of quirky, loveable, dastardly, glamourous, powerful, and heart-warming characters. There are some beautiful, funny, and moving scenes as the well-travelled young man finds new worlds opened to him, while he cannot leave the hotel, though I found it surprisingly slow to get through, unlike The Rules of Civility.
In the 1890s, newly widowed Cora Seaborne leaves London for a village in Essex. She is now free; free to explore nature, to spend time with friends, old and new, and to be caught up in superstition and legend about the Essex Serpent. Slow to get going, it’s a book about intellect, the blurring of friendship and romantic love, faith and reason. There is a very strong sense of place, and such vivid characters.
Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels are great for the holidays. A plucky heroine, a dangerous mystery, fabulous scenery and food in the south of France, and all tied up neatly in the end. Written in 1955, there are some slightly jarring elements for the modern reader, but it’s a whole lot of fun.
Helen Moran learns of her adopted brother’s suicide and returns to her childhood home to investigate, learning about her family, her brother and herself. This is a strange book, funny, disturbing, uncomfortable. Helen is sensitive, oblivious, well-meaning, disastrous, cringeworthy and compelling.
Maria, Niall and Celia are brought up together, two step-siblings, one half-sister, with their famous, eccentric, and not very attentive parents. Nearing forty, and have just been called parasites, they look back on their lives. None of the three are very likeable; one has realised none of her potential, two have an obsessive, destructive sort of relationship, and have exceeded expectations in many ways, and now they must all account for themselves and look ahead. Not as compelling as I had hoped, The Parasites was still a fascinating look at creativity, fame, privilege, selfishness and the bonds that tie people together.
It’s always a bit disappointing when you don’t enjoy the latest novel as much as earlier ones. The Sparsholt Affair begins in 1940s’ Oxford, then jumps forward in blocks of time, and changes perspective, until it gets to the current day. I was certainly sorry to leave Oxford behind, a favourite setting of mine, and I don’t think my interest was wholly recaptured. It reminded me a little of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, as it follows the lives of gay men across this period of history, but without the depth of understanding, and attachment, that comes from having one protagonist. It’s about complicated relationships, art, London, and secrets. I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it.
Eleanor Oliphant is an island. She lives a quiet, regimented life, working in an office and drinking vodka all weekend. One day, she and a colleague perform an act of kindness and Eleanor’s life changes; she needs to remember what she drank to forget. This book is quirky, funny, thoughtful and gently romantic, and it is also pretty dark. It’s a bit like A Man Called Ove or The Rosie Project, but set in Glasgow, and with a very hard edge.