I started July with a job and a long list of books to read. I finished July with no job and an even longer list of books to read. This hasn’t been an easy month, and I can see this reflected in the books I chose to read. Nearly all of them involve strong women, fearlessness, and the importance of doing what’s right. On the whole, I’m not great at standing up for myself. I’ll speak on behalf of my friends and family and the causes I’m passionate about – but when it comes to me, I’m usually the first to back down.
But not anymore. An incident at work spiralled from ‘inept manager’ to ‘bullying, sexist manipulator’. And it woke me up. I stood up for myself and argued my case – but my word against his wasn’t deemed good enough. I’ve walked away from the situation knowing I did what I could, and I’ve left behind a team of brilliant, intelligent, passionate women who will carry on fighting that fight.
It’s been such a stressful time and I’ve found solace in books, and the book blogging community. I took strength from Briseis, Arlo, Tori, Isabelle and Mary Shelley. I learnt acceptance from Edward, Vianne and Patroclus. And I felt the fire in my belly flamed by Lisa Taddeo, Emma Jane Unsworth and Jeanette Winterson.
July has been a tough month. But tough months serve a purpose. And that’s to remind you who you are and what you’re capable of.
So, without further ado – here’s a wrap-up of all the books I read in July.
If you had tracked my heartbeat while I was reading Dear Edward, you might have thought I was running a marathon. Ann Napolitano is a master at building suspense and pace – in a very subtle way. Whether it’s character or plot, Napolitano builds up a scene, and almost instantly lets you fall away from it. This, combined with her quirky yet descriptive language and apt storytelling, meant I couldn’t put this book down from start to finish.
You’ll laugh, cry and learn while reading Dear Edward. Napolitano is a witty writer and makes keen observations on how people act alone and how they interact with others. This perceptive narration reminds me of authors like Fredrik Backman. Like him, she uses fresh metaphors and similes, and writes in a neat, concise way.
“This was not a tragedy. Dying on your couch watching TV by yourself is a tragedy. Dying while doing something you love with every part of your body, is magic. I wish you magic, Edward.”
You’ll like Dear Edward if you’re a fan of ‘uplit’, if you enjoy life-affirming sentiments, and if you’ve always wondered ‘what would happen if this plane crashes’ when you go on holiday.
The Silence of the Girls
I put off reading Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls for quite some time. Partly because I knew it was going to be a sad, tough read. And partly because it would signal the end of my Greek myth binge. Now I’ve read it, I wish I’d put it off for even longer, because nothing will live up to the first read of this exquisite novel.
The Girls is an easy read, but a really bloody tough one at the same time. It’s violent in every sense of the word: Barker’s Briseis doesn’t shy away from the gory details, whether she’s describing rape, murder or abuse. In The Girls, Barker explores blame and anger. And unsurprisingly, it’s never the men who can be blamed. It’s the gods, it’s each other. It’s the weather, it’s curses. And it’s often – well, nearly always – the women. This retelling goes further than embellishing on relationships and painting tragic pictures. It’s a critical look at the devastation of wars caused by men, and how it’s everyone else who suffers, rather than those in charge.
Barker weaves together both past and present, creating a story that almost defies its historical fiction tag. She gives this retelling a feminist angle: she gives these stolen women a voice and an agenda. She gives them a reason to live that’s far more than serving the kings and princes who slaughtered their families.
“Once, not so long ago, I tried to walk out of Achilles’ story – and failed. Now, my own story can begin.”
The Silence of the Girls is for you if you like: mythical retellings and new historical angles; opinionated, fearless women; storytelling woven with lyrical language and brutal facts. If you’ve read Circe or The Song of Achilles, or any of Barker’s previous novels, you’ll love this too.
In Big Sky, Kate Atkinson proves once again why she’s my literary equivalent of macaroni cheese. Her writing is witty, dry, tough and clear. She gives you a multitude of angles, backstories and red herrings. And she collates them all so neatly, you wonder why you didn’t guess that from the beginning.
Big Sky was released nine years after the last Brodie book and following the TV series, yet this gap is unnoticeable. From page one, it felt like picking up with an old friend; eating a bowl of porridge on a cold morning; wearing a soft pair of slippers that mold to the contours of your feet. Brodie is back – and he’s back with a bang.
Focusing on the deepest, darkest depths of human nature, Big Sky sees Brodie unwittingly drawn back into another major crime. Yet despite the depravity of the crime and the bleak scenes, Atkinson’s wry writing style keeps this from being depressing, sad or hard to read.
Read Big Sky if you love Jackson Brodie, crime/detective novels and hugely satisfying endings. If you don’t like crime novels but you do like wry observations into humankind, you’ll probably like Big Sky too.
The Undoing of Arlo Knott
The Undoing of Arlo Knott is a masterpiece. It ticks all of my boxes: fallible, human characters; an unpredictable plot; vivid descriptions and effortless writing style; and thought-provoking scenes and issues. Despite finishing it weeks ago, the moral and ethical dilemmas it raises still linger in my mind.
We all say that hindsight is wonderful – but what if you could act on it? Arlo Knott is less Bernard’s Watch – and more like Black Mirror, with a healthy dose of The Butterfly Effect too. Its twist took my breath away. I’m sure I strained my eyes finishing it: once you get to that point, there’s no going back.
Read if you like speculative fiction and character-driven plots; if you enjoy Black Mirror and the uncanny; if you want to witness deft wrangling of a wild plot.
How Do You Like Me Now?
This funny, honest book bowled me over like an avalanche sliding towards a sapling. Page after page cast up more and more similarities between main character, Tori, and me in my early 20s. I could relate to almost every beautifully-delivered line. From feeling like a fraud to watching friends get married and having kids to feeling stuck in a bad relationship.
Bourne addresses the contradictions in our lives with a painful honesty: I think winced as I recognised the competing thoughts that often race through my brain: from career vs children to being single after 30 to feeling stuck in the choices we’ve made. She addresses things that we shouldn’t care about – but that we so deeply do.
“Being in your thirties is like a game of Snakes and Ladders. You may think you’re beating everyone, but you’re one dice-roll away from falling down a snake and suddenly coming last. And the person stuck on square four may randomly land on a ladder and suddenly overtake you in this game to get everything sorted before your ovaries go kaput.”
HDYLMN is for readers who enjoy contemporary fiction; for those worrying about societal pressures; for those avoiding questions like ‘when are you getting married?’ ‘when are you planning on having kids?’; and for those who love writers like Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella.
Something To Live For
Usually I love these types of books. Books that find the absurd in the mundane; books that follow ordinary people in ordinary settings, with extraordinary stories to tell. And on paper, Something To Live For is exactly that.
This should already be a winner for me, simply because I love British councils and how utterly useless they are. Richard Roper is excellent at building characters and the team are the exact people you’d find in your local council building. It was a bit ‘The Office-y’ in parts, especially with the dynamics between the five.
Sadly, I just couldn’t get into STLF. I enjoyed it while I read it, but there was nothing pulling me back to pick it up again.
Read if you’re looking for a brilliant holiday book: something to pick up when you’re not snoozing in the sun or sipping on cocktails. It’s a heartwarming, charming tale – but it falls slightly short for me.
T.M. Logan’s The Holiday has everything: enough plot twists to make you feel car sick; a cobweb of back stories, motives, histories and storylines; and descriptions of rural France that might make you alter your holiday plans last minute. Plus, it’s really well written. Logan has a clear writing style that makes it easy to follow this winding, twisting tale without losing you in detail and heavy prose.
Logan is a master of deception – but not in a lazy, ‘red herring’ way. He ties together themes of loyalty and trust, but not just around marital affairs. Mother-daughter, best friends, old friends, ex-lovers, business partners and alpha males: all these relationships get thrown out in the open, ready for readers to examine and analyse.
Read if you’re looking for a well-written, fast-paced thriller that’ll keep you hooked to the last page. And while we’re here: that LAST PAGE. Whaaaaat.
From the character growth to the plot to the vivid language, this intense read will be one of my top books for a long time. I loved that Kristin Hannah found a new angle in this era – that she told stories that may be forgotten otherwise.
The bravery of these women is unbelievable, and I hope I’d have an ounce of their strength if ever in their position. I want to find out more about the ‘passeurs’ and read their accounts. In The Nightingale, sisters Isabelle and Vianne’s feats are superhuman: hiking across the Pyrenees, forging fake papers, finding and saving fallen airmen, adopting and rescuing Jewish children. And as you can imagine, this is a gut-wrenching tragedy – but one infused with hope, love and strength.
As I read, I couldn’t stop drawing parallels between then and now. In our fractured, divided society, it’s more important than ever to believe in love; to believe in humanity; and to always keep an open mind. In times of uncertainty, we should all look to the past and remember what happened and how it started. And right now, we need to learn the lessons of our ancestors – and appreciate the sacrifices they made – and prevent these divisive, atrocious horrors from happening again.
Read if you’re a fan of historical fiction with a large splash of romance; if you want a new take on WW2 stories; if you want to learn about the French women who saved so, so many lives. Do not read in public, unless you enjoy walking around with mascara-streaked cheeks.
Animals is not for the faint-hearted. It’s filthy, funny, heartbreaking and destructive. It made me uncomfortable at times – but all great literature should, right? It reminded me of my late teens and early 20s, and describes a path I could’ve easily slipped down.
But you don’t need to relate to Laura and Tyler to follow their hedonistic lives and suffer their consequences. You just need to be a lover of great writing. Because Animals has some of the most eye-wateringly delicious prose I’ve read in years. It’s a combination of poetic twists, streams of consciousness and wry observations. It’s scathing, witty and poignant.
I’m a stupidly fast reader, but I couldn’t whiz through this: it demands your time and attention. It’s short, but it feels much longer. And when you try to race through to catch up with the fast-paced plot, gorgeous sentences will hit you like speedbumps and demand your entire attention.
“Give me a glance between two lovers on any day and I will show you a hundred heartbreaks and reconciliations, a thousand tallies and trump cards. And still there is something that survives beyond the shame of domesticity, beyond the micro-promises and micro-power-shifts, and that is the motherfucking miracle.”
If you love Irvine Welsh, Sally Rooney, Caitlin Moran, John Niven and books that aren’t all sweetness and light, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this too.
Through The Wall
Through The Wall is an observation on the issues that many women face today: the manipulation of our lives on social media and the result it has on self-worth. The epidemic of loneliness and not fitting in. The idea that women need to compete with other women for male attention. The paradox between craving motherhood but not losing yourself as a woman. The effect of extreme stress on your mental health. The erosion of communities through gentrification. And the destructive nature of emotional abuse and the way it ripples through your life.
There are two huge trigger warnings for this book: infertility and miscarriage, and gaslighting and emotional abuse. However, Corcoran describes these issues with a startling level of insight and sensitivity.
Corcoran’s relaxed writing style makes Through The Wall an easy, quick read. She’s a master of dialogue – both monologues and conversations – which is always refreshing to read. It’s this realism that makes the characters well-rounded and relatable.
If you like novels that examine and analyse contemporary topics, characters that are flawed, and suspense levels that’ll send your blood pressure through the roof, you’ll likely enjoy Through The Wall. It reminded me of a cross between The Girl on the Train and Social Creature, but also of conversations I have with my friends, and the worries that go through my mind late at night.
There’s a reason why this blunt, no-holds-barred account of women’s desire and sexuality is talk of the town this month. It’s frank, powerful and unlike anything I’ve read. It’s a nonfiction account of three women across the US, but reads like a fiction book with a sad ending. It’ll rile you up, make you question yourself and your life, and you won’t be able to put it down (unless you’re on public transport or sat with your grandparents – then you might not want sly over-shoulder-readers).
“Women shouldn’t judge one another’s lives, if we haven’t been through one another’s fires.”
Lisa Taddeo is talented, dedicated and unapologetic. She spent eight years living with these women and immersing herself into their lives. And she’s told three captivating, darkly addictive stories that frame desire in a new light. Three Women is raw and brash and deserves to be read by all. It’s not perfect by any means – the women all seem of a similar background – but it’s key to igniting an important conversation.
“But imagine a girl, who has idealized a fairy-tale love story, reading notes effectively saying, Yes yes, I am your vampire lover and you are my forbidden fruit. We are your favourite love story. For the rest of your life, nothing will taste like this.
Can you imagine?”
Read this if you are a person of any gender, age, nationality. Basically, read it and talk about it. And write more stories, share more experiences. Open up this narrative.
Good lord where do I even start with this one. Frankissstein, by Jeanette Winterson, is my first read off the Booker longlist. And wow, do I have a high bar set for the others now.
I imagine Frankissstein would be the result if Mary Shelley and Elon Musk sat down for a cuppa and a chat. It explores what it is to be human: is it our mind or our body that’s most important? It makes you, as a reader, question gods and immortality and death and whether or not you’d give up your body for a chance at eternal life. It raises the ethics around AI and machine learning (“the race to create what you call true artificial intelligence is a race run by autistic-spectrum white boys with poor emotional intelligence and frat-dorm social skills. In what way will their brave new world be gender neutral – or anything neutral?”)
Winterson comes out punching in this. There’s a thinly-concealed layer of pure anger – anger at playing god, at reducing and replacing humanity, at rigid gender identity and sexism. This is a fierce novel with a strong message, but it demands your attention and there’s a lot of information to take in. My favourite part? Mary Shelley in all her brilliance.
“…and of course if two gentlemen agree that must be enough to settle the matter for any woman.
Yet I wish I had a cat.”
Read if you’re interested in AI, the singularity, robotics, eternal life and mortality. If you love Frankenstein and Mary Shelley. If you think Byron was a bit of a tit. If you’re a fan of Douglas Coupland.