Like my post on Summer Reads (Christian books), this post contains 2 full reviews, and 8 more mini-summaries of favourite books for the summer. (I also have full reviews for 2 non-fiction books that didn’t fit anywhere else!) Enjoy!
1. The Sport of Kings – C E Morgan.
Not for the faint-hearted, this is a long and literary book which just screams ‘I’m the next Great American novel’. I’m not sure about ‘Great American Novel’ but it certainly is great, and it certainly captures much of the heart of America. I thought it was going to be about racing, but it’s more about racism, and how slavery leaves scars that continue for generations. In the world of horse-racing, where breeding thoroughbreds, trying to find the perfect ‘race’ in horses, how do you break the patterns of a lifetime and shake the dynasty and inheritance of racism? In the beginning, the naked and abhorrent racism troubled me, but it’s a multi-person narrative, and I appreciated the balance of black voices as well. I wasn’t sure about the ending – a key character’s actions at the end didn’t make emotional sense to me, and I would have liked to have seen it end quite differently – but the intellect and themes of this book, and the mastery of its language make it worth the read. Get it for $11.75 from Amazon.com, £12.99 from Amazon.co.uk, or £11.88 Wordery (UK)
2. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon.
I love love LOVED this book. It’s a wonderful mixture of a coming of age book set in the claustrophobic heat of the heat wave of 1976, but it’s also got an element of mystery thrown in, and a little bit of myth and parable, in all the best ways. When a woman unexpectedly disappears, the whole street is shocked. Two girls respond by trying to find God, and trying to work out which of the street are ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ (cf Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel). As they try to find God, we also discover that all is not as it seems, and a decade of secrets unravels. It’s utterly charming, but has depth, too, and the drawing of the psychology of each character is utterly convincing (and in some cases, devastating.) It’s bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter, and at the end I found myself bawling more for the beauty and joy than any sadness therein. My favourite fiction so far this year. Highly recommended. Get it for $18.75 from Amazon.com, £5.99 from Amazon.co.uk, or £10.42 from Wordery (UK)
Plus – two non-fiction books:
Non fiction – for Writers and Creative people
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert.
I wasn’t sure I would like this book, because when it comes to writing about writing I’m a die-hard Natalie Goldberg fan, and I wasn’t too impressed with the whole “Eat Pray Love” craze. But I really enjoyed Big Magic, and found it helpful. This is the type of creative book that encourages you to write because writing is fun, yet does so in a friendly, chatty way rather than a Stephen-King-work-till-you-drop-or-you’re-not-a-real-writer way. When someone described one of the main concepts of the book, I thought it sounded bonkers – that each idea is like a sentient being, landing on the heads of creative people, but leaving that person if the idea is neglected for too long, and flying elsewhere. But when I came to read it in context, I realised what a genius she is – she weaves a story, and it is as powerful a fable as any Grimm brother. It’s brief, chatty, encouraging stuff for a writer, and just occasionally she hits upon something a little bit magic. Recommended. Get it for $9.42 from Amazon.com, £7.50 Amazon.co.uk, or £11.66 Wordery (UK)
Non-fiction – Health
A Beginners Guide to Mould Avoidance – Lisa Petrison and Erik Johnson
If anyone has had ME for a while, they will have come across the ‘mould avoidance’ path to healing. Many people with ME have tried complete mould avoidance and enjoyed complete recovery, or at least significant improvement. This is probably either because their illness was caused by mould in the first place, or because their body is now extra sensitive to mould because of the ME. This book is the authoritative ‘go-to’ book on mould avoidance, and talks you through the theory and the practicalities. It’s very thorough, and well-written, but I found myself getting stuck on the practicalities.
To avoid mould, it says, I must leave behind all of my clothes, books, furniture, and even iPhones (unless through a plastic bag) and camp out in the desert. So far, I’m following it – but then it says you can never guarantee completely that your tent will be mould-free, even if it’s new (because perhaps there has been mould where it’s been stored or transported). And likewise for new clothes. This is where it becomes tricky for me – because it seems so hard to test it out objectively. If someone tries it as an experiment and finds that camping in a new tent in the desert with new clothes works, all well and good. But what if it doesn’t? Will the failure of the experiment be blamed on the fact that the tent or iPhone – or any visitors – are possibly carrying mould? How long are you supposed to try it for? It would be a shame to turn your life upside down and never be fully sure if it has worked or not.
I actually found Giles Meehan’s video a simpler way to see if it works – he has a video on YouTube where he explains his more moderate measures for mould avoidance, and how it has helped him. Mould avoidance is significantly helpful for many, and should not be dismissed, but I wish the book could have provided a way of more definitive way of testing it objectively. Perhaps there just is no definitive way of testing right now. If you are thinking of going the mould-avoidance route, this definitely the book to get. Get it for FREE from Dr Myhill’s website
Also- best of my 2015 fiction and my 2016 reads so far:
3. Exposure – Helen Dunmore – our book club ALL loved this, which is rare. A slow-build, tense, not-quite-thriller novel about someone falsely accused of spying in the Cold War in 1950s Britain, and how it affects the whole family. Brilliant storytelling. Get it for $13.75 from Amazon.com, £11.89 Amazon.co.uk, or £11.87 Wordery (UK)
4. The Posie Parker Mystery series – L B Hathaway – I really enjoy this light yet engrossing mystery series – now 4 books in the series. Get them for $2.99-3.99 from Amazon.com, £1.99-2.79 Amazon.co.uk,
5. Shtum – Jem Lester – a father’s struggle to get his severely autistic son into a school that would suit his needs, (and the struggle to be a son and father), is at once devastating, darkly-funny and charming. Get it for $9.28 from Amazon.com, £9.99 Amazon.co.uk, or £10.43 Wordery (UK)
6. Goldfinch – Donna Tartt – a Dickens-worthy beast of a book about a teenage boy, caught up in an explosion in a New York Art Gallery, who steals a painting in the confusion. Brilliant character portrayal and interesting thoughts on art. Get it for from $9.28 Amazon.com, £6.99 Amazon.co.uk, or £8.50 Wordery (UK)
7. Circling the Sun – Paula McLain. My favourite novel of last summer – set in Kenya in the early twentieth century, I could feel the dust of Africa on me as I read it. Get it for $9.52 from Amazon.com, £7.99 Amazon.co.uk, or £11.86 Wordery (UK)
8. Run – Ann Patchett. All her books are great. This one is about two families – one rich, one poor – thrown together via a car accident, discovering they are more closely connected than they originally thought. Get it for $6.65 from Amazon.com, £5.03 Amazon.co.uk, or £7.43 Wordery (UK)
9. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr. But you’ve read this already, surely?? Set in the second world war, told through the perspective of two teenagers: a German orphan boy, and a blind French girl. Get it for $16.39 from Amazon.com, £6.29 Amazon.co.uk, or Wordery (UK)
On my nightstand –
10. A Threat of Shadows – J A Andrews. It’s a classic quest fantasy novel, and even though I usually shy away from fantasy, it’s really well written, thrilling reading. Three chapters in and I’m already hooked. At the time of writing, it’s just £0.99 / $0.99 on Amazon at the time of writing – definitely worth checking out. Get it for $0.99 from Amazon.com, £0.99 Amazon.co.uk
Over to you:
- What’s your best fiction of this year?