This is what I’ve been reading in March-May 2019 – there are some corkers in this collection for your summer enjoyment.
The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
We all know about Helen of Troy – but what of the other women taken in the conquest? This retelling of the Trojan war happens ‘off-stage’ where women fear destitution even more than forced marriages to the men who killed their husbands. Although it centres on the damage that war does to women, ironically, where it really shone for me was the study of the enigmatic character of Achilles, who is portrayed as a heartless warrior who cries at night for his salty sea mother. Wonderful literary writing, great perspective – highly recommended.
Milkman – Anna Burns
The premise sounds like a thriller – a woman in Northern Ireland is stalked by a stranger but her family and community believe it’s she who’s started the relationship. It’s definitely not a thriller, but a drily absurdist and at times sardonic portrait of Northern Ireland during the troubles. It reminded me of Booker Prize Winner The Sellout, (though The Sellout is more comedic than Milkman). All our book club gave it 9 out of 10, and though I might drop it to an 8.5 for the lack of plot, it really was superb at conveying how surviving in a terrorist community damages the sanity of a whole community. Worthy of all the hype and highly recommended.
Scar – Alice Broadway
You’ve probably already heard of the Ink trilogy – a Young Adult series that’s set in a world where everything important you do is tattooed on your skin, and at the end of your life it’s weighed to see if it’s worth being remembered by society. This is the thrilling conclusion and it’s a very satisfying ending to the series: it is a fairly dark book and not everything is tied up neatly at the end but there’s room for hope. Highly recommended.
(NB Some Christians may feel uncomfortable at the portrayal of a villain behaving like a crucified Christ, but I think the message of the book can be interpreted as exposing the misuse and twisting of religion or ultimate authority powers rather than attacking religion itself.)
Murder in Venice – L B Hathaway
I adore the Posie Parker series of cosy crime novels, set in the 1920s (think Agatha Christie), but this may be my favourite. This time, it’s Venice, and I loved feeling like I was in the streets of rainy Venice with the smell of damp and rat poison. These books are my ultimate comfort reading, and the series is just getting better and better. Highly recommended.
Nevermoor – Jessica Townsend
It’s a risky thing to claim but I think this series has the potential to be the next Harry Potter. A girl is born on a cursed day, blamed for everything that goes wrong in society, and is doomed to die around her 11th birthday, when she is rescued and taken to Nevermoor, a place where riches and kindness abound. The catch is that she has to prove herself worthy of an elite secret society, so she has to compete in trials, alongside her dragon-riding friend. It has a wonderful comedic and occasionally sarcastic voice that makes it fun to read as an adult, some major twists, and my son’s conclusion was ‘WOW’ after gobbling it up in a day. Please note that I told you about it before it went super-big. ?
A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett
A wealthy girl is treated like royalty at a private boarding school, but after her father dies and she is left penniless, she’s treated as a slave. This is a fairly moral novel about resilience in the face of injustice and has a happy ending. I liked that (SPOILER) her patron was Indian, rather than the usual trope of a white adult helping an Indian child. I speed-read this nineteenth-century childhood classic by the author of The Secret Garden and it was as good as I remembered.
Treasure Island – Robert Stevenson
The beginning section of Treasure Island is up there with the best – utterly spellbinding, thrilling writing about a sinister pirate who has a secret and may meet a violent end. The subsequent sections where a boy joins a crew to search for lost treasure and is accompanied by a certain Long John Silver are not quite as fast and gripping as the first section, but they do still carry that menace. I’m almost at the end of reading Treasure Island with my son but I wish I’d known quite how violent it is with fairly graphic descriptions of minor characters dying from muskets.
I love Robert Ingpen’s illustrations – so finely and accurately done, and quite a few of them – and that’s the strength of this edition. There isn’t any blood or graphic stuff shown, but there are a few more scary pictures (a man falling after being clunked on the head by his killer, dead men on ship etc), so that may be worth bearing in mind if your child is sensitive to images. It’s a classic hardback edition though, and a beautiful one for collectors.
Rooftoppers – Katherine Rundell
When a ship sinks, a baby survives in a cello case and she’s adopted by quirky but good-hearted maverick Charles Maxim. Sophie grows up with a faint memory of her mother playing the cello, and a determined belief that her mother is there to be found. Charles’ reasoning is that it is almost impossible that her mother would be alive, but that makes it a possible, and you should “Never ignore a possible.”
The search for her mother takes place on the streets and rooftops of Paris. The dialogue is witty, the storytelling compelling, the historical detail immaculate, and the ending utterly charming. It has some violence quickly dealt with and I seem to recall some mild swear words, but it’s perfect for older children to read (8-13). Rundell also wrote The Explorer, which I adored, and this is also one of my favourite books this year – a rare children’s classic that adults also love. Buy everything she writes.
Coming up next…. A review of wonderful Christian books out now – all of them are real hits.
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