Returning to my summer reads! If you need a reminder, this will be a blog post that recaps a number of books in succinct reviews rather than in depth ones. Because my life is dedicated to university reading at the moment (currently reading: NOT The Shock of the Fall, rather A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare – don’t be too jealous) I’m recapping the rest of my summer reads here.
I would’ve loved to review some of these books in far more detail but I feel it’s more important to get the reviews down on the page whilst the memory of reading them is still fresh. Forgive me, but hopefully you find these useful!
Summer Reads Vol. II
1. This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper
This is Where I Leave You is a story of a family brought together by tragedy. When Judd’s father dies, his last wish being that the family comes together to sit the Jewish tradition of shiva, Judd’s world becomes the suffocating circus that has been his life with his family.
This was a lovely, easily read book that really gives an insight into family dramas and relationships. It is a story about love, life, loss, faith, faith in people, and above all, family. I love the multiple character threads that all tie up nicely together. Judd’s ending is a little predictable, but the ensemble ending is definitely an unforeseen delight.
What’s really great about this book is the family dynamic, and showing how family don’t always have be blood relations. Tropper is a master of casual writing: none of the text seems forced or tries too hard, it sits comfortably within the pages and calmly unpacks the characters giving due attention to them and their needs.
It is tender and it is dysfunctional and it all comes together to make an extremely satisfying read.
2. The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
What’s firstly so fabulous about this book is that it has just been reproduced as part of the Penguin By Hand collection by Penguin General, which means the cover has been re-made with a beautiful craft-inspired jacket, in this case, a tapestry. I think we can all agree that artwork is simply stunning.
I found the book a little harder to get my teeth into; with complex language and subject matter that does not necessarily prescribe to my own interest, it was a book I ploughed through without my usual vigour. The novel (again) has two parallel narratives: the first of the unhappily married Ella in Massachusetts who whilst working for a literary agency is instructed to read the novel that makes up the second narrative. “Sweet Blasphemy” tells of the wandering dervish Shams’ life and his interaction with the Sufi Rumi.
Interestingly, within the novel Ella herself originally struggles with the second narrative, but soon grows to become deeply attached to it and its author. I, myself, preferred Ella’s narrative, though the multiple perspectives of Shams’ story were certainly an interesting addition to perspective.
This book has been wonderfully celebrated, and thus I do encourage reading it. Though for me, it just wasn’t my favourite.
3. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
What a novel. As soon as I got stuck into this, I certainly knew why it was one of the most popular and talked about books of the year. It is full of frustrating stops and starts and twists and turns, with a huge killer twist at the end. Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every morning stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost with her ex-husband Tom, who happens to live just down the road from “Jess and Jason”, with his new wife Anna.
Through a series of events, Rachel finds herself in the middle of “Jess and Jason”‘s lives and dramas and turns everything upside down as the tangled web she weaves gets more and more messy.
What’s great about this novel is that the narrator and main character, Rachel, isn’t really the most likeable person in the world. In fact, she’s pretty unlikeable – she’s a drunk, she’s a mess, and she doesn’t help herself with her obsessive personality. There were multiple times whilst reading that I just wanted to scream at her, ‘Rachel, get your act together!!”
It was an incredibly unsettling book, frustrating and times, compelling at others but the mystery at the heart of the novel is what keeps the book alive. Hawkins’ combination of relationship drama with criminal possibilities illustrates the dark secrets behind the facade of perfection, and how this perfect mirage can break down to reveal horrors underneath. It’s a totally gripping novel that I would thoroughly recommend to any reader who enjoyed Gone Girl and wants more of that sticky, interesting drama.
4. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
I loved this book. I could tell, as I read it and immediately afterwards, that – like Cecelia Ahern novels – it would be a book that I would return to again and again (though I will have to buy it first, as my kind best friend let me read it on her Kindle!). Like Cecelia Ahern, Jojo Moyes has the ability to create captivating and relatable characters and she certainly punched me in the gut with the ending.
This was actually the first book I’ve ever cried at. I’m a cryer, but my tears are usually reserved for films. This is definitely a testament to Moyes’ writing, her beautiful words and her wonderful, wonderful characters. The story tells of Lou, an out-of-work 26-year-old, whose only option left to support her family is to take employment as a carer for Will, whose successful, glamorous life has been ripped away from him in a motorcycle accident and left him as a paraplegic.
The story in itself is basic rom-com narrative, going back as far as Much Ado About Nothing: Lou and Will are mismatched, don’t get on and are frustrated with each other, but eventually they find a way to work together and find that their lives before each other are nothing compared to their lives with the other in it.
What truly makes it special is the navigation of relationships between family, between lovers, between employers and employees and how that really comes alive on the page through Moyes’ deep, complex and entertaining characters. I’ve always loved the kind of sarcastic bad-boy that Will brings to the table (seen in characters like Finnick Odair – coincidentally also played by Sam Claflin in The Hunger Games, and who plays Will in the upcoming film adaptation).
Lou and Will’s relationship is at the heart of the novel, and the development of their progression from uncomfortable employer/employee to friends really fuels the narrative and made the page ever turning for me.
I read it in one sitting and wouldn’t be surprised if you did too. Grab it now before the movie comes out and you won’t regret it.
So that’s the end of my summer reads (even though it’s now November) – I hope you enjoyed them! Do let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any of these (I’m sure you have) and what you thought of them.