August Reads

Well I am well and truly out of my slump. Really positive month. 8 books read in total. 2 of those not finished. 1 non fiction. Also some really good children’s books.

No major plans for September although I do want to read Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends before I embark on Normal People for our October book club.

I am also planning a month of scary reads in October so I am enjoying researching those. What are the scariest books you have ever read including non fiction?

  • 1. Kiss kiss by Roald Dahl. 5*

Description: short stories, varied, weird.

In Kiss Kiss you will find eleven devious, shocking stories from the master of the unpredictable, Roald Dahl.

What could go wrong when a wife pawns the mink coat that her lover gave her as a parting gift? What happens when a priceless piece of furniture is the subject of a deceitful bargain? Can a wronged woman take revenge on her dead husband?

In these dark, disturbing stories Roald Dahl explores the sinister side of human nature: the cunning, sly, selfish part of each of us that leads us into the territory of the unexpected and unsettling. Stylish, macabre and haunting, these tales will leave you with a delicious feeling of unease.

‘Roald Dahl is one of the few writers I know whose work can accurately be described as addictive’ Irish Times

Roald Dahl, the brilliant and worldwide acclaimed author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and many more classics for children, also wrote scores of short stories for adults. These delightfully disturbing tales have often been filmed and were most recently the inspiration for the West End play, Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales by Jeremy Dyson. Roald Dahl’s stories continue to make readers shiver today.

I ADORED this book. What a total legend Roald Dahl is. His imagination completely blows my brain. I can’t imagine another author who can pull off such a varied range of stories with such aplomb. Antique hunting, poaching, sexually frustrated vicars, scary b&bs, revenge on a husband. Each time I embarked upon a new story I had no idea of what to expect and each time I was surprised and intrigued.

  • 2. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. 4.5*

Description: sibling rivalry, trigger for rape, arranged marriage.

Shanghai, 1937. Pearl and May are two sisters from a bourgeois family. Though their personalities are very different – Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid – they are inseparable best friends. Both are beautiful, modern and living a carefree life until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away the family’s wealth, and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to two ‘Gold Mountain’ men: Americans. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, the two sisters set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the villages of southern China, in and out of the clutches of brutal soldiers, and even across the ocean, through the humiliation of an anti-Chinese detention centre to a new, married life in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Here they begin a fresh chapter, despite the racial discrimination and anti-Communist paranoia, because now they have something to strive for: a young, American-born daughter, Joy. Along the way there are terrible sacrifices, impossible choices and one devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel by Lisa See hold fast to who they are – Shanghai girls.

Oooooooh I really enjoyed this and I also read a review in Goodreads which said that the book makes more sense if you read the sequel Dreams of Joy. I am so pleased there is a sequel. I so enjoyed the characters, I know returning to them will be comforting.

This book had everything I love:

  1. A period of history in a country I know little about- Shanghai in the 1930s and LA in the 40s and 50s
  2. A family saga. Relationships between siblings, parents and partners.
  3. Drama.

This really is a book you can sink your teeth into. The subject of immigration is still so incredibly relevant today: particularly in Trump’s America.

  • 3. See what I have done by Sarah Schmidt. DNF

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018

Haunting, gripping and gorgeously written, SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt is a re-imagining of the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, for fans of BURIAL RITES and MAKING A MURDERER.

‘Eerie and compelling’ Paula Hawkins

‘Stunning’ Sunday Times

‘Gripping… outstanding’ Observer

‘Glittering’ Irish Times

Just after 11am on 4th August 1892, the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered. He’s found on the sitting room sofa, she upstairs on the bedroom floor, both murdered with an axe.

It is younger daughter Lizzie who is first on the scene, so it is Lizzie who the police first question, but there are others in the household with stories to tell: older sister Emma, Irish maid Bridget, the girls’ Uncle John, and a boy who knows more than anyone realises.

In a dazzlingly original and chilling reimagining of this most notorious of unsolved mysteries, Sarah Schmidt opens the door to the Borden home and leads us into its murkiest corners, where jealousies, slow-brewed rivalries and the darkest of thoughts reside.

Well I was expecting to really love this book but after reaching page 153 last night I decided to call it a day. If I had to give it a rating based on what I had read (which is obviously unfair) I would give it 2*.

I just knew it wouldn’t be a book that made me excited to pick up. It wasn’t fast paced enough for me (I was still on the day of the murders by page 153) and I found Lizzie’s constant inane ramblings frustrating and confusing.

Anyway, when reading is your passion, I don’t want to read books that are just ‘ok.’ I want a book that makes me want to stay awake!!!!

  • 4. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. 3.5*

Description: semi autobiographical, 1980s, coming of age.

The dazzling novel from critically-acclaimed David Mitchell.

Shortlisted for the 2006 Costa Novel Award

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2006

January, 1982. Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor – covert stammerer and reluctant poet – anticipates a stultifying year in his backwater English village. But he hasn’t reckoned with bullies, simmering family discord, the Falklands War, a threatened gypsy invasion and those mysterious entities known as girls. Charting thirteen months in the black hole between childhood and adolescence, this is a captivating novel, wry, painful and vibrant with the stuff of life.

This was my book club choice for a summer read. My intention was to read something light and funny whilst lying by the pool. This book popped up in a lot of articles about funny reads. What is funnier than a teenage boy I thought. Having finished the book, ‘funny’ does not even come into the top five words I would use to describe it. This book is so beautifully written and so well observed that I actually found it quite painful to read. I fell in love with the character of Jason Taylor. In him, Mitchell perfectly captured the voice of a 13 year old. The language, friendships, fears all so real. The sections where Jason is being bullied I found almost too painful to get through. Mitchell’s writing about Taylor’s parents marriage breakdown was perfect. The snidey remarks over the dinner table were perfect, the alliance between Jason and Julia growing closer as a result of it was brilliant. Mitchell’s writing is just so vivid, unpretentious and real.

  • 5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. 4*.
  • Description: wealth, family saga, Mean Girls.
  • The acclaimed international bestseller soon to be a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh and Gemma Chan!

    When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and time with the man she might one day marry.

    What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars and that she is about to encounter the strangest, craziest group of people in existence.

    Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider’s look at the Asian jet set; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money – and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.

    This is fun, superficial escapism that hooks and reels in even the reluctant reader: Dynastyamong the filthy-rich Chinese community – Independent

    I don’t want to make this post really maudlin but I lost our 20 week old baby this month. Reading is one of the things that is getting me through it. The moments I am reading are pure escapism and I have spend a lot of time over the last week in bed reading. This book was pure escapism. It was fluffy, pink, trashy brilliance. It was like eating a giant candy floss. I want to save the other books in the trilogy until I am in need of cheering up. Really fun read.

    • 6. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. DNF

    THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

    ‘I couldn’t stop reading or caring about the juicy and dysfunctional Plumb family’ AMY POEHLER

    ‘A masterfully constructed, darkly comic, and immensely captivating tale…Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is a real talent’ ELIZABETH GILBERT

    When black sheep Leo has a costly car accident, the Plumb siblings’ much-anticipated inheritance is suddenly wiped out. His brother and sisters come together and form a plan to get back what is owed them – each grappling with their own financial and emotional turmoil from the fallout. As ‘the nest’ fades further from view, they must decide whether they will build their lives anew, or fight to regain the futures they had planned . . .

    Ferociously astute, warm and funny, The Nest is a brilliant debut chronicling the hilarity and savagery of family life.

    My issue with this book is that I felt the exact opposite of Amy Poehler. I didn’t care at all about the Poehler family…in fact I found it all very dull. Gave up on page 108.

    • 7. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. 3.5 stars.
  • Description: race, family, parenthood.
  • ‘To say I love this book is an understatement…It moved me to tears’ Reese Witherspoon

    ‘Just read it…Outstanding’ Matt Haig

    Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

    In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

    Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

    When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost…

    One of the things I most loved about this book was that it was a surprise. After reading the prologue I thought I had a fair idea of what this book would be. This is going to be a story about Izzy right? A story of teenage angst and how a family deals with a troublesome child. Wrong Ella! This book was about so much more. Class, race, fertility. The book had such a range of emotions and subjects you would think it would be a read of highly octane drama but it was actually a quiet, character based novel.

    Celeste Ng has an incredible talent for writing very real characters. As a reader, I feel like I went through a range of emotions with every single character. A character I initially disliked, would be a character that I empathised with by the end of the novel. Subjects, that at the beginning of the novel I had a strong opinion about, I often found that my opinion has changed and I had sympathy for the other side of the argument.

    Non Fiction

    • 8. The 24 hour wine expert by Jancis Robinson.
  • Description: short, quite detailed, dull.
  • From the world’s most respected wine critic, the essential guide to wine in 100 pages

    Wine is now one of the most popular drinks in the world. Many wine drinkers wish they knew more about it without having to understand every detail or go on a wine course.

    In The 24-Hour Wine Expert, Jancis Robinson shares her expertise with authority, wit and approachability. From the difference between red and white, to the shape of bottles and their labels, descriptions of taste, colour and smell, to pairing wine with food and the price-quality correlation, Robinson helps us make the most of this mysteriously delicious drink.

    Jancis Robinson has been called ‘the most respected wine critic and journalist in the world’ by Decantermagazine. In 1984 she was the first person outside the wine trade to qualify as a Master of Wine. The Financial Times wine writer, she is the author/editor of dozens of wine books, including Wine Grapes (Allen Lane), The Oxford Companion to Wine (OUP) and The World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley). Her award-winning website, http://www.JancisRobinson.com has subscribers in 100 countries.

    Right, I want to make it clear that I don’t want to turn into a wine wanker but seeing as I must spend about £50 a week on wine, I think it is important to know what I like and maybe to be a little more discerning about why I like it. This book was a quick read but god it was dull. Obviously Jancis Robinson is the expert but as a beginner I want a book to be more accessible. Anyway, when I was awake I did learn a bit about wine.

    Children’s books

    • The Best Sound in the World by Cindy Wume. 3+

    Roy is a lion and a sound catcher. He catches the sounds of the city and makes them into music, trying to avoid the annoying attentions of his neighbour, Jemmy. Feeling like his music isn’t good enough, Roy goes on a journey to find the best sound in the world for inspiration. He hears the pitter-patter of the rain in the forest, the wind whistling through the desert and the hustle and bustle of the souk at sunrise, but none of it helps – he can’t decide which is the best sound. Just as he’s about to give up, he hears a familiar voice… can Jemmy teach him that perhaps there are lots of beautiful sounds, not just one, and that for Jemmy, Roy’s music is the best of all? This gorgeous debut picture book is both a lesson in subjectivity and a heart-warming tribute to the power of friendship.

    What a totally gorgeous book. I am

    A musician and so this really appealed to me as the mum. It also provoked a hilarious discussion….what do we think are the most beautiful and the most horrid sounds in the world. Edith decided the most beautiful sound was bees buzzing. Edith and I decided the most horrid sound was Ceci screaming which she did all the way through the story!!!! We also discussed how some lovely sounds are connected to lovely memories. We liked the way that Jemmy made music fun and maybe helped Roy to take life a little less seriously…..music sounds better when you are having fun!

    • Oscar and the Catastrophe by Alan Macdonald 6+

    The third book in a brilliantly funny new series for 6+ readers from bestselling Dirty Bertie author Alan MacDonald, about a boy and his incredible talking dog.

    Sam had a very ordinary life, until Oscar the dog arrived on his doorstep. Because Oscar has a big secret – he can talk!

    Oscar usually has a lot to say on any subject, but in this book something makes him speechless . . . a CAT has moved in next door! And Carmen the pampered feline is almost as much of a nightmare neighbour as her owner, Mrs Bentley-Wallop.

    But Sam and Oscar have bigger things to worry about. When a jewel thief strikes, it’s time for the daring duo to turn detective . . . Can they sniff out the culprit before it’s too late?

    Edie and I really enjoyed this book even though we hadn’t read the previous two. She is 5 so slightly younger than the audience it is aimed at. However, she really enjoyed the illustrations and the voices we used for each character.

    • The Witches by Roald Dahl

    THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl is the story of a detestable breed of Witches.

    BEWARE.

    Real witches dress in ordinary clothes and look like ordinary women. But they are not ordinary. They are always plotting and scheming with murderous, bloodthirsty thoughts – and they hate children.

    The Grand High Witch hates children most of all and plans to make every single one of YOU disappear.

    Only one boy and his grandmother can stop her, but if their plan fails the Grand High Witch will frizzle them like fritters, and then what . . . ?

  • Because I work in the theatre, one thing I will never take for granted is a night at home because it means that I can read to my daughters. It is really important to me that my children love books as much as me and I believe as a parent it is my responsibility to make reading exciting. Edith is now 5 so I can start reading to her the stories that I loved. We tried Milly Molly Mandy which I enjoyed as a child and unfortunately I don’t think it has stood the test of time although we might try again. I think due to tv, films, iPads etc, attention span of children has decreased so you really need a book that packs a punch to keep a little one interested. Roald Dahl does exactly that. It has enough horror, funnies and gross bits to appeal to any child and as a parent I adore reading them.
  • Anyway see you in September.
  • Thanks for reading.
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