After much thought and many Instagram DM exchanges, I really wanted to create a new, regular feature here on Daisybutter centred around one of my biggest loves: books.
My new monthly Reading List feature will encompass book reviews of what I’ve read the previous month, and also detail a selection that I think you should try (with me!) for the upcoming month. So for October, I’m putting the spotlight on my September reads and an October reading list. In time, I hope to build this feature as I’ve got plenty of ideas up my sleeve. Let’s start with what I read in September!
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
When a beautiful American actress docks ship at a tiny coastal village in Italy, hotel owner Pasquale is tentatively excited. This is what he’s been waiting for. Publicity for his beloved hotel and a guest, at last. Beautiful Ruins is one of the more intriguing reads that I’ve dipped into this year. Set in two settings and timeframes, the novel wonderfully positions Pasquale’s story in present and past and, at first, the author does this well.
Certainly the first 100 pages or so were gripping and I just loved Walter’s turns of phrase. However I’m famously not a huge fan of narratives that chop and change and this did just that, along with bonus extracts from other materials that didn’t add enough to the story to warrant their inclusion. For this reason, Walter really lost me for the last two thirds of the book and I can’t help but think this beautiful story could’ve been slightly better told. God damn the back-and-forth format! That said, the characters are portrayed well with just enough character development and the settings are truly romantic, evocative and a delight to imagine.
This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay
I mean… Need I say more?! This non-fiction work by Adam Kay has taken the globe by storm. In it, we receive an edit of Kay’s diaries, kept whilst embarking on a career in medicine and following the author’s career from student to senior registrar. I actually read the entire book in two days as it was literally one that you can’t put down.
Adam’s diary entries are funny, frank, candid, heartbreaking and ultimately a brilliant insight into what it’s truly like to work for the NHS. It was such an eye-opener and I feel like I learned so much about our national health service, as well as gained a fresh perspective on the work doctors do for us, the public. I laughed out loud on several occasions, but several passages also made my heart lurch a little. Definitely one to pick up and pass around your group of friends.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Possibly one of the most talked-about books of 2018, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere is a gripping and thought-provoking look into maternal and familial relationships, secrets, racism in the 1990s. It was our summer book club read over on Bee’s Patreon (come and join us on Patreon, it’s an incredibly supportive, creative and inclusive community), but I didn’t manage to join in because of my travelling commitments. However I did finally get a chance to pick the book up and delve into the compelling world of Pearl and Mia Warren and their often tricky relations with the Richardsons. Whilst the book is definitely a slow burner (ho ho), it’s worth persevering through the meandering set up that Ng so carefully manoeuvres into the story. Everything about this story is thoughtfully put-together and well-considered in a way that I couldn’t expect nor fathom. It just… works.
Through subtle switching of character perspectives, I truly connected with each of the key players in the story, a narrative tool that usually doesn’t work with me. And as a Chinese child of the ‘90s, I found the themes of race and privilege to be well depicted and explored. There was one particular chapter (I think 16?) that had me figuratively clapping and shouting ‘yes!’ and also times where I felt saddened at how things genuinely once were. It is these sub-plots and secondary themes that weave a brilliant nuance throughout Little Fires Everywhere and that have cemented this novel into one of my all-time favourite reads.
October Reading List
So! From this month, I would absolutely love to invite you wonderful bunch to read along with me. I’m a fairly organised reader and make plenty of, you guessed it, lists over on Goodreads to keep on track of what I’m reading, want to read and plan to borrow from the library, so I wanted to extend the sentiment to those of you who fancy it.
This month, I’m going to trial sharing 4 monthly reads but this could change in upcoming reading lists.
There’s no obligation to read all of these recommendations (though I will certainly be trying to!). Just select the one(s) you want to and come back to this post to share your thoughts for a chance to be featured in next month’s post!
Marlena by Julie Buntin [Reading as part of Bee’s Patreon Book Club] – “Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbour, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blonde hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts – first drink, first cigarette, first kiss – while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.
Alive with an urgent, unshakeable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull ourselves back from the brink.”
Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok – “Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.”
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron – “Academy Award-winning screenwriter and director Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Heartburn, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) turns her sharp wit on to her own life.”
The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown – “It’s 1983. A young Englishwoman arrives in Manhattan on a mission. Summoned in the hope that she can save Condé Nast’s troubled new flagship Vanity Fair, Tina Brown is plunged into the maelstrom of competitive New York media. She survives the politics and the intrigue by a simple stratagem: succeeding.
Here are the inside stories of the scoops and covers that sold millions: the Reagan kiss, the meltdown of Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles, the sensational Annie Leibovitz cover of a gloriously pregnant, naked Demi Moore. Written with dash and verve, the diary is also a sharply observed account of New York and London society. In its cinematic pages the drama, comedy and struggle of raising a family and running an ‘it’ magazine come to life.”