I’m really, really enjoying reading at the moment. I’ve always been a voracious reader and I even used to sleep with a book under my pillow, but for a large chunk of my twenties, reading slipped off the radar in favour of other hobbies and interests. And this summer in particular has seen me race through several books that I’ve ended up loving. In the spirit of documenting my days and experiences, here are some mini reviews of the books I’ve loved this summer.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn captures the life of Francie Nolan in a poignant coming-of-age story that has become an American classic. The premise is simple: Francie Nolan is born and thus begins her life in pre-war Brooklyn. At once moving, heartbreaking and uplifting, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn beautifully documents the life of a girl with unfaltering vivacity and spirit and also the time, place, issues and complexities of growing up in the Williamsburg slums.
I was thoroughly mesmerised throughout by Smith’s wonderful prose and turn of phrases. Whilst there is never a climax or even a plotline, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is full of brilliant twists, heart-wrenchingly real moments and, at the heart of it, a real familial connection. I even remember reaching one particular chapter and thinking, ‘I’ll reread this book really soon,’ and if that isn’t praise, I don’t know what is.
How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian
Sometimes a well-written, beautifully thematic YA novel is what you want to read, and How to Build a Heart is just that.
The story centres around Izzy Crawford, a 16-year-old whose life has been irrevocably touched by the loss of her Marine father. Through a series of YA-specific elements including a first crush, relationship, friendships, teenage embarrassment and familial relations, the author has created a novel completely worth immersing yourself in.
I absolutely loved the Latina roots that were woven perfectly and intuitively throughout the story. So often inflections of background are awkwardly rammed into novels, but Padian breathed Latina values and language so effortlessly into this book that it left me desperate to read more in the sub-genre. Whilst predictable at parts, Padian also weaved little breadcrumbs and surprises throughout to heart-breaking effect. She wonderfully touches on the emotional turmoil of being bullied, losing a best friend, being at wrath with yourself; it so expertly encapsulated what it means to be a teenager that I wouldn’t hesitate to read this again.
Thank you to NetGalley for my ARC.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
These days I find myself following more and more book Instagrammers and bloggers, and it’s because of these that I first came across Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. I don’t often read non-fiction, but this deep-dive into women’s sex lives and relationships fascinated me. Firstly, it’s great that we’re able to talk more openly about sex and relationships. Secondly, I really wanted to know what the fuss was all about.
Lisa Taddeo’s foray into three women’s lives was fascinating. Although it took me a while to get into their stories, I did find the book overall hugely interesting and it was a total page-turner. In part I suppose this was because I’m really into documentaries and real-life stories. The book is formulated in a fictional format, but the facts and subject matter are devised from months of interviews, news clippings, conversations and tidbits found from Taddeo moving to the respective towns of her subjects.
Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
After becoming absolutely obsessed with Pachinko, one of Min Jin Lee’s other works, I knew I wanted to immediately sink my teeth into more of her work. Free Food for Millionaires felt rather familiar to me in that it documents the trials and tribulations of one character and a supporting ‘cast’ over an extended period of time. Free Food for Millionaires recounts the fictional story of Casey, a young Korean-American woman who falls out with her family and is insistent on stubbornly going it alone, against the tide of the typical Korean values.
Whilst it certainly wasn’t as gripping and harrowing as the former, I did love Lee’s portrayal of Casey as a varied, not-always lovable protagonist. It was great to root for her and despise her in equal measure. The novel deals with race, relationships, interracial relationships, siblings, career and work drive, the personal compass and more in a varied and nuanced way that felt intrinsically real and authentic. I only wish that we got a little more from Casey’s family, but I suppose that’s just a bias from a girl desperately seeking people of colour.
The Familiars by Stacey Halls
Finally, how could I not include the beautifully bewitching The Familiars by Stacey Halls?
The Familiars is Halls’ debut novel, an homage to her lifelong interest in the Pendle witches. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is the wonderfully named heroine of the tale, a noblewoman and young wife to Richard Shuttleworth, who is desperate for an heir. When she falls pregnant (again), she stumbles upon a discovery that she is destined not to survive another birth, just as her previous pregnancies did not survive. By chance, Fleetwood meets Alice Grey, a midwife who promises she can safely deliver the baby.
A compelling, stunningly written tale that weaves witchery, fables and female connection, The Familiars will stay in my mind for a long time. I am a huge fan of histotical fiction, not least because it means I can further my reading with plenty of research afterwards. Fleetwood was perfectly written: relatable and likeable but with just enough flaws to keep you hooked. And what I adored the most was that the thread of female friendship and understanding woven throughout felt authentic, real and so of-the-moment.
Which books did you love throughout summer? I’d love to know (so I can boost my TBR list)!