Like I mentioned recently, I started March still in a bit of limbo. I’d just moved to our new house, there was huge amounts to do, and my books weren’t within easy reach. Then, coronavirus gripped the globe and I found myself with much more spare time than anticipated. With the absence of several of my freelance clients in my schedule (eek!), I found myself zooming through seven books in March. Here they are, reviewed:
March Mini Book Reviews
The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie
I technically read The Paper & Hearts Society at the very tail end of February, but my monthly reviews post went up before I finished it. I’m not the target market for this novel (although that’s a topic for another day!), and yet I absolutely loved it. What can I say? I adore books about books! Tabby Brown doesn’t fit in. She’s being bullied by her ex-best friend, she just wants to sit and read her favourite Sylvia Plath book, and she can’t fight the ball of anxiety that lives constantly within her. When her parents move and she’s sent to live temporarily with Grandma, she decides to change her own destiny and joins a book club. What could go wrong?
This is a fun, exciting and engaging debut by popular bookish YouTuber and creator of the #ukyachat community, Lucy Powrie. Each chapter immerses you deep into Tabby’s world and Powrie seamlessly lets you into her world with a solid, believable plot and characters, and an inherent determination to capture moments every teenager is familiar with, down to a surprise period which is SO rarely written about.
The Best Girls by Min Jin Lee
I couldn’t work out whether to include The Best Girls in this round-up because, let’s face it, 20 pages doesn’t constitute a full book. However this short story by one of my favourite authors was a great read, and I wanted to share it here. The Best Girls is about three Korean sisters, daughters. It impresses upon the reader the role that women play in Korean society, and weaves in an old wives’ tale too. One to read if you’re curious.
The Cat and The City by Nick Bradley
Thanks to Atlantic Books and NetGalley for my ARC!
I requested to read The Cat and The City on NetGalley, having originally fallen for the blurb; a story, about a cat in Tokyo, that unfolds through a series of ‘interlocking narratives’. The novel begins with Naomi asking for an unusual tattoo, that of a map of the city of Tokyo, and her tattooist, noticing that a cat he’d added into the design appears to move every time the two meet for a tattoo session. Thus begins the plot of a changing city, where the cat chances upon a diverse cast of characters, executed in a sequence of short stories where these characters are fluidly connected in some small way.
Part of the fun and quirks of this novel definitely lie in trying to guess or anticipate the next ‘connection’, but the storytelling is beautiful, evocative and imaginative outside of all that. About two-thirds through, there’s a brilliant moment that displaces lots of narratives but manages to slot others together in place at the same time, and that is no easy fear. Also, having visited Japan twice — one trip that included exploring Tokyo for three whole weeks — I found Bradley’s storytelling of the city to be true and not at all gratuitous. I’ve often found that novels set in the East but written by Westerners can feel a bit jumbled, almost stuffed with stereotypes and surface-level anecdotes and non-details, but this didn’t do that at all. Rather the tapestry of Tokyo as a city and character is woven in such a way that both newcomers to the city and those well-versed in Japanese culture could equally find its magic in the novel. Lastly, I really appreciated the timely, thematic pillar of the 2020 Olympics running throughout — I love when novels can unapologetically cement themselves firmly to a particular time in history. (Although as I write this review, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have been postponed!)
The Cat and The City will be published on 7th May 2020.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Thank you to Quercus Books and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review!
On a superficial level, the cover of this book doesn’t do its contents justice. Consequently, I went into this novel expecting a cheesy, possibly heart-wrenching love story set into the city. Of course you do get some of that, but for the most part In Five Years is a captivating and well-paced contemporary romance book.
Dannie is on the brink of getting engaged. Her career is off to a flying start and at her interview, she’s asked ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ She doesn’t miss a beat when she shares her response. However that evening, a newly engaged woman, she wakes up in a different apartment, with a different man and different ring, seemingly five years in the future.
I thoroughly enjoyed In Five Years in ways I can’t quite pinpoint. The magnitude of the topics explored is huge and yet the author tackles them brilliantly; love, friendship, being driven by a career… It captures them all beautifully without being overwrought or skimmed over. One I’ll be recommended to plenty of people for myriad reasons.
In Five Years is now available in all good bookstores.
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin
Perhaps it was because I read Winter in Sokcho whilst trying to move house and navigate a scary, impending global pandemic, but I didn’t completely enjoy this book. I’m hoping to reread this later in the year when my head feels more screwed on but something felt just a little disjointed throughout and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
Winter in Sokcho is about two people in Sokcho, a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea. The pair form an ‘uneasy relationship’ and visit places that define an ‘authentic Korea’, each battling with what they envision as Korea. I really enjoyed the way Dusapin played on identity, shared identity and sense of self in her debut novel, and her writing is undeniably poetic and distinct. I just wish I could work out why I didn’t enjoy it, because my notes tell me otherwise!
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Guys… This one was a wild ride for me. Deservedly, in hindsight, hyped and even more deservedly a winner of the Booker Prize in 2019, Girl, Woman, Other tells the stories of twelve characters, each on their own personal journeys, and the result is a stunning vignette of the black-British experience. (Although I fully appreciate that I’m in no position to truly comment on that!) There’s absolutely no doubt about that.
After an initial struggle to acclimatise to Evaristo’s chosen form and style in this book — it’s more of a free verse writing style, where direct and indirect speech flows together, and sentences run without full stops — I absolutely loved Girl, Woman, Other. I suppose this was where my editor mindset got in the way of things and I found it really tricky to get over that. A third of the way in, I felt happy that I stuck it through because the stories of each character are absolutely breathtaking. Multidimensional and rich, together the stories fuse beautifully and explore themes head on that include, of course, the African diaspora, motherhood, sexuality, otherness and feminism. The structure of the chapters is excellently considered, and I finished the book knowing that despite the breadth and scope of the stories told, there is much to be done and tackled.
The Bright Side of Going Dark by Kelly Harms
Thank you Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for my ARC!
Something drew me to request The Bright Side of Going Dark on NetGalley a few weeks ago. I think I was beginning, as I often do, to feel a bit disillusioned and tired of the blog/Instagram ‘game’, and I haven’t read many books that have social media as a central focus. I of course LOVE this content creation world, but I often think that certain elements have become game-ified, leaving little room for creativity but plenty for a herd mentality. In this novel, Kelly Harms throws this conversation open in a story that’s told through the eyes of two characters and chapters that alternate between them. I think this is a format that works perfectly for this story.
I ended up rating this novel three stars out of five, because although lots was great about this book (the topics tackled, the character development, lots of the characters’ own monologues), I felt some parts of the plot were thin on the ground and others felt like they’d been mangled and squished into the narrative for the sake of it.
What have you been reading this month? Share your favourites with me in the comments below!