I look forward to having a holiday for three reasons – one it means I actually get out of the house, two, I’m usually somewhere near the sea, and three, because now I have an excellent excuse to buy more books.
I don’t really need an excuse, of course. Usually, I have to hide what I’ve bought away from the hubby who bangs his head and says, ‘Do you need more?’ Like really, do we need more Marvel remakes, do we need more jumbo-sized packets of M&Ms … no, but we do need books. Yes, like breathing.
It’s the thing I’ve always spent my money on. Some months back in my early junior journalist days I’d have the equivalent to my last ten pounds or so along with some dust in the bottom of my bank account (I lived in South Africa so this was in Rands…) and I’d figure, sure, I have enough for a book, and some baked beans. For some women it’s shoes or handbags, for me, it’s always been books.
Anyway, on a recent holiday to Cyprus I managed to read a few, and since I was back and meant to be editing my book, I mean, in between editing my book, ahem, I read some more. There weren’t that many, which was probably because I spent a lot of time working, but these were my top three for the month (in no order).
This hooked me from the first page, it’s so beautifully written, gripping, and at times harrowing, it made a five hour flight whizz by and I felt like I was transported to 1645, where I could smell the horses, feel the fear, and the creeping cold and doubt during the time of the first witch trials in Essex. The story follows Alice Hopkins, who comes home to Manningtree to live with her brother after her husband is tragically killed, there she learns of a terrible rumour – her brother Mathew is keeping a list of names, women who are accused of witchcraft. It was such an interesting take, scary, and so poignant.
This was one of those books that just kept popping up, shared on social media, also one of the Sunday Times bestsellers, and I eventually became intrigued enough to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed. In some ways it is a little baffling that it has had the hype it has, in the best way, if you know what I mean – it’s a strange, funny, sweet, rather sad, yet uplifting story, and in this age of ‘shocking twists, and fast-paced thrillers’ you almost wonder how this little book managed to capture people’s attentions, but I’m so glad it did. It’s a story about the kindness of strangers, the importance of friendship, and the dark, sometimes shocking secrets we keep hidden from others, a reminder that your friends or colleagues may be going through things you could never imagine, and that kindness really is the best policy. Eleanor Oliphant is a one-of-a-kind character, she’s disagreeable, odd, a bit old fashioned, whip smart, pedantic, rude, outspoken, hilarious, and eventually, completely and utterly endearing. I found myself thinking about her often – and I will never be able to look at a ‘shopper’ (one of those wheely trolly things which I actually own – thanks Mum, lol) or Tesco (the greatest most magical place alive according to Eleanor) without thinking fondly of her.
This was one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time. It was gorgeously written, Hannah’s use of language is beguiling, and this was a book to savour, like honey dribbled on a spoon. It would be hard to decide what the best part of the novel was for me, the incredible story or the characterisation. The two sisters, Viann and Isabelle, in this epic world war two saga – told like we’ve seldom seen done before – from the perspective of women as heroes, are as different as night from day. Feisty, rule-breaking Isabelle, who is the sort of person I’d love to be, captured my heart from the start, she’s funny, noble and yet rather vulnerable, and I simply adored her and wanted to be like her when I grow up, whereas, Viann is perhaps the woman most of us could identify with, afraid, and anxious for her family, yet in many ways ultimately more brave as the risks she takes affect not only her but her family and friends as well. The story is based on real events – that of the incredibly courageous women who helped Jewish children to escape death and concentration camps, by helping them to assume false identities, and those who helped downed allied air pilots escape Nazi occupied France through the mountains. Magnificent.
Have you read any of these? What did you think? Let me know if you’d like me to share any more recommendations.