July Bookshelf: What I Read in July (and what I’d say you can skip)

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré was my favourite read of the month, and a book that will stay with me for a long time. Told in the voice of a 14 year-old Nigerian girl, Adunni, the story follows her from the moment when her father tells her she’ll be married to an old man in the village, and become his third wife. Adunni leaves her village to go to live with her new husband, but thankfully escapes, only to find herself stuck in bonded servitude working in Lagos. The book is written in a kind of broken-English, which I thought might be a bit annoying, but it actually ends up being incredibly compelling and moving, which is a testament to the talent of the author. The characters are so richly described they really come to life, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages to find out what happened to Adunni. At once heart-breaking but also filled with hope and spirit, if you read just one book from this list, it should be this one. 5/5

Black Top Wasteland by S.A. Cosby is a gritty, violent, crime story about a talented getaway driver, Beauregard “Bug” Montage, set in the countryside of Mississippi. Bug is struggling to make ends meet, so takes on a risky job with a bunch of (white) low-lifes. When things go wrong, Bug needs to use all his driving talent and smarts to make it out alive, and keep his family safe. The writing is really excellent, and the story is tight and fast-moving, with themes of race in the South and the obstacles that Bug faces of his criminal history, deep-rooted prejudice and lack of opportunity. It all sounds too grim for words, but it’s an extremely satisfying and powerful read. 4/5

If you loved, Such a Fun Age, you’ll enjoy Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan, which also delves into a mother-nanny relationship, albeit not involving race in this novel. Elizabeth is a glamorous thirty-something mother who has recently moved to Upstate NY after years living in Brooklyn, while her husband pursues his dreams of building a solar-powered bbq. She’s bored, hates everyone she meets, and so gets obsessed with the life of Sam, her babysitter. Told in alternating chapters between Elisabeth and Sam’s points of view, this is one of those books where nothing much REALLY happens, but the emotional inner lives of the women and the way they are each fascinated with the other, makes for wonderful reading. 4/5

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi came out in 2016, but there has been a resurgence of recommendations for this book as many readers are trying to diversify their reading choices (me included!) so I wanted to include it in this month’s reading. Homegoing tells a cross-generational story, beginning with two half-sisters from Ghana, one of whom was sold into slavery in America, and one of whom was “married” to a white slave trader. Each chapter follows a different generation of the family of each sister, moving swiftly through time to the present day, where the two generations of the family eventually come together again. Keeping track of the characters and their various descendants is a little tricky, but the story is at once horrifying, tragic and beautiful. Homegoing is also semi-autobiographical, based on Gyasi’s research on her own family’s lineage. 4.5/5

Home Before Dark was my horror treat this month, and it didn’t disappoint. This is quite a traditional haunted house tale, filled with family secrets and uncanny happenings. The structure has chapters which alternate between the voice of Maggie, who has returned to her old family home to renovate it to sell, after the death of her father, and excerpts from her Father’s best-selling house of horrors memoir, which she has always presumed was made up… But soon learns otherwise! Home Before Dark is a real page-turner, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more Riley Sager novels. 4/5

I first heard about The Hungover Games on my favourite podcast, The High Low, and eagerly awaited its release this month. The Hungover games is billed as a cross between Fleabag and Bridget Jones’ Diary, and that’s probably quite an apt comparison! Sophie Heawood is a thirty-something entertainment journalist scraping by in Hollywood who ends up getting pregnant while in a casual relationship, moves back to England, and learns to cope as a single mother. Light, very funny and unexpectedly poignant, it’s not ground-breaking, but if you’re looking for a humorous memoir which shares a sweet and different viewpoint on parenting, this would be a good choice. 3.5/5

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a delightfully creepy gothic horror. The story follows the adventures of a chic socialite who travels to a remote mountain town in Mexico to find out what has happened to her newlywed cousin, who has been writing strange and disturbing letters home. It’s a slow burn, atmospheric read, with a great premise and wonderful description of both characters and setting. It’s a page turner but more for the way it gradually pulls you in rather than being pacy. I’ve taken off a star for the slightly overly-verbose writing style, and added half a star back for the stunning cover because I’m nothing if not superficial. 3.5/5

My Meh’s of the Month

As usual, just because I didn’t love these, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be great for you! I tend to include books which for me were 3 stars and under in this monthly mini round-up, but fully acknowledge that my mood while reading, or general being-a-human subjectivity could have affected my perception of them.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan – I was so disappointed in this new novel from the creator of the Crazy Rich Asians phenomenon. A two dimensional heroine, a thin plot and just not enough of the magic of his other books. 2/5

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London – I love the Bachelor, so this tale of a plus size fashion blogger who ends up as the romantic lead on a VERY similar show should have been tons of fun, but while the first half was entertaining, the second half dragged. 3/5

The Bright Lands by John Fram – This Steven King crossed with Friday Night Lights thriller sounded so promising, but I couldn’t connect to any of the characters, there was a lot of football jargon (it’s not a game I understand at all!) and the plot descended into utter ridiculousness, even for my high level of thriller tolerance. 2.5/5

The Beauty in Breaking by Michelle Harper – I love this little niche of first-person doctor memoirs, with When Breath Becomes Air and Being Mortal, not to mention This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay… But this wasn’t a winner for me though it has many poignant and touching moments. 3/5

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