Books mentioned and mini-reviews:
The Love Square by Laura Jane Williams
This is the follow-up to Our Stop, which I really loved. It is full of all the lovely character details that I found so enjoyable in Our Stop – Laura’s characterisation is both varied and believable, which makes it a real treat to get to know her characters and the people around them. Despite the title, it’s more about Penny, the protagonist, deciding whether she wants a serious relationship at this point in her life than about her choosing between three men. She is a very flawed, yet sympathetic person with a lot going on in her life. She wants to have a child and she also wants to keep running her business. But her uncle wants her to take over his business and she can’t carry her own child, she needs a surrogate because of having had breast cancer. She froze embryos, so any partner she has in the future won’t be biologically related to her children and that adds an additional complication to any relationship she might pursue. I thought it was really interesting and it absolutely lovely to see that explored in a book, even though I’m somebody who normally is like ‘Ugh motherhood in the plot? Get it away from me!’ I’m looking forward to seeing what Laura writes next.
This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik
I have been trying to finish This Green and Pleasant Land for months, due to no fault of the novel. It was the last audio book I started before the pandemic. I get through audio books really quickly in non-pandemic conditions as I listen to them while getting ready for work, doing chores, etc. But now my daily routine is a lot shorter, I’m just not getting through audiobooks at the rate I was used to. Despite this, once I reached halfway through, I found it completely compelling and stopped everything else I was doing to listen! This Green and Pleasant Land is about a Muslim family in a small English village who aren’t particularly religious – Bilal enjoys a pint in the local pub, and his wife, Mariam, spends at least as much time watching self-improvement videos on YouTube as she does in prayer. But Bilal’s mother’s dying wish was for him to found a mosque in his village, and he decides to carry out that wish, no matter what anyone, even Mariam, thinks. Naturally, this quest leads to a lot of drama in the village as they split into two camps, one against the mosque and one for it, with friendships and marriages at risk of being destroyed – or created!
Bilal’s best friend in the village is the local vicar, and I loved that it brought up some really interesting questions about faith and how it’s not necessarily a constant thing for believers. It was great to see this idea explored while focusing on two quite traditional religions – most stories I’ve read about people developing their relationship religion focus on people who have more new-age kind of spiritualties.
It’s also a really charming book – even the characters who objectively are not great people are treated with respect, kindness and generosity. I really like reading books that are satirical but have this generosity of spirit towards their characters, showing people as they are, not shying away from it, but at the same time not being cruel and not mocking them. That’s why I really love Stella Gibbons’ writing and that’s what I really loved here. I really hope that Ayisha Malik writes more books like this.
Worn Stories by Emily Spivack
This is basically a book of stories about items of clothing that are special to people. Each piece features a photograph of an item of clothing and then a story about it, like a mini-memoir. I really enjoyed it, though I was expecting the writing to be a more substantial part of the book, there’s a lot of white space. Also, it would have been nice to see a more diverse range of contributors, many of them were trendy people who live in New York or LA, if not celebrities then people who hang out with celebrities and are at a similar level within their own fields. I am more interested in stories about ordinary people and their clothes than in stories about celebrities and wealthy people.
Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar
I’ve finished Giant Days! If you haven’t heard of this comic before, it’s a comedy-drama about three women who are at university together. The art is delightful, the story is silly and serious and realistic and surreal by turns, and I’d highly recommend it.
Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Sex Criminals is a very strange series about people with weird sex superpowers, evil sex police, an evil bank, capitalism (also evil, naturally), relationships, emotional hang-ups, and therapy! I’m really enjoying it, but boy is it weird.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
This is another romance, this time about Tiffy, who, low on cash and fleeing the end of a previous relationship, sees an ad for an unusual flatshare setup. It’s a one-bedroom flat and her flatmate works nights and is away at weekends. With some trepidation, she moves in. She and her flatmate, Leon, share the same bed but they’re never there at the same time. It’s a slow-burner – it takes quite a long time in the novel for them to meet, though when they do they’re instantly attracted to each other. Meanwhile Tiffy is slowly realising how abusive her ex was and Leon is dealing with the fact that his brother’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, trying to negotiate the legal system whilst also trying to find the long-lost love of one of his patients in the care home where he works as a nurse. I can see exactly why it got all the hype that it did, it’s just so much fun! I related to Tiffy hard because she is into super quirky clothes, and she works at a craft publisher! In an alternate universe where I had loads of money and didn’t need to worry about crap publishing wages, I would have loved to work at a craft publisher!