This month’s reviews:
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
A stunning epic Indian-inspired fantasy with a broad cast of characters, I struggled to put this down. It was an addictive, fascinating read. Malini is a princess who, having refused to burn on a ritual pyre has been exiled to a ruined temple where she is being slowly poisoned to death. Priya is a maidservant and former child of the temple, hiding her history and knowledge. But a drive for survival draws them together, and magic, destiny and political machinations abound. I loved it and am really excited to read the rest of this trilogy when it comes out.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
This is often considered a classic and I can see why. Cassandra Mortmain, the narrator, is an aspiring writer, using a series of notebooks to describe her weird, wonderful family, the castle they live in, and their attempts to improve their lot. Her father is a writer who has stopped writing (and bringing in any money), and it all seems hopeless until the Cottons move in to the mansion next door. Her descriptions are funny and sincere and extremely charming – I loved all the details about Cassandra’s family and living in genteel poverty in a castle in the 1930s. It lost me slightly in the middle – I found the Mortmains far more interesting than the Cottons – but got my heart back at the end. I must obtain a nicer edition than the film tie-in paperback I read…
Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman
This is a historical fiction novel for 9-12 years olds set in 1752, about a boy, Caleb, who whose father is wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to seven years transportation. Having nowhere else to turn, Caleb sets out to find his aunt, who takes him in. But all is not smooth sailing – his father’s corpse washes ashore, and then it turns out his aunt’s husband was working on the boat his father was on. I enjoyed it and would recommend it for that age group, but it was a bit simplistic for me to keep it for a re-read.
The Long Song by Andrea Levy
The Long Song tells the story of the final years of slavery in Jamaica, following July from childhood in slavery to adulthood as a free woman. I had never read anything set in this particular time period before so it was really fascinating to read, though of course it is also quite difficult to read at times when it deals with the worst parts of this period in history. The novel has a really interesting framing device as well – July’s son owns a printing press, and has agreed to print her story, but he also keeps trying to push it in directions his mother would rather not take the story. It’s a beautiful book and I will definitely be rereading it someday.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
I couldn’t put this down and stayed up far too late one night reading it! Bee is trying to figure out where her mother, Bernadette, has gone, by piecing together emails, notes, and letters from her father, the other mothers at her school, and Bernadette herself, a one-time architecture genius who struggled to find her place in the world after Bee’s birth. It’s part first-person narrative, part-epistolary novel (a novel told in written communications) and I loved the way the story was told. The different characters in the book come across so strongly through their writing, and as a huge fan/devoted student of the art of the compelling first-person voice, I thought it was wonderful.
A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens
The seventh book and sixth novel in the Murder Most Unladylike series and my favourite that I’ve read so far! Previously, I thought First Class Murder was my favourite because I loved the mystery on the Orient Express, but the setting of A Spoonful of Murder knocks it out of the park! Our 1930s teenage detectives Daisy and Hazel go to Hong Kong to stay with Hazel’s family after her grandfather dies, but when they arrive there’s a surprise – turns out she also has a new little brother! Having been the most valuable child in her family until now, Hazel has mixed feelings about his arrival due to the sexism in Hong Kong society. She is worried that now she will always be secondary in her father’s eyes. Everything changes when Hazel’s brother is kidnapped and his maid (formerly Hazel’s) murdered! Of course, Daisy cannot let them leave any mystery unsolved… The story was gripping and the details about Hong Kong in the 1930s were fascinating, I definitely want to read more about this time period.
Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
Louise is a struggling 29-year-old occasional-writer in New York when she meets the glamourous, 23 year old Lavinia, who takes her under her wing and to all the parties Louise has always dreamed of attending. But there’s a dark side – Lavinia is controlling, simultaneously ignorant of her privilege and wielding it as a weapon. Louise learns to fear both Lavinia’s mood swings and the idea of ever letting her go – with fatal consequences. It reminded me strongly of Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart which I believe is also kind of a retelling of The Talented Mr. Ripley so if you like those kind of stories this is definitely one to check out!
Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo
A character-driven Australian novel about Holly, a young social worker who has just moved in with her boyfriend for the first time and is struggling to come to terms with various details of her past. She’s dealing with trauma from the death of her father when she was a teenager, and trying to figure out what happened to old friends of hers. Meanwhile, she’s kind of developing a crush on a co-worker. There’s a lot going on and there isn’t a well-defined plot as such, but it’s very readable and thoughtful and I really enjoyed it.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
This is an American children’s classic that I’d never read before, about a brother and sister, Claudia and Jamie Kincaid, who run away from home and live, impressively successfully, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I loved the intricacies of Claudia’s plan and how well Jamie adapts to their new life, despite agreeing to it all very quickly. It’s cute and funny, though very of its era (1960s) because CCTV would undoubtedly catch them out nowadays! Definitely a book I’ll be trying to pass on to a child to read!
Trumpet by Jackie Kay
I loved this. The edition I have has quite a dated blurb but I don’t think the story has dated at all from its original publication in the 90s, it covers gender and love and privacy in ways that are still very fresh today. After the death of legendary jazz trumpeter Joss Moody, his grieving son Colman discovers that the man he’s always known was assigned female at birth, and in anger, tells the press, who go wild over the revelation that Joss was a woman (how Joss personally identified is not revealed). His mother, Millie, the only person who knew Joss’ secret, leaves their London home to hide in their Scottish holiday cottage and deal with her grief privately. Meanwhile Colman makes a deal with Sophie Stones, a tabloid journalist who wants to write a sex-scandal-exposé type book about Joss. There are several different points of view in the story – Millie’s, Colman’s, Sophie’s – plus short snippets from various other people, all of whom have some connection to Joss in life or death. As you would expect from a novel from such a talented poet (I read some of her poetry when I was at uni), the character’s voices are all unique, all compelling, and the book is truly beautiful to read.