Since my December reading list, I’ve read ALOT. Between a stay in hospital, steriod induced insomnia and lots of sofa time, reading is helping me keep sane. And I can’t quite believe I’ve managed to cobble together a February reading list. But I’m glad I have as I’ve got six excellent books that I’m excited to recommend to you. Also, I could pretty much open a book shop at this stage thanks to regular book deliveries (thank you), so I'm already two books into my next set of recommendations. By the way, I’ve got low level anxiety about skipping a January reading list so let's just pretend this one covers both Jan and Feb.
There are six great books here. I mean some of them are worthy of blog posts all of their own. The Hearts Invisible Furies is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time. The Nightingale is another favourite. I couldn’t put it down. Circe drew me into Greek mythology, words I never thought I’d type. After reading these, Our House was the easy-to-read thriller I needed. Red Notice is a fascinating real-life thriller complete with fraud, bribery and corruption and Inside Vogue gives a great nose behind the scenes of all things fashion.
So here goes, February’s Reading List. AND if you have any recommendations, please send them my way. OR if you’ve read any of these books, I would love to know what you thought.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
What a book. John Boyne manages to tell a story of misery, oppression and violence in Catholic Ireland with a humour and lightness that makes this book all the more powerful and readable.
Cyril Avery is born in 1940s Ireland to a teenage mother who moves to Dublin after her local priest publicly humiliates her and casts her out of her home village in West Cork. He is adopted by a wealthy Dublin family who never really consider him their own. The book charts critical points in Cyril’s life from childhood to old age. The story is told with a dry humour and some of the events border on the absurd. This brings a charm to the book that makes it readable and entertaining. A considerable achievement considering the misery, tragedy and oppression that runs through the story. The story exposes the bigotry and injustice of Catholic Ireland and the pain it caused to so many people. In doing so John Boyne delivers a wonderful story that is extremely sad, but yet enjoyable to read.
Please read this book.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
As I’ve mentioned here before (once or twice), I adore historical fiction and some of my favourite books hail from this genre. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Silver Music Box by Mina Baites are two of my favourites and now The Nightingale joins that list.
Set in Nazi occupied France during the war, The Nightingale tracks the tale of two sisters and how they react differently to the occupation. Isabelle and Vianne are very different characters. Isabelle is ten years younger and impulsive. Vianne is married with a daughter and her husband is fighting on the front line. When the war breaks out, Isabelle jumps straight into active resistance. At first Vianne thinks that she and her daughter will best survive the occupation by minding her own business. As the occupation continues this becomes impossible as she is faced with difficult moral dilemmas and must make choices that put her and her daughter’s lives at risk. Women are so often written out of historical novels or cast as supporting characters. It’s refreshing to see a novel portray how French women played a key part in French resistance, from creating escape routes for downed allied airmen to saving children of Jewish families.
The Nightingale tells a very sad story but does so beautifully. I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you love historical fiction.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Before we talk about this book, let me tell you that I have minimal knowledge or interest in the Classics and Greek mythology. Had this book not been so widely acclaimed, I would not have chosen it myself.
The book revolves around the Greek Goddess Circe, who is the daughter of the Greek God of the Sun, Helios. But while the characters and subject are based in Greek mythology, the story is told from a very modern perspective which I believe gives the book broad appeal. The story fictionalises Circe’s life. When Circe is born, she is dismissed by her family as a disappointment as she isn’t as beautiful as expected. Mocked by her relatives she develops a strength of personality and turns to developing her witchcraft skills. As punishment for an act of witchcraft, she is exiled to an isolated island destined to spend her life alone. But that isn’t the end of her story as she is visited on the island by some of the most famous figures from Greek mythology and on occasion she is afforded the opportunity to leave the island.
Circe is based on an ancient figure with much of the story coming from ancient tales, but it’s told in a very modern way. Circe is the core of the story and the book addresses feminism issues that resonate to this day. I was surprised I liked this book so much. It’s beautifully written and brings Greek mythology to a whole new audience who otherwise would not be familiar with it.
Our House by Louise Candlish
Another domestic thriller. Yes, they are everywhere and hard to avoid when you read as much as I do. This was the book I needed to read after the three intense books and I really enjoyed it. It’s not a “change your life” type of book, but it is a decent thriller complete with twists and turns and a compulsion to just keep reading, even when you know you should go to sleep.
The description on the back of the book goes… “On a bright Friday morning in the London suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought on Trinity Avenue. Nothing strange about that. Except it’s your house. And you didn’t sell it.” And so we start the story of Fiona and Brams, a recently separated couple who co-parent their children in what seems like a very sensible “nesting” arrangement. They share the family home, each living there on the nights they have custody with the other living in a nearby studio. Fiona returns to the house unexpected one Friday morning and discovers moving vans and a new family moving in. She knows nothing about this and most certainly hasn’t sold her house. She is sure there has been mistake but can’t reach Brams and the new family are adamant that they now own the house. I don’t want to say any more about the plot, but things aren’t as you expect and while you think you might have things figured out early in the book, plot twists and surprises will await you.
This isn’t a deep and meaningful read, but it is a book I really enjoyed and if you are into domestic thriller style novels, this is one of the better ones.
Red Notice by Bill Browder
A few months back, I heard a radio interview with Bill Browder and made a mental note to read this book, only to swiftly forget all about it. Then a couple of weeks ago, I received a bundle of books in the post from a friend, including Red Notice and I read it immediately.
Red Notice is written by investor turned justice campaigner, Bill Browder. He was one of the first western investors to spot the opportunity for high returns in post-Soviet Russia. He moved to Moscow and set up an investment fund and became the largest foreign investor in Russia, taking advantage of a lack of regulation and investment knowledge, corruption and greed. No surprise that eventually he starts to make enemies in Russia, including Putin which results in him being expelled from the country. He is outspoken in his criticism of Russian corruption when trumped up charges are made against him and his company. One of his Russian lawyers Sergei Magnitsky exposes a government sanctioned tax fraud on which the charges are based but is jailed and dies as a result of maltreatment and violence. Browder feels responsible for the murder and turns from investor to campaigner, lobbying American politicians to achieve justice for Sergei through campaigning for sanctions against Russian individuals involved in crime and corruption.
At times, it’s hard to believe that this is a true story and not a work of fiction. It’s worth bearing in mind that the author made a lot of money in the early days and supported Putin. Now he sees himself as a target of the Russian goverment and one of his stated reasons for writing the book is to mitigate the risk to his life. This may be a little niche for some, but I thought it was fascinating and couldn't put it down.
Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman
To mark British Vogue’s centenary year, the then editor of British Vogue Alexandra Shulman wrote a diary of the year, which was then published as this book.
Offering anecdotes into the world of glossy magazines, journalism, designers, photographers, models, brands and fashion weeks, it’s a must read for anyone who loves fashion and style. The book was one of a number of ways in which the centenary year was marked. At the same time as Alexandra was writing her diaries, a film crew had access to her and the Vogue staff to film a documentaty of the centenary celebtrations. They included a celebtration dinner, a centenary exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, a Vogue Festival, and a centenary issue of the magazine complete with a cover shoot of Kate Middleton. All of these celebrations are charted in both the book and the documentary. As soon as I finished the book I watched the two-part documentary. It's really interesting to see the same set of events told from the two different perspectives.
This book is probably a little niche, but if you like fashion or are interested in behind the scenes type books (both of which I am) well then, I think this is a good book for you. Otherwise, probably not. PS: The one thing I kept thinking throughout the book was “buy a new boiler, Alexandra”. If you read the book, you’ll get it!
Since my December Reading List post, I also read Social Creatures by Tara Isabella Burton, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn and The Reckoning by John Grisham. I haven’t included them in this month's reading list as they weren’t for me. A reminder that reading is subjective and what is one person's favourite book just doesn't hit the spot with others.