This was a good month of reading. I read two new releases and three older releases. Of the new releases, I’m still re-reading parts of How to Lose a Country. It’s a timely book, bringing together many worrying trends in world politics in a way that’s easy to understand. Ece Temelkuran is speaking at the Dalkey Book Festival next month if you would like to hear the author speak in person. American Spy is an excellent read. Based between the United States and Burkina Faso in Africa, if you enjoy international spy thrillers, this is for you. The Spinning Heart is a powerful read from Donal Ryan. Let Me Lie was the thriller I needed for pure distraction. And Villa America is an interesting read, albeit not one I loved.
Keep scrolling for the full low down on my May Reading List. As usual, 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.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
O.K. I really enjoyed this book. It’s a spy thriller set in the US and the African state of Burkina Faso in the 1980s. It’s original and nothing like the spy thrillers I’m used to reading. They’re usually more James Bond style or American hero saves the day style thrillers. This is definitely not one of those!
Marie Mitchell is an FBI agent stationed in New York city. She is also a young black woman finding it hard to progress in a world of white agents. She is approached to join a task force aimed at taking down Tomas Sankara, the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso. He has become a target of the US security agencies because of his communist ideology. She agrees to the mission even though she secretly respects the changes that Sankara is making in his country. When she meets Sankara (undercover of course) she is charmed by him. Even though Maria knows she is being used by the taskforce for her appearance she seduces Sankara and plays a part in his downfall. This book will challenge our thoughts on international espionage and on America’s role as the ‘good guy’ of world politics.
I read American Spy in a few days and I would highly recommend it if you like political fiction or international spy thrillers.
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
Was I ready for another Donal Ryan induced emotional roller coaster after reading From a Low and Quiet Sea last month? Turns out I was more than ready. The Spinning Heart is his debut novel and another top read.
It’s a short and powerful story, set in small-town Ireland during the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. The tale is told through the voices of twenty-one characters, whose internal monologues reveal each of their own versions of the truth. As new characters from the community add their voices to the story we begin to understand the links between the characters and the plot unfolds. As this happens, it’s almost impossible to put the book down. It’s short and can easily be read in one or two sittings.
Characters include the former employees of the local construction firm that has gone bust. Family members. Young people whose prospects are bleak. Older members of the community. The Spinning Heart is another great work of Irish fiction that I highly recommend.
How to Lose a Country by Ece Temelkuran
This book is a round-up of the seven strategies that would-be dictators use to turn a democracy into a dictatorship. The type of tactics used by populists to increase their presence and win elections. It’s a must-read for everyone and especially those who say “it couldn’t happen here”. A pretty timely read all round!
How many of us listened to the news in disbelief the mornings after the 2016 US Presidential Election and the Brexit Referendum? How did this happen and could it happen in our own countries? If you are still wondering, this book goes some way to explaining the mechanisms and tactics used to achieve change against what we consider the odds and how the old rules of democracy are being undermined.
I’m pretty sue that most of us know that populist and nationalist governments don’t just appear overnight out of nowhere. Rather they seep into society over time, using mechanisms and tactics the effect of which we underestimate or dismiss. The early warning signs are unseen or ignored by most. Fasists invited on radio stations “for balance”, nationalist politicians running for office claiming to represent “the real people” and the liberal use of alternative facts, i.e. down right lies, to advance a cause. And all the time those of us who think that Trump won’t happen here continue to underestimate the dangers of this rising wave of populism.
If you think populism isn’t on the rise here in Ireland. Read this book and think again. The signs are everywhere. I highly recommend this book.
Villa America by Liza Klaussmann
What did I think of this book? I was not hooked by it and never really became invested in it. I really enjoyed parts of it, but ultimately I didn't care about the characters' stories or the plot line. I should say I am probably hold the minority view on this as I know lots of people who love this book.
Set in the 1920s, a young and wealthy American couple, Gerald and Sara Murphy move to the South of France first living in Hotel Cap de Eden Roc with their three children and later moving close by to a luxury villa, Villa America. They befriend a group of fellow expats including Picasso, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and Hemmingway. What unfolds is a story of bohemian artists and writers, who live a seemingly charmed existence. However these carefree summer days hide unhappy marriages, personal struggles and sadness.
It’s a story of love and relationships and a historical portrait of the Murphys and their circle of friends. I didn’t love this book, but it is critically acclaimed so perhaps I’m missing something.
Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh
I’m one of those readers who’s enjoyment of a book hinges to a certain extent on when I read it and the books I’ve read before it. This was the last book I read last month. I’d just finished How to Lose a Country (loved but a very serious read) and Villa America (which I found slow). I just wanted a book that is pacey and full of drama. Cue Clare Mackintosh.
Where to start? Anna Johnson returns to live in Eastbourne with her new partner and child. One year ago her mother Caroline Johnson committed suicide in a copycat of the suicide of Anna's Dad just months before. As Anna tries to build a life and struggles to come to terms with the loss of her parents, she starts to question their deaths. The more she discovers wth the help of a retired detective, the more suspicious their suicides become and the more danger Anna gets into.
If you are a thriller fan, I highly recommend this book. I read another book by this author “I See You” last year and equally enjoyed it. This is a say up into the early hours of the morning book. And the twist at the end will have you reeling. Thriller fans, put this on the TBR list immediately.