Whilst waiting for the warmer weather to make an appearance, I can be found in a comfy seat or cosy café discovering new female writers whilst revisiting some old favourites. I'm longing for sunny days when I can take myself out of the office to spend an hour in the park with a good book. Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments below.
Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
Americanah is a love story that weaves itself across 3 continents. We first meet Ifemelu (her) and Obinze (him) as teenagers who fall for each other in Nigeria. Adichie makes succinct observations about race, identity and the immigrant experience, mostly through the medium of Ifemelu’s blog Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. A challenging read that challenges modern attitudes to race. (Rumour has it that Lupita Nyongo has bought the rights for a TV series).
Love, Nina: Dispatches from Family Life (Nina Stibbe)
This delightful book is a collection of letters, written by 20 year old Nina Stibbe to her sister Vic, during the year of 1982 as she nannies 2 boys in London. Their mother is a prominent literary editor, their father a successful film and television director, and their neighbour is playwright Alan Bennett who often pops in unannounced for dinner. Leicester born Nina is clearly out of her depth - with both the boys and London life - but she muddles through, providing an affectionate insight to the literary world wrapped up in hilarious anecdotes.
Lady Oracle (Margaret Atwood)
Lady Oracle opens with its protagonist, Joan Foster, admitting she has faked her death to start a new life in Rome. We then spend the rest of the book unravelling how Joan ended up in her present predicament. Providing a sharp commentary on what it means to be a woman in society, Atwood demonstrates that Joan has spent her whole life trying to please others, thereby losing her sense of self in the process. The end will leave you longing for a sequel.
We'll Always have Paris: Trying and Failing To Be French (Emma Beddington)
Emma Beddington’s passion for France was kickstarted as a teenager, when she discovered French Elle in her Yorkshire school library. Desperate to swop Betty’s Tea Rooms for Café de Flore, Emma did whatever she could do to make her life more French: a French exchange, a French boyfriend, a French history degree. She finally moved to Paris as an adult. Whilst she quickly mastered the French pastry scene, Emma struggled to find a sense of home. She’s now kicking ass in Belgium with the aforementioned French man and two teenage boys. Paris isn’t the be-all and end-all : )
The Year of Magical Living (Joan Didion)
You wouldn’t guess it from the title but this is a book about grief (spoiler, it’s not a total downer). Grief is something that affects most of us repeatedly throughout our lives and yet so little is written about it. Joan unpacks some personal grief with much care, after losing her husband unexpectedly whilst simultaneously dealing with her adopted daughter’s health scare. It’s an intimate read, dotted with Didion’s dry humour, with action being driven forward constantly through the author’s use of repetitive language.
The Only Street In Paris: Life On The Rue Des Martyrs (Elaine Sciolino)
Former Paris Bureau Chief of The New York Times, Elaine Sciolino understands that it is the people of Paris who make the city. Her account of living on the rue des Martyrs (South Pigalle) takes us beyond the shop façades: we discover the stories of the working-class tradesmen and varied residents. Whilst some successfully manage to hold onto the street’s village vibe, such as Michou, the flamboyant owner of Cabaret Michou, and Mayor Jacques Bravo, others struggle to keep their business afloat faced with competition from chain brands. A charming exploration of this Parisian street that you won’t be able to put down!
Fever Dream (Samanta Schweblin)
Shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, this book will haunt you from beginning to end. Set in Argentina - the author’s birthplace - our protagonist is a mother called Amanda who has taken her daughter on holiday to the countryside. Within days she is struck down by a mysterious illness and most of the action takes place in a hospital environment, with an eerie conversation between Amanda and a young boy David, who may be Lucifer in disguise. Covering a range of themes that include the environment, destruction of society and a parent’s fear of protecting their child from all evil, this is a compelling if uncomfortable and confusing read.
Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng)
Despite the announcement of Lydia Lee’s death in the opening line, the author builds a level of suspense that holds until the very end. Set predominantly in the 1970’s, we meet the Chinese / American Lee family who have to deal with open racism and the painful consequences of all their secrets unravelling. The narrative smoothly switches between Lydia’s mother, father, older brother and younger sister, as well as Lydia herself, making the title more significant on second glance. A gripping read that also encapsulates the pressures inadvertently placed on children by their parents.
A Room Of One's Own (Virginia Woolf)
This feminist essay is based on a lecture Woolf was invited to lecture on the subject of “Women and Fiction” at Girton College (Cambridge) in 1928. The underlying message is simple: women need financial independence and a room with a lock in order to explore their creativity. By taking us through the limited history of female writers, the author gets her point across. Women until that point had little to no opportunity for success in their own right and whilst there’s more options today, being a woman is still an uphill struggle. This book is an essential for any reader or writer whether male or female.
Tipping The Velvet (Sarah Waters)
Set in 1890s London, Sarah Waters's debut is a captivating story of lesbian love. Nancy Astley is in the family business of fishmongering in coastal Whitstable. She falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler after seeing her perform at the local music hall. Despite falling for Nancy, Kitty ultimately rejects her for a man due to societal pressures. And so we follow Nancy on her path to true love, from hustling on the streets to being the kept companion of a wealthy widow. Thanks to her outstanding storytelling skills, Waters keeps us guessing as to whether her heroine’s ending will be happy or sad right until the end.