I’ve read loads of great books over the last few months, some of which I’ve added to our We Are Reading list, but others I’ve not had time to include so I’m rounding them up here, in case you’re in need of a good autumn read.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.
Shortly before going to Greensboro this summer, I was recommended this book by a friend-of-a-friend as a good insight to the area. I absolutely lost myself in its beautiful tone and gorgeous description.
I’m late to the party on Barbara Kingsolver I know, everyone raves about The Poisonwood Bible (still unread on my bedside stash). But if you haven’t read this glorious homage to the Southern Appalacia area of America, I urge you to give it a try. The writing is clear, words are used carefully and sentences are beautifully, almost artfully constructed. I quite often had to put the book down and marvel at the sheer cleverness of how the story came together. It also has fantastically interesting female characters. Deanna lives in the forest, self sufficient and lost in wildlife observation, Lusa is a clever, just married, moth expert, who ends up miles from home, caught up in a family who view her suspiciously, and Nanny Rawley, an older farmer keen on respecting the landscape, despite an antagonistic, chemical spraying neighbour. There is an unexpectedly handsome trapper that turns up in the woods as an interesting sex object story catalyst that keeps things moving. It’s a book steeped in a love of nature, people and community. A great read for autumn, on my Top Five Books of the Year list. Buy here.
Over-hyped by every glossy in the land this summer, I approached this book – seemingly inspired by the women who hung around with mass murderer Charles Manson – with some trepidation. It’s certainly a very good first novel, but it didn’t really live up to its press. It takes you inside the imagined world of teenage Evie, living in California and with part time parents who are too busy sorting out their own mess to worry too much about what she’s up to. If you have teenage daughters, this is your living nightmare of what might happen to them if you don’t check their every move -although Evie has a sensible head on her shoulders and manages to avoid the really dreadful stuff. It’s clever, but I’m not sure it really gave me much of an insight into the women who are attracted to cults. I didn’t really connect with it emotionally, although considering the subject matter, maybe that’s a good thing. Still an interesting read though. Buy here.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
I loved this book from the moment I saw the gloriously decorative cover and read the first chapter. Featuring another really interesting, non-cliched female character, it’s a story of a wife whose hideous-sounding husband dies, leaving her relieved and well provided for (we’re in 1893). She’s a bit eccentric, a talented novice academic and a budding detective over the case of the Essex Serpent of the title. It’s funny, touching, beautifully observed and I raced through it. It’s E.M Forster for the modern woman. I’ll probably be shot to pieces for saying that. Buy here.
All of the Dr Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths.
I’ve nearly bankrupted myself reading the Elly Griffiths series on Dr Ruth Galloway, all because Belgian Waffling recommended the Norfolk-based bone expert and her (surprisingly dangerous) career as a University academic in her reading list (excellent place for good book recs, fyi). I bought the first book in the series, The Crossing Places, and hardly looked up until the end of book eight. Again, Ruth Galloway isn’t your cliched heroine and although somewhat improbable, her daily life is a joy to be involved in. Imagine if Indian Jones was a female bone expert who lived on the Norfolk coast and hung out with wannabe wizards, all in a good way. Buy here.
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart
I was given this by friends who know me very well indeed, they thought I’d appreciate the well researched mix of botanics and drink, and they were spot on. The book talks you through the important botanicals found in every interesting alcoholic drink, and offers up excellent cocktail recipes on the way. I now know the difference between tequila, mezcal and mescaline and why creme de cassis doesn’t contain cream. Also, should any visiting hipsters demand a drink, I can make a mean Brooklyn Cocktail. Truly, a gem of a book for anyone who enjoys gardening, cooking and drinking. Good for Christmas gifting too I’d say. Buy here
Also, don’t forget the Maggie O’Farrell I mentioned here, which is a delight, and the fabulous A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams, mentioned here, both cracking reads.
Now I need a new book, what’ve you been reading recently?
Thanks for these great recommendations. I will definitely be reading The Essex Serpent. I’ve also read, avidly, all the Ruth Galloway books and also the newer series by Elly Griffiths, based in Brighton in the 50s involving a group of magicians who did secret work during the war – The Zig Zag Girl is the first of these. I’ve just finished Exposure by Helen Dunmore, which brings together domestic life in the early 1960s and the Cold War brilliantly. Another of my favourites this year has been William Boyd’s Sweet Caress – a wonderful, complex female character and Boyd’s great ability to create a landscape for her life that cuts across real historical events.
As I am living in the US now I am enjoying reading mainly US literature whilst here. I read the outstanding Poisenwood Bible earlier this year so keen to read a Kingsolver that is set in the US. Thank you for the recommendations.
Our pleasure, Yvonne, hope you love the Prodigal Summer as much as I did. And thanks for those excellent tips Lindsay, I did wonder if I should start Elly’s other books, you’ve convinced me. And I’ve eyed up Helen Dunmore too, never read any William Boyd, so I’m adding all of these to my list! Thanks Ax
You might enjoy the Donna Leon crime series set in Venice featuring Commissario Brunetti, they are superb and even re readable- over time! I like the Elly Griffiths and Maggie O’Farrell too!
Thanks for the tip Vivienne! Ax
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