Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman

I am a huge fan of Alice Oseman’s graphic novels ‘Heartstopper’. So, when I knew that a novella about our heroes Nick and Charlie had been released, I knew I had to read it.

This is set after ‘Heartstopper: Volume 3’, but you could easily read it as a standalone story. Nick and Charlie are in love but approaching different times of their lives. Nick is about to head off to university and Charlie will be left behind in sixth form. They have agreed to carry on a long-distance relationship, but Charlie starts to struggle with the idea of the changes ahead.

This novella centres on Nick and Charlie having to deal with their emotions about lies ahead. It really highlights the need for couples to communicate and talk about feelings. However, that is something that males often find harder. Yet it certainly becomes harder for them, as they fail to talk about things. Although, maybe love will win.

These books are always lovely to read and really highlight issues that shoulf be brought to the attention of readers. YA readers are lucky to have the books of Alice Oseman as they tackle those teenage years.

Unwritten Letters to Spring Street by Jacquelyn Frith

This is certainly a book for those who have an interest in the events of World War Two. Especially those events in the East, from the bombing of Pearl Harbour onwards.

The book looks specifically at one youne man Jack Frith, as he experiences not only the horror of war but also time as a prisoner of war. A brutal and harrowing experience.

However, this tale does not end there. This presents the investigation into the search for justice for what happened, sadly, to so many something that has an impact on not only the future of those involved, but also part of the heritage and history of all of us.

Clearly developed with evidence that is presented throughout to the reader, Frith allows us to follow the narrative of events and draw our own conclusions. Which, we all know, is part of a good history book as well as the mark of a good historian.

You will be asking youself many questions as you read this, especially about the cost of war. However, the one that strikes me, and that I am often discussing with others, is who are the enemies in war? Is each individual an enemy?

Roar by Cecelia Ahern

As I started this collection of short stories, I was not too sure about it to begin with. However, as I kept going, I realised what a fascinating collection of tales this is.

There is an element of fantasy to the tales, which may put some readers off. However, the elements of fantasy in fact makes the stories what they are – and adds to the comments being made about women in society.

Each story is about a different unamed woman, because we can probably all put ourselves into the story, as these are tales of all women in all situations. They are also stories that pass comment on the society we love in and the position of women within that society. It really challenges some of the old-fashioned ideas that, sadly, can still so easily be part of our world. Gender identity is also very cleverly challenged on several occasions, and if women really do always have the support of women.

Also, I really likes the visualisation of some phrases we hear more often than we should. The first that really struck me was ‘being left on the shelf’. In the story that presents this idea, it is probably not presented quite as you expect, but does make you think about women and the path life may take – or, at least, maybe the path society pre-define it should take.

This is really quite a thought-provoking read. A collection of modern-day stories to empower women and maybe lead you to evaluate your ideas or the life you lead.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Finally I have dipped my toe into the world of Greek myth retellings. Thanks to two lovely bookstagram buddies, I picked up ‘The Song of Achilles’ for a buddy read.

I really enjoyed this book, so, again I am left pondering why it has been left so long on my to-be-read pile and maybe the others in this genre should be picked up sooner rather than later. (I realise you can all hold me to that when I am still to pick them up – so many books, so little time.)

‘The Song of Achilles’ is a retelling of the story of Achilles from the point of view of his loyal lover Patroclus. From their first meeting until their inevitable separation, we follow them as Achilles can not avoid living to fulfil the prophecy, evern if it leads to a heartbreaking conclusion. With much of this tale set during the war with Troy.

This is possibly one of the most beautiful love stories ever told. However infuriating Achilles can be at times, with his arrogance, the love he and Patroclus share is true. It worried me that some of Patroclus’ actions are due to him being blinded by love. However, it is clear that they are meant to be.

This book is a nice way in to an interest in the Greek tales. I am now interested to find out more. I have an awareness of a lot of the famous figures and tales, but this has certainly given me a desire to find out more – it is certainly complex. Although, I do have some issues with the treatment of women, one of the strongest characters in this book is Briseis. Despite starting as a prize from warm she becomes a loyal friend to Patroclus, even falling in love with him. She is certainly a balance, and a very strong woman.

This is a beautifully written book which engages the reader from the start. And the final two lines of the book are some of the most moving I have ever read.

Lot by Bryan Washington

I have been lucky enough to be part of the ‘Lot’ blog tour – and I feel very privilaged to have been. (Especially as Barak Obama was a fan).

Lot is a collection of short stories all based around one community of friends and family in America as they work each day, in some cases, simply to survive. The majority of the tales focus around our narrator, the son of a black mother and a Latino father, as he journeys along the complex path of self-discovery. There are regular challenges of identity, family life and survival as he works in the family’s restaurant, and discovering he is gay (which does not go down well with everyone). However, everyone whose tale we come across is facing personal struggle, often about identity, culture and trying to be accepted and successful.

However, all the way throughout the book, there is a constant theme of love. Maybe not always obviously, but it is clear that it keeps all these friends and family ticking along.

There is so much in this book that makes it beautiful – even if not all the stories are happy ones – they are certainly thought-provoking and a reminder that a little kindness and acceptance can go a long way.

Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee

Another new author for me this year – and an excellent one at that. ‘Death in the East’ is a classic example of a good detective fiction. This book, to me, was like a combination of Christie and Conan Doyle – a magic combination. However, this is also a book that takes a good look at moral issues surronding the British control of India.

A classic locked room mystery – well, two actually – came to the attention of our hero Wydenham. One from his past, which he has struggled to make peace with, and one now – which really does seem impossible.

All of this takes place as Wydenham reflects on his position and the position of Britain in India (as wel as the relationship of other groups with Britain). Mukherjee himself says that this a theme that was required and, sadly, reflects some of the concerns that are part of all of our cultures.

This books is beautifully written and fully engaging. A real page-turner, which is the best thing about a crime fiction novel. There is a great collection of characters who make for a wonderful addition to the plot. Also, it is actually the fourth book in a series, but it works wonderfully as a standalone book. Nothing is lost at all from not having read the other books. Although, this does mean that there is a whole collection of books to added to the wishlist…

A little update – I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask the fantastic author Abir Mukherjee a question about his work. I wanted to find out why he chose crime fiction as his genre of choice:

I started writing basically to scratch an itch. When I was growing up, we were never taught about British colonial history in school. All we received was a rose tinted version of our history which emphasised British greatness and glossed over all of the terrible things done in the name of Empire. I learned from my parents, that there was another side to this history, and I set out to research it and make it more accessible to others. One of the things I learned though, was that the history of the British in India is a difficult subject for many. People don’t want to be told that the achievements of their grandparents and great grandparents might hide a much blacker truth. Therefore I decided that my message needed to be couched within ripping, page-turning stories, ideally told by a narrator whom readers would find appealing. Crime fiction was a natural choice of genre for me. I grew up in the tradition of Tartan Noir, pioneered by the great William McIllvaney and heroes of mine such as Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, where the crime novel was used as a vehicle to examine and comment on social issues. The detective is a great person to highlight these issues as he or she has access to all levels of society, from princes to paupers, and so I decided to make my narrator an ex copper from London who finds himself in Calcutta because he’s nowhere else to go.

This is a fantastic response as I think these great influences are clear as Abir has created his own individual works.

I was lucky enough to be gifted this novel as part of a blogtour. The paperback is published this week – so make sure you grab a copy.

Why Visit America by Matthew Baker

What a BOOK! I could end my post there – summarising how I felt about this collection of stories in one sweeping statement, but I feel there is even more I could say to make you pick up this book.

I was lucky enough to be gifted this book as part of a Tandem Collective readalong on Instagram. This is a book that I would have been very unlikely to have picked up in the real world – dystopian short stories would not have been my usual choice (I am not a short story fan). However, I would have missed out on the most fascinating collection of tales which are eerily likely with the path that this strange world is taking. Baker tackles all sorts of ethical issues in his stories, including how the over-population of the planet may be handled – and the ever-present issues of immigration. Every story is incredibly thought-provoking and just when you think he cannot surprise you any more, you read the next tale.

The stories are rooted in the United States, but you could transfer them to any of the rich nations of the world. And they almost make you more concious of the countries and people who do not have the same wealth. You will certainly look at yourself and the kind of person you are.

Yet, what struck me the most was how much I could relate it to the history of America and how the nation was established. It is telling that the cover has a buffalo on it. I could see so many parallels to the attempts by settlers to destroy a culture and establish a new one in their own vision – blinkered to the ideas of ‘outsiders’ despite being the ‘invaders’. Although, maybe that is just my own take.

This could well be one of my books of the year. A fantastic and engaging collection of stories that can spark debate and reflection. I think the hardest job is picking your favourite, and not recommending it to every single person you meet.

Fearless by Dr Pippa Grange

A non-fiction read for me, which is about something other than history or interesting figures, is really quite unlikely. However, I was gifted ‘Fearless’ by the lovely Tandem Collective for a readalong, so, of course, I gave it a go.

Fearless is a bit of a self-help guide to help readers find ways to live a life without fear. To begin with, you may think you are not the target audience of this book, and think that fear has no impact on your life (I did a little). However, Dr Pippa Grange explains how fear is often in the background, having an influence on decisions we make. For me, it is definitely the fear of failure that follows me around a little on a day-to-day basis. Yet, this book makes you realise that it does not have to control you and, in fact you can make it work for you and not against you. There are many times these experiences can be made into a positive.

What I liked about this book (and usually the reason I would avoid such books) is that it is not patronising and it is not preachy. It is practical and to the point (although there are a lot of sport examples). Every now and then it may be a little awkward to read, especially if you recognise yourself, but just give yourself a little reminder that it will allow for change.

(Please remember that this is not a definitive guide – there is a lot of support out there if you need it).

Lost You by Haylen Beck

A new thriller to me this summer is ‘Lost You’ but Haylen Beck. To begin with, well from the title, I thought it may be the usual tale of relationships within a family. However, I was a little wrong. This was a clever and slick tale which did not at all follow the path I was entirely expecting. In fact, it raises quite some moral questions.

I do not wish to spoil the plots and twists of this book – always an issue when you come to review/share thoughts on a thriller. However, this is certainly not your usual missing child thriller – it is far more complex that that. All the moral questions are raised around the ideas of surrogacy – and potential power games and manipulation of vulnerable people (for many different reasons).

As the tale develops, I am not sure that the twists are a surprise, however it is still a well constructed narrative and a page-turner. Quite a study of people’s psychology and the impact events can have.

A book for fans of modern thrillers, especially with a very modern theme.

Hidden Intentions by Dave Flint

I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of ‘Hidden Intentions’. And I am glad I was, as, again, it is a chance to try something new.

This novel is billed as a murder mystery – however, for me it is more of a study of human nature. You do not need to solve any murder mystery; you are of the motive, victims and culprit. Yet, you go on a journey with Toby as he moves through his formative years to adulthood. You become very aware of the impact that people and their experiences have on the person. There is almost a Jekyll and Hyde feel to the character of Toby. When loved, respected and trusted we have the gentle Toby, but when things are not as they should be and Toby or his world is threatened we the hidden Hyde – the dark side of human nature.

Although this novel is rather slow-paced, that is part of the charm of the novel. After all, time does not always pass at speed in day-to-day life. You need to take the journey at Toby’s pace to understand the path that it takes.

It has quite an ending, which I will not spoil, but as you reach the conclusion of this novel, you will be left contemplating what exactly makes people take some of the actions they do. Also, that age-old question: do you really know anyone? Can you hide who you are? Can we have conflicting emotions towards people?

There are some interesting questions raised in this book, too, as its setting of the 50s and 60s leaves you thinking about gender roles and cultural identity. Do these forced ideas of both create people and force actions, rightly or wrongly?

This is certainly an interesting read – especially if you have an interest in human nature.