I’ve been struggling to get through my non fiction reads recently and have been feeling a real need for fiction and escapism so I thought I’d look out some really good, immersive and relatively short stand alone fiction that I’ve loved in the past year or so. I picked out a bunch of books from my shelves, messed up my big book stacks trying to find books at the bottom and eventually managed to cut it down to the 8 I found most enjoyable and as you may have noticed from my previous lists and my writing itself, cutting down is not where my talents lie, so this took quite some time. As lockdown continues to ease in the UK I hope everyone is managing to get some time outside in the varying but sometimes really nice weather (I imagine it’s a lot nicer south of Scotland) and possibly even getting the chance to chill out amongst the plants and trees, if you’re into that. Anyway, books.
The first book I thought of for some fun easily readable escapism had to be The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, I read this last summer while staying in Portugal which feels like a lifetime away now. This book had me hooked on the character of Evelyn Hugo and her wild and wonderful life becoming a Hollywood movie star through from the 50s to the 80s, and as is obvious from the title, the 7 different husbands she has had along the way. It’s got that perfect behind the scenes look into what seemed such a glamorous life and one surrounded by men but really there was much more going on away from the public eye that the author allows the reader (along side the reporter finding out the story) to so generously dig into. This book has also been picked for The Late Night Book Club’s September read, so as well as being an excellent read there’s an even more excellent book club to get involved in.
Next I have one of my favourite authors, Jessie Burton and her third book The Muse, which I don’t think is given quite the attention it deserves. The plot unfolds around a striking painting that provides a connection between two time frames with a bit of a mystery aspect where someone in the present is trying to work out something from the past (similar in that vain, to Evelyn Hugo) although I wouldn’t say the mystery is the most important bit and the book certainly isn’t the thrilling page turner type, but that isn’t what I look for in a Jessie Burton book. I want to be completely sucked into a different time period and place than my own, which is made even more magical (but not that type of magical, if you get me) by Burton’s all consuming writing. The book contains so many more aspects than I could ever go into, but to sum up, just like the cover, the writing and atmosphere is utterly beautiful and overflowing with imagery. The only thing that might be as pleasing as Jessie Burton’s writing is her Instagram feed filled with her amazing decor and style, I could drool over her feed all day.
Now I know I do quite frequently reference and compare other books to David Nicolls’ One Day, but I’m going to talk about it again anyway because well, I read it over a year ago and I’m still not over it. The book follows two people on the same day every year for 20 years as they weave in and out of one another’s lives, starting from their last day of Uni in Edinburgh where they take a trip up Arthur’s Seat, pictured below because boy do I miss exploring the city.
The book is filled with mundanities and bursts of love and heartbreak and although it brought me to tears, is truly a wonderful, wonderful piece of fiction. It tackles a relationship, one that goes through stages of friendship and romance, through all its depressing and hilarious ups and downs. It’s certainly not a relationship to idolise though, as just like in Sally Rooney’s Normal People, readers everywhere can be heard screaming please just COMMUNICATE.
This next book, André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name is a tear jerker as well and although it’s not exactly unknown due to the movie which was done so well (and not just because of dear Timothée), I still think it’s worth the read as I really enjoyed the book and Aciman’s tantalising writing which really captured the setting and feelings of the time. I can just listen to that heavenly soundtrack with The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way and be instantly transported into the book and Northern Italy in the 80s (a dream setting don’t you think?). I won’t spoil the plot at all for anyone who hasn’t seen or read it because it’s worth taking it all in at once, but the intensity of this book and almost hypnotic desire and trepidation that comes from within is reason to read it alone. This book is technically no longer a stand alone, however the reviews of the sequel put me right off so I’m just going to pretend it doesn’t exist for now, even if the cover is rather stunning.
I only read Out of Love by Hazel Hayes just last month, so I’ll include a link to last months wrap up where I talked about it here, but I thought it was the perfect addition to this list as a summer read to really suck you in and not let you go till it’s finished. And even though it’s heartbreaking, the book still packs a damn good romance, which seems to be a bit of an accidental theme of this pile – although maybe not romance novels in the typical sense.
And now for one of my favourite authors, Matt Haig, with his (second best fiction book in my opinion) How to Stop Time. This book doesn’t bother trying to be edgy, it’s just really fun and as with all Matt Haig’s books, has a much needed underlying message that comes across so beautifully in fiction that I don’t think could be done as well in any other way or by anyone else. The book, as with all his books, has rather short chapters which I do really love especially when I’m finding it difficult to concentrate and am just in need of that feeling of accomplishment. Haig always manages to make the best of humanity, this time through a book about a man who is centuries old but looks to be in his 40s. The power and kindness of his words are not to be missed. The book is filled with so much heart and care, and is altogether the hopeful book I could do with right now.
Of course the first book I thought of for damn good fiction had to be Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, and man is it good. I read it the month before I started this blog so hadn’t wrote about it in my monthly reads and I felt it was seriously missing so I’m glad to be talking about now. The book has the wonderfully rare nuanced characterisation that I crave which allows for the character of Queenie to be extremely likeable, hilarious and someone you so desperately want to befriend while also leaving you holding your head in your hands wondering why she’d do such a thing. Often characters are confined to being simply good or bad (or a number of different opposites) without showing the reality of human nature whereas it feels like we get to see a character in their truest form both the wild and the contained parts of them. Seeing inside Queenie’s mind made the book hard to put down, the thoughts were so bold, raw and necessary within fiction for covering both the darker parts of her life and the parts that will have you struggling not to laugh alongside her.
Lastly, Nora Ephron’s slim little novel Heartburn which I think is the perfect book for when you’re struggling to read as it is short, easy to read and yet so delicious (and not just because of the recipes throughout). I wrote about the gorgeous book in my May wrap up which you can find here.
Just last night I went through the programme for Edinburgh book festival’s free (!) online event this year and boi is there a lot to look forward to. I think I’ll do a whole post on the events I’m interested in because there are so many wonderful authors there this year, the event that stood out for me being Bernardine Evaristo (again, FOR FREE) in conversation with our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. It’s great that it’s so accessible, helped along by the fact that you don’t need to be in Edinburgh for it. Hopefully there’s an event there for everyone to get excited about.
I hope you have a great reading month this August, whether inside or out, and if in the UK, manage to avoid the thunder and lightning predicted because it was pretty mental last night.