And we’re back, returning with part two of your book recommendations. A few weeks ago, we asked for recommended titles to help one another through this tough chapter and to inspire novel adventures, and we hope the following suggestions do just that. Thank you to everyone who suggested a title or two. If you’re wondering what to read next, check out what your fellow bookworms recommend.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
During lockdown, I read The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. My favourite book is her debut novel, The Night Circus, so I wanted to read her most recent book to see whether it was as good!
I didn’t know much about the story before I started reading it and the first few chapters definitely confused me with the shifting perspectives, but once I got into it, I absolutely loved it! The individual fairy-tale chapters which I had felt interrupted the story at first, became as integral as the main plot as they interwove into every aspect of the story.
Erin has such a way with words that the story feels like it’s playing out in your head like a film. The nuances of each description made me feel like I was there with all the characters, whether in a garden of keys, a sea of honey or an intricate, expansive, catacomb-like library!
Each of the characters were fantastically well-written and it was lovely to have a tiny cameo from a Night Circus character too. Plus, there was the added bonus of a really well-written LGBT relationship, which I wasn’t expecting yet was really thrilled to read.
If you’re looking for escapism during this overwhelming and unsure time, then this could be the book for you. There’s nothing that helps you get away from COVID-19, social distancing, and WFH better than disappearing into the pages of The Starless Sea.
Review by Laura J.
Find it here.
The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
Cosmologically amalgamative, Junauda Petrus’s debut novel The Stars and the Blackness Between Them is a culmination of black pasts and presents that expands across a backdrop of modern spirituality.
We follow the stories of Mabel and Audre, two young, queer, sixteen-year-old black girls, from opposite sides of the world. Audre’s narrative is written in her native Trinidadian dialect, and Mabel’s in that of the African American dialect, which makes for an equally engaging and educative reading experience as a non-black person of colour. The novel twists and bends itself into new forms with every page, adapting to carry the gravitas of its shifting subject matter – death and life become night and day in this young adult romance, and an introspective reflection is often only a sentence away.
Tucked between this much-needed telling of a meditative queer, black, female love-story, is beautifully celestial poetry, heartfelt letters and one of my new favourite characters of all time, Audre’s quasi-goddess grandmother, Queenie! As a queer person of colour myself, this was a heart-warming and tear-shedding reading experience. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for that lyrical quality of epic poetry, weaved incredibly and charmingly alongside a narrative of two incredible protagonists.
Review by PM.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
A thoughtful book set in the twentieth century against a dark and hopeful backdrop. With acute dexterity, Kingsolver weaves Congo’s fight for freedom and subsequent murder of its first elected president, the CIA’s involvement and structuring of a coup for a replacement, and the western world’s complicity in placing barriers against a young African nation’s struggle for self-government into the fibre of the Price’s family story. What’s more, she does this with imagination, deep insight and profound understanding.
Evangelical Baptist minister Nathan Price, arrogant in his assumption the Congolese need to be saved, uproots his family from 1950s Georgia, Mississippi, and brings them to the Congo. His wife, Orleanna, wild and beautiful with a passionate love for nature, had married the gloomy Nathan at seventeen and given birth to three children in the space of two years. From then on, she became just a vessel of her husband’s bidding.
Orleanna’s struggle for freedom of expression is revived only when tragedy strikes the family. Fuelled by guilt that also provides strength, she makes the final decision to flee her mad husband with her four daughters in tow. The domestic tragedy of the Price family makes for poignant reading and is told from the point of view of the five females who each in their own way will leave a lasting impression on the reader.
Unlike the other characters, Nathan Price never speaks to the reader though his sermonizing voice is heard through his daughters. He never doubts his mission and is contemptuous of weakness. He has perched himself so high that he completely ignores the necessity to learn the local language to preach. Adah, one of his daughters, who suffers from hemiplegia and never speaks, yet turns words upside down and inside out, figures out her father’s mispronunciation of “tata Jesus is bangala” – meaning something ‘precious’ and ‘dear’, the way he pronounces it, it becomes ‘poisonwood tree’.
Written as a political allegory, The Poisonwood Bible is a novel of guilt and desperate attempts for redemption. Told from different points of view it is darkly beautiful. The female characters react to Nathan’s narrow-minded, dictatorial treatment while forging out their own path.
One of the best books I have read. Brilliantly executed, Kingsolver has given each character a unique voice which is what made it sparkle for me.
Review by Purabi S.
Walden; or, Life in the Woods by H. D. Thoreau
This is one of the few books I return to from time to time. I reach for it when the noise around me becomes too much. Contrary to the readers who, during challenging times, look for solace in books which are dystopian and surreal, I crave something that is soothing and reassuring. Walden; or, Life in the Woods by H.D. Thoreau, for me, is like a lingering warm hug, and I would like to recommend it to as many people as possible.
A man of his time, Thoreau’s talent for grasping the universal truths and pinpointing the issues people continue to face to this day while offering solutions such as turning back to nature is, in my opinion, unrivalled. His critical view of consumerism and our constant strive to own material things, our desire to have rather than to be, to do rather than to give ourselves space to think are all very basic ideas which, for some reason, we only revisit when faced with adversity.
Although most of us would not be brave enough to move into a little cabin by the lake and spend our time alone watching the birds outside the window while contemplating life, I feel that reading Walden; or, Life in the Woods gives me that much required reassurance that perhaps things don’t have to be so complicated. Maybe the real secret to happiness is to be able to just sit and observe? And to be lucky enough to come across wonderful lines like the following: “A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty.”
Review by Audrone K.
An Extract from our LBF Book Club Review of Lote by Shola von Reinhold
As part of Jacaranda’s #Twentyin2020 initiative to publish twenty books by black British writers this year, Lote is already making history. And in its quest to shine a light on the cultural biases at play that ensure history remembers some and forgets so many others, it is a particularly poignant one.
Lote is a debut novel by Shola von Reinhold that explores themes of representation and the eradication of black, female and queer voices in history and art. It follows protagonist Mathilda as she struggles to find her place in an artworld that is dominated by the privileged, connected, white and middle class.
With real-life authors and artists of the 20s and 30s peppering the pages, and lyrical prose, Lote is a deeply transporting and thought provoking read, which is an urgent and timely contribution to the cultural dialogue surrounding the history of race and gender in Europe.
Read the rest of the review here.
Review by Midas PR
Find it here.
The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley
“The Seven Sisters series unashamedly celebrates the endless search for love, and explores the devastating consequences when it is lost to us.” – Lucinda Riley
Focusing on seven adopted sisters who are all looking to find their heritage and where they came from, this series beautifully blends contemporary love stories with historical fiction. Focusing on one sister per book, this series allows you to really see the strengths and weaknesses of each woman. A such, individual readers can identify with a different character as they each have such differing personalities – some of which I personally liked and some I didn’t – but I think this shows Riley’s ability to reflect reality whilst also weaving in magic, as she creates such vivid and wonderful stories. These books are an escape and a joy to read.
Review by Ellie F.
Find them here.
Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann
Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann is such an empowering read! It really shows how poetry can have a powerful effect on a person. It was beautiful, heart-breaking and real, just so many strong feelings in one. Amber’s fight to break away from her father’s tyranny is parallel to what today’s women go through in a patriarchal society. But even though this book is an excellent comparison to what is really happening in today’s world, this amazing book also reflects the generational trauma that could be inflicted on a person and how that abuse can trickle down. What’s more, it shows the fight to end that cycle and the impressive courage of discovering your own future. This was such an impressive debut and I can’t wait to read more from this talented author.
Review by Tabrizia J.
Find it here.
Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew
Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew is another amazing book that teens definitely need to read, as it takes a steadfast look at a subject that society still considers to be a taboo subject – periods. Cuthew approaches this important topic with articulation and creativity, and this makes for one compelling and intriguing read. Making the point that judgement and stereotyping can come from all sides, this book really reveals the provocative truths that people have internally about something that is completely normal. I just loved every minute of this book!
Review by Tabrizia J.
Find it here.
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Inspired by a set of children’s books that began with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Wicked is one of those reads that you can dive into multiple times and still come away feeling something new.
Part coming-of-age story and part philosophical and political allegory, Wicked is a tale from the so-called witch’s perspective that throws you moral conundrums wrapped in beautiful prose. On a smaller scale, however, it’s also a fantastic story about what it is to be a woman and the pressures and problems of conforming to societal norms. Despite its often heavy themes, Wicked also manages to make you fall in love with its many flawed characters as well as laugh at the all-too human pitfalls they find themselves in. Dark, gritty and a far cry from its source material, Wicked is Baum’s Oz for adults and a different animal too from the musical it inspired.
Review by Nakita M.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak
‘But given half a chance, Leila would have testified that, on the contrary, a corpse was brimming with life’, this statement on the very second page of the book lets you sink into your own thoughts, and you begin to battle with them. I was unsure why I was allowing my own thoughts to disturb me so much, and then on the next page I found why: I was scared. The author herself clarified that. The battle continued throughout the journey of the novel, like the flow of the Bosphorus, and I couldn’t help but keep on sailing. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World is just another novel until you start to read it, and then it becomes something very close to your heart. This masterpiece by Elif Shafak leaves you with a deep imprint. It makes you uncouple your ideologies about life and regenerate them. A definite must read.
Review by Biki.
Find it here.
Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola
I’ll be honest, while I haven’t yet read this book it is on my list of novels to read. Focusing on love stories from mythology and history, Bolu retells these tales with new a renewed sense of spirit and detail. From ancient Greek myths to the magical folktales of West Africa, Bolu’s collection of stories show and celebrate romance in all of its forms. Described as beautiful and full of joy, now, more than ever, it is the perfect time to soak up some love.
Review by Jennie M.
Find it here.
Red Velvet and Anemones by M.M. Ward
A whirlwind of emotions and a dynamic plot. Red Velvet and Anemones had me sitting at the edge of my seat throughout. Every event that unfolded opened floodgates of emotions. I felt such an overwhelming sense of compassion for Milli’s life, her story is worth telling. I wanted to protect Milli with all that I have, she’s a beautiful, wonderful woman and her story touched my heart. I’m eagerly waiting for the sequel to see how the rest of her story plays out.
Review by Portia Ekka.
The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara
The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020 and I don’t believe it has received the attention it deserves! Slight, nimble, delicate, and hitting at a mere 188 pages, its size betrays the beautiful and expansive epic it contains. ‘A thrilling miniature epic’ is how the Guardian described it and I couldn’t agree more!
Review by Demir C.
Find it here.
I Always See You! by Christina Itwaru
I Always See You! by Christina Itwaru is an inspiring and ideal read for those feeling lost and in need of renewed hope. This book is for all ages no matter what journey you may be on. It’s short and direct but gets the job done. Definitely worth a read, especially in this pandemic.
Review by Shannon H.
Night Swimming by Doreen Finn
Night Swimming by Doreen Finn is a beautiful book, and tragically overlooked. Gorgeous prose and a riveting story. Night swimming is one of those books that don’t come around often enough but when they do, you know you’re in for an experience. Nine-year-old Megan lives with her mother and grandmother in 1970s Dublin. Her sheltered upbringing is blown asunder with the arrival of an American family, who move into the garden flat of Megan’s family home. Her friendship with the sophisticated Beth adds a danger and a freedom to Megan’s life that she hasn’t experienced up to this point. The book’s real success, though, lies in the beauty of the writing. Doreen Finn captures the atmosphere of a heatwave in Dublin with a deceptive simplicity, and brings poetry to her depictions of love, friendship and loss. It is a book that manages to be beautiful and lyrical, as well as gripping. A reading triumph.
Review by Mark S.
Find it here.
In addition to the longer aforementioned reviews, here’s a selection of recommendation nuggets:
Spectacles: A Memoir by Sue Perkins
Why? A down to earth life written in a funny and moving way with great short conversations and paragraphs.
Review by Aynur M.
Find it here.
Hell in the Heartland by Jax Miller
Hell in the Heartland is based on a true crime story. I just think it is essential to bring attention to this still open case so that the families might finally find some peace.
Review by _the_book_club__
Find it here.
The Offing by Benjamin Myers
I’d recommend The Offing by Benjamin Myers. It’s a sensitive, heart-warming portrayal of a young man’s coming-of-age during a glorious post-war summer in the North of England.
Review by Orna O.
Find it here.