Over the last few months, I’ve definitely rediscovered my reading mojo and have read some great books.
I’ve also spent most weekends over the last month curled up with a book, and all of the novels on this list were read in a couple of sittings. Usually I’ll read two or three chapters without getting particularly engaged, but it’s only when I pick the book up again that I get caught up and finish the story.
I got so caught up the last weekend in July, that I read the final three books on this list. That’s my kind of weekend!
The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon
Natasha and her family are about to be deported from their home in New York back to Jamaica, a country they left when she was a little girl. On her way to the courthouse for a final plea against the deportation, she meets Daniel, who is heading to a university interview that he doesn’t want to go to.
They’re both hoping fate will intervene in their lives and set them on another path.
The teenagers spend a whirlwind day getting to know each other, unaware of how the universe has conspired to bring them together. But will it tear them apart?
After devouring Nicola Yoon’s novel Everything, Everything, I had high hopes for The Sun is Also a Star. It has a very different vibe, but is still written in a whimsical, engaging style. Natasha and Daniel’s romance follows a pattern that might be familiar to fans of 90s movie Before Sunrise, where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy fall in love on one night spent wandering around Vienna.
Natasha and Daniel’s romance potentially only has a few hours to play out, so it becomes all the more intense. The teenagers bond over their backgrounds and the struggles with their families. Natasha’s actor father lost faith in himself after failing to make it on Broadway and slipped away from his family. Daniel’s traditional Korean parents expect him to work hard and become a doctor, a future he doesn’t want for himself.
My favourite part about this novel was the way fate is introduced: as Natasha and Daniel intersect with other people, the reader sees how they have affected each other. Natasha sees a couple fighting and feels dismay at the way relationships fall apart. Moments later, Daniel sees the same couple making up and is inspired by their affection for each other, unaware of the earlier fight.
A sweet, romantic story about the unexpected nature of life.
One Of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus
Five high school kids spend an afternoon in detention, but only four of them make it out alive.
There’s super smart Bronwyn who’s on course for a place at an Ivy League university, the same one where her parents met. Cooper is set for a stellar baseball career, drug dealer Nate is trying to stay out of prison, and popular Addy doesn’t have the perfect life everyone thinks. Then there’s Simon, the creator of a gossip app that torments the students by posting their deepest secrets for all to see.
When he dies before publishing a post about the other students, they’re all suspects. But just who was responsible for his death?
I picked this up on a whim in Tesco as it sounded like a YA version of an old Agatha Christie classic. The opening chapters took a while to hook me, but once they did I powered through this in one afternoon.
The plot is full of twists and turns and surprises, but it isn’t just a YA murder mystery, there’s plenty of deeper character based drama happening, as the four teenager suspects deal with various issues and start to find their own true identities.
How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard is old. In fact, he’s been around for hundreds of years. He has a rare disease that causes him to age slowly and extends his lifespan way beyond the average human.
He suffers alone for a long time, as the people he loves are taken away. But when he is recruited by a mysterious organisation, he discovers that there are many more people like him and the organisation is prepared to kill to protect their secret.
As with much of his past work, Matt Haig’s latest novel is a beautiful story that explores the human condition through a character with unusual, almost unnatural traits.
Tom is inclined to philosophise; he’s lived so long that it would be strange if he didn’t ruminate on the nature of life. As such, the book is full of Haig’s insightful glimpses into what it means to be human and in pain, to despair at the nature of life.
But this is an ultimately uplifting novel about a man fighting to accept himself and be brave enough to take a risk and connect with other human beings in a way he hasn’t allowed himself for centuries.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant lives alone. She spends her days working a dull office job and her weekends drinking vodka in her flat. She might not have any friends, but she’s always been happy with her life.
Until she finds herself getting to know a colleague and realises that maybe there’s more to life than she has always allowed herself to believe.
I’ve seen so many people raving about this book on Twitter that I had to give it a go. Initially, I didn’t think I was going to like it. The story is told from Eleanor’s point-of-view and she has a very strong voice, but as someone who struggles with social skills and doesn’t engage much with other people, she often doesn’t understand basic social cues or etiquette and I found some of the early scenes difficult as they made me uncomfortable.
But this feeling soon passed and I was caught up in Eleanor’s story, reading most pf the book in the one sitting, which finished with me sobbing my heart out.
While this is an ultimately uplifting book, it does deal with some dark issues around abuse. But the most upsetting thing is the way the book deals with loneliness. Although Eleanor has always been fine alone, when she starts to realise what she’s been missing, it’s the small things she notices first: the way an old man grips her hands in his when she’s done him a good turn, or the way someone cares for his elderly mother who isn’t as mobile as she was.
Books like this always make me realise how fortunate I am to have the relationships I do and to have someone who loves me.
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a Georgia plantation, like her mother and grandmother before her. She grew up alone after her mother escaped when Cora was just a girl, leaving her to fend for herself in the brutal world of the plantation.
But when Cora gets a chance to escape, she takes it. Her flight sees her discover the Underground Railroad, which takes her across America and introduces her to people who are willing to risk themselves to help her survive.
What she doesn’t know is that the famed slave catcher Ridgeway is tracking her, determined to bring her back to the plantation to face her punishment. After her mother escaped Ridgeway years before, he’s not prepared to let the same thing happen again.
This is a powerful and violent look at American history that portrays many of the brutalities the nation was built on. As one character says:
“America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes – believes with all its heart – that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft and cruelty.”
Cora’s journey is by turns dramatic, fantastical and allegorical, as she experiences the highs and lows of human existence, always fighting just to live life free and on her own terms, without suffering. It’s a reminder of the things people can do to one another, but also that the human spirit will always persevere and long for freedom.
Rain Falls on Everyone, by Clár Ní Chonghaile
Theo, a young Rwandan boy fleeing his country’s genocide, arrives in Dublin, penniless, alone and afraid. Still haunted by a traumatic memory in which his father committed a murderous act of violence, he struggles to find his place in the foreign city and is drawn into a drugs gang.
He works with Deirdre in a restaurant kitchen and the two find comfort in their friendship, until a series of shocking events threatens to destroy everything.
This novel is about people living on the fringes of society and struggling to get by, to rediscover the people they used to be and find a way to live their dreams. A group of seemingly unconnected characters are woven into the fabric of the story, their lives more intertwined than they initially realise.
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Please note: I received a complimentary copy of Rain Falls on Everyone from the publisher for the purpose of review, but all opinions are my own.