The Museum Of You*
Clover, 12, is using her summer holidays to create a museum all about the mother she never knew. Meanwhile, her dad (Darren) is entirely focused on ensuring Clover is happy, even if that means suppressing his own grief, which is nevertheless manifested in his inability to throw anything away: it is from the hoarded mass of objects that fill their spare bedroom that Clover is gathering her exhibits. It seems counter-intuitive that a book steeped in grief, loss and guilt should be so filled with light and joy, but The Museum Of You is. Full of witty observations that demonstrate Bray's astute eye for the tiny yet important details of our lives, the malapropisms of Clover and Darren's next door neighbour are a particular delight; what might have felt trite and over-done in the hands of a less skilled author here made me laugh out loud. It's simply a delight to read: profound, moving, deeply sad and heartbreaking yet enormously uplifting. My book of the summer and quite possibly of 2016.
Between The World & Me
Toni Morrison called Between The World And Me, "essential reading" while a review on Kirkus said it, "might have been titled Black Lives Matter." Taking the form of a letter from Coates to his teenage son, it's both a memoir and a meditation on the history of American state violence against black bodies. A tough but important read, Between The World And Me is an impassioned and rightfully angry book, pervaded with a sense of his fear for his son, a young black man in a country where young black men are feared, incarcerated, violated, killed.
When Breath Becomes Air*
When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of neuro-surgeon Paul Kalanithi who, months before finally qualifying and after a glittering academic career that included a first degree in English Literature from Stanford, to a Masters at Cambridge followed by a medical degree at Yale, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. It's a quick read but enormously moving, with Kalanithi writing fluently and beautifully about living and dying. He is concerned, mostly, with mortality: first that of his patients, and then his own. And the afterword, by his wife Lucy, left me a weeping, sobbing mess on the Eurostar, to the confusion of other passengers.
Murder Most Unladylike
Take a pinch of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers books, add a dash of Agatha Christie, take away the egregious racism of both, and you have the Murder Most Unladylike series. Our heroines are schoolgirls Daisy Wells (who fancies herself as Sherlock Holmes, emotional detachment and all) and Hazel Wong, daughter of an Anglophile Chinese businessman. When Hazel stumbles upon the body of a teacher at Deepdean, their boarding school - a body which, the alarm having been raised, mysteriously disappears - the game is afoot and the girls get to detecting. Further books so far in the series find them working to solve murders at Daisy's family home (a huge country pile, naturally), on the Orient Express, and then back at Deepdean. These are the book equivalent of curling up under a blanket with a hot chocolate on a cold day: deeply comforting and satisfying.
Dear Amy borrows heavily from others of the psychological thriller genre, but crafts that which is borrowed into something new and unique. The trope of the unreliable narrator, used to great effect in The Girl On The Train, at first seemed a bit tired, but a few plot twists later and the fact that we can't trust protagonist Margot's perception of events becomes more exciting. As often happens with psychological thrillers, there are quite a few moments when I was shouting at the page. "What are you doing?!" but there's a kind of logic to Margot's actions that is often lacking in other narratives. And the autumnal Cambridge setting adds enormously to the atmosphere of the book, providing a creeping sense of unease amongst the dreaming spires.
When internet psychic Manfred Bernado moves to the sleepy town of Midnight, Texas, he quickly learns that all is not as it seems with the inhabitants (as you would expect from a book by the author of the True Blood books). I can't say much more about the Midnight Crossroad series, which so far consists of three books, without giving away plot spoilers. Suffice it to say that I loved the books and fell head over heels with Midnight and those who live there. If you enjoy gentle human drama with a touch of the supernatural, I'm confident you'll enjoy them too.
Sub-titled 'Making Feminist & Queer Movements More Inclusive', Excluded is a riposte to all the trans-exclusionary radical 'feminists' out there who seek to exclude, endanger and dehumanise trans women. Serano is an evolutionary biologist, so the chapters dealing with the science of gender are particularly strong and have given me plenty of ammunition for debate. She also has a lot to say about bi-phobia and femme-phobia within queer communities, which as a femme, bi-identified queer woman resonated with me.
Girls Will Be Girls
Through a mixture of memoir and academic analysis, O'Toole looks at how women perform, and are expected to perform, gender. Much of what she has to say will be familiar to anyone who's read more widely on gender, feminist theory and sociology, but she has a way with words that makes the journey enjoyable and worthwhile, nevertheless. However, it was interesting to read Girls Will Be Girls immediately after Excluded because it brought home to me how poor O'Toole is on intersectionality, and particularly trans issues. While she tries to talk generally about women, she is almost always focused on her own personal experience as a white, cis, able-bodied woman. Admittedly, Girls Will Be Girls is very explicitly rooted in the personal, and anecdotes about her own experiences form the basis of the book. However, to fail to recognise her privilege or to at least admit, "hey, not every woman is like me," just isn't good enough in 2016.
* These books were kindly provided by the publishers, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.