What I’ve been reading… July 2020

I’ve been looking forward to reading in July for months now. My school broke up for summer on the 3rd and I had some great reads lined up and ready to go.

‘Invisible Girl’ by Lisa Jewell

I’m lucky enough to be member of NetGalley, an online community which connects publishers and authors with reviewers, bloggers and educators. This month, I was really excited to get the opportunity to read the latest novel by one of my favourite authors.

I discovered Lisa Jewell earlier this year, and devoured ‘The Family Upstairs’ and ‘The House We Grew Up In’. This latest novel did not disappoint. It’s got the usual domestic setting, and beautifully-drawn characters, and some great twists and turns that leave you guessing until the last page.

I really like Lisa Jewell’s depiction of her characters, and she creates strong female leads in her novels. In this novel, 17-year old Saffyre has problems (“When I was ten years old something really, really bad happened to me. Let’s maybe not get into that too deep.”) and Cate, in her 40s, also has problems (“He is her husband. He hates her. She knows he does. And it’s her fault.”) . The men in their lives, a local college teacher, Cate’s husband and son, and Saffyre’s uncle, provide an often-hapless, sympathetically-painted supporting cast.

This novel deals with the theme of invisibility in its metaphoric sense: the desire to be invisible, the need to be invisible, and the unwanted burden of being invisible. All of the characters are affected by this in some way, and I’m not sure that Saffyre, ‘The Invisible Girl’, is really the most invisible character in the novel.

This is a great read if you’re looking for a thriller with a domestic setting. It’s a definite page-turner with good characterisation.

‘Harrow Lake’ by Kat Ellis

As a teacher of secondary school English, I try to read as much YA fiction as I can. Actually, that’s not quite true… I love to read YA fiction and use my job as justification to read loads of it! Teenagers are a very discerning bunch when it comes to fiction – if they are choosing to read, it’s because they want a great story, and I find that they don’t often put up with slow burns.

I think that ‘Harrow Lake’ will be a really popular read this year. It’s fast-paced, and features interesting characters, fabulous settings, and some great twists.

The real USP of this novel is the cinematic backstory. There’s a load of film references here and it will really appeal to film fanatics. It’s set around Nolan, a famous film-director, his wife and star of his hit film ‘Nightjar’, Lorelei, and the town of Harrow Lake, where the film was filmed. I found ‘Harrow Lake’ to be cross between ‘Chucky’, ‘Arachnophobia’ and ‘The Wicker Man’ – plenty of creepiness, but at a level of horror that even I could cope with – if it were a film, I’d rate it a 12 rather than an 18. If there is a negative point that I’d make about this novel, it would be that it wants to be all genres of horror (insects, graveyards, monsters and humans) rather than just sticking to one.

‘Hidden Figures’ by Margot Lee Shetterly

This month’s theme for my GoodReads reading group is ‘space’, and the group voted for ‘Hidden Figures’ as our group read. I was a little nervous about this one, as I don’t really read a lot of non-fiction, so I decided to listen to it as an audiobook instead.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and find it a great way to get through long novels, anything particularly cerebral, and all things non-fiction.

‘Hidden Figures’ is the story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians, who played a crucial role in the early days of America’s space program. The book is based on the professional and personal lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Christine Darden, who worked at NASA in the 1930s through to the 1960s, at a time where both women and black people were considered by some to be inferior. For once, the depiction of segregation was not the most shocking detail of this book, but the fact that this women managed to work alongside men — albeit in more menial positions than the male engineers and at lower pay.

This book centres around the four protagonists who are depicted first and foremost as mathematicians and academics, and secondly by their gender and race. These were determined, intelligent women who worked at the centre of their industry. I found this book to be an inspirational read, and one that I’ll be using in English lessons in the future.

‘The Shadows’ by Alex North

I’ve reviewed this book in a separate post, which can be found here: https://clairehennighan.wordpress.com/2020/07/22/the-shadows-by-alex-north/.

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo

When ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ won the Booker Prize last year, it was a joint winner with ‘The Testaments’, Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to ‘The Handmaid’ s Tale’. All of the press seemed to centre on Atwood’s novel, she being the more famous author, and ‘the Handmaid’s Tale’ having been recently televised. As a fan of Atwood, I had pre-ordered ‘The Testaments’, skim-read articles about the Booker winners for comments about it, and almost ignored media-coverage of ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. My mistake.

This is an amazing book, and probably my favourite this year. ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ takes on the narratives of a series of ‘ordinary’ characters, most of whom are black and female, and makes the reader really care about their lives. To create a realistic protagonist is impressive, but to do this over and over again within the same novel was sonething else.

This book is political, but rather than employing a didactic tone, it shows you people’s lives, and allows the reader to make their own conclusions. My hope would be that many white men would read this novel, although I regretfully feel that this will not be the case.

‘The Woodlanders’ by Thomas Hardy

Hardy is one of those authors who I know that I can depend upon for a really good read, and ‘The Woodlanders’ was apparently his favourite of his own novels.

Although Hardy’s novels are set in simpler times, with a cast of less worldly-wise characters than you may expect to encounter in a modern work, his depiction of characters, their relationships and concerns are universal and timeless.

Into the secluded village of Little Hintock, outsiders appear, who are more widely-educated, richer, and held in reverence by the rest of the residents – these outsiders become a catalyst to change the status quo and upset the villagers’ peaceful and unassuming way of life.

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