Every Brilliant Book I Read This Summer
Okay, so the summer is over and we’re well into autumn now, which I love as the season of big vats of homemade soup, steaming mugs of tea, Halloween, Bonfire Night, fallen leaves, and, most importantly those long, dark periods of early evening where the best thing to do is to curl up in a blanket in front of the fire or with the candles lit, said tea or a sloe gin in hand to read a good book. So, after the massive success of my original reading list post, then the spring edition, to help inspire your autumnal reading habits (and lets be honest, plump out your Amazon wish list) here are mini reviews of every brilliant book I read this past summer.
The To-Do List and Other Debacles by Amy Jones
My literary agent, Diana, whenever I see her usually hands me a book from one of her other authors with the disclaimer “I know this is not your sort of thing, but” and I’m embarrassed to say that after a good couple of years of this happening, this is the first one of my fellow writers book I’ve actually read. The To-Do List turned out to be the best book I’ve read ion 2019 so far. It’s a book about mental health. Or, more accurately it is the diary of a writer who is anxious about everything, about how her mental health shapes her everyday life and actions (including her obsessive need to make to-do lists) and it is a simply brilliant read. The writing is funny, engaging, and if you’re a Millennial woman, regardless of mental healthy you’ll find it a comforting and relatable read. I’ve been shouting about this book to everyone, especially, if, like me, it really is not usually ‘their sort of thing’.
Toast by Nigel Slater
I’d had Toast by Nigel Slater in my Kindle app for about six years, but the final week we spent in France lounging around outside cooking, reading and drinking French wine seemed like the right time to crack it open, it being our last trip and all that, as I read all of the Kitchen Diaries and Tender on the French patio.
Honestly? Obviously I enjoyed it as all of Nigel Slater’s writing – food writing or otherwise – is beautiful and lyrical, but Toast was way darker than I’d expected. In essence it is a memoire of his childhood and how it was shaped by food. Each chapter is based on a foodstuff and his memories of it, and it is strikingly honest also as a coming of age tale about sex, sexuality, uncomfortable truths, family, and, most importantly, food. Nigel Slater’s writing is obviously fantastic, but this book will really speak to you if, like me, your memories and the way you remember things is naturally triggered by what was on your plate at the time.
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Another book I’ve had for so long I honestly can’t remember when I ordered it. Anyone who has read any extended about of my writing will know of my deep, passionate love for my old home of Los Angeles, but honestly, if someone said that I could either never visit California again, or I could never visit France again and I had to choose, I’d preserve my right to hop across the channel in a heartbeat. France is a country built into my memories and into my soul; my childhood summers spent with my grandparents at their house in the Pyrenees, the twelve years my parents and I spent visiting out little stone cottage in Brittany. I think this is why I love reading books about France so much (if you do too, I really recommend David Lebovitz’ brilliant books The Sweet Life in Paris, then L’Appart, in that order) and A Year In Provence – the ultimate cult read was no exception.
The first thing that struck me about the book – written in the late 1980’s, the author died last year – is that, except for the fact you can no longer get an insane lunch with wine with a 10 franc (or any franc for that) note, it has barely aged at all. The narrative is a funny, engaging tale of life upping sticks and moving to France – the dream for many, and it captures the eccentricities of rural French community life, conversions, and the hills of Provence beautifully. It will make you want to get on a plane or in the car and head straight over there, and I’m saving the follow up books to read next year, when I’m hopefully actually there.
One More Croissant For The Road by Felicity Cloake
Keen foodies among you (who am I kidding, what on earth are you doing reading my blog if you’re anything but?) will probably know food writer Felicity Cloake from her cult – and brilliant – Guardian column How To Cook The Perfect…. One More Croissant For The Road is her first memoire and the concept is simple, but brilliant. Starting on the trip from her house to St. Pancras, she cycles around France (with a little bit of help from the French rail network, of course) seeking out the perfect example of the best regional speciality each part of this culinary country has to offer. Oh, and carefully reviewing and rating every single croissant she eats on the way, because, of course. It’s funny, brilliant, and to excuse the cliche, a bloody page turner – one for fans of Mina Holland’s brilliant books The Edible Atlas and Mamma, it also includes some of Felicity’s brilliant recipes. I do wish more food narratives like this would get commissioned.
This book also did a lot for me in that I found it personally soothing. I know it vividly and beautifully captures the wonder of culinary France because I was reading about Felicity’s trip to Cancale in search of the perfect French oysters and the famous oyster market – one of my all time favourite spots to eat – sitting on the patio, under the walnut tree with a glass of wine in front of our Brittany stone house, a few weeks before we said goodbye to it forever. I adore Brittany and I miss it already, but reading One More Croissant For The Road has made me excited that I now have the opportunity to explore more of France – and, more importantly, the things I can find to eat there over the coming years.
Under a Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein
It really was a summer of food memoir, wasn’t it? I felt like I was on a role so downloaded this to read in the car on the way back to the Eurotunnel straight off the back of One More Croissant For The Road. To put it simply, this is the book to read to learn how a restaurant empire is built by accident, out of failure, and how you come to come to be one of the nations best loved food personalities before the age of, well, social media and all that jazz.
If you think this is just another celebrity chef book, you’re wrong (surely we’ll be getting the ghost written Jamie Oliver autobiography any day now?) – for a long time I’ve been a fan of Rick’s writing, and the book is sensitive and very engaging. You probably won’t enjoy it if you’re not already interested in the subject, but if you enjoyed any of the books I’ve just mentioned, you’ll be happy to have got yourself a copy of this.
Wandfasted by Laurie Forest
In my roundup of books I read last winter I mentioned The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, a beautiful young adult (but just as brilliant for adults) epic fantasy book built upon the most fantastic world of different magics, races and enchantments. The books are honestly as vivid as the Harry Potter books, and if you’re looking to dip into the series without committing to the first book proper (it’s rather long, though brilliant) I loved Wandfasted, a novella you can read as a stand alone, but also acts as one of the prequels to the series. You see Laurie’s beautiful world at war, she manages to get you really invested in characters almost instantly, tells a tale of love and acceptance, and you honestly don’t need to know anything about the Black Witch world to really enjoy this one.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Shwab
My friend Natasha (author of the brilliant New York Times bestseller Girls of Paper and Fire – hands up who is excited for book two, Girls of Storm and Shadow which comes out in November) recommended the Shades of Magic series to me as it might help on a project I’ve been working on, and I became slightly addicted, blasting through all three books to the point that I did not turn the TV on the whole time I was staying at Trewornan Manor in Cornwall, instead choosing to return to my room every night after dinner to finish the second and read the third.
Kell is a magician, of sorts. One of the few who can cross through worlds, into different London’s that are entirely separate from each other. There is Grey London, dirty and weak, Red London, Kell’s London, where magic is revered, and White London, cold and ruthless, cut off from magic, where bloodshed is the only way to the throne. Once, there was Grey London, too, in an unknown world that has been left to die. It’s a tale of magic, politics and war. And I’ve not even introduced you to Lila yet, a thief pirate with a bad attitude and a missing eye, who may be far more important to the survival of every single world than you might think.
Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodie Taylor
I’ve been getting deep, really deep into The Chronicles of St Mary’s books on Audible all summer. I hoard my credits each month for the next one, get over excited when any of them in the series, or any of the short stories that happen between the books are on sale for less than my £7.99 monthly subscription are on sale so I can buy now and save them for later, and I’ve just bought J’s credit off him this month for book 7 so that I can enjoy two in one month. They’re that good, and if physically reading a book is your thing great, but if not, I’ve found you the thing you’re going to listen to your commute to work / daily workout / while you’re doing chores until you catch up and you need to wait for the next book to come out, and for Doing Time, the first book of the spin of series comes out next month.
Meet the team of madcap historians at St. Mary’s Priory, who investigate historical events in contemporary time. Whatever you do, don’t call it time travel. Our protagonist, Madeline Maxwell is sassy, accident prone academic who loves a good margarita, or ten. Her fellow historians at St. Mary’s (not to mention the members of the security section and R&D) are all certifiable, and I love joining them as they bounce up and down the timeline, visiting different historical events, where something usually goes horribly wrong. I got this first book on sale for 99p thinking why ever not, as I love historical fiction, even if sci fi is not my thing – but I’m obsessed. So, even if you’re unsure, I promise you you’ll love them.
The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman
The Devil’s Slave is the brilliant follow up to a book I’ve mentioned before The King’s Witch, which you should read first. Not to give too many spoilers away, it picks up after the fall out from the Gunpowder Plot, following our heroine back to the court of James I where there is enough intrigue, danger and scandal even to rival the first book. If you love a bit of Alison Weir or Philippa Gregory (her earlier books like The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen and The Constant Princess, rather than her later books that got a bit repetitive – though I’ve header her new book, Tidelands, is fantastic) you’ll love this series.