A heartbreaking tale of the impact of society and faith upon family bonds.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is the tragic tale of three siblings, Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz. Isma, the eldest of the three, has finally set out on her own after years of caring for her younger twin siblings but she hasn’t stopped worrying about them – even though they are half a world away. Headstrong Aneeka is studying to be a lawyer back in London and Parvaiz… well, where to begin!
In America, Isma meets Eamonn and they instantly hit it off. The son of a powerful politician, Eamonn is a dreamer, living a care-free life until he gets wrapped up in the Pasha family drama. Isma confides in Eamonn the story of her father, a jihadist who was captured and died in transport to Guantanamo Bay when she was a little girl.
Upon returning to the UK Eamonn meets Aneeka, and the rest (as they say) is history. Much to the distress of his father, the British home secretary who has sought to put his Muslim faith behind him in order to further his political career. Meanwhile both sisters are trying to come to terms with their brothers betrayal – one more successfully than the other.
The blurb says ‘How can love survive betrayal’ and I think that sums up this book perfectly. Only 10 chapters total, this book is short but still manages to cover everything in depth and bring the story to life. The book opens from Isma’s point of view and for me this coloured how I felt about the rest of the characters. Every two chapters the perspective then changes to another character. This worked really well with the plot and allows the reader to see the events from all angles.
This book is so sad, if you’re the type of person that likes a happy ending where everyone lives happily ever after – this one is not for you! Full of suspense, you will storm through this in no time. Since reading the book, and doing some reading around it, I have discovered that Home Fire is a contemporary reimagining of the Greek tragedy Antigone, but I think it’s an excellent story in it’s own right – and the critics clearly agree as this was not only shortlisted for the costa best novel award and long listed for the man booker prize in 2017 but it also won the women’s prize for fiction in 2018.
This novel is so full of twists and turns you’ll feel like you’re on a rollercoaster!
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is a murder mystery like no other. Set over 8 days, the book follows Aiden Bishop as he tries to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, with one catch – each morning he wakes up in a different body and must relive the day again and see it through a different persons eyes. Not only that, but there are other people who are trying to beat him to the answer and they are willing to go to any lengths in order to get there first. Whoever figures out this mystery is the winner. The prize? Their freedom.
Evelyn will be killed 19 years to the day that her younger brother Thomas was murdered and as Aiden learns more about the Hardcastle’s and the events of the past the closer he comes to discovering the truth. The first day, he wakes up in Dr. Sebastian Bell’s body, without a clue as to where he is and what he is supposed to do and it’s only downhill from there. With each host comes a new set of complications not to mention the mysterious footman who seems intent on picking them off one by one.
When I read the blurb for this book I knew it was going to be a bit of me but it exceeded my expectations! Right from page one I was hooked! I’ve read so many thrillers and murder mysteries I can often predict where the story is going, but not with this one. Every time I thought I knew what was happening some new information comes to light that turns everything on its head. It kept me guessing right up to the end.
I’ve seen a lot of people describe this book as confusing and while there is a lot of different threads to follow I never felt like I was so confused that I wasn’t sure what was happening. I think it was mind boggling but in the best way possible. There are layers upon layers of reveals with the answer (or what seems to be an answer) on almost every page.
I enjoyed this book so much I am thoroughly looking forward to reading more of Stuart Turton’s work! If you’re not sure you can commit to a book over 500 pages, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is set to be adapted as a seven-part series for Netflix UK.
Have you read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle? What did you think of it?
One of my goals for this year was to read more and due to certain world events (namely multiple lockdowns) I have had plenty of time to do just that! So here is a round up of all the books I read in 2020.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton Sara Collins
Frannie Langton, a servant and former slave, stands accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. The testimonies against Frannie are damning but she claims that she can’t remember what happened that evening, even if it could save her life. She doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood. But she does have a tale to tell. The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic from a childhood on a Jamaican plantation and her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, through the events that brought her into the Benhams’ London home—and into a passionate and forbidden relationship.
I picked this one up because of the murder mystery element, but I found I forgot about the murder as the book took a different turn and was more about the struggles of a mixed race girl growing up in Jamaica and as a servant in a big fancy Georgian home. This is a good read if you are a fan of historical fiction and also enjoy an element of mystery.
My Sister, the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite
When Korede is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she immediately knows what’s expected of her. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, ‘self-defence’ and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him meet the same fate as the three before him: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other.
I devoured My Sister, the Serial Killer in 3 days (which for me is extremely unusual!) and I would happily read it again and again. The short chapters make it feel as though you are reading really fast, and also mean it is very easy to say ‘I’ll just read one more’ particularly as I found the story so compelling! After reading this book I felt much more motivated to read and also had a sense of accomplishment for having read a book in such a short space of time.
I Have Sinned Caimh McDonnell
I Have Sinned is book two in the McGarry Stateside series, a continuation of the Dublin Trilogy which also featured Bunny McGarry. Bunny McGarry (what a fantastically ridiculous name!) is a man on a mission. He left behind his life in Ireland to go to New York to find the woman he loves, who happens to have a lot of very dangerous people looking for her. The good news is that they don’t know where she is, the bad news is that Bunny doesn’t either and the only people that do are a rogue order of nuns called The Sisters of the Saint who are proving very difficult to find. Bunny’s one clue is a priest he thinks might know something, but Father Gabriel de Marcos isn’t willing to play ball. Thing is, priests don’t typically have assassins sent after them. Bunny has no choice but to save Gabriel from the demons that are on his tail.
As I had already read the previous books in this series, this one was a no brainer. Although frustratingly only available on Amazon, I think due to the author not being that well known, so I couldn’t find any of his books in my usual high street book shops. I would recommend this to you if you enjoy a crime thriller but want something a bit more light hearted – this genuinely did make me laugh out loud!
Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted the quiet fishing village of Barkley Cove. Kya Clark is considered unfit for polite society, living on the marsh barefoot and wild. In late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, suspicion immediately falls on the weird girl from the marsh. But Kya is not what they say. With just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.
I think almost every one I know has read (or tried to read) Where the Crawdads Sing at some point in 2020. I didn’t feel like I really got into this one until about half way through, but once I got there I was hooked! The poetic prose of the first half are pretty hard to slog through, but a friend was reading it at the same time as me and was a bit ahead so kept encouraging me to stick with it and I am so glad she did because this is a great book!
Blood and Sugar Laura Shepherd-Robinson
June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he’s missing . To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy that he had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him. And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford.
Can you tell I like murder mysteries? I wasn’t expecting to like Blood and Sugar as much as I did, as normally historical fiction isn’t really my thing but I LOVED it! Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s next book is out in early 2021 and it is already on my to read list. If you are a murder mystery lover like me this is definitely the book for you!
VOX Christina Dalcher
Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter. On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed to speak more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her. Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard. For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.
Whilst I would recommend this book to other people, and the premise is really interesting, I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been… Most of the book was setting the scene for the last few chapters where all the action happened. An interesting and thought-provoking read but definitely not one I will be reaching for again. After hearing such good things, VOX left me feeling a bit… meh.
Normal People Sally Rooney
At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers – one they are determined to conceal. A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
Another book that everyone seems to have read, and it’s easy to see why. I read Normal People over one of the bank holiday weekends and I just couldn’t put it down. Such a wonderful read! I haven’t yet watched the BBC adaptation that came out this year as often these things don’t live up to the books, but it is on the list. I don’t often cry at books but this almost got me, it is quite a tragic tale.
Dark Sacred Night Micheal Connelly
Renée Ballard is working the night beat again, and returns to Hollywood Station in the early hours only to find a stranger rifling through old file cabinets. The intruder is retired detective Harry Bosch, working a cold case that has gotten under his skin. Ballard kicks him out, but then checks into the case herself and it brings a deep tug of empathy and anger. Bosch is investigating the death of fifteen-year-old Daisy Clayton, a runaway on the streets of Hollywood who was brutally murdered and her body left in a dumpster like so much trash. Now, Ballard joins forces with Bosch to find out what happened to Daisy and finally bring her killer to justice.
I love the Bosch TV series on Amazon and have since started reading the books. They don’t disappoint! Perfect if you love a crime thriller or police drama. Dark Sacred Night is the second in the Renée Ballard series and the 21st in the Harry Bosch series but you don’t need to have read the previous books to be able to follow the story. I know I can pick up any book by Micheal Connelly and that I will enjoy reading it – making them the perfect books for when I have hit a bit of a reading slump.
Queenie Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth. As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.
I could have read about Queenie’s life forever and ever! Queenie was on a lot of reading lists this year that were being shared at the time of the Black Lives Matter protests as an essential read to learn more about Black British culture in a way that is rarely represented in mainstream fiction. Whilst that is true I also think Queenie is a very relatable character for any woman in her early 20’s and would recommend this book to everyone!
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep Joanna Cannon
England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home. Grace and Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in. In the suffocating heat of the summer, the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was given to me as a gift and I really enjoyed it! It’s not the sort of thing I would normally read but this was gorgeous! I particularly liked how most of the book is told from the perspective of an 11 year old, which put a different spin on the story. I don’t feel this is a particularly well known book as most people I talk to about it haven’t come across it, but it should be. Again I would recommend this to everyone!
The Final Game Caimh McDonnell
Dorothy Graham is dead. This is hugely inconvenient, not least for her. Luckily, she has planned for this eventuality. Now, if any of her truly dreadful family want to get their hands on her money, they will have to do so via a fiendishly difficult and frankly bizarre competition of Dorothy’s devising. Just because you’re dead, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a last laugh at the expense of people who made your life miserable. Paul Mulchrone, to his unending credit, is neither related to Dorothy nor happy that she is dead. What he is, however, is a contestant in this competition whether he likes it or not, which he definitely doesn’t. He and his girlfriend, the formidable Brigit, are supposed to be running MCM Investigations, a detective agency. Instead, they have to go into battle against Dorothy’s bloodsucking relatives. As if that wasn’t enough, they get hired by the aforementioned dead woman to find out who killed her.
Another cracker from Caimh McDonnell. I find his books so easy to read and so enjoyable. The Final Game follows on from the Dublin Trilogy and is just as amusing. Although I would say that this is slightly more ridiculous that the McGarry Stateside series, it’s still a book I would recommend to crime fiction lovers.
So there you have it, all the books I read in 2020. If you haven’t read any of these I hope this offers you some inspiration for your next book and if you have read them what did you think? Maybe you hated a book I loved! What was the best book you read this year?
Disclaimer – all book synopses taken and adapted from GoodReads, all photography is my own unless otherwise specified.
Naomi Alderman’s 2016 novel “The Power” explores what a world where women are the dominant gender might look like. The book begins when women develop the ability to release electrical jolts from their fingers and then follows how they use their new found power to take over the world. The book follows four main characters (Margot, Roxy, Allie and Tunde) as they adjust to their new reality.
This book is such an interesting concept that is so much more than just ‘What if women ruled the world?’ It is an exploration of the power dynamics between men and women and an exploration of how our ‘civil’ society could descend so quickly into anarchy.
I can’t express enough how amazing this book is so here are 5 reasons why you must read ‘The Power”
Feminism – this is an obvious one, after all this book is marketed as ‘one of those essential feminist works’
It’s so thought provoking – imagine the GSCE English essays you could write on the themes in this book! Much more interesting than ‘of mice and men’ and Curly’s wife with her red nails, red dress, red everything and what that might represent. Seriously though it really gave my brain a workout.
If you are a women this book is so relatable – not in the whole being able to shoot lightning from your fingers thing obviously, but the way Alderman presents men and their behaviour towards women in this book. It particularly shines a light on how far we still have to go to get to a place of gender equality.
If you are a man I think this book should be required reading – I think that the role reversal presented by this book where men are the homemakers and women are the breadwinners presents men with an easier way to put themselves in a women’s shoes (as it were) and how it would be if men rather than women had to live in constant fear for their physical safety.
GIRL POWER! Seriously this book left me feeling so empowered.
This book is quite a heavy read, exploring religion, rape culture and more. At times women are presented in a very unflattering way but I think that’s what makes this book so brilliant! It makes the book feel much more believable and is a fascinating look at human behaviour. I can see why this won the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
If this review hasn’t sold you on this book then I highly recommend you go and read some of the reviews here. There are some really great ones, as well as some great Q&A’s.