Before writing this up, I thought I hadn’t read too much this month; I gave up on a couple of books 100-pages in and I was in a slump for a good week of August. Nevertheless, I did discover some real gems this month and audiobooks definitely helped me get through. Not included here is the 600 pages I’ve read of Anna Karenina, but I can already say that it will feature as one of September’s highlights. But for now, here are the books I read in August…
Frying Plantain is a vibrant collection of twelve interrelated short stories about a Jamaican-Canadian girl coming of age in Toronto. Given that Reid-Benta’s debut progresses chronologically from childhood to adolescence into young adulthood, it reads more like a collection of vignettes than discrete stories. Nevertheless, each progressive glimpse into Kara’s life is touching, poignant, and I blissfully read the entire collection in one sitting.
At the core of Frying Plantain simmers the radiant heat of the complicated love between mother and daughter. Kara must navigate her single mother’s demands alongside socio-cultural expectations in downtown Toronto. Reid-Benta demonstrates how much control there is in love and how it is expressed through grandmother’s good food and sharp words, or subtle acts and late-night drives. Most notably, the words left unsaid speak volumes.
Reid-Benta also grapples with cultural and class differences between neighbourhoods in Toronto. I was most moved by her nuanced depictions of how Kara and her friends—all from this melting-pot neighbourhood of Caribbean culture—clashed with each other over who was the “most authentic” in their group. And yet, although we see Kara grapple with a split cultural identity and shouldering the impossibly high expectations of her Jamaican mother and grandmother, there was still something so beautifully universal in this collection. I can’t wait to read more work from this author!
If I had to choose the perfect book for fans of Black Mirror, this would be it.
Do you want to find ‘the one’? According to this imaginative and gripping thriller, it’s all in your DNA. One little test and you will be feeling butterflies as soon as you meet your match.
The One follows five people who have taken the match-your-DNA test and alternates between their perspectives and unique scenarios as they discover who they are genetically destined to be with. What could go wrong?
Well, it turns out, quite a lot.
The One is categorised as sci-fi, but this pacey thriller is more focused on people, relationships, interactions with each other. Maybe your perfect partner is thousands of miles away, is a psychopathic murderer, or maybe they’re no longer with us.
This is ingenious and highly entertaining speculative storytelling, reflective of a world saturated with in online dating and swiping right or left. With short, captivating chapters that each end on some sort of cliff hanger, this is a book you can race through. I highly recommend the audiobook too: the Geordie sisters cracked me up.
The Nightingale reminded me of the reasons why I love historical fiction. When done well, it exposes the reader to the inner lives of people across time and place, and in doing so illuminates history’s untold stories. The Nightingale succeeds in capturing WWII’s tragedy while also embedding a crucial reminder to never take anything for granted.
The Nightingale follows two seemingly incompatible sisters who are bearing the brunt of war and cope with the resulting devastating change in vastly different ways. Vianne, the eldest, lives in rural France with her husband and young daughter. When she receives the news that her husband must fight against the Germans, she’s terrified. She convinces herself that the best thing to do, for her and her daughter’s survival, is to keep her head down and obey the rules. Surely, everything will go back to normal when Antoine returns.
Isabelle, the younger sister, has always felt alone and unloved. After her mother died, she was abandoned by her father and shipped off to a boarding school by Vianne and Antoine. That being so, she’s become a risk-taker and rule breaker. She won’t simply sit back and do nothing while the Nazi’s take everything and destroy France.
What follows is an impactful story about female power, the horrors of war, and the importance of love; be it patriotic, familial, sisterly, or romantic. Hannah prospers at portraying the day to day difficulties of the occupied French. From the routine of finding food to eat when the Germans took most goods and selling their valuables to keeping their dignity as they go from being free people to forced servitude, Hannah tells her story with a maternal grace and a keen eye for detail.
The novel’s eponymous protagonist, Shuggie, is a sweet and lonely boy, who is growing up in Thatcher-era Glasgow where men are out of work and single mothers are trying to hold their families together. Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, beneath the pristine surface of make-up and pearly-white false teeth, finds increasing solace in drink, and she drains the lion’s share of each week’s benefits. And yet, despite her shortcomings, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. There’s something strangely hypnotising and heroic in her commitment to self-presentation and domestic order, ensuring the house is immaculate before the next ‘uncle’ stops by to take advantage of her. Even when we’re not reading about her, her presence is all-encompassing.
Meanwhile, there’s something sadder than heroism in Shuggie’s passion for his disintegrating mother. His childhood is replaced with caring for his mother and Stuart digs deep into themes of poverty, addiction, and abuse. But, not only does Shuggie suffer the consequences of an alcoholic mother and a philandering father, but also, he doesn’t think he fits the same mould as the other boys on his estate. He feels a growing sense of his otherness and my heart broke watching him grow up around people who either want to hurt him or humiliate him. This is a world without any vocabulary for sexual consent; men do whatever they please, and women and boys like it or lump it.
Although this is by no means an easy read, there are moments of humour that light the overriding bleakness. Nevertheless, there’s no mistaking that this is a grim book. Stuart succeeds in blending the tragic with the funny, the unsparing with the tender, sometimes seamlessly within a single sentence.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky ★★★
Fleischman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Anker (DNF 35%)
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid ★★★
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson ★★★★
Still Me by Jojo Moyes ★★★★
skinCARE: The ultimate no-nonsense guide by Caroline Hirons ★★★★
Sadie by Courtney Summers ★★★★
*The Revolt by Clara Dupont-Monod ★★★★
*Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino ★★★★
Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi (DNF p.164)
*Anxious People by Fredrik Backman ★★★★
*People in My Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami ★★★.5
August Reading Stats
Total books read: 16
Physical books: 7
Pages read: 2,671
What was your favourite book in August?
Also read about the books I read in July!
Disclosure: titles with an asterisk* were gifted by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning, at no extra cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.