Book reviews: Books we have read and enjoyed this summer

Lockdown was meant to give me lots of time to read but in the beginning I found it difficult to concentrate so I wonder if anyone else had the same problem. Maybe tackling the Hilary Mantel tome first was not a good idea as I needed an easier read. In the end I found a balance between reading and listening on Audible. All of the titles reviewed are books that I have enjoyed this summer. If I am not enjoying a book by page 100 I do give up and maybe that is a failing but life’s too short…..as they say.

The first book, Just Another Mountain, has been reviewed by the Page Turner.

JUST ANOTHER MOUNTAIN: A Memoir of Hope | Sarah Jane Douglas

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Just Another Mountain is a beautiful and moving memoir.

Sarah was brought up in a single parent family. As a result of this Sarah and her mother develop a remarkably close relationship. It is through her mother that she develops her love of the outdoors, especially walking in the Scottish Munro Mountains.

There are many parallels between Sarah and her mother. Both are single parents with Sarah having two boys by different relationships. She did have a short marriage to Sam. There was a restlessness in both Sarah and her mother only eased by walking and climbing.

The book covers her emotional and physical journey after the death of her mother from breast cancer when Sarah was 24. Sarah was totally bereft and fell apart. She resorted to alcohol and drugs for a while. To free herself from this downward spiral Sarah develops a healthy new addiction, hill walking. She finds this eases her emotional pain.

Her memoir follows her journeys to Kilimanjaro, the Himalayas and, nearer to home, the 282 Munro mountains. In 2014 Sarah carries her mother’s ashes to the spot in the Himalayas where Gerry, her stepfather to be, was killed while climbing.

Along with walking, Sarah returns to her other great love, painting. Through these activities Sarah finally finds peace.

The book concludes with herself being diagnosed with breast cancer, but now you feel that she has the physical and emotional strength to cope.

This is a book which demonstrates how simple things can turn your life around. Walking and being outdoors are activities we can all enjoy, especially during these uncertain times.

ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS | Ocean Vuong

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I am currently reading this and finding it so moving and it has literally taken my breath away with the power of the writing and the strength of the story.

This is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born. It tells of Vietnam, of the lasting impact of war, and of his family’s struggle to forge a new future. And it serves as a doorway into parts of Little Dog’s life his mother has never known – episodes of bewilderment, fear and passion – all the while moving closer to an unforgettable revelation.

THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT | Hilary Mantel

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I have read the previous two books in this trilogy about Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, by Hilary Mantel so it seemed perfect timing to tackle the final book at the start of lockdown. It is over 900 pages and quite a handful to hold so I have listened to parts on Audible as a break from ‘weight lifting’ the hardback. I have to say I preferred the second book, Bring Up The Bodies. It took me all of lockdown to read this latest one as I kept dipping in and out.

On the positive side Hilary Mantel is a superb writer and her writing transports the reader to Tudor times. The detail of their lifestyle is an education in itself whilst the conversation brings the characters to life. By the end of the book I was willing it not to end. I think there is a section in the middle where it lost my attention. However when the focus is on Jane Seymour and her impending birth the book takes off to another level as it is humanised and the Tudor intrigue, secrets, plots and in-palace manipulation begins.

Will Hilary Mantel win a third Booker prize?

WILD GAME: MY MOTHER, HER LOVER AND ME | Adrienne Brodeur

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This is an auto-biography and it centres around a mother-daughter relationship, Malabar and Rennie. Rennie is the daughter and author of the book. It tells the story of a life of guilt-wracked deception, in which almost all of Adrienne’s energy is spent in the service of her mother’s appetites.

Malabar is an expert cook who writes a food column for the Boston Globe. To spend more time with Ben, an avid hunter, she comes up with the ruse that they should co-author a wild game cookbook. And as they say the rest is obvious…..

This is a mother who is completely self-centred and her daughter is consistently manipulated by her. I found it frustrating at first as I wanted Rennie to stand up for herself more but in the end a mother/daughter relationship can be so complicated and these two demonstrate this more than most.

I was disappointed with the rush final few chapters which glossed parts of Rennie’s adult life. I felt that could have been more detailed. But notwithstanding this it was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

A THEATRE FOR DREAMERS | Polly Samson

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1960. The world is dancing on the edge of revolution, and nowhere more so than on the Greek island of Hydra, where a circle of poets, painters and musicians live tangled lives, ruled by the writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, troubled king and queen of bohemia. Forming within this circle is a triangle: its points the magnetic, destructive writer Axel Jensen, his dazzling wife Marianne Ihlen, and a young Canadian poet named Leonard Cohen.

Into their midst arrives teenage Erica, with little more than a bundle of blank notebooks and her grief for her mother. Settling on the periphery of this circle, she watches, entranced and disquieted, as a paradise unravels.

I was drawn to this book because of my love of Greece. It held me spellbound because of the freedom that came with that era, the Swinging Sixties. It is a wonderful book of escapism. The lifestyle depicted in this book made a great contrast to that of The Mirror and the Light.

If lockdown has taught me anything it is that we should always make time to dream – the Sixties version of meditation or mindfulness.

DON’T HOLD MY HEAD DOWN | Lucy Anne Holmes

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Grace read this one and tells me: “it was an interesting read because it’s all about a 40 something’s quest for good sex after years of mediocre sex….written in a light tone nonetheless has so much, I think, women of our age can equate to.”

In her mid-thirties, Lucy-Anne Holmes still felt like a novice when it came to sex. But when she tried to find out what she could do about it, she realised everything she googled was geared to male pleasure rather than to women’s. Determined not to let this stop her, Lucy penned a list and set out to discover what her sex life was missing. She embarked on an adventure which would change her life. 

Lucy has written the book about sex she wanted to read. It will make you snort with laughter one minute and weep the next; it is frank, eye-opening and inspiring, and will speak to women everywhere.

I would love to hear of any good books you have read this summer. Let me know via the comments section below this post.

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