This has been a great month for reading. Cosy evenings and a week’s holiday means I have a bumper edition of book reviews for you. There’s quite a selection, so I hope you find something you love. Remember, time spent reading is always time well spent.
Living with Coco Chanel by Caroline Young
I read a lot of fiction, but at the weekends I love settling down with a beautiful coffee table book. This new book explores the life of Coco Chanel through the houses she lived in and the places she visited. It’s a fascinating read, with the most beautiful photos. You don’t have to be particularly interested in fashion to enjoy this – it’s more of a cultural history of the first half of the twentieth century full of changing styles and a fascinating cast of larger-than-life characters. I read it all in order, but each chapter stands alone so it’s a great book to flick through as and when you fancy. It’ll also look very pretty on your coffee table.
Whatever Makes You Happy, by William Sutcliffe
William Sutcliffe totally nails the mother/son dynamic in this easy-to-read novel about three women and their grown-up sons. Matt, Daniel and Paul have little in common expect one thing: an unwillingness to settle down and produce grandchildren. Tired of being shut out, Carol, Gillian and Helen hatch a plan to gatecrash their son’s lives for one whole week. The three women turn up unannounced on their respective son’s doorsteps determined to re-establish those mother/son bonds. The week of meddling that follows is full of misunderstandings, arguments and sweet moments of clarity and understanding. My husband suggested I read this book to get an idea of what makes men tick. It’s good on that, but the female characters are beautifully and sympathetically written too. You don’t have to be a mother of boys to enjoy this, but it certainly helps.
Isa and May, by Margaret Forster
This is a story all about the importance of grandmothers – how they shape us, guide us and, occasionally, frustrate us. Isamay was named after her two grandmothers, Isa and May. These three strong women have very different lives, but all share a common thread of history. As always with a Margaret Forster novel, there are also a few buried family secrets to be uncovered and fretted over. I don’t think it’s her finest novel but I’m still very glad to have read it. Margaret Forster is a master at characterisation and in this book she captured the grandmother/granddaughter relationship so beautifully.
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
A novel for grown-ups by the author of the Moomins. At the heart of the novel are two women who in their own different ways are isolated from the close-knit rural community. Anna is an elderly children’s illustrator who leads a comfortable, if reclusive, lifestyle. Katri is a severe, icy character, whose cleverness and unsettling aloofness means she’s always an outsider. One snowy winter their lives become entwined, much to the curiosity and disapproval of the village. They suspect Katri may be deceiving Anna – but is it really the other way round? I’m not sure I ever knew, but maybe that’s the point. A short, sharp and unsettling read. I didn’t much like it, but again, I’m not sure I was supposed to?
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriaty
This is the first book I’ve read by Liane Moriaty of Big Little Lies fame. I bought it as a holiday read and it was absolutely perfect. Cecilia is one of those busy mums who seemingly sail through life with calm efficiency and a big wide smile. But one day she finds a letter in her attic. It’s addressed to her, written by her husband and says to be opened only in the event of my death. He’s very much not dead, but temptation proves too great. Chaos inevitably follows. Trust me, this one is a real page turner with a great cast of brilliantly drawn characters. I couldn’t put it down.
Against Her Nature, by Elizabeth Buchan
This novel starts quietly, but quickly blossoms. It’s a bit like a loose re-telling of Vanity Fair set in the 80s money markets. Clever Becky is starting her career in the city and doesn’t mind who she steps on while climbing the ladder. Can ambition, greed, vanity and love ever mix? A slow burner – the first few chapters were a bit boring, but it’s worth sticking with it. Elizabeth Buchan isn’t a showy writer, but her novels have undeniable depth and wit. It’s out of print, but there are many copies here.