Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor
Can a novel be charmingly poignant? Blaming certainly felt so. Amy and her husband Nick are on a summer holiday in Istanbul; it’s not an entirely fun trip but they’re making the best of it. When Nick dies unexpectantly, Martha – a fellow traveller – steps in to help Amy get home to London. The two women are very different: Amy is painfully English and reserved, while Martha is an exuberant and impulsive young American novelist with hairy armpits and messy hair/life. Over the London winter that follows, the two women become friends of sorts. It’s rather one-sided and Amy, numbed by grief, finds it hard to match Martha’s warm enthusiasm and unpredictable fancies. Nevertheless, their lives do become entwined. Slowly, the tables turn: Amy gets stronger, and Martha needs help. Will Amy be able to rise to the challenge and be there for Martha in her hour of need? This was Elizabeth Taylor’s last novel, and it deals with grief, loneliness, and depression so well. There’s no melodrama here, just a pragmatic and astute assessment of human nature which is curiously comforting.
An Unsuitable Job for a Women by P.D. James
A perfectly formed murder mystery! Cordelia Gray is a twenty-two-year-old private detective in 1970s London. When her mentor and partner Bernie dies, Cordelia is left in sole charge of their not wholly successful enterprise. Her luck changes when she’s hired by a famous Cambridge scientist to investigate the baffling suicide of his son. It’s her first solo mission and she sets off for Cambridge in her Mini with just her sharp mind, her notebook and Bernie’s old revolver to protect her. All sorts of adventures ensue, and it was a true pleasure getting to know Cordelia. As a Cambridgeshire girl, I loved the familiar details of the city and surrounding villages. Fans of Dalgliesh will also be pleased to hear that he has a cameo.
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
A book filled with sun-drenched summer days was the perfect choice for the September heatwave. It’s the coming-of-age story of Vix and Caitlin, the Summer Sisters, who spend their holidays together on Martha’s Vineyard. We meet them every summer – from the late 1970s to the 90s – and watch them flourish, flirt and (occasionally) flounder. It’s classic Judy Blume, capturing the agonies and ecstasies of growing up – yet contains enough maturity to appeal to an older audience. I loved it.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
I’ve read this before but felt duty bound to re-visit after my San Francisco trip. Darkly funny, spirited, and racy – these are bitesize stories about the residents of 28 Barbary Lane in 1970s SF. Mary Ann Singleton is fresh to the city and looking for a room when she stumbles across the bohemian boarding house run by Anna Madrigal. Here she meets Mona, Michael and Brian – and learns to loosen up (a little). These stories are very short little vignettes – perfect for your commute, or if you’re pressed for time. I guarantee they’ll make you smile a lot. A word of warning though, these stories are over 45 years old and at times it shows – there were a few moments that ruffled my 2023 feathers.
Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman
American suburbia, 1959. Street after street of identical houses, where everyone keeps their lawns tidy and their collars clean. Into this ordered world steps Nora Silk and her two children. Recently divorced, slack-wearing and gloriously unconventional, Nora soon shakes things up and we see through her neighbour’s thin veneer of respectability. This is the ugly underbelly of suburbia, where adults and children are thoughtlessly cruel, and outsiders are punished. As this is Alice Hoffman, there’s a good dose of magical realism which only intensifies the feelings of darkness and unease. This book will suck you in and you’re in for an immersive, haunting experience you won’t forget.
The Herd by Emily Edwards
Looking for a gripping family drama this autumn? The Herd won’t disappoint. It’s a tightly paced cautionary tale that’ll have you turning the pages like lightning. Elizabeth and Bryony are best friends living nice lives, with their nice children, on a nice street in a nice town. Everything is fine until the controversial subject of vaccinations comes up. One little white lie and a shocking tragedy later, things aren’t so nice. Will Elizabeth and Bryony’s friendship survive?
Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
The second Lord Peter Wimsey book. This time, his big brother the Duke of Denver is accused of murder. Can Peter save him? There are a lot of clues (bloodstains, footprints, ink-stained blotters, cats with emerald eyes) and a lot of suspects. There are a lot of wrong turns and red herrings, and yet every time I started to get bored, DLS drops in a killer one-liner that makes it all worthwhile. Highlights include Wimsey getting stuck in a bog and a gun-toting socialist. It’s light-hearted, entertaining stuff with just the right hint of darkness.
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