So we had 5 days.  5 whole days of holiday, sat by a pool in the Algarve.  5 whole reading days.  Absolute. Bliss.

But also an opportunity.  There’s a fuzzy feeling you get when you pick up a book from a shelf and take it home because it has the potential to be the book.  But you have other stuff and so you put the book down on a shelf, intending to get to it really soon because you’re so excited about it.  And then it’s 9 months later and the book is still sat there and there’s a panic around the book now.  You feel you really should be reading it now but as everyone knows needing to do something nearly always makes it the least interesting thing you have to do.  These last 4 books in this review are those books for me.  So I went away for a week.  I sat down.  And I read.

Gladys Reunited- Sandi Toksvig 

This was a re-read for me but I wanted to start on familiar ground and kick-start the week. Sandi Toksvig is a Danish-British comedian, writer, presenter and political activist but as she explains in the book, she was partially raised in America.  Specifically in this memoir/travel novel, she goes in search of the other members of the Gladys Society- a society of girls and women involved in the production of a school play which became much more than that, with each chapter focusing on a specific Gladys.  However it’s also a highly introspective exploration of what citizenship means and how it can change, how identities and people can evolve over time, and what travelling in a country so personally important but also removed can reveal.  It’s funny and bittersweet at moments and although I think it leans too far towards the melancholy sometimes, I think it’s a really interesting way of using the past to examine the present.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency- Alexander McCall Smith

I love detective stories.  I mean I wrote 7000 words of dissertation on detective stories.  I also somewhere deep in my memories remember reading one of the 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith and really enjoyed it and did the thing of thinking ‘I should pick up more of these’ and then never did.  Then I did the thing of picking this book up and not reading it for ages and I have no idea why I didn’t read it sooner!  Set in Botswana, the story follows how Precious Ramotswe as she sets up her detective agency using the inheritance from her father and her first cases, but also travels back in time to build up a sense of who Mma Ramotswe is and the country she lives in and loves. One thing that I thought was interesting was the way the mystery unfolded because unlike other detective stories I’ve read, the actual build up of the mystery was weaved very subtly into other mysteries and Precious’s daily life.  Precious is a fantastic main character, no nonsense but also caring, very practically minded and I am in awe of her as I am scared of her.  I am not going to let it be so long before picking up the next one.

Luckiest Girl Alive- Jessica Knoll

This was picked up when I was buying The Girl on the Train and the woman behind the counter said ‘Oh you will definitely want to read this one too’.  I had no idea what I was getting into and I think that’s the best way to experience this thriller.  I’m not sure whether I would characterise this as twisty, or whether it simply builds, raising the stakes, pushing the characters further.  It’s dark and there would be spoilery trigger warnings attached (if you’re wondering what these are please message me!) but also strangely compelling.  I’m still not sure if I like the main character (although I don’t think that’s the point) but I’ll definitely be thinking about it for a while.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises- Fredrik Backman

THIS. BOOK. IS. SO DAMN. CUTE. AND. HEARTBREAKING. AND WONDERFUL.  *Ahem* excuse me.  As you might be able to guess I love this book.  Translated from the original Swedish by Henning Koch, this follows Elsa, a seven year old, who’s grandmother sends her on a treasure hunt like no other.  This story beautifully blends reality with the magical realm Elsa and her grandmother have created into an almost modern-day fairytale/ daydream, full of monsters and creatures (which are not actually monsters and creatures).   I nearly cried as much as I laughed while reading this and Elsa and her perspective is just a joy to read from.  Also I want a wurse.  Please someone get me a wurse.

Expo 58- Jonathan Coe

Finally, we turn to Expo 58.  As the title suggests, this is set around the Brussels International Expo of 1958 and revolved around Thomas Folley, a civil servant pushed into the Expo without really knowing what he’s meant to be doing, balancing the high life of the temporary international with the steady family life he has at home.  Also in the background is the growing tension between Soviet Russia and the United States and the spies and secrets being passed around. I was excited when I picked this up but was unsure when I went to read it.  The writing style was good and I thought the characters were interesting, especially the shady-yet-perky secret agents tailing Thomas.  However, something about it just didn’t quite click.  I think Thomas’s lack of awareness and seeming lack of all opinion in parts made it difficult to really care about him, whereas I cared way more about Sylvia, his wife, and about the background secret operations going on.   So disappointed in this one although it was just fine.  It’s not in the photo above because I may have left it behind in exchange for two of the books on the villa’s bookshelves (woops).

 

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