This lockdown season has been a weird one, for lack of a better word. When the official lockdown was announced in mid-March, after processing the gravity of the order and what it means for our day-to-day lives, one of my first thoughts was “yay!more time for reading all of the unread books on my bookshelves and on my Kindle”.
What I thought would be cakewalk, was in reality far from that. In the initial days, I didn’t seem to have any sort of concentration to get through a book – my mind was jumping all over the space. It took me a lot of time to get into reading any thing. I’ve still managed to read a fair number of books but it was strangely difficult to get into the reading frame of mind.
I also included a couple of titles that I’d in fact read before the lockdown was announced. A lot of the titles below are actually what I would classify as “light reads”, which kind of points to my general preference over the last few months. However, there are some really good books on the list, and if I had to pick just one title from this list worth picking up, I would go with Homegoing – there are so many lessons and important messages weaved in to the story that it’s definitely worth reading.
Anyway, on to the full list now:
1| Know My Name – Chanel Miller (5/5)
Ah, the only non-fiction title in the whole list, and such a good one. Despite being an uncomfortable read, I think this is one of the few books that I would recommend for everyone to read to get a raw, first-person, insightful take on rape culture. Chanel Miller was assaulted by a Stanford student while she was passed out drunk after a party, and this book is a culmination of her experiences in trying to get justice and “move on” with her life.
Quick note: trigger warning if you’ve had to face sexual assault of any nature.
2| My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell (4/5)
I’ve not read Lolita (started 4 times, could never finish) but I kind of classify My Dark Vanessa as a Lolita-esque novel set in today’s day and age. It so happened that I ended up reading Know My Name and this novel back to back. Dark, dark times indeed.
Anyway, My Dark Vanessa alternates between two timelines – that of 15-year-old Vanessa, who was groomed and raped by her teacher (though she does not view it as rape at that time), and that of present day, 28-year-old Vanessa, who is confronted by the news of another student accusing the teacher of rape, and now, she must come to terms with her own experience. Brutal, yet very well-written.
3| Normal People – Sally Rooney (4/5)
Given all the hype around the show, I knew that I had to finally get on with reading the book. And the book did not disappoint (I am yet to see the show though).
Marianne and Connell are unlikely friends – Connell’s mother works as a housekeeper for Marianne’s family – who are highly attracted to each other. The novel traces their journey from their teenage years through adulthood and the many ways in which their lives keep intersecting even after they move out of their hometown. There are underlying themes of class struggles & dynamics, as well as domestic abuse. At the heart of it, it’s a modern love story, told in a deceptively simple, yet highly relatable and delectable fashion.
4| Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (5/5)
I’ve had this book for years, yet got around to reading it only in the wake of the recent outpouring of the #BlackLivesMatter protests following the tragic murder of George Floyd.
I found the book absolutely unputdownable. It traces the story of two half-sisters – one sold as a slave and the other marries a white man – from the mid-1700s to the turn of the century, and how that affects the lives of the family line that follows.
The story of each character is compelling and it beautifully (though heart-breakingly) portrays the impact of the slave trade on generations of Africans/African-Americans. Amongst the many things that stood out about the novel, one thing that particularly struck me was how participative Africans themselves were in the slave trade. Of course, there are many nuances to this and it’ll be difficult to distill such a complex subject in just a few lines.
As I diversify the content that I consume, I am sure I will be reading many books on the matters of race and caste and religion in the times to come, but this was a fantastic book to start with.
5| In Five Years – Rebecca Serle (3.5/5)
The premise of the book is very interesting – Dannie is an ambitious lawyer, and she’s got her future planned pretty much to the T. On the back of nailing an important interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, she sees a vision of herself five years from now, in a different apartment and with a different man. She puts that strange (but compelling) vision away as she goes about her life, till four and a half years later, she meets that exact very man.
The book was hyped as hell, so maybe, it was a case of very high expectations, but I found it to be good, but not great. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I know the premise of the book makes it sound like it’s all a love story, but really, to me, the heart of it is the friendship that Dannie has with Bella, and I loved reading all the exchanges between the two of them.
6| The Happy Ever After Playlist – Abby Jimenez (4/5)
Ever since reading The Idea of You last year, I’ve been on the lookout for a book that puts your heart back together after the whirlwind that is The Idea of You. I didn’t expect it to but The Happy Ever After Playlist is just the perfect follow-up book to The Idea of You, and I am mighty proud of making that association. :)
Anyway, onto the book – well, I had a smile pretty much the entire time I was reading it. Sloan Monroe is mourning the death of her fiance even two years later, until an adorable pup literally jumps on her lap and forces her to take care of him till she locates the pup’s actual owner. Well, it’s a romance novel, so you know how this plays out – yes, she falls in love with the pup’s owner, Jason, when she finally meets him. Jason is an up and coming musician, and the chemistry between him and Sloan is REAL.
Of course, there are some twists and turns thrown their way, including Jason’s rising career and a seemingly never-ending life on the road. I loved the whole journey of love between Sloan and Jason, and yes please to more emotionally adjusted male characters. :)
7| The Honey Don’t List – Christina Lauren (3.5/5)
If you’ve read through my book reviews over the years, you would know that I love myself some Christina Lauren. Their books are the best kind of light, romantic reading fare, and this book is written in the same light-touch vein.
Carey and James are assistants (and a lot more) to Melissa and Rusty Tripp respectively. Melissa and Rusty Tripp are America’s design sweethearts who run a successful design shop and TV show together, and now they’ve got a new book coming out. Here’s the kicker – behind the scenes, they can’t stand each other. So on their upcoming book tour, Carey and James get roped into minding them and making sure they keep up appearances.
As they try to keep their bosses pretend-together, Carey and James end up falling for each other and it’s hard not to root for them. Carey is a strong, independent woman, and James is swoony, and not the least because he comes across as a really good person. So, yes, a highly enjoyable read on the whole.
8| The Switch – Beth O’ Leary (3/5)
I absolutely love Beth O’ Leary’s first novel, The Flat Share, so it goes without saying that I was definitely looking forward to her second venture.
The Switch is a sweet tale of an adorable granddaughter and grandmother pair who decide to switch up their lives for two months. Eileen lives in a village near Leeds by herself and is looking for love, while her granddaughter, Leena lives in London with two flatmates. Leena is looking for a bit of rest and relaxation while Eileen is looking for love. They decide to switch places for two months so that they both get a bit of what they’re looking for.
It’s a heartwarming and charming story, if somewhat predictable. The story does a great job of underlining the importance of community, especially in today’s day and age. Overall, it’s a sweet read, but for me, it wasn’t as engrossing as The Flat Share, which remains one of my favourite modern day romance novels.
9| The Authenticity Project – Clare Pooley (3/5)
I could say that lockdown season has kind of forced me to favour lighter reads, but we all know – that’s not true. I am a sucker for all sorts of light reads and as far as that genre goes, The Authenticity Project was kind of true to form.
Julian Jessop is a crabby and eccentric 79-year-old artist, and tired of hiding the depths of his loneliness, he pours his heart out into a small green notebook that he leaves behind in Monica’s Cafe. When Monica chances upon the book, she makes it her mission to bring more happiness into Julian’s life, and also fills in her greatest desire into the little green notebook. As the notebook changes hands and more people pour their hearts out into it, new relationships are formed, and the characters are moved to go after their true desires.
I loved the motley cast of characters, and while it’s a warmly told story, I wasn’t overly wowed by it. It’s a pleasant enough read but I can totally understand the popularity of books like these in these crazy times.
10| The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – Kelly Harms (3.5/5)
I am sure it’s a scenario many moms dream of – someone literally forcing them to take some time off from their kids and all responsibilities for just a few days, no strings attached.
So when Amy Byler’s no-show of a husband reappears in her life after three years, with a desire to spend some exclusive time with their kids in a bid to make up for lost time, after much reluctance and heartache, she agrees to the plan, and decides to spend a week in New York attending a librarian conference and catching up with an old friend. The week becomes an entire summer, and while she misses her kids, Amy is soon trying to figure out what she really wants from her life till a certain incident forces her to make a hard choice.
I didn’t expect to, but I really ended up enjoying the book. It might seem all fluff and frivolous but there are some really deep, meaningful insights weaved into this lighthearted story. I loved the banter between Amy and her friends, and also her daughter’s super-creative signoffs to her journal entry.
11| Followers – Megan Angelo (3.5/5)
This one can best be described as a Black Mirror movie in book form.
Orla, a budding novelist currently working in a magazine championing clickbait culture, and Floss, a wannabe A-lister, are roommates and in a bid to become internet famous, they come together and figure out a way for both of them to achieve their respective dreams. It’s great going till it isn’t and then there is their fall from grace.
Fast forward 35 years, Marlow is a star in a government-run, constantly monitored bubble of a community in California with 12 million followers. When she discovers a life-shattering truth, she makes a run for it, which isn’t that easy when your every move is monitored and broadcast to the government and your followers.
The book is about the lives of these three women, and the price that they pay for fame. It’s at once dystopian literature as well as a telling story on the influence of social media and the whole follower culture. It took me some time to get into it, but once I was hooked, I could not stop turning the (Kindle) pages till I finished.
12| The Familiars – Stacey Halls (2.5/5)
The novel is based on true events around the Pendle Hill witch trials (which truth be told, I had no clue about). Anyway, it’s historical fiction, set in Lancashire, UK, and an intense read, for sure.
Fleetwood Shuttleworth is a 17-year-old noblewoman, pregnant for the fourth time (!!!!) and she finds a note hidden away by her husband that this pregnancy could literally kill her. She hires a midwife, Alice Grey, who has a mysterious way about her, but seems to have tricks up her sleeves to keep Fleetworth healthy and alive.
Alice is soon accused of witchcraft and imprisoned, and Fleetwood tries to rescue her midwife, going above and beyond protocol and challenging all forms of authority, including her husband.
While the story itself is interesting and well-written, I didn’t find myself truly getting invested in the characters and what happens to them. It just felt very dry to me and a tad boring.
13| Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid (2.5/5)
This book was hype central when it was launched towards the end of last year, and as much as I wanted to really love it, I found it to be just an average read.
The story is very gripping and contemporary. Alixa, a rich, white, influential blogger, hires Emira, a Black young woman as a nanny to her daughter. One evening, while dealing with a personal situation at home, Alixa requests Emira to take her daughter out of the house for a while. Emira ends up taking the daughter, Briar, to the neighbourhood grocery store, where an overzealous security guard accuses Briar of kidnapping the child. That sets in motion a whole chain of events, as the two women find their lives now interwoven and the whole relationship dynamic changes.
Issues such as race and white saviourism are front and central to the novel, and yes, it does make you sit up and take notice of how easily race and class biases are inbuilt in our behaviour, but on the whole, I didn’t find it well-written. It starts off really strong, but loses steam early on.
Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? What books are you reading at the moment? I’d love to hear in the comments below.