Notes from my bookshelf #7: Great British Summer reading

I’m having one of those “can I head back to bed” days, not helped by the steadily falling rain as the summer draws to a close, but I have no good reason for hiding under the duvet with a book at 10am, even if the weather is pants. Although an avid reader at the best of times, my summer holiday gives me an opportunity to get through more books than usual, generally from a deckchair with sand between my toes and a packet of Hula Hoops in hand (or huddled under an umbrella with a blanket on my knees and a flask of tea at the ready as my annual holiday is in Cornwall).

I’m not a particularly fast reader, so I tend to be picky about what I read and quite cutthroat in accepting that if a book hasn’t grabbed my attention by the end of the second chapter, then it is resigned to the “don’t bother” pile. Books that others thought were works of literary genius have not cut the mustard with me, such as “The Help”, “The Book Thief” and “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

This summer, I have been on a roll and managed to get through a number of great reads, helped by the great British summer weather more than anything else. I won’t bore you with the full list, but I have picked my three favourites as recommendations:

  • IMG_0973Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts. I admit that I am biased with this one, since I had the pleasure of reading it in an early draft when I attended the Curtis Brown writing course with Alice shortly before she signed with her agent. The plot of the book has essentially remained the same since then, but it is now a tighter, more engaging and gripping novel. Set in Durham University, it follows a police investigation after a girl is found murdered on campus and explores the murky world of slut-shaming, revenge porn and online trolling. The whodunit was not as I expected – and I thought I’d figured it out from the start! Now I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the DI Martin series.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For me, the summer is the perfect time to revisit a classic. Since I have great intentions to read Go Set a Watchman, I figured a reread of Harper Lee’s original book was in order. It was one of my favourites when I was a teenager with dreams of being Harper Lee and rereading it as a 41-year-old with the same dreams – as yet unrealised – I was not disappointed. It is still a favourite and I took so much more away from it this time around (not least of which was a new appreciation of Jem). But most importantly, I completely fell in love with Scout as a character all over again. Now I’m not sure if I want to ruin this by reading Go Set a Watchman in case I’m left disappointed.
  • The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish. This is one of those reads where you really dislike the main character – in this case Amber Fraser – and you are essentially hoping she comes to a bitter end at some point, which leaves me with a strange unfulfilled and slightly dirty feeling afterwards, but also means the novel stays with me. The plot follows a young couple as they move into their dream house after purchasing it at a bargain price when the previous owners, the Frasers, disappear overnight. The taut atmosphere with their new neighbours intrigues Christy, to the point where she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Amber Fraser to make them leave so abruptly. There are elements of Hitchcock to the story and of Gone Girl in the narrative. The drama and tension is elevated from start to finish and, although I did find some of Christy’s actions a little unfathomable, I was completely caught up in her investigations. If you like Gillian Flynn, you’ll enjoy this one.

Now onto my autumn reading list, when I really can hide under the duvet because the weather is pants. I’m starting with The Maze Runner, my oldest daughter’s recommendation and in honour of her starting high school next month. Put the kettle on, would you?

Tooth fairies and tweenies

It’s 2:39am and I’m sitting at my laptop writing a letter to the Tooth Fairy. It began with the first lost tooth quite a few years ago now when a family friend suggested – within listening distance of my daughter – that in her house the Tooth Fairy is called Stephanie and she writes a letter every time she visits. My daughter then decided to pre-empt the Tooth Fairy’s visit and write her a letter first, asking her all sorts of questions about Fairyland, which she tucked under her pillow with her tooth. The first two or three times were very sweet – questions about Stephanie’s likes and dislikes; how she hopes the Tooth Fairies will be proud of her teeth; asking what they would do with them… However, two children later and the Tooth Fairy is running out of things to say (so far, Stephanie has written 11 letters to my oldest and 15 to my younger daughter).

These visits always seem to come at the most inopportune moments, as though to test my creative reserves. Ten minutes ago, I found myself sitting bolt upright in bed suddenly realising at a God-awful time of the morning that I needed to write another sparkling note, full of magic and rainbow unicorns, as well as find a quid to go with it. Can I also add that I’m half-pissed after hosting a dinner party that only ended half an hour ago. Yes, in our house, the Tooth Fairy only needs to hear the sound of a cork popping for her to magic the teeth out of small mouths.

Besides the obvious disadvantages of forgetting to write a letter, not being able to find a £1 coin when inebriated or the perils of using a laptop under the influence (many a regrettable Facebook post has immediately preceded the art of letter writing in such situations), there are some advantages to being a little bit squiffy when playing my alter ego. In years gone bye, I have concocted stories about whales as best friends, palaces made of teeth and fairies winning their wings like Oscars through creating elaborate kids’ dreams. Anything can end up on the page and the more far-fetched the better when talking all things magical.

This time around, I think I’ve done a pretty good job. Prosecco fuel has conjured up what Stephanie the Tooth Fairy’s favourite film is, the Queen’s favourite books to read and how proud she is at the magical teeth she has procured against all odds, such as wild dogs and stalking cats.

I should relish each adventure into Fairyland as who knows how long this will go on for. My oldest turns 12 in two weeks and it is a small miracle that she still believes at such a ripe old age. To be honest, I don’t think she does; I think she is keeping up appearances for her 9-year-old sister. The clue to this may be in the fact that this time around she waited until four teeth had fallen out until she put them all under her pillow in one go, apparently hoping Stephanie would leave a fairy fiver.