Book Club- Books To (Emotionally) Invest In

Welcome to the first Book Club of 2021, it's a pretty hefty instalment. Before we begin I feel I should really give you guys a pre-warning, the books I've selected to start the year off are a little... intense in parts. This slightly emotional reading list was completely accidental and in hindsight could potentially explain why over the past few weeks my moods have been all over the show. Yes, in this Book Club post I am recommending a pretty incredible selection of books which will have you on the edge of your seat, revisiting a broken heart, squirming at the thought and/or emotionally investing. Personally I believe a clear sign of a good book is when I long for the story to keep rolling way passed the last page and when weeks later I find certain characters or places have stayed on my mind. In their own special way all of these books did exactly this. I hope you enjoy my selection and don't say I didn't warn you!

 The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Starting things as I mean to go on with a thriller, The Guest List sets place on a remote island off the Irish Coast where the wedding of Jules and Will is underway. Right from the offset on page one we are placed in the middle of the wedding in full swing at the end of the day, it's all a little jarring and as a reader you already feel like you're struggling to get your bearings. By page three you're acutely aware that whatever situation you've found yourself in the middle of is eerie and unsettling, within a matter of a couple of pages Lucy Foley manages to have you asking questions which you already DESPERATELY need answers to. Past chapter one the story takes place a day or two leading up to the big day and is told through the perspective of five very different central characters; the wedding planner, the bride, the bridesmaid, the best man and the plus one. 

This book is very much a classic "who done it" murder mystery, with the one major difference being that you are left in the dark (literally at times, let's not forget this is all set on a majestic remote island filled with swamps, caves and surrounded by crashing waves) as to not only who did it, but what did they do and who to. As the reader it very quickly becomes apparent that your job to piece the puzzle together using the opinions and memories of the five different perspectives. Moreover I would say that with The Guest List it's often what the characters DON'T say which has the most relevance and there is a great deal of reading between the lines. This is a really gripping and haunting rollercoaster of a book, full of countless twists and turns. As a reader I really enjoyed tagging along for the ride, if thrilling is what you want than thrilling is exactly what you get!

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Ok ok so I know you're not supposed to judge a book by it's cover but with this one I did and it didn't serve me wrong, Small Pleasures is a big pleasure to both look at and read. Although it's probably the least gripping or spine tingling read in my selection, this book really grabbed me hook, line and sinker. Set in a London suburb in 1957 we follow Jean, a writer for a local newspaper as she sets upon investigating a peculiar letter sent in by one of her readers Gretchen, who claims to have had a virgin birth. Being as honest as I can, this is a story with a slow start but stick with it because after just a few chapters it gains momentum rapidly and I found myself wanting to be apart of Jean's world more and more with every page. I guess it's important to mention at this point that Clare Chamber's does an impeccable job of transporting you right back to the 1950s. The way she meticulously describes locations, characters and their minorisms genuinely makes you feel like you've stepped into a time machine and if you're a lover of mid-century nostalgia like myself than you won't be disappointed. Credit where credit is due I would go as far as to say this book has at the same standards as the creators of Mad Men for 1950s detail. 

Away from the era in which it is set, Small Pleasures had me very quickly investing in Jean, the strange situation she becomes embroiled in and her blossoming love affair with Gretchen's husband, Howard. Jean is such a likeable character, she's a 30 something year old honest woman, who at the start of the book we see feeling complacent with life. She's unmarried in the 1950s and so there's a real sense of her feeling left behind and overlooked by everyone around her. However as the story unfolds she becomes closely entwined with Gretchen's family and you really see Jean's character come to life, it's enjoyable and addictive to read. Small Pleasures manages to have you completely enthralled with the mystery of Gretchen's claim and the investigation that ensues whilst simulanteously tugging at your heart strings as you root for Jean to find love, happiness and purpose.


Out Of Love by Hazel Hayes

Out Of Love is a story which weeks later still has a very special- albeit heavy- place in my heart. This is a book which takes a very real look at break ups and if you've ever experienced heartbreak as an adult, you'll find it almost impossible to NOT relate to each chapter in your own very raw way. But it's not just Hazel Haye's realist portrayal of romance and relationships which has you relating, it's the very clever way in which she chooses to tell the story. The book starts at the end quite literally, we see our couple break up in the first chapter and it all feels very final. In fact we're very quickly treated to the our main protagonist feeling liberated, defiant and in some ways healed. This isn't a generic happy ending, or should I say beginning but it's a resolution all the same and it's a very real, arguably underwhelming one. The book then unfolds in reverse as we see our main protagonist reflect backwards through her failed relationship to the very start. Speaking from my own personal experiences, I've definitely retraced my steps after a break up before, agonising over details and searching for missed warning signs or errors made along the way.

As a romance for realists I found it really interesting that if you were to read this book backwards, you'd effectively be looking at a completely different story. You'd read through rose tinted spectacles about a blossoming relationship. You'd see the excitement at the beginning, the joys of watching a relationship grow, the mundanities of living together, navigating conflict and then it's abrupt ending. It would all be a little predictable but as a reader you'd still feel taken by surprise, especially as we perpetually look for the happy ending in everything. Reading out this relationship in reverse makes a more consistently sad story from start to end and to the reader the warning signs (no matter how subtle) are abundantly clear throughout. It's almost as if Hazel Hayes is encouraging you to self reflect on your own past relationships and it's no coincidence she chooses not to name the main protagonist as a direct way to place you the reader, in her shoes. Even the title "Out Of Love' had me over analysing and second guessing as I realised you could chose to interpretate it as "falling out of look" or "out of love to give". This is a truly heartfelt read which will definitely have you rethinking the unrealistic expectations of romance, relationships and that elusive happy ending. This is fundamentally a book of self discovery and in someways that really is the best kind of love story around.

My Dark Vanessa By Kate Elizabeth Russell

Possibly the most uncomfortable read in my selection and for me personally, of all time. Unashamedly inspired by Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita which is referenced throughout, My Dark Vanessa is very much a modern and more raw revisit to Nabokov's classic story of adolescence, sexuality and predatory behaviour. Far less fanciful than Lolita, My Dark Vanessa is told through the perspective of the young girl victim Vanessa, which gives this book a much more brutal, powerful and unmistakably disturbing dynamic. We see the story cross between Vanessa in adulthood and as a teenager as she recalls in great detail the life long love affair which ensues with her English teacher Jacob Strane. As a thirty something year old woman, Vanessa is struggling to pursue a "normal" life, she is clearly deeply effected and traumatised with the events of her adolescence, living in a deep denial Vanessa is ultimately still captivated and manipulated by Mr Strane. As the book unfolds and another victim by the hands of Strane reaches out, Vanessa reflects back on past and present memories, she begins to question whether her version of events is at all the reality.

The recollection Vanessa gives of her adolescence doesn't hold back, it's candid and at times I found myself needing to step away from reading as she goes further into detail of her affair with Strane. Vanessa's naivety teamed with Strane's manipulative behaviour often makes this book tough to get through but I really wouldn't let that discourage you from giving it a try. My Dark Vanessa is a beautifully written and extremely thought provoking. Ultimately this is a hugely important book which not only gives victim's of abuse a voice but allows the reader to fully understand their experiences and the ever lasting trauma they face.

Daddy by Emma Cline

I'm going to try really hard to not make this last selection just a love letter to Emma Cline, Daddy is her second book after The Girls (one of my all time favourites reads) and is a collection of short stories which pack a real punch. Daddy is a really clever, kind of gritty exploration of human relationships, most notably male relationships in a modern society whether that's a father figure, a husband, a business associate or a friend. Through ten very different, very modern stories we are introduced to the thoughts and experiences of ten characters all of whom don't connect from one to the other. We are introduced to each character through a brief snap shot of their life, often placed right in the middle of a situation where you aren't given the full story and you find yourself piecing facts together. The running theme between all ten characters seems to be that they are all misunderstood and/or disconnected with the relationships around them.

This is a really short but sweet (and at times a little sour) book which in true Emma Cline style has a really dark undertone to it. She's consistently incredible at human interaction, conversation and giving the reader a really clear insight in to a character in a short space of time. Although each of these stories is snappy and there's a lot that appears to go unsaid, Emma Cline has the ability to set a scene quickly and make the most mundane details shared seem poignant and telling. She keeps you on your toes throughout, as every story provided me with a little food for thought and a lasting impression. A great book if you want something speedy, moody, stylish and thought provoking.

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