Reading round-up: what did you read this month?

May was a bumper month for reading; I got through six books, including YA fiction, a thriller, historical fiction and memoir.

I’ve been enjoying a phase of reading lots of YA fiction recently, and that trend has continued with Birthday by Meredith Russo.

I found it in our local Little Free Library book exchange and am so glad that I picked it up.

Birthday is a coming-of-age YA romance novel, based around two best mates, Eric and Morgan. They share a birthday and their families have been friends ever since their parents met each other at the hospital when they were born.

We re-visit Eric and Morgan on their birthday each year; the books starts on their thirteenth and ends on their eighteenth birthday. Each chapter alternates between Eric’s and Morgan’s narrative, so we hear the story from their first-person perspectives.

We soon learn that Morgan is transgender, but she hasn’t come out to anyone yet. We see her struggle with coming to terms with her identity; trying to find a way to tell Eric and her dad. Things are even more emotionally complicated because Morgan’s mother has recently died.

Eric and Morgan live in a small town in Tennessee, where the main social activities are football games and high school parties. Morgan’s dad coaches the high school football team; a team on which both Eric and Morgan play.

As the story progresses, we witness Eric and Morgan go through their teenage years with Morgan carrying the burden of her secret trans identity and going through grief, and with Eric grappling with surviving his parents’ break-up.

This is emotional stuff, and the book comes with trigger warnings for self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

At the heart of Birthday, though, there is a romance which pulls it all together.

Russo is herself transgender and also from Tennessee; you may have heard of her bestselling previous YA book If I Was Your Girl.

Birthday packs and emotional punch which will keep you hooked until the end.

Other YA novels I’ve read recently: The Gilded Ones; Ace of Spades; The Upper World

The blurb:

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of 13, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

I haven’t read many Stephen King books; I loved his memoir On Writing and I remember reading his time-travel novel about trying to prevent the assassination of JFK, 11/22/63. Other than those two, I have not dipped into any King books.

Until now, that is.

Revival caught my eye with its cool cover – flashes of lightning over a circus tent – so I thought I’d give it a go.

I was expecting a tense, exciting thriller, peppered with horror, but this book left me cold.

To be honest (whisper it) I found it a bit boring. There seemed to be too much backstory before we get to the action; I didn’t really care about the main character, and the bad guy wasn’t creepy enough.

Perhaps Stephen King books just aren’t my thing.

Endorsed by Amnesty International, Windrush Child by Benjamin Zephaniah is part of the Voices series, which aims to provide “gripping adventures that reflect the authentic, unsung stories of our past”.

Blurb on the back:

Leonard is shocked when he arrives with his mother in the port of Southampton. His father is a stranger to him, it’s cold and even the Jamaican food doesn’t taste the same as it did back home in Maroon Town. But his parents have brought him here to try to make a better life, so Leonard does his best not to complain, to make new friends, to do well at school – even when people hurt him with their words and their fists. How can a boy so far from home learn to enjoy his new life when so many things count against him?

Although this is aimed at a young audience, Zephaniah does not shy away at using authentic, racist language in Windrush Child, to portray what it was really like for black families to move to Britain in the 1950s. Told from Leonard’s perspective, we witness his life experiences: leaving Jamaica and arriving in Britain in 1958; attending British schools; becoming an adult; falling in love; becoming a parent; and, eventually, becoming a victim of the Windrush scandal in 2018.

This is a powerful, heartfelt story with a strong message. Like the fictional Leonard, Zephaniah is also a Windrush child, which adds weight to an already emotional and politically-charged story.

A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi is everything it promises to be; a memoir of secrets, lies and family love written in such an honest, open, captivating and truly moving way.

An extract:

I had gone through the magical wardrobe into Narnia. Into a land filled with experiences I’d never known before and couldn’t begin to understand when I had first arrived. It was not just a degree, but a key to a privileged world I could now live in. Oxford taught me I was not white but also gave me an education in whiteness. It told me I was raised poor but left me richer. And it made me face the reality that I was gay while giving me the space and freedom of mind to accept it.

Zaidi’s memoir is a book about many things: it is a journey through Oxford’s privileged university system; a journey that tests religious beliefs; a journey through family traditions; a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance; a journey to becoming his true self.

Here’s the blurb on the back:

Read another extract via Bustle.

I can’t recommend this book enough; get your hands on a copy as soon as you can.

Related reading: Life as a Unicorn by Amrou Al-Khadi

Although I have often seen her books on shelves and in the windows of bookshops, this is the first Sarah Waters book that I’ve ever read.

Now that I’ve devoured Fingersmith, I wonder what took me so long to sample Waters’ work?

Clocking in at just under a whopping 550 pages, this is no quick read. It demands your full attention, but it is easy to give it, because the writing is so captivating and vivid.

Fingersmith is a tale of betrayal, fraud, secrets and lies, set in Victorian London. It’s richly atmospheric with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged until the very end.

I will be reading more of Waters’ books from now on.

Blurb on the back:

The Wolf Road by Richard Lambert opens with an accident; teenager Lucas survives a car crash that kills both his parents. He is haunted by the image of what caused the accident; a lone wolf standing in the road.

Now orphaned, he has to move to the Lake District to live with his estranged grandmother, whom he barely knows, start at a new school and navigate unfamiliar surroundings. Then he hears rumours of a wolf attacking sheep in the local hills and is determined to track it down.

This is a story of grief, of love and loss, of growing-up and of exploring the wilderness. It will stay with me for a long time.

Extraordinarily powerful.

What have you been reading recently?

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