Having read nine books in January, a month which included some of the Christmas holidays, and seven in February, a shorter month, I wasn’t quite sure how many I’d get through in March. The Easter holidays, which began on March 27th for me, allowed me to make it to eight books this month, and I’d expect to get through at least as many in April – I think I’ll need to review my target of 60 for the year at that stage! This month’s list included a mixture of new releases, golden oldies and a couple of audio titles.
First up, and a contender for my favourite book of the year, was Samantha Power’s memoir, The Education of an Idealist. I had a peripheral awareness of Irish-born, US-raised Power, largely from my reading of Barack Obama’s A Promised Land over Christmas – Power served in a number of roles during the Obama administration, latterly US Ambassador to the UN – and Joe Biden’s nomination of her to head up USAID brought her to my attention again in January. Her memoir was first published in 2019, and it is absolutely fascinating. Raw and honest, her candid appraisal of her own behaviour and that of others is refreshing and inspiring, as are her courage, passion and integrity. I couldn’t recommend this highly enough.
Then it was on to The Survivors, the latest mystery novel by Australian author Jane Harper, whose work I really enjoy. While none of her other work quite lives up to the haunting tension of her first novel, The Dry (order it now if you haven’t read it yet!), I enjoyed this one, despite a slightly anti-climactic dénouement. I won’t give away any more!
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo, published in 2019, was recommended to me by several fellow readers, and it certainly was an epic read, telling the story of several generations of a Chicago family and how appearances so often hide a very different reality. I found it slow going at times, and struggled to engage fully with any of the characters. It wasn’t a bad read but just wasn’t really to my taste.
Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar, a début novel shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, won’t be to everyone’s taste either, but I really enjoyed it. Set in India, it tells the story of a toxic mother-daughter relationship, and as you might guess, is not a fun read. I enjoy a little darkness in my fiction, however, and the impact of the mother’s descent into dementia is portrayed in a beautiful, devastating manner that will remain with you long after you close the book.
I can’t believe I only encountered Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives by Anna Kessel very recently when I saw it mentioned on Twitter, as it is right up my street and I’d love to have read it when it first came out in 2016 – it would have been very useful for a number of speeches I’ve given on women in sport! Over the past few years, I’ve become very interested in the many ways in which sport can benefit people off the field, so to speak, and how women have historically lost out (and still lose out, sadly, to a large extent) by not being encouraged or expected to participate in sport from early childhood as men generally are. Anna Kessel examines this theme, and the many taboos such as menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth, that still exist in women’s sport, and the book is at once inspirational and infuriating – I had a similar response to Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women. More people, men and women, need to read these books and understand how women are routinely discriminated against in all aspects of society.
My final physical book of the month was In the Woods by Tana French, the first of the Dublin Murder Squad titles and published way back in 2008. I only started reading French’s work relatively recently and I’ve loved some of the novels and struggled with others, but when I saw this one for just €3.99 in a local newsagent’s, I couldn’t leave it behind! It was a real page-turner, and I flew through it, spurred on by French’s characteristic foreshadowing, which often warns against a happy ending. I’ll definitely be picking up more of the novels in the series.
This month I also listened to Adam Grant’s Think Again, about decision-making, which I really enjoyed. If you’ve read and liked anything like The Undoing Project (highly recommended), or if you are fascinated by the factors which influence our decisions, as I am, this is a good book to read, and not too long.
My second audio book this month was the Audible original Winter Dawn by Alex Callister, the third in this crime thriller series. I generally restrict audio books to non-fiction, but I enjoyed the two previous titles and particularly the hard-hitting female protagonist, Winter, but this one left a bit to be desired. It was fast-moving however, and helped to pass away some of the interminable daily walks of lockdown!
I’m currently trying to choose my next read – I have a few thrillers stacked up and I’m also tempted by the 2020 Booker winner, Shuggie Bain. Other books I look forward to reading this month are Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, What White People Can do Next by Emma Dabiri (if you haven’t read Don’t Touch my Hair, you need to), Corpsing by Sophie White and Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation. I’ll fill you in next month!
I try to support independent bookshops where possible, especially in the current climate. My local, Midleton Books, is now selling online (if they don’t have what you want, they’ll order it), and I also buy from O’Mahony’s Books and Vibes and Scribes. Not as small or independent as these, but still Irish, Dubray Books also offer an excellent service. Readers from outside Ireland will have their own favourites, no doubt!