Happy National Book Lovers Day! I thought I’d celebrate with a few mini reviews of what I’ve been reading lately, including a book which I have a feeling will be in my top five of the year.
The Newcomer by Fern Britton
I was invited to a launch event for the latest release from Fern Britton but was disappointed to be unable to make it. I was sent a review copy, however, and I can’t believe these Cornwall-set books had previously passed me by.
The titular newcomer is Reverend Angela Whitehorn, who arrives in Pendruggan with her family to cover the vicar while he is abroad for six months. She sets to make changes to the small parish, empowering its female residents, and putting a few noses out of joint in the process. She soon starts to receive anonymous poison pen letters, but with so many locals unhappy with her arrival, who could be going to such lengths to drive her away?
The book opens with the line: ‘The evening before Mamie Buchanan’s corpse was found had been an enjoyable one’. The prologue continues for a few pages before going back six months, telling the story in chronological order and leading up to this moment. It’s clever storytelling, as I spent the next 300+ pages falling for the Reverend’s aunt, wondering who was responsible for her death.
The vibe of The Newcomer is a bit Doc Martin meets The Vicar of Dibley meets Miss Marple. While some of the Cornish characters felt a bit cringey and exaggerated, there was a lot I could recognise in my own town and family.
It was an enjoyable read and I’ll be checking out more of her books.
A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
I first came across A Place For Us on a book blog a few months ago (I forget which) and it was so highly recommended that I immediately added it to my library reservations list. It reminded me a bit of Home Fire, which I also tracked down at the library after reading a particularly positive review, and it became one of my favourite reads of last year. A Place For Us is likely to receive such a recommendation come the end of the year.
It’s a powerful and heart-wrenching story about an Indian-American Muslim family, spanning 40 years or so. It opens at the wedding of the eldest daughter, Hadia, who has surprisingly been allowed to marry for love rather than tradition. The son, Amar, has returned home for the first time in three years, leading the family to face the reasons behind his estrangement. The narrative then jumps around, revealing more of the family’s history and the children’s struggles to respect their family’s traditions alongside their desire to fit in.
For a long time I thought the story was about Amar’s struggle with his family’s faith and his own beliefs, and his love for his best friend’s sister, but come the end I realised it’s about so much more than that. I won’t reveal more, just encourage you to grab a copy for yourself. That final part will really hit you in the feels.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
I can’t resist a bit of feminist dystopia, having read The Handmaid’s Tale, The Power, Vox, and now The Farm, although the latter isn’t quite as extreme (and also feels more contemporary).
The titular farm is Golden Oaks, a place where Mae Yu recruits young women to carry babies for the elite. This isn’t any old surrogacy. It’s cloaked in secrecy, with a regimented routine, where women are confined to the grounds for the entirety of their pregnancy and constantly monitored. But after they’ve delivered a healthy baby they’re rewarded with more money than they could ever dream of.
It’s an interesting story about the extremes women will go to to create and protect their family. I was totally engrossed throughout most of the book but felt somewhat let down by the ending. Still worth a read.
What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?