I read seven books in September.
At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
We’ve probably all heard the story of ‘Johnny Appleseed’ who scattered pips across America that grew into wonderful orchards seemingly without any further human intervention. But it turns out that growing apples is a great skill, that different kinds can be crossed to produce a different flavour/texture – and that drinking too much cider can have very dire consquences.
Once again Tracy Chevalier has chosen a fascinating subject to passionately pursue. Her (fictional) main character, Robert, moves on from the apple trees of his childhood to finding giant sequoias (even being involved in transporting some to Wales – this really happened ).
The research does rather overwhelm the story and I would have liked to follow Robert’s sister Martha too – but I do love learning something new in whatever form it takes and while I appreciated trees before I read this I’m definitely going to be hugging them now.
Twins,and what they tell us about who we are by Lawrence Wright
Yes, a bit of a random title for me – part psychology, part medical. When I read (and loved) Liane Moriarty’s novel Three Wishes, which is about triplets, she mentioned this book in her acknowledgements. So I thought I would read it, as a writing friend once pointed out to me that I am fond of having multiple births in my stories – lots of twins and the beginnings of a novel with triplets. Really don’t know why I do that … I’m trying to stop.
But I loved these stories about twins who were separated at birth (sometimes in the past, horrifically, deliberately separated as a scientific experiment) and who turned out to not only have eg the same mannerisms but who married wives with the same name, or who turned up to be reunited with their twin wearing the same colour and style of dress. About nature and nurture basically – absolutely fascinating. And the medical bit was too (did you know that twins can have different fathers?) … book now passed on to a young relative who has started midwifery training.
X by Sue Grafton
Bought in the wonderful Barter Books in Alnwick. This is the third last in this series about Californian private investigator Kinsey Milhone, which I have been blitz-reading over the last few months. This isn’t one of the best, a bit of a pot-boiler, and really it’s a follow-on story from W is for Wasted – so don’t make this the book you start your reading of the series. Otherwise you could start anywhere because the books, all 26 of them (I’ve still to read Y and Z is not out yet), are set in an unspecified year around the mid 1980s.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I’ve never read Judy Blume’s YA books – actually I’m not sure they were called that when they were first published, I think she probably invented the genre. But a friend passed this ‘for adult readers’ book on and I was intrigued to read it. It’s set in 1951 and based on a real series of tragic accidents that happened over one year in suburban New Jersey, where JB grew up. There are many wonderful characters, perhaps too many – some merited a whole book of their own. It’s a very interesting period to read about – I’ve read lots of fiction and non-fiction of post-war, still-food-rationed Britain when everything seemed rather gray and dreary, but America is the land of plenty; there are technological advances and women’s lives are changing.
Christmas Under the Stars by Karen Swan
I’ve been meaning reading to read Karen Swan for a while – her covers look so enticing. But I was sadly disappointed. Four friends – two young couples – in the Canadian Rockies, an accident happens, and the book is about the fall-out. Great setting, great premise. But I didn’t like any of the four of characters – they simply didn't ring true for me – and one of them turns out to be so unhinged they seem to have strayed in from a different genre. And the title is a swiz – there are date headings throughout the book and it skips from 24 December to the 26th! There are good reviews online for this, KS’s eleventh novel, but there are also readers who think it not a patch on earlier titles. So maybe I’ll give her another go. Maybe.
Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny
Read on Kindle. Short stories, some about the same characters, all single women and (the irony is deliberate) not awfully carefree or mellow. Loved, loved the characters, the settings and the dry humour. The New York Times described her writing as ‘Cheever mixed with Ephron’. That mix makes a very successful marriage …
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Read on Kindle. When I finished her short stories I rushed out to buy KH’s novel (well, I downloaded and started reading it immediately). I don’t know when I’ve last read a book with such lifelike characters – they jumped straight off the page and I loved them all, yes, even the origami obsessives ...
There’s not much in the way of plot but who cares – this is a fly-on-the-wall, laugh-out-loud look at the 15-year marriage of Graham and Audra. He was previously married to ice-queen, humourless Elspeth. One of those people who light up a room, Audra could not be more different. She is much younger than Graham and he loves that she’s so gregarious and can talk to anyone – and does, at great length and speed, without filtering her thoughts (although he winces when the people sitting in front of them at a church wedding overhear her telling him some very (very) intimate information about the bride).
Graham and Audra have a son, Matthew, who has Aspergers, something they take in their stride although it’s not always easy. And sometimes Audra can be too friendly and hospitable, filling their house with waifs and strays, which is when Graham thinks nostalgically of the ordered, peaceful life he had with Elspeth
Throw in the New York setting as a bonus and I was completely hooked by this warm, funny and wonderfully written book.