July 2020 Reading: The Mercies; Tapestry; Dancers on the Shore; The Almost Mothers; Famished; Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race; The Book of Cairo; The Familiars

July has been a crazy month for our family as we’ve been packing up to move house. I am amazed I have managed to fit in eight books, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s going to be a brief round up as I am already behind, but here are my thoughts on another deliciously eclectic selection of books:

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (2020)

This is exactly my sort of book, a wonderfully immersive piece of historical fiction with strong female characters. The writing is gorgeous – evocative and immediate, creating a sense of place and of character which allows the reader to fully experience the world of the story. My only complaint, if you can call it that, is that it ended too soon for me – I would have happily continued reading about Maren and Ursa for double the length, and I was desperate to follow Maren on the next stage of her story.

Tapestry by Beth Duke (2020)

I was delighted to be on the blog tour for this lovely book, which manages to be a light read while also touching on deep questions of heritage and family. You can read my full review here.

Dancers on the Shore by William Melvin Kelley (1964; republished 2020)

I recently put a shout-out on Twitter asking for suggestions of short story collections, as I realised my reading was getting a little novel-heavy, and I absolutely love the power of the short form. I am so grateful to Ana Sampson for offering to send me a copy of this outstanding collection, which is published by Riverrun in August. Do have a look at my review here – I am so pleased to have been introduced to Kelley’s work, and I hope some of you will check it out.

The Almost Mothers by Laura Besley (2020)

This fantastic flash collection struck a chord with me, as motherhood is such a defining part of my identity. The stories flit through many moods and modes, building up a beautifully nuanced picture of the many meanings of the concept of being a mother. You can read my full review here.

Famished by Anna Vaught (2020)

I was ridiculously excited to receive an ARC of this short story collection, out with Influx Press in September, having loved the author’s brilliant novel Saving Lucia, which came out earlier this year (Vaught is both talented and prolific, it seems!). My full thoughts on these wonderfully strange, unsettling tales are here.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

This was an eye-opening and important read for me. I am slowly learning more and more about how insidious and institutionalised racism is in our society, and although it is confronting and guilt-inducing to face my own complicity, it is deeply necessary. The problem may be systemic, but that does not lessen my individual responsibility to make efforts to listen and understand. In particular, the wilfully amnesiac view of British history has to end if we are to move forward, and Eddo-Lodge’s book is illuminating on this topic, as it is on many others. I have plenty more books to read on this subject, but am always open to further suggestions.

The Book of Cairo edited by Raph Cormack (2019)

I am a total convert to Comma Press and to their excellent Reading the City series: gorgeous little anthologies that take the reader by the hand and lead them through the city in the best possible way: via fiction. I ‘visited’ Cairo earlier this year through Alaa Al Aswany’s brilliant novel The Yacoubian Building and I was intrigued to return to this volatile, ever-changing city. This collection confronts the legacy of Cairo’s recent past, and contains a typically informative introduction to the state of writing in Cairo as well as its current political situation. The stories themselves are as varied and insightful as I have come to expect from Comma Press, with my personal favourites including the opening story, ‘Gridlock’, by Mohamed Salah al-Azab (translated by Adam Tahib), Hatem Hafez’s ‘Whine’ (translated by Raphael Cohen) and Nahla Karam’s ‘The Other Balcony’, translated by Andrew Leber.

Since armchair travelling is all we are likely to get this year, I really would urge readers to pop onto the Comma Press website and pick up a couple of these anthologies. I have a feeling I will be collecting them all…

The Familiars by Stacey Halls (2019)

With its historical setting, female protagonist, its theme of the persecution of ‘witches’ and, more superficially, its beautiful cover, it was impossible for me not to compare this book to my first read of the month, The Mercies. It turns out that these two novels were the perfect way to bookend (sorry) my reading month, for I loved them both, and despite their similarities, they struck me as quite different in terms of style and execution. The Mercies, for me, was all about the characters, in particular Maren, whom I adored, and the beauty of the language. The Familiars was much pacier, and I was swiftly carried along by its twisting, expertly constructed plot in quite a different way to my slow savouring of The Mercies. With The Familiars, I was gleefully wrapped up in the story as its mysteries were revealed. Both books dazzled me with their utterly convincing settings. Two very ‘Ellie’ books to start and finish the month!

I have some fantastic reads lined up for August – as ever, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to receive such wonderful books to review, and of course I’ve bought more than I ought to as well! Do let me know if you’ve read or are planning to read any of my July books, and what you’ve got planned for August!

Ellie x x x

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