Here are my favourite eight books of the second quarter of 2021. So far this has been a good year for books if for nothing else, so it was a really difficult decision.

The Girls Inside by NJ Mackay

I have always been fascinated by religious cults and what makes people join them. How you can have such power over someone that you can make them bend to your will (think Charles Manson and the killing of Sharon Tate and her friends). Then there was Jonestown and WACO amongst others, including The Moonies (or Unification Church) – though no killing or mass suicides….

For my full review click here

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

Written from the point of view of the dead girl – Alice – we know right from the start that she has been murdered. Just turned 18, her childhood has been hard. Her beautiful mother moved from place to place every year or two, running away each time a relationship failed. Alice has no roots. When her mother dies, she goes to live with a relative called Gloria, who frankly doesn’t care a hoot about her, but at least Alice doesn’t need to pass through the foster system or end up in care.

For my full review click here

Emmet and Me

One of my favourite books of the year so far, I love Claire, our ten-year-old narrator. She is sharp and funny but often very naive.

It is 1966 and Claire’s mother has discovered lipstick on her husband Conor’s collar – the very same lipstick she gave her best friend. She starts yelling and smashing plates and eventually walks out, leaving him to cope with Claire, older brother Will and baby brother Louis. The first night they stay with Uncle Jack, but it is then decided that Jack will take them from their home in Wales to live temporarily with his and Conor’s mum in Connemara, while mother sorts herself out.

For my full review click here

Matilda Windsor is Coming Home

My own experience of mental illness is what attracted me to reading Matilda Windsor is Coming Home. In 1938 my Jewish mother and grandmother escaped from the Nazis in Vienna. Unable to return to their hometown of Bucharest, they made their way to England and settled here in Cheltenham, where I still live. Over her adult life, my mother spent three spells in psychiatric hospitals – the first in the 1950s following the death of my older sister at 17 months and then the birth of my brother and myself. This resulted in a lobotomy. The second in 1973 after her mother died and the third in 1989/90, the same time as when we meet Matty.

For my full review click here

She Never Told Me About The Ocean

Firstly let me say that I loved this book. Every word, every phrase, every brilliant moment. It has gone to the top of my favourite books of the year.

She Never Told Me About the Ocean is a work of magical realism – I didn’t realise to what extent when I started it. There were touches of the mystical beauty I have only ever found in the books of Alice Hoffman (not so much Practical Magic which is the best known as it was made into a Hollywood film) but in others such as The World That We Knew, Faithful, Blackbird House and she is my favourite writer ever. This is the biggest compliment I could pay any author.

For my full review click here

Still Life by Sarah Winman

Just when you think you’ve found your favourite books of the year so far, another one comes along. That book is Still Life. What a band of lovable, eccentric characters in this marvellous story that sweeps across more than forty years from the second world war to the late 1970s. It looks at love, friendship, class, sexuality, art and culture in a manner that is both hilarious and sad in equal measures. It takes place in London and Florence, Italy and we also have a glimpse into the life of Evelyn much earlier in the twentieth century. She may have been a spy, but now she lectures in Art History.

For my full review click here

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech

When I read the blurb – at least the part about Sebastian’s mum offering to pay an escort to have sex with her autistic son – I felt just a tiny bit uncomfortable. I know you would do anything for your children, but this is a bit extreme – isn’t it? But in reality she sees the person she loves most in the world growing up in pain because his physical needs are not being met. Paying for sex would be like paying for his swimming lessons or buying his food wouldn’t it?

For my full review click here

Work in Progress by Dan Brotzel, Martin Jenkins and Alex Woolf

Hilarious. At a time when the world is in pandemic chaos following Brexit chaos, this book is a beacon of light in the darkness (I hope that is/is not too pretentious). In the spirit of the novel I am going to write in the style of the Crawley Writers Group. If I ever thought about joining a writer’s group I hope/dread that they would all be as mad as this lot.

Dear Peter
You are not misunderstood and unappreciated. You are simply a pretentious twat. And I’m not sure all that secret recording is actually legal.

For my full review click here

Extra Special Mention

Mirrorland by Carole Johnston

I know this was one of my top three books of 2020 but I jumped the gun and it wasn’t published until May 2021.

Every once in a while you know you have read something special, something original, something so overwhelmingly beautiful and sad that you feel like your heart is breaking. Mirrorland is that something. Dark and unsettling, the more you read, the more you cannot imagine what the next chapter holds. It’s like holding your breath underwater, afraid to surface, yet more afraid to remain.

For my full review click here

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