Vivatramp

adventures, books & creative lifestyle.

Birthday Book Haul (ft. thrillers, queer lit & more!)



This post features a book I was sent by a publisher, All Men Want to Know, because it happened to arrive around my birthday and ya gal doesn't open post that arrives in the days leading up to my birthday. Seriously, I even opened a letter from my bank whilst going through my cards. 


I'm now yet another year older, as my ever-growing eye bags will attest to, so let's celebrate in the only way I know how...with a birthday book haul. Cue the smoke machine, lasers and loud bassy music.


I'm the sort of sad-sack that has a running list of all of the books I would like to buy and, of course, read, so I sent it off to my loved ones on the off chance that they fancied buying me a book or two to add to my sizeable collection. 


Lads, they came through. 


Some of the following books featured in my 24 Books On My To Buy List post so stop by and read that if you're at all interested in the bookish things I have to say.


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My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite 



When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This'll be the third boyfriend Ayoola's dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. 

Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede's long been in love with him, and isn't prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other... 

//

My sister bought me this book, even though Grandma told her that it was no joke being a serial killer (FYI, just in case any of you have been lolling at the idea) and let the record state that within this context I am very much Korede and she is Ayoola. Although, my sister, to my knowledge at least, has yet to actually kill someone off but I really wouldn't test her if I were you. 
My Sister, The Serial Killer took the book world by storm when it was released and whilst I'm late to the party, because I'm not mad about hardbacks, I'm intrigued to see why. From what I gather, this isn't so much a thriller as it is an exploration of where our loyalties lie. 

I have high hopes.
(edit: I have since read this book, during a chill afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyed it but more on that some other day)



Out of Egypt by André Aciman

This richly coloured memoir chronicles the exploits of a flamboyant Jewish family, from its bold arrival in cosmopolitan Alexandria to its defeated exodus three generations later. In elegant and witty prose, André Aciman introduces us to the marvellous eccentrics who shaped his life--Uncle Vili, the strutting daredevil, soldier, salesman, and spy; the two grandmothers, the Princess and the Saint, who gossip in six languages; Aunt Flora, the German refugee who warns that Jews lose everything "at least twice in their lives." 


And through it all, we come to know a boy who, even as he longs for a wider world, does not want to be led, forever, out of Egypt.


//


I've previously read Call Me By Your Name, Find Me and Engima Variations by this author so it seemed appropriate to continue working my way through his work.


I'm not typically one for reading memoirs unless they're written by Patti Smith/other creatives that resonate with me on some level, but I wanted to give this one a go - especially as it's based out of Egypt which is a part of the world I've not really explored in books before. 







The Guest List by Lucy Foley 



On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favours, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.
And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

//

Lockdown has got me reaching for page-turners and if there is one genre you can rely on for that very quality it is the humble thriller! 

I have quite specific taste when it comes to thrillers. I want twists and turns that aren't lit up in neon lights from the opening chapter. Character development has to be present and well-considered but I'm not necessarily looking for the same flare that I look for in literary fiction, for example. I essentially want to be taken on a twisty, consuming adventure that will make me forget the world outside of the pages. 

Lucy Foley has been making a name for herself with her first two books so I decided to put them on my list to see where they would fall on my personal taste scale, as both of the premises sounded intriguing to me. 

The promise of an island that no one can leave filled with characters who may not like one another very much, despite the happy nuptials they're supposed to be celebrating together, really drew me in. 

I do worry that it's going to be a little light and not deliver on the level of thrills that I'm always on the lookout for but I'll reserve judgement until I have read it. 

This sounds like a good read for a cold, quiet afternoon so I'm going to try and get round to it before the sun returns.

(edit: I've since read this book across several quiet afternoons and I liked it but wasn't necessarily blown away by it but sometimes that's all I want and need from a thriller!) 





How To Write An Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee 

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.

By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.
 


//


I was first drawn to this book because of the striking front cover and title combo and the blurb only served to draw me in even further. 

As I mentioned above, I like a slice of creative non-fiction that deals with creativity and the way its performed throughout our tumultuous lives so this should be a book that really resonates with me as a reader. 

I'm also really intrigued to read all about how Chee's identity intersects and is informed by his race, sexuality, career, and beyond, and how that has influenced his work.





All Men Want To Know by Nina Bouraoui* 

[ad - gifted: This book was sent to me by the publisher] 

 In All Men Naturally Want to Know the author traces her blissful childhood in Algeria, a sun-soaked paradise, recalling long trips across the desert with her mother and sister and hazy summer afternoons spent on the beach with her friend Ali. But Nina's mother is French - moving to Algeria for love at a time when most Europeans were desperate to leave - and as civil war approaches, their sunny idyll gives way to increasingly hostile and violent outbreaks. When something unspeakable happens to her mother, the family flee to Paris.

In Paris, Nina lives alone. She is eighteen years old. It's the 1980s. Four nights a week she walks across Paris to a legendary women-only nightclub, the Katmandou. She sits alone at the bar, afraid of her own desires, of her sudden and intoxicating freedom. There she meets the glamorous, deeply troubled Ely, her volatile friends Lizz and Laurence, and the beautiful Julia, with whom she falls desperately in love. And, most importantly, she starts to write. 

//

Hazy summer days, queer awakenings, post-teen coming of age, a review from Sarah Waters on the front cover, I obviously couldn't let this novella pass me by when the publisher asked if I'd like a review copy. It ticked far too many boxes.

I'm going to try and contain hype levels, of course, as I wouldn't want to kill a book through expectation, but if this is as good as it sounds...it's going to find itself on my end of the year favourites list. 

I can't wait to set aside time for this book. I'll probably read it whilst pacing my living room. I've joined the Fitbit cult, lads. There's no saving me. 



The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley 


During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?
 


//


Lucy Foley's debut novel. 

This explores an age-old premise but it's one of those cosy kinda plot lines that I could read about 100 times over because I still love figuring things out. We stan Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher in this house.

I'm probably going to save this for December/January when it's seasonally appropriate and I'm wallowing in the bleak depths of winter. 





Wilder Girls by Rory Power


It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her.

It started slow. First, the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.


//


I don't really know what I'm playing at adding this book to my collection during real-life quarantine but maybe I'll pull my granny pants up and brave this book once the world looks a little less like a dumpster fire. 

There's something about stories where characters are confined to one place that I typically find really intriguing but I do wonder whether that interest will shift after months stuck inside...





The Wych Elm by Tana French 


One night changes everything for Toby. A brutal attack leaves him traumatised, unsure even of the person he used to be. He seeks refuge at the family's ancestral home, the Ivy House, filled with cherished memories of wild-strawberry summers and teenage parties with his cousins.

But not long after Toby's arrival, a discovery is made. A skull tucked neatly inside the old wych elm in the garden.
As detectives begin to close in, Toby is forced to examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his past, and himself.
//
I'm such a sucker for weird, creepy houses that take on the role of the main character and I'm not even sorry. 

I genuinely don't think I'm ever going to be able to live in a spacious house, mostly because I'm a lowly freelancer but also because the thought of not being able to scope out the place within a matter of minutes terrifies me. 

I'm going to be so traumatised by the time I finish all of these thrillers. I hope it's worth it! 



Swimming In The Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski



When university student Ludwik meets Janusz at a summer agricultural camp, he is fascinated yet wary of this handsome, carefree stranger. But a chance meeting by the river soon becomes an intense, exhilarating, and all-consuming affair. After their camp duties are fulfilled, the pair spend a dreamlike few weeks camping in the countryside, bonding over an illicit copy of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Inhabiting a beautiful natural world removed from society and its constraints, Ludwik and Janusz fall deeply in love. But in their repressive communist and Catholic society, the passion they share is utterly unthinkable.

Once they return to Warsaw, the charismatic Janusz quickly rises in the political ranks of the party and is rewarded with a highly-coveted position in the ministry. Ludwik is drawn toward impulsive acts of protest, unable to ignore rising food prices and the stark economic disparity around them. Their secret love and personal and political differences slowly begin to tear them apart as both men struggle to survive in a regime on the brink of collapse.

Shifting from the intoxication of first love to the quiet melancholy of growing up and growing apart, Swimming in the Dark is a potent blend of romance, post-war politics, intrigue, and history. Lyrical and sensual, immersive and intense, Tomasz Jedrowski has crafted an indelible and thought-provoking literary debut that explores freedom and love in all its incarnations.  

//

I'm a real sucker for intense love/lust stories that span set periods of time, especially summers, so this book had me at hello. 

I'm also particularly interested in the way that personal and sociopolitical concerns are explored in this book because sometimes, as much as you may fight against the notion, our emotions are eclipsed. 

I'm so looking forward to this and I don't even care if it breaks my heart a little.




In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware 


Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back.

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage - the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her.

But something goes wrong.

Very wrong.

And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora.


//


Yes, another thriller. Let me live!


Weird, broken friendships explored in an isolated, off-grid setting? That's literary catnip to me. 

I read The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware earlier this summer and quite liked it but felt the ending was rushed so I hope this book is better balanced but honestly...

all I'm wanting is a nice slice of escapism so if it can offer me that it's gonna hit the mark. 



_________________

I bought these next few books with a National Book Token from my aunt and uncle but they didn't arrive through the post in time...


The books...not my aunt and uncle. I used to be actually funny once.

I figured I'd still include them, even though they couldn't be photographed alongside the stunning flowers from Isabloom Floral Design. My beautiful best friend, Soph, gave me the blooms for my birthday and they're perfect.







Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas 

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.
Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.
For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendour, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.
Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.
//
If you read my 24 books on my to-buy list post, you'll know that I was incredibly hyped about this book. I believe I said the following: 

'Rural setting, seclusion in an idiosyncratic school filled with secrets and sanctioned revelry, opulent, Gothic surroundings, the promise of tragedy, honestly I don't think I'll even wait around for the paperback release to get my paws on this one'. 

I'm a woman of my word. 

You know I'm serious about a book when I purchase a hardback and don't brave the year-long wait for the paperback release. 

I really hope this book lives up to my expectations. Paws crossed.




We Know You Know by Erin Kelly 



You can't keep the secret.

You can't tell the truth.

You can't escape
the past...

Marianne was seventeen when she fled her home in Nusstead - leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, Jesse, and the body they buried. Now, thirty years later, forced to return to in order to help care for her sick mother, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never forgave her for leaving in the first place, is finally threatening to expose the truth.
Marianne will do anything to protect the life she's built, the husband and daughter who must never know what happened all those years ago. Even if it means turning to her worst enemy for help... But Marianne may not know the whole story - and she isn't the only one with secrets they'd kill to keep.  

//

This book may well end up being my fifth Erin Kelly book of the year and I'm not even going to apologise for not pacing myself. 

As I mentioned in my 24 books to buy list post, Erin Kelly has been sating my hunger for thrillers with her unequivocal ability to write settings and characters and situations that I'm entirely fascinated by, from big houses in the countryside filled with secrets to grubby, trinket-filled indoor market stalls overseen by lovesick teens.

I'm looking forward to seeing where this book sits in terms of her other books. I think The Burning Air is my favourite so far with The Poison Tree and He Said She Said joint second place.  


The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning - slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time, Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?


//


Half-truths, a twisted love story, a whodunnit, and the promise of following a character from place to place?! Here for it. 

Gothic literature has always had a place in my heart but I've never read a Gothic novel where the gothic elements are explored through the grim realities of insidious racism and the experiences of enslaved people. 

I want to read this before the year is through. 



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Time to get reading! 

What books have you added to your collection or borrowed recently? 

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Comments

  1. Hiya!

    The Hampshire Library Service have a really great interview with Sara Collins (The Confessions of Frannie Langton), so if you haven't read it yet and want to hear why you should - or if you have and want to learn more about the author I'd really recommend it.

    http://www.loveyourlibrary.co.uk/books/sara-collins-interview/

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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