08 September 2022

My Five Favourite Books of July and August 2022

Another two months have passed (how?!), which means it's time for my bimonthly book recommendations. I read 19 books in July and August, taking my total for the year to date up to 78. I enjoyed so many of the books I read over the past two months and it was really hard to select just five favourites...but here they are.

1. Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour
YA author Nina LaCour's debut adult novel is a beautiful, evocative love story between two young women growing up in California. Sara runs away from her home, and a world of tragedy, as a teenager and eventually finds success as a cocktail mixologist in LA. Emilie struggles with consistency, switching majors and then careers as often as she changes her clothes, but meets Sara while she is working as a flower arranger. The novel darts between different time periods, showcasing vignettes from Sara and Emilie's lives, together and apart. The relationship between the women is exquisitely portrayed, and the novel is a real treat for the senses, from the redwood forests to the ingredients of the delicious cocktails and dishes depicted (including the titular yerba buena). LaCour's prose also made me long to return to California.

2. The It Girl by Ruth Ware
I've long been a fan of Ruth Ware's clever, suspenseful thrillers and The It Girl didn't disappoint. The setting helped — excellent depictions of Oxford, where I grew up, and Edinburgh, which I recently revisited — but the intriguing mystery at its heart and Ware's gripping writing sealed the deal. While at the University of Oxford, golden girl April is murdered and one of the college porters is convicted, partly thanks to the eyewitness report of her best friend Hannah, who was always in April's shadow. Ten years later, Hannah is still scarred by April's death — but is married to April's erstwhile boyfriend with whom she is expecting her first child. Enter an investigative journalist who thinks that the man convicted of April's murder, who has just died in prison, was actually innocent and that Hannah was mistaken at the time. But could she have been mistaken about a whole lot more than just the events of that night? The It Girl will keep you guessing with its all twists and turns.

3. The Almond in the Apricot by Sara Goudarzi
This novel was recommended by one of my friends, who is a friend of the author, and in its themes and tone, it reminded me of another book written by someone I have a connection to IRL (Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey). Imaginative and enthralling, Sara Goudarzi's novel tells the story of Emma who literally has a shit job (as a wastewater engineer) and whose adored best friend has recently died. She is happy with her boyfriend — or at least, she thought she was — but now Spencer's death is making her question a lot of things about love and life. She is also having nightmares where she is a pre-teen girl called Lily who lives in a distant, war-torn country, which are so realistic that she starts to question her sanity and to seek salvation in physics, of all places. Goudarzi's characters are richly portrayed and her novel is deeply moving and thought-provoking.

4. Hope to Die by Cara Hunter
Cara Hunter is one of my favourite crime writers and I've loved the way that her series featuring Detective Inspector Adam Fawley has explored the sides of Oxford left untouched by Morse et al. The latest story features the murder of what seems to be a burglar at an older couple's house in Wytham, just outside the city, but which soon unravels into something far darker and more complicated, with ties to a very high-profile case from years earlier. It's hard to say too much more without spoiling the story, but suffice to say that it's very twisty indeed. I wasn't sure how Hunter would write her way out of it, but it all held together very well and made for a very satisfying ending. Coincidentally, a few days after reading Hope to Die, I returned to Wytham for the first time in a long time while visiting my parents in Oxford. We had a lovely BBQ lunch at the White Hart — and there weren't any murders, I promise!

5. You're Invited by Amanda Jayatissa
Work and my recent house move have meant that I haven't been away this summer, so I've been seeking escapism in my reading matter instead. Amanda Jayatissa's thrilling, if bonkers, novel does just that. Amaya is surprised to receive an invitation to the lavish wedding of her estranged best friend Kaavi back in Sri Lanka, where they grew up together. She's even more surprised when she finds out that the man Kaavi is marrying is Amaya's ex-boyfriend. She knows she has to do whatever she can to stop the wedding, to the displeasure of Kaavi's extended family. And then when the bride goes missing, of course suspicion falls on Amaya, but she's certainly not the only guest with an agenda. Cleverly plotted, dark and keenly observed, You're Invited is a wild ride.

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