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Phase Eight x Penguin Books

We’re so pleased to be partnering with Penguin Michael Jospeh to bring you some brilliant
summer reads. Following on from our exclusive interview with Marian Keyes, our June
book club pick is the Sweetness in the Skin by Ishi Robinson –
a fantastic debut novel that’s perfect for sunshine reading.

Behind the Book
with Ishi Robinson

Watch Ishi talk through her book in the video below.

How would you describe the story?

It’s a story about finding yourself and loving what you discover. It’s about finding your place in the world, where you are loved simply for being you. It’s a story about family – the one you find, not the one you’re born into.

It’s a trip to Jamaica, for those who’ve never been there, and a return home for those who have. And it is definitely a story that will make you hungry!

What did you enjoy most about writing Sweetness in the Skin?

My whole life I was told that I was not an emotional person, but that’s because I wasn’t taught or modelled how to sit with my feelings and work through them, so I was going through life kind of numb.

A few years ago I started to let that go. This story is the first I’ve ever told that is full of emotion. It is my most vulnerable piece of work. While writing it, I laughed, and I also wept (like, a real ugly cry), and I wasn’t afraid to really feel the pain of some of the things I wrote about. I have realised over the years that, contrary to what I was told, I am actually a highly emotional and very sensitive person, and I love that this came through in this book.

We loved the themes of making your own family and following your heart that come through in Pumkin’s story, are there any biographical elements in the story?

Yes! I am very close with my parents so Pumkin and I do not share that in common, but I left Jamaica more than 20 years ago to follow my dreams of seeing the world, and in every place I went, I found a community of people who became family to me.

It is so important to surround yourself
with people who love you for who you are, who support you, who accept you, who make you feel seen.

Pumkin has a lot to deal with for a young girl, how did you approach the balance of layering in serious issues with the overall lighter tone of the novel?

It was important for me to show the real Jamaica, not just the beach vacation stereotype that many people have. There are a lot of young people in JA who have to fend for themselves too early. There are a lot of people who still suffer from – or benefit from – the effects of colourism and classism on the island. But I also don’t like reading ‘heavy’ books. I wanted people to enjoy this trip to Jamaica, but also see a different perspective.

Parts of the dialogue in Jamaican patois really worked to immerse us as we read – was this important for you to add to the reading experience?

The most crucial I would say. Since I want the reader to feel like they’re in Jamaica, then it’s absolutely important that they ‘hear’ the way we speak. Even when the characters speak ‘standard English,’ I’ve written it in the way we speak it. Our patois also works to amplify the ideas about class in the book.

Growing up, I was taught that patois was the language of the uneducated, and the Queen’s English was the proper way to speak. Patois was called ‘broken English.’ But my relationship to patois has changed: it is not a broken language. It is the language that our enslaved people deliberately created in order to form community, to plot and plan, to regain our freedom.

Patois is a language of survival, of reclaiming power, of independence. That we hold it in such poor regard as compared to the Queen’s English is just another example of the legacy of colonialism that still exists in Jamaica. We should be proud of our unique and colourful language.

In terms of summer reads, who are your go-to authors?

Authors who make me squeal when I see they have a new book out: Jay Kristoff, Stacey Halls, Leigh Bardugo, Jess Kidd. But I have been discovering new authors who are completely blowing me away: Rebecca Makkai, Bonnie Garmus, and Emilia Hart to name a few.

And lastly, who is your favourite fictional character?

I read way too many books to have one favourite character so I’ll just mention the one that’s strongest in my mind now, and that’s Marcellus McSquiddles, the octopus from Remarkably Bright Creatures, who I Iove deeply and really want to be friends with.

Thank you so much, Ishi!

Get your copy of Sweetness in the Skin here.

The Reading List

Don’t miss the other books we’ve loved and discussed in the Page Eight book club, take a look through them below.

My Favourite Mistake

Underbelly

I Know What You’ve Done

Here is the Beehive

Looking for Eliza

Here is the Beehive

By Sarah Crossan

Now, a book that centres around a woman dealing with the sudden death of her lover might not seem like a high-jinx summer read but this is one of the most beautiful, emotive, delicate books you’ll read this year.

It’s poetic writing style will pull you in immediately and its insight into human nature will strike chords. Try something a little different and discover Ana’s story as she accidentally befriends her lover’s widow in the wildly moving, unique read.

Looking for Eliza

By Leaf Arbuthnot

This is a story that warms you like a perfect summer’s day. Leaf Arbuthnot’s debut novel Looking For Eliza is a book about intergenerational friendship, love and loss. Recently widowed Ada lives across the street from student Eliza. Both women are going through their own personal struggles but despite their age difference they find solace in each other, bonding over their shared love for Lapsang Souchong tea and Primo Levi.

With its delightful plot and lyrical prose, Looking For Eliza is such an charming summer read. It’s the kind of story you can indulge in one sitting or savour throughout the season with an ice cream in hand.

My Favourite Mistake

Marian Keyes

My two main characters in My Favourite Mistake – Anna and Joey – had spent a good twenty years criss-crossing each other’s paths, and when they once again wash up on the same stretch of shore, they’ve clocked up an average number of terrible acts committed against one another. Ordinary terrible acts – no serial killers here. But at the same time, I don’t mean cutesy mistakes like poor punctuality or forgetting where you parked your car: I’m talking about things we’ve (and what I mean is I’ve done) that have had actual consequences. (One of the other titles I’d played around with was The Terrible Things I’ve Done. I would read that book).

Almost no one gets to mid-life without having accumulated mistakes, so with Anna, who’s in her late forties in the book (though she’s constantly surprised she’s not still twenty-one), it felt like an opportunity to explore a character who’s coming to terms with a mid-life reckoning.

UNDERBELLY

Anna Whitehouse

You may have heard of Anna Whitehouse under her pseudonym, Mother Pukka. She is a radio presenter, journalist and champion for flexible working through her amazing Flex Appeal campaign.

She wrote Underbelly with her husband, Matt Farquharson and it's rooted in their real life experience. It explores this crazy social media soaked world we live in and brilliantly combines the scary, dangerous hidden realities of a life lived online, with an engrossing story and complex characters you feel invested in. A total page-turner, we loved it!

I Know What You Have Done

By Dorothy Koomson

Super topical (it’s the first book we’ve read set in 2021, so pandemic times) and super exciting, I Know What You’ve Done is legendary author Dorothy Koomson’s 15th novel and sits firmly in her trademark brilliant emotional thriller territory.

Priscilla is attacked in her home and as she runs for help, she has another agenda too. She hands over her diary to her neighbour Rae and begs her to find out who attacked her. She says all Rae needs to know is in the diary. You see, for reasons that become clear later, Priscilla has been taking detailed notes about her neighbours’ comings and goings for some time, so she knows far more than anyone suspects, enough for someone to want to kill her…

The Getaway

By Isabelle Broom

We couldn’t have a summer book list and not include one that whisks you away to beautiful views and sandy beaches - specifically, Croatian beaches.

Kate’s life is turned upside down when her relationship suddenly ends, she loses her whole direction in life so does what we’d all love to do sometimes - getaway from everything on an extended holiday.

While in Croatia she meets Alex and pure escapist romanticism ensues. This is a witty, charming is a summer reading list must!

Last Night

By Mhairi Mcfarlane

You MUST read Last Night - it’s the perfect blend of hilarious, heart-breaking and relatable. I loved the tone, the clever observations, warm characters and laugh-out-loud moments. A contemporary romcom that tackles the tricky topic of grief in such a tender way, plus lead character Eve is a woman you just want to be friends with.

The Binding

By Bridget Collins

Loved by Tania Gammon, Group Customer Service Manager:

“The most beautifully poetic LGBT love story with Emmet, a book binder’s apprentice, at the heart of the plot. Only, at this bindery, it’s not books that are bound; people come to have their unwanted memories extracted and bound into tomes kept locked away, never to be revealed again. Emmet discovers a book with his name on it and sets out to uncover the secrets of his past. The Binding is fantastical, thought provoking and heart-warming with stunningly written characters and an ending that will make you want to go back and read the whole thing again.”

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

By Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Loved by Judith Willis, Junior Copywriter:

“A charming and unique read, Before The Coffee Gets Cold comprises of four interweaving short stories centred around customers of a mysterious café that, urban legend has it, offers time travel to its patrons.

But time travelling in this café is no easy feat – there are many rules that must be followed, the most important being that one must return from the past before their coffee gets cold, or else…”

The Night Circus

By Erin Morgenstern

Loved by Sophie Harkup, Senior Customer Service Advisor:

“This is a story full of magic, power, and romance. Two duelling magicians must showcase their power and strength within the arena that is the circus by creating and maintaining spectacular displays and tents. But as more lives get entangled in the game, how do they keep going and decide on the winner?

Beautifully written and with many character stories intertwined, there is never a slow or dull moment. It is full of magic and wonder; it makes you wish the Night Circus was real.”

The Wicked Deep

By Shea Ernshaw

Loved by Bethany Gerrish, Senior Customer Service Advisor:

“Following the story of the mysterious Swan sisters who are drowned 200 years ago for being witches. Every summer solstice, they return to seek revenge on the men of the town.

This book is full of plot twists that keep you guessing, magic, mystery, and a love story full of secrets. The chapters are so magically woven together, they leave you with that ‘oh just one more chapter’ feeling. An enchanting contemporary take of the story of Hocus Pocus!”

Greenwhich Park

By Katherine Faulkner

This is an excellent, riveting read. Helen, her husband Daniel, her brother Rory and his wife, Serena, all live a seemingly idyllic life in Greenwich, London. However, an encounter with a woman at an antenatal class turns Helen’s world upside down and brings secrets from the past crashing into their lives now, with page-turning consequences.

We enjoyed it right until the very last tantalising sentence...

READ OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW

The Party

By Elizabeth Day

“That’s the problem with charm. It means you get away with stuff. It means you never have to develop a real character because no one remembers to.”

Why we love The Party:

Elizabeth Day’s dark, psychological thriller, The Party is a tale about obsession, misplaced loyalty and the utmost betrayal. Written in a dual narrative, the story is told by Martin Gilmour and his wife, Lucy, who gives us an outsider’s perspective on Martin’s deeply unhealthy attachment to his best friend of 28 years, Ben.

What we loved most about this book was its unpredictability. Every time we thought we had figured out what was going to happen next, Elizabeth threw in a plot twist that kept us guessing, right up until the last page. And isn’t that what we all want from a great thriller? We think so.

The Brighton Mermaid

By Dorothy Koomson

“Was she a mermaid somewhere? Was that why I hadn’t heard from her?”

Why we love The Brighton Mermaid:

This is a fantastic emotional thriller, both in how you care about the characters and through its pacy structure. A young woman is found dead on Brighton beach by Nell and Jude when they are teenagers. Unidentified, she becomes known as ‘the Brighton mermaid’ and the story looks at how this affects both Nell and Jude. Then when Jude goes missing, things really ramp up…

This felt like such a poignant book to be reading at the moment. Dorothy Koomson talks about the police's abuse of power - both towards black people and women, bringing thought-provoking issues into this read.

The Castaways

By Lucy Clarke

Why we love The Castaways:

So many people have a fear of flying or, rather, being on a plane that crashes, and that is what The Castaways brilliantly taps into. Sisters Lori and Erin book a luxury holiday to Fiji, however, the night before they are due to fly, they have an argument that results in Erin not getting on the plane.

That flight then goes missing and through a mix of Lori’s chapters we discover what happened when the plane crashed. Through Erin’s chapters, we are right there with her in her grief, guilt and mission to find out what happened to her sister.

Both parts of the story are so gripping. A visceral thriller that also celebrates the powerful bond of sisters. It’s so well paced and with just the right amount of didn’t-see-that-coming moments. A perfect slice of escapism – just maybe don’t read it on a plane.

Watch Her Fall

By Erin Kelly

“What they didn’t understand – what nobody understood – was that the higher you flew, the farther you had to fall.”

Why we love Watch Her Fall:

Erin Kelly’s eighth novel is a brilliant psychological thriller - a wonderfully tense, sharp and immersive plunge into the power and determination of ballerinas to succeed – at any cost. All set to the backdrop of the iconic ballet, Swan Lake.

Ballet is the perfect backdrop for this high-stakes, high adrenaline read. I loved learning more about the inner-workings of the ballet world and the tone was pitched at just the right dark place to keep you turning those pages. An excellent psychological thriller!

READ OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Dangerous Women

By Hope Adams

“That’s what we, too, are like, us women. We’re a patchwork.”

Why we love Dangerous Women:

A gentle burner of a whodunnit that pulls you into the heart of its story, while celebrating redemption, rehabilitation and the good in people. All set to the backdrop of a truly fascinating slice of history. In 1841, female convicts were sent from London to Tasmania. Convicted of petty crimes, banishment was their punishment. On this ship, the Rajah, the women created an amazing quilt that still hangs in the National Gallery of Australia today. Throw in a little murder mystery and you have an excellent story on your hands.

An excellent, riveting read. We enjoyed it right until the very last tantalising sentence.

READ OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Asking for a Friend

By Andi Osho

“They'd been best friends for over a decade and were so entangled in each other's worlds, it was hard to know where one began and the other ended.”

Why we love Asking for a Friend:

Forty-something Jemima is trying to get her life back on track whilst simultaneously trying to avoid her needy ex. Twenty-something Meagan is looking for a relationship, while thirty-something Simi has almost given up hope of finding one.

These best friends decide it's time to play the dating game by their own rules. They're going to ask people out in real life, but for each other…and it doesn’t quite go to plan.

A wonderfully warm and funny story that celebrates female friendships and having the courage to be your true self.

READ OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW

The Transcendent Kingdom

By Yaa Gyasi

“I am looking for new names for old feelings. My soul is still my soul, even if I rarely call it that.”

Why We Love Transcendent Kingdom:

Gifty is a neuroscientist and Transcendent Kingdom is her coming-of-age story, albeit in her late 20s. Her complex nature is captured so well; her relationships with her mother, with being a black woman in such a white, male industry and Gifty’s rumination on how science and religion coexist and how (if) they can answer questions for each other.

But the heart of this book is Gifty. A strong woman who is doing everything she can to navigate life and thrive in the best way she can. A truly thought-provoking, wonderfully written story that packs an emotional punch.

    New In

The Soul of a Woman

By Isabel Allende

“I never accepted the limited feminine role imposed upon me by my family, society, culture and religion.”

Why we love The Soul of a Woman:

From legendary Chilean author, Isabel Allende, this is a wonderfully lyrical part memoir, part feminist musing. This is a really honest, thought provoking read that truly champions women’s equality and packs so many ideas and things that need to be discussed into less than 200 pages. It is a delight to read, while giving so much food for thought about women’s equality.

    New In

Circe

By Madeline Miller

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment's carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

Why we love Circe:

Circe is a complex, strong, independent woman. She also happens to be an ancient Greek Goddess who can cast spells. The Gods hadn’t seen witchcraft before and scared by any new power, they exiled Circe. As she is immortal, that is a long exile. What Madeline Miller does so well is humanise iconic characters so that you become invested. Circe is a fast-paced, wonderfully captivating story of a truly enchanting Goddess making her place in the world.