Meet the books that we are looking forward to reading over the coming weeks whilst staying at home, as curated by our Content Editor, Jen. An avid reader and writer, Jen is our go-to for brilliant book recommendations. If you’re looking to rediscover your love of reading or are in search of a real page-turner during this time, then let us get you started with our Reading List.
by Dolly Alderton
Ghosts is journalist and Sunday Times columnist Dolly Alderton’s debut novel. It’s not actually about spirits and ghouls, but it is a wonderfully sharp, insightful, funny and sensitive story of a woman in her 30s navigating life.
Food writer Nina is our narrator. She meets a man on a dating app, things are going great, then she never hears from him again. He ghosts her. Through the different strands of Nina’s life, other ideas of ghosting and loss are explored – in romantic relationships, in friendships (especially the married vs single friend conundrum that crops up as friendship groups grow up together) and when a loved one forgets you through no fault of their own.
It was the careful weaving of these elements that not only made Nina feel like a fully-rounded character you really care about, but Dolly’s turn of phrase, fantastic nostalgic nods (including a brilliant dissection of a Wham! song) and laugh-out-loud moments made Ghosts such an addictive read. A fantastic contemporary fiction tale with heart and humour.
The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
One of the most fascinating and thought-provoking books I’ve read this year, The Vanishing Half effortlessly blends themes of race, identity, society and family ties.
Stella and Desiree Vignes are identical twins. Born in Mallard, Louisiana, it is a small town with a light-skinned black community, so light-skinned that when the twins are teenagers, Stella chooses to pass as white. Desiree does not. Desiree is heartbroken when Stella abandons her, and her roots, to live her new life. Stella lives in fear of her truth being revealed and sacrifices all her family ties for white privilege.
The captivating story follows the lives of the sisters and their daughters over a span from the 1950s to the 1990s, switching between characters and points in time. It looks at the psychology of each sister, explores racism and stereotypes, the idea of carving out identity and how much is a person ever really free to do that.
Heavy themes yes, but it is so lyrically written that's evocative, thought-provoking and truly heart-capturing. The complex yet never confusing narrative layers unravel at a satisfying pace, to the point that it’s almost impossible to stop reading until you turn that very last page, you need to find out what happens to Desiree and Stella. The Vanishing Half left me thinking long after I’d finished it.
by Cathy Rentzenbrink
A love-letter to the joy and comfort of reading by Cathy Rentzenbrink, Dear Reader is a memoir for all book lovers. Cathy talks about how books have shaped her life, saved her life and shares a lot of great reading recommendations too.
Her inclusive, warm writing style feels like chatting to a friend and I found myself relating to lots of her experiences: how Narnia sparked her imagination at a young age, how Enid Blyton made her wish she went to boarding school, how she turns to Agatha Christie for a comfort read.
Her bookish work trajectory is also so interesting: her dad struggled with literacy when she was a child, so she was there to see him discover the joy of reading and this helped shape her career. Starting as a Waterstones bookseller, she eventually became Director at Quick Reads, a charity that encourages adults to read and where she helped prisoners on their reading journey. Then, she became an author herself.
You can feel Cathy’s enthusiasm and true love of books flying from these pages. Dear Reader highlights the importance of reading for comfort, escapism and wellbeing - all especially important now. Truly a delight to read!
The books on your list
We’ve also had some great recommendations from you, our Phase Eight community! Here are just a few of your suggestions that we’ve added to our list…