What a year this has been, what I can say is that, so far, it has been a good year for reading. My need to escape has been higher than usual (to say the least) and so I have been flying through my reading pile. There really is something for everyone in this post with the latest and greatest reads for adults from Penguin Random House South Africa.
What I Have Been Reading Lately
I knew from the moment I saw the stars on the cover that this was going to be one of “those books.” A Book that finds it on the “Best Reads of the Year” irregardless of what might be published later on in the year. I loved this book completely, it is a deep, thought provoking and somewhat heart wrenching read, and it is so, so good. It is the story of twelve year old, Edward Adler, and his recovery from a plane crash, in which he was the only survivor. Even when you know what the book is about, you cannot expect the journey that he goes on, neither can you anticipate the expectations that people place on him.
Edward and his close-knit family were relocating across the country, and suddenly he finds himself living with his aunt and uncle. He hardly knows his relatives, apart form traditional family get togethers they haven’t spent a lot of time together. So, through his trauma, he has to get used to living with practical strangers, he has no friends to speak of, a number of debilitating injuries to recover from and above all that, life must somehow go on. Only, Edward is not in a cocoon, his aunt and uncle have their own issues to deal with and so do all the people around him. Edwards life is a struggle, and the book is a symphony of overcoming. The storyis written from Edwards perspective, as well as his fellow passengers. We get to know his fellow passengers throughout the book, as their stories become known so Edward begins to heal. This is not your typical coming of age book, as we follow Edward from being somewhat a precocious twelve year old, into the age and aspiring character of his older brother, with a whole lot of difficulties thrown in. Throughout it, he remains true to himself and his character, he stands for what he believes, he will not be swayed… all in all, a good kid. His parents would have been proud of the young man he becomes. I really didn’t want this book to end, Edward crept into my heart and I wasn’t ready to let him go. There is not a whole lot to say about this book, except… read it. Don’t wait till they turn it into a movie, because they will, read it now.
When I heard the premise of this book, I thought it would be serious, an earnest self-discovery of the main players, and yet it was nothing like my expectations. This book is about a group of folk whose lives are brought together by a notebook, The Authenticity Notebook. An elderly gentleman, called Julian, decides that folk are not nearly honest enough when talking to one another and if they could be more authentic with one another then everyone would get along better. So he writes a little bit about his life in his notebook and leaves it in a local café for the next person to find and to write their story… and do they write stories. Turns out there really is no such thing as an ordinary life, and absolutely none of us are perfect. It is very much a case of one person’s humdrum is another person’s intrigue… the stories unravel the character’s lives, and somehow they become entwined and interlocked in a maze of light hearted reading. The more the characters meddle and try and fix things for each other the more things don’t run smoothly…
I love the details of everyday life, and if you and your family have never played “yellow car” then this book will even explain that. It is a classic case of the push and pull of relationships all over the world. It is a novel that brings everyone together, then blows them apart again in explosive turn about and then well, read it and see. This is indeed heart warming, a fabulous weekend read that might take a little longer than a weekend to read, it will leave you feeling like you have been away on holiday… new faces, new people, new twists and turns and new lives. This book is quite delightful. If you like relationships and things generally working out in the end, albeit not perfectly… then you will love The Authenticity Project.
If you like creepy, psychological thrillers, then you will love this… I listened to the audible of this on a road trip with my husband, I needed him there, to be honest. This book was next level in messing with your mind. You have a Jekyl and Hyde situation… two sisters: Leslie and Robin. Leslie, the “lucky one,” did everything right… is happily married with a young child, the perfect wife and until recently, the perfect daughter to her ailing and elderly father. Her older sister, Robin, was not so lucky and a lot less perfect, she ran away to Vegas at sixteen and her life has been a nightmare of up and downs, addictions and down right, down and out. Leslie desperately needs her inheritance, but can only claim it if she reconciles with Robin… she dashes to Vegas to find her sister, only to discover her sister dead in a seedy hotel room. Right there, right then. In her desperation for the inheritance, she offers a girl, who “chanced by” half of the inheritance, if she will pose as her long lost sister. They return home together and the act is on… but there are too many similarities and things just don’t add up. The unease and suspense as you relive Robin and Leslie’s childhood, with all the twists and creepy turns will keep you on your toes. Not to mention, who is Mary really? The ending is… shew. If you need a complicated thriller to escape… then this one will do it for you… and sisterly love, what is that even.
You know at the beginning of the year, when you make lists of books that you would like to read and you know you “should” put a classic onto that list. I have to confess that I have never read Dr Zhivago, or seen the movie, I thought that might be a manageable classic to pop onto my list… even though I have always been a little afraid to dive into it before, because of the potential for long marches through bitter fields of snow, not to mention unrequited love. So, when I saw this book land on my review pile I was overjoyed. This is the story of the “back story” to Dr Zhivago, and I thought that if I knew the backstory I would be more compelled to get into the book that was the inspiration for this novel.
The cover says compelling reading, and it was. I read it all the way to the end, I had to see how it ended, but I have to say that it took weeks. It was bitter, not so much the long cold winters, but the oppression of the intense Cold War. The girls, from the CIA typing pool, are all employed for their special abilities… these might be skills, heredity, their upbringing. Our main character is introduced to the typing pool, and her “special skill” is that she lost her father to the communist regime, at a very early age and grew up as a Russian immigrant in a post World War II New York City, with her seamstress mother. Although Irini wasn’t aware of it, she has had many years of growing up to mull this over, and her definition of what was right and wrong in the world, was based very much on her and her parents’ past.
The parallel story in the Eastern Block, is the very real (and this is the based on truth part) struggle that Olga, the lover of Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago, went through. The communists were determined not to let the saga be published, let alone reach the West. They knew they could not harm their potential Nobel prizewinner of Literature, but they certainly could get to him through his lover and did she suffer for him. While the drama in the Eastern Block unfolded, the CIA began to train Irini as a spy, under the tutelage of Teddy, the man who overran the typing pool. The plan was that Irini would be instrumental in sending the novel, Doctor Zhivago, to the West to get in published and then return it to the East for distribution. A far-fetched and seemingly impossible task. Because Irini was who she was, and her superior was in a position of authority, it was assumed that eventually these two would retire to the American countryside and live happily forever after. This was not to be, however, there was a dramatic twist in the long winded tail, in that Irini was introduced to master spy, Sally Gardiner, for further training. Sally was well established, well trained and enigmatic, she worked for the CIA already and there wasn’t a man or woman in the department who didn’t admire her. And therein lies the complication on the Western Side of the World… the love triangle so to speak.
In an era, where people were expected to behave a certain way, where men were entitled and women acquiesced… this book has underlying vibe of what we would call abuse and in those days they might have called “life.” The bullies were bullies, the victorious were all conquering and the players were simply pawns. This is not an easy read and it will linger on in your head… it is hard to know which parts of the story are based on truth, and which parts were elaborations of the truth. I have to say, that the author, Lara Prescott has very much achieved the vibe of the Cold War. If you enjoy historical sagas, and you are not put off by complicated romances, to carry the story along, then this is a read you will want to read.
Books I Am Looking Forward to in 2020.
Earlier this year I was fortunate to go to the Penguin Random House Showcase of books to look forward to in 2020, and there are a lot of great reads waiting in the wings. So many books I am looking forward to reading. After enjoying My Lovely Wife last year… I am really looking forward to He Started It, by the same author, Samantha Downing… yup it will be creepy and well worth it. This one is about sibling rivalry… siblings on a road trip to relive a childhood trip they took with their grandfather, only now their grandfather has died… and the buffer of “politeness” that reins between adult siblings, is worn thin by the inevitable endurance of a roadtrip.
Otherwise Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, by Deepa Anappara looks so good: A school boy goes missing in a slum in India (again), and a young boy Jai and two of his friends decide to play detective and figure out what happened. Only they discover something way more sinister than they expected, and it is time to convince their parents to step up and get the police involved.
In Non-Fiction, we can all look forward to a new SASOL Birds of Southern Africa coming out, it is going to be fabulous, everything you could want in a bird book, only more… bigger illustrations, more details and an app that goes with it, so that you can listen to birdcalls. We are recalling looking forward to this one, it is going to be a great edition to our Nature Study Library.
Watch out for reviews of The Recovery of Rose Gold, Keeper, The Boy from the Woods, and more…
Amazon Affiliate Links to These Books
All these books were given to us for review purposes by Penguin Random House South Africa. This is not a sponsored post and opinions expressed are entirely our own.