Rebecca and I are thrilled that so many of you have been able to join us for Are You Sitting Comfortably over the past few months and for all the wonderful messages we’ve had on the Lives as well as posts on our book choices for each month. We love hearing from you about what you’re reading and what you think about the books we’ve chosen. A massive thank you to you all.
August sees us having a little rest from the Lives. Don’t worry though we’ll be back in September with a bang, sharing more books and more author interviews with you over the next few months. So, in our absence, we’ve put together a little list to keep you company over the summer. Whether you’re sipping negronis on a sun lounger in Sicily or settling down to scones and a nice cup of tea in a deckchair in Suffolk, we’ve got some bookish holiday companions, both old and new, that will have you spirited away in no time at all.
Welcome to Are You Sitting Comfortably’s Summer Reads.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Gamus has to be one of the most brilliant debuts. I challenge you not to fall in love with this novel’s wonderfully unconventional heroine, Elizabeth Zott. It’s the early 1960s and working at Hastings Research Institute, chemist Elizabeth finds that equality isn’t on anyone’s mind. When Nobel prize nominee, Calvin Evans, falls in love with Elizabeth’s mind, true chemistry results. Life doesn’t always follow a hypothesis though and single mother Elizabeth becomes the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show, Supper at Six. Her unusual approach proves rather revolutionary. Elizabeth isn’t just teaching women how to cook. She’s leading a charge. Witty, smart and immensely enjoyable, it’s the perfect holiday read.
Looking for a murder to solve? I know it’s been on many lists but you really can’t go wrong with this one if you’re keen to get those little grey cells working this summer – Margaret Kennedy’s The Feast. I read it last year and it’s a glorious rediscovered classic in my humble opinion. Published first in 1950, it’s perfect for Agatha Christie or Du Maurier fans. Think Golden Age crime set on the Cornish coast. We find ourselves at the Pendizack Manor Hotel in Midsummer 1947. The hotel is buried in the rubble of a collapsed cliff. Who has survived and who has perished? As the events of the week unfold, the hotel guests all have their own story to tell as secrets are revealed and alliances are formed. But what of the strange gathering for a moonlit feast before the landslide? Act of God or murder afoot? The crack in the cliff widens…
From Cornwall to the golden city of Amsterdam in 1705. The House of Fortune, Jessie Burton’s longed for sequel to The Miniaturist, is a story of fate and ambition, secrets and dreams, and one woman’s determination to rule her own destiny. Years after we left Nella in the fallout of the deaths of both Johannes and Marin, his sister who died in childbirth, a makeshift family has been born out of tragedy with a future to design for themselves. Thea Brandt is turning eighteen and the promise of adventure and drama at the theatre beckons as does Walter, the love of her life. Meanwhile at home, her father Otto and Aunt Nella argue endlessly and keeping up appearances means selling the furniture in order for them all to eat. Could finding a husband for Thea be the answer to a more secure future for the family? Or will the secrets from the past threaten to do more than just cast shadows on the present? Jessie Burton’s beautiful sequel is atmospheric and utterly immersive as she explores innermost desires, the power we hold within, and as the miniaturist once encouraged Nella, becoming the architects of our own fortune .
In a story of identity and star-crossed love that begins in Cyprus, 1974, two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. Clandestine meetings beneath the only witness, a fig tree which grows through a hole in the roof, give way to hushed departures as war breaks out. Years later, it is the fig tree which draws them back together as they smuggle a cutting into a suitcase bound for London. A fig tree in the garden becomes their daughter Ada’s only connection to a home she has never visited. Could it be the key to untangling secrets and silences and Ada finding her own place in the world? The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak will hold you captivated in its tender tale of belonging and love and renewal.
Returning to another golden oldie, Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book is approaching its 50th anniversary. It still draws me in with its beautiful tale of love and profound friendship which develops when an elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter spend the summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. They learn much about each other – fears, desires, quirks of personality – but what blossoms between them encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the very island itself. Tove called this the favourite of her adult novels, perhaps because it holds much of the nostalgia she felt for her own summers with her family. I love how she weaves a special kind of magic alongside the natural world. I’m always left longing to go to the island too! If you’ve already read it or happen to fall in love with it this summer, then the lovely people at Bookshop.org are hosting a virtual event with Tove’s niece, Sophia Jansson, who inspired the child in the book, on 1st September so do check that out.
Summer wouldn’t be summer without a frisson of romance and summer romance abounds in David Nicholls’ Sweet Sorrow. A coming of age story of first love and the agonising rollercoaster of teenage emotions, it’s summer of 1997 and sixteen year old Charlie Lewis is in a post-GCSE slump. Reluctantly he stumbles onto the stage of an amateur dramatic troupe’s production of Romeo and Juliet, in the hopes of winning leading lady, Fran Fisher. A fish out of water, Charlie finds himself reeling from one emotion to the next in what proves to be a life-changing summer. It’s poignant, laugh out loud funny and a love letter to youth. David Nicholls is a writer who really knows how to tug at the heartstrings.
Honorary mentions must go out to Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing which is everywhere at the moment because of a new film of the book starring Daisy Edgar Jones – if you were a fan of The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller which we featured in our May edition of Are You Sitting Comfortably, then this will be right up your street. There’s also the most incredible love story told in Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson who won Costa First Novel Award in2021 and debut novel of the Year at the British Book Awards this year. Race, belonging, strength, Open Water questions what it means to be a person in a world that only sees you as a Black body and finding strength in love, only to lose it.