Age, youth, childhood and race – a 20 Books of Summer round up!

Here’s another round up post to try and get me up to speed with my reviews and bring this challenge in on time and on budget 🙂

Although I have read all 20 books once before, I don’t think I have ever managed to review them all, so I am DETERMINED that this will be my year!

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty


This is one of those books where I wish I had the time to devote a full review. It’s a beautiful, masterful mediation on love and relationships and in my opinion really should have been a contender for last years Man Booker. It may have been 16 years since his last novel, but Midwinter Break is worth the wait.

It’s a practically perfect novel charting the relationship between an aging couple, Stella and Gerry as they take a trip to Amsterdam in January. Stella is a Catholic, looking for meaning in her life. Gerry is drinking too much, and not hiding it as well as he thinks. Stella is thinking of ending their relationship and the trip to Amsterdam is as much about having a post-Christmas break as researching another way to live.

From the perfect pacing, the recognisable spot-on dialogue and the detail that is found in the everyday, MacLaverty uses all his considerable skills as a novelist to create a story that is at once mundane and illuminating. The stealth involved in Gerry’s drinking is perfectly depicted, without being judgmental and detailed displaying of this couple’s life together means that the reader becomes wholly invested in the outcome.

Midwinter Break is in some respects a sad novel, but it is not a depressing one and will be up there as one of my books of the year.

Read on: Book

20 Books of Summer: 10/20


No 563 The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

I had all the good intentions to take part in Heaven Ali’s wonderful  #ReadingMuriel2018 challenge but, as always,  things didn’t quite go to plan. I have read, but not reviewed Memento Mori and now The Girls of Slender Means, both of which I have enjoyed very much.

The May of Teck Club exists for the pecuniary convenience of and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means, below the age of Thirty years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London.

The Girls of Slender Means is a deceptive novel – what appears to be a light, amusing journey through the lives of the young women living in the May of Teck Club in London in 1945, is actually a darker more brooding work which has a surprisingly dramatic ending which colours all that has gone before.


The girls of the title are in a post-war bubble, making the best of the slender means they own. Joanna, a rectors daughter is teaching elocution lessons, her poetic annunciations filling the halls.  Greggie, Jarvie and Collie are the old maids of the building, complaining about the younger residents. Pauline Fox has a pretend boyfriend while Jane Wright, who does important ‘brain-work’ in the world of publishing, also cons authors into sending her their autographs to sell on the black market. Selina is the siren of the group and it is she who piques the interest of Nicholas Farringdon, an author and missionary who becomes a cog in the wheel of the life of the building.

Spark, writing in the ominous third-person, follows the lives and loves of these girls over several weeks, until a shocking event transforms the amusement of their existence into a tragedy that none of them could have foreseen.

The tone of The Girls of Slender Means is perfectly pitched – wry and lucid, Spark illuminating her characters as being a lot stranger than they initially appear to be. The choppy chronology and jumping back and forward in time is done without fanfare but adds to the knowledge that something inexplicable is going to happen adding a sense of dread to the proceedings.

This is a masterful novel by a master writer and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work before the end of the year.

Read on: Book

Number Read: 184

Number Remaining: 562

20 Books of Summer: 11/20


No 562 Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Dandelion Wine is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for years. It’s one of my husband’s favourite books and I don’t know why I’ve waiting so long to read it, because I loved it.


Mostly known for being a science fiction writer, in Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury shows that he is so much more, with this poetic invocation to boyhood and those endless summers.

Douglas Spaulding is twelve and at the start of the summer has become aware that tome is passing him by and he needs to become more aware of the wonder and magic in his everyday life. His long, sun-dappled summer holiday becomes something he feels he must record for posterity, sensing perhaps, the changes that are coming in his life and the lives of those around him.

Dandelion Wine is not a novel as such. It feels like a series of interlinked short stories, or a memoir, laden with nostalgia and interpretation. Sometimes Douglas is the centre of the stories and sometimes he is a bystander but he knows that these moments must be seized and marked down. Remembered forever to make sense of what is to come.

The dandelion wine that his grandfather makes and bottles in the family basement becomes a symbol of the memories Bradbury is bottling in his book. As the weeks pass, the usual rituals of summer – the purchasing of new tennis shoes, eating ice-cream with his mother, putting the porch swing up at the beginning of the season – give way to more meaningful happenings. A best friend moves away, he experiences death for the first time and a succession of murders in the town brings a morbidity to a once loved area.

It is all evocatively captured by Bradbury in a poetic prose that never cloys but immerses the reader in the whole life of this town. There are stories here that could become novels in their own right, but Bradbury is careful to give them their place in this grand tapestry – a beautiful ode to memory, to youth and to family.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 185

Number Remaining: 561

20 Books of Summer: 12/20


No 561 Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris

Clybourne Park opens in 1959 where, following a family tragedy, Bev and Russ  are moving out of their Chicago neighbourhood for a fresh start. There is a forced sheen to the opening scenes and it is obvious that Bev and Russ are doing their best to hide their unhappiness.


The house has sold for a knock-down price meaning that the first black family will be moving in, much to the chagrin of resident Carl, who visits Bev and Russ as they are packing  to tell them, in the presence of their black maid Francine, that they are undermining property values and bringing the neighbourhood into disrepute.

In Act 2, we have jumped forward 50 years where a young white couple, Lindsey  and Steve are seeking planning permission to build a new house on the same plot. Now the hostility comes from the black resident’s who feel that the cultural significance of these homes is about to be erased.

Race, property and money are pointed topics at the best of times, but Norris’s target is the politically correct veneer that has been employed in racial discourse for years – in fact his target may well be his very own theatre audience.

In both Acts, the discussions end in heated confrontation as Norris skewers the euphemisms of discourse and exposes the real race resentments that undermine polite rhetoric. Echoes of dialogue from act one show that although the rhetoric is different, the sentiments haven’t changed much in the last 50 years.

Clybourne Park works well on the page and there are subtleties in the dialogue that may be missed in performance, however the angry scenes – when they come in both acts – would be explosive on stage, making the audience themselves question the values that they themselves hold.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 186

Number Remaining: 560

20 Books of Summer: 13/20

20 books

20 Books of Summer Irish Literature Reading Challenge The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

29 Comments Leave a comment

  1. OK, I’m definitely doing this. This is such a great idea to get as many reviews done as you can.

    Dandelion Wine sounds really interesting. I’ve not read anything by Ray Bradbury but have wanted to read Fahrenheit 451 for years.

    Clybourne Park also sounds like something I’d love to get into. Some themes there that sound just like my kind of read.


  2. For some reason, I read Dandelion Wine for school, and remember being shocked by how much I liked it. There’s something wonderful about its evocation of a summer that’s both timeless and very much situated in time; maybe because, for children, the season is a period of such intense transformation (everything important happens to kids during the holidays), Bradbury’s capturing of the changes over one particular summer feels really poignant.


  3. Pleased to see your comments on Midwinter Break, set in one of my favourite cities, which is sitting on my TBR shelves. I also liked the sound of Clybourne Park until I realised it was a play but then thought perhaps I should reconsider!


  4. I think I would like The Girls of Slender Means and also Dandelion Wine. I’ve only read a short story by Bradbury (it was in one of my kid’s elementary school readers) and Fahrenheit 451 so this one sounds interesting!


  5. The Girls of Slender Means is definitely my favourite Spark book. Some others are distinctly odd but I don’t suppose we should expect perfection all the time.


  6. Terrific reviews, Cathy. You’re making great progress on the 746 list as well. I have the Muriel Spark and the Bradbury on my TBR list too, and I’m really looking forward to them. I’ve never read Spark before and have only read one Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was great.)


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