In the UK, the Met Office has issued an Amber Warning for Extreme Heat this week. We’re expecting four or five days of temperatures in the low thirties Centigrade (high eighties Fahrenheit). That may not sound much if you come from a warm part of the world but, in a country with no domestic air conditioning, it’s not something we’re well-equipped to deal with. My plan is to spend as much time as I can in cool places, reading.
To help me in this arduous task, I’ve picked out three books with nothing much in common except that they take place far away from here and are likely to be entertaining.
One is a menacing novella-length thriller set in Bondi Beach during the first lockdown. One is a dark comedy about a dead body and a wedding. One is a sometimes grim epic set in an alternative China and drawing on the bloody history of the Sino-Japanese war.
Re-reading that last paragraph, I realise these books don’t exactly sound cheery but I’m hoping that they’ll be entertaining enough to while away the sunny days.
‘The Cuckoo’s Cry’ by Caroline Overington (2020)
This Audible Original novella, published in July 2020, was the first piece of fiction that I saw that was set in the reality of the pandemic lockdown. I listened to the start of it when it came out and it felt a little weird to read a fictional account that included lots of the stuff that we were all going through at the time.
The power of the story comes from giving a realistic, relatable description of the life of a seventy-year-old widower living alone and then adding a sense of a real but non-specific threat from the nineteen-year-old woman who has turned up claiming to be his granddaughter.
I think this is unlikely to end well for anyone involved.
‘Dial A For Aunties’ by Jesse Q Sutanto (2021)
This one is just pure, chaotic, fast-paced, outrageous fun. Netflix, who are adapting it for TV, described it as ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ meets ‘Weekend At Bernie’s‘ which showed me how hard this book is to classify – how many people under the age of fifty remember ‘Weekend At Bernie’s?
‘Dial A For Aunties’ is too dark for the typical Hollywood RomCom and too raucous for a Cozy Mystery. I think the energy of the book comes from the relationship between Meddy, the only one of her generation who didn’t move away from home when she went to college, and her mother and her aunts. The four sisters are formidable separately and collectively and they tend to roll over Meddy in an affectionate but unstoppable way. Their noise and bravado contrast nicely with Meddy’s quiet uncertainty.
I’m hoping for something that is part comedy of manners, part slapstick, part RomCom and all laughter.
‘The Poppy War‘ by R. F. Kuang (2018)
‘The Poppy War’ made a big splash when it came out in 2018. It has since become a top-selling trilogy. The publicity for launching R. F. Kuang’s latest fantasy: ‘Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution’, which is released next month, shows how successful she’s been.
What appeals to me most about ‘The Poppy War’ is that it’s a fantasy based on a good understanding of the brutal realities of poverty, war, and conquest. I’m hoping it will be exciting and imaginative without romanticising its content.
To get a feel for this 545-page / 19-hours-long book, take a look at the promotional video below: