I love to read and these quieter times have given me lots of opportunity to read even more. The difference is that now I’m reading more mindfully – slower and stopping to think about the descriptions and story. I’m planning to start working on a novel of my own – a lifelong dream – so I’m paying more attention to descriptions, character development and story lines. 

Many of you ask for recommendations so I’ve compiled the books that topped my Summer 2020 list. I won’t give you a blow-by-blow review as that spoils the discovery for me. Just know that these are 5 star stunners and I will be buying them as gifts for my book lover friends.

Two of my top picks are impressive debut novels – Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. These two authors have inspired and intimidated me – what an incredible accomplishment to write a blockbuster book as your first novel!

I couldn’t put down Where the Crawdads Sing. What a heartbreaking story of perseverance, loneliness and brilliance. It’s one of my all-time favourite novels and I plan to read this sweeping life story again soon. 

I loved Alka Joshi’s story of Lakshmi, a henna artist in Jaipur in the 1950s, who is bound by traditions that stab holes in her ambition and hard work. At times, I wanted to weep for her and rail at the injustices thrown in her way. I learned so much from this novel and enjoyed Joshi’s descriptive passages.

I’m so honoured when an author leaves a note on my Instagram. Here’s what Alka Joshi wrote after I posted the photo above: “Here’s some good news for your next flight: July 2021 – the sequel to The Henna Artist is coming: The Royal Jewel Cinema! Twelve years after the end of The Henna Artist, and Malik stars in that one! Then there’s a third book in which Radha’s son comes looking for her. Stay tuned …” I’m excited to read the follow-up chapters to Joshi’s exceptional novel. 

Washington Black took my breath away. I bought the novel to learn more about Black historical literature (Canadian author Esi Edugyan won a Giller Prize). The story of young Wash Black was so much more than a lesson in slavery, it was also a masterclass in writing. Edugyan is a lyrical storyteller and her novel’s twists and turns into a fantasy tale were awe inspiring. My heart broke over and over when reading about slavery’s appalling conditions. But I was uplifted by Wash’s perseverance and curiosity. I plan on reading more of this wonderful novelist’s work. 

The best novels for summer weekends are the equivalent of a bubbly glass of rose. I loved Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asian novel series, so downloaded Sex and Vanity the second it became available. His latest is set in Capri at the marriage of Isabelle Chiu (Issie) and Adolfo Michelangelo de Vecchi (Dolfi) and it flies along in Kwan’s signature style. I really love how the author adds footnotes to the story that offer further explanations or contradict something a character says. Brilliant technique that works really well in such an OTT novel. Sex and Vanity doesn’t live up to the Crazy Rich Asian level as his main characters are quite simply unlikeable. They frequently slip over the edge to obnoxious and I ended up wearying of them. It’s too bad because this novel will also be adapted into a screenplay.

I also enjoyed City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s received mixed reviews but I enjoyed the story of a feisty young woman making it in New York in the 1940s. The book dragged a bit – it read like two novels in one but I’d still recommend it. Vivian, the main character, is someone I’d love to have cocktails with.

I was disappointed by Andre Leon Talley’s hotly anticipated second memoir The Chiffon Trenches. It’s packed with name dropping but his writing is meager and there’s minimal critical thought. His own pettiness and self-indulgence were a surprise. Read it if you love the fashion industry but don’t expect much. It pissed me off how badly this book was thrown together. And Talley’s vendetta against Anna Wintour reflects poorly on him.

And these four books have a special place on my bookshelf. I loved all of them – each one is completely different. I read to learn. I read to escape. I read to broaden my horizons and try to better understand other people and their motivations. Follow my picks on Instagram under the hashtag #tantrumreads. And please leave your recommendations in the post comments. Thank you for joining me here. And happy reading!