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OK, just before we start, that's not me in the picture above. I don't spend my life sitting serenely in windows, reading books and watching butterflies. I read either at the dinner table, where my book is at constant risk of tomato sauce splatter, or else in bed with a book on the pillow next to me, half a centimetre from my face because I'm ridiculously shortsighted.
In this post, I'm sharing some of the books I've enjoyed reading over the last year or so. All are fiction, set in the real world, with female lead characters.
If you're keen to read any of these books, the Amazon links are right underneath the book images. Clever, huh?
Bloody Women, The Devil’s Staircase, and Viral - Helen Fitzgerald
I first picked up Viral soon after a trip to the very same holiday destination where major events in the story take place, making the setting all too horridly vivid in my mind. With a plot that moves at breakneck speed, laced with humour as dark and dirty as a Magaluf nightclub, Viral had me hooked and I went straight on to find more books by the same author.
Whether it be to confront a crisis or to escape one, Helen Fitzgerald’s characters love to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice. It’s telling then to find out that the author grew up in Australia, lives in Scotland and also spends a lot of time in Italy. The world feels like a much smaller place once you’ve been to the other side of it, and I think the idea of characters running around the world on a whim would really only spring into the mind of someone who has at some time packed up their life and moved to another country.
In Bloody Women, The Devil’s Staircase, and Viral, not only are the lead characters frequently on the move but their stories are multifaceted, going beyond traditional crime fiction narratives to layer in past experiences and family influences which become integral to present day events.
Bloody Women delves into what should be the unremarkable relationship history of Catriona, who is about to get married and shouldn’t really be thinking about her ex-boyfriends too much. Except the ex-boyfriends all start turning up dead. Catriona is arrested for murder, but that’s only one of her problems.
The Devil’s Staircase paints possibly the bleakest imaginable picture of backpacker life in London, but for 18 year old Bronny it’s more than enough. Bronny’s just running away from the fate she believes is waiting for her back home, preferring instead to shape her own destiny.
Su Oliphant-Brotheridge in Viral is a much less enthusiastic participant in her own overseas misadventures, when what should have been just another night partying in Magaluf ends with Su desperately trying to run away from herself while life as she knows it comes crashing down around her ears.
All three books are packed with characters who are larger than life, yet absolutely believable and full of surprises.
Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones was a child of material privilege, although it was her parent’s distant relationship with their child that led her to wander down Sunset Strip in her early teens and get herself into the groupie scene. Daisy partied because she had nothing much else to do, became a personality with her photo in the social pages, and eventually became a rock star with records at the top of the charts.
Daisy Jones & The Six dives into what it was really like to be a rock star in the seventies. Instead of looking up at the stage, we’re sitting in the green room and the studio, watching the band from inside their own world. Every band has its front person, its star, but this band had two, Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne.
Despite getting equal airtime as a lead singer, even Billy becomes a supporting cast member in a story that is, ultimately, all about Daisy. Predictably, Daisy fails to find lasting happiness in a life that can sometimes seem like it was devoted to hedonism, with a music career thrown in along the way for good measure.
Daisy Jones & The Six is written as a series of interviews with the band, their friends, families and associates, in a style so authentic that it led readers (myself included) to Google the question “Is Daisy Jones a real person?”. The book even includes complete lyrics for the band’s album ‘Aurora’. Millions of people loved the Daisy Jones they saw on stage and in magazines. Did anyone love her in real life?
How To Be Famous - Caitlin Moran
How To Be Famous is the sequel to the hugely successful How To Build A Girl, in which teenage writer Johanna Morrigan reinvented herself as music journalist Dolly Wilde and set off to London, where the streets may not be paved with gold but are most certainly lined with adventures.
In this second instalment, Dolly meets feisty singer Suzanne Banks and together they set out to take down a man who has sleazed his way around London one too many times. In the meantime, Suzanne’s band The Branks rip the music scene a new one with their debut album while Johanna endearingly attempts to write her way into the heart of her unrequited love.
How To Be Famous is a Britpop nostalgia trip, and one clear advantage of the mid-nineties setting is that the narrative need not be hampered by modern technology. Johanna’s career in print media isn’t under threat from online competitors, blog is a curse word yet to be uttered (and I’m fully aware of the irony as I write this in my blog post) and she can’t use her crush’s Instagram feed to track his every move around the globe.
Johanna marches into every exploit with her eyes wide open, yet still grows as a person through her friendship with Suzanne and her encounters with the two leading men of the story, one an archetypal abuser of power and the other a true gentleman disguised in wastrel clothing. I admire Johanna for the decisions she makes, especially her determination to maintain her independence and sense of equality in a relationship where she could easily let these hard won boundaries slide.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
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