Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for July

The warm weather is finally here and I know you’re looking for deck-worthy reading to take on your summer getaways. Here are my 5 must-reads for July 2019, including a keto–approved sweets cookbook, a feminist sci-fi thriller and a rom-com that’s the perfect read for a lazy summer afternoon.

How to Photograph Absolutely Everything by DK Publishing.
How to Photograph Absolutely Everything by DK Publishing.

How To Photograph Absolutely Everything

Award-winning photographer Tom Ang makes a daring claim in the introduction to his essential guide to shooting great images: “I want to help you to know how to photograph any subject or situation you may encounter.” And he delivers.

How to Photograph Absolutely Everything – subtitled Successful Pictures from Your Digital Camera (DK Publishing, 2019) – opens with a chapter explaining the fundamentals, from which digital camera to choose (including your smartphone) to the best approach for each subject, how to compose your shot, find the right light and how to frame your shot effectively. 

The next six chapters walk you through how to shoot Instagram-worthy people, landscapes and nature, animals, architecture and events. Sorry, no selfie instructions but the People chapter offers lots of tips you can hack.

Ang’s genius shines here with easy-to-understand, step-by-step instructions that make shooting brag-worthy images child’s play. Seriously. Each spread includes an example shot, with explicit setting instructions for aperture, lens/camera mode, exposure and white balance/flash.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, Ang invites you to explore your inner artist, playing with motion blur, distorted colours, fragmented shapes and more to create surprising – and artful – images.

“Allow yourself to be yourself,” he advises. “It is photography in which you aim to satisfy only your own visual curiosity, allowing your imagination to follow where the light leads you.”

Keto Sweet Tooth Cookbook by DK Publishing.
Keto Sweet Tooth Cookbook by DK Publishing.

Keto Sweet Tooth Cookbook

So you’re on the keto diet. Or know someone – maybe a bunch of friends – who are. Betcha sweet treats are totally off the table, right? Well, stash that Hair Shirt.

Keto Sweet Tooth Cookbook (DK Publishing, 2019) serves up 80 recipes for everything from cakes to cookies, uber yummy fat bombs, rich and creamy shakes, ice cream and candies. For real. OK, these treats aren’t your usual desserts, but you won’t know that when you tuck in.

Instead of sugar, sweets like Mint Chocolate Cheesecake, Brownies, Snickerdoodles (remember them?) Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie and Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches use erythritol, stevia, Monk fruit and glycerine. And nut flours like almond, coconut and sesame seed sub in for wheat flour.

Presto: low carb and sugar free lip smackin’ yumminess.

While whipping up most of these keto desserts uses the usual techniques, some recipes call for a different approach. No worries. The Keto Sweet Tooth Cookbook has you covered with a section sharing helpful tips, basic equipment and a list of ingredients you’ll want to stock in your pantry.

So I know you’re wondering – what’s a Fat Bomb? A scrumptious little mouthful of pure bliss. My favourite Fat Bomb? That’s a tough call. Peanut Butter and Jelly? Chocolate-Covered Cheesecake? Rum Ball? Peanut Butter Cup? I’ll make them all again and report back.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.

The Nickel Boys

In the early ‘60’s, as the Civil Rights movement reaches Frenchtown in segregated Jim Crow Tallahassee, Florida, 14-year-old Elwood Curtis embraces the words of Martin Luther King: he is “as good as anyone”.

Abandoned by his parents and raised by his iron-willed grandmother, Elwood is a straight-and-narrow, law-abiding teenager about to take advanced classes at a local Black college.

On his way to enrol, he thumbs a ride from a stranger. The car is stolen. And Elwood is sentenced to time at Nickel Academy, a juvenile detention centre committed to the physical, intellectual and moral training of wayward boys. 

In reality, Nickel Academy is your worst racist nightmare. The kids are beaten and sexually abused, the corrupt management sells the centre’s food and supplies, and any boy who steps up disappears “out back”.

In the face of monstrous evil, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s philosophy: “Throw us in jail and we will love you”.

His street-smart friend Turner thinks Elwood is beyond naive. The world is pretty much crooked, the odds are stacked, and the only way to survive is to live with a smarter scheme.

“The key in here,” explains Turner, “is the same as surviving out there – you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.”

The pair builds an unlikely bond – and ultimately a shared destiny. What that means, finally, is an end, a beginning and debt to be paid decades later.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a lethal indictment of a sinister slice of American history. And it’s all-the-more devastating because the story is based on a real-life Florida reform school’s 111-year history of corruption, abuse and criminal neglect that destroyed the lives of thousands of children.  

Wilder Girls by Rory Power.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power.

Wilder Girls

It’s been 18 months since the Tox hit Raxter School for Girls on a remote island off the American east coast. The Tox spread slowly. First the teachers died, all except Headmistress and Ms. Welch. The girls were next. 

It hit everyone differently. Something lives behind Hetty’s right eye, which seals itself shut. Byatt grows a second spine. Reese’s left hand becomes sharp and silver-scaled, and her hair glows.

The school is put under quarantine, cut off from the outside world except for caches of supplies brought over from the mainland. And the girls wait for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and deliver a cure. 

While they fight to survive, the girls suffer periodic flare-ups. When Byatt’s lands her in the locked infirmary, Hetty manages to sneak inside to make sure Byatt is safe. She’s gone.

Hetty, determined to find Byatt, enlists Reese in the search, and the two discover horrifying truths about the Headmistress and the government on their frantic – and death-defying – flight to freedom. 

Wilder Girls by Rory Power is a grown-up, feminist Lord of the Flies. The girls become physical monsters and stripped of their looks are allowed to be fully human, without judgement. A post-apocalypse, sci-fi thriller, Wilder Girls celebrates the strength of female friendships and the power of love, against the odds, to create a future.

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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane.
Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane.


Don’t Forget About Me

Mhairi McFarlane’s fifth novel begins at Tapton School, Sheffield, in 2007 when middling-popular Georgina Horspool’s English teacher mixes up the class seating and moves her to partner with Lucas McCarthy, a keep-to-himself loner.

Before long, the two are in love – but secretly because. . . you know . . . it’s high school. And Lucas is not one of the cool crowd.

Prom night, the two are going solo. But they’ve booked a hotel room to finally turn furtive groping into a satisfying conclusion. King of Seniors Rick Hardy wanders over and tells Georgina he wants to show her something. Basking in the blinding light of OMG-he-chose me, she takes his hand as he leads her outside.

She thinks he wants to show her a new sports car. Or share a spliff. What Rick wants to show her is his penis. When Georgina returns, Lucas is gone and she spends the night in the hotel by herself.

Fast forward 10 years. Georgina lands a gig at a pub owned by Lucas and his brother. Lucas pretends he doesn’t recognize her. Then he admits he does, but it’s a vague, “Sure. High school.” sort of recognition. 

What follows is a classic girl meets boy/girl loses boy/girl gets boy story. But the plot has enough twists to keep you turning pages till the predictable, but never-the-less satisfying, happy-ever-after ending.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane is new school rom com. It’s smart, cleverly crafted and scripted with the kind of witty dialogue that left me wishing Georgina and her besties would invite me for a drink.

Written by Charlotte Empey. Illustrations produced on iPad Pro with Apple Pencil by Mark Scheibmayr.

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