Tom Wright, What Dies in Summer (2012)

Tom Wright’s debut novel chronicles one summer in the life of Jim Bonham, who lives in Texas with his grandmother (having been estranged from his mother and her current partner, and his father having passed away), and has frequent visions of a dead girl standing by his bed. At the start of the novel, Jim finds his cousinL.A.(Lee Ann)  sitting, shaking on the porch; she becomes part of his and Gram’s household, and what happened to her will be revealed over the coming months. That summer will also see the two teenagers discover a dead body (the girl of Jim’s visions), and Jim learning more about life and himself.

It’s in the latter aspect that What Dies in Summer shines brightest for me. Jim draws a distinction between being intelligent and smart, and comments that L.A. is much smarter than he. We see evidence of this near the beginning, when L.A. verbally outmanoeuvres a stranger who tries to trap her and Jim, when the latter would clearly never have been able to think like that. However, despite his lack of street-wisdom, and despite the fact that L.A. remains largely a closed book to him, Jim does grow and learn through his encounters with both dark and light aspects of life; Wright creates some beautifully judged passages depicting this. Jim’s narration also has a nicely unpolished quality, which really makes it feel like a voice that belongs to its character (something I do like to see in a first-person narrative). All in all, I’d say that Tom Wright is an author to keep an eye on, and What Dies in Summer certainly a debut worth checking out.

Tim Richardson, Sweets: a History of Temptation (2002)

Regular readers of this blog may know I’m partial to a bit of quirky social or cultural history; so much the better if, like Joe Moran’s On Roads, it can reach a little deeper than its immediate subject. Sweets is not on the same level as Moran’s book – perhaps inevitably, given that its subject matter is rather frivolous – but it is fun and interesting.

Tim Richardson takes a broadly chronological approach, with brief asides to focus on particular kinds of sweet. I find the book’s account of the early history of sweets a little dry in places, a little too heavy on detail; more engaging and lively are the anecdotes and insights on contemporary sweets – though the chapter on nineteenth-century confectioners and their ‘benevolent tyranny’ is fascinating. But Richardson’s enthusiasm is apparent throughout; and his closing whistle-stop tour of the world’s sweet cultures leaves me curious to know what some of the products he mentions taste like.

This book fulfils the Cookery, Food and Wine category of the Mixing It Up Challenge 2012.