Cover Detail of Notting Hill Carnival: A West Side Story by Candice Carty-Williams

Notting Hill Carnival: A West Side Story by Candice Carty-Williams

Thank you for bearing with me this week as I publish both my posts a day late Doh! Yesterday I did a 17 hour working day, so heaven knows what you will be reading this morning. But I have a good series of books for you, with some exciting authors. Let's get to it shall we?

In the UK, 1 in 3 adults do not read regularly for pleasure and 1 in 6 struggle with reading. Since 2006, the Reading Agency has produced a small selection of titles each year priced at a modest £1 to buy or alternatively borrowed from libraries up and down the country.

Back in the day, the only books available to people struggling with confidence in their reading, used to be children's books. But of course these were stories for children, not adults. As a bookseller dedicated to encouraging reading, it used to be heart-breaking to see someone leave without finding a book they would hopefully come to love. So it is a welcome relief to have this catalogue of titles available, titles written by some of the best authors currently writing in conjunction with some of the biggest publishers. On the 27th May, a set of 6 new titles are due to be published in the Quick Reads series and these are:

  • The Baby is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic)
  • The Skylight by Louise Candlish (Simon and Schuster)
  • Saving the Day by Katie Fforde (Arrow)
  • Wish You Were Dead by Peter James (Macmillan)
  • How to be a Woman abridged by Caitlin Moran (Ebury)
  • The Motive by Khurrum Rothman (HQ)

What a corking set of authors!

Find out more about the Reading Agency and Quick Reads

I decided to try a title from the 2020 collection by Nibbies winner Candice Carty-Williams, author of critically acclaimed Queenie. See I told you there were some fab authors! The book is a perfectly sized read for an under confident reader and is a lot less daunting than something like War and Peace.

Read my review of Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams


Essentially this is a modern retelling of the musical West Side Story, which was a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Set in South London, the novel follows Sapphire and Apollo, members of two rival gangs; The Read Roses and The Gold Teeth. Gang culture and its escalation is explored and Sapphire ends up serving time in prison for her part in a fight with a rival gang member which leaves him blind.

Leaving prison and determined to distance herself from the gang culture, she tries to mediate between the two gangs when events threaten to escalate once more. Along the way she becomes drawn to Apollo and the attraction is mutual. But then a challenge is thrown down between the two gangs. Will Sapphire and Apollo ever be together? Or will the whole tale end in tragedy?

My Thoughts

Candice Carty-Williams has written a sensitive yet realistic story covering many difficult topics. Gang culture is a world away from my own life, but the novel demonstrates how quickly a person can sadly be drawn into gangs.

One observation the author made was especially poignant with regard to kids having someone to believe in them and their abilities especially when it comes to career aspirations. Candice Carty-Williams held the mirror up here and also with regard to a women's experience in society. Detailing an uncomfortable scene where Sapphire is groped whilst being at the carnival and being told to 'lighten up' when she protests.

The action is set against the backdrop of the Notting Hill Carnival and this is a positive experience as the whole community is clearly proud of its event and do everything to ensure it passes peacefully and with joy.

This is a good read, written well and prompting many discussions. I'm looking forward to the 2021 list already!