I know it’s not just me: March 2020 has gone on for approximately 19 years. With the whole world in a state of uncertainty as the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold and more and more of us are thrown into lockdown, it’s not surprise it’s felt like the longest month since time began.
I talked enough in my last post about how fried my brain is at the moment, how hard it is to concentrate. So I was pleasantly surprised when it came to totting up the total number of books I read this month, and how well my Goodreads challenge is coming along. I’m up to 32 books finished this year, now, 14 of which were in March.
I’m honestly not sure how I managed it. Scrolling back through the list, it seems to be that I didn’t read many physical books this month; most of them were electronic copies. That goes a long way to explaining it, to be honest – I’ve been picking up my phone while Ted plays or watches mindless kids’ film after mindless kids’ film, and it seems like those snatched moments have added up and added up. Even if Ted’s distracted, I can’t sit down with an actual book-with-pages; he happily ignores me looking at my phone, but try to hide behind a book and he pops up like a jack-in-the-box, demanding attention.
I haven’t been rereading as much as I thought I would, either. Last month, I finally got myself into gear and sorted out my lost library card, and fixed the problem with my online library account (they’d managed to spell my email address wrong while signing me up). Me and Ted were greatly enjoying our trips to the library… and then our local council was one of the first services to go into lockdown in our area, including the library. However, thanks to our marvellous library being registered with BorrowBox, and apparently not many people realising this, I suddenly had a whole library’s worth of eBooks and audiobooks at my fingertips, with hardly anything on loan to other people. Bliss! So when it got to the end of the pay month and I was a bit short on cash to buy more books, instead of going back to my old favourites yet again, I could launch myself into my reading list with gusto.
So, without further ado… what have I been reading this long, long month?
These are mostly in chronological order, but I’m putting my favourite book of the month at the top. And that one is…
Daisy Jones and The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this book, and I immediately loved the concept. It’s set in the seventies, which isn’t an era I’m particularly fond of when it comes to books, but rock bands and groupies? Yeah, I’ve got a bit of an interest in stories about them. I feel like I should have read this book a lot sooner, but I really didn’t want to be disappointed by it.
And I wasn’t.
This has been the most absolutely perfect novel to read while this pandemic has been the first thing in everyone’s heads: there is nothing remotely pandemic-y about it, and it’s written in the style of an interview, chopping and changing between different perspectives in a way that is not confusing at all (something I did worry about a little at first, but didn’t end up being an issue). One of the taglines is ‘everyone remembers it differently’ and I loved the way the different characters concurred on some things, disagreed on others, and had completely different perspectives on major life events without ever directly communicating. The characters themselves are well-rounded and, for the most part, likeable despite being immensely flawed all around. The character of Daisy in particular… I felt myself really rooting for her, really wanting her to come through on top at the end. The author managed to create a character so deeply layered, so vulnerable yet with a core of steel, and all this just through ‘interviews’ and memories.
Like I said, I’ve never been hugely invested in the seventies as an era, but this book really brought the decade alive for me. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll a-go-go, and I’m delighted to find out that it’s soon to be a TV series produced by Reese Witherspoon.
False Value (Rivers of London #8) – Ben Aaronovitch
I started my slight obsession with the Rivers of London books last year, at the request of my husband. These books are excellent, and I’ve had to ration myself – there’s a whole spin-off universe with novellas and graphic novels, but I’m saving them for when I’m desperate and a bit more, shall we say, endowed with cash (hey, let’s face it, that time is probably here). This is the latest full-length novel in the series, which follows an apprentice wizard in modern-day London who happens to be a policeman – think Harry Potter meets CSI. I had to wait far too long for False Value; I wanted to buy it in Gatwick Airport two days after it was released (when I was off to Finland) but not a single bookshop in the whole airport had it. They just weren’t stocking it, which was weird. It turned out not to be my favourite in the series – it’s still a very good book, and I loved the (many) references to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as the character development – but you really do need to be well-versed in the Rivers universe before reading it. The narrative style at the beginning is also quite hard to follow, but it evens out before the first half of the book is done. All in all, a good read, but not my favourite of the month.
The Other Bennet Sister – Janice Hadlow
Pride and Prejudice has had many retellings and sequels and backstories and alternate universes, too many to count – yet when I saw this absolute doorstop of a book on the shelves on a day trip to Leeds, I was intrigued. It runs parallel to the story of Pride and Prejudice, and then continues it on afterwards, all from the point of view of Mary Bennet; the often forgotten fifth sister. I’ve always loved Mary Bennet, despite all her unlikeable, bookish, socially awkward qualities (wonder why I’m a fan?) and it was lovely and refreshing to read something based around her. Was it predictable? A little. But was it enjoyable? Yes.
Followers – Megan Angelo
This is exactly the kind of book I don’t recommend reading at the moment – it features a dystopia, and the apocalyptic events that lead to it. BUT I LOVED IT. Absolutely loved it. This book flips between two viewpoints, one right before the aforementioned apocalyptic situation and one in the resulting dystopia, with the actual nature of said apocalypse not revealed until pretty close to the end of the book, in a fascinating twist. Did I mention that I loved this book? It’s a devastating look at the way social media affects people in a meaningful, personal way – and the way the world itself is being irrevocably altered. The characters are flawed and real, and even though it took me a while to get into their heads, I’m finding it difficult to get this book out of my head a good couple of weeks after I finished it.
Once, Twice, Three Times An Aisling – Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen
This is the third in a series (starting with Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling) and I love the whole thing so far – it’s like an Irish Bridget Jones, only sensible and overly invested in weddings, country life, and motivational posts on Facebook. We all know an Aisling, and the books about her are light-hearted, laugh-out-loud funny, and so easy to dip in and out of while the world is falling apart around us. This was the first book I (delightedly) found on the BorrowBox app and it made me very happy.
Naturally Tan: A Memoir – Tan France
The memoir of one of the guys from Queer Eye. I love the show on Netflix, and I’m enjoying working through the various biographies that the show has spawned – I read the one by Jonathan Van Ness at the start of the year. I’ve always had a soft spot for Tan, him being the Brit of the bunch, and it was interesting to read his origin story. Problem was, and I hate to say it, but it wasn’t particularly well-written and jumped around from topic to topic without ever really revealing much. Unlike Jonathan’s book which felt gritty and personal, this one seemed a bit more – whisper it – like a cash-grab biography that may even have been ghost-written.
Necropolis: London and Its Dead – Catharine Arnold
This took me an inordinately long time to read – it’s quite hefty, and goes deep on its rather grim subject matter. It’s a fascinating history of the way London has managed its dead; not a lot more I can say about it, you’re either going to be interested in that sort of thing, or you’re not. I did sometimes find the writing a little impenetrable when the author would go off on a bit of a tangent, but it didn’t take too much away from a quite compelling history.
Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
This book left me in a quandary. This novel has been very much hyped up, and I can objectively see how important it is. It is, at its heart, the story of two women; a white middle-class mother and her younger black nanny. It goes heavily in on race, class, and motherhood, but it doesn’t always quite hit with the impact I expected. It’s very character driven, and I understand full well that you’re not supposed to particularly like a lot of them, but to be honest… I didn’t really like any of them. Nor did I really understand many of their motivations. There seemed to be a lot of decisions made that furthered the plot, but would not have made any logical sense, even to the characters themselves in the way they’d been established. Plus, for the most part, the actual writing style was clunky and uninteresting. All in all, this book left me cold.
The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr – Frances Maynard
I picked this up on a Kindle Daily Deal, mostly because it was compared to Elinor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, which I loved. Funnily enough, in some ways, I ended up loving this more. The writing wasn’t as compelling, and there wasn’t as much of a devastating twist, but the main character, neuro-atypical Elvira, is a darling. Right from the start, I wanted to pick her up, with her obsession with biscuits and her complete perplexity at modern life, and bring her home. She’s a character you really root for, and even though this simple story is more or less just her learning to navigate her life after the death of her mother (OK, there’s a minor mystery to solve, but it’s hardly groundbreaking and not the main focus of the story, in my eyes) it’s still lovely to read.
My Family and Other Disasters – Lucy Mangan
I read Lucy Mangan’s bookish memoir, Bookworm, last year, and absolutely adore it. I really identify with her younger self, spending her life curled up with an Enid Blyton – so I was interested to read this collection of her earlier newspaper columns, mostly featuring her slightly wacky family. I wasn’t disappointed; especially reading this just as the whole pandemic thing was starting to set in, as the column lengths are perfect for my slightly mashed up brain. Even though it’s a bit dated, seeing as most of the columns were written around fifteen years ago, the book is an entertaining light read.
Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? – Holly Bourne
I’ve always been a sucker for stories where people are thrown together and locked in, in an unusual situation – in this case, it’s an experimental rehabilitation camp for mentally ill teenagers. I was intrigued by the concept, and drawn in by the characters; it’s a beautifully messed-up ensemble cast, a lot of whom aren’t exactly likeable. However, you find yourself rooting for them nonetheless. The depiction of mental illness is sensitively and poignantly done, with a message that we could all stand to hear regarding putting a bit more kindness into the world.
Yes No Maybe So – Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Can you tell I’m a big fan of slightly angsty young adult fiction? Yes, it’s another one! The two first person perspectives in this story really show the two authors’ strengths and give it a true distinction between the two different viewpoints. The story centres around Maya and Jamie, two teenagers caught up in canvassing for a local election. Of course there’s drama; of course there’s a love story. It’s a little bit predictable, yes, but like everything Becky Albertalli writes, it’s beautifully composed and on the nose with its up-to-the-minute pop culture references. And also like everything Becky Albertalli writes, the case of characters is immaculate and immediately likeable. For a young adult novel, it’s quite deep, touching on institutionalised racism and the slightly scary situation that happens to be politics in the US right now; yet it still remains chatty and relatable, not bashing you over the head with its issues.
Paddle Your Own Canoe – Nick Offerman
I’ve been listening to this audiobook for most of the month, on and off, usually while I’ve been playing Cities: Skylines on the PC. I’m a massive fan of Parks and Recreation and my favourite character has always been Ron Swanson, of course I had to listen to Nick Offerman read his biography-cum-guide-to-life. I have to admit a fair bit of it was lost on me – I am not hugely interested in wood-working (or interested ‘at all’) and I found some of his stories about his youth in various theatre groups quite interminable, but all in all, it’s a good listen. More to the point, I could listen to Nick Offerman talk all day. And as a ten hour audiobook, you could quite easily do so while you’re in quarantine.
One – Sarah Crossan
Yes, yes, another young adult book. Shh. Just because I’m thirty doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them. This one is a very short book – in fact, I read it in a morning while my three-year-old was doing a yoga video on YouTube (this pandemic thing is leading to strange situations all round). It’s a sort of journal in verse, from the point of view of a conjoined twin. I usually run screaming from poetry, and I did find it difficult to get into at first. But then I started to connect with the characters and the whole ‘novel in verse’ thing got sort of… pushed aside. It’s a bittersweet coming of age story in particularly unusual circumstances; some of the characters could have done with a bit more development, and some of the plot points should have been answered a little better, but it was still a sweet, short read.
So that was how I spent my March. I think this is the longest book-related blog post I’ve ever written; it’s taken me most of the day, on and off. I think I’ll try and take it a bit easier on the new books in April… after all, I’m twenty books ahead of schedule!