Reading Round-Up: April 2020

It’s another lockdown month of reading!

I honestly didn’t think I’d been reading so much this month. I got a new laptop, one where I don’t have to do a disc clean-up and pray every time I turn it on, so I’ve been able to start properly writing again. I know, I know, I’ve said that before, but weirdly… it’s going well. I’m not writing anything new, I’m editing. Changing over Bisous, Tilly for approximately the nineteenth time, but hey, I have a good feeling about this one!

Anyway, the Covid-19 lockdown has continued through April here in the UK, and we’re all kind of settling into this new normal. I’m still being driven mad by a teeny tiny tornado, aka three-year-old Teddy. It’s quite hard to fit in reading around his busy schedule of running round and round the garden, building epic wooden train layouts, and demanding a never-ending supply of snacks. Putting in a bit of time for editing, as well as, you know, the occasional cooking and cleaning, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for books.

Plus, I’ve let my geekery reach a whole new level in the last few weeks. I’ve always been a nerd; usually of a Tolkien-esque, Star-Wars-y kind of variety but always open to new things. Yet somehow, superheroes have never really caught my attention… until now, with the advent of Disney+ and a fair bit of extra free time. So I’ve finally started to get into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just the films, so far, in the chronological order of the events in the movies, not their release. I’m literally writing this while watching Thor: Ragnarok and cackling like a maniac, and if any of you give me any spoilers, I’ll be raging. My point being, it’s another thing that’s kept me from powering through as many books as I’d expect to be getting on with during this lockdown.

Yet somehow I’ve managed to fit in more than I thought, because I’ve read twelve books this month. That’s 44 so far this year, and I’m not counting rereads (even though apparently, I can). I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to finish my Goodreads Challenge next month, bang on halfway through the year. Not bad, considering it took me all the way to November last year, just to get to 52.

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Anyway! What have I been reading in this month’s snatched moments? I’ll start, as always, with my favourite book of the month – though this month, it’s been a close call…

Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez

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I’ve been slowly reading this for a couple of months now – it’s such an important book, I didn’t want to speed through it like I usually do, I really wanted to take it all in. If this book doesn’t make you angry, then there’s something wrong. The tagline of this book is “Exposing data bias in a world designed for men” and that really does sum it up. Did you know that both cars and car crash dummies are designed around the shape of the ‘average’ male, meaning women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash than men? Or that women are 50% more likely than men to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack, because their symptoms don’t match the ‘textbook’ example, which are generally more likely to occur in males? Or that more than half of the 5 million women in Mumbai don’t have access to safe toilet provision?

Yes, at times this book can be a bit like being hit over the head by a brick of statistics. But if, like me, you’ve been rambling about feminism for years, these are the statistics you need to back it all up. I can’t reiterate enough how important this book is: especially so now. I want you to go and read it yourself rather than listen to me, so I won’t give you the full details – but let’s just say there’s some very interesting, very pertinent information about women in pandemic situations, especially provision of decent-fitting PPE.

Honestly, get me on my high horse about this and I’ll talk about it all day – especially about toilet queues, and women as unpaid careworkers, but I really should get on with my reading round-up. It is such a good book, though – for a book based mostly on statistics, it could be incredibly dry, but Caroline Criado Perez still manages to keep  it gripping and a tiny bit humorous as well. Read it, read it, read it. It’s out in paperback now, so you don’t even have to haul the enormous hardback round like I’ve been doing for months.

So Lucky – Dawn O’Porter

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I quite often hate books by celebrities-turned-authors. They’re never edited properly: case in point, in ‘So Lucky’, a woman lauds her own body measurements, claiming to have a 27cm waist. Yes, you read that correctly. Even Scarlett O’Hara didn’t manage that one. This book was peppered with careless mistakes like that, but oddly, I still didn’t hate it.

I’ve read a few books lately that deal with mental health issues (see later on) and this wasn’t the best depiction I’ve seen, but it still struck a chord. It follows three women, all of whom, from the outside, could be seen to ‘have it all’. But delving not-so-deep beneath the surface, there’s a lot more going on.

I found some of the sex scenes completely gratuitous, and sometimes the characters made me feel uncomfortable – but I could see how that was the point. They’re not meant to be liked, they’re meant to be real women, and how many of us are likeable to the core? Not many, that’s for sure. I’d recommend this book, but go into it with an open mind. Don’t expect fluff or froth, because you won’t get any.

It Only Happens in the Movies – Holly Bourne

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I started reading Holly Bourne’s YA books last month, and I’m so glad I did. Her characters are so distinct, they leap off the page – I’d go as far as to say she’s a British equivalent of Rainbow Rowell, character-wise. I’ve said it before, but I find Young Adult books so easy to read at the moment, and they’re very much not to be sniffed at.

‘It Only Happens in the Movies’ is a sweet coming-of-age story… with a badass, ranting, feminist heroine who completely deconstructs romantic comedy films. It’s heart-wrenching in places, messy in others, and while it does have a romantic plot line in there, it’s definitely secondary to the other things going on.

Wilder Girls – Rory Power

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I promised myself when this pandemic started, I would avoid books about viruses or apocalypses. But… then I didn’t. Whoops. This was my first little sojourn into Books I Shouldn’t Be Reading this month, and I don’t regret it. This book is powerful, folks. It reminded me a bit of ‘Hex‘, one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read – only not quite so scary. The twists and turns, and general tense atmosphere, however, were very Hex-like. A well-written ‘what if’ kind of book, where the deadly virus taking over the small island boarding school is pretty much matter-of-fact compared to the emotional journey going on in the foreground. Blatant feminism is a bit of a theme for this month’s reads, and this had it in abundance. Subtly, not preaching, but definitely there.

The Quiet at the End of the World – Lauren James

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Continuing the theme of YA and virus-y…

This was a bit of a slow-burner for me, at the very start I just didn’t feel connected to the characters – the two youngest people on Earth, years in the future, after a seemingly-mild virus back in our time wiped out fertility across the world. But slowly, I started to get them a little more – especially when the true nature of the virus and the post-apocalyptic world became clear. I don’t want to spoil the twists, or the ending, but I thoroughly recommend this book as a fabulous example of dystopic, young adult fiction. Of course, there’s a love story too, inevitably, but it is once again totally secondary to everything else that’s going on.

The Secret Midwife – Katy Weitz and Anonymous

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I’ve always loved books about midwifery and birth – well, I used to, until I went through childbirth myself and couldn’t bear to read anything about it until, well, pretty much now.

And what a disappointment. After a fairly shocking story at the very beginning, I thought I was going for a compelling work of medical non-fiction, of the sort I greatly enjoyed last year (some are mentioned in my 2019 Reading Review). But instead it vacillates between the aforementioned shocking stories and pointless schmaltz. I’m not keen on books about an interesting topic, like midwifery, that are filled with boring stories about the author’s personal life, and this was full of them. Along with many, many exclamation points. Fine in chatty blog posts; a pain in the arse in a supposed work of non-fiction.

Looking For Alaska – John Green

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I was so looking forward to this. I’ve loved John Green’s books before, and I was hoping for something to grip me again after the disappointing midwife book. But… this wasn’t it.

YA is usually my thing, of late, and John Green is, more or less, its king. In case you can’t tell, I tend to be a fan of books with strong heroines, and if the story is set in a boarding school-type setting, I’m usually all for it. This book is so popular, but I really disliked it and had to fight to get to the end. I just didn’t care about the characters. Maybe it was just one quirky, irresistible heroine too far for me.

Eve of Man – Giovanna and Tom Fletcher

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Mid-April really was a slump, wasn’t it?

Why do I keep doing this to myself? Another book where celebrities have been handed a book deal on a bloody plate. The plot – post-apocalyptic, no girls born for years and years, the ‘miracle girl’ locked in a tower, inevitable shovelled-in love story, etc etc etc – takes forever to get going, with the odd moments of action interspersed with long scenes of dreary introspection. It’s not well-written, either. I have a personal bugbear for characters looking in the mirror, in the first person, and giving a detailed description of what they look like. Yep, we have that here, and how: “My deep brown eyes study themselves, searching for something”. WHO TALKS LIKE THAT??

This book completely failed to grip me and I had to really force myself to finish it; I will not be returning for the collection of sequels. You want a good dystopian novel involving a mysterious infertility plague? Scroll up and read The Quiet at the End of the World.

Eat Up – Ruby Tandoh

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Hooray! At last, the slump was over!

I’ve had a soft spot for Ruby Tandoh ever since she was on The Great British Bake Off a few years back, and a couple of her cookbooks are on my shelves. This meandering book defies categorisation – a little bit memoir, a little bit philosophy, a little bit history. The non-fiction equivalent of a literary hug; it contains interesting snippets of history and science, literature and feminism, from human rights issues to Bruce Bogtrotter, even delving into why we don’t eat our own dead pets.

Essentially, it is a poetic love-letter to food, a beautifully written hymn to self-acceptance and positivity, peppered with recipes and anecdotes. The mere description of buying and eating a Creme Egg nearly reduced me to tears, stuck in the house as I am without one.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman – Anne Helen Petersen

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There seems to be a lot of books like this out there at the minute – discussing individual women in the public eye and analysing their various feminist attributes. I rather enjoyed this one, though, even though I feel my reading suffered a little in that it’s very American-focussed and I didn’t actually know who half the women mentioned are, but that might just be me and my general oblivion to a fair bit of pop culture.

This book divided its women by what made them ‘too’ – Serena Williams as ‘too strong’, for example, and Kim Kardashian as ‘too pregnant’.  It was very hard to read the chapter on Hillary Clinton, as I’m clearly still not over that. My personal highlight of the book was a discussion on ‘chick-lit’, a term for which I have a long-standing hatred – based around a writer who, when challenging the sexist derision levelled at chick-lit authors, was branded ‘too loud’. 

Am I Normal Yet? – Holly Bourne

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Another Holly Bourne book! This is the first in the Spinster Club series, and I must say, I’m so glad I discovered this – and I wish it was around when I was sixteen myself. This book captured me from the moment the three main characters bond over comparing themselves to Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice. This book took me right back to my own teenage years; nothing I’ve read recently has captured being a teenage girl so well, with the added bonus of highlighting some pretty devastating mental illness. The main character, Evie, is trying to juggle typical teenage life with a changing friendship group, terrible boys, crushes, and college, all while being on the edge of a terrifying OCD relapse.

Yes, that hardly sounds like a barrel of laughs, but it’s still an incredibly positive book, wittily written with a well-rounded cast of characters. A line that really stuck with me: “Everyone’s on the cliff’s edge of normal”. How true.

It’s put fairly simplistically, but ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ also has a lot to say about women’s mental health from a feminist standpoint. I’d actually recommend reading this alongside ‘Invisible Women’ – it’s a friendly antidote to being hit over the head with a truckload of stats, while getting a simplified version of the same point across.

How Hard Can Love Be? – Holly Bourne

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The second book in the Spinster Club series. I loved this one even more than the first one, even though it didn’t pack quite so much of a punch when it comes to mental illness. This one follows Amber, another member of the Spinster Club, as she goes to California to see her long-lost mother and work at the summer camp owned by her stepfather.

It’s more of a love story than the first book, but it’s beautifully written and absolutely nails the aching of first love. And it’s set in a summer camp, which I love – I don’t believe in regrets, but if I did have any, one would be that I never did Camp America while I was at uni. I saw a lot more of myself in Amber than I did in Evie, and not just the fact she’s got frizzy, curly hair. It was a definite good book to end the month on, thoroughly making up for the utter dross in the middle.

Well, at the end of last month’s reading round-up, I marvelled at how much I’d managed to ramble on, and vowed not to do it quite so much this time around. Err… looks like I’ve failed at that. But hopefully I’ve been at least vaguely entertaining and given you some ideas of what to read – and what not to read – while we’re all still stuck in this lockdown. Here’s hoping you’re all doing well, and we’ll all be out again and virus-free soon!

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