Is it still only May? Seriously? It’s been going on for so long I’ve aged about twelve years, put on about a stone, and lost about a fifth of my brainpower.
But anyway. The advantage of this being the longest month since time began is that I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I know the world is absolutely falling apart right now and I could wax lyrical about it for the best part of another month if left to it, but I don’t want this to become a political blog. And I don’t think I have the eloquence to sufficiently express my feelings anyway: rambling about the books I’ve been reading is pretty much the extent of my brain at the moment (even though I have been writing too, but that’s another story for another time). I’ve mostly been expressing myself through the very refined manner of, er, Twitter retweets and favourites. I’ve abused the hell out of the ‘like’ button this month, but, surprisingly, it’s been the best place for balanced, educated takes on this dumpster fire we live in right now.
As predicted, I finished my Goodreads Challenge this month! Yay! I officially completed it on May 8th, a new record for me. Considering I’d challenged myself to read 52 books this year, and I’ve already reached 60 before the year is even halfway through… I’m hopeful to get a stunning total for the full year. Once again, thank you to the BorrowBox and Kindle apps on my phone for giving me a quick escape route into literature whenever my Duracell bunny of a three-year-old was driving me a bit too mad during this month of lockdown.
And so for the monthly total: I have read sixteen new books this month, and a further three rereads. I don’t count rereads in my Goodreads total, but they do bring my full total up to nineteen books this month. Considering for the most part they’re a decent length (there is one novella in this month’s total, but I’m still counting it as it was still over 200 pages long) I’m rather proud of myself.
However, I’ve been reading so much, I’ve been putting off starting this blog post for days because it’s been such a daunting prospect to review every single one. So I’ve decided to keep it to just my stand-outs from the month for the actual reviews – good and bad. Basically, if I find myself furiously typing in my Notes app at some point in the month, it’ll get a review on here.
Even choosing a favourite book this month is hard. Really hard. Sixteen new books, and a fair few of them earned five star Goodreads reviews from me. In fact, I’m going to have to have joint winners this month because I’ve sat here for fifteen minutes now with a book in each hand, staring at them as if they’re going to fight it out between them.
Favourite Number 1
Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
Oh, how I loved this book. I practically ate up every word. I’ve been after it for ages but I thought this particularly difficult month of lockdown was the perfect time to treat myself, and I’m so pleased I did. It’s set on an alternate timeline where a left-wing woman made it to the White House in 2016 – not Hillary Clinton, but a woman nonetheless. Her children are, essentially, the Royals of America, and when her son has to fake a friendship with the (fictional) Prince of England, shenanigans ensue. Big old gay shenanigans.
I love the love story in this book, and it’s beautifully written with excellent characters. But it was the political storyline that really made me ache for what might have been. From the smaller hints like “I don’t think this election is gonna hinge on an email server” to the biggies:
“Four years ago, in 2016, we stood at a precipice as a nation. There were those who would have seen us stumble backward into hatred and vitriol and prejudice, who wanted to reignite old embers of division within our country’s very soul. You looked them square in the eye and said ‘No. We won’t.'”
Of course, in real life, the USA looked them square in the eye and said ‘oh, all right then’.
This book is an escapist fantasy that really pours soothing balm on a world where people like Alex and Henry, the two entirely likeable, flawed, beautiful main characters, are being pushed back into marginalisation.
Favourite Number 2
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
I had to read this. As I type, there are riots going on across America, protesting the exact situation in this book: an innocent black man being murdered by a white policeman. This is the world we live in, and it’s not good enough.
As a white woman, it might not be my place to step up on a pedestal about this, and frankly I wouldn’t know where to start. But I can do what I do best, and recommend things to read; and for a sensitive portrayal of race divisions in the US, while not holding back from packing all the essential punches, this is the book you want. Especially if, like me, lockdown has you seeking out easy reads because your brain feels like it’s about to fall out of your skull. Yes, it’s yet another Young Adult book, but it has the kind of impact I wish ‘adult’ books like ‘Such a Fun Age‘ had (and probably the impact it was aiming for).
This book is a desperate prayer for change that every person should read: black, white, or whatever you might be. It features a cast of complex characters whose lives are woven together with loyalties stronger than blood, and they would most certainly be out protesting right now. The narrating character, Starr, has a distinctive voice that heartbreakingly balances normal teen problems like boys and friendships, alongside the deeper concerns of institutionalised racism that plague her community to this day. Literally, to this day.
And some more…
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins
This is a prequel of sorts to the fabulous Hunger Games series, focusing on the ascendancy of the evil President Snow. I was obsessed with the Hunger Games books when they came out, and this sucked me right back into the world. The ending was a bit rushed but I loved the complex characters and spotting names we know already from the future of the world.
You start off being sympathetic towards Snow, wondering how this likeable character with as many insecurities and worries as anyone else, can become the despicable president sixty years in the future. The glimpses into the how the Games themselves came to be were fascinating, and in the world we live in today, it felt a little bit doom-laden, like a warning.
As soon as I finished this, I had to take a break from reading new books and immediately go back to reread all three of the Hunger Games books. I had to buy Catching Fire on Kindle again because my paperback had gone missing – The Hunger Games was on the bookshelf and Mockingjay was in the attic, I have no idea why or how. I really need to keep better track of my books.
Normal People – Sally Rooney
OK. I had to put in a negative review or two, even if I’m not reviewing everything this month.
And oh yes. This is a negative review.
I know the whole world is in love with this book at the moment, and its subsequent TV series, but I couldn’t bloody stand it.
I was only a single page in and I was scribbling in my Notes app “I’M SUPPOSED TO LOVE THIS BUT I DON’T.” A single page. I’m not the most sophisticated person (ha) and I’m sure there’s plenty of proper literary people swilling their claret and looking down their nose at me right now, but I really hate the ‘I’m so literary and important’ thing of NOT USING SPEECH MARKS. It infuriates me, and sent me immediately taking against the whole book.
It didn’t get better. I’m not averse to an unlikable character or two, but the two point-of-view characters in this book were just whiny and dull. I rarely understood their decisions or their motivations. Reading this book, I felt like I was just waiting and waiting for something interesting to happen. It was dull. And in a lot of places: pretentiously dull. There was a LOT of navel-gazing and pretension for the sake of pretension. And the editing was poor too – it seems to me like the author was hopelessly overindulged as some kind of ‘literary prodigy’, and left horribly under-edited.
I won’t be watching the TV show because I think I’d end up desperately wanting to fling the characters one at a time from a tall building while quoting their own faux-intellectual emails to them.
City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert
I picked this up by chance on the BorrowBox app and I didn’t expect to love it so much. It was fabulous. The general set-up of the book is an elderly lady reminiscing about her youth, a coming-of-age story set in pre-war and wartime New York. I’m a sucker for anything set in the 1930s and 1940s, and this one was amazing.
It’s a heavily character-based book, with so many different, fabulous personalities, all set around a struggling theatre and its new production. It’s explicit in places, and sweetly tender in other, and so wittily written I couldn’t help but laugh out loud just at certain constructions and turns of phrase. I mean, don’t you just get the perfect impression of a ‘diamond engagement ring approximately the size of a suppository’? It’s also an excellently feminist story that passes the Bechdel test with absolute flying colours.
Pretending – Holly Bourne
I went on a bit of a Holly Bourne binge at the end of last month and the start of this one, and I don’t remotely regret it. Most of her books are Young Adult, but this one is a thoroughly adult one. This was a heartbreaking account of trauma and its after-effects, and what women are put through on a daily basis in the modern world. The main character makes decisions that are awful, yet understandable, and she’s one of those characters that’s so multi-faceted you can’t help but appreciate how perfectly she has been created. I honestly think this is a must-read for women, especially single women, trying to get by and find even a smidgen of a happy ending in a world that is just so hostile.
It was in fact one of those books that’s so well-written it made me evaluate my own writing and wonder if I’m ever going to measure up.
And everything else…
What’s A Girl Gotta Do? – Holly Bourne
…And A Happy New Year? – Holly Bourne
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han
The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting – Holly Bourne
The Best Most Awful Job – Katherine May (editor)
Haven’t They Grown – Sophie Hannah
My Shitty Twenties – Emily Morris
Body Double – Tess Gerritsen
Happy Fat – Sofie Hagen
Q – Christina Dalcher
Plus some rereads:
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
I still have lots of opinions about a fair few of the aforementioned list, but I just don’t have the energy to review each and every one in one go. I might start doing more single-book reviews, or comparisons, or just general bookish rambles where I can get these opinions out. Let me know if you have any preference, and if I don’t get round to do anything else bloggish before then – see you next month!