Hello my loves,
After 2 and a half years…I finally caught Covid. I’m amazed I managed to last this long. I’m 99.9% sure it was from seeing Harry at Wembley because I tested positive a few days afterwards, but I did however manage to get even more reading done than usual during the last week of this month due to the fact I couldn’t go to work, so there’s the silver lining for that cloud I suppose.
A super good reading month, definitely getting back into the swing of things now (though Uni will start again in October and ruin it all) but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Here’s everything I read in June!
All’s Well – Mona Awad
My queen is back again. Mona Awad is the author of Bunny, which I read last year and absolutely fucking loved. Mona Awad is just the most insanely talented writer, her writing is just fantastic. All’s Well is her most recent release and is about a woman named Miranda, plagued with chronic back and leg pain that pretty much debilitates her to the point where a lot of the time she’s barely able to move, and every time she does, her whole body screams in agony. The pain is a result of a fall off-stage, which happened when she was performing in a play a few years back. She loves theatre but had to give up her job performing after her accident and is now a college theatre director, with this year’s play being All’s Well That Ends Well by Shakespeare – Miranda’s choice, but no one else agrees.
Miranda then meets three strange benefactors in a bar who know everything about her and want her to put on the play, and everything unravels from there as things begin to change.
As always, Awad’s writing is magical, mysterious and strange. Miranda is an unreliable narrator as you’re reading the whole thing wondering what’s real and what isn’t – a lot of the time you’re left wondering if any of it’s real. I wish I had read All’s Well That Ends Well beforehand so that I could’ve got an even better understanding of the play and the relations to the characters each way because I think that would’ve made the experience of reading this even better. This was still a fantastic book but not as good as Bunny because of course, Bunny has all of my favourite tropes and so by default this book was already set to fail in the race against that, but it was still great and Awad does not disappoint as always.
However, the ending.
I don’t know what it is about Mona Awad, but she cannot write endings. I don’t know if she just doesn’t like them or what, but she just can’t do it. I was astounded that essentially the same thing that happened when I read the ending of Bunny, also happened at the end of this book too.
It’s like she just gives up, she gives us this magical, wonderful and weird whirlwind of a book all the way through, and then the ending is just the equivalent of “and then I woke up and it was all a dream”. I’ve never known an author to have such bad endings, especially when the rest of her work is so damn good, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Apart from that, Mona Awad is fabulous and still one of my favourite authors, but these endings !! I could never write as well as she does but man, I think she might need a few lessons on how to write book endings, she never gives her stories the endings they deserve and I just don’t get it. Her work is just 5 star all the way through and then her endings are the equivalent of a 2 star. Make it make sense !!
Passing – Nella Larsen
So, I’ve mentioned this before but for my birthday my friend did me a little blind date with a book type of deal and this was one of the books she gave me. This story is set in Harlem in the 1920s and follows Irene Redfield, a black woman living with her black husband and black children in a comfortable neighbourhood with an affluent life. She was friends with a girl in her childhood called Clare Kendry, who was also black, but as they got older Clare went away to live somewhere else and no one had heard from her since. As adults, the two randomly bump in to one another on an outing one day and reconnect, and Irene learns that Clare has been passing as a white woman and is married to an incredibly racist (and rich) white man, but still yearns for the black communal feeling and wants to be a part of something like it again. When Clare’s husband is away on business trips, she implements herself into Irene’s life and community and to Irene’s horror, does not seem to be the slightest bit concerned about being caught out by her husband, even though the revelation to him could be fatal for Clare and her daughter who, in Clare’s own words, was relieved to come out looking white.
This story was excellent. I read The Vanishing Half in January and was sadly quite disappointed by it as I felt it didn’t go to the lengths it could have done to really push the story. A lot of the areas I assumed we’d be partial to weren’t explored, with other more irrelevant areas having a large focus and whilst the concept was brilliant, I just think it could have been executed a lot better and was therefore a bit of a waste. Passing however, does it perfectly. I’m aware of course Passing came out decades before The Vanishing Half and in my opinion, I think Brit Bennett could have therefore tried a take on something else because if anything it’s very much a copy of Passing but not executed nearly half as well, despite Bennett being an amazing author. But this review of course is not about that – long story short, Passing is an excellent, timeless piece that everyone should read. Larsen is a wonderfully smart writer who deserves more recognition.
Small Pleasures – Clare Chambers
This book was seriously the most wonderful surprise. It was in the charts a lot last year which is when I purchased it, also because the cover is absolutely beautiful and I needed it in my life. I didn’t know if the subject matter was something I was really that interested in though, but now looking back I can’t even remember if I did actually know what the book was about because as I was reading it it was not what I thought it was. This book is set in 1957 in the suburbs of East London and follows Jean, a feature writer on a local newspaper who is middle aged, unmarried, and living with her mother. Her life is very ordinary and everyday presents the same routine, until one day she receives a letter from a woman named Gretchen Tilbury, who has responded to an article in the local paper saying that men are, or soon will be, essentially not needed for reproduction. Gretchen’s response to this article is to write to Jean and tell her that she believes her 10 year old daughter Margaret was the result of a virgin birth, and would be willing to essentially put herself and her daughter out there to prove this.
Jean follows the story and becomes very involved with Gretchen, Margaret, and Gretchen’s husband, Howard, who is of course not Margaret’s father. The story unfolds as Jean and the Tilburys become a part of each others lives, with Jean’s purpose to prove that the virgin birth is real, but things of course are not always so plain sailing.
This book was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. It was such a pleasant surprise and I loved it so much. I fell in love with the characters and the 1950s setting, Chambers does such an excellent job of running with the narrative – the virgin birth – but also taking you on a wonderful journey of love and discovery throughout. I was absolutely captivated. I had tried to pick this book up before but the first page is about a train crash that occurred in 1957 and I immediately got the wrong idea and put it straight back down because immediately I was disinterested. How wrong I was! This was seriously such a wonderfully wholesome read and I hope Chambers brings out new work asap because guaranteed I will be reading it. Kind of like the feeling I first got when I read Where the Crawdads Sing. This was such a pleasant surprise and an absolutely beautiful story, definitely a new favourite.
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
I think this book actually sent me into a depression as I was reading because it made me feel so sad and alone for the duration I was reading it and afterwards, which I think I’m probably very much alone (no pun intended) in as 99% of people say that this book makes them feel less alone. For me it just gave me an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loneliness, like it was digging up a lot of past for me and making me feel it all at once. That’s just the effect it had on me personally though, it’s not a bad book by any means.
This book is essentially Matt Haig talking about his battle with depression and how he got through it, though he will never really actually be through it because mental illness is something we have to learn to accept and live alongside despite wanting to eradicate it all together. The book deserves full credit for describing depression in a way that is so intensely accurate and could only be achieved by actually having a breakdown and reaching the lowest points in your life – full credit to Matt Haig for describing the feelings, sensations, thoughts etc. of depression in a way that no scientific or self-help book could, because what Haig is talking about is real human experience.
Like I said, it made me feel very sad and more than anything, incredibly lonely for the duration of reading and for a time afterwards. I don’t know why. I can only assume it’s because it was making me re-live my own depression and I wanted a big hug and to lie my head in someone’s lap for comfort the whole time I was reading. I gave the book 4 stars because that’s what it deserves but personally I’d say 3.5 – 4. I think if depression is something you struggle with or if this sounds like something you’d be interested in – as I said, a lot of people find it incredibly relatable and comforting – then definitely pick this up.
Exciting Times – Naoise Dolan
2.5 / 5 Stars
Ok so, the times were in fact, not exciting.
This book is essentially an extreme try-hard (and fail) at attempting to emulate Sally Rooney and her narration. The writing style was weird, so much information in every sentence which was way too long, and everything was uncomfortably pretentious.
The story follows Ava, a girl in her early twenties who’s an English teacher in Hong Kong. She has this weird relationship with a guy called Julian and then a weird relationship with a girl she later meets called Edith and it’s like this weird love triangle and basically there’s not really any point to the story.
The whole book is like the Walmart version of a Sally Rooney novel and I don’t know why Sally Rooney herself was endorsing the book because it is not good. It’s incredibly try-hard and so obviously trying to emulate a Sally Rooney story but…this was not a Sally Rooney story and it’s like, if you’re gonna copy and try to emulate another author at least do it well otherwise, don’t bother.
The writing was weird – very long sentences that didn’t make much sense that I eventually became desensitised to the more I read, the whole narrative was just so overly pretentious and I was thinking why are you trying to make the writing sound so intelligent when it actually sounds awful and pretentious and I hate it. The characters are eh, Julian is an arse, the whole novel doesn’t really have a point, the writing is lengthy and pretentious and it is not a Sally Rooney novel despite trying to hard to be !
The whole thing was just…eh. No. Don’t read this, please read an actual Sally Rooney novel and if you alredady have then spend your time on something else!
Luster – Raven Leilani
3 / 5 Stars
I don’t really know what the point of this book was and so maybe I missed it. I’ve only just finished reading it as I’m writing this and I just had to Google the main character’s name if that tells you anything about anything, though to be fair I think it’s only mentioned around twice (?) in the book. This book follows a young woman named Edie (yeah, I’m sure her name is only mentioned about twice because I had no idea that was her name) who has a dead-end admin job in an all white office and sleeps with the wrong men, though the story isn’t necessarily really about that. It’s about a middle aged man she meets named Eric, Eric is white with a white wife and an adopted black daughter named Akila. Eric is in an open marriage. Edie and Eric continually sleep together until one day Edie “breaks in” (the doors were unlocked) to Eric’s family home, as one of the rules of their arrangement (made by Eric’s wife Rebecca) is that Edie is not allowed in the house. Edie wanders around the seemingly empty house during her trespassing until she discovers Eric’s wife in one of the upstairs doorways watching her. Edie then loses her job and ends up living with Eric and his family at Rebecca’s request because Rebecca is weird and doesn’t speak much but wants Edie in the house for some strange reason. It all doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Rebecca also seems to think that Edie will be able to help out their adopted daughter Akila due to the fact they’re both black and therefore have a mutual understanding of blackness, as Edie puts it.
The whole story didn’t really go anywhere, there were a lot of words that seemingly amounted to nothing. In my opinion, there didn’t seem to be any point to it. It’s just a filler narrative about a lot of nothing and nothing was really explored at all, it kind of dipped into different bits and pieces but that’s it. You can tell this was a debut novel. Rebecca is the secondary main character in the book after Edie and her purpose is to essentially say nothing and leave you questioning all of her actions, which adds nothing to the depth (or lack of) of the story, I also thought Akila sounded too mature to be believable so that was also putting me off a bit. I don’t really have a lot to say apart from it was a disappointment, there’s definitely potential there but this definitely did not fulfil it.
Girl in Pieces – Kathleen Glasgow
3 / 5 Stars
I’d been wanting to read this book for a while mainly because of the cover – the physical book was very aesthetically pleasing for me. This story follows 17 year old Charlotte (Charlie), a girl who has essentially had every god-awful thing in the world happen to her. Trigger warning in this book for just about everything so please be aware of that. Incredibly triggering for self harm, it’s basically what the whole book is about. I even found myself struggling to read through parts of it because of how graphically triggering it was. I’m glad I read this at 24 and not for example at 16, because I don’t think that would’ve ended well for me.
It’s a chunky 400-pager and I felt in that sense it was nice because it allowed the story to become very fleshed out so you could delve into it properly. Charlie tries to kill herself for the 2324249th time and is put into a mental health facility for girls until she is eventually released, has nowhere to go and so stays with her friend Mikey a million miles away from where she’s from, essentially giving her the chance to start over. It’s about her trying to build a life for herself and the people she meets along the way. This isn’t a happy story, it’s a very real story, and also very triggering. It’s not a happy book, there’s not really much light to it and so again, if you’re going to read this please be aware of the trigger warnings and the state of mind you’re in whilst reading it as it’s very heavy, and there’s a lot of it – if you’re looking for a light YA novel or a simple pick me up, this is not the book!
The Third Wife – Lisa Jewell
3 / 5 Stars
I read The Family Upstairs this time last year and really enjoyed it, thrillers are definitely not my type of book and I very rarely read them, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. My friend read The Third Wife last year, hated it and gave me the copy to have if I wanted and of course, as I’d read The Family Upstairs and enjoyed it, I was game.
The story starts with Maya, the third wife of Adrian. Maya dies as she stumbles in front of an oncoming bus (not a spoiler) and everyone is left wondering whether it was suicide, murder or an accident. The book then essentially follows Adrian, who has lost his third wife, has 5 children, and is on great terms with his two ex-wives, to the point where every year his children, his wives (yes, all three of them) and himself would go on family holidays together. It’s all very weird and unrealistic.
We essentially follow Adrian’s POV throughout the book as Maya’s secrets are uncovered and Adrian learns he wasn’t the best husband he could have been. Adrian is an inoffensive, harmless man, but you start to dislike him the more the book goes on as throughout his life he’s just picked up and left his children and current wife for another woman whenever it suited him, but has smoothed it all over with a smile so it doesn’t really look that bad and since he’s still on great terms with everyone, there’s no consequences for his shitty and selfish actions. Letting his ex wife parent the kids whilst he’s in bed with a younger woman a few miles away, etc. etc.
Speaking of repercussions, Maya receives horrible, horrible anonymous emails during the months leading up to her death but tells no one, and so they aren’t discovered until after her death. When the author of the emails is finally revealed, there are no repercussions for this either, which again made me angry, as these emails were downright bullying and evil. There seemed to be a running theme throughout this book of no repercussions.
For me, there wasn’t much of a mystery and the book was average, definitely not as good as The Family Upstairs which was a real page-turner for me. One thing I will say about Jewell’s books is that they’re incredibly easy and quick to read and she writes real life very well – her dialogue and movements are very realistic.
However, something I found quite uncomfortable within the book was the numerous times I’d read dialogue and find it quite sexually inappropriate and disturbing. For example, Adrian talking about his children –
“She was all tits and breasts” (talking about his daughter)
“Her enormous breasts were barely contained by her skimpy jersey top” (talking about his daughter)
“He cupped Beau’s soft, warm cheek inside his hand as he passed him, almost groaning at the tenderness of his skin”
“He thought of Beau’s cheek under his hand half an hour ago and wondered when he’d last stroked Luke’s face. When had Cat sat on his lap for the last time? When had he last kissed Otis on the lips?”
And then we have Luke, Adrian’s eldest son who’s in his twenties, talking to his 12 year old brother Otis about his school mate –
“I’m talking about that girl over there, brown hair in a bun, nice legs” Luke is a twenty year old man talking to his 12 year old brother about a 12 year old girl. It’s disgusting and completely inappropriate yet this type of dialogue was frequent throughout the book. I haven’t seen anyone mention this but it’s something I found perpetually disturbing throughout the book.
Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matson
3 / 5 Stars
A few months ago I saw this brand new in a charity shop for £1 and somewhere in the back of my mind it was ringing a bell and so I bought it – turns out it’d been on my TBR since 2017. This book follows our main character Emily, who’s been best friends wih Sloane since she moved to town 2 years ago. It’s Summer break and Emily and Sloane had planned their entire time together doing exciting things, until Summer actually begins and Emily wakes up one day to find Sloane gone. She’s not answering her texts, all her calls go to voicemail and her house is deserted and her family gone. Emily doesn’t know what’s happened or where Sloane is, until one day she receives a list in the post from Sloane, containing a checklist of daring things she’s supposed to do that Summer.
Emily is quite shy and hides behind Sloane most of the time, so she’s forced to be brave and step out of her comfort zone in order to tick these things off the list, which she thinks will somehow lead her to Sloane if she completes them all. The book basically follows Emily as she goes through these adventures and meets people along the way, and details the experience of her whole Summer.
This is one of your good average Summer YA books that I think I would’ve really appreciated when I was 16/17, it was lighthearted and fun and done well.
And there we have it loves, let me know if you’ve read any of the books in this list!
All my love,
Goodreads – ChloLuna