Regular readers will know for the last few of these twice yearly posts, it’s been 6 Reads in 6 Months – however, with my anxiety taking a bit more of a front seat given the recent events, I’ve certainly been working my way through my bookcase a lot quicker than usual. So, I’ve renamed it to my 6 Monthly Reading Roundup – while this will be a slightly longer post than my January to June roundup for this year, I’m determined to keep up the reading momentum in 2021, which is why I’ll be doing monthly updates on my reads just to break things up a bit. I’d make sure you’ve got some snacks handy for this one – it might take a while! Anyway, let’s crack on. Just a warning, there may be a couple of spoilers here – although I’ve tried my best to avoid them, I can’t promise this post will be spoiler free!
Normal People – Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber, 2019) ★★★★★
From the Back:
“Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town in the West of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying – something life changing begins. Normal People is the story of mutual fascination, friendship, and love. It takes us from the first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but they can’t.”
Lets get it out of the way – we all know this was going to make an appearance after the amount of times I’ve been banging on about Normal People and how much I love Paul Mescal. Anyway, as I mentioned in my Crazy Lady Watches Normal People series I’ve recently started, I was actually unaware of the book until I saw the TV show. After my first watch through, I decided to give the book a read, because I always quite like to see the differences between the two. In all honesty, I preferred the TV show (and not just because Paul Mescal is HOT AF in it), but I think it’s because I was biased towards it when I read the book. Having seen the characters brought to life on screen it made it a lot easier to picture what was happening in the book. The TV ending differed a bit to the book, but I feel with the book it left it a little more wide open in how you interpret it. While with the TV ending you still had it to an extent (more on that later), but it certainly felt a lot more prominent in the book. I know the book itself was slated by quite a few readers, but honestly, I loved it and it made me see the TV adaptation in a whole new light. I finished it in 2 days, which is not like me when it comes to books!
Jog On: How Running Saved My Life – Bella Mackie (William Collins, 2019) ★★★
From the Back:
“Divorced and struggling with deep-rooted mental health problems, Bella Mackie ended her twenties in tears. She could barely find the strength to get off the sofa, let alone piece her life back together. Until one day she did something she had never done of her own free will – she pulled on a pair of trainers and went for a run.
That first attempt didn’t last very long. But to her surprise, she was back out there the next day. And the day after that. She began to set herself achievable goals – to run 5k in under 30 minutes, to walk to work every day for a week, to attempt 10 push-ups in a row. Before she knew it, her mood was lifting for the first time in years.
In Jog On, Bella explains with hilarious and unfiltered honesty how she used running to battle crippling anxiety and depression, without having to sacrifice her main loves: booze, cigarettes and ice cream. With the help of a supporting cast of doctors, psychologists, sportspeople and friends, she shares a wealth of inspirational stories, research and tips that show how exercise often can be the best medicine. This funny, moving and motivational book will encourage you to say ‘jog on’ to your problems and get your life back on track – no matter how small those first steps may be.”
This was recommended to me by a friend and when I saw it come in my Amazon suggestions I thought I’d give it a try. Back in 2017, I took up running for a brief period and I found that it really helped with my mental health – the main reason I stopped was largely weather based if I’m being honest, which is when I discovered YouTube fitness channels such as Blogilates. It was really interesting to read the perspective of another anxiety sufferer on how running was beneficial for mental health, and despite my fears it would be heavily exercise and sport based, it wasn’t. There was a lot of backstory into Bella’s mental health and how it came to be, and I found a lot of what she said relatable, so it almost felt like you were being spoken to by a friend rather than a professional runner. She gave tips on running for beginners, but they were realistic and believable, something which I’d choose to follow over a typical fitness expert’s advice purely because she had never done any running before, and she’d come as far as she had in her journey. While I can’t say for definite that I’ll be picking up running again, I feel you could apply her advice to exercising in general, and she gives a wonderful insight into mental health disorders, in particular, OCD, which probably has to be one of the best explanations of it I’ve read.
Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton (Penguin, 2019) ★★★★★
From the Back:
“Award-winning journalist Dolly Alderton survived her twenties (just about) and in Everything I Know About Love, she gives an unflinching account of the bad dates and squalid flat-shares, the heartaches and humiliations, and most importantly, the unbreakable female friendships that helped her to hold it all together. Glittering with wit, heart and humour, this is a book to press into the hands of every woman who has ever been there or is about to find themselves taking that first step towards the rest of their lives.”
Just, wow. Honestly, this has to be the best book I’ve read all year. As I approach the end of my twenties (I turn 29 in 2021), I felt so much of this was painfully relatable. Again, Dolly’s narrative felt exactly as though she was an older friend giving you life advice, and it was so comforting to hear that she had similar thoughts to mine on growing up and how friendships change over the years as you get older. There’s a lot that talks about dating and relationships, and of course as someone who got married at 23 to the same person they were dating at 17, I didn’t have much to relate to, but certainly on the friendship side of things, I felt somewhat comforted at her anecdotes and her thoughts on how her friendships changed over the years. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but all I’ll say is this – please read it. It’s amazing.
Not F*cking Ready to Adult: A Totally Ill-informed Guide to Life – Iain Stirling (Harper, 2019) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Comedian Iain Stirling knows a lot about f*cking up. And he’s ready to share.
From the brilliantly funny voice behind the BAFTA-winning smash hit Love Island comes a scrutinising dissection of millennial life, giving the finger to ‘adulthood’ (whatever that means) along the way.
Throughout life millennials have been taught that they are perfect and should live a perfect life. They’ve been told, whatever happens, don’t screw up. So is it any wonder they have acquired an image of being self-obsessed, work-shy, mollycoddled egomaniacs? Iain argues that beneath this facade is a misunderstood generation with a crippling fear of failure. And it’s time for this to change.
Provocative and full of his razor-sharp wit, Not F*cking Ready to Adult is Iain’s guide to what life is really like for millennials and how they can navigate it better.”
You know I love books written by comedians. In particular the ones who revel in the fact that none of us are perfect and that in some way, we’ve all fucked up at some point or another. While I’m the first to admit that I think Love Island is a huge sack of shite, I will say that I love Iain Stirling’s stand-up, which is what drew me to this book. He has some really interesting and relatable thoughts on adulting and how things are for millennials, and if you’re like me, and have spent most of your twenties thinking you should probably have your shit sorted by now, this is the book for you. The best thing I took from this book was that there is no magical moment when you “become” an adult – as Iain puts it, you get to your 30s and you still have just as many fuck ups as you did before, you just learn to deal with them differently. Yes, it’s not the most positive way to look at life, but it’s comforting for the pessimists like me, who think they should have their lives sorted out by now!
A Spark of Light – Jodi Picoult (Hodder, 2019) ★★★★
From the Back:
“A lone gunman takes the women and doctors at a controversial abortion clinic hostage. Nobody has ended up there by choice.
As the tense negotiation for their release unfolds, hour by crucial hour, back in time through the day that brought the hostages and their captor to this moment, every certainty is questioned, every judgement thrown into sharp relief.
Because matters of life and death look very different when you, or the ones you love, are staring down the barrel of a gun . . .
Powerful, thought-provoking and deeply involving, Jodi Picoult’s new novel is told in reverse, propelling the reader through intertwining characters and uncovering motives in this unflinching exploration of what makes a life.”
If you haven’t guessed so already by the synopsis, there are some very difficult themes in this book, so I would definitely approach it with caution. While it’s an incredibly difficult read at times, I was gripped to the book from the start. It can be a bit difficult to get used to the narrative at first, as it’s essentially told in reverse, but once you get your head around it, you won’t want to put it down. It provides a lot of interesting discussions around abortion and the different perspectives around it, and it’s certainly a thought provoking read. Personally, I found it really gripping and moving in places, and the story changes the character perspective quite often, so you really do see the story from all angles. It can be quite graphic in places though, so again, read with caution if you think it’s something that you might be triggered by.
Perfect Sound Whatever – James Acaster (Headline, 2019) ★★★
From the Back:
“January, 2017: James Acaster wakes up heartbroken and alone in New York, his relationship over, a day of disastrous meetings leading him to wonder if comedy is really what he wants to be doing any more.
A constant comfort in James’s life has been music, but he’s not listened to anything new for a very long time. Idly browsing ‘best of the year’ lists, it dawns on him that 2016 may have been a grim year for a lot of reasons, but that it seemed to be an iconic year for music. And so begins a life-changing musical odyssey, as James finds himself desperately seeking solace in the music of 2016, setting himself the task of only listening to music released that year, ending up with 500 albums in his collection.
Looking back on this year-long obsession, parallels begin to grow between the music and James’s own life: his relationship history, the highs and lows of human connection, residual Christian guilt, and mental health issues that have been bubbling under the surface for years. Some albums are life-changing masterpieces, others are ‘Howdilly Doodilly’ by Okilly Dokilly, a metalcore album devoted to The Simpsons’ character Ned Flanders, but all of them play a part the year that helped James Acaster get his life back on track.
Perfect Sound Whatever is a love letter to the healing power of music, and how one man’s obsessive quest saw him defeat the bullshit of one year with the beauty of another. Because that one man is James Acaster, it also includes tales of befouling himself in a Los Angeles steakhouse, stealing a cookie from Clint Eastwood, and giving drunk, unsolicited pep talks to urinating strangers.”
Earlier in 2019 we saw James Acaster’s show Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999, which made me want to give his book a read, both of which were based on 2017 being a terrible year. While the comedy show had me in absolute hysterics, the book unfortunately didn’t have the same reaction. I feel almost as though the fact I enjoyed the stand up show so much is what gave me such high hopes for the book, almost as if I was expecting more of an insight into the stories that were told on stage. While I got a bit of that, there was a large focus on the background of the albums that were listened to throughout the year. I get it – listening to all of the albums from the previous year was the focus of the book, but for me there was just a smidge too much focus on it. I personally read the book for more depth on the author’s experience rather than the albums that featured – to say I was disappointed is a bit extreme, but I certainly felt there could have been less of a focus on the history of each album that featured, I would have rather there’d been more on James’ story. Having said that, there were still loads of moments which made me laugh out loud, and the overall message of the book being about the power of music when you’re having a shitty time was incredibly relatable.
Are We There Yet?: To Indignity… and Beyond! – Emily Atack (Seven Dials, 2019) ★★★
From the Back:
“Emily Atack was flung to fame at just 17, as Charlotte ‘Big Jugs’ Hinchcliffe in The Inbetweeners. Nearly ten years later, she won over the nation on I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me out of Here! thanks to her hilarious impersonations and epic bravery during trials. While she was in the jungle, the country watched her go on a journey of self-acceptance and come out on top. Now Emily reveals the hilarious highs and the heart-breaking lows that rocked the years between. With astonishing courage and her trademark humour, she shares stories about her family, relationships, work life and love.
Are We There Yet? is a warm, honest and funny book for anyone who has ever felt the need to break the mould to find out who they really are.”
I became a fan of Emily’s after she starred in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here and when I saw she had released a book, I knew it was one I’d want to read. The book is filled with funny anecdotes of friendship, dating and family, as well as her acting career. While it wasn’t exactly my favourite book of the year, this was a really easy read and there were some good life lessons in there too about not letting what other people think of you get to you and learning to love yourself for who you are.
Born Lippy: How to Do Female – Jo Brand (John Murray, 2018) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman and sometimes it’s time to be a hard woman . . . This is a book for all those times.
Once upon a (very very) long time ago Jo Brand was what you might describe as ‘a nice little girl’. Of course, that was before the values of cynicism, misogyny and the societal expectation that Jo would be thin, feminine and demure sent her off down Arsey Avenue.
The plot thickened, when due to a complicated fusion of hormones, horrible family dynamics and a no-good boyfriend they hated, Jo ended up leaving home at 16. Now she’s considerably further along life’s inevitable bloody ‘journey’ – and she’s fucked up enough times to feel confident she has no wisdom to offer anyone. But who cares? She’s going to do it anyway…
Born Lippy is a gathering of all the things Jo Brand wishes she’d known, all the things she’s learnt, and all the things she hopes for the future. A century after women got the vote (albeit married women over the age of 28) it’s time to take stock of exactly what it means to be female today. And if there’s one thing women are entitled to, it’s having a bloody good moan about things big and small – so here goes . . .”
I loved this book. Jo Brand has always been one of those comedians that never fails to make me laugh with her dry humour, so when I saw this book in my Amazon recommendations I knew I had to read it. It’s rare that I laugh out loud reading a book, but with this one I did multiple times – in addition to some brilliant anecdotes, the book also features a few of Jo’s stand-up put downs and jokes that all women will find relatable. As a Mum to two teenage girls, you certainly feel as if Jo is giving you some proper no-bullshit motherly advice, and I’m totally here for it.
Everybody Died, So I Got a Dog – Emily Dean (Hodder & Stoughton, 2019) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Growing up with the Deans was a fabulous training ground for many things: ignoring unpaid bills, being the most entertaining guest at dinner, deconstructing poetry. It was never home for the dog Emily craved.
Emily shared the lively chaos with her beloved older sister Rachael, her rock. Over the years the sisters’ bond grew ever closer. As Rachael went on to have the cosy family and treasured dog, Giggle, Emily threw herself into unsettled adventure – dog ownership remaining a distant dream.
Then, tragically, Rachael is diagnosed with cancer. In just three devastating years Emily loses not only her sister but both her parents as well.
This is the funny heart-breaking, wonderfully told story of how Emily discovers that it is possible to overcome the worst that life can throw at you, that it’s never too late to make peace with your past, and that the right time is only ever now, as she finally starts again with her very own dog – the adorable Shih-tzu named Raymond.”
While the title of the book (a spoiler in itself) may give the impression this is quite a heavy read, don’t be fooled by it. Admittedly, at times, yes, it’s utterly heartbreaking and can be quite difficult to read, especially if you’ve lost a loved one yourself. However, the story as a whole also focuses on Emily’s bond with her sister, the difficulties her family faced growing up and her childhood desire to become a “dog family.” The way Emily tells her story is so honest and refreshing, and surprisingly, quite funny at times too. While she certainly doesn’t sugar coat the difficult moments in her story, she still tells it with incredible honesty, wit and humour. Ultimately, the way she overcomes three heart-breaking losses in such a short space of time is inspiring, uplifting and it will instantly make you want to pull your fur babies in for a cuddle afterwards.
Notes on a Nervous Planet – Matt Haig (Canongate Books, 2019) ★★★★★
From the Back:
“The follow-up to the number one bestseller Reasons to Stay Alive. The world is messing with our minds. What if there was something we could do about it? Looking at sleep, news, social media, addiction, work and play, Matt Haig invites us to feel calmer, happier and to question the habits of the digital age. This book might even change the way you spend your precious time on earth.”
After reading Reasons to Stay Alive, this book went straight on my Amazon wishlist, and I was given it for my birthday earlier this year. It sounds cheesy, but after the first couple of pages I knew instantly I was going to love this book, and I wasn’t wrong. In a time where social media and the internet as a whole is packed with stress inducing news (this year more than ever), this was a book that was well needed. It examines the effects that modern life as a whole has on our mental wellbeing, and more importantly, what we can do about it. I love Matt’s style of writing – it’s in short, concise snippets making the book incredibly easy and quick to read, as well as easy to dip in and out of. He gets to the point, and his insight into the subject as a whole is something that will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading. I feel as though I would have loved this book whenever I read it, but particularly after the events of this year, and after how much news and social media has affected my mental health, there couldn’t have been a better time for me to come across it. If you find yourself feeling as though the constant news, social media exposure and general stresses of life are getting to you, pick this up. You won’t regret it.
The Giver of Stars – Jojo Moyes (Penguin, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. Yet she doesn’t much care for her domineering father-in-law or the judgemental townsfolk of Baileyville, Kentucky. Restless and misunderstood, she yearns for escape and adventure, finding it in the defiant and unlikely sisterhood who bring books to the isolated and vulnerable of the wilderness. But when her father-in-law and the town suddenly turn against them, Alice feels she’ll lose her freedom, friendships and the chance of unexpected love.”
I read so many positive reviews of this that I went into the book with high hopes. Admittedly, I found it hard to get into at first because I’m not usually a fan of books with a historical setting, but I really wanted to see what the fuss was about, so I kept going. I’m glad I did – towards the end, I couldn’t put it down. It was packed with twists and turns all throughout, and the female leads were characters that you ended up falling in love with. The theme of female friendship throughout the book was one that was so empowering, and it was refreshing to read something that wasn’t about women competing with one another. I loved the character development of Alice and Margery throughout the story too, and you could really see the change in them as things developed. I’m so glad I stuck with it!
Apologies for the long post! But we made it – I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve read any of these books too, so please do let me know in the comments. I’d love any recommendations too for what I can read in the new year, so toss them my way if there’s any you’ve loved this year!