I’m apologies for my longer than planned hiatus from blogging. Things got a bit too much – I tried my best to get my blog out twice a week but it just didn’t happen. So, I made the decision to take some time off for a bit. Except it didn’t really feel like time off, it was more working on posts as and when inspiration struck without the pressure of getting them up in time. I know the only person setting the deadlines was me, but even so, it got a bit much. Still, I’m hoping that I’m now back on track.
What actually happened to August? It feels so weird that I’m writing this post in September. I’m not entirely sure where 2021 has gone, but, there you go. Last month was fairly quiet on the reading front, and I’d hoped to bump things up for August. However, I only managed one more book than July, and I feel that was largely because for 2 days I was written off with side-effects of my second Covid vaccine, meaning I spent a good chunk of time in bed reading.
In case you’re wondering, I’m fine now, and I felt like crap for just over 24 hours. Again, no worse than a bad hangover, and I’d happily take the short period of fever and fatigue over Covid-19 any day. In short – GET YOUR BLOODY VACCINES.
Anyway, now that’s dealt with, here are my thoughts on what I’ve been reading in August!
In Five Years – Rebecca Serle (Quercus, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Dannie Kohan has held true to her meticulously crafted five-year plan since she understood the concept. On the day she nails the most important interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she’s well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.
But that night Dannie falls asleep and dreams of a night five years in the future where she’s engaged to another man. It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real.
Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind. That is, until five years later, when Dannie meets the man from her dream…”
I genuinely didn’t expect this book to go the way it did when I was reading the first few chapters. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure where the book was going when it came to Dannie’s storyline, but I stuck with it out of curiosity, and I’m so glad I did. While I wasn’t expecting the story to take the turn that it did, once the storyline with Bella, Dannie’s best friend, was established, you could see where things were going to go.
The book wasn’t completely without flaws – in particular, I really struggled to warm to Dannie as a character for the first two thirds of the book. I’m not sure exactly what it was that made her so unlikeable. Perhaps it was the fact that, in the beginning, she had everything she wanted. The perfect career, the perfect fiancé, but it still wasn’t enough. It felt like a very first world problem, but this was then put into perspective once Bella’s situation became apparent.
Despite the negative factors, there was still so much to love about In Five Years. While I don’t want to give too much away, I love how the flashforward at the beginning of the novel was meticulously explained by the end, in a way that you wouldn’t quite expect. On the whole though, my favourite thing about the novel was the theme of friendship. Initially, you go into the novel thinking that it’s going to be your typical rom-com, but that’s not necessarily the case. While it is a love story, it’s not the sort of love story you’d expect it to be. In Five Years certainly addresses the theme of finding your “true love,” but it brings a refreshing take on the subject, in that finding true love doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic love – it can also be the love between two best friends.
This will 100% pull at your heartstrings whether you’re a hopeless romantic or not. Plus, from a practical perspective, it’s a fairly short novel with small chapters, so you can easily dip in and out of it. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get to a certain point and you won’t want to put it down.
Can You Hear Me? An NHS Paramedic’s Encounters with Life and Death – Jake Jones (Quercus, 2020) ★★★
From the Back:
“A hospital-bound man tears the life saving equipment off himself in the ambulance.
A newborn baby is worryingly silent.
An addict urinates on the floor when denied a fix.
This is the life of an ambulance paramedic.
Jake Jones has worked in the UK ambulance service for ten years. Vivid, gripping and honest in its examination of one of the most demanding and important jobs anyone can do, Can You Hear Me? is a memoir of the chaos, intensity and occasional beauty of life on the front lines of medicine.”
TW: Self harm, drug/alcohol abuse, emetophobia
If you’ve followed my blog for a while now you’ll know that I’m quite the sucker for these medical themed books. So far, most of the books under this topic that I’ve read have focused on doctors and the goings-on within hospitals, so when Can You Hear Me? came up in my recommendations, I thought this would be a good choice to pick up next. After all, I love reality shows like 999 What’s Your Emergency? so this particular subject line fitted in nicely.
Can You Hear Me? is an honest and raw memoir that examines paramedic Jake Jones’ time working for the NHS ambulance service, and it certainly doesn’t hold back on the details. In places, it’s a highly graphic account of some of the jobs that paramedics are sent to, and at times, it can be quite upsetting. For those of us that often spend time watching the reality shows on TV, the book highlights a lot of what we already know about the ambulance service and how it’s mistreated – the people who call for an ambulance because they think it’ll get them seen quicker at the A&E department, or the people who know they don’t need an ambulance, but are sent one anyway because 111 has interpreted their fairly harmless symptoms as something that needs immediate attention.
What I loved about Can You Hear Me? is that it doesn’t bombard you with over-the-top medical terminology. On the occasion that it does mention something a non-medical person wouldn’t understand, the author actually explains it in a way that’s easy for the reader to understand. The author presents each chapter in a really appealing way too, with each chapter title teasing the reader of what’s to come. Each individual chapter is also told in real time, so the reader gets to feel as if they’re right there in the situation, which creates this whole new level of drama within the book.
On the downside, the main problem I had with this book is that it’s incredibly graphic in places.
(TW – EMETOPHOBIA)
In particular, a chapter that focuses on a female patient who has stopped breathing due to having vomit in her lungs. The description of what happens is far more graphic than I would imagine, but at the same time, it highlights the intensity of what paramedics can face. In addition to this, there is also a chapter that focuses on a drug addict who decides to decorate the ambulance floor in multiple ways, so it’s just one to be wary of if these sorts of descriptions are difficult for you.
(TW – END)
Despite a number of incredibly graphic depictions, Can You Hear Me? Is an incredibly raw and intense look at life on the frontline of the NHS. While you don’t get the humour of books like Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt (I know I shouldn’t, but I compare any book within this genre to this one because it’s just a fricking masterpiece), if you’re a fan of the medical genre, this is definitely one to read.
If I Can’t Have You – Charlotte Levin (Pan Books, 2021) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Samuel, the day we met I knew I’d finally found what I’d been waiting for. You.
Happiness, at last.
Then you left me. And now I am alone.
Everyone leaves in the end.
But not this time. I’m not giving up on us.
I’m not giving up on you.
When you love someone, you never let them go.
That’s why, for me, this is just the beginning.”
TW: Self harm, alcohol abuse, sexual assault, emetophobia, suicide
If I Can’t Have You was one of those novels that I found hard to put down, especially towards the end. Constance works in a medical practice and finds herself taken with a new doctor, Samuel Stevens. Sparks fly between the two, but it soon becomes apparent that Samuel and Constance want different things. What follows is an intense and twisted tale of obsession and self destruction.
I’ll be honest, 90% of the characters in this book were assholes. From Constance’s strange and overly possessive housemate (and later boyfriend), Dale, to the stuck up doctors and receptionists she works with at the surgery, it’s almost as though every character gives you a reason to hate them. Even Constance herself is a fairly unlikeable character. Despite that, I found the book impossible to put down. It becomes clear that Constance’s past has influenced her behaviour in the present day, with her theory that “everyone I love leaves me,” so you ultimately have these conflicting feelings towards her – you know what she’s doing is wrong, but at the same time, in a weird way, you feel for her because of what she’s been through.
Weirdly, I felt as though part of Constance’s personality was relatable, and that was how she talked about people. Giving people she passes in the street nicknames, such as “Tippi Hedren” to describe a woman almost being pulled over by her dog, and making observations like “they dressed like they voted Tory” when attending a party with her colleagues. I hate to say it, but this is something I’ve done on a regular basis. I have a very similar outlook on life to her, however I’d like to clarify, I’ve never keyed an ex’s car or broke into their house. Mainly, because I don’t have any exes.
Anyway, one thing I loved about the novel was that the opening chapter gave you the sense that anything could happen. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but the set-up left you with so many questions about how Constance got to said point. I kept coming back to it throughout the book, because I was gagging to see how everything pieced together. Even after that opening chapter is explained though, there’s more, and personally, I didn’t see it coming. However, if you think back to Constance’s mental state throughout the progression of the novel, you end up wondering why you didn’t come to that conclusion in the first place.
A word of warning though, If I Can’t Have You is quite graphic in places. From an emetophobia point of view, there’s a fair view vomit scenes throughout, and some may argue that there’s a few too many of them. In addition, the book also explores a number of difficult themes, including sexual assault, self harm, and alcohol abuse, so it’s something to be aware of if you’re affected by these sorts of issues.
Despite the difficult content, If I Can’t Have You was incredibly gripping, dark, and believe it or not, with Constance’s dry wit and lack of tolerance towards people in general, it was actually quite funny in places. If you’re a fan of psychological genres, this is definitely one that you don’t want to miss.
So that’s a wrap on August’s stack – what have you been reading this past month? Let me know your suggestions in the comments!