I genuinely can’t believe the amount of books I’ve gotten through in 2021. I like to think there’s been quite a mixed bag of reads throughout the year, but there’s no denying that I usually gravitate towards romance and mental health genres more than anything else! Maybe that’s a goal for 2022! Anyway, I’m rounding off 2021 with another four reads, and here’s what I thought of them.
Note: While I’ve tried to avoid spoilers in this post, there may be one or two, so proceed with caution!
Plume – Will Wiles (Fourth Estate, 2020) ★
From the Back:
“Jack Bick knows he needs to change. The cans of lager in the work toilets, blackouts and malevolent cockatoos that haunt his days are a long way from the luxury lifestyles he profiles for the magazine he works at.
When a giant, black plume of smoke appears on the London horizon, and a major scoop that might save his job falls into his lap, Jack spots a glimmer of light in the rising smog. He dives head first into a chaotic odyssey across a city full of real estate tycoons, literary fakes, late night muggings and conspiracy theories. Jack seeks salvation through exposing the secrets of others, but will he be able to hide his own?”
TW: Alcoholism, addiction, emetophobia
I genuinely hate myself for sticking with a book I hated so much. I know that within the Bookstagram community and among book bloggers, there’s no shame in stopping a book you’re not getting along with, but I have the sort of personality where I can’t let it go. I have to persevere. It’s a really shitty trait when you’re faced with books like this.
Plume is a casing example of why you should never judge a book by its cover. I genuinely thought I’d like the book based on the cute little cockatoos all over the cover. I hate myself. What an absolute bellend.
The idea of a protagonist who hated their job and drank too much seemed quite relatable (note, my previous job(s), not my current one!), which is another reason I thought I’d give this a go, and the reviews seemed rather promising. However, I struggled with Plume from start to finish.
It was a combination of unlikeable characters, a highly unreliable narrator and a storyline that just feels like it’s going nowhere that got me hating this book. I’m not entirely sure if it was me, but I just felt as though I had no idea what was going on throughout the whole thing. It was far too descriptive in places, and it almost felt as though the author was trying to fill a word count with all the goddamn waffle. Don’t get me wrong, there were occasional moments where I thought things were picking up, but they didn’t last long.
Again, maybe it was just me, but overall, I didn’t get it. Combined with an incredibly graphic vomit scene, it didn’t exactly make for a pleasant read. I’m genuinely annoyed with myself that I spent so long reading it, but because I wasn’t enjoying it, it wasn’t exactly a book I wanted to curl up with “for fun.”
Ghosts – Dolly Alderton (Penguin, 2021) ★★★★
From the Back:
“‘Everything gets easier in your thirties, right?
Though she has plenty to celebrate – successful career as a food writer, new home, loving friends and family – for Nina Dean, her thirties have not exactly been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold.
From fading friendships to exes popping the question, everyone is moving on (or worse, to the suburbs) and as her dad slowly loses his memories, her mum seems dead set on making new ones.
Then she meets Max, who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her. But what seems like an exciting new development will ensure this year is Nina’s strangest yet…”
TW: The storyline of Nina’s dad living with dementia may be upsetting for some.
I was a big fan of Dolly Alderton’s memoir, Everything I Know About Love, so when I saw she was releasing a work of fiction, I instantly added it to my ever-growing TBR list. Ghosts explores a number of different relationships – friendships, family, romantic relationships – and for me, I found Nina’s place within her friendship group incredibly relatable. The change in dynamic within friendships once marriage and kids come into the mix is portrayed incredibly well, and I really related to her in places where she felt left behind.
Yes, I’m married, so I’m slightly further along than Nina’s character, but reading about her feelings around her friends having kids made me feel heard and as though I wasn’t alone.
One thing I really loved about Ghosts was how it ended with Nina being single. For most of the book, the reader is taunted with the will-they-won’t-they storyline with Max, but at the end of the novel, Nina is single. But most importantly, she’s happy. I love an ending that illustrates a woman doesn’t need to be married with kids to have her “happy ending.”
The Prison Doctor: Women Inside – Dr Amanda Brown (HQ, HarperCollins, 2020) ★★★
From the Back:
“Meet the women inside Britain’s biggest female-only prison. The ‘frequent flyers.’ The lifers. And the babies born behind bars.
With her trademark insight and compassion, Dr Amanda Brown shares the most horrifying, heartbreaking stories of the women inside.
From drug addiction to child abuse, self-harm to sex work, the women in her care have been both perpetrators and victims of terrible crimes. But Amanda is doctor to them all.”
TW: Substance abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violencce, alcoholism, addiction, self harm, child abuse
After reading The Prison Doctor last year, I knew that Dr Amanda Brown’s follow up, Women Inside, was one that needed to go on my TBR list. While it’s a tough read in places, The Prison Doctor: Women Inside provides a no-bullshit insight into life working in a women’s prison.
Brown certainly doesn’t hold back on any details – both when it comes to prisoners’ backstories and their experiences inside – but at the same time, she writes with real compassion towards the women she sees in her consulting room.
She tells the prisoners’ stories from their perspective, which allows the reader to get a real insight into the lives of the women before and during their time inside. One thing that really struck me was the fact that many of the women who Brown talks about in her book were in prison because they’d been forced into situations by men – such as drugs and sex work – and for some, prison was actually a safe space for them. The book also highlights the need for more to be done on release to help prevent women from reoffending, such as tackling homelessness and unemployment.
Very much like it’s predecessor, The Prison Doctor: Women Inside is a difficult read at times, so proceed with caution if you’ve been affected by any of the above issues, and in places it’s quite graphic. However, it’s highly informative and provides a hugely powerful insight into the stories we wouldn’t always hear.
Critical: Stories From the Frontline of Intensive Care Medicine – Dr Matt Morgan (Simon & Schuster, 2020) ★★★
From the Back:
“There is no room for error in the ICU. Full focus is required at all times. It can be the difference between life and death.
Through the remarkable stories of his patients, Dr Matt Morgan guides you through the body and its organs. He explains how various critical conditions arise and all that goes into treating them – from the science, research and technology, to the tireless efforts of the doctors and nurses. The book gives you powerful insights about intensive care, many of which may prevent you, or those close to you, from ending up there. It will even teach you how to save a life.
Movingly and compassionately, Matt writes about the cases and the people that have stayed with him, both the recoveries and the losses. The book shows the fragility of human life, but also the incredible resilience of the human body and spirit.
Sometimes darkness can show you the light.”
TW: Emotional content that readers may find distressing
Y’all know by now that I bloody love a medical memoir. Critical was a title that came up in my recommendations after reading Adam Kay’s incredible This Is Going To Hurt, so immediately it was added to my list. Dr Matt Morgan takes the reader through each organ in the body and how conditions arise that can result in admission to an intensive care unit. At times, it’s a very intense read, and not for the faint hearted, but at the core of the memoir is the patient stories.
Within each chapter, Morgan introduces the patients who have been part of his medical career, and illustrates how individual patients can pave the way for further developments in medicine, such as Christopher, a young patient who died from sepsis. The book sways between medicine and the personal stories of the patients featured, and you can tell from the way he writes that Morgan’s focus is on his patients more than anything else.
While Critical was an informative and powerful read, the reason I didn’t rate it higher was down to the fact that in places, it can be quite overly descriptive, especially on the medical front. The patient stories are fantastic, but among them is a hell of a lot of medical terminology and jargon, almost as though the author is talking directly to another doctor rather than someone with no medical background. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all, however for me, it made it difficult to keep track – I’ve read similar books that keep things a little more balanced. Aside from that however, there’s no denying that Critical is a gripping read that you’ll be sure to love if you’re a fan of the medical genre.
So, that rounds off my reads for 2021. Let me know what you’ve thought of the above if you’ve read them, and stay tuned for my Top 10 Reads of 2021!