After a loooong stretch of time unable to concentrate on a book long enough to make any real progress with my reading and Goodreads reading challenge, this month I found my stride again. The sunny Easter long weekend definitely helped — I managed to finish three books in those four days alone! I suppose this month was when it sunk in that a spring like last year’s (spent commuting a few times a week, enjoying picnics with the girls, beer garden afternoons with Harvey, lake walks with Milo) weren’t going to happen. The pandemic has really done a number on my mental health, and I couldn’t be more grateful that the cogs have whirred into place so I can read myself back into my happy place.
Without further ado, here are my April book reviews!
The Switch by Beth O’Leary
Thank you Quercus Books and NetGalley for my advanced copy of this novel!
Like hundreds of other readers, The Flatshare was one of my more memorable reads from 2019. It was light-hearted, relatable and a joy to read, so I couldn’t resist requesting an ARC of Beth O’Leary’s follow-up novel, The Switch. The premise of the follow-up is simple: a grandmother and granddaughter duo switch places.
29-year-old Leena lives in London, bogged down by the stresses of her job and coping badly with grief. Her Grandma, Eileen, is seeking love in the Yorkshire village of Hamleigh after her husband leaves her for another woman. When the pair decide to swap places, hilarity and a wonderful peek into humanity ensues. Leena, now away from her London career, struggles to keep on top of Grandma Eileen’s busy social schedule, whilst Eileen quickly takes London, its online dating scene, and Leena’s flatmates by storm.
I initially worried about switching between Leena and Eileen’s chapters, thinking I’d definitely prefer Leena’s, but it took me surprise when I realised that I’d utterly fallen in love with Eileen, sharp, brutally honest and quick-witted. O’Leary’s character development is, again, second to none. Almost immediately, you adore both Leena and Eileen, as well as the whole cast of eccentric characters, and, just a few chapters in, you really root for them both. O’Leary brilliantly weaves in topics including grief, friendship, abuse, depression and love without missing a beat or taking away any of the fun and magic.
The only things lacking for me, and therefore nudging my rating down, were that I felt some chapters were indulgently long — in turn making the novel itself feel indulgently long — and that I just wanted a bit more from Leena, although I must admit I’m not sure what that is. All in all, The Switch will make a wonderfully refreshing, comforting and uplifting read for many this summer.
Best Friends for Never by Lisi Harrison
When I packed up my bookcases for our house move back in January, I found my old, very battered copy of The Clique by Lisi Harrison. It brought me back to when I sneaked it onto a Scholastic Book Fair order in primary school and devoured the entire thing in a matter of hours, and I jumped on Amazon to hunt down the sequels immediately!
Although this type of book — YA, all about high snob-iety private school girls — doesn’t sing to me anymore, I loved reading it. It was full of nostalgia to me, and is incredibly easy to read. If you read the Gossip Girl series, you’ll enjoy this. In Best Friends for Never, Massie and her clique are back with a vengeance. They’re throwing a Halloween party ‘with’ Claire, and Massie has plenty more tricks up her designer sleeve. I really enjoyed this sequel, even if it was mostly because it took me back to my pre-teens. The dialogue is as quick and witty as before (albeit now laced with total ‘90s and ‘00s throwbacks) and it’s always indulgent to dip a toe into the polished world of these It girls. I ended up rating it 3.5 out of 5 stars if only because it felt unfinished? Which just means I need to order the next in the series…
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackay
I didn’t know whether to include this book because it isn’t a novel as such, and nor can it be classed a coffee table book. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackay is a beautiful collection of quotes, sayings, gentle life lessons and treasurable illustrations. It’s been a complete tonic to ‘read’ or, rather, flick through during these uncertain times and I’ve found so much comfort in its pages. I already know it’s the sort of book I’ll keep for years and years, and enjoy with my future children!
Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami
Thank you Pushkin Press and NetGalley for my ARC of this book!
This short but sweet contemporary novel by Mieko Kawakami was an enjoyable read over Easter weekend. It’s only 100 or so pages long, and I devoured it in a couple of hours. Ms Ice Sandwich tells the story of a young boy who is entranced by a woman who works as a supermarket sandwich counter. Her mysterious demeanour and vibrant, ice blue eyelids captivate him, and the story details the joys of youthful naivety through the boy’s eyes.
Kawakami’s way of capturing an adolescent joie de vivre really made this novel stand out for me. Throughout the story, we hear of the protagonist’s everyday mundanities, learn of loss and love and friendship, and I always like it when a novel provides a vignette into somebody’s colourful world. Japan is a beautiful country, and even more beautiful to explore continually through literature. What’s more, my beloved Murakami named Kawakami as one of his favourite young writers — I’ll definitely be looking to read more from this author.
A Saint from Texas by Edmund White
Thanks Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for my advanced copy of this novel!
Before I begin this one, I must preface that this book isn’t for everybody and should be cloaked in trigger warnings. I didn’t expect this one to be so explicit in content and, even now, I’m not certain whether it was needed and how much it helped to characterise the plot and move it along. That being said, I unexpectedly really enjoyed A Saint from Texas and I’m glad I picked it up. The novel stories the journeys of Yvette and Yvonne, twin sisters born and raised in an East Texas prairie, but who choose and take very different paths in life. Yvonne will chase the grandeur of Parisian society lifestyle, whilst Yvette devotes her life to worship, and this novel notes how their familial bonds are truly unbreakable.
What piqued my interest in this title was the family saga element of the plot, and that I got. White tells it in a hopping sort of way, highlighting the parallels and differences in the twins’ lives and it makes for great storytelling. As a reader, I followed, captivated, as Yvette and Yvonne’s lives traversed the world over, and White’s poetic turn of phrase cemented this one as a winner for me.
A Saint from Texas publishes worldwide on 6th August 2020.
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
How We Disappeared was my pick this month for the Blogger’s Bookshelf Book Club prompt. April’s prompt was a ‘book by a PoC’, and I’d spotted this novel in Foyle’s (before the pandemic!) several times already. In How We Disappeared, Jing-Jing Lee tells an utterly heartbreaking and devastatingly beautiful, tragic story through two timelines.
Once I began reading this book, I couldn’t stop; it was a truly gripping read and I found myself staying up night after night over the Easter break. Wang Di is the sort of protagonist that you quietly root for on every single page. You want to push her gently to the path she should take, you want to learn and understand the world with her, and you just want her to thrive. Alas, that is not the case. The opening chapters of this novel struck me as rather similar to that of Pachinko, which can only be a good thing, but it takes on a beguiling life of its own as we unravel the story of Wang Di and what happened in Singapore in 1942.
The novel itself is stuffed with imagery, haunting and detailed. It’s not overwrought and there’s certainly no abuse or trauma porn, it’s told just-enough and leaves you wanting to learn more about this period in history. (Ashamedly, I don’t know nearly enough about wartime and post-wartime in Asia, having grown up and been educated in the UK.) I particularly loved the precise characterisation of every character you meet in the story, and how the pace ebbs and flows just-so. It’s easily my favourite book so far of 2020.
The Prison Doctor by Dr Amanda Brown
After my book swap session in March, I came away with this novel from the lovely Alexa. I’m a huge fan of true crime and ‘life in prison’ documentaries, and so I was really excited to dig into this one.
The Prison Doctor is a fairly quick read (or it was for me!) and is truly captivating. This memoir shares many of Dr Amanda Brown’s experiences during a career helping those in need. From the offset I really enjoyed how it offered a different perspective to that in any documentary I’ve watched, and it was interesting to get a glimpse into Amanda’s founding roots as a doctor. I found myself making a big ol’ list of criminals mentioned in the book (for further reading), and the book does a great job of making you shift perspectives a little as well as learn about how a prison ‘works’.
The Group by Lara Feigel
Thanks John Murray Press and NetGalley for my advanced copy of this novel!
My gosh. I found this book so difficult to get into, but somehow forced myself through the first chunk, because I’d already downloaded my ARC and I’m trying to make the most of all of the reading material I have. The Group is voyeuristic look into the lives of a group of female friends turning forty. It’s a pastiche of contemporary life and friendship, and supposedly delves into fraught relationships and tensions amongst the group.
I just wasn’t so sure.
I abandoned this book at 10%, which is already longer than I wanted to read. The characters seemed extremely privileged; relentlessly so. Problems raised by Stella seemed to be non-problems, given the current climate, and whilst I appreciated that I perhaps wasn’t the target audience, it was almost unbearable to sift through. The story is told in third-person, and I think this stylistic element would work were it not for a total lack of dialogue to help move the pace along, or for the fact that Stella didn’t seem to be an inwards-looking character at all. It just fell totally flat.
The Group publishes on 2nd July 2020.
What did you read in April? Let me know your favourite, so I can add it to my list!