My Month in Books: April

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder

This one was a vital but really tough read. Rachel Louise Snyder breaks this book into three sections, looking at the issue of domestic violence through the eyes of victims, perpetrators and advocates for reform, allowing Snyder to highlight the areas that we continue to misunderstand when developing public policy on this area and how our failings contribute to perpetuating this cycle of violence. While sections of this book broke my heart, I love these kind of reads because they reinforce the importance of informed and evidence-based policy making and remind policy makers that it is their duty to work to eliminate the cracks in their systems that vulnerable people too often fall into.

Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo

So last month I read and loved the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, so my expectations for any further novels set in the Grishaverse were sky high. Nevertheless, this delivered. The Six of Crows duology focuses on Kaz Brekker, a crime lord in a fantasy-version of Amsterdam, as he pulls together a rag-tag, semi-magical crew to pull off the heist of a lifetime. These books were a rollercoaster of excitement and emotions and all of the characters are so well-developed (and in need of so much therapy but that’s a whole other conversation), I honestly think I liked them even better than Shadow and Bone and I’m now outrageously psyched to watch the Netflix adaption next year.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

This was my book club choice for April and I had been following all of the controversy surrounding the novel with mounting interest. My Dark Vanessa tells the story of fifteen year old Vanessa Wye, who is groomed and molested by her much older English teacher. However, as an adult, Vanessa does not view what happened to her as rape but rather as a great love story that society is too small-minded to understand. But when other former students of her teacher begin to come forward with similar stories of inappropriate behaviour and molestation, Vanessa is forced to reckon with the fact that the stories she has told herself over the years – that she is no victim, that her teacher truly loved her, that she was special, that she was the one in control of their relationship – are starting to look more like delusion than reality. This was a psychologically fascinating piece of modern literature and definitely my top pick of April.

Jailbirds: Lessons from a Women’s Prison by Mim Skinner

As someone who has worked closely with those who are incarcerated and continues to work within the justice system, I’m often frustrated by depictions of prison. Too often popular media try to paint matters pertaining to crime, abuse, addiction and mental illness as being black and white, when all too often prisoners and those who work with them are operating firmly in grey areas. However, I’m delighted to say that Skinner has managed to capture the full complexity of the lives that female prisoners so often lead by taking the radical step of actually listening to their stories. This book was funny, heart-breaking and full of wisdom and I’d recommend this to anyone looking to better understand prison policy and especially the complications that come with imprisoning women.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I picked up this book because I’ve recently been disturbed by an uptick in public shaming during the COVID-19 pandemic. This struck me as being decidedly unhelpful during these difficult times and I wanted to more fully understand the psychological impulse to shame and if this is an effective approach for changing behaviour. This book was insightful, funny and the case studies in it are absolutely mind-boggling. My only wish is that it had been written more recently – I would have loved to have read Ronson’s take on more recent iterations of cancel culture.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

My classic book of the month was Persuasion by Jane Austen and it was the perfect escape from all of the anxieties and stresses of quarantine. As always, Austen is witty, sharp and wonderfully romantic in this touching story of love lost and found again. If, like me, you’ve loved her work and not managed to get around to this one, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy ASAP.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

This book was sent to me through a book exchange on Instagram and, while I’m not sure I would have picked up this book of my own accord, I’m very glad it was chosen for me. Freshwater tells the story of Ada, a young Nigerian woman who is possessed by a gang of malevolent deities called ogbanje, who often drive her to self-destructive and reckless behaviour. This felt to me like an interesting take on the coming of age narrative and the search for self-knowledge as Ada learns to accept the voices in her head, but it also struck me as an excellent metaphor for mental illness.

Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper

Megan Phelps-Roper is a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church, an organisation famed for their extremely literal interpretation of the bible and extremely liberal use of homophobic slurs. In her mid-twenties, Megan had a crisis of faith, causing her to abandon most of her family and the only life she has ever known, and since then she has acted as an advocate for tolerance, understanding and the power of constructive challenge. Her memoir vividly depicts the harsh religion she was raised in but does not shy away from the deep, unconditional love she still holds for all of her family members and her hope that one day they will join her in leaving the church. Her memoir is powerful, compelling and extremely well-written.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Not going to lie guys, by the end of last month my brain was essentially fried and I really wanted to go on holiday, so this rom-com set largely in Hawaii was exactly what I needed. Olive and Ethan are sworn enemies whose siblings are getting married (yes, really) but the whole wedding gets terrible food poisoning except them (yes, really) forcing them to pose as a married couple so that they can take their siblings all-expenses paid, non-refundable honeymoon to Maui in their place (yes, really). To the surprise of literally no one, over the course of the of the holiday they discover they don’t really hate each other at all and in fact really really fancy each other. If you are looking for complex characterisation, plot twists or even a semblance of realism, look elsewhere. But if you are looking to escape for a few hours of pure escapism, this book is perfect.

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