My Month in Books: May

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life is the third instalment of the All Souls trilogy, which chronicles the adventures of Oxford professor and secret witch, Diana Bishop, as she seeks out an ancient magical manuscript, falls in love with a vampire and also does some time-travelling. As you might be able to guess, there is a lot going on in this series and to be honest I found this final instalment way too busy. There was so much going on that I honestly just felt confused most of the time and didn’t really get invested in any of the endless plot points that kept springing up. Honestly, where did the Nazi vampire rapist even come from? I swear the whole blood rage thing wasn’t always this big a deal. And I get the twins are important but it honestly does anyone else feel like Diana was pregnant for approximately a million years? Also the eleventh hour Gallowglass reveal just felt like a shameless set up for a spin off. Can’t we just focus on finally finding Ashmole 782? I came here for witch academia, not stupidly vague yet long-winded negotiations about vampire scions. A disappointing end to what started out as a fun series.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

I, along with what seemed like everyone else in the world, spent May watching BBC’s adaptation of Normal People and fell in love with Sally Rooney’s work all over again. Feeling positively hungover after binging the series and following the old adage about hair of the dog, I felt like it was the perfect time to crack into Rooney’s other novel, Conversations with Friends. It centres around Frances, a student in Dublin whose life is still deeply entwined, both personally and professionally, with her ex-girlfriend Bobbi. When Francis and Bobbi enter the social circle of an artsy and sophisticated married couple, Francis’ relationships are hurled into chaos. Rooney is, as always, brilliant at dealing with the complex interior lives of her characters and expertly sketches out the tiny, mundane moments that can bring people together and drive them apart. And, oh my god, the ending! My heart was in my mouth, absolutely masterful. I was left feeling even more hungover than when I started only now I didn’t have any Sally Rooney books left to fill the void.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

My mother always told me that if you’ve got nothing nice to say, say nothing.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

This was such a brilliant, warm and funny book. Reading it felt exactly like getting a hug from your favourite cool, wise aunt. I’ve seen people complain that this book isn’t representative of everyone’s experience of being a women but honestly, I don’t think Ephron had any desire to capture the experience of anyone but herself and she does that beautifully so I’m not complaining. While On Maintenance and I Hate My Purse are hilarious I think the real gem in this essay collection is On Rapture which is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt odes to reading I have ever had the pleasure of reading myself. Truly an absolute pleasure.

Over The Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness

As someone who is largely familiar with Van Ness through his exuberant personality while working as the grooming expert on Queer Eye: More Than A Makeover, I definitely wasn’t expecting this book to be as heavy as it was. Van Ness’ road to self-love has been long and his newfound peace and success has been hard won. In his memoir he deftly deals with themes of sexual abuse, addiction and bullying. However, the dark times only make the sunshine seem brighter and after finishing this book I just felt overwhelmingly proud of him for all that he has overcome to become the inspiration for LGBT+ youth that he is now. As I often say while watching Queer Eye with those who find is Van Ness’ enthusiasm off-putting ‘if you think Jonathan too much, it is because you are not enough!’

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

This was my classic book of the month for May and I honestly can’t recommend it enough. It was an absolute joy to read. Like Water for Chocolate centres around Tita, the youngest daughter of the all-female De La Garza clan, who is a gifted cook and pours all of her emotion (literally) into her cooking. However, tradition dictates that Tita must never marry and take care of her mother until she dies. But when Tita falls in love with Pedro and he is forbidden from marrying her due to this tradition, he opts to marry her sister instead, setting off a chain of gastronomical events that range from the hilarious to the magical to the tragic before Tita and Pedro can ever hope to be united against all odds. If you’re a fan of the magical realist works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you’ll love this romantic, transportive novel.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby is the absolute, unquestionable, reigning queen of TMI humour. I now know more about this woman’s bowels than I do my own and I’m thrilled about it. The reason Irby is so successful at this particular style of humour is because she writes about herself in a way that feels genuine and conversational rather than something that is calculated to shock. The whole book feels like the point in a night out where your best friend has had just one drink too many and starts spilling out her soul onto the table. I full on belly laughed out loud on multiple occasions while reading it. I related to the essay Girls Gone Mild on a cellular level and the phrase ‘cool olds’ is now fully integrated into my daily lexicon. Other personal highlights included Hello, 911?, Body Negativity and Late-1900s Time Capsule, the latter of which sent me down a Tori Amos nostalgia whirlpool from which I refuse to ever emerge.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I was thirteen years old when The Hunger Games first came out, which was precisely the right age to get totally sucked into it while my parents looked on in concern once I told them what the book was actually about. If someone had told my thirteen year old self I’d still be reading new Hunger Games books in 2020 I’d have called you crazy, but here we are! Ultimately this book was a lot of fun. It was nice, in a weird way, to get back to the supremely messed up world of Panem and to get some more insight into how the Hunger Games came to be and the early years of the Capitol. But honestly I found the choice to centre the novel around President Snow to be confusing. Normally with this kind of prequel, which examines how the baddie became the baddie, you start off with a broadly likeable, even heroic, protagonist who has a fatal flaw that eventually leads to them crossing over to the dark side. However, Snow starts off the novel as a deeply unpleasant person who is only concerned with his own reputation, the reputation of his family and acquiring material comfort. From page one, he also proves that he’s extremely content to step on others to get ahead. Unfortunately this makes the whole book rather predictable – I saw the ‘twists’ with Sejanus and Lucy coming a mile off. But I did enjoy how Collins wove motifs from the Hunger Games into the prequel – in particular the mockingjays and The Hanging Tree. However, I think I’d rather have gotten the info via a different set of characters . Just give us the 50th Quarter Quell prequel we’ve been asking for Suzanne!

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

This was my book club’s pick for May and honestly I had mixed feelings about it. The novel centres around seventeen year old Cassandra Mortmain who lives with her eccentric, impoverished family in an ancient castle in the Suffolk. I found the earlier chapters in which she describes her family and the castle to be charming (as an aside, I would read an entire book about Topaz who was the most interesting character by a country mile) but once the Americans turned up the whole thing went a bit downhill. People in this novel seem to fall in love with each other simply because they’re there and have a pulse rather than having anything in common or any kind of connection whatsoever, so I found Cassandra’s dramatic hand-wringing over being in love with her sister’s fiancee a bit hard to swallow. At the risk of sounding misanthropic, I really think I would have preferred this book if they’d just left all the romance out of it.

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

Lullaby, originally published in French as Chanson Douce, opens with the murder of a baby. The novel tells the story of Louise, a nanny hired to look after the young children of Myriam and Paul, a wealthy Parisian couple. The novel traces the development of the relationship between Louise, her employers and her young charges before she ultimately murders the children in cold blood. The novel begins with the crime scene and we are left to watch the story unfold with growing dread, as we sense the inevitable horrific conclusion draw closer and closer. This is a brilliantly paced psychological thriller as well as a nuanced and literary examination of the anxieties of modern motherhood.

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