Books You Need In Your Life: January – March 2018

five paperback novels piled up on a small table, next to a lamp

You guys, I am SO excited to be back with my first quarterly Books You Need In Your Life post of the year. These are some of my favourite blog posts to sit down and write, and it’s the most wonderful thing to see that other people seem to enjoy them too.

Whilst the start of 2018 has involved some rather questionable weather here in the UK, which had us convinced that the Actual End Of The World was nigh on more than one occasion, it’s made for some excellent cosy reading time. There’s nothing more cute and Tumblr than being curled up reading with a gentle pattering of rain on the window pane outside, or, in our case in Sheffield, viscously trying to concentrate on your read whilst falling death chunks of ice akin to the Incredible Hulk’s dandruff threaten to bash the roof in. But enough about that. I’ve enjoyed some cracking reads lately, and I can’t wait to tell you about them…

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne

“‘People think watching some stupid film with decent acting in it is a way of showing how much they care about a certain issue. When all they’ve actually done is pay a tenner to sit on their arses, chucking popcorn down their faces, leaving us to clean it up, have a cathartic cry, and then come out feeling like they’re Mother freakin’ Teresa.'”

I’m a huge fan of Holly Bourne, for so many reasons. Her innate understanding of teenagers and how they see the world, as well as her witty commentary on life as a young woman in the 21st century, mean that her writing style is right up my street. After reading and massively enjoying her Spinster Club trilogy, I had high expectations for It Only Happens In The Movies, and I wasn’t disappointed. If anything, it exceeded my expectations: to be honest, I thought the blurb of the book was completely reductionist in comparison to the actual content of the story.

Whilst the blurb gives the impression of the book being yet another tale of a girl falling for the bad boy, the actual story is a sensitive and insightful critique of that very concept. Audrey’s journey sees her challenge the cliché notions of romance so often portrayed in Hollywood films today, and does so in a humorous and dry way that is likely to resonate with even the most sceptical reader. I’d even go so far as to say that the book is educational, and exactly the sort of thing that young girls should be reading prior to navigating the world of relationships. If people read things like this rather than model their behaviour on the aforementioned Hollywood romances, maybe there would be fewer internalised unrealistic and harmful expectations of what it means to be in a ‘perfect’ relationship in the 21st century.

I must admit, the portrayal of romance in such movies isn’t something I’d given much thought to beforehand, but you can’t help but see that Holly Bourne doesn’t half know what she’s talking about. A brilliant read, with an even more brilliant message, that’ll keep you guessing and questioning which way things will go for Audrey right until the very end.

yellow cover of 'it only happens in the movies' by holly bourne

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

“You have to appreciate that I never thought of myself as a man. I did not even think of myself as a boy. Of course, if you had asked me I would certainly have replied that that was what I was. It is not as if I had ever actively rejected the designation. I just never thought about it. I had no reason to think about it. I lived with my sister and my father and they were my whole world. I did not think of Cathy as a girl nor as a woman, I thought of her as Cathy. I did not think of Daddy as a man, though I knew that he was. I thought about him, likewise, as Daddy.”

What initially drew me towards Elmet was not only the fact that it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, but that the author, Fiona Mozley, was local to York. Featuring frequent references to Yorkshire towns, landmarks and culture, and not to mention the regional language and jargon we all know so well, the book had me feeling sentimental right from the beginning. However, what kept me hooked was the undeniably distressing story that followed.

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot of Elmet, but being taken through Daniel’s childhood, his unconventional upbringing and his day to day life as part of an outcast but fiercely loyal family unit had me gripped. Daniel’s father’s story had me questioning the morality of morals themselves, his sister Cathy’s experiences had me outraged at the unjust way she had been treated simply for being a girl, and as for Daniel? Well, the mental image of him that book builds up to and the final chapter leaves you with hurt my heart, in such a way that I was longing to do something to get rid of this uncomfortable under-the-skin feeling of… guilt, I suppose, that this fictional character had somehow instilled in me.

I truly believe that the best books are the ones that touch you, the ones that leave you wanting to share the story but not quite finding the world to do so, and the ones that you put in your Books You Need In Your Life series and then struggle to talk about in a way that does it justice. Just go and read this one, okay? Then come back to me. THEN we can talk properly about Elmet.

paperback cover of 'elmet' by fiona mozley, with beach and sea in the background

White Rabbit Red Wolf by Tom Pollock

“I spread my hands. Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. That’s the sane, rational answer. Only, there are too many people, or too few, or the tables aren’t spaced out evenly enough, or the lights seem superfluous in a room with three hundred and sixty-eight panes of glass in the windows, or some other perfectly normal thing that today just screams wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.”

Despite being pretty far outside of my typical go-to genre, this book played on my conscience from the moment I picked it up to the moment I turned over the final page. When I think of the story of the Blankman twins, the word ‘unsettling’ immediately comes to mind. The story of deceit, lies, and a casual assassination or two, had me thinking deeply about morality: constantly to-ing and fro-ing over what was right and what was wrong, what crossed a line and what was acceptable, and if so in what circumstances. My head was all over the place by the time we reached the shocking ending, leaving me in that kind of dazed preoccupied state that only the most impactful books can achieve.

Before reading, I was aware that this book was going to be released alongside a large media campaign for mental health awareness, and all the way through I was trying to figure out from what direction this message would come, and how it would be different to what had been done before. When I finally got to one of many, many plot twists in the story and the penny dropped, it was something of a lightbulb moment: again, a rather unsettling one that made my internal “ohhh, I see” turn into an “oh my God, this…is…messed…up…”.

Pollock fearlessly discusses mental health and identity issues in a direct yet eloquent way, making this book a gripping yet rather harrowing read. My only concern is that I personally think this book could do with a huge trigger warning on it, for explicit and detailed descriptions of self-mutilation right from the very first page: if this sort of content affects you, please be careful when reading. The absurd happenings combined with the many touching and relatable moments in the story made White Rabbit Red Wolf a stunning read, one that made it genuinely difficult to put down this book and carry on with my life after I was done. (Release date: 3rd May 2018)

orange book cover reading 'this story is a lie'

A Change Is Gonna Come – ‘Stories and Poetry about Change’ by Stripes Books

“I have several alarms that get me through the day. This is one of them. It’s hard to explain why I do this. But try to imagine that your brain is going to internally combust unless you walk through the door of your home before 4.00pm. And then ask yourself what you would do if you were in my shoes.” (extract from Marionette Girl by Aisha Bushby)

Featuring contributions from twelve Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers, Change is a collection of works published in response to the lack of creative space for talented authors who ‘have historically had their thoughts, ideas and experiences oppressed’. It’s been a good while since I last read an anthology of works, but this particular collection has definitely reignited my interest: each of the short stories were standout pieces in their own right, and had me thinking about all kinds of things that I’ve had the privilege of never having had to consider before. That’s one of the reasons why I love diverse literature so much: there’s something that feels so special about being given insight into perceptions and life experiences completely outside of your own.

Whilst all of the stories were enjoyable, some spoke to me much more than others did. Aisha Bushby’s Marionette Girl was a particular favourite of mine. The short story introduces us to Amani, and gives us a glimpse into her daily struggles with a debilitating mental illness. Without giving too much away, the character had my empathy right from the beginning, and the ending- implying a goodbye very similar to one that I’ve faced myself in the last few months, actually left me slightly emotionally fragile on Amani’s behalf.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that Change is full of depressing, upsetting tales: the works are also full of personable humour, relatable characters and above all, a sense of power and resilience. I even found myself drawn to the two poetry pieces, and genuinely believe that The Elders On The Wall by Musa Okwanda has broken the disinterest in poetry that made itself known to me during English Lit GCSE. If you’re a fan of diverse books that’ll leave you with plenty of food for thought, A Change Is Gonna Come is definitely one for you. Stripes Books, thank you for using your means to commission such an important collection, and for allowing us readers to learn from it. I would LOVE to see a similar project involving disabled writers one day too…

yellow cover of 'a change is gonna come', against a blue bedspread

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“I do love call centres… The best part is when they ask, at the end, ‘Is there anything else I can help you with today, Eleanor?’ and I can then reply, ‘No, no thank you, you’ve completely and comprehensively resolved my problems’. It’s always nice to hear my first name spoken aloud by a human voice, too”.

So I’m sat here writing this review straight after turning the final page of this book, and I am SHOOK. Whilst Eleanor Oliphant has been on my TBR list since last year, I’m legitimately mad at myself that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it: this story was every bit as magnificent as I hoped it would be.

Gail Honeyman has produced a book that somehow manages to be insightful, hilarious and straight up devastating all at the same time. Set in Glasgow, the story sees us follow protagonist Eleanor, a thirty-year-old woman enduring a solitary existence of working a 9 til 5 office job during the week, and drinking herself into unconsciousness to endure her weekend of complete isolation. A series of small events lead to Eleanor’s painfully repetitive way of life beginning to unravel, introducing her to the bigger picture and revealing a back-story so traumatic that it isn’t until the end of the novel that both us readers, and Eleanor herself, are finally able to uncover and acknowledge the past.

What I liked most about this book was its fearlessness in discussing isolation and loneliness in modern society. As Honeyman rightly points out, loneliness in elderly people is now rightly being addressed by those in positions in power, however not a great deal of thought seems to be given to those outside of this age group. As somebody with a chronic illness, who works with disabled people, I’ve observed and experienced how prevalent loneliness seems to be in minority groups, and I applaud this book for taking this topic into its hands and running with it. It would be so easy to get the dynamic wrong: making Eleanor’s journey into a sob story, or over-humouring and brushing over the issue, however the balance of these two elements throughout the book is absolutely spot on. In case it hasn’t come across already, I can’t speak highly enough of this book. It deserves every bit of critical acclaim its collected so far, and I can say with no doubt that Eleanor’s story will stay with me for a very long time.

five paperback books arranged on neutral carpet background

And there we have it- my favourite reads from the beginning of the year. Do let me know if you decide to give any of them a go and how you find them, as I’m always up for a bookish chat. As always, recommendations of your own are very gratefully received: if there’s a read that you think should be in my next Books You Need In Your Life series, I’d love to hear it. In the meantime, you can keep up with all my current reads (including the books I’m considerably less enthusiastic about…) over on Goodreads.

What are you reading at the moment?

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Disclaimer: Each of the above reads are linked by the title. I earn a small commission from any purchase made from following these affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. This is also the case for any Wordery orders placed by following this cheeky link. I’m so subtle, I know.

I’m also very grateful to receive books from various publishers and authors, some of which are included in my posts. Others are re-reads of old favourites, and most are purchased of my own accord. I’d like to make clear that I’m under no obligation to review any of the complementary books I receive, so do be assured that all of the reads included in this post are genuine favourites of mine that I hope you’ll enjoy too.

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2 Comments

  1. April 1, 2018 / 9:44 am

    The number of times I’ve been in a bookshop and picked up then put down “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine” is unbelievable and all because I’ve fallen for the old judging a book by its cover trick and I really don’t like the cover. Your review has given me a different perspective and next time I might actually pick it up and buy it.

    • Pippa
      Author
      April 1, 2018 / 12:57 pm

      I completely get what you mean about the cover! it really does have an impact on your decision to buy, doesn’t it? Oh that’s one of the best compliments you could give me, thank you Teresa! If you do give it a go, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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