I usually kick off these posts with a passing comment about how time flies but my goodness, it’s been a long three months hasn’t it? Quite frankly, I’m glad to see the back of them. Thankfully I had some cracking reads to get me through it, and I’m so, so ready for the warmer weather and new summer releases.
As always, the following contains affiliate links and some books are kindly gifted (scroll to the bottom of this post for more info), and any recommendations of your own are always welcome. I genuinely love to know what you’ve been reading lately!
“We’re OK in obs and gynae – the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit sister took pity on us, no doubt clocking the size of the bags under our eyes, and had a spare key cut so we can kip on a hospital bed in her unit. It’s an act of charity so kind and so rare that it made my colleague Fleur cry, and then scour the honours website trying to work out if Sister would be eligible for an OBE. […] It’s a bed with stirrups, but beggars can’t be choosers; I’d have accepted a bed with a grand piano dangling from the ceiling above it by a single pube if there was any chance of some shut-eye”.
Whenever I see a book so highly praised by so many people, part of me always expects it to fall short of my expectations. I had high hopes for This Is Going To Hurt but thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. I tend to steer clear of real-life stories and biographies, however I’m so glad I discovered this book: it’s hands down one of the most insightful reads I’ve encountered in recent years.
A factual account of Adam Kay’s experiences as an NHS junior doctor, the book gives a frank and honest narration of the somewhat unimaginable hardships that have simply become a fact of life for those in the profession. Structured around Adam’s own reflections and real-life diary entries from that time in his life, we’re taken along his 6-year career and progression through the ranks in his NHS career and the unique challenges each of these stages present. The author’s day-to-day duties and expectations and the impact these had on his professional and personal life can only be described as relentless, and yet the book isn’t presented as a tragedy or a victim’s story. It’s a simple stating of facts of what life is like when people are inclined to view you as an all-encompassing God-playing superhero, and forget that you too are simply a human being doing the best you can with what you have.
Whilst you might expect a story of this nature to be utterly depressing, it achieves a somewhat surprising balance of comedy and tragedy. One minute you’ll be chuckling to yourself at Adam’s naturally humorous retelling of a particular incident on the gynaecology ward, then within a page you’ll be holding back tears as the day’s events take a harrowing turn. It takes a skilled writer to pitch that balance perfectly in a way that fully immerses you in the events of the book and makes you want to keep on reading, and Kay strikes that balance perfectly.
For me, as a chronically ill NHS patient and advocate, the book made me reflect on the disability/chronic illness community’s own relationship with healthcare professionals. So often I’ve seen people emphasize an *us vs them* relationship, demonising all doctors based on the less-than-ideal encounters they’ve had. And whilst the fact remains that some of the experiences we’ve had are inexcusable, it’s when you read accounts like this that you begin to question the wider structure of our healthcare system in more depth. When you realise things are going so wrong at an organisational level, in a system that’s been stretched to breaking point for so long it’s a surprise it’s even still functioning, is it really right to put so much of the blame on individual clinicians, so much of the time? By the time I reached the final chapters and the incident that lead to the author’s resignation, my own mind was made up: no, it isn’t right.
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I only wonder what would happen if everybody knew what they know after reading this book, bearing in mind that this is just one person’s experiences. At the time of writing, junior doctors and the medical profession are fighting to support both themselves and their patients, and reading This Is Going to Hurt made me realise that we, as both patients and the general public, have a duty to stand up and play our part for the NHS too.
If you’re a patient, read this book. If you’re a HCP, read this book. If you’re neither of those things, read this book. You won’t regret it, I promise.
“’They really are the most underrated cakes’, I’m saying to nobody in particular. ‘It’s not even that they’re a caterpillar. It’s more that the ratio of buttercream to cake is perfection. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy a piece of Colin’.”
Let it be known that I think Holly Bourne is one of the greatest YA authors of our generation. I’ve adored every single one of her YA reads, and her debut adult novel, although I’m slightly below the target demographic, was just as satisfying. HDYLMK follows outwardly successful bestselling author Tori as she navigates the unpredictability of approaching her thirties, trapped in a going-nowhere relationship when all the rest of the universe seem to be glorifying getting married and having kids.
Featuring one truth-bomb after another, the story is so satisfyingly raw and discusses feminism, social media and general adulting in such a forthright way that it’s genuinely quite comforting. It’s one of those reads where you excitedly think ‘this person gets me!!!’, all the while forgetting that every other reader is most likely thinking the very same thing.
The thing that gave me food for thought, however, was this: the book embraces healthy female attitudes that I personally 100% agree with. BUT, in doing so, it did give the impression that it was shaming (and there’s no other term I can think of for this) the basic b*tches we all know so well. So whilst one of the book’s central themes is empowering women, it did seem counterintuitive that a lot of it pokes fun at social media behaviour that for a lot of women is the norm… inspirational quotes and cringey outward displays of affection over the medium of the internet.
And as I said, it’s so relatable I have to admit 100% agreeing with the author’s views myself (believe me, being in the disability community quickly diminishes your patience with so-called inspirational-isms), but to me it didn’t quite seem fitting to tear down other women’s innocence/ behaviour in the way the book did. Yes their online behaviour is annoying, but criticising it didn’t give me empowering vibes. I have no idea if that train of thought will make sense to anybody except me, but there we go.
Anyway, besides that small niggle, the book is still an outstanding read. Holly Bourne is so perceptive about the world around us and voices the things we’re all thinking in such a humorous and satisfying way. I had genuine anxiety for Tori’s character as I got through more and more of the book, worrying that another chapter had passed and she hadn’t done The Things she clearly needed to do. But that to me is the sign of a truly brilliant book: one where a unique story resonates so much that the character’s best interests become a genuine concern of your own.
“’That’s exactly the kind of self-help bullsh*t people want from writers,’ Pierce spat back. ‘Exactly what I wanted to avoid. This idea that autobiographical writing has to inspire, which means everything becomes a lesson, so “how I got over this trauma” gets the unspoked addition ‘and you can too’ and everyone’s lived experience turns into a Victorian lecture on moral fibre and self-improvement’.”
Jumping straight from a book about female empowerment to one where I turned the final page and concluded that the human existence is utterly futile, we have Plume. This read falls quite outside my comfort zone, with a male narrative and an emphasis on urbanisation and technology but oh my goodness, powerful is an understatement.
It’s a cynical tale of modern life in London, the complexities of the journalism and PR industry and the subtle devastation of chronic alcohol addiction, all metaphorized by this mysterious plume of smoke, billowing over the city and pushing our unreliable narrator closer to insanity day by day.
Wiles’ approach to modern city living and digital culture could best be summed up as harsh but fair. The book tackles some heavy themes directly: unrelenting alcoholism, social media surveillance, urban crime, complex grief and more, all the while with discreet but powerful metaphors manifesting as physical acts of nature that make you aware that it’s all building up to the Things That Are Going To Be Revealed.
It took me a short while to really get into the book and the narrative voice, but once I did I was hooked. The story itself, of a journalist chasing a story that heads off in an entirely new direction whilst each of the characters begin to unravel, is engaging enough, particularly with the journalism industry and life as a writer slant. But for me, it’s the frequent passages that make you stop in your tracks and really think about them before you continue that are the standout moments of this book. If you’re after a book that will halt your train of thought and force you to see the world through another’s point of view, particularly in these socially and ethically questionable times, I couldn’t recommend this one more.
“One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules, he reflected, was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time there were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure which side of the line you stood on. He had always admired his wife’s idealism, her belief that the world could be made better, could be made orderly, could perhaps even be made perfect. For the first time, he wondered if the same held true for him.”
Set in the idyllic Shaker Heights, Little Fires everywhere begins with The Richardson family, stood on the sidewalk watching their picture-perfect home become engulfed in flames before their eyes, thanks to their youngest child ceremoniously setting it alight and fleeing the scene. The rest of the novel takes us along the how and why, including the introduction of Mia and Pearl: they begin as tenants renting a flat from the Richardsons, but end up becoming intertwined in their story in ways neither parties could have imagined.
The theme of rules and order is embedded thoroughly throughout the book, from being set in a town where everything from the colours of the doors to the length of the grass is regulated, to a culturally divisive court case where no right or wrong answer can possibly be sought from the law. We see how rules can give the impression of being the key to a peaceful utopia, right up until one lone person disregards them… one of many metaphorical ‘little fires’ that eventually lead to the irreversible burning of the family home and all that it once symbolised.
Full of unpredictable twists and secrets that are methodically revealed and yet somehow still unexpected, this is one of those books that’s ridiculously difficult to put down. It feels like a privilege to be given perspective of events from two opposing viewpoints, from two protagonists who may not be as different as they originally seem, and it’s such an engaging read. 10/10 would recommend… although I’d clear some space in your diary and prepare to settle in for a reading stint, first.
“’She wrote me a letter once when she was away in Vermont, and that was the first time I realized that she often doesn’t put article adjectives where she’s supposed to […]. I guess that’s understandable, when you’ve grown up speaking a language that doesn’t use ‘a’ or ‘the’, but it implies some, I don’t know, resistance. Some reluctance to leave her own culture. I suspect that’s what went wrong between the two of us. The language was a symptom, and I should have paid more attention to it”’.
Is there anything better than rereading a book years on and appreciating it all the more for it? Anne Tyler’s Digging To America was one of my favourite reads when I was secondary school age, mostly for the story: two families in the USA, one American and one Iranian, each of them adopting a daughter from Korea and raising them in their own culture, all the while keeping an eye on what the other family is doing.
It’s a story of identity and belonging in a very literal sense, and how what’s around us shapes the people we become (or don’t become). But it’s only now, reading it around ten years later, that I can really appreciate all the subtle yet creative metaphors for every character, each of whom has a chapter dedicated to their point of view.
There’s gentle humour and heartbreak, and each of the protagonists and the varying relationships between them are so real, seeming so different at first glance but sharing the common bond of secretly feeling like an outsider in their own surroundings. It really is a stunning read, both in a literary sense and for pure entertainment value too. I’ve been meaning to read more of Anne Tyler’s books for years, and writing this review has given me the push I need to finally do it.
Don’t forget, you can find all of the books mentioned here on my Amazon Storefront* with Amazon Influencers, along with all my other favourites from this 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 about it. In the meantime, do browse through my other bookish posts, check out my own charity book ‘Dear Chronic Illness’, and keep up with all my current reads (including the books I’m considerably less enthusiastic about…) over on Goodreads. Happy reading!
Links marked with * are affiliate links: I earn a small commission from any purchase made from following these affiliate links, at no extra cost to you.
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 (unless otherwise disclosed), I’m under no obligation to review any of the complimentary 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!