Books You Need In Your Life, July – September 2019

pippa in pyjamas, holding stack of books on knees with spines visible

Although we’re waving a temporary goodbye to outdoor reading in the summer sunshine, the most wonderful time of the year is approaching. Hands up if you’re ready for cosy book and blanket season? Excellent. Here are a few books that may need to make their way onto your TBR pile…

Links marked with * are affiliate links: I earn a small commission from any purchase made by following these links, at no extra cost to you.

Heartstream by Tom Pollock* [GIFTED]

“That’s the problem with Heartstream. It can give you pretty much any feeling, but it can’t take even a single one away.”

hand holding red heartstream novel, with knees and red dress showing in backgroundSo here’s the thing. This is the second novel by Tom Pollock that I’ve read, and frankly I can’t decide whether the guy deserves an OBE or some sort of psychological intervention. Either way, he has to be one of the best YA suspense writers of our generation.

Heartstream is the telling of two stories, set in a dystopian world where social media is even more all-consuming than it is today. From the concept of the streaming central to the narrative itself, where users project brain signals from their raw emotions for other followers to tune into and ‘feel’ in full themselves, to the grey areas within influencer and fan culture, this book really does force you to reflect on your own perceptions of online behaviour and the way you use social media yourself.

Pollock doesn’t hold back in laying-out how actions inherently lead to consequences, and how ending up trapped in your own home full of explosives and a crazed fan with some secrets of their own, on the day of your mother’s funeral, somehow isn’t all that inconceivable after all. It’s safe to say this book nearly had me in cardiac arrest on more than one occasion, with some truly wicked twists and turns: if you like a dystopian thriller, Heartstream should absolutely to be on your To Be Read pile. I dread to think what on Earth Tom Pollock will come up with next, but I already know I can’t wait to read it.

Normal People by Sally Rooney*

“Things happened to him, like the crying fits, the panic attacks, but they seemed to descend on him from outside, rather than emanating from somewhere inside himself. Internally he felt nothing. He was like a freezer item that had thawed too quickly on the outside and was melting everywhere, while the inside was still frozen solid. Somehow he was expressing more emotion than at any time in his life before, whilst simultaneously feeling less, feeling nothing.”

Prior to reading this book, I’d heard only good things. So naturally, I was so concerned about Normal People not living up to my expectations that I procrastinated actually reading it for myself. However, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that this book by far lived up to all the hype it has generated over the last year.

The story follows protagonists Marianne and Connell over a period of several years, from their final months of school in a small town in Western Ireland, to university and beyond. It’s difficult to succinctly break down the complexities of their relationship and the way it evolves as each of them ages, but as the book progresses, we see how the presence of each one shapes the personality of the other… for better and for worse.

What stood out to me most about this read was the insightful way Rooney portrayed how the sheer force of our deepest-rooted insecurities and instabilities can inflict on our future relationships. There were several moments that made me stop reading and actually reflect on the idea of self-worth and how often it’s brushed under the carpet, and it’s safe to say that Marianne’s story in particular touched me deeply: the whole approach struck me as a very explicit way of portraying experiences and insecurities that I’m sure countless girls and women have personally identified with at some point in their life.

Even for those who don’t particularly relate to any characters, this is one of those books that will really give you cause to reflect on your own circumstances and put yourself in the shoes of another. The book challenges some very heavy topics that you should perhaps approach with caution, but the narrative is so readable that if you’re anything like me, you’ll devour it in a flash. Normal People is by far one of the most outstanding books I’ve read this year.

Waves by Jared A. Carnie*

“But I knew I was in no position to judge really. These people actually lived here. They probably had experiences like I’d just had all the time. I was the one who lived in a big grey town and never walked just for the sake of it. They probably looked across the sea to the mainland and wondered why people like me live the way we do. I didn’t have a good reason.”

copies of waves book piled on table at book launch
Image from Spoonie Survival Kits’ post on the Waves 2016 book launch!

At the beginning of September, when I was feeling a little listless and on-edge, I scoured my bookshelf trying to figure out what I wanted to read. Fortunately, after first reading Jared A. Carnie’s Waves in 2016 and remembering the calming effect it had on me back then, I knew it would do just the trick this time too.

The story follows Alex, shortly after the breakdown of his relationship, as he’s dragged away from his day-to-day life by his best friend. Over the course of the week, we’re taken through his week around the Outer Hebrides as he’s forced to take the time to really look at himself, and as he slowly begins to find his feet again.

The book isn’t heavily plot-driven, and yet gave me the compulsion to jump in a car and discover the magical landmarks described in the story myself all the same. Waves is a story of self-reflection, that’ll unexpectedly prompt you to find parallels between yourself and the protagonist, and undoubtedly leave you rooting for Alex as the book ends and he heads back towards his new beginnings: presently the same circumstances, with a significantly altered mindset. An easily readable book that’s particularly ideal for anxious, overwhelmed brains: I don’t know whether it’s odd to compare a book to some sort of soothing hot soup for your busy mind, but I’m going there: that’s exactly what this one is. The Heinz tomato soup of literature.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh*

“It also taught me that loss is a thing that builds around you. That what feels like safety is often just absence of current harm, and those two things are not the same.”

This book has to be up there as one of the most baffling and intriguing stories I’ve ever experienced. Based on a concept where men have been demonised and deemed universally harmful to women, the book follows a small family based on a remote island, where other women from afar formerly came to seek ‘The Water Cure’ and be healed of their past distress caused by mankind.

hand holding the water cure book, with beach and sea in backgroundElder daughters Grace and Lia, whose POVs are central to the story, give insight into the radical approaches of the three daughters’ parents, and the ironically destructive measures they have imposed during their childrens’ upbringing to keep them apparently strong and safe from harm. The entire narrative is twisted and disturbing, with subtle plot twists which frequently made me as a reader question the direction I thought the novel was heading. It was genuinely difficult not to wince at the way these girls had been raised and the things they had come to accept as fact.

There’s possibly a point to be made about feminism in the book, in both a positive and negative way: there are some interesting discussions prompted by the book, about what could happen should the so-called equilibrium between males and females shift too far the other way. For me personally, I just wish we’d known what had happened shortly after the final page was turned, and although I’m sure a POV from the youngest daughter, Skye, was deliberately omitted for literary reasons, it would have been incredibly telling to read. So many incidences and defining moments seem open to individuals’ interpretation, and although the book left me personally with more questions than answers, it was somehow an incredibly insightful read all the same.

Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? by Holly Bourne*

“Me and the alpaca are having A Moment. The Universe is telling me that sometimes things are okay. Sometimes you can have a quiet mind and the sun on your face and the breeze in your hair and an affinity with the natural world and…

… and then the alpaca ruins it by squatting and peeing.”

I think we all know by now how much I adore Holly Bourne and her writing. Each book of hers is like a gift for the young adult population, and I’m yet to read any of her works without 1) thoroughly enjoying it, and 2) coming away feeling like I’ve covertly learned something new.

Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? was no exception to this. Taking place primarily in a trial summer camp facility for young people with mental health issues, we follow the less-than-linear journey of Olive. Not only is she struggling to keep a hold on her brain, she refuses even to be told what her diagnosis is: she simply doesn’t want to know, and she certainly doesn’t want to entertain the idea of trialling medication that could help her.

purple 'are we all lemmings and snowflakes' book in front of rainbow bookshelves

The book as a whole was an incredibly refreshing take on the mental illness narrative: instead of wholesome shifts in mindset and magical recoveries, instead we see Olive and her companions confront some of the bigger questions throughout their time of camp: the causes of mental illness, how they interlink with personality and upbringing, whether there’s a more logical, mathematical approach to treatment and recovery… and not always come out on top.

Above all else, however, the book was a genuinely entertaining read: page after page, you find yourself really empathising with the individuals in the book and the challenges they’re facing, making personal pledges to be more compassionate, and even by the final page, you’re left wanting more. Bourne has a real talent for tackling huge issues in a balanced and sensitive way, without compromising on the smattering of humour that makes her work so popular with teens and young adults alike. Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? is an outstanding read, and in my opinion, vital material for young people growing up either with or without mental health issues of their own.

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That’s it for now, but 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 postscheck 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 by following these 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!

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