recent reads

February was a terrible reading month for me. In fact, it was a terrible month for me in general. And there was no way I could do a monthly wrap-up featuring one lone book, so here we are with February and March combined! I started February in a reading slump; I was coming down from the high of reading (and loving) The Book Thief, and although I picked up a book I was sure to love, it just wasn't pulling me out of my slump and it took me weeks to finish. I then had some personal news which left me in quite a bad place, certainly unable to even pick up a book, let alone focus my mind enough to read. But March picked up somewhat when I focused all my energy on reading for escapism, so here we are with more books than I expected to be able to share with you!

Sweet Sorrow, by David Nicholls  

I love David Nicholls work and was sure I would love Sweet Sorrow, so this was my top choice to pull me out of my reading slump. I'm sad to say it didn't work! 

"In 1997, Charlie Lewis is the kind of boy you don't remember in the school photograph. His exams have not gone well. At home he is looking after his father, when surely it should be the other way round, and if he thinks about the future at all, it is with a kind of dread. Then Fran Fisher bursts into his life and despite himself, Charlie begins to hope."

I did love the book, the plot, the characters, the writing, all of it; it just wasn't wow enough for the mood I was in at the time? So this is definitely one that I'll revisit and I'm sure will enjoy much more when I'm in a better headspace. But the thing I adore most about Sweet Sorrow, and Nicholls work in general, is the way that the characters are all so flawed. No relationship, whether romantic, familial or friendship, is ever portrayed as perfect, and it all feels so real and raw and relatable. 

Animal Farm, by George Orwell 

I've had George Orwell novels on my must-read list for years now, but have simply been putting them off in favour of anything else that crops up. So I finally decided to tackle the top 2 back to back this month!

"All animals are equal - but some are more equal than others. When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. But gradually a cunning, ruthless elite among them, masterminded by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, starts to take control"

Allegedly written about the Russian Revolution, Stalin, and the rise of Communism, I thought Animal Farm was such an interesting (if not very bizarre) read. I really did enjoy it! A fascinating way in which to portray how a revolution is started to stop what is happening and ends up going full circle to come to the same point it started from with a different face of power. It's a clever demonstration of how the ruling class makes a fool of the working class, using their energy and resources for their own pleasure. And yes, Benjamin was of course my favourite character. Sometimes you have to remain neutral and simply can't speak up, despite being the most intelligent one there.

1984, by George Orwell 

The other Orwell novel I've been wanting to pick up, and one I actually got to scratch off my 'top 100 books' poster. 

"Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent - even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101..."

Orwell's terrifying vision of a totalitarian future in which everything and everyone is a slave to a tyrannical regime; this is definitely one you've got to be in the right headspace to read and properly digest. A world in which every aspect of living is controlled by the state, where history is rewritten and there is no real truth. I did really enjoy reading this, in the sense of how fascinating I found the dystopian world and was eager to see how it ended. But I read one review that said '1984 is not a particularly good novel, but it is a very good essay' and I think that sums it up perfectly for me? As a novel, it's not the best in storytelling and the characters are bland, but the points it makes are thought-provoking and you still care about the characters because of the things they have to live through.

If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo 

A friend recommended this book to me some time last year and I picked it up from Waterstones, then proceeded to put it on my shelf where it sat untouched for months. But after reading back-to-back Orwell I was craving some easy reading YA.

"Amanda Hardy is the new girl at school. Like everyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is holding back. Even from Grant, the guy she's falling in love with. Amanda has a secret. At her old school, she used to be called Andrew. And secrets always have a way of getting out..."

I actually devoured this book so fast, I bloody loved it! It's easy to read in the sense it is a super quick, fast-paced novel, but not in the sense of how heavy some of the subject matter is. I cried throughout, but I thought it was just such a beautiful story that managed to find a good balance between the intense subject matter and light-hearted teen fun. This is, shamefully, the first book that I've read with a trans main character and I'm really pleased that it's written by a trans author too. It's quite an eye-opener into what it can be like to transition as a teenager, the struggles, the reactions of those around you, and the support needed. But also heart-warming in so many ways. This book is excellent, important, emotional and one I'd recommend to all!

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath 

The Bell Jar had been on my radar for quite some time, but it never really intrigued me all that much. I then started to see it pop up a lot on social media as other people were reading it, so  with it being another one to scratch off my poster I decided it was time to give it a go.

"When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther's life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women's aspirations seriously."

The original Sad Girls Novel! I am actually disappointed that it took so long before I picked this up. Following a frightening journey though the mind of a young girl suffering from depression in the 1950's, this isn't exactly a novel to 'enjoy' but it's definitely one to 'feel'. And feel it I did. Plath truly captures the emotional characterization of depression and the utter helplessness that accompanies it and it was one of those books that you finish and just sit in silence for a few minutes. It was certainly pleasing to see just how far we've come since the 50s/60s in terms of treating mental illness.

Natives, by Akala 

Although I made a promise to myself to read more non-fiction this year, this is sadly the first I've picked up. But at least it's a start, hey?

"From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers - race and class have shaped Akala's life and outlook. In this unique book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today."

Before I saw this book doing the rounds last year, I didn't actually know who Akala was. I'd only seen him pop up on twitter a few times before, sounding like an intelligent, well-informed individual - and this book definitely proved that. It is incredible how much knowledge Akala draws on to develop a very personal and compelling argument about race in the world today, and the way in which he weaves his own personal stories with larger historical facts is so well done. This book definitely taught me a lot about the history of the British Empire which shockingly is not taught in the education system and I had failed to do my own research on. But with his humour, wit and sardonic tone throughout this book is highly engaging and one I would certainly recommend.

It's been quite th 4 star month for me, hasn't it? Have you read any of these? Which is your favourite?

Loves. Emma.

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