2021 April Reads

May 11, 2021Hels

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Ohhh I’ve been terrible at blogging recently. I’ve written so many reviews but never actually shared them on here! Maybe I should backdate at some point and add in my February and March reads too, but for now, here’s what I read (and listened to) in April…

 

Boyfriend Material (Alexis Hall) ⭐⭐⭐

Luc O’Donnell is the son of two former rock stars, but his Dad (who he’s never met) is making a comeback, and this means Luc is back in the public eye.

After a compromising photo ends up in the paper, Luc is told by his boss he needs to clean up his image and find a nice, normal boyfriend…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. They strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

This was obvious from the first page where it was going, but I really enjoyed it. It was well written, and I liked that it was set in London – it’s always nice reading about a place you know! There are a couple of completely ridiculous characters, I appreciate they’re meant to be ludicrous, but it was a bit much at times – I felt like they were done as a joke?!

It’s an enjoyable read – it was predictable but there was enough depth to keep me gripped. I wish Oliver’s character had been fleshed out a little more and there was suddenly a lot of action in the last 10% of the story which felt a bit rushed, but it was entertaining and fun.

 

Shuggie Bain (Douglas Stuart) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Glasgow, 1981. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things, but when she is abandoned by her husband, she and her 3 children find themselves stuck in a decimated mining town. She descends deeper into drink, and the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.

TW: Addiction, alcohol abuse, neglect, suicide, rape

This is a very intense read, it’s hard going at times and beautifully written. I chose to listen to most of it on audiobook and I’m so glad I did. A lot of the dialogue is written in Glaswegian dialect and it felt much more natural and immersive to listen to it – I was really impressed with Angus King’s narration.

The story itself is heartbreaking, the narrative is bleak and gritty (a lot of trigger warnings) but there are glimmers of hope, and Shuggie’s complex love for his mother is clear.

My main criticism of this book is that it’s a little too long (the audio is over 17 hours) and while I understand that Agnes’ addiction was a huge part of the story, reading about the cyclical nature of her alcoholism, and the constant ups and downs became very repetitive as a reader. The writing itself is excellent, it’s an incredible debut.

 

The Other Wife (Claire McGowan) ⭐⭐⭐

Suzi did a bad thing. She’s paying for it now, pregnant, scared, and living in an isolated cottage with her jealous husband, Nick.

When Nora moves into the only house nearby, Suzi is delighted to have a friend. So much so that she’s almost tempted to tell Nora her terrible secret. But there’s more to Nora than meets the eye. Does she already know what Suzi did?

Meanwhile, Elle spends her days in her perfect home, fixated on keeping up appearances. But when her husband betrays her, it unravels a secret going all the way back to her childhood.

Caught up in their own secrets and lies, these strangers will soon realise they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. When a shocking event brings them together, their lives will never be the same again.

This was…okay. Definitely readable, but not overly groundbreaking. I didn’t connect with (or even particularly like) any of the characters which made it hard, and I figured out the twist very early on. It’s well written and I was interested enough to persevere, but the ‘twist’ wasn’t really a twist, and while I found the ending satisfying, it’s not a book that has stayed with me.

 

All The Lonely People (Mike Gayle) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

In phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun and friendship.

But Hubert Bird is lying.

Something has made him turn his back on people, and he hardly sees a soul. So when his daughter announces she’s coming to visit, Hubert faces a race against time: to make his real life resemble his fake life before he’s found out.

Along the way Hubert renews a cherished friendship, is given a second chance at love and even joins an audacious community scheme. But with the secret of his earlier isolation lurking in the shadows, is he destined to always be one of the lonely people?

This book was wonderful. It’s a beautiful story – focussing on community and forging connections with people from all walks of life. The story includes flashbacks from Hubert’s arrival in England up to the present day. The cast of characters are diverse, relatable and felt so real, and yet again Mike Gayle has managed to create characters that tug at the heartstrings but don’t feel overdone. It tackles huge themes of racism, loss and addiction with sensitivity and depth, while maintaining the warmth and hope of the story.

Read my review of Half A World Away by Mike Gayle

The Authenticity Project (Clare Pooley) ⭐⭐⭐💫

Six strangers with one thing in common: their lives aren’t always what they make them out to be.

What would happen if they told the truth instead?

Julian Jessop is tired of hiding the deep loneliness he feels. So he begins The Authenticity Project – a small green notebook containing the truth about his life.

Leaving the notebook on a table in his friendly neighbourhood café, Julian never expects Monica, the owner, to track him down after finding it. Or that she’ll be inspired to write down her own story.

Little do they realize that such small acts of honesty hold the power to impact all those who discover the notebook and change their lives completely.

I’d heard SO much about this, and I was after a light-hearted, uplifting read. I’ll be honest, when I started it, I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, and found it a bit too cheesy at times. However, I carried on and I’m so glad I did, as it definitely picked up pace and I really liked the plot twist at the end. Julian was definitely my favourite character – and Keith the dog. I loved the theme of being honest and true to yourself. The story is a clever concept, and really lovely, easy read.

 

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (Abbi Waxman) ⭐⭐💫

Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by. And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, is deeply interested in getting to know her.

Uhmmmm. I thought I would love this, and I thought I’d find it easy, charming and relatable, but I just found it OTT and a bit cringy unfortunately. I think there was so much potential, but I thought the characters were generally overdone stereotypes and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot. I really enjoyed all the bookish descriptions – details of the bookstore, of Nina’s apartment, the shelves etc, but that was about it. I wasn’t bothered by the romance aspect of it, and I think there was too much focus on that.

I listened to the audiobook and I personally wouldn’t recommend it, I might have enjoyed it more had I read the physical book as I really didn’t enjoy the narrator.

If you want a fairly fluffy, bookish and predictable read, where the main character has many full-on conversations with her cat, then you’ll enjoy this, I’m all for feel-good books (especially when they’re ABOUT books!) but this just missed the mark for me.

 

Love After Love (Ingrid Persaud) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Meet the Ramdin-Chetan family: forged through loneliness, broken by secrets, saved by love.

Betty Ramdin, her son Solo and their wonderful lodger, Mr Chetan, form an unconventional household, happy in their differences, as they build a home together, until the night when a glass of rum, a heart to heart and a terrible truth explodes the family unit, driving them apart.

TW: Self harm, suicide attempt, domestic abuse, homophobic slurs

This book kind of crept up on me. I listened to the audiobook (highly recommend – it’s read by the author) and I found it quite slow to get going, and I felt a bit like I was waiting for something, but the story and the characters got under my skin and I found I just wanted to keep listening. I loved the descriptive nature of the writing, and even though the book spans several years, I never felt like it was rushed. I absolutely adored Mr Chetan, I thought his character was brilliant, and I loved the development of all the characters.

 

They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

This is SUCH an intriguing concept for a book. I spent a lot of time wondering if I thought the idea of Death-Cast was “good”, and what I would do in their position. Mateo and Rufus are both teenagers, and I thought they were both written very well, although YA is not my favourite genre.

I loved how other characters were included and woven through the story, all connected in small ways, I thought that was brilliant.

I wasn’t totally sold on the love element of the story, it felt a little forced, my favourite relationship to read about was Mateo and Lydia – I loved Mateo’s character development. It’s a fascinating concept and although it’s slow in parts, I think it’s a good read.

 

If I Never Met You (Mhairi McFarlane) ⭐⭐⭐💫

When her partner of 18 years suddenly ends things, Laurie is left reeling—not only because they work at the same law firm and she has to see him every day. Then a chance encounter in a broken-down elevator with the office playboy opens up a new possibility.

Jamie Carter doesn’t believe in love, but he needs a respectable, steady girlfriend to impress their bosses. Laurie wants a hot new man to give the rumor mill something else to talk about. It’s the perfect showmance. But there’s a fine line between pretending to be in love and actually falling for your charming, handsome fake boyfriend…

This was the first Mhairi McFarlane book I’ve read, and I enjoyed it. I listened to the audiobook and while I didn’t love the narration, the story itself kept me listening, despite the predictability.

I do think it was a bit too long, and I found Laurie a bit irritating after a while, but I did really like Jamie. If I’m honest, because it was clear where the story was leading, I was expecting a little more chemistry between the two, and I felt this was something that was really missing.

It was great escapism though, I really enjoyed getting to know the characters, especially Jamie and his family, and I’ve since ordered another book by Mhairi McFarlane.

 

My One True North (Milly Johnson) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Laurie and Pete should never have met, but fate has pushed them together for a reason.

Six months ago, on the same night, Laurie and Pete both lost their partners.

Struggling to manage the grief, they join the same counselling group – and meet each other. From their sadness, Pete and Laurie find happiness growing and they sense a fresh new beginning. Except, the more they talk, the more they begin to spot the strange parallels in their stories. Then Pete discovers a truth that changes everything.

This book was like a giant hug, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would! It’s the first Milly Johnson book I’ve read, but I’ll definitely read more.

I think it deals well with some big themes, and considering what one of the key storylines was, I was struck by how much I liked every character (aside from Pete’s father’s girlfriend.) It’s charming, cheesy and very predictable, but the characters and plot have enough depth to keep you gripped. I think it’s maybe a little too long, but I can see why Milly Johnson’s books are so popular.

 

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