What I Read in May + Mini Reviews

Recently, I’m truly reading anything – zipping between genres, formats, etc. Perhaps because of this, I have A Lot of Thoughts on all of the books below, and the reviews here are not at all ‘mini.’ I should also include a disclaimer that these are all my opinions, so you may of course disagree. Apparently I’m feeling very opinionated this month!

The Flat Share – Beth O’Leary

Ah, I loved this book! It’s a really fun read, but has heart, too, and I enjoyed both the characters and their perspectives. Obviously, going off the premise itself, there is lots of silliness, but that doesn’t detract from the really serious issues explored such as wrongful imprisonment, or partner abuse, and I think the author balanced it all really well. It reminded me a bit of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, as even though the protagonists are incredibly different, the combination of serious and silly felt the same.

The main character, Tiffy, is your classic female romance lead: larger than life, dresses ridiculously, far too nice. However, she is brought to life really well, primarily because of an excellent supporting cast of tropey friends including: the fun female friend, the serious female friend, the male friend, etc. I mention this to highlight how nice it is when the inclusion of tropes is not at the expense of bad writing. Nothing here is new, exactly (apart from the very silly sharing-one-bed scenario that is also incredibly hilarious), but it does feel new.

The male lead, Leon, is also not exactly new. He’s also far too nice (I mean, a nurse!), a bit reticent, and muscly. However, he is also given a very great backstory that makes these personality traits make sense. He also is surrounded by a great supporting cast.

To be honest, I’d struggle to point out what, exactly, is unique in this book, which probably means it’s all just down to the writing. I’m definitely going to check out more of the author’s books!

The Prince of Thorns – Mark Lawrence

I tried very hard to buy into the story being sold here, about a no-holds-barred bad guy as the protagonist. Unfortunately, the premise itself barrs enjoyment.

There are many good things about this book – I enjoyed the exploration of a very morally…let’s say absent, character, mostly because it always takes the story in a place you don’t expect. Jorg has been through a lot, and he is taking it out on the world – and the people who took from him. It’s a nice premise, and there are larger than life characters. Unfortunately as well as the story is paced, and as continuous as the action is, I just didn’t enjoy it at all.

First of all, the racist tropes. Maybe that’s excusable if you haven’t learned critical race theory yet, idk. Second, Jorg is an overpowered character with no redeeming qualities, and I’m not sure why I should care.

When I started reading fantasy fiction, it was truly an act of sifting – rummaging through all the terrible books to find the goldmines. This is not one. It’s the kind of book I extremely dislike, actually, written by a man who only has male characters, where women are either seductive and beautiful or dead; where there’s one character of colour and you’ll never guess what happens to him, too!

For some reason (without explanation), everyone in the world is a piece of shit, side characters (again, without reason), actually choose to follow the protagonist, and there seems to be…no larger goal at all. OK, fine, you might argue – the author is presenting this world purposefully. But what’s the purpose? If I haven’t been able to grasp it by reading the whole first book, then I feel like the first book has failed. The purpose does not need to have been reached or achieved or even made entirely clear, it would simply be nice to know there is one. In effect, what is Jorg going to do that makes me want to witness it? The answer here is nothing.

I know lots of women enjoy this series, so I hesitate to say it’s just men’s fantasy, but I cannot enjoy a story like this. If you read the first chapter and wonder if it will get better (as I did, sticking through the whole thing – it will not).

Period – Emma Barnett

I decided to listen to this book because I’m a fan of this loose genre of audiobooks: short series of essay memoirs on women’s issues, preferably by an expert in her field. However, I didn’t enjoy this at all.

Firstly, it was far too long. Initially, there are many good points raised about periods and shame, and the absurd silliness of society’s views towards women and periods. However, this is the singular point in the book. Repeated far too much, often with much exposition on what I’ll call ‘capitalism feminism,’ it did begin to feel like a school essay that had strayed from its word count. This book is not a memoir, but neither is it manifesto, when in fact I think a series of short essays would have served the point better. Instead, it felt a little bit like the author simply proselytizing on why all of her views about periods were the correct ones. Listening to it, I felt like I was being lectured! Categorising this as a memoir just excuses the lack of any solutions, strategies or new ideas being offered.

I’m not a huge fan of the author’s work in general – and indeed I found the feminism here was not of the intersectional variety. A throwaway line here and there suffices to sum up cultural attitudes to periods around the world (mostly to define just How Good It Is Here In Comparison), which was offensive to listen to, tbh. It goes without saying that expecting a deep dive into all the different attitudes towards periods that exist around the world is silly and unrealistic, but frankly I would have preferred the book stayed away from discussion of periods and period culture outside of the UK or general Western attitudes entirely, rather than the short, bizarre and incorrect attempts to criticise another culture or religion’s morality.

There are other points to criticise: the chapter on trans men and women’s relationship to periods is not nuanced, and about a third of the length of a repetitive chapter all about period sex; the discussion on period poverty revolves too much around internal shame and not on actual poverty; the weirdly capitalist leaning when talking about periods and work.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are many important points. The author discusses period-related illnesses, including her own suffering with endometriosis, criticises the way period discussions are led by ad companies, and mentions the absurd tampon tax (in the EU, period products are regarded as luxury items….. Ostensibly, this was abolished in the UK post-Brexit, but afaik, companies just pocketed the difference and kept the price the same. Yay).

However, I think these were brief points that did not outweigh the long, mediocre in-between, and the book would have been far stronger was it about half the length. Many times, just mentioning a topic without bothering to deep dive into it, comes across worse. Also odd that it’s marketed as funny. It’s not.

The Best Worst Man – Mia Sosa

What I loved most about this book was the Brazilian-ness of it. This book is the perfect example of why author diversity is excellent. Lina, the main character, is a second-gen immigrant, with her mother and mother’s sisters having immigrated to Washington in the US to make new lives for themselves. All three sisters are also divorced from their husbands, after which they decided to open a mini supermarket and collectively provide for their kids. And if I’m spending too long describing them, it’s because Lina’s family were my favourite characters, and imo the true highlight of the book.

Lina’s cultural heritage was present constantly in the book, from the food she eats (lots of mention of brigadeiros, which made me hungry), to the events she attends (a capoeira class!), to the side characters. Lina’s family – her mother, two aunts, cousins and siblings – are the heart of the book. I enjoyed both Lina’s interaction with them and their interaction with Max (the Love Interest), because it was fun and rich.

However, I did think the relationship between the actual couple – Lina and Max – was a bit disappointing. It was fun, but I didn’t particularly feel invested in their relationship. Obviously, as readers and with knowledge of the genre, we know they will get together. The barrier to this was both Lina and Max half-heartedly telling other people that would never happen, while being in love with each other very early on (sidenote: not what I expect in a good ol’ Enemies to Lovers!), and then encountering the Third Act Breakup which I felt messed with the pacing just when it had settled.

Funnily enough, much of reading this book felt like watching a rom com: funny scenes, colourful characters, great tropes. Sadly, that also meant it sort of lacked the depth I personally most enjoy about romance books – though of course that isn’t to say it had none, just less than I’d have preferred. Overall, just a nice read.

A Bollywood Affair – Sonali Dev

The title of this book is apt – it feels like a ridiculous film storyline – with misunderstandings, weddings and honour at stake. I did, overall, enjoy it. I really liked all of the characters. The leads, Milli and Sam, were both nice to read, with the decisions they made supported by the extent of the text and their backgrounds. The conflicts here did not feel fabricated or overdone, and I really enjoyed the pacing, too.

Milli is a young girl who has gone to the US to study abroad from India. Romantically, her life is a bit everywhere. She was illegally married by her family as a child, and she has never seen the boy since. Yet, she wants to. This sounds absurd, but I think the book does such an excellent job of portraying and critiquing aspects of marriage culture that may still exist in parts of India. First of all, Milli was raised to be a wife, as she says several times. And even though she is striking out on her own, it’s difficult for her to understand another way to be.

The marriage between Milli and the boy is the central plot of the whole book, sort of – it’s the conflict. And yet it happens in a prologue, without consent from either party, and is not even legitimate. Thus, the author has to break down to the reader why we should care about this supposed-marriage, and I think that’s done well.

Now as much as I did feel invested in Milli and Sam, I didn’t wholly enjoy their characterisations. For example, Sam’s narration always pairs descriptions of women with how annoying they are, unless he likes the women, in which case they are beautiful. Sam is otherwise a character with a really complex backstory, and it felt almost like the author’s own prejudices and views were coming out through this narration. This isn’t helped by how much Sam and Milli’s statures are repeated in the text (seriously, way too often). We are told, repeatedly, how huge Sam is and how tiny Milli is, two facts buoyed by how much time Milli spends falling over and being caught in Sam’s strong arms. There’s nothing wrong with female characters being soft, but she’s portrayed as a little too helpless here and there.

This last point definitely took away enjoyment of the book, which otherwise I thought was an interesting read with good pacing and characters and settings.

Surprisingly to myself, I actually did a lot of reading in May. And considering the majority here is romance, it seems I fell for the ‘summer reads’ thing!

Have you read any of these books? What have you been reading recently? Let me know!

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