My mental health has been rather rocky this year, to say the least. And while I’m not going to look for ‘silver linings’ in that, I will say that it means I have been doing a lot of reading!
I was initially concerned about reaching my reading goal of 60 books for this year. Particularly since I spent January in London, actually going out and seeing people, so I fell behind quickly. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that I was reading a fantasy series where each book is approximately 700 pages. So Goodreads wasn’t pleased with my progress.
But thankfully, I spent the better part of March and April escaping my reality through reading! And as a result, I have enough of a selection to provide a top reads list for March and April.
Here are the best books I read over the past two months. If you hurry, you can order them in time for your next holiday to read by the pool or wherever you end up!
This book had been on my to-read list for a while now. But given that my TBR list is currently at 123 books, I had to let it jump the queue. And I’m so glad I did, because this might be one of my top reads for 2023, unless something comes to knock it off this pedestal.
I read this book the week after I left my job and started as a full-time freelance writer - fate? This book was exactly what I needed. It’s a reminder that no one has the answers, we’re all trying and failing, and the writing industry is a bloody mess.
I loved that Imogen and Harri were not positioned as enemies, not that cliche older woman versus younger woman trope. Instead, they were both being screwed over by a corrupt industry.
I’d particularly recommend it for fans of Sally Rooney, Jana Casale or Melissa Broder!
“Imogen has always dreamed of writing for a magazine. Infinite internships later, Imogen dreams of any job. Writing her blog around double shifts at the pub is neither fulfilling her creatively nor paying the bills.
Harri might just be Imogen's fairy godmother. She's moving from the glossy pages of Panache magazine to launch a fierce feminist site, The Know. And she thinks Imogen's most outrageous sexual content will help generate the clicks she needs.
But neither woman is aware of the crucial thing they have in common. Harri, at the other end of her career, has also been bitten and betrayed by the industry she has given herself to. Will she wake up to the way she's being exploited before her protégé realises that not everything is copy? Can either woman reconcile their love for work with the fact that work will never love them back? Or is a chaotic rebellion calling…” - Careering, Daisy Buchanan
I will never forget reading that witness statement. I think I came across it on Facebook, where it had been shared thousands of times. It was so painful to read, mainly because it was so familiar. Her story is like so many other stories, which doesn’t make it any less powerful, only more imortant to be told.
This was a difficult book to read, but in the way that the most powerful stories often are. It’s a tale of trauma, and how it can rob us of our identity. I have no words to accurately convey how incredible Chanel’s writing is.
She has managed to reclaim her story, and tell us everything that led to that victim statement.
“Universally acclaimed, rapturously reviewed, and an instant New York Times bestseller, Chanel Miller's breathtaking memoir "gives readers the privilege of knowing her not just as Emily Doe, but as Chanel Miller the writer, the artist, the survivor, the fighter." (The Wrap). Her story of trauma and transcendence illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicting a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shining with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.” - Know My Name, Chanel Miller
I absolutely adored Elissa’s debut novel, ‘The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes’, so I was thrilled to see her second novel had finally come out! Particularly with the recent #FreeBritney movement and Jenette McCurdy’s powerful memoir about being a child actress, this novel is so relevant to the times we’re living in.
I’ll be honest and say that I did prefer her debut novel, as I found some parts of this book a little predictable and I couldn’t quite grasp Haley as a full-bodied character. But with that said, it was still a great book to read! I enjoyed reading about a child actress’ rise to fame and her spectacular fall. I think Haley was intended to be a bit of an unreliable narrator at times, but her vulnerability was still present throughout.
“It’s been years since anyone really thought about Hayley Aldridge. A child star turned television royalty, Hayley spent years in Hollywood partying and being plastered across the front page of all the tabloids before quietly disappearing after a whirlwind marriage and divorce and very public breakdown. Once the tabloids wrung every last drop out of the drama, they moved on to the next It Girl. But Hayley is still here.
For over a decade, she’s been trapped in a conservatorship and had every aspect of her life controlled by her parents. She goes nowhere, does nothing without their approval, which is rarely granted. Her visits with her kids are monitored, her fan mail is censored, and she’s a prisoner in her own home. She thought things might change once she was well enough to work, but the restrictions got even tighter as she continued to bring money in—the only thing her parents ever really cared about. Hayley is beginning to realize that this nightmare is her actual life. And she’s sick of it.
When the hashtag #helphayley starts to emerge on social media, and the public starts thinking critically about what happened to her all those years ago, there’s finally some momentum on her side. With an upcoming court date to review the status of the conservatorship, Hayley might finally have a chance to break free.” - Haley Aldridge is Still Here, Elissa R. Sloan
It’s Medusa like you’ve never seen her before.
Or rather, it’s the Medusa they don’t want you to see, because it would cause you to question everything you presume about heroes, gods and legends.
I’m a big Greek mythology nerd, and I’ve read many Greek fiction retellings in recent years, but this was truly a special one. It felt different to Circe or Elektra in the bias that the author allowed each narrator to adopt, also in the range of narrators presented - even snakes or olive trees. While some MAY find this to detract from making it Medusa's own story, I felt it was very true to Greek myths, where a range of narrators was often employed, including inanimate objects.
It’s her story but told by everyone affected, everyone who witnessed it. It’s her story but there is so much else that fed into that fateful decision.
This book was incredible.
“They will fear you and flee you and call you a monster.
The only mortal in a family of gods, Medusa is the youngest of the Gorgon sisters. Unlike her siblings, Medusa grows older, experiences change, feels weakness. Her mortal lifespan gives her an urgency that her family will never know.
When the sea god Poseidon assaults Medusa in Athene’s temple, the goddess is enraged. Furious by the violation of her sacred space, Athene takes revenge—on the young woman. Punished for Poseidon’s actions, Medusa is forever transformed. Writhing snakes replace her hair and her gaze will turn any living creature to stone. Cursed with the power to destroy all she loves with one look, Medusa condemns herself to a life of solitude.
Until Perseus embarks upon a fateful quest to fetch the head of a Gorgon . . .” - Stone Blind, Natalie Hayes
One reviewer described this book as part of the “Sad girl in her twenties” genre, and I couldn’t agree more. I have such a soft spot for books like this, which remind me a lot of Sally Rooney as well.
It also adopted the style of not having speech marks, which took me a little while to adjust as well. But once I had eased in to the novel, I loved it.
It was revealing and vulnerable. It was both detached and intimate. Imogen is an excellent writer, and I can't wait to read more by her. The frustrating aspects of this novel only heightened how much I was enjoying it and felt connected to the character, and made me desperate to see how her story worked out. I would definitely recommend this novel for fans of Sally Rooney, Melissa Broder and Daisy Buchanan.
“Anna doesn’t fit in. Not with her wealthy classmates at the selective London Conservatory where she unexpectedly wins a place after university, not with the family she left behind, and definitely not with Max, a man she meets in the bar where she sings for cash. He’s everything she’s not―rich, tailored to precision, impossible to read―and before long Anna is hooked, desperate to hold his attention, and determined to ignore the warning signs that this might be a toxic relationship.
As Anna shuttles from grueling rehearsals to brutal auditions, she finds herself torn between two conflicting desires: the drive to nurture her fledgling singing career, which requires her undivided attention, and the longing for human connection. When the stakes increase, and the roles she’s playing―both on stage and off―begin to feel all-consuming, Anna must reckon with the fact that, in carefully performing what’s expected of her as a woman, she risks losing sight of herself completely.” - A Very Nice Girl by Imogen Crimp
Have you read any of these books? Or are you ready to add any of them to your own overflowing TBR pile? Be sure to let me know!
Now it’s time for a new month, with hopefully many great reads to come. I’m lucky enough to be taking my summer holiday a little early this year, and heading out in the last week of May. More than the beaches or cocktails, I’ve been looking forward to uninterrupted hours of reading. Time to create a TBR list just for my vacation - thank goodness for e-readers!
Need some tips for getting out of a reading slump?
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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