Books I Read in April, May and June 2019

Some advance reader copies (ARCs) included. They are marked with an *. No affiliate links used. You can read my disclosure policy here

Books I Read in April, May and June 2019

My reading over the past three months can best be described as; grief, mental illness and witches. Not all in the same book, although I’d probably read it if they were!

The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide by Gayle Brandeis

Oof. This book hit me hard, in the best possible way. It’s a reading experience I won’t forget. 

When Gayle Brandeis’s mother dies by suicide, she naturally wants to understand why. Weaving together the details of the weeks surrounding her mother’s death, transcripts from the documentary about rare illnesses her mother was working on, and Brandeis’s own experience with illness and misdiagnosis, The Art of Misdiagnosis is a compelling look at the devastating effects of a complicated family history. 

It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine

Following the sudden death of her partner, Matt, Megan Devine, who is a trained psychotherapist, realised that how we talk about grief isn’t always in the best interest of people who are grieving. Rather than seeing grief as a problem to be solved, It’s OK That You’re Not OK views grief as an emotion people learn to live with not move on from. 

A friend recommended It’s OK That You’re Not OK because they thought Megan Devine’s approach to grief would resonate with me. They were right. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

In December 2003, Joan Didion’s husband John Gregory Dunne died suddenly. A few days previously their daughter Quintana was admitted to hospital and placed in an induced coma due to septic shock. In the weeks following Dunne’s death, Quintana made a recovery only to fall seriously ill again a few months later. 

The Year of Magical Thinking is Didion’s experience of this heartbreaking period of her life. Didion writes about early grief with honesty and clarity many do not have when processing their grief. 

Vagina: A Re-education by Lynn Enright

Vagina: A Re-education is, as the title suggests, a re-education about the vagina (or vulva, to be more accurate!) because everything you think you know is probably wrong. Covering everything from the clitoris and orgasms, to conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and vulvodynia, to female genital mutilation, Vagina: A Re-education is a must-read for everyone not only people who have vulvas. 

Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria*

Described as an autobiographical novel or “autofiction”, Juliet the Maniac* is a powerful portrayal of bipolar disorder, addiction and recovery as experienced by our 14 year-old protagonist Juliet. Escoria’s writing is raw and perfectly captures how disjointed the world feels when you’re struggling with mental illness. 

Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Spellbook of the Lost and Found ticks a lot of my literary loves boxes – spellbooks, queer female characters, multiple points of view, secrets – so I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it until recently. I am so glad I read it. It’s a wonderfully strange tale, which begins with Olive and Rose losing things. We soon learn they’re not the only people whose possessions mysteriously disappeared. 

The discovery of an old spellbook will surely help put everything back where it belongs, right?! I’m being deliberately vague because the joy of reading Spellbook of the Lost and Found is in watching events unfold as you learn how the characters’ lives are linked to each other. 

Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin

When their house burns down, Rita Frost and her teenage ward, Bevan, are never seen again. The only people who know what happened are Mae and her twin brother Rossa. 

Having spent two summers at their aunt’s house, Mae and Rossa learn that nothing is ever quite what it seems. For starters, Rita and Bevan are witches and there appears to be something or someone living in the walls. 

Other Words for Smoke is a gloriously odd story about love (particularly queer love), obsession, fear, the occult, and power.

Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen*

Part memoir and part manifesto for why the body positivity movement must return to its radical fat liberation roots, Happy Fat* is a call-to-arms for examining our internalised anti-fat bias while working to dismantle the damage caused by structural, particularly in the field of medicine, fatphobia. 

Happy Fat* is an excellent starting point for people new to the politics of body positivity and fat acceptance, but there is also much to take from it for people who are already familiar with the concepts Hagen discusses. It is written with the same warmth and humour Hagen brings to her Made of Human podcast. 

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

This collection of essays, centred on the theme of empathy, is thought-provoking and incisive. Each essay takes empathy in a different direction giving us lots of insight into what it means to be human, flaws and all. 

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd*

Set in 1860s London, Things in Jars* is the story of Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age, and her search for Christabel Berwick who has been kidnapped. In typical Kidd fashion, nothing and no-one is quite what they seem. 

I didn’t love this as much as Kidd’s other novels, Himself and The Hoarder, which I suspect puts me in the minority among fans of Jess Kidd, but it is still a thoroughly entertaining read. 

The Furies by Katie Lowe*

The Furies* opens with the discovery of the body of a 16 year-old girl posed on a swing in the grounds of the prestige Elm Hollow Academy. Someone knows what happened, but no-one is talking. The story is told by present day Violet, who is looking back on the events leading up to the murder in 1998. 

The Furies* is an atmospheric tale of death, witchcraft and intense female friendships.

How to Come Alive Again by Beth McColl

I read How to Come Alive Again in two sittings, that’s how good it is! It is full of comforting and practical advice for dealing with anxiety and depression. 

I say comforting because Beth McColl focuses on the things that help or have helped her during different periods of her life. She understands there is no one size fits all when it comes to mental health recovery and sometimes it really is a matter of taking things one day at a time. 

Illness as Metaphor & AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag

I read Illness as Metaphor for the first time a few years ago and have returned to it regularly since, but hadn’t read the companion essay AIDS and Its Metaphors. Across both essays, Sontag unpicks the way we speak and write about illness (Sontag focuses on cancer, tuberculosis, and AIDS), how this negatively affects people living with those illnesses (Sontag had cancer while writing Illness as Metaphor) and emphasises the importance of the language we choose. 

Just Eat It by Laura Thomas, PhD

Just Eat It is your no BS anti-diet guide to intuitive eating. My copy of is full of underlined passages and sticky tabs where I highlighted things that (a) had me nodding in agreement and (b) made me think about food, diet culture, and intuitive eating in ways I haven’t before. 

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino*

I’ve been a fan of Jia Tolentino’s work for a while, so was excited to get my hands on an advance copy of her upcoming debut essay collection Trick Mirror*. The nine essays do not disappoint. 

Trick Mirror* is a perfect blend of personal, cultural and political writing, which looks at everything from the rise of the internet, social media and Tolentino’s experience as a reality TV contest to what makes a successful American scammer and sexual harassment. 

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams*

Nadia Fielding and her friends love reading the ‘Missed Connections’ column in the morning paper. One day a letter reminds her friends of Nadia, but it can’t be her. Can it?!

The morning his letter appears in the paper, Daniel Weissman worries he has made a terrible mistake. Of course his plan for getting Nadia to speak to him won’t work. Will it?! 

Looking for a brilliant summer holiday read? Look no further than Our Stop* by Laura Jane Williams. Full of laughter, friendship, and witty takes on modern dating; the will they, won’t they story of Nadia and Daniel will leave you smiling!

Without giving too much away, I do have a little niggle about how one of the subplots was handled. Part of me was all *yay* representation! Another part of me was disappointed by some the language people used, or rather didn’t use, to describe their sexuality. Like, I get it. Sexuality is a spectrum and people get to decide where they fall on that spectrum and how they identify. *raise your hand if you came out in your 20s as bisexual when you were previously out as a lesbian. Oh, right, that was me!* But it felt like a missed opportunity to explicitly name the largest group within the LGBTQ+ community. It won’t stop me recommending the book, but it stuck out so I couldn’t not mention it.

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