It's been a slow reading month for me; I've been starting my podcast, trying to keep up with this blog, getting stuck into my 100 Day Project, working on my Dream Blanket and de-cluttering our house ahead of our next stage of renovations - so finding time for reading in between has been a bit tricky. I'm still working my way through Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, which I'm loving and learning a lot from, but I want to give it the space it deserves rather than trying to race to the end. But, the pile of books on my Kindle and by my bed is stacking up so I better get a wriggle on...
Clean by Juno Dawson*
We all love tales of the sordid and scandalous world of the rich and famous, right? There's a reason why Gossip Girl and The Great Gatsby are perennial favourites. This book gives you enough to satisfy your desire to see the beautiful and the damned laid low, but adds another level of empathy and understanding which ultimately leaves you more satisfied than a book featuring just the former would.
Socialite Lexi Volkov doesn't think she has a problem, but after she almost overdoses, her brother checks her into an exclusive rehab facility and she realises she's hit rock bottom. Or, so she thinks. As she works on her recovery with her fellow inmates, she's forced to examine her past and come to forgive herself for something that seems unforgivable.
Juno Dawson deals sensitively with a whole host of issues in this book, from the trans identity of fellow rehab-er Kendall, to mental health issues and abusive relationships. This book is a perfect example of why I adore young adult fiction - it's smart and sensitive without compromising the story. Lexi is a great protagonist - you'll love her and you'll hate her, and the details of her glamorous, privileged life are juicy enough to make you feel like you're going behind the scenes of a reality TV show. Plus the cover is next level beautiful.
The Fear by C.L. Taylor*
Whilst I was at school, I remember being obsessed with stories of teenage girls who 'ran away' with their teachers; we would pour over them when they appeared on the news and pray that girls who went missing would turn up unharmed (including, at one point, a girl from the year below us). Those stories were close to home, both in geography (we were less than an hour from Dover and France was more accessible than even other parts of the UK) and also because they were us, we were them - it was both unthinkable and also too real. As an adult, I am still kind of fascinated by these stories - although thankfully they are few and far between - but my interest was immediately piqued when I found out that it was the topic at the heart of this thriller.
As a teenager, Lou Wandsworth ran away to France with her karate teacher Mike Hughes; she thought he was the love of her life but he wasn't what he seemed and left her in pieces. Now, having moved back to her home town after the death of her father, she finds that he is repeating the past with a young girl called Chloe Meadows. Determined to confront him and save Chloe from the same fate she experienced, she quickly gets way in over her head and it's soon unclear whether she will become his prey once again. This is fast-paced and gripping, and definitely didn't end up how I expected it at all (which is a good thing!). I have been vocal about my dislike of the way thrillers often play on violence towards women as a lazy way of shocking the reader, but this was almost the opposite - a woman who has experienced abuse trying to turn that around, which I am very much here for (although I would maybe not condone all of Lucy's methods...).
Lady Mary by Lucy Worsley*
I'm having a real Tudors moment right now - I can't get enough of them, so when I saw this young adult retelling of Mary Tudor's story by renowned historian Lucy Worsley, I couldn't resist. One of my favourite things about historical fiction is the chance to rethink how certain figures and events were taught to us at school; I don't know about you, but I left my Year 5 Tudors class with a less than favourable impression of Mary Tudor and we certainly weren't encouraged to think too deeply about how horrific Henry VIII's treatment of his wives (and children) truly was; the 'divorced, beheaded, died' rhyme is more of a comical anecdote than a searing inditement of the king's behaviour.
And so, the touching tale of Mary's early life told in this book was eye-opening and thought-provoking as well as entertaining. We all know the bare bones of this story, of how Henry replaced his first wife, Catharine of Aragon with the younger, hotter Anne Boleyn before accusing her of witchcraft and sending her to the Tower to be beheaded - but what was that like to live with as his first born daughter? On the one side, Mary has her fierce and loving mother encouraging her to 'play the game' and on the other, her fun and funny father, who would never do anything to hurt her. Right? As she navigates the complex political landscape and tries to stand her ground, I was totally taken with Mary - and I'll never look at this period of history the same again.
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