This is Going to Hurt

In 2010, after six years of training and a further six years on the wards, I resigned from my job as a junior doctor.

There’s very little joy to be found here, but heck – even the title tells you that. Besides that, it’s non-fiction and about the NHS (Britain’s national health). Even if you don’t know anything about that subject, the sum of these must ring a small alarm bell.

Adam Kay isn’t a doctor anymore, and these are his diary notes that have led up to that decision. Mostly it’s terribly politics and how hospitals deal with it, but patients don’t go scot-free either. This way even the awkward giggles feel bad because there’s lives at stake here and only those that can’t do anything about it, seem to care.

There are bits when Adam sounds a bit too full of himself, and maybe some more background would be nice, but this is a man’s personal story. Use it as motivation to do your own background research. If you’re sure that you want to know more about the state NHS is in, anyway.

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay, Picador 2017

Girl Runner

This is not the love song of Aganetha Smart.

I can point out the different disappointments in this book clearly: the biggest one being the obvious twists to prevent explaining a plot line. This can happen maybe once or twice and should be done well – not something that basically amounts to ‘BUT FIRST’.

For starters, I’m not too fond of two story lines in different times, especially not when brought together through a seemingly random connection. Jump through time or let people age; it’s not that hard. In this case I accepted it because I was curious about the subject: first long distance female runner at the Olympics. Canadian history. Canadian writer. Bring it.

But it’s Aganetha young and very old, and a story line tacked on that isn’t explained – and just barely – until the last ten pages. With Aganetha not being the most charming protagonist, it doesn’t make caring easier. Give me more about the world she grew up in if you can’t or won’t sell me on your main character.

All this creates the feeling of “this could have been more”, which might be more frustrating than this entire novel is.

Girl Runner, Carrie Snyder, Harper 2015

Empire of Wild

Old medicine has a way of being remembered, of haunting the land where it was laid.

I like the work of this author – all two books I’ve read by her. Not just because she writes about Canada and a Canada I know little about (of indigenous people), but there is something lush about her writing style. Organic, flowing. And yes, using those clich√©s makes me feel a little bit iffy.

Empire of Wild uses indigenous stories and mythology again, again in a contemporary (bit less apocalyptic) setting. A lost man is found again, but doesn’t recognise his wife nor their life together. Something wolf-like skulks around. White people threaten the land.

You could call it magic-realistic, but somehow it feels too down to earth for it. These people are so used to living the way they do with the stories they know, that adding whispering winds or lounging ghosts would make things silly instead of magical.

Honestly, I’m just curious to what Cherie Dimaline does next. We’ve had post-apocalyptic and contemporary. Something from the (distant) past?

Empire of Wild, Cherie Dimaline, Random House Canada 2019

Just One Damned Thing After Another

There have been two moments in my life when everything changed.

Time travel! Dinosaurs! Bad guys and unlikely heroes! First book of a series!

Yes, I know, I will forever be overly bitter by the fact that a standalone fantasy novel is hard to find. Sue me (don’t sue me).

On the other hand – I’m a sucker for time travel and will accept a lot for the sheer fact of time travel being involved. It’s just a convenient genre: you get history, adventure, romance (often), sometimes science fiction – all in one book.

Just as in this case. Just One Damned Thing After Another has the scrappy heroine with the dodgy history, very villain-y villains, dinosaurs and mentions enough historical events to make sure you don’t forget the time traveling part. Jodi Taylor provides the majority of this with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, which (might) make(s) the reader more acceptable of the times when things get a bit too trope-y. Is that me complaining about getting everything I wanted from this kind of story? Yes.

If there wouldn’t be sequels, there wouldn’t have been several set-ups that took (a bit) too long to pay off. Without the scrappy heroine-background, there would have been less time spent on moping and self-pity.

So, yes, this is what to expect from the genre. I was just hoping for more.

Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor, Accent Press 2013

To All The Boys

102 min.

It’s easy to judge this on many different levels and scoff a bit, but remember the target audience, and try to find some joy in your heart. I did.

2 all the boys This is the sequel to To All The Boys I loved Before. Mild spoilers for that one follow.

How long can a happy ending last? As everyone involved here are teenagers, the question might be a rhetorical one. Another crush shows up, and he seems much more nicer and attentive than Lara Jean’s boyfriend, oh no!

When not dating, worrying about dating and thinking of how to keep her boyfriend happy, Lara Jean has to deal with friendship, family and school as well. Actress Lana Condor makes sure she carries it well, even with those eye-rolling moments in which you just want to shake every teenager involved.

All of it is very cute and bright and sometimes very quirky, and all of it completely fits the bill and the people this has been made for. And – I admit almost with shame – for me as well.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, Netflix 2020

There Will Come a Darkness

In the moonlit room overlooking the city of faith, a priest knelt before Ephyra and begged for his life.

Am I going to say it? I’m going to say it. This is another ‘I thought this would be a stand-alone fantasy YA’ failure on my part. Of COURSE it’s part of a series, rookie mistake!

The nice thing is that you don’t really notice until it’s too late. The question of ‘how is this going to be cleanly rolled up in so little pages left’ doesn’t show up until 3/4 into the book, and even then Katy Rose Pool doesn’t use neon-light warnings to guide you to the open ending. The ending isn’t even that open, which to me – avid hater of open endings – is a relief.

Except for the ages of the protagonists, it’s not very YA either (little romance, little teen-specific issues) and the fantasy part delivers. Scary cult, people with gifts, threatening apocalypse, royals et cetera. The world-building makes you wonder if this is supposed to be our past or our distance future: just look at the map used.

With five protagonists it sometimes feels a bit like some get more time in the spotlight than others; it also makes it easy to quickly get a preference. Maybe in the next book(s) the attention will shifts and you might feel more for other characters.

All in all, a nothing-wrong-with fantasy. If I’d see the sequel in the library, I wouldn’t ignore it.

There Will Come a Darkness, Katy Rose Pool, MacMillan 2019

Ducks, Newburyport

I can’t give you the first sentence of this book, because that sentence takes approximately 35 pages to finish. Does it even ever finish, or is it just paused by another story line that does use other punctuation than commas?

I didn’t finish this book either. I read a lot of the pages, I read the last few but I didn’t read the majority of the almost 1000 pages.

The majority of those 1000 pages are a stream of conscious about an American housewife that bakes pies. After about two-third of the book there are layers added, issues, maybe even traumas that can help you understand the endless circling of her thoughts, but by then I had long checked out. The blurb on the cover ‘Ulysses got nothing on this’ should have warned me; I thought it was just about the size of the book. No, it was about the run-on-sentence.

I appreciate how the author and the publisher (there’s a page in the back explaining things and how they want to support original stories) wanted to offer something different, and maybe I’m just too anxious and too much of a control freak to appreciate this.

So, if someone read it or will read it, I’d love to get a summary about what’s going on, because I gave up the fight.

Ducks, Newburyport, Lucy Ellman 2019

Invisible Women

Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.

Good gravy, just when you thought you already knew, things turn out to be so much worse. Next to a sexist gap in pay, safety and health there is a huge one in the thing that drives pretty  much all of society: data.

Why is the default ‘he’? Why is there still a riddle about a doctor whose husband died, and why do too many people involved with design viewing women as ‘men with boobs’? Well, because societies worldwide have made it so, and not enough people in powerful positions protest it. And it turns out to be lethal for women.

Invisible Women isn’t particularly uplifting material: there’s just so many numbers and anecdotes on things that went wrong and are going wrong and men not giving a damn about it. How do we rally for change when the entire history of humanity is against us?

Because in some cases and in some countries things have changed and are changing. And you can never change something you don’t know anything about. And because it might save your life to know.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez, Abrams Press 2019

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Let me begin again.

Golly gosh, how to explain this? It’s a memoir, it’s a fever dream, it’s an obituary – maybe? And did I like all of it, any of it, only the parts that I read at night? It was, in a way, beautiful, though. A kind of experience hard to put into words.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is one of those titles that seem to be singing around in ‘Serious Reader’ circles for a while. It’s not loud enough to feel like it’s been hyped, nor is a celebrity book club attached, but there is the vibe of “Haven’t you read it yet?” around it. To me, anyway.

Ocean Vuong wrote poetry before, and it shows in his descriptions, his look on life, how it feels like he weighed every word before putting it down. It’s in juxtaposition with the subjects he writes down: the suffering of his grandmother and mother, the lack of family, being an immigrant child, being the only different one while growing up. All of it feels absolutely anchor-less.

Can you have an opinion about something that runs through your mind like sand through your hands? I’m sure you can, but I’m just going to stick with ‘an experience’ and a weird feeling of honour that Vuong allowed you in.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong, Penguin Random House 2019

Year of Yes

When it was first suggested to me that I write about this year, my first instinct was to say no.

Hmmmm…

I kind of feel like I have to approve of this book solely because of the achievements of the person that wrote it. And Shonda Rhimes achieved a lot, and well done to her and I hope she keeps on carrying on.

And maybe I should have been less surprised about the tone of the story with such a title. I mean, this is the second time this year I’ve been cuckolded by a book title. This isn’t completely a memoir, but it comes close it. Combine that with the subject (saying yes to more things, daring to live (a little)), and honestly – I could have seen this coming.

Of course, it’s interesting to learn about how much work Rhimes puts into everything, how determined she is and how she recognises what has to be done to get where she wants to go.

It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing: is she ‘American Dream rah-rah’ because of what she accomplished or did she accomplish what she did because she’s ‘American Dream rah-rah’?

In the end, have I decided to be infected by her yes-saying? Maybe. Temporarily. Mostly I’m still stuck on all the ways in which she describes herself, her thoughts and her actions.

Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes, Simon & Schuster 2015