Guess who’s back?

What can I say, that last ‘Come At Me, Books!’ dare really took it out of me. Well, that and surgery back in January where they took my gallbladder out of me too. Yes, I’ve had surgery twice during a global pandemic – that must be some sort of a record. I’ve also been very busy with working on my script for the Playwrights’ Studio Scotland Mentored Playwrights programme – starting work on Act II today, and that’s daunting. Am I procrastinating by writing this blog post? Possibly. All of that being said, I realise I said awhile ago that I’d have to just accept that my posts here will be sporadic at best, but really… my last post was in November and it’s now the last week of March. Get it together, me.

Anyway, I’m afraid I’m not here with a review, but I do have a small update in the form of a list of books I’ve recently read that I’ve enjoyed but haven’t reviewed – I should have at the time but now I’d need to re-read them again to give them the review they deserve.

A less complicated explanation for this list: Good books. Would give four or five stars in review. Haven’t actually written review. Whoops. Please read these books anyway – trust me, they’re good.

All blurbs are from Goodreads.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company’s value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley.

Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan

A shocking collection of dark stories, ranging from chilling contemporary fairytales to disturbing supernatural fiction.

Alone in a remote house in Iceland a woman is unnerved by her isolation; another can only find respite from the clinging ghost that follows her by submerging herself in an overgrown pool. Couples wrestle with a lack of connection to their children; a schoolgirl becomes obsessed with the female anatomical models in a museum; and a cheery account of child’s day out is undercut by chilling footnotes.

These dark tales explore women’s fears with electrifying honesty and invention and speak to one another about female bodies, domestic claustrophobia, desire and violence.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Balram, the White Tiger, was born in a backwater village on the River Ganges, the son of a rickshaw-puller. He works in a teashop, crushing coal and wiping tables, but nurses a dream of escape. When he learns that a rich village landlord needs a chauffeur, he takes his opportunity, and is soon on his way to Delhi behind the wheel of a Honda. Amid the cockroaches and call-centres, the 36,000,004 gods, the slums, the shopping malls, and the crippling traffic jams, Balram learns of a new morality at the heart of a new India. Driven by desire to better himself, he comes to see how the Tiger might escape his cage…

Pain and Prejudice: A Call to Arms for Women and Their Bodies by Gabrielle Jackson

A timely and powerful look at how our culture treats the pain and suffering of women.

‘Women are in pain, all through their bodies; they’re in pain with their periods, and while having sex; they have pelvic pain, migraine, headaches, joint aches, painful bladders, irritable bowels, sore lower backs, muscle pain, vulval pain, vaginal pain, jaw pain, muscle aches. And many are so, so tired … But women’s pain is all too often dismissed, their illnesses misdiagnosed or ignored. In medicine, man is the default human being. Any deviation is atypical, abnormal, deficient.’

Fourteen years after being diagnosed with endometriosis, Gabrielle Jackson couldn’t believe how little had changed in the treatment and knowledge of the disease. In 2015, her personal story kick-started a worldwide investigation into the disease by The Guardian; thousands of women got in touch to tell their own stories and many more read and shared the material. What began as one issue led Jackson to explore how women – historically and through to the present day – are under-served by the systems that should keep them happy, healthy and informed about their bodies.

Pain and Prejudice is a vital testament to how social taboos and medical ignorance keep women sick and in anguish. The stark reality is that women’s pain is not taken as seriously as men’s. Women are more likely to be disbelieved and denied treatment than men, even though women are far more likely to be suffering from chronic pain.

In a potent blend of personal memoir and polemic, Jackson confronts the private concerns and questions women face regarding their health and medical treatment. Pain and Prejudice, finally, explains how we got here, and where we need to go next.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

The unforgettable, inspiring story of a teenage girl growing up in a rural Nigerian village who longs to get an education so that she can find her “louding voice” and speak up for herself, The Girl with the Louding Voice is a simultaneously heartbreaking and triumphant tale about the power of fighting for your dreams.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her path, Adunni never loses sight of her goal of escaping the life of poverty she was born into so that she can build the future she chooses for herself – and help other girls like her do the same.

Her spirited determination to find joy and hope in even the most difficult circumstances imaginable will “break your heart and then put it back together again” (Jenna Bush Hager on The Today Show) even as Adunni shows us how one courageous young girl can inspire us all to reach for our dreams…and maybe even change the world.

Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain by Sathnam Sanghera

In his brilliantly illuminating new book Sathnam Sanghera demonstrates how so much of what we consider to be modern Britain is actually rooted in our imperial past. In prose that is, at once, both clear-eyed and full of acerbic wit, Sanghera shows how our past is everywhere: from how we live to how we think, from the foundation of the NHS to the nature of our racism, from our distrust of intellectuals in public life to the exceptionalism that imbued the campaign for Brexit and the government’s early response to the Covid crisis. And yet empire is a subject, weirdly hidden from view.

The British Empire ran for centuries and covered vast swathes of the world. It is, as Sanghera reveals, fundamental to understanding Britain. However, even among those who celebrate the empire there seems to be a desire not to look at it too closely – not to include the subject in our school history books, not to emphasize it too much in our favourite museums.

At a time of great division, when we are arguing about what it means to be British, Sanghera’s book urges us to address this bewildering contradiction. For, it is only by stepping back and seeing where we really come from, that we can begin to understand who we are, and what unites us.

50 Things About Us by Mark Thomas

In 50 Things About Us, Mark Thomas combines his trademark mix of storytelling, stand-up, mischief and really, really well-researched material to examine how we have come to inhabit this divided wasteland that some of us call the United Kingdom. Based on his latest show, 50 Things About Us, Mark picks through the myths, historical facts and current figures of our national identities to ask: who do we think we are?

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

The Tsar of Love and Techno begins in 1930s Leningrad, where a failed portrait artist is tasked by Soviet censors to erase political dissenters from official images and artworks. One day, he receives an antique painting of a dacha inside a box of images meant to be altered. The mystery behind this painting reverberates through the stories that follow, which take us through a century as they thread together a cast of characters including a Siberian beauty queen, a young soldier in the battlefields of Chechnya, the Head of the Grozny Tourist Bureau, a ballerina performing for the camp director of a gulag and many others.

I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite

When Candice fell pregnant and stepped into the motherhood playing field, she found her experience bore little resemblance to the glossy magazine experience in Great Britain today. Leafing through the piles of prenatal paraphernalia, she found herself wondering: “Where are all the black mothers?”.

Candice started blogging about motherhood in 2016 after making the simple but powerful observation that the way motherhood is portrayed in the British media is wholly unrepresentative of our society at large. The author writes with humour, but with straight-talk about facing hurdles such as white privilege, racial micro-aggression and unconscious bias at every point.

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge.

Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, Salt Slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.

Winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018, Armfield is a writer of sharp, lyrical prose and tilting dark humour – Salt Slow marks the arrival of an ambitious and singular new voice.

I hope you found something you’re interested in among my recommendations – and hopefully it won’t be months before I’m back, with a proper review this time.

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