Book reviews from Nurse Fancy Pants

Chloe, otherwise known as Nurse Fancy Pants, is back with us today with a round-up of books she has read recently. Perhaps there’s a new book for you to read here?

A lot of excellent books have passed through my hands over the last few months. Now I’m excited for what Autumn and Winter brings, reading wise, as Summer has been so kind. But first. Here’s what I read in April and May.

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

I’m a big My Favourite Murder fan and when they mentioned this True Crime book by journalist Michelle McNamara, I had to read it. The GSK (Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist), committed 12 murders, over 50 rapes and 100 burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986. Up until very recently he had never been caught, in spite of a wealth of evidence, including DNA.

Bizarrely, I started reading this the week before the GSK was caught, which made it even creepier finishing it. McNamara sadly passed away before this happened but it’s partly due to her that he was found- she coined the moniker “Golden State Killer” and really brought his crimes and his victims back into the public conscious. She actually died before she could complete the book so the last third reads a bit disjointed- it’s put together by other people with her notes. I obviously don’t hold that against her but it does make it a less cohesive read.

There’s also quite a lot of repetition when it comes to his M.O. I felt a bit like, we understand how he committed these crimes and reading the details of his cruelty over and over again was really unpleasant. I more felt like she did that for each victim but it still was difficult to get through. Having said that, if you’re a true crime fan, then this is one you’ll definitely want to read.

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

This has been on a lot of people’s “must-read” lists this year, so I had to get it when I spotted it on Audible. I generally like these sort of books; self-introspection with a side of light heartedness. Dolly Alderton is a journalist/columnist in her late twenties and I felt like that really came across in her memoirs. You know the way the TV show Girls was heavily focused on the self obsession of twenty-something year olds? That’s how this felt to me, and being in my mid-thirties, I feel like I’ve moved on from that and so struggled a bit with some of the chapters in Everything I Know About Love.

It took me a while to get into the first half of it. I thought the parts where she touched on her issues with alcohol and disordered eating were on the verge of being insightful but that really only became prevalent later in the book.

There was much about her jealousy of her best friend finding love and happiness and that was a difficult read, to be honest. I suppose it was brave of her to include it as it doesn’t reflect well on her at all, but it wasn’t enjoyable to read.

The chapter on her going to therapy was well written and the heavy focus on female friendship was excellent. It was a stand-out for me actually, reading this book. Similarly, the chapter on Florence, her friend’s little sister was heartbreaking and beautifully written.

Like a lot of books in this genre, there was some filler thrown in, with some of her old columns shoved in there and overall, I didn’t laugh as much as other people seem to have reading it. That might just be me being cantankerous though.

The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle* by Stuart Turton

This is one of my favourite books of the year so far. Described as a mix between Agatha Christie, Quantum Leap, and Inception, this is a murder mystery set in a big old country house, but with a twist. There’s lots of literary tropes you’ll recognise here; the aforementioned country house for one, a murder victim with many potential culprits, old school clothes and weapons (it’s set in the 1920’s) but the author meshes that all together with some sci-fi thrown in, making it feel new and fresh.

Our narrator wakes up in a forest, in someone else’s body, covered in blood. He makes it back to the house where he finds out that his name is Aiden Bishop, there’s going to be a murder and he has 8 chances to solve it. 8 chances meaning 8 days, each day will be the same day (Groundhog Day thrown in for good measure too).

Each day he’ll wake up in a new host’s body; some are helpful to his cause; young and agile, while others deter him further; old and immobile, drugged, psychopathic etc.

Lots more obstacles are placed in his path as he slowly begins to unravel the mystery and find out why he’s there in the first place. If he doesn’t solve the case, he’s stuck there forever, so the heat is very much on. Practically every page has some new twist so I did find it slightly confusing at times and it can be quite dark. Having said that, it’s probably the most original story of this genre that I’ve ever read and it was a real treat for someone like me, who loves a good murder mystery. I’d highly recommend this one.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

I’ve read a few of the late, great Nora Ephron’s books before (and of course, I’ve seen the films), but Heartburn kept popping up on those “books you have to read” lists and so I found it on Audible, read by Meryl Streep (who also acted in the film adaptation).

Rachel is a cookery writer, she’s seven months into her pregnancy with her husband Mark, when she finds out he’s cheating on her. It’s narrated by Rachel so we hear all her thoughts – whether or not to take him back, to kill him or forgive him, all mixed up with her favourite recipes. I enjoyed this and I really liked Rachel but I think that was definitely helped by the amazing Meryl on audio.

Watch Me* by Jody Gehrman

Watch Me is a tale of obsessive love gone very badly wrong, but with a twist. Kate Youngblood is a creative writing professor, intent on getting tenure in the college where she works.

Lately she’s been feeling somewhat isolated; her best friend has had a baby, leaving their friendship on hold and her husband has left her for a woman ten years younger than her. Added to that, her second novel has failed to garner any of the praise or success of her first, and overall she feels like she’s losing at life.

The one glimmer of hope is the weird intensity of her budding friendship with her student, Sam Grist, who is both an excellent writer and can apparently see right into her soul. He can see right into her soul because he’s stalking her and has been in her house and through her things, but Kate of course, doesn’t know that.

As Sam’s obsession grows, Kate senses something is not quite right but in her vulnerable state, almost refuses to see it. Parts of this psychological thriller seemed slightly ridiculous to me but then when I finished the book I thought long and hard about the nature of loneliness and what we’ll do as a species to feel connected to each other. The portrayal of Kate as an insecure, ageing woman, on the surface glad not to face catcalls from men anymore, but secretly missing the attention, did feel realistic, even if some of her actions were really difficult to countenance.

The Last Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine

I try and be measured with book reviews. I don’t like to be overly negative; one woman’s trash is another’s treasure after all, but I struggled with this one.

The first half of this book is unbearably slow. I pushed through on holidays and got to 50%. Then I gave up, cause as I always say; life is too short for bad books. However, I then began spotting this book everywhere; it was picked for Reese Witherspoon’s book club, loads of people on Goodreads were saying “push past the first half, it’s SO worth it!”, and so I did.

To be fair, I finished the second half in a couple of hours and it did flow much better than the first, but that ending. Oh lord no.

Daphne Parrish seemingly has it all; married to the handsome and wealthy Jackson, with two beautiful daughters, a stunning home and a group of similarly rich friends at her beck and call. And Amber wants it all. Posing as a plain Jane who wants to help with Daphne’s charity work, she soon worms her way into the Parrish’s life, with a view to usurping Daphne and becoming Jackson’s new wife. Amber’s awful internal monologue is the entire first half of the book. No one is that evil; people are shades of good and bad, never just one or the other. It’s poor form to write a character who has literally no redeeming qualities, but that aside, she’s also not a very interesting person to read about for 300 or so pages. Daphne is certainly a more enjoyable read, and she takes over for the rest of the book, thankfully, although her experiences contain unpleasant subject material that was difficult to absorb.

That twist though (because you know there’s always a twist). I won’t give too much away but I had figured it out for the most part. As despicable a character as Amber is, I was really horrified by the ending of this book and the message it sends about violence against women. I can’t say anymore than that but really that tipped me over the age to hating this one, if the ending had been better it could have redeemed itself, but as it stands, it’s a firm no from me (insert Simon Cowell gif).

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Someone Who’s Been There by Cheryl Strayed

I read Wild last year and really enjoyed it, so when I heard Tiny Beautiful Things being discussed on My Favourite Murder (I get my book suggestions from other places than there, promise!), I had to get it.

The audio version is read by Strayed herself, and she has a really calming, gentle voice, which is so pleasant to listen to.

Sugar was an online anonymous columnist that became incredibly popular, thousands of people turned to Sugar for her brilliant life advice. It’s since been revealed that Sugar was of course, Cheryl Strayed.

This is a compilation of some of those letters and replies from Sugar, many of which stopped me in my tracks. Cheryl shares a lot of her own life experiences in her replies, which at times felt a bit like she was saying “hey look, I’ve had it worse”, but somehow she still manages to turn it around with some really sterling, life-changing advice. I also cried more than once, it’s an emotional rollercoaster and definitely worth a read!

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Translated from Italian, the Neapolitan series are four books (this is book one) about the lives of two friends, Lila and Elena, from childhood onwards. Both have very different personalities and we follow them as their lives veer off into different courses in the poor neighbourhood in Naples they are growing up in. I read this while we toured around the Amalfi coast so I have a bit of a soft spot for it, but as I didn’t really like any of the characters, I’m not feeling a major sense of urgency to read the next three in the series. Although I probably will at some point, even if I need to go back to Sorrento a further three times (any excuse) to do so.

And that, is that. June and July get their own months cause I was a reading machine throughout so I’ll be getting on to writing up those reviews soon. Have you read any of these? What are you reading right now?

*Denotes that books were provided for review, in this case by NetGalley. I was not paid for these reviews and as always, all opinions are my own.

Chloe is a Dublin-based Nurse & Midwife who loves to read in her spare time. This collection of reviews first appeared on her blog, Nurse Fancy Pants, on Wednesday 15 August 2018. It is republished here with permission.

1 Comment

  1. Niamh
    5 September, 2018 / 7:56 am

    Fantastic recommendations. I was gifted the four My Brilliant Friend books by a brilliant friend before my surgery and devoured them afterwards. Read all 4 in about 3 days. They are fantastic and wonderfully distracting! Highly recommend.

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