Cover Image: Pretending


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Member Reviews

I am a massive fan on Holly Bourne however this is the darkest book I have read by her so far. It covers some really difficult but important topics and I think this is done in a really realistic way. A difficult read but an important one.
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I’ve been meaning to pick up some of Holly Bourne’s previous work for quite some time now. 
But if you’re already a fan, I’ve got a feeling you will love her first foray into adult fiction as well. 
This is about life and love, as well as dating after trauma. And it is powerful, honest and so refreshing to read.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Trigger warning for rape.

I really love this authors YA writing, and I think this is where her skills really flourish. I have read the author’s other adult novel and I really didn’t enjoy it, but wanted to give this one a fair go. However I found the character very immature considering she was meant to be in her thirties (perhaps making the concept better suited to a teen character or very early twenties). I also found the gender stereotypes a bit old fashioned which was a surprise from this author. And it was very hard to like or dislike the character, she just didn’t seem real. 

As a survivor myself, I think the author trying to highlight issues relating to sexual assault etc is great, but I just don’t think the book did the best thing it could with the subject matter, sadly. 

I will continue to enjoy Bourne’s YA work as I work with teens, but I don’t think the adult novels she produces are mature enough for the intended audience.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy of this book for review
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It sounds cliché: a 33 year old woman with a terrible love life hates all men and decides to pretend to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to get a guy… Then accidentally starts falling for said guy. But, it couldn’t be less predictable. 

Holly Bourne is incredibly talented at discussing feminist topics and Pretending is no different. It asks questions about ‘men hating feminists’ and if marriage and children should be the default, or even something to aspire to. The complexity of conversations and the natural way they are interwoven with April’s character development is flawless.

That’s the wild thing about reading a Holly Bourne book. No matter if it’s YA or adult, all of her characters have distinctive, strong voices. No book is the same but every book is consistently brilliant. I loved the female friendships depicted in Pretending and the varied ways they could exist - from Megan the room-mate to the Better Out Than In girls. Reading about how multiple women in the book have struggled in their relationships and tried a variety of ways to ‘solve’ their life added to April’s story, but also made the supporting characters interesting and valuable. 

Likewise, the way Joshua (the guy April tries to fool) is described was wonderfully clever. He seems different - but is he actually? He seems nice - but he does annoying things too, so does that mean he’s wrong for April? She can see his good sides and his flaws, so what does that mean? Every aspect of the story was well thought out, and April’s work at a sex and relationships charity clearly stems from Bourne’s own experiences. I could not stop reading this book but the ending was absolutely flawless! It’s one of the best endings I’ve read this year and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.
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A book starting with the sentence "I hate men" was bound to be compelling, but Holly Bourne carefully peels the layers behind a lot of the thoughts and feelings women carry about men and relationship expectations. The feeling after reading is like a light shining on the inside of your soul and forcing you to let go of the rubbish you've been collecting. Great read
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I'm in two minds about this book. Whilst I enjoyed the content and the characters, I felt that the plot was a little repetitive at times. Pretending is an incredibly powerful book but it felt like it was lacking in something for me. At times the novel felt more like an autobiography than fiction and while the book is very much some people's reality, I wasn't sure which camp the book fell into at times.
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I really enjoyed Pretending. I've read most of Holly Bourne's books now, and have enjoyed all. She's a great Author.  I always look forward to reading her new Work.

Pretending is such an important book. It deals with sensitive and heavy topics. Relationships, sexual abuse, rape, trauma, ptsd and mental health. 

The Main Character is called April, she's kind and caring, and just wants to find a decent guy, Mr right. After some truly horrific dates, she thinks she can't find a nice and genuine guy as herself, as she believes guys can't deal with commitment and emotions, so she decides to start Pretending to be a girl called Gretel. 

Gretel doesn't exist, but in April's head she is a perfect, care free, sexy, fun and cool girl that guys would want to be with. She starts taking on the Gretel persona, and thinks "What would Gretel do?, say?" etc... It gets out of control and she has to face the consequences, as things start to unravel around her...

The writing in this book flows well, it's easy to follow and to get immersed into the story. 

The book centres around relationships mainly and dating, and the behaviours of men, pressure, lies, emotions, sex, history and there is just so much more to this book, I don't want to explain too much of the story. I just highly reccomend you pick up this book for yourself. 

It's important to remember though, that although Holly, usually writes YA, this book is aimed at Adult Fiction, as the topics could be quite triggering for some.

I'm still processing my thoughts about this Book, so Full review to come.

*Trigger warnings * Mentions of sexual abuse/assault.

*Thank you to Netgalley, Hodder and Stoughton and Holly for my E-copy*
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CW: Rape, sexual assault, PTSD, trauma.

Pretending was not an easy read. It asks some painful, complicated and difficult questions but it answers them with courage, understanding and an overall empowering message of hope. 

April is a rape survivor and decides, after yet another failed attempt to date someone new and move on from her trauma, that she will create an alias - "Gretel" - whereby she will be every man's fantasy and hence have all the power in the relationship. Detached, cool, not needy, no baggage. She will act like a woman who has never experienced sexual violence. She will treat men like they have treated her - for her own needs, serving a purpose, nothing more. It doesn't quite go to plan. 

Add to this April's job, which is working as a team leader for a sexual health and trauma helpline/charity. She loves the work but finds herself regularly triggered by it. Needless to say, April has a few more painful experiences - as herself and as Gretel - until she realises she can't keep pretending.

This book takes gender power imbalances and male privilege to task, and then some. It is a powerful, sad, angry and visceral portrayal of life after rape and sexual assault, exploring with sensitivity the pain of having to function after such a trauma in a society that by and large doesn't really understand, has a tendency to blame the victim and constantly questions whether you are entitled to your anger and pain. 

Bourne explains: "The thing about being a victim of rape is that you are constantly a source of discomfort. To yourself, as well as others. So many men have sex with women who have been raped, and yet they do not know it. Because the women don't tell them, because, here's the thing: being raped is the least sexy thing ever. It has nothing to do with sex and yet everything to do with sex...You don't want to be the broken one. Especially as it wasn't your fault this happened to you, although, of course, something you worry it was your fault. So you pretend, a lot, that you're fine. That you're like the other girls. But...maybe you are pretending to be a woman everyone else is pretending to be too?" 

You might be forgiven for thinking this is a heavy and hard read, and it is, in places. But why this book works so well is because the "pretending" in it is duplicitous, giving the story light as well as the necessary dark. There is the "pretending" that everyone does, especially with online dating apps (how many people pretend they want to travel to Africa and climb Mt Kilimanjaro, for example!) which makes for some rather hilarious moments; and then there is the pretending where you conceal deep, painful trauma, attempting to live as though it never happened.  

No spoilers - but it ends on a resilient, realistic and hopeful note. If you have ever doubted yourself, your strength or your worth, you will feel quite differently by the end of Pretending.

By no means an easy read, but an important one. I hope a lot of men read it. 

With thanks to the author, publisher and Netgalley for an ARC.
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On the fence with this one, as delved into some important issues about rape, trauma and recovery, but failed to hit the mark for me. Plot was a bit unconvincing and flat in places and I felt uninspired by the min characters.
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I was genuinely unimpressed with the book beginning with a rant about hating men, which was then followed by a short "oh never mind, he messaged back". It felt very trite and would've worked better if the rant hadn't been so long and all encompassing. It's never good to start reading a book with a bad taste in your mouth straight away from the first page.

At 50% in the attitude of the book was still really awful towards men. It was acting as if rage and being angry in the long term is healthy in any way, when it isn't. The main character was just unlikable. She lied to a homeless man that she doesn't have any change but felt good about herself because she didn't outright ignore him. Bizarre.

The book never really lifts despite finally throwing in the opinion that maybe rage and hatred of all men is not totally normal or healthy. But then the main character never learns her lesson about that in any real way - she goes to one therapy session and realises it's maybe more about her rather than all men and still manages to keep her boyfriend despite all the lies she told him.

It was, as always from this author, well written, but the book just thoroughly depressed me. It just did. No other words. That anyone would think this way about half the population, no matter what trauma they personally have been through. I just could not relate.
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I mentioned in my review of Holly Bourne’s How Do You Like Me Now? that I fell for the Bridget-Jones-esque surface, only to be surprised by the hidden depths of desperation.  You know that saying, ‘Fool me once…’!

Pretending completely blindsided me.

As the book started, I found myself instantly irritated with April and her constant obsession with how she is perceived by others.  The man-hating spiels seemed over-the-top in their venomous misandry and, when April takes on the persona of ‘perfect’ Gretel, her tips and rules are actually quite painful to read – the sarcasm so bitter it bites off the page.  I was fooled into thinking this would be a romcom of errors, where the heroine would make a series of silly slip-ups before falling gracefully into a romantic relationship with Mr Right.


Slowly, as the story progresses, Holly Bourne reveals the cracks in April’s cynical facade.  We see a woman who has been through a serious personal trauma, and who now deals with other people’s traumas day in, day out, to the point of burnout.  The constant drip of sexual violence and domestic abuse incidents that April is exposed to via her job has taken its toll on her mental health and wellbeing, and she is clearly not coping, no matter how much she and Gretel think she is.

At this point I will throw in the obligatory content warning for rape. The depiction is not graphically detailed, but the emotional representation is raw, authentic and absolutely awful.  And then there are also the emails April receives at work, dealing with all forms of violence and abuse.  The misandry is a side effect of this toxic barrage and April has simply lost sight of the tools to deal with her feelings in a healthy way.  Enter Gretel.

Gretel allows April to shift her harshly critical, judgemental filter from its internal focus – ripping apart her every thought and action – to an external focus on the rest of the world.  Neither is particularly healthy, but then, healing is a process and Gretel is the defence mechanism that is easing April through the first steps. It’s just unfortunate that Mr Might-Be-Right turns up while Gretel is still deployed and the real April is still in hiding from the world.

The story is told through a mixture of April’s point of view, text and email exchanges, and sections of Gretel’s “advice column” on how to deal with romance and not being yourself.

The slow build-up of lies and pain is nerve-racking to read, and the cathartic release of tension when events finally came to a head actually felt quite cleansing.  I especially liked that the author resisted tying things up neatly with a perfect happy ending, instead sticking to the realistic view that serious mental and emotional trauma takes more than a bit of love and romance to resolve.

Much deeper and more emotionally wrenching than the average contemporary romance, Pretending has deep emotional undercurrents and speaks strongly to those who have experienced or witnessed male-on-female aggression and oppression, in a way that manages to be both lightly entertaining and heartbreaking at the same time.



While it’s easy to get carried away, make sure you spend some time looking out for yourself.  Dating can be exhausting,, even if it’s going well, so get well-rehearsed in the empowering act of self-care.  Run yourself a bubble bath; put on a facemask; light a candle; treat yourself to some cashmere-covered stationery and write lists of everything you feel grateful for.  You deserve it.  I mean, there’s no significant trauma with resulting long-lasting mental-health issues that can’t be fixed with a sheet mask and writing you’re glad it was sunny today in calligraphy.

– Holly Bourne, Pretending

Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog
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Trigger warnings: Sexual assault & trauma

I'm a huge fan of Holly Bourne's YA novels, as well as her adult debut 'How Do You Like Me Now?', so I couldn't wait to get my hands on her second adult novel, 'Pretending'. Educational , yet hilarious, Holly has written another relatable book with an important message about sexual assault. 

The story of 'Pretending' is told through the eyes of April, a young woman who has been sexually assaulted in the past, as she responds and attempts to process her trauma. Declaring her hatred of all men, April decides that she will get revenge by pretending to be the perfect, problem-free Gretel in order to gain and hold power in her next relationship.

I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it due to its important messages, and the fact that I like the author's writing style. The ending was a tad disappointing, but this didn't detract from a great book.
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Pretending – Holly Bourne
Oh Holly Bourne, how I love thee, let me count the ways. Honestly, I was already convinced that Holly Bourne is nothing sort of a genius. She’s long been one of my go-to authors and Pretending, her second journey into adult fiction, is definitely up there with one of my favourites of the year.

April is kind, pretty, and relatively normal – yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry.
If only April could be more like Gretel.
Gretel is exactly what men want – she’s a Regular Everyday Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door With No Problems.
The problem is, Gretel isn’t real. And April is now claiming to be her.
As soon as April starts ‘being’ Gretel, dating becomes much more fun – especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua.
Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?
Ok, before we go any further, let’s take a moment to go through some trigger warnings – I’d hate to recommend something that would upset someone. This book features a sexual health charity which deals with sexual assaults, our main character is dealing with trauma from an assault and of course, she is also catfishing someone which could be difficult for you – so you know be aware.
With that taken care of, let me give you a few reasons this is a book that is worthy of your time.
	•	Holly Bourne knows how to write women in all their complexities
	•	She also handles difficult topics with sensitivity
	•	Pretending covers important and difficult subjects without being preachy, making light or minimalisig but still being fun and engaging.

Basically, Holly Bourne has produced yet another incredible, hard hitting and thought provoking read. I’m adding whatever comes next straight to my TBR.
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April wants to be more like Gretal, but Gretal isn’t real. She is an alter ego who every man wants. When ‘Gretal’ meets the unsuspecting Joshua, what happens when feelings intense and real life comes into perspective. How will Joshua react when April becomes in control and Gretal disappears?

A romantic comedy with a twist, Pretending is a powerful, emotional and pretty hilarious novel about modern day life. My first novel by Holly Bourne had me so engrossed I couldn’t put it down, reading all 448 pages within 48 hours. I related a lot to April, all the thoughts she has I’m sure every woman dating in their 20s/30s has also had. It’s a tough old dating world out there. Gretal, though, she irritated me to no end! When you read this one, you’ll see what I mean. I loved the premise to this book, so unique and special. Exploring themes of sexual violence and mental health issues, we learn through April how important it is to be true to yourself and how your friends are everything you ever truly need.

I’m now a loyal Holly Bourne fan and I can’t wait to read more from her.
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What a beautifully raw and honest book by a wonderful author. She is quite literally on my top list of authors and all of her books are an automatic purchase. I was hooked from the first line of the book "I hate men" (don't we all girl). But this is a wonderfully written story of sexual objectification and abuse and self worth, the main character April is completely lovable and her story makes you feel as though you're a part of it.

The only thing that was disappointing was the lack of supporting character hype. Lots of side characters but no real filling to their stories or their lives, we learn snippets about their past but not enough for them to feel solidified and a real part of the story.

Other than that I loved it I really did and it will not put me off reading her other books - theres still a few I haven't read so thats where I'll be heading next!
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DNF. I really wanted to like this book but I just found it really hard to get into and I just couldn't connect with any of the characters whatsoever. It had such premise but in the end it just let me down.
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Holly Bourne's writing style is incredibly real, witty, sharp, on-the-nose, and incredibly emotive. Pretending, her second adult novel, tells us the tale of April and her forays into online dating, as well as her disillusionment with the quest for the 'cool girl'. A little like the 'cool girl' of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, April devises a cool girl who's every bit as fake as Amy is, Gretel. Just your regular everyday manic pixie dream girl next door with no problems, Gretel is able to hide all of the messy, real parts of April that are weighing down her life.
I didn't finish this one. Not because it's not good - it is. It's excellent! Holly Bourne is incredibly skilled, and I really look forward to coming back to this when I'm in a better headspace. But Pretending, the first 20% at any rate, is not for the faint of heart. It's brutally honest, and while it's delivered with a light hand and a stylistic, feminist flourish that underpins the seriousness of the issues that Bourne is dealing with, it's still dealing with some pretty weighty topics. So it's excellent, that which I did read, but for me it's a book for a more cheerful, stable time, when I'm able to dedicate headspace to the nuanced and sophisticated views Bourne puts forward through her protagonist.
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I didn’t enjoy this book at all although I did read it to the end but I found it quite boring - sorry not for me!
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There was a 50/50 chance I was going to love Holly Bourne's new adult offering Pretending.  I read one of her YA books, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting and found it to be quite problematic but I read her first adult novel How Do You Like Me Now? and though it was fantastic. Pretending could have gone either way.

Pretending, published in April, is about April - nope, not a typo, just a weird looking sentence. April is looking for love, but she can't get past date 5 before whoever it is she's dating turning out to be an asshat. Turns out that guys don't want a girl like April. They want a Gretel - perfect pretty sexy girl-next-door Gretel with ho hang ups and no insecurities and here just for a good time. April decides to become Gretel. Like, actually, she sets up a fake dating profile and goes all in pretending to be a person she's not. Dating is much more fun as Gretel - especially once she meets Joshua. But can she keep up the pretence?

I loved it. I feel like I should say at this juncture though that this book deals heavily with issues of rape and sexual assault - in case that's a trigger for you.

I couldn't put it down and whilst it didn't get under my skin in the same way How Do You Like Me Now did  - that book could have been written for me and about me I swear - I did find it to be timely and relevant and important and very very readable.

Holly Bourne writes like she's in your head - she gets it, what it's like to be a woman right now / to be in love / to be not in love / to be dating / to have a best friend / to not know what you're doing with your life. She writes it all like she gets it and its nice to read books like that - that make you feel seen and give you that 'oh me too' feeling. It's full of wry and often harsh truths about what it's like to be a woman (generally, not just on the dating scene) and whilst I didn't personally relate to this one as much, I can still totally see how people will, how it will become a book they hold aloft and say, 'this, yes, this is what I have been trying to say.'

It's a funny book in parts - darkly funny but funny nonetheless - but it's serious too. April is recovering from a trauma and that whole story line, which is a major theme throughout the book, is sensitively and intelligently done, and never used as a mechanism for driving the story forward or for kicks. it's a story that matters and it as handled as such. It teaches self acceptance and is bursting with themes of abuse and PTSD and recovery and stereotypes and cat fishing and gas-lighting and friendship and it handles all of them pretty well and it says a lot abut Bourne's writing that whilst I didn't always like April and I certainly didn't understand some of her choices, I never stopped rooting for her.

April works at a charity that deals with anything from people asking if they can get pregnant from a toilet seat to genuine appeals from rape victims and sometimes their perpetrators and I loved that side to the story. I found it so so interesting and watching how April handled that side of her life along side the aftermath of her own sexual assault was so clever - and so so moving.

I do wish the background characters were a little more developed; April is so whole and complex and real that everybody else felt flat and that's a shame because this book could have been so much richer if those other characters had been deeper but overall this book ticked a lot of boxes for me. Holly Bourne is now on the 'yes I  like her' list rather than the 'hit or miss.'
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After reading Hollys previous book I was excited to get stuck into this one. From the first line 'I hate men' and the dialogue after I was taken with it and finished it in two days. I loved how Holly had us questioning whether the man Amber chooses is really good enough for her and whether being nice is really enough - this book makes you reflect on your own life and is just beautiful. Highly recommend.
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