A Few Book Reviews…

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

I’ve had some conflicted feelings about this series so far; the first couple of books seemed to be an amalgamation of a bunch of other popular dystopian YA novels, repackaged and resold. However, I couldn’t stop myself from picking up the sequels, so I’m probably not in any position to criticise – and if you want a story that will keep you turning the pages then this is a good place to go. I actually thought that King’s Cage was the best of the three, because it started to deviate a little from the expected storylines and gave some new perspectives on the storylines from other characters, but I still wasn’t totally blown away. I found the main characters hard to connect and sympathise with; I don’t care if characters are ‘likeable’ but when you know you’re supposed to be rooting for them, it can be tricky if you just don’t really care… Some of the fringe characters feel more interesting and fleshed out to me than Mare, the supposed heroine, and I find myself not caring about the love triangle she finds herself in – despite there being a lot of potential in it as a storyline. In fact, that’s what the whole book felt a bit like to me – wasted potential; there’s a lot of promise but despite my coming back for more each time, I leave a little disappointed. 

Ctrl, Alt; Delete by Emma Gannon 

I have seen this book lauded across the Internet as a relatable memoir about growing up online, and what that means for our generation. And I think I get why; at times, Emma is candid about her own experiences at the hands of the Internet – from the moments where she was the victim, to moments where she used it in slightly nefarious ways herself, as I think we have all done. A lot of her anecdotes were achingly familiar for someone who found the Internet at a similar time, and who has equally made her life and career online – from MSN messenger conversations to typing out blog posts to making friends online, long before that was cool. But, for all her candidness, I also felt a level of detachment in the writing that made it hard to actually ‘relate’ to the author as she charted her journey to adulthood. For me, the book couldn’t quite decide whether it was a memoir that spoke of the author’s learning curve, or whether it was cultural criticism of what the Internet has done to our generation. As the former, it didn’t dig deep enough to satisfy me, and as the latter, there were a lot of speculations and generalisations that didn’t hold water for this erstwhile sociologist. The premise was interesting, and definitely something I want to see explored more as we live longer with the Internet as the background to our lives, but this just didn’t hit the spot for me. 

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus*

If you want an addictive YA novel to see you through your summer holidays, then please pick this one up; it was smart, thrilling and excellently paced – and one of the only books that I have raced through this year, unwilling to become distracted from the storyline. Five strangers walk into detention, but only four walk out alive. When Simon, creator of a gossip website reminiscent of Gossip Girl, but even meaner, and focused on the students of Bayview High, dies under suspicious circumstances, his fellow detention attendees become suspects – especially when it’s revealed that they all had something to hide that Simon was threatening to expose… On the surface, this was a traditional ‘whodunnit’ read, that kept you guessing as pieces of the puzzle were slowly revealed or, rather, it kept me guessing because I am always terrible at working out the plot until it’s right in front of me – but I suspect that even if you do guess, you’ll still enjoy this novel enormously. Whilst the characters are described as the typical YA/high school stereotypes in the blurb (jock, prom queen, nerd…), they were written with complexity and sensitivity and given unexpected but realistic plot lines that made them more than just bit-part players in a murder mystery. Their lives were messy and real, and I’d have been happy to read about them even without the thriller/mystery element of the plot. I don’t want to give too much away, so you really must read this one for yourself! 

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon*

Oh, my heart. This book is so adorable and precious, and it will fill you with joy. Sure, it’s a little unrealistic in places (namely, the ending) but do I care when it gives me such a happy feeling? No, not really. Dimple just wants to escape her over-bearing mother and ace her summer web coding programme. Rishi just wants to please his parents and impress his future wife. I want them to just fall in love and live happily ever after. After a very adorable meet cute, in which Dimple has *no clue* that her parents have arranged a marriage with Rishi’s parents behind her back, the two start a slightly rocky friendship. They think they have each other pegged, but as the summer progresses and they reveal their hidden depths to each other and love might just find them after all. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll definitely fall in love with these characters – with fierce, determined Dimple and sweet, soulful Rishi, as well as their friends and family. I never wanted this book to end; I wanted to stay wrapped in its warm embrace forever more – but the best I can do is to pass the recommendation on to you! 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

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World Book Day: My Life in Books

I have always been a big reader, from insisting my parents reread Postman Pat to me for the thousandth time, to today when I would usually rather pick up a book than do almost anything else. Reading has been integral to my life and who I am, so it’s pretty natural that World Book Day brings me a lot of joy every year. I live for those round ups of kids dressed in their favourite character costumes (fun fact: I won first place for my Mildred Hubble costume when I was in Year 4). Understandably, after almost 30 years of reading, my tastes have changed somewhat, so I thought it might be fun to have a look back over my life in books… 

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton 

Enid Blyton was my first ‘favourite’ author, and I loved everything she wrote from The Magic Faraway Tree to Mallory Towers but it was The Famous Five that truly captured my imagination. Her books are full of adventure, whimsy and nostalgia, and I wanted to be a part of the gang so badly. I received the full set for my seventh (or maybe eighth?) birthday, and read them all cover to cover until it felt like I was friends with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy, going off to their private island and foiling the plots of smugglers. 

The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson 

Like all girls my age, I was a big fan of Jacqueline Wilson books and it’s hard to pick a true favourite as I’m sure at any one time I would have cited a different one – other runners up include The Illustrated Mum and Vicky Angel. But, although The Lottie Project is not one of her more famous novels, it really sticks out in my memory; as a school project, Lottie writes the fictitious diary of Charlotte, a Victorian maid, whose struggles mirror her own. It was the start of a love for historical fiction for me, for sure. 

The Harry Potter Series by J.K.Rowling 

I’m not sure I need to explain this one; which child of the 90s (or any other decade for that matter) doesn’t cite Harry Potter as their favourite books? My mum bought me the second one to read on our caravan holiday one summer, and I was immediately hooked, joining in with the hype with every release from there on out. Since then, my relationship with the books has deepened with every subsequent reading, and one of the things I am most looking forward to about having a baby is being able to share the magic with them. 

Cuckoo in the Nest by Michelle Magorian 

This book combines so many of my favourite things; theatre, historical fiction, seemingly-cranky-old-ladies-with-a-heart-of-gold… The protagonist Ralph has long been one of my favourite characters of all time, and whenever I pick up this book it’s like coming home for me. 

Cat by Freya North 

In my teens, I went through a big chick lit phase. I would devour as many books about glamorous women in magazine jobs leading complicated romantic lives as I could get my hands on. And, if I’m honest, I couldn’t tell you much about the seemingly hundreds of books I read during this time. I don’t mean to be disparaging, as I think ‘chick lit’ is an under-rated genre and is often dismissed out of hand – but I don’t think I was very discerning at the time, and would just race through them as quickly as I could. That said, there are a few notable exceptions to the rule, and Freya North’s first books, all named after their main characters, were some of my favourites – and I sometimes still think about them now, years later. As well as Cat, there were her sisters Pip and Fen, as well as Sally, Chloe and Polly, all of whom I loved equally – but I chose Cat because the book is set in France (in fact, it is about the Tour de France) and I read so many of these books whilst on holiday there with my friend Jess and her family, that it feels particularly fitting. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Oh, this book. It has my heart and will probably always be my favourite. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming in all the best ways, and it introduced me to so many concepts and ideas that still inform my thinking now. If you haven’t read it, you really must – it’s a tale of suffering but also of the redemptive power of love, female friendship and sisterhood. It’s an astounding tale, and I cry at the ending every single time. My copy is covered in notes from when I wrote my A-Level coursework on it, and it is one of my most prized possessions. 

Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti 

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this book changed my life. I’m not sure why I decided to order this from the library (perhaps because of books like The Color Purple?) but I’m so glad I did. I remember reading it and feeling both angry at the statistics and facts I was reading, and also relieved that it wasn’t just me that felt that anger. Having had this introduction to feminism, it became a central part of my life and has remained so ever since. I followed Jessica Valenti’s blog – Feministing – and from there discovered so many more blogs and books, which eventually lead to me doing my Masters in Gender, Sexuality and Queer Theory where my dissertation was on feminist blogging (what else?). 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte 

For an English student (by which I mean a student of English, not a student from England – although I am that, too), I have been pretty disparaging about classic literature in the past. I was scathing about Jane Austen during my A-Levels and was easily bored by school set texts. However, when I got to University that all changed and now I could wax lyrical about Austen and her ilk for hours on end – and it was reading Villette as part of a Victorian literature course that changed all that for me. Jane Eyre is usually thought of as Charlotte Bronte’s best novel, and although I now love it, it was the unusual character of Villette, the independent character of Lucy Snowe and the modern & pragmatic love story at its heart that turned my head and found a place in my heart. 

Atonement by Ian McEwan 

Alongside discovering a love for classical literature, I also delved into the realms of Booker Prize winners as part of my degree – and in doing so stumbled across Atonement by Ian McEwan, a truly incredible novel that affected me so deeply that I don’t think I can ever re-read it again. Ian McEwan is the king of surprise endings (I also love Sweet Tooth by him, which has a similarly incredible twist) and this one is all-consuming. I leant the book to a friend, and after a few days came down to find her sitting shock-still on the sofa – I knew immediately that she had finished it and was feeling all the feelings. It’s books like this that makes me think it’s not worth bothering to write, because it has already been done so perfectly (which I know is foolish, but seriously.. it’s amazing). 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 

For a while after University, I read almost nothing. After reading three to four full books a week for three years, and then diving into some deep feminist theory for another two years after that, I was ready for a break. But it was Lolita that clawed me back into the world of books (and I am so glad that it did). This book is understandably controversial, but it is a true work of art and I think the opening paragraph may be one of the most perfect pieces of writing in the entire English language (so much so that I have accidentally burnt it into my brain by reading it so many times… Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins and all that). I’m forever grateful to Nabokov for reminding me why I love reading, and for putting me back on the path of my favourite hobby. 

Yes Please by Amy Poehler 

It is so difficult for me to sum up the past couple of years of reading; after undertaking a challenge to read 100 books in a year (and then 101 books the year after) I discovered so many incredible books. You by Caroline Kepnes, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill all jump out as recent favourites, but it feels as though they’re all still so fresh in my mind. It’ll be a while before I’ll know which books really stuck with me from this time in my life, but I’m certain that Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes Please‘ will definitely be on the list. When I grow up, I want to be Amy Poehler, and I turn to this book time and again for wisdom, reassurance and a giggle or two. At times, it feels like a guiding light, which is a pretty magical thing for a book to be. 

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February Book Reviews

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell*

Holy shit, I have been waiting for this book for years. And, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. If you were around on a certain part of the Internet circa 2011/12 then you’re probably familiar with Cat Marnell; if not, then you should go and read some of her xoJane pieces from around that time and then you’ll get what all of the fuss is about. She was the beauty editor who wrote about how to disguise your night-before-drug-binge on the way to work; she specialised in beauty advice with an edge, which went (and still goes) against so much about what the beauty industry stands for. She’s also a phenomenal writer. Soon after she announced that she was writing a book, she mostly disappeared off the Internet, leaving us all (me) on a cliffhanger until now… 

This is an honest, raw, emotional and hilarious memoir, and I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever read. Cat charts her life through drug addiction with a candidacy that will make you cringe and cry, and occasionally cackle with laughter. She’s certainly not lost the skills that kept her on top at xoJane, despite her destructive drug problems, and this book is peppered with witty lines that I kind of want to steal for my own. From troubled teenager at boarding school with her Dad writing her prescriptions for ADHD medication, to beauty editor at large barely holding on by a thread, I could barely put this book down.

Her descent to rock bottom is a glamorous one, peppered by celebrity name-dropping, stints at high-flying magazines, and is therefore probably not a great portrayal of the ‘realism’ of addiction for many, less privileged people. At times, it is frustrating how Cat managed to sustain something that ‘a million girls would kill for’ whilst self-destructing at such a magnitude, but she is equally candid about her emotional distress, loneliness and even about just how self-absorbed and boring drug addiction can be. If you’re interested in the world of beauty, journalism or blogging then I think you’ll probably be hooked on this book; Cat Marnell was a pioneer of the ‘blog-style’ articles in journalism that are now a mainstay of the industry and her writing will feel familiar to so many who have grown up online. For me, it’s a five star read, for sure. 

Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding 

I’ll admit, I think a lot of my love for this book was pure nostalgia; I’ve been a fan of Bridget Jones for over ten years so reading the latest instalment felt so much like coming home and hanging out with old friends. However, I think that Bridget’s time may be coming to a close for me – I will always love her but this book definitely felt less substantial than the others. Maybe I’ve changed, maybe the world has changed, but the problem is that Bridget hasn’t really changed, which feels a little unrealistic given the timeframe. I feel like portrayals of women have moved on since Bridget; at the time she was the quintessential twenty-something girl struggling to find love and get her shit together… but now she’s a thirty-something and she’s still slacking at work, unable to talk to her friends, family and lovers, making poor life decisions and rather incompetent at looking after herself. That’s not to say that women don’t exist who are all of those things – and Bridget is also lots of other things, like a caring friend and daughter – but I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t have had any personal growth in the intervening years. This book is still funny, heart-warming and cringe-inducing in the way that Bridget Jones always has been, and there’s no doubt that I’ll continue picking up Bridget Jones books as long as they come out (unless this is the last?) but it is purely because of that nostalgia, and because I can’t resist the perfect Mark Darcy (perhaps the most unrealistic of all…). What can I say, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. 

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye 

Oh my god, this book. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre and you consider yourself a feminist then a) let’s be best friends and b) you must read this book. It’s glorious. Like the heroine of her favourite novel, Jane Steele has suffered the cruelty of her aunt and schoolmaster. Unlike Jane Eyre, however, she doesn’t take it lying down, leaving behind the corpses of her tormentors as she moves to London to start her new life. After years of living in the underbelly of the big city, she spots an advertisement for a governess at her old home, the place she believes herself to be the heiress to. Intrigued, she finds herself employed, and eventually enmeshed in the strange household of Mr Thornfield, who has a few secrets of his own… 

Jane Steele is a feminist vigilante serial killer, which is basically who I want as the heroine of all books I read from now on, if publishers could be so kind. Where she views herself as wicked for having murdered, the reader can see clearly her sense of justice and, at times, you’ll probably revel in the deaths of her victims – from attempted rapists to sanctimonious religious hypocrites who threaten the lives of her friends. As she goes from her aunt’s house to boarding school, and on to London, there is plenty of blood and excitement to keep you on your toes. 

The second half is probably more ‘traditional’ in feeling, and slows a little in pace but as she begins to fall in love with Mr Thornfield, and with his extended household, I was equally as captivated as in the first part. It almost feels like a separate book, as Jane works to find out if she is the true heiress to Highgate, and what happened to the mysterious trunk of treasures that Mr Thornfield is so adamant has been lost in another time and place. The references to Sikh and Punjabi culture were fascinating, and not at all what I was expecting from a ‘retelling’ of Jane Eyre, whilst Mr Thornfield was a much preferable romantic hero to dear Rochester. 

The nods to Jane Eyre are clear throughout, and will be a delight to anyone who’s a fan of the original book, but this novel certainly stands alone as a work of triumph. I never wanted it to end. 

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry*

At the age of thirteen, Julie is kidnapped at knifepoint and taken from her home never to be seen again – her younger sister, Jane, the only witness to the crime, hidden in the closet and unable to comprehend what’s going on. Eight years later, she reappears on the doorstep of her childhood home, the victim of imprisonment at the hands of a shady drug cartel leader, and the family look to start rebuilding their life. But her mother, Anna, has doubts – is the young woman upstairs really her daughter? Doubts she wants to ignore, until a former detective turns private investigator gets in contact with some information that might just lead to the truth behind Julie’s disappearance… 

I’ve avoided thriller novels for a while; so many of them seem to hinge on a common thread of violence towards woman – the more brutal, shocking and, in many cases, sexual, the ‘better’. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s important that we discuss the realities of violence against women – there are too many who seek to belittle and ignore it, and it’s unfortunately an experience that too many go through. That said, I think that there are a lot of suspense novels that are gratuitous about it, using it as a trope to shock the reader without any real exploration of the topic more widely. I was hoping that this novel, recommended by one of my favourite bookish podcasts – All the Books – and with a not-so-subtle nod in the title to ‘Gone Girl‘, which is one of the best in the genre, would be a little different. I think you can probably tell from my prelude that it was not, at least for me. 

At first, I was captured by the mystery; who on earth was this woman claiming to be Julie, and what was her motive for doing so? Safety? Money? Something more nefarious? As you’re taken back in time through the case and through the many lives of ‘Julie’, the plot becomes more intriguing, and slightly more obvious. I’m not that great at guessing twists and endings, but by halfway I was pretty sure I had this one nailed (and I was right). There were a few parts that I couldn’t (and would not have been able to guess) when it came to the actual revelation, so it wasn’t a total loss and I did read through to the end but I found myself a little disappointed that, once again, gratuitous violence against women (and in particular young girls) was at the crux of it without much context or depth. I’m left wondering, once again, whether I should just ditch thrillers for good – but when they’re good, they’re so, so good and I’m going to keep hoping for one that surprises me and goes against those tropes. 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

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2017 Books You Need To Pre-Order Now

There are so many books published every year, and only just so much time to read them in (not forgetting the ones you didn’t get around to from the years before…), so it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s some of the reads that I’m most excited about getting my grubby mitts on this year. It’s in no way an exhaustive list (this is a better bet for you, if you want comprehensive!) but hopefully it’ll give you a little inspiration. One thing I’ve been noticing from my reviews and book lists, is that I’m not reading as diversely as I’d like, with very few authors of colour, LGBT and international authors making my lists. So that’s something I’ll be working on this year, for sure. But for now, these are a pretty good starting point if you want to find some good books to preorder… 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay 

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed this book on my previous ‘books I’m excited about’ lists; the publication date has been postponed a couple of times but I’m hoping that this year is the year that I finally get my mittens on it. Roxane Gay is one of my favourite writers (look out for a review of her newest work, Difficult Women, next week) and this ‘searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself’ promises to be my favourite of hers yet. 

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell 

This is another book that I feel like I’ve been waiting to be published for years. I’ve actually had a little sneak peek at this one and, oh boy, was it worth the wait. Cat Marnell is an ex-beauty editor and sort-of-ex-drug addict with a witty & irreverant but emotionally honest style that will have you tearing through this memoir. Seriously, you’re gonna want to get a piece of this. 

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

If you’re not already in love with Dawn O’Porter, then make this the year that you start following her – she’s just a delight. Her podcast about fashion is particularly good (and will make you want to be her best friend). But it’s her books I’m here to talk about. Her first two YA novels surprised me (in the best way) with their frank and emotional portrayal of teenage girlhood and friendship, and The Cows is her first adult offering. The blurb reads: 

It’s about friendship and being female.
It’s bold and brilliant.
It’s searingly perceptive.
It’s about never following the herd.

Yep, I’ll take three copies, please. 

How to Be a Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan 

I’ve heard Daisy Buchanan described as the Internet’s big sister, and I think that’s probably a very accurate description. She’s a wonderful writer, a thoughtful and empathetic agony aunt, and an excellent Twitter follow. Her first book, How To Be A Grown Up, is a ‘comforting, witty, supportive handbook for real twenty-something women’ on how to negotiate a difficult decade. I think this is a book that we might all need to read. 

 

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this YA novel is already getting people talking. Starr is torn between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born & raised, and her posh high school in the suburbs. When she becomes the only witness to the fatal shooting of her best friend by a police officer, her whole world is turned upside down and what she says has power she can only guess at. This is going to be an important read, for sure. 

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard 

Okay, I’ll admit that this isn’t the best ever YA series, but after reading the previous two instalments, I’m dying to find out what happens to Mare and Cal in their fight against Maven. Will the rebellion succeed or, with allegiances being tested like never before, will everything crumble around them. You’ve still got time to read the first two if you’re after a bit of fantasy action this winter. 

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My Favourite Books of 2016

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood*

This is the book that I think will stick with me for a very long time. I was surprised that it didn’t get more pick up in the bookish press this year, but perhaps that is due to the controversial subject matter (or perhaps the sheer volume of books out there). The story follows eight year old Wavy, daughter of a meth dealer and only ‘adult’ in her household, and twenty-one year old Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold. After a chance meeting, the two form an unlikely friendship – and begin to fall in love. It’s shocking and complex and thought-provoking and ugly and wonderful, just as the title suggests. 

The Girls by Emma Cline* 

Quite the opposite of ‘All the Ugly and Wonderful Things’, this book seems to have been in every ‘best of 2016’ list going – and was hyped from the very start of last year. And whilst some have questioned its popularity, I would definitely say that all of the praise for this book is very much deserved. The lyrical, lilting writing is evocative and beautiful, capturing the heady summer of 1969 and that liminal moment on the cusp of girlhood and teenagedom that characterises the life of protagonist, Evie Boyd. Based on the true story of the Manson Family, Evie is captivated by the girls who come to town, living on a ranch in the hills under the leadership of the enigmatic Russell. As Evie grows closer to the girls, and, in particular, the bewitching Susan, she finds herself pulled into life at the ranch, until something happens that changes everything forever… 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 

Another heart-wrenching and heart-breaking novel – this is not a light beach read, but it is an absolute masterpiece and another book that will stay with me for a long time. After college, best friends Jude, JB, Malcolm and Willem move to New York to pursue their dreams. They are more like brothers than friends, but whilst they are close, none of them know the true pain of Jude’s past and present. As they make their fortunes, you learn more about Jude’s history and it is more painful and horrifying than you can imagine. You will need a million tissues when reading this book, for sure, but it will also bring you moments of lightness and hope, and one of the most touching portrayals of male friendship that I have ever come across in literature. 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney* 

A family drama that’s whip smart, funny, and surprisingly touching. The Plumb children have been relying on ‘The Nest’ – a trust fund payment that will pay out when the youngest turns 40 – to help solve their self-inflicted problems. However, just before the pay out, eldest brother Leo – notorious rogue and failed businessman – gets into a car accident whilst under the influence and the resulting fallout depletes ‘The Nest’ that they were all relying on. As the siblings struggle to find a solution, they must battle with old conflicts and the very particular pain that your family can bring. It’s entertaining, a little madcap with a very lovely ending. 

The Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan 

2016 was the year I discovered historical romance novels – and I am so glad that I did. I devoured this series, which follows a group of friends (the eponymous Brothers Sinister, and their honorary members) as they each fall in love. This is feminist romance at its very best, with heroines that defy expectations and stand out from the crowd – and I loved them all. And I loved the male protagonists more because they could see how wonderful these women are, which is the right way round in a romance, I think. The stories were full of intrigue and feminist badassery, as well as the obligatory kisses and marriage proposals. 

Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi*

This debut from comedian Shappi Khorsandi is absolutely stellar. Seventeen-year-old Nina has a drinking problem, and her life begins to unravel after a rather traumatic evening that she doesn’t quite remember. This book is darkly funny, very powerful, emotional and brave. Nina is a fantastic protagonist; although she acts like a bit of an asshole to her family and friends, she goes on a real journey and you are rooting for her all the way. This book pulls no punches when it comes to the reality of alcoholism, and there are some pretty big roadblocks for Nina to overcome, but you find yourself rooting for her all the way. 

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne’s whole Spinster Club series is absolutely excellent, but the third one, which focuses on Lottie and her #Vagilante campaign to call out every instance of sexism she encounters for a full month, was my favourite. This is a really excellent look at the struggles of being a modern feminist, and Lottie is such an amazing character. The scenes of sisterhood in this novel had me welling up, and I’m sure I punched the air a few times as Lottie got down to some serious feminist business. We need more books like this in the world! 

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven*

If you need a book to uplift you, then you definitely need to pick this one up. Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ and had to be cut out of her own house. That was years ago, and now she’s ready to embrace every possibility that life has to offer. Jack is one of the popular kids at school, but he has a secret. He can’t recognise faces – including those of his own family. Every day is a struggle to play it cool. When the two get tangled in a cruel high school game that ends them in group counselling, they come to realise they have more in common than they’d first imagined and they start to change each others’ worlds. This is a gorgeous love story, and if you don’t adore Libby and her fat-positive, grab-life-by-the-balls attitude then you maybe don’t have a heart.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult*

This book is a punch in the gut, especially given the current political climate. Ruth is an experienced labour and delivery nurse, but during a routine shift she is abruptly told that she can no longer care for a particular newborn. The parents are white supremacists and they don’t want Ruth, which is African American, to touch their child. When an unfortunate incident leads to the baby’s death, the parents accuse Ruth of a serious crime and the life that she has built up around her starts to crumble. Kennedy, a white public defender, takes the case and the two struggle to see eye-to-eye as they confront racism, privilege and prejudice in order to win Ruth’s freedom. I was hooked on this interesting and emotionally smart book, and I think it would make a great book club read if you’re starting one up this year! 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

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November Book Reviews

november-books

No Virgin by Anne Cassidy* 

I’ll admit I was a little cynical when I picked this up; I think it’s important that young adult fiction (or any fiction, really) addresses issues of sexual assault and rape but after reading some very hard-hitting books of this ilk recently, I was worried that it was becoming a bit of a trope, a way to short-hand deep feelings and trauma into a novel without always acknowledging the realities of such a traumatic experience. I needn’t have been so worried; this is an stark portrayal of sexual assault and the ways that class and power allow perpetrators to get away with it. Stacey Woods is your typical teenage girl; she worries about her best friend abandoning her for someone else, about her prying younger sister, about her Dad getting serious with someone new, about exams and finding a career she’s passionate about. When it all gets too much one day, she finds herself in a café being chatted up by a posh boy, who takes her on a whirlwind adventure. It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to Stacey, until it all takes a dark turn. Stacey’s experiences of rape are raw and unflinching, without being gratuitous, and highlight some important issues that I think it would benefit everyone to think about more. 

Small Great Things: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird for the 21st Century’ by Jodi Picoult* 

This book is a punch in the gut, especially given the current political climate in the USA. (I’m sure the publisher couldn’t have planned it, but now more than ever are books like this important). Ruth is an experienced labour and delivery nurse, but during a routine shift she is abruptly told that she can no longer care for a particular newborn. The parents are white supremacists and they don’t want Ruth, which is African American, to touch their child. When an unfortunate incident leads to the baby’s death, the parents accuse Ruth of a serious crime and the life that she has built up around her starts to crumble. Kennedy, a white public defender, takes the case and the two struggle to see eye-to-eye as they confront racism, privilege and prejudice in order to win Ruth’s freedom. 

I think this book will make for some pretty interesting book club discussions; I’d be interested to see how others have read it. I admit to fluctuating between being completely hooked by the story, compelled by the characters’ journeys and also a little reticent at the sometimes simplistic way that the novel laid out the realities of racism in America. At times I felt it was spoon-feeding the morality of the tale, but that may have just been my reading and, as I mentioned, I’d love to know what others thought. It’s difficult to talk about a book like this without becoming mired in a lot of history and politics (don’t get me wrong, that’s exactly where I like to be mired, if I am to be mired at all, but it’s not always great to be mired). I think it’s an important read, as well as one that is interesting and emotionally smart. However, at times it felt very black and white, if you’ll excuse the pun; I loved Ruth and wanted only the best for her, and she felt like a very rounded character to me, but the white supremacist couple were almost cartoon-ishly bad to me. They were consumed by their obsession with white supremacy; it infected everything they did, even the ordinary mundane things, and whilst I don’t doubt (having seen the evidence in the coverage of Trump rallies) that people like that exist, I thought it made it almost too easy to draw a line between right and wrong. Perhaps the hope is that white people reading this book will identify more with the white lawyer, so sure that she is not racist until her own privilege and prejudice are presented to her starkly by Ruth and by the facts of the case. Either way, whilst I think it would be hard to do, there is room for a little more nuance on each side. 

I am maybe biased because when looking up some facts about the book, I stumbled across the sub-title given to it by Amazon: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird for the 21st Century’. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked this book; maybe even loved it. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and will stick with me for a long time. But to compare it to To Kill A Mockingbird, which is very subtle, and therefore perhaps more powerful and long-lasting, in its messaging is mis-leading, I think. I know those were not Picoult’s words, but I think it’s worth thinking about nonetheless. With everything that has happened, are we ready now for a more heavy-handed portrayal of racism in America? Is subtle no longer going to work on us; do we need something more to hit the message home? I urge you to read this book and find out for yourself (especially since it’s just £4 on Amazon at the time of writing – you’ve got no excuse not to!). 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han 

What a contrast to the other books on this list! If you spend any time on bookstagram, you’ll probably have spotted the cover of this sweet book. When it popped up on Kindle for just 99p, I couldn’t resist and I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s heart-warming in the best way; if you want to lose yourself in a teen romance then this is an excellent one to pick. Lara Jean is one of three sisters; after her mother died, her older sister Margot took on a lot of the responsibility but now she’s off to college in Scotland and it’s Lara Jean’s turn to pick up the slack. In a year that’s already going to be full of change and turmoil, something disastrous happens; the letters that she wrote to each of her previous crushes and stashed under her bed have been posted and everything has gone awry. As her crushes start to confront her about the content of the letters, Lara Jean starts to learn a little something about love… Whilst the romance in this book was touching and definitely had me squealing with joy at the end, it was the relationship between the sisters, and with their father, that I really loved the most. Definitely one to pick up on a dreary day! 

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

In Tally’s world, sixteen is the age when you are turned from an ‘Ugly’ into a ‘Pretty’; when you’re a Pretty, everything is wonderful and you can forget all of your problems. Your only job is to have fun and hang out with other Pretties. Tally can’t wait to join her best friend Peris across the river after her operation, but when she meets Shay everything is turned upside down. Shay isn’t sure she wants to be Pretty and when she runs away, Tally begins to learn more the ugly truth about being Pretty. If you’re into young adult dystopia, then this could be one for you but it didn’t grab me as much as I thought it would. Tally was a bit of a nothing character; somehow she managed great feats without previously demonstrating any particular drive or intelligence, which made it difficult to care about her eventual fate, and there was something a little bit obvious about the big reveal (if you’ve read any dystopia before, you can probably guess pretty quickly…). There were a few action scenes, but they were not as exciting as others I’ve read, and a bit of a romantic storyline that, again, didn’t capture my imagination. It ended on a cliffhanger, and I’m in two minds about picking up the next one; I hate to leave a story unfinished but I find myself not caring all that much about what happens to Tally and her gang.

 

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July Book Reviews

Read more reviews at Readers Gonna Read 

july book reviews

The Boyfriend List & The Boy Book by E. Lockhart*

I read these two books in quick succession, so I hope you don’t mind me reviewing them as one. Ruby Oliver is 15, with all the typical problems that being 15 brings. Friends. Boys. School. Her voice is refreshing and hilarious and real, all at once. Too often I read young adult books where the protagonist is either far too self-aware to be a teenager, or so laughably ridiculous to show that they’re young and naive that they lose any realism for me. Ruby Oliver is not either of this – she felt incredibly realistic to me. Ruby navigates the awkward world of her rich-kid school (she’s on a scholarship and her parents are wonderfully eccentric), losing her first boyfriend and her best friends (and finding new love interests and friends along the way) in a way that feels a little close to home for someone who used to be an awkward teenage girl at a rich-kid school. The thing I loved most about these books are the way they introduce feminist themes without being in-your-face – they address sexism and slut-shaming in a way that is totally approachable and perfect for the storyline. Basically, I wish I’d had these books when I was a teenager (and despite not being one anymore, I still really want to get stuck into the others in the series). 

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan* 

Margot Lewis is the agony aunt for her local paper, but she receives a letter unlike anything she’s ever had before. 

Dear Amy,
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery

But Bethan Avery had been missing for years. As more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. Can Margot save Bethan? And does this have anything to do with Katie, the girl from Margot’s class that recently went missing, too? 

The unusual premise of this book intrigued me, and for the first half I was pretty much hooked, trying to work out how these letters were making it into Margot’s possession. However, after the dramatic twist that reveals pretty much all, it became more and more implausible and there’s only just so far that I can suspend my disbelief. Despite the promising opening, it ended up feeling a lot like other thrillers in this genre, with rather gratuitous descriptions of violence and a perpetrator without a coherent motive or backstory. 

Maestra by L.S. Hilton 

This book started out with so much promise. Judith is an intriguing character; she’s smart, ruthless and, at times, incredibly compelling. Having clawed her way out of a Liverpool council estate, she longs for the class privileges of her colleagues in the prestigious auction house where she now works. She feels shut out from the world inhabited by her upper class acquaintances, constantly trying to learn their ways but falling slightly short. Her only solace is her true love of art, which sustains her, and her unusual sexual proclivities, satisfied at the most exclusive of sex clubs. But, what starts out as an interesting and thrilling story of one woman’s rage against the system and desire to infiltrate it by any means necessary becomes slightly absurd as the book goes on.

As time went on and the story plunged deeper in the underworld, with Judith happily going along for the ride, her motivations become murky and her actions nonsensical. The book also had a frustrating way of letting the action happen with no insight as to Judith’s plan, before revealing all in long passages of explanation. Maybe it was my inability to understand the world of art fraud, but I struggled to follow in the later parts of the book and I stopped caring about Judith’s fate about three-quarters of the way in, which took the edge of the ‘thriller’ element of the novel. There are some racy passages and some abrupt twists that will keep you interested, but overall ‘the most shocking thriller you’ll read all year’ doesn’t live up to its moniker for me.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood* 

The daughter of a meth-dealer and an abusive mother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult in her household. One night she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, wreck his motorcycle and in the aftermath the two form a bond that spans years. As the two fall in love, things get even more complicated for them and everyone around them. 

Sheesh, this book. I’m going to be thinking about this book and these characters for such a long time. It’s ugly and wonderful, just as promised. As soon as I read the last sentence, I burst into tears. It’s just such an emotional reading experience. It was dark and uncomfortable and questioning and disturbing and occasionally sweet. It’s so confusing to work out your feelings as you watch their relationship develop over many years but they’re so well-formed and well-written than you can’t help but want true happiness for both of them. A truly compelling story and definitely up there as one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware* 

 Lo, a travel journalist, has been invited onto an exclusive cruise ship but on the very first night she sees a body being thrown from the cabin next door into the ocean. But no one is missing from the ship, and no one seems to believe her. Did she make it up? Or are they trapped on the ship with a murderer? Ruth Ware is the queen of the spooky setting – in this case, a small cruise ship in the middle of the ocean – and with a limited number of suspects and a claustrophobic environment, there are some truly tense moments in this book, which had me guessing until all was revealed. However, Lo didn’t feel that well-drawn as a character to me – other than the parts of her which made her an unreliable narrator (drinking, exhaustion, anxiety), I didn’t feel that I left the book knowing anything about her – and there were definitely a few plot holes that could easily unravel if you picked them apart enough. The ending was a little too convenient for me to enjoy, but it’s an easy-read whodunnit for those times when you want to switch your brain off and get stuck into a bit of a mystery. 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

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June Book Reviews

june books

The Girls by Emma Cline* 

During the dying days of the 1960s, lonely teenager Evie Boyd spots an unusual group of older girls in the park and is immediately drawn to them – their kooky dress, their devil-may-care attitude and the frisson of danger that surrounds them. Soon, she is caught up in their circle – a soon-to-be infamous cult hidden on a ranch in the California hills – and obsessed with Suzanne, a ring leader who answers only to Russell, the enigmatic and mysterious (and very creepy) head of the cult. Evie is drawn more and more into their world, abandoning her mundane, every day life – but she might very well be in real danger. 

This is the book I was most excited for in 2016 and it did not disappoint. I’ve seen reviews which claim it is overwritten, but I found the prose very powerful and the observations on teenage girl-dom to be sharp and cutting. For those who want to read more about the Manson family, on which this cult is not-so-subtly based, this may not be the book for you – the horrors they enacted and the bizarre machinations of the cult itself are a backdrop for Evie’s coming of age story – and she is far more fascinated by Suzanne than by Russell, the Charles Manson figure. This book was compelling and intense; if you’re looking for a juicy summer read, then let this be it.

My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger*

There’s obviously something in the water because this is also a book which takes inspiration from The Manson Family, but in a rather different way. Anna runs away to Los Angeles after fighting with her mother, staying with her glamorous but deceitful older sister. She begins researching the Manson girls, becoming obsessed with their lives and the way their stories mirror her own. This isn’t a book where much happens, but it captures the feeling of being a teenage girl, of having to grow up, of fighting with your parents so perfectly, of being at once amazed and disillusioned with the world all so perfectly. LA, like New York, crops up in a lot of stories but this one felt very real – at once dreamy and devastatingly ugly all at once. This isn’t a glamorous Hollywood tale, it’s a very real and nuanced look at fame, sex and violence, all through the eyes of a sometimes precocious, sometimes immature teenage girl. 

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson  

David has always been an outsider, labelled a freak by school bullies. His parents think it’s because he’s gay but only David and his two best friends know the truth – he wants to be a girl. Leo has just one girl – keep his head down and stay invisible. This new school is a new opportunity for him, but his best laid plans are about to go awry when he catches the eye of the most beautiful girl in the year. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, the two form an unlikely friendship but when the secrets they’ve shared threaten to expose them, it’s time for some drastic action. 

Oh, how I cried at the end of this book. I sobbed. I smeared mascara all over my face. But they were happy tears. I adored David and Leo, and their friends and families. I didn’t want to leave them, even though I was leaving them in such a good place. This book tugged at all of my heart strings, and I want everyone to read it. I do think it’s kind of an unrealistic portrayal of the realities of life for trans youth; although David is bullied at school, he has supportive friends and family and although the struggles and hardships are hinted at, there is also a bit of a rose-tinted ending. That said, I loved this book and I really think that everyone should read it – it’s one that’s going to stick with me for a while. 

Longbourn by Jo Baker 

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.

We all know what happens in Pride & Prejudice, but what happens below the stairs? Sarah is the housemaid for the Bennett family, an orphan living a life of hardship under the watchful eye of Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. Just as the Bennett girls worry for their future, so do the servants downstairs who are at the mercy of whoever takes over Longbourn once Mr Bennett passes on. Amongst the day-to-day monotony of emptying bed pans and scrubbing dresses, a new footman arrives and turns life downstairs at Longbourn upside down. There’s romance, heartbreak and intrigue – just as in the original, with a familiar cast of characters making their appearance as the backdrop for Sarah’s story. Fans of Austen may be disappointed by the tone, which is far more dour and serious than Austen’s own playful comedy of manners style but the love story is quite, well, lovely and there’s a good bit of gossip to keep you turning to the last page. 

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe*

I love Nina Stibbe. Her work is charming, quirky, entertaining and just down right British. She manages to capture all the little oddities of Britain gone by, in a really original way, and her cast of characters are always lovable and eccentric. Paradise Lodge is no different – although I urge you to read both Love, Nina and Man at the Helm before you pick this up. Lizzie Vogel, aged 15, gets a job at the local old folk’s home – a totally unsuitable job for a schoolgirl but she is determined and soon finds herself quite at home there. The place is in shambles, and as Lizzie tries to navigate a complicated home life, a disastrous school life and her job at Paradise Lodge both hilarity and drama ensues. A truly lovely read that will warm your heart (and make you start saving for retriement!). 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

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8 Books I Am Excited About Right Now

I have a real book buying habit. I have a pile of books next to my bed and plenty of unread books on my Kindle, but I can’t seem to stop picking up new titles. It’s tough when there are so many good-looking books coming out this year! Here’s 8 books that will definitely be coming home with me soon… 

2016 books 1

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye 

Reader, I murdered him… 

A re-telling of Jane Eyre with a sinister twist. Jane Steele identifies strongly with the heroine of her favourite novel, Jane Eyre; she, too, is an orphan who has suffered cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. But this Jane is just a little bit more badass – she’s a vigilante serial killer righting wrongs on behalf of London’s have-nots. Basically, you just have to say ‘vigilante serial killer Jane Eyre’ to me and I am so there. 

Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti 

Jessica Valenti was the woman that introduced me to feminism – when I read her book, Full Frontal Feminism, my life was changed forever. This is her memoir, exploring the very real toll that sexism has played in Valenti’s life. I’m expecting her signature mix of shock, humour and self-recognition in this, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. 

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott 

I love Megan Abbott’s work – particularly Dare Me which I read at the beginning of last year. In her latest book, she tells the tale of Katie and Eric Knox, who have dedicated their life to the burgeoning Olympic career of their daughter Devon. When a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just before a crucial competition, their world is rocked and Katie finds herself drawn to the crime… Abbott writes so well, her books are all-consuming and I’m excited to read her latest.  

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay 

There’s no doubt in my mind that Roxane Gay is one of our greatest writers – she is thoughtful, empathic, and incredibly astute. Everything I read by her moves me to tears. I think that will be doubly true of her latest book, described as ‘a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself’. 

2016 books 2

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe 

There is something so cosy about Nina Stibbe’s books. Her first, Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life, is one of my favourite books of all time and one I keep coming back to when I need something to warm my heart. Her characters are vivid, interesting and very, very British. Her newest book tells the story of Lizzie, a 15 year old who finds herself working in a chaotic old people’s home in the 1970s. I just know it’s going to be wonderful. 

Becoming: Sex, Second Chances, and Figuring Out Who the Hell I am by Laura Jane Williams 

If you hang out on the internet, you’ve probably come across Laura’s blog – Superlatively Rude. She’s achingly honest, and committed to sharing her stories, however painful, embarrassing or uplifting. This true life memoir is sure to hit you right in the feels, as she charts how she came to really figure out who the hell she is via sexual excess, a vow of celibacy in an Italian convent and everything in between. 

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer 

I’m a big fan of Amy Schumer’s comedy – she’s smart, satirical and completely unapologetic. Her first book promises to leave you ‘nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably’. Sign me up. 

Bad Boy: A Novel by Elliot Wake 

A story about a trans boy written by a trans boy. Formerly writing under ‘Leah Raeder’, his previous books have been intense and provocative (I loved Black Iris) and this is billed as the most groundbreaking yet. Sexual fluidity, drugs and revenge – in a romance novel? Yes, please. 

P.S. You might also want to check out the books I was excited about at the beginning of the year – some of these are out now (and out soon!). 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION.

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April Book Reviews

April Book Reviews // Amy Elizabeth

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld*

I was so sceptical when I picked up this book, but by the time I put it down I had been utterly charmed by it. A modern re-telling of Pride & Prejudice set in Cincinnati, where Elizabeth Bennett is a journalist and Mr Darcy is a brain surgeon – you can see why I was a little wary, yes? I love the original Austen novel so much and reread it as often as I can, so felt very protective of the story and of the sentiment but I needn’t have worried; Curtis Sittenfeld is quite obviously an even bigger Austen fan than I am, so diligently has she observed and recreate the spirit of Austen’s work. If anything, she is kinder to the characters than Austen once was – Lydia and Kitty, in particular, get off very lightly and Lydia actually has one of the best storylines in the novel. It’s not an exact replica, but Sittenfeld captures everything I love about the original story and adds some delicious twists and turns that I would never have expected but which added another layer to this modern story (see: hate sex with Mr Darcy…). If you’re a Pride & Prejudice fan, then this is definitely one for you.  My one complaint is about the cover, which appears to have no bearing on the book itself and is just dire – so please, do not judge this book by its cover! 

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell* 

Lois & Carly-May were abducted by a stranger and imprisoned in a cabin for two months when they were just twelve years old. Whilst there, they formed a bond that would never be broken but after they were released they fell out of touch. Decades later, they both have new lives and identities but when Carly-May is cast in the movie that Lois wrote about the incident, they must face each other and their past. 

 

For a thriller, this book felt a little flat to me and the events were a little too far-fetched and convenient to have me at the edge of my seat. It starts out very promising – an abduction not based on murder or sexual violence with two victims selected very specifically by their abductor? Tell me more, please. But the book seems to hinge on the mystery about what ‘really’ happened that summer – when nothing really happened that much at all. Lois is the main storyteller, and we get an extract from her book as explanation for the summer’s events which makes you, the reader, at least two times removed from the truth, which is very frustrating and makes it hard to grasp at the heart of the story. Whilst teenage Lois and Carly-May were pretty interesting, their adult selves just didn’t inspire all that much excitement and were actually kind of frustrating (Lois, in particular, acts in a ridiculous way throughout the novel with very little explanation). There was one heart-stopping moment, for me at least, but it fizzled out before it could really begin. I just wanted more from this book – more action, more insight, more character. 

The Doll-Master And Other Tales Of Horror by Joyce Carol Oates* 

We all know dolls are one of the creepiest things around, which is why I had high hopes that this book would chill me to the bone. However, the focus of this collection seems to be more on disorientating and disturbing the reader than on truly terrifying them. Each was a suspenseful story, with deranged characters and an ominous feel about them, but at no point was I really scared the way I was when I read Bird Box, for instance. Some, I felt, were a little drawn out – particularly those which are monologues – and I had guessed the ending far before it came, which is quite unlike me. My favourite stories actually came near the end of the collection – Big Momma, about the new girl in town, who hitches a lift with a classmate and her rather creepy father, and Mystery Inc., about a businessman who comes across a beautiful (and profitable!) mystery book store which he is determined to make his own… These are dark stories, in truth, but they are not terrifying ones. 

April Book Reviews // Amy Elizabeth

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood*

Miss Ona Viktus is one hundred and four, and has lived a mostly uneventful life. When the Boy Scout troop send round an earnest eleven-year-old boy to help her with some chores, they form an unlikely friendship. Obsessed with world records, they embark on a project together and Ona starts to feel like she’s special after all. Until one weekend, his father, Quinn, shows up in his place to finish his good deed for him… 

If you’re looking for a whimsical, heart-warming read then I do urge you to pick this up. It’s a little slow to begin with and I had to force myself to keep picking it back up until I reached the halfway point where I began to speed through the rest. The relationship between the boy and Ona is really beautiful, and they are both wonderfully memorable characters with unique little quirks. Not all that much happens really, although you learn the life story of both Ona and Quinn, but it is warm and thought-provoking – about the value of a life, the connections we make and how we can really make an impact. I don’t think I’ll rush to pick this back up again, but it will stick with me for a good while longer. 

Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard* 

I am so easily sucked into this little novellas that are starting to pop up everywhere around young adult trilogies. I just always want to know more – and Cruel Crown tells the story of two women who feature prominently in the Red Queen series but who don’t get a chance to tell their own tales. Queen Song tells how Queen Coriane became the first wife of King Tiberias, amongst deadly challenges from her rivals, whilst Steel Scars gives us Farley’s back story as she travels the land to further the Red cause. These were both enjoyable enough stories, but I don’t think they added anything particularly to the overall story arc of the series. Whilst I found Queen Song compelling – who doesn’t love a bit of royal romance and some intrigue – I wanted much more from Steel Scars which I actually found quite dull. If you’re a big fan of the series, you might want to check these out – but if you’re more of a casual observer like me then I’d give it a miss and wait it out until the next instalment! 

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Elena loves Star Wars, and she’s determined to queue for the new movie despite her mother’s warnings to the contrary. She’s expecting parties to happen and lifelong friendships to form. Instead, there are just three people in the queue (including Elena) and she doesn’t think that either of them understand how she really feels about Star Wars. 

I honestly don’t know how Rainbow Rowell does it. She is some sort of magician. Every time, I fall head over heels for her characters and find myself rooting for romance – which is so not my usual style. This is a short novella, published for World Book Day, and is a perfect one day read if you need something to make you feel good about the world again.

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

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