The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney*
Oh gosh, this book. I loved it. It's acerbically funny, nostalgically touching and just so wonderful. I can't really believe that it's a debut because it just feels so substantial and perceptive. The Plumb family have been relying on 'The Nest' - a trust fund payment they'll all be receiving when the youngest sibling turns 40. But just before that date, Leo Plumb - notorious rogue and erstwhile businessman - gets into a car accident whilst inebriated, and the resulting fallout depletes 'The Nest' to almost nothing. Each of the siblings has been counting on the money to get them out of a self-inflicted problem, so they're understandably pretty mad. As they all struggle to find a solution, old conflicts arise, new friendships form and they must all learn to face up to their choices. It's entertaining, a little madcap in places, entirely emotional in others with a really lovely ending. Definitely one of my favourite books of 2016 so far.
The Crown (The Heir, Book 2) by Kiera Cass*
These books are my guilty pleasure. I know I shouldn't feel guilty about them - there's no shame in reading romance, young adult, or any combination of the two - but I can't help it. They're a little too saccharine sweet, the characters a little too perfect (except when they're not...), whilst world-building and any meaningful storyline has been abandoned for pretty dresses & kissing princes. But, just like sometimes you need Gossip Girl instead of The Wire, so too do I need The Selection Series instead of A Little Life on occasion. You can easily devour one of these in a day, immersing yourself in the world of Illea. Despite myself, I really enjoyed the first three books in the series, focused on America Singer as she takes part in 'The Selection' - where a group of girls compete Bachelorette-style to win the hand of Prince Maxon. There's a vague undercurrent of political unrest in this supposedly dystopian society, which is ruled by a caste system, but it takes a back seat to dates in the palace and stolen kisses between the characters. The following books, however, which focus on princess Eadlyn as she conducts her own Selection process to find a husband, didn't have quite the same charm for me. I found myself more invested in the secondary characters who had made it from the first few books into the newer ones than I did in Eadlyn and her story. The romance wasn't quite as exciting or, for me, realistic - and the ending felt rather rushed to me, hurrying to tie up all the loose ends which had never been fully explained beforehand (see above: world building comments). If you're looking for escapism, stick to the first three books and don't blame me if you get hooked!
Girls on Fire by Robyn Wasserman*
Hannah is kind of a nobody, until she meets Lacey - who is dark, mysterious and obsessed with Kurt Cobain - and the two form a tangled, passionate friendship. They talk of riding off into the sunset together and leaving their problems behind - the fierce bully at school, the puritanical and abusive stepdad, the total ennui of being a teenager in a dead end town. Events start to spiral, and Hannah starts to realise that maybe she doesn't know Lacey all that well after all - but what will she do when she discovers the truth? Is she in, or out?
I feel like I've read a lot of books of this genre - the intense female friendships of teenage girls turned destructive. The clue is in the title, of course, but I think I was hoping for something a little bit different from this one. To me, however, Hannah and Lacey felt more like stereotypes than any real teenage girl that I've ever come across (and I went to an all girls' school) - they were the bad girl and the good girl who wants to go bad, with the troubled home lives to match. I wanted to believe in them, and their friendship, but I just wasn't rooting them in the way that I think I was supposed to be. That said, the chaos and violence of this novel is pretty compelling - you never know when the final blow will land - and the secret that Lacey has been holding onto is a pretty explosive one, which was worth sticking around to find out.
Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison
Does anyone remember when Playboy was a Thing? Back when Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were the celebrities de jour, and we were all wearing a lot of Juicy Couture? Okay, well I never wore any Juicy Couture but I remember being fascinated by glamorous Playboy bunnies - and I know I wasn't the only one if the plethora of Playboy pencil cases at school was anything to go by. Reading this book was like time travelling back to that era - it was all so familiar, it was actually a little spooky.
Holly Madison was one of Hef's live-in girlfriends at the Playboy Mansion and one of the stars of 'The Girls Next Door' TV show based on their life - and in this book she spills the secrets of what it was really like to live with the infamous Hugh Hefner. I think you won't be surprised to find out that it wasn't all peachy keen - in fact, it was pretty horrible and Hef himself is an abusive 'boyfriend', which makes some parts hard to read. Holly charts how she ended up living at the Mansion, and how she eventually finds her freedom - as well as dishing plenty of juicy secrets about celebrities and the Playboy life. It's quite a one-sided look at events (it is a memoir, so that is understandable but she glosses over the manipulative or mean quips that she makes - not necessarily without justification - and focuses a lot on when the other girls were mean to her) but it's definitely an interesting look at a rather bizarre lifestyle.
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
I can never resist a bestselling thriller. I get serious FOMO when I don't know what the massive twist is, so I have to read them myself to find out (god forbid I should ever see a spoiler!). However, despite my precocious desire to know everything being satisfied, I often find them to be a little disappointing. For all its faults, Gone Girl has set the bar incredibly high with beautiful prose, dark and twisted characters and an about-turn (or two) that will genuinely shock and surprise you. Obviously, it is not the fault of the authors that all subsequent thrillers written by women have been marketed to fans of Gone Girl, but it can't help but linger in the back of your mind.
I Let You Go is everything a thriller should be - it's suspenseful, with a twist that I, for one, didn't see coming, with a race towards the end that will leave you turning pages as fast as you possibly can. Jenna Gray's whole life is turned upside down by a horrific incident; her only hope of moving on is to walk away and start a new life in a remote Welsh seaside village, but she is constantly haunted by her memories and her ever-present fear. As the story unfolds, her past begins to catch up with her and you begin to realise that everything is not as it seems...
If you're looking for an entertaining read then this is definitely one for you - whilst the writing takes a backseat to the storyline in this case, that's the most important part of a thriller, right? However, I don't think you're going to be blown away; I don't think I've read that many thrillers but this one already felt familiar to me, with the broken, scared woman running from a hideous past, a policewoman who vows to do the right thing despite pressure from her bosses and a couple of more-than-coincidences thrown in for good measure. Although there are some pretty graphic scenes (trigger warnings for pretty much everything...) it was more suspenseful than truly terrifying for me. I enjoyed it, but I suspect I'll have forgotten it before long.
Not Working by Lisa Owens*
I wish I liked myself a bit more, and wine more than a bit less.
This book reads like a memoir, which I actually though it was until I twigged that the author's name is not the same as the main character. If you've read any Millennial memoirs, then the subject matter will be pretty familiar - girl quits job to find purpose, girl gets grief from more successful friends, girl sabotages self etc. However, despite feeling like I've covered this so many times before, this book still felt fresh and funny to me - so if you're not jaded like I am, then you'll probably love it. The writing style was unusual with little tiny paragraphs with different purposes - from telling the story to pithy observations that ring very, very true. If you've ever struggled to feel like your work and life is meaningful, then I think you'd really enjoy this light-hearted read.