Tuesday 30 May 2017

Mini-reviews: A Court of Wings and Ruin, Wishful Drinking & Exit West

I rated A Court of Wings and Ruin 4.5 stars, Wishful Drinking 4 stars and Exit West got 4.5  stars.

A Court of Wings and Ruin, Sarah J Maas
720⎟ Bloomsbury⎟ 2nd May 2017

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit - and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords - and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

I’m a huge fan of this trilogy and for the most part, ACOWAR was a perfect ending, but some really problematic elements about the novel have been brought to my attention and I can’t ignore them.

I HATE how SJM's issues with bad rep have made my friends and other readers feel. For an author with so much clout, it's really, really not on. I feel like she tried a little more to be inclusive in this book, but she missed the mark.

Putting that aside, I’m a die hard Feysand shipper and I adored them even more, I fell even more in love with Azriel, Mor, Amren and Cassian and the wonder of Velaris. It was a finale full of emotion, action and I could easily have read far past the already chunky 720 pages.

Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher
176⎟S&S⎟1st June 2009
Audiobook read by: Carrie Fisher

In Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher tells the true and intoxicating story of her life with inimitable wit. Born to celebrity parents, she was picked to play a princess in a little movie called Star Wars when only 19 years old. "But it isn't all sweetness and light sabres." Alas, aside from a demanding career and her role as a single mother (not to mention the hyperspace hairdo), Carrie also spends her free time battling addiction and weathering the wild ride of manic depression. It's an incredible tale - from having Elizabeth Taylor as a stepmother, to marrying (and divorcing) Paul Simon, and from having the father of her daughter leave her for a man, to ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

A blisteringly funny, wise and honest journey through Carrie's life and the battles with addiction and mental illness that she's faced along the way.

I’m about the make a confession: I’ve never seen Star Wars. Any of them. At all. And yet I thoroughly enjoyed this nonetheless. Carrie and her family lived a fascinating life and her writing is so warm and witty that I couldn’t help but love her for that, even if I’d never know her as Princess Leia.

And the audiobook, narrated by Carrie, is completely wonderful. I listened to the whole thing in only two sittings and I’m really looking forward to reading more of Carrie’s work, even though I do get a lump in my throat when I think of her loss.

Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
240⎟ Hamish Hamilton⎟ 2nd March 2017
Audiobook read by: Ashley Kumar

An extraordinary story of love and hope, travelling from the Middle East to London and beyond, from the bestselling, Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Nadia and Saeed are two ordinary young people, attempting to do an extraordinary thing - to fall in love - in a world turned upside down. Theirs will be a love story but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow, of a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it.

Civil war has come to the city which Nadia and Saeed call home. Before long they will need to leave their motherland behind - when the streets are no longer useable and the unknown is safer than the known. They will join the great outpouring of people fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world . . .

Exit West is a book that I kept seeing all over Instagram and booktube and the stories of beautiful writing and importance of the story completely captured me. I had to read it. And I’m so very glad I did.

I grabbed it on audiobook and devoured it in one go during a day of chores. I loved it. This novel is the perfect example of magical realism telling you about the real world more powerfully than a piece of realistic fiction. The doors that join cities in Exit West, the growing of Black London and the local reaction to immigrants fleeing to safety across the world. Take out those doors and the reactions that are left behind are real, the horror immigrants are fleeing is real.

It’s a breath-taking book and an essential one. Don’t miss it.


Friday 26 May 2017

Books I Couldn't Finish (13): Following Ophelia, The Girls & The Essex Serpent

I used to finish every book I started, whether I was enjoying it or not. But life is short. I’ve realised that I don’t have time for books I’m not full involved in any longer so if I don’t like something or don’t connect with it as much as I want to, I’ll put it aside. It still makes me feel guilty though, especially if I received them for review so I still want to talk about them, explain why I didn’t like them. Here are the most recent books I DNF-ed.

Following Ophelia, Sophia Bennett
I’m a huge fan of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood - the art, the movement and the TV show from a couple of years ago - so I was really excited to get my hands on this. But my iffy relationship with historical fiction strikes again. And honestly, it was really rather slow and I just had no motivation to push through.

The Girls, Emma Cline
Another victim of the hype train? Probably. This was the book of the summer last year and I just wasn’t feeling it. It was edgy; the atmosphere was wonderfully cloying and thick; and the story being based on the Manson murders was intriguing, but I just didn’t click with it. I was really disappointed that I didn’t fall in love with this as everyone else in the world seemed to adore it.
The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry
If The Girls was the book of the summer, The Essex Serpent was the book of the autumn and winter. I’m not sure if I saw a booktuber that reads literary fiction who didn’t include it as a favourite of 2016. I patiently waited for the paperback, and now I’m glad I didn’t buy that (unbelievably beautiful) hardback. Though Sarah Perry’s writing was just as beautiful as the cover, there was so little agency in the plot and I had no motivation to continue with it.


Tuesday 23 May 2017

Mini Reviews: The Penelopiad, Take Courage & Sweetpea

I rated The Penelopiad 3 stars, Take Courage 5 stars and Sweetpea 4.5 stars each.

The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
199⎟Canongate⎟11th October 2005

For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, maintaining a kingdom while her husband was off fighting the Trojan war was not a simple business. Already aggrieved that he had been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep over a hundred lustful, greedy and bloodthirsty suitors at bay…

And then, when Odysseus finally returns and slaughters the murderous suitors, he brutally hangs Penelope's twelve beloved maids. What were his motives? And what was Penelope really up to?

I watched countless booktube videos singing the praises of The Penelopiad and with my love of Greek mythology, I had to have it. It didn’t quite live up to expectations, though.

This book is odd. Really odd. The narration is split between Penelope and a chorus (written in verse) of the 12 maids that play a big part in this story - much in the style of the fates and their positions in tales of myth. It’s very clever, very original and a lot of fun, but I didn’t really ever connect with the story at any point. I’m familiar with the story and still it made very little impact.

It was a solidly enjoyable story and the audiobook was great, however. If you want something quick and unusual, I do recommend The Penelopiad.

Take Courage: The Art and Life of Anne Bronte, Samantha Ellis
352⎟Chatto & Windus⎟12th January 2017

Anne Brontë is the forgotten Brontë sister, overshadowed by her older siblings -- virtuous, successful Charlotte, free-spirited Emily and dissolute Branwell. Tragic, virginal, sweet, stoic, selfless, Anne. The less talented Brontë, the other Brontë.

Or that's what Samantha Ellis, a life-long Emily and Wuthering Heights devotee, had always thought. Until, that is, she started questioning that devotion and, in looking more closely at Emily and Charlotte, found herself confronted by Anne instead.

Take Courage is Samantha's personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. A brave, strongly feminist writer well ahead of her time -- and her more celebrated siblings -- and who has much to teach us today about how to find our way in the world.

Oh, this book. I loved Samantha Ellis’s How to be a Herione, but I adored Take Courage. Samantha Ellis is one of my favourite writers now - this exploration of the genius and wonder of Anne Brontë is pure joy.

Anne Bronte is the forgotten Brontë; the saintly, quiet, meek sister; the weak link in literature's most famous literary family - except she’s really, really not, and Samantha Ellis proves it.

Anne is my favourite Brontë, even though she was the last of the 3 sisters I came across. I thought Jane Eyre was okay, Wuthering Heights was fun but I hated everyone, and then came Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and I fell in love. She was miles ahead of her sisters and yet all of the credit is given to Charlotte. I knew there was some tension between Anne and Charlotte and honestly, the things that Ellis uncovered about their relationship really didn’t warm me up to the oldest Brontë sister.

If you love the Brontës, read this. If you think Anne is the weakest Brontë, read this. If you think Charlotte was the pioneering woman author of the 19th century, read this. Just read it; you’ll fall in love with Anne Brontë and never look back.


Sweetpea, CJ Skuse
384⎟HQ⎟20th April 2017

The last person who called me ‘Sweetpea’ ended up dead…

I haven’t killed anyone for three years and I thought that when it happened again I’d feel bad. Like an alcholic taking a sip of whisky. But no. Nothing. I had a blissful night’s sleep. Didn’t wake up at all. And for once, no bad dream either. This morning I feel balanced. Almost sane, for once.

Rhiannon is your average girl next door, settled with her boyfriend and little dog…but she’s got a killer secret.

Although her childhood was haunted by a famous crime, Rhinannon’s life is normal now that her celebrity has dwindled. By day her job as an editorial assistant is demeaning and unsatisfying. By evening she dutifully listens to her friend’s plans for marriage and babies whilst secretly making a list.

A kill list.

From the man on the Lidl checkout who always mishandles her apples, to the driver who cuts her off on her way to work, to the people who have got it coming, Rhiannon’s ready to get her revenge.

Because the girl everyone overlooks might be able to get away with murder…

I love CJ’s YA novels - they’re dark, funny, and unusual. With Sweetpea, she goes several steps further and I loved it.

Sweetpea isn’t for the faint of heart - murder, sex, swearing and the darkest humour I’ve read in a long while. I honestly don’t want to say too much about Rhiannon’s exploits; I honestly think it’s best discovered when reading. I honestly don’t want to ruin this for anybody. It’s just so much fun.

Bridget Jones meets Dexter, indeed. Utterly brilliant and one of my favourite reads of 2017. Dark, twisted and just generally bloody brilliant. Emphasis on the bloody.

Thanks to HQ for the review copy.


Friday 19 May 2017

Books I Couldn't Finish (12): Sorceror to the Crown, Castle Dor & The Driver’s Seat

I used to finish every book I started, whether I was enjoying it or not. But life is short. I’ve realised that I don’t have time for books I’m not full involved in any longer so if I don’t like something or don’t connect with it as much as I want to, I’ll put it aside. It still makes me feel guilty though, especially if I received them for review so I still want to talk about them, explain why I didn’t like them. Here are the most recent books I DNF-ed.

Sorceror to the Crown, Zen Cho
I’d heard countless wonderful things about this Regency-set fantasy novel that I went in with what I think were far too high expectations. I really liked the setting, the idea behind the story, the magic and the writing, but I just didn’t click with it. I think this is one to go back to in the future.

Castle Dor, Daphne Du Maurier
Oh, Daphne du Maurier, how I love thee. And yet, Castle Dor I just couldn’t get on with. I think my issue with this lay in the fact that it wasn’t really du Maurier’s novel. It was begun by Arthur-Quiller Couch and carried on by du Maurier and I could feel that it wasn’t her. Add that to my strange relationship with historical fiction and Castle Dor just didn’t work for me.
The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark
You know how you read a few books by an author and you just can’t like any of them? And then you have to admit that author may not be for you? That’s what’s happening with Muriel Spark and I. I thought The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was pretty boring and I didn’t even get half an hour into this audiobook (of a novella which is under 200 pages long…). I can’t remember a single thing about it. Sorry Muriel Spark, I’m letting you go.


Tuesday 16 May 2017

Mini Reviews: Goodbye Days, Caraval & The One We Fell in Love With

I rated Goodbye Days 4 stars, Caraval 3 stars and The One We Fell in Love With by one of my very favourite authors got 4.5 stars each.

Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner
416⎟Andersen Press⎟6th April 2017

Can a text message destroy your life?

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?

This book made me sob. Multiple times. It was so brutally emotional that I honestly can’t even decide if I enjoyed it or not.

Jeff Zentner’s writing is beautiful and every feeling that Carver felt came across vividly and with such skill that I felt it all. His descriptions of the sultry Nashville summer, the humour in Carver’s recollections of time with his friends, the acute agony of his grief and the stress of Carver’s situation made it a book impossible to put down.

Jeff Zentner is a wonderful writer and I’ll definitely be reading The Serpent King when my heart is fully healed from Goodbye Days.

Review copy provided by Andersen Press.

Caraval, Stephanie Gerber
416⎟Hodder & Stoughton⎟31st January 2017
Audiobook read by: Rebecca Soler


Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.
Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters' long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show's mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

This fantasy debut was being praised long, long before the first proofs landed in the UK so by the time that I came to read it, they hype was real. And I think it was too much.

The world of Caraval is enchanting. An exclusive, magical carnival with a dangerous and enigmatic Master; clashing sisters; tricks and lies and betrayal - it should have been everything I could have wanted in a fantasy. And I did love the world that Stephanie Garber created, but it wasn’t enough. I felt nothing for the characters, even getting annoyed at them a fair amount. I guess I just expected more.

The world was fascinating and Stephanie Garber’s writing lovely, but I was generally pretty disappointed with Caraval. It felt like nothing special.

Proof copy provided by Hodder & Stoughton.

The One We Fell in Love With, Paige Toon
416⎟Simon & Schuster⎟19th May 2016

Escape to the summer and feel the warmth of Paige Toon's storytelling

Phoebe is caught between a rock and a hard place. Settle down and get married, or return to the French Alps to pursue her passion?
Eliza is in love with someone who is no longer hers. In fact, he probably never was… And her dream of becoming a successful musician seems to be vanishing before her eyes.

Rose is out of a job and out of a boyfriend. To make matters worse, she’s been forced to move back in with her mother…
But these very different girls have one thing in common. Angus. The one they fell in love with…

I adore Paige Toon and her books so I’m still at a loss as to why it took me a year to read her last adult novel. But at least I got a burst of Paige Toon happiness right in the middle of a reading slump of epic proportions.

It was a little strange at first, getting used to all three girls and their narration as well as two different timelines, but once I settled into their voices, I was captivated. Paige Toon has a way of weaving the lives of characters so real, so layered, so involving that’s impossible not to be sucked into her books and the lives of her characters. As ever, The One We Fell in Love With deals a hefty dose of emotion, troubled love and wonderful settings. Perfection.

Luckily, Paige Toon’s next book is being released this month and this time I’m ready - no dallying for a year this time!