When I Read the How and the Why

the how and the whyWhy hadn’t I heard much about this book? It is such a hidden gem! Centring on themes of identity, this tells the story of a theatre nerd teen trying to find answers about her adoption. It is an old-school coming-of-age story in the best way; it is the kind of story that wraps you up in its arms and gives you a great big hug! Listening to this audiobook absolutely made my heart sing!

Not that this gives you a glossy-version of reality. No, this is the kind of contemporary that doesn’t hold back. This is not some fairy tale- it’s about realising the value of real life and coping with the hand you are dealt. Dreams don’t magically come true and that’s okay. Sometimes it hurts and that’s okay. Everyone, as it turns out, has skeletons in their cupboards (and their family trees). Personally (and I know this won’t be the case for everyone) I loved that this wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows the whole time- I think it’s a good thing to have a counterweight to the Hollywood narrative we’re often spun. Because life isn’t easy- but it sure as hell is beautiful.

And that’s what this book really shows. Hand’s book dances into the spotlight and announces to the world the importance of friends and family- with *jazz hands*. It is cute and sweet and full of forgiveness. It hits all the right notes emotionally. I just loved the little touches and the big finale… Which admittedly left me longing for more (/to go back to the beginning and start again!)

Overall, there was a lot more to this than I thought there would be. I’m grateful that this came into my life at precisely the right moment- it’s almost as if the entire world conspired to help me find it and the universe unfolds as it should…

Rating: 4½/5 bananas  

4.5 bananas 

So, have you read this book? Do you plan to now? Let me know in the comments?

Howling My Appreciation for the Wolf Hall Series!

wolf hall bookI have to admit, I was really reluctant to try the Wolf Hall series. Though I’d heard nothing but good things from friends, fantastic fellow bloggers and colleagues, the first chapter is so brutally heavy going that I didn’t think I could make it through the first book, let alone the densely written stonker of a series. Still, after I was recommended it for the millionth time, I had a brainwave to try out the audiobook. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my recent foray into audiobooks, it’s that they’re terrific for tackling tomes. And whaddya know?! I fell hook line and sinker for this series.

After biting the inside of my cheek through the torturous first chapter, I was off. Taken far beyond the bounds of my imagining, deep into the heart of court life in Tudor England. It wasn’t so much that I could picture the setting- I was there body and soul. The richly depicted world, stitched together with exquisitely precise descriptions fully transported me. I felt like I walked alongside Thomas Cromwell, following to where his intelligent eye snagged. Picking over every detail for intrigue that would later become relevant.

For this is a story that is layered in a way that beguiles. Through the narrative, you are given hints and told to suspect every cast member- and yet it is always a surprise to find what is lurking in the round each corner. It is a story that builds on its tension and intricacies with every turn of the page, blotting out your expectations. It is, in short, a masterpiece.

Characterisation is where this series shines. I love how well Mantel paints psychological portraits with such subtle strokes. Each line on Cromwell draws us deeper into his psyche, illuminating his intelligence and strength, yet also the shadows of his vulnerability, humanity and even guilt.

And in some ways her portrayal of Anne Boleyn is even better. It’s an intriguing depiction- not quite like any other version I have seen before (and yet isn’t that always going to be the case for such an enigmatic figure as Anne?) Personally I really enjoyed this manipulative Anne, with her bursts of narcissistic rage, who has met her match in Cromwell. Strangely more captivating still is her transformation in Bring Up the Bodies as she tightens the noose around her own neck (spoiler alert 😉). While she sees the danger, she only digs her grave deeper, acting like a guilty woman. It’s almost as if she wrote the perfect script for her own demise. For me, it is the perfect depiction of a rise and fall.

bring up the bodiesOf course, so much of Cromwell’s own story hinges on this. He must continue to rise- or he will fall. It is an inevitability of a self-made man. And it is woven into the plot. Mantel is frequently careful with her words, giving the slightest hints of foreshadowing. Blink and you will miss them. We sense the tragedies waiting before they hit. We know that everything could turn on a dime. And that is precisely what happens in Bring Up the Bodies.

Every piece of the puzzle slots into place. The carefully laid out chess board marches to its bloody conclusion. It is sudden and entirely predictable- as all the best stories should be. It was acted out, just as Cromwell planned.

mirror and the lightNonetheless, there is a greater hand guiding the players. And that is the well-known fate of Cromwell, where the story winds up the story in The Mirror and the Light. Here, the languid pace slows even more, which makes sense as the stage lights dim. And yet, while I think it is an overall good conclusion, the time taken to tell it was not entirely necessary. It does not help that without Anne, the series suffers. But, I would not miss this ending- if nothing other than to feed my addiction. There is a sense that it circles back round to the start and that everything was leading to this point.

Wolf Hall dug its claws into me and recalled my passion for historical fiction. Beneath history there is a wealth of stories and Mantel is magnificent at telling them.

Rating: 4.5 bananas

So, have you read some or all of the Wolf Hall trilogy? What did you think of this beast of series? Let me know in the comments!

Heart Principle Struck an Emotional Chord

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- though the book-love is all me***

After falling head over heels for Hoang’s Kiss Quotient and Bride Test, I calculated a high probability of loving every single book she releases. Which is why I jumped at the chance to read The Heart Principle as soon as possible! Naturally, I wasn’t disappointed.

I quickly got tangled up in Anna’s story: a violinist going through burnout and a breakup- yeesh! That’s a helluva lot to have on your plate. But, enter hot motorbike-riding Quan and we have ourselves a love story waiting to happen.

While Quan has all the trappings of a bad boy, he’s the kind of cinnamon roll that makes your heart sing. It’s actually rather ironic that the “nice guy” her family approve of is a TOTAL JERK. Looks can be deceiving- and it didn’t take long for me to be making *heart eyes* at her new beau.  

Yet as romantic as this was, I felt like in some ways that took a backseat to Anna’s personal journey. Because this is really about being blocked creatively and struggling to do the thing you love most in the world. Because how do you even deal with not being able to do the thing that defines you? For me, this was a punch in the gut, cos oof I hardcore relate to feeling like this. It got me thinking about all the things I’ve been grinding my teeth over lately. And of course, this gives the answer that you have to find a way back to the pure joy, the love, the happiness… but, as the Heart Principle shows, it’s not simple. You don’t just feel ready one day, pick up the bow and the music comes. It takes time and turning up and a lot of deep breaths before you get there. And I really appreciated how patiently the story traced over the notes and melodically made its way towards healing.

What’s great is how personal this story is. Beyond her individual difficulties, she’s trying to navigate her relationship with her family. Trapped by their expectations of her, I felt her agony as she tried to balance being a good daughter and being true to herself (particularly after her recent autism diagnosis). As much as she wants to be understood, she also wants to take control of her own life. And that’s not an easy path to navigate. Through the narrative, Anna breaks down the problem into individual bars, playing through them, circling back, until she finally makes it through the whole piece. I really liked how raw and honest this was. I felt like I got to know the characters in such an intimate way.

Another beautiful addition to Hoang’s collection, I was certainly swept up in this story. Can’t wait to be carried away by another of her romances!

Rating: 4/5 bananas  

So, have you read any books by Helen Hoang? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Malibu Rising was BLAZING HOT!

Hot off the press, Taylor Jenkins Reid newest novel burns bright. With a sizzling start, in 80s Malibu, we catch the embers of a rager. Before we can even get our head above water, we know things are going to end in flames.

Introduced to four famous siblings, hosting this party, slowly getting to know their distinct personalities, as their pictures build up in waves. From their tumultuous origin stories to the present riptide that sweeps them up, it becomes apparent that this is a book about heartbreak. Surprisingly for a book about surfers, there’s zero chill- which is more than fine by me.

Because below the glossy surface of the writing, there is immense depth to this book. More than I ever expected. There’s such a whirlpool of emotion, I was thrown off balance and sucked under. Here’s a story that takes you far out to sea, showing all the ways a heart can hurt. And damn, it resonates.

Summery and frothy, the story fizzes like champagne. In typical Reid fashion, it’s utterly unique and so totally her style. Evocative and powerful, I could practically taste the salt, sand and sun of her words. And, without taking any easy turns, it delivers an epic ending.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

So, have you read Malibu Rising? Do you plan to? And do you also love Taylor Jenkins Reid novels? Let me know in the comments!

Lights, Camera, Action: Survive the Night Rolls into Twisty Territory!

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but the excitement featured is all me***

*Fade in*

Let’s set the scene: it’s the 1990s, it’s night and our main character is in a car with a man who may very well be a serial killer. It doesn’t help that she has a history of “seeing movies in her head” aka she’s not sure of what’s really playing out before her eyes. And if that sounds tense to you, you’d better climb in cos it’s gonna be one crazy ride.

Told uniquely in a movie-script style, I found it hard to be certain what was really playing out. With such an unreliable narrator, it’s easy to feel lost in the dark. I will admit that the style was somewhat distancing, making it hard to connect to the characters. Yet nonetheless I was gripped, as the story swerved in maddening directions and drove towards a bonkers conclusion.

As if through headlights, I could see some of the dangers coming, but Sager still pulled some curveballs. And WHAM-BAM-THANK-YOU-MA’AM those twists sent me into a tailspin! Skidding off into something of a melodramatic end, it may not have pleased every reader, but I have to say I was satisfied.

So, expect something a little bit larger than life, because this homage to movies does not hold back.

*Fade out*

*End credits*

4/5 bananas

Have you read this? Do you plan to? Are you a fan of Riley Sager novels? Let me know in the comments!

The Ivies was a Killer Read!

Who wouldn’t kill to get into an Ivy League College? Well, most people obviously 😉 But at Claflin Academy, there’s plenty of suspects when a student with a coveted place at an Ivy is brutally murdered. With biting humour and plenty of drama, Donne’s new YA thriller instantly grabbed my attention and refused to let go.

From the juicy opening, the tension sizzles. The voicey style gives you a direct insight into the main character’s point of view and helps you get to know her (largely irredeemable) cohort. As the twists came thick and fast, I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know everything.

Because this group of teens have more than their fair share of secrets. There’s no way I could have seen all the twists coming- which was precisely what I wanted from this book. And then there was the big reveal- *highlight for spoilers*- DAMN Donne did the secret sociopath well. It’s breadcrumbed nicely, but not too obvious. Personally, I also loved the motive, because it’s not straightforward jealousy (which I think some people have misunderstood). It’s actually a pretty clever reason.

For me, the ending completely hit the mark. I liked that it wasn’t too clean. Again, a bit spoilery, but I don’t know why people expected the main character to grow in this one- it’s not that type of story. I liked that this didn’t hold back and went with the boldest outcome. I don’t want my thrillers to pull their punches.

There is politics in the book- but for once I didn’t find it entirely off-putting. Perhaps this was helped by the fact it was in first person. And that her views only add to Olivia’s characterisation as an insufferable hypocrite (did I mention that the characters aren’t all that likeable?)

This was everything I want in a YA thriller. And of course, it was dead fun.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

So, have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Awesome Audiobooks- Books That Need to be Heard!

Increasingly, I’m listening to more and more audiobooks. When I’m exercising, when I’m cooking, when I’m on my way to work, I can cram in some more reading time by cramming some headphones in my ears 😉 And best of all, audiobooks can often make the reading experience all the more thrilling! That’s why I decided to recommend some of my absolute favourite audiobooks for everyone that loves audiobooks already- and for everyone else who just needs a little nudge to get started!

Sadie– this is the story that switched me onto audiobooks. Poignant, pacy and heart-breaking, the main character’s voice resonates most strongly in the spoken word. And with the construct of a podcast woven into the structure, the audiobook works as the perfect medium. Ultimately, this opened my eyes to what audiobooks could be… and I’ve never looked back.

Daisy Jones and the Six– the audiobook is the way to go for this one. With the multiple narrators, all putting in powerful performances, this the best way to experience the story by far. Designed as the individual recordings of different band members, discussing the height of their fame in the 80s, this was a whole lotta rock n’ roll. And, sound being integral to the story, it doesn’t hurt that all the voice actors are easy on the ears. I virtually listened to this in one sitting.

The Salt Path– for me memoirs lend themselves really well to audiobooks- especially when read by the author. One of my most recent listens, I was blown away by the beautifully evocative writing and stunning settings along the coastal path. Hearing Winn’s struggles and revival in her warm voice was a powerful experience.

Becoming– again, I really enjoy listening to people tell their own stories. And this was obviously no exception. I really appreciated hearing Michele Obama’s life story in her own words- particularly, funnily enough, her time before she became First Lady.  

Where the Crawdads Sing– admittedly, I am including this because I just adored the story. But really, this was a pleasure in every way. And being read this book was utterly transporting.   

Wolf Hall– frankly I was intimidated to read Wolf Hall- which is why I picked up the audiobook. And not only did it help me get through this great tome, but the excellent voice actor made it thoroughly engaging. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. And despite its length, I barely noticed the time passing. Personally, I recommend this format if you’re on the fence about the series! (cos it’s damn good!!)

Code Name Verity– what a wonderful story to listen to. Read by two actresses, this historical narrative is in equal parts gripping and moving. The performances are perfect- down to the different accents and intonations. For me, it enhanced an already brilliant book. Just maybe try to listen at home (because you don’t want to get all teary-eyed while walking down the street like me 😉).

Diviners– you won’t believe how good this audiobook is until you have a listen. An EMMACULATE performance and an excitingly spooky tale, I got goosebumps listening. January LaVoy (one of my favourite voice actors) abso-positutely brings Libba Bray’s atmospheric series to life.   

The Afterlife of Holly Chase– and if you haven’t had enough of the dead, I definitely recommend this oddly-light-hearted romp through the afterlife. With a performance to die for, this Christmas Carol retelling is really worth a listen.

Aurora Burning– I wish I’d listened to the first one this way (one day I will). For now, I can HIGHLY recommend the audiobook version. Using a full cast, this definitely took off in an exhilarating direction and made you feel for everyone. I just can’t wait to listen to the finale this autumn!!

And that’s all I’ve got… for now! What about you? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Which are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below! I’m dying to hear your recommendations!

Loudly Proclaiming My Thoughts on the Quiet At The End of the World

When I started reading this book I was lulled into a false sense of security. Initially, I believed it to be a cleverly done concept, following the aftermath of a pandemic that caused human infertility. As gloomy as the setting was, I found myself absorbed by the melancholic tone and intriguing ideas. And if nothing else, I appreciated the schadenfreude that our current apocalypse situation wasn’t quite as dire. I liked how it engaged with archaeology of the present, mining social media to uncover both individual histories and an entire global reaction to a crisis. While it lacked some prevalent aspects of our recent reaction to a pandemic (eg humour), I was impressed that the author had been able to predict how some people would react to an existential crisis. I liked the social media acted as a time capsule for this moment. I thought it was showing us a Black Mirror style possibility of people turning to apps to fill the void inside themselves.  

… except that was not where it was going at all. Because when the twist came (*spoiler warning*) that the world was inhabited by the robot-baby devices created to help with feelings of loss, the last two humans on earth decide to advocate for robots as the next stage of evolution. You see, in the story, human extinction is a shame, but not the end of the world, because robots would be more responsible with the planet- yay?!

To me, this is entirely nihilistic and human-hating. There is a heavy-handed implication that people shouldn’t have been so selfish as they went extinct and should have thought about keeping the robot babies “alive” (whilst ironically showing that the robot babies are prone to the same foibles, so aren’t exactly an upgrade). There is the oh-so-typical modern guilt imposed upon the reader that humanity should repent its existence. Then there is the message that humanity can just be replaced and isn’t worth fighting for- which didn’t sit well with me- because, well, I love humanity.

To my mind, this narrative speaks to a deep sense of self-loathing. Any attempt at nuance is drowned out by this underlying emotion. I know there are people out there who think that robots would make an adequate (or even superior) replacement to humanity- yet I am not one of them. I do not think that an entity that shares the same consciousness, but have a different aesthetic, would be an improvement. I do not think that immortality, giving an endless amount of time to achieve less (and without any of the moral qualms to hold it back), would be an improvement. I do not think that a human’s value goes bone-deep.

I think to go down this “perfectionist” line of argument is somewhat dangerous. I think it is troubling to suggest the world would be better off without humans. And it is most disturbing to see this idea presented to teens without any kickback. When one reads YA like this, it is unsurprising that so many young adults are depressed and anxious. I would have been- if I wasn’t so infuriated.

I respectfully disagree with the author calling this “uplifting”. It seems more death cult-y to me. Though the author clearly has talent, I was less-than-enamoured by the end:

Rating: 2/5 bananas

So, dare I ask, what did you think of this book? Have you read it? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Kindred- A Masterpiece That’s Unlike Any Other!

kindredWhat a book! I didn’t know much about it going in, except that it was about time travel. From the brilliant, brilliant opening I was sucked into the story, as I began to get an inkling that I was in for something special. Fast forward a few pages later and I found my footing in the unusual structure. For the most part, it is a chronological story from the perspective of the heroine, though this involves jumping back and forth in time.

Unusually for a sci fi, the style reads more like a classic or historical fiction. Yet at the same time, it was so so gripping. Full of action, it kept me on the edge of my seat, unsure what would happen and scared for the consequences of each choice. I especially loved was how the rules for the time travel were quickly and simply established- yet the discussions surrounding it are endlessly complex.

What’s interesting is how the main character does not come across as a straightforward heroine. However nice it would have been to read a story of wish-fulfilment, she doesn’t simply storm into the past and fix everything. Instead, we see how she is often motivated by selfish desires and is forced to bear witness to the collateral damage of her choices. It raises the idea that as much as we would like to believe we would save history… we probably wouldn’t or couldn’t. And actually this is a more empathetic way of showing the victims of history: not only would we not do better, we’d probably do worse. Many times the protagonist recognises that she could not have made the choices her forebears did with dignity. And uncomfortable as it may make us, this discomfort is far more telling. We see deep inside the main character’s head, understanding, so that we might understand ourselves better.

This is easily the best time travel books I’ve ever read… heck it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you read this book? Do you plan to? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Burn Our Bodies Down Sparked Plenty of Intrigue

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but any spicy takes are all me!***

burn our bodies downThere’s no two ways about it: this is an unusual book. At its heart a mystery- yet with its heavy dose of the supernatural and its hints of horror, this isn’t you run-of-the-mill YA. It’s surreal, speculative and a little out there. But what can you expect from the author who gave us Wilder Girls? And yes, I feel it’s necessary to compare it to the Wilder Girls, because I’m beginning to feel like this author is doing so much of her own thing, she’s only truly comparable with herself… and that’s rather thrilling.

Despite a somewhat meandering (but still intriguing) start, the plot has potency. The author has a real gift for drawing you into her world and vividly set the scene. Not to mention the characters she casts to bring the story to life- they are all fractured in their own way, yet reflect back parts of reality. They carry the oddness and the moody tone. Again, it doesn’t quite remind me of anything else.

Then there’s the mystery itself. Full of those kind of jump scares that keep you on your toes and creepy realisations that set your hair on end. The mash-up of genres is interesting, giving answers and raising more questions still. I got a sense of a mythic elements, threading through the narrative. I did see some of the outcomes coming- though that hardly matters. It’s the kind of story that enjoys giving you bits and pieces- just so the slow-dawning terror of what is really going on can freak you out all the more. Plus, this does give you a more tangible ending than Wilder Girls (though I can’t actually decide which one is ultimately more unsettling).

And that’s really all I can say about it without getting into spoilers. I wrote a lot of things down in my notes that make no sense out of context (which is unfortunate, because it’s quite funny reading them back and seeing how my brain coped with the all the *whoas* this book delivered 😉).

I easily burned through this in a day and got more than a few chills along the way. And it definitely stands out as something a little bit different. (Also I have to mention how incredible I think that cover is!!)

Rating: 4/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana 

So, have you read this? Do you plan to? Or have you read the author’s other work? Let me know in the comments!