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

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

An Honest Report on Code Name Verity: It Soars Above Expectations!

code name verity20th January, 2020

Report #CodeNameVerity

Truly, this is one of the best WW2 books I’ve ever read. Saying that this reveals the realities of being a war time spy and pilot fails to do it justice- for what this story really manages to record is the untold depths of real friendship.

audiobook2The first thing I need to state for the record is that the audiobook was excellent. Both performers were *on point*. I felt they captured the voicey nature of the writing and gave a strong sense of setting through their acting. They brought the vivid characters to life with their delivery- capturing every little piece of their personalities, from Verity’s wry humour to Maddy’s goodness. I also really appreciated their regional accents! (actually, that’s just one example of the authenticity here)

Second on the agenda: this was an exceptionally well written novel. I loved how it was structured- giving us clues and then decoding the narrative. I also really liked the construct of confessions and reports- complete with interjections. It added so many layers to the story, showing that the truth is not always so straightforward. Annnd I have to be careful with my words, because I don’t want to spoil anything.

Plot-wise, this was terrifically thrilling. It flew from intense descriptions and emotional moments, right into action. Employing all kinds of tricks and turns- so you never knew what was going to hit you next. While it was possible to predict the ending, you were only given a glimpse from a bird’s eye view. By the time it was upon me, my heart was already freewheeling towards the ground.

Most of all, however, I wasn’t expecting this book to have quite as much depth as it did. For it didn’t just make me feel, it made me think as well. It dealt with complex issues in a way I rarely see in YA.

This was honestly wonderful. I just can’t keep my feelings for this book a secret; I love everything about it (even the author’s afterword!) And that’s all there is to say about it.

“Kiss me Hardy!”

– O. L.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Why I Didn’t Like Girl Woman Other

okay, if you’re looking for another glowing review, this isn’t going to be it

you’ll have to find someone else to tell you what a “seminal piece of fiction” it is

because I hated this so much I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from screaming

and look, I can fail at using punctuation too

it’s not exactly a challenge

Okay enough of that. I’m going to write this properly because I’m not a total wanker. I wouldn’t, say, write an entire book this way. That would be insufferable. That would be basically unreadable. That would make you think you’d lost your mind if you read it knowing it had won the Booker Prize… Oh wait, this book did all of those things.

Look, usually I try to soften the blow with negative reviews, but there’s no way around how much I hated this book. For me, this is just another in a long line of prizewinning books that I pored over trying to find *something* of merit. I picked it up, put it down, picked it up again, persisted once more… and still found it wanting. Despite all the praise that’s heaped on this book, I couldn’t see any hidden quality to it. I know I’m in the minority with this, but I’ve just got to come out and say it: THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES!

With a million run on sentences and no punctuation, the book is near unintelligible. It comes across as mindless rambling. The style is much like listening to half a conversation a stranger is having on the phone- you vaguely know it’s important to them… but you also don’t care and wish they’d shut up because this is the quiet carriage dammit and you’re trying to mind your own business. Amazingly, on top of being pointlessly bloated, the writing also manages to be stodgy and flat at the same time. It’s almost impressive how it’s been gutted of any life. There’s no delicacy to the wording or vibrancy to the imagery (ha, what imagery?) It’s just stripped bare and a little awkward for it. Naturally this somewhat dents the reading experience, leaving very little emotional impact, despite (what little there is of) the narrative being very graphic.

Structurally, it’s all over the place. Each story is attempting to do something like Gyasi, linking individual stories into one overarching narrative. Except this can’t pull that off. Coming across as a completely disparate narrative, the strands between stories stretch thin. And this was made worse by the knowledge that they’re *supposed* to be close (friends and even family). But the way it was written meant the impression was overly fragmented and I could barely tell them apart in my head. Particularly as there was no differentiation in voice and they all used the same “lexicon”. The way they all sounded the same (and felt the same) resembled a hive mind.

Apparently, the reason I had to suffer through this is because it’s “experimental”. Though that’s not much of an excuse. Because, you see, we already have this thing called short stories and we even have this thing called short story collections! I know- incredible! It’s less original, more irritating. It’s just doing what other people have done before, but badly. It kinda reminds me of when sound sculpture was a thing (which just amounted to off-key singing).

This also managed to commit the cardinal sin of being boring on top of infuriatingly written. That’s because it’s full of political diatribes. Unless you love being lectured to by most of the “characters” in this book, you’re not likely to enjoy this read.

And, of course, as I’ve come to expect from political manifestos masquerading as literature, a lot of the opinions are logically incoherent. My favourite example was when a character insists she’s “not a victim”, after chewing our ear off for pages about how she is in fact a victim. The book was basically gaslighting me at that point. I did, however, find it amusing how it ribs Derrida (whilst basically being 99% based on his philosophy). If I didn’t hate everything else about this book, I’d give it points for that.

So, there you go. I believe this has managed to knock even my least favourite books off their pedestal. Most of the time I like to be gentle when I break up with a book, but in this case all I can say is “nah, it’s not me, IT’S YOU!” I don’t think there’s anything redeemable about it. It was insipid, sneering and stupid.

Rating: banana peel

So, dare I ask, do you plan to read this one? Or have you read it already? Let me know in the comments!

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is Unforgettable

invisible life of addie larueThere’s something exquisitely mysterious about this book. It’s the kind of novel that slips into your periphery as you read, so that you feel it following you around, haunting your every step. It’s the kind of novel you think you’ve witnessed before- and yet I can guarantee you’ve never seen it play out quite like this. Because, while V E Schwab has always been a very clever writer, this is the cleverest of her works.

The story, on the surface, appears to be simple: girl makes a dangerous wish and is cursed with unforeseen circumstances. However, there’s nothing straightforward about this from the start. You see, the deal itself is a curious affair. Yes, in the typical fairy tale tradition the catch costs her everything. Yes, the consequences fit the request. Yes, the devilish antagonist behind all this pulls the strings to torment her throughout. Still, there’s a part of this particular curse that ties the darkness to her, making the binds a little more complex. Unlike any other story of this nature, the deal touches both parties.

And a lot of this comes down to the fact that Addie Larue is an entirely enigmatic character. She’s a complicated protagonist, brought to life with memorable details, from the constellation of freckles on her face to the dreams she holds close to her harrowing suffering. And still, I haven’t come close to covering who she is.

Twining her life with art, we see that she is the ultimate muse. Wherever she walks she brings inspiration. Though she is frozen in time, unable to change, she does develop over the course of the narrative. It’s a subtle change, keeping the core of the character intact, but shifting her attitudes so she’s a better, bolder version of herself. I loved this expansion of confidence. And I admired how it showed her creative streak in more ways than one. And I liked how it twined with her constantly budding relationships.

Speaking of relationships, there are many that were powerfully explored. Not just romantic relationships. Friendships were given space to bloom. Romance is often featured in the book- and yet for me it was the friendships that will stand the test of time.

Even better, there is a plot worth selling your soul for. I glided through the book, unable to put it down, though I thought the path it was taking was clear. Of course, in typical Schwab fashion, she pulled a blinder at the end. Unusual, unexpected and an absolute stroke of brilliance, the ending is *perfection*. The more I think about it, the better it becomes. And I would love to talk about this in more depth- but I won’t for fear of *spoilers*. It’s the kind of story you have to watch out for yourself. One thing’s for certain: I won’t be forgetting this book in a hurry.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you read The Invisible Life of Addie Larue? Can you see yourself picking it up? Let me know in the comments!

Alias Grace was a Gem Hidden in Plain Sight

I committed a cardinal sin with this book: I started watching the TV show first. I know, I know, that’s a crime as a bookaholic! Truth be told, I did it because I was on the fence over whether I wanted to try more Atwood. While I was impressed with her writing in Handmaid’s Tale, the actual story wasn’t for me. But then Netflix went and tempted me with this beauty.

Telling of a notorious murderess, this is an intriguing historical murder mystery. Pacey and languid in equal parts, I found myself racing to the end of the book and the show at the same time! (such that the two are blurred together in my mind). The lilting tone of the writing and the specificity of the imagery took me on a journey. My only issue is that Atwood has an aversion to speech marks for some indecipherable reason- the only consequence of which is to blur the words on the page. But otherwise, I was captivated.

Twining real life events with hints of the supernatural twists the tale into a unique patchwork-puzzle. Even with all the pieces, it’s impossible to solve… and for me that makes it a little bit special. The text never fully commits to vindicating or condemning Grace- and for me that is the perfect solution. I am sure there are feminist interpretations (indeed I’ve seen a few) that blame all the negative male behaviour for everything bad the women do… and yet neither the book nor the show fully commits to that argument. Which is a good thing- not least because this would take away the responsibility (and therefore power) of its female cast.

And, because of this ambiguity, I can’t stop thinking about it. I confess after finishing, I fell down an (unsatisfactory) research rabbithole, trying to get to the bottom of the true story! One thing’s for certain, Grace has been haunting me ever since I first caught her eye.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Do you plan to? And what Atwood (other than the Handmaid’s Tale) would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Settling in for Home Before Dark was… Unsettling!

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review, but I’m the one trembling with excitement about this book!***

home before darkWelcome, welcome! Today I have a treat for you if you like something a little tricksy- let me show you around. Here we enter into a story that has all the hallmarks of a spinechilling thriller: a haunted house vibe, a tensely told plot and even hints of creepy children in the flashbacks.

Step over the threshold and this is a multi-storied narrative. It contains a story within a story in a unique way. For this is a story that takes place over two timelines- a mystery that unfolded twenty-five years earlier and led to a family fleeing in the middle of the night… and the present day where the daughter tries to uncover what the hell happened. Problem is, the main clue she has her (now deceased) father’s bestselling, “true” account… which she’s a little sceptical about.

And it’s this motivation that makes it such a compelling read. Not only is she clearly haunted by what happened in this house, she’s also troubled by her father’s runaway success story. Thrusting her into the spotlight, it made me think of the troubling trend of child stars. Her foundational motivation for getting involved in this case is unshakeable. Even better, her character is intrinsically built around resolving her childhood trauma. It really strengthens the story.

Of course, it’s not a cut and dry situation. Unlocking what happened uncovers revelation after revelation. The key is elusive. I kept feeling like I had all the pieces to the puzzle… yet couldn’t quite put it together. To complicate the matter even further, Sager proves that memory is not always to be trusted. The narrative becomes lost in the labyrinthine passages of Baneberry Hall. Then- suddenly- the answer pounces on you and throws you into a frenzy of “aha”s. This is, after all, the kind of thriller that makes perfect sense when you think about it.

So, needless to say my visit was an experience… one I won’t forget in a hurry! 😉 I hope you enjoyed that quick open house and got a taste for what’s inside! Do come back and visit any time! Please take some bananas for the road…

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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And let me know: do you plan on coming to stay?