Schooling Lessons in Chemistry

Oh dear, I think I’m going to have to be that person dumping on a popular book again. Unfortunately, Lessons in Chemistry really tried my patience- particularly after I waited 6 months for the reserve to come through- so I guess you’ll all have to sit through my lecture 😉   

Fundamentally, I’d say this book’s biggest problem is that it’s a bit precious. In many ways, it reminded me of Love on the Brain- minus the fun. The author has a MESSAGE and she won’t let you go until she’s rapped you over the head with it. She may as well have forced us all to write lines: the past was patriarchal, the past was patriarchal, the past was patriarchal… ad infinitum.

Except so much of this felt like tampering with history and had a peculiar sense of unreality. Not only is it written with such contempt for a world that is long gone, it also features a modern character masquerading as a woman from the fifties. She’s a woman out of time in such a way she doesn’t seem to fit the time period at all- which made me wonder why it was set in the past to begin with. The aesthetic of the 50s barely exists as window dressing.

Add to that the fact that much about Elizabeth is unlikeable and I had a real problem. Especially since I was clearly meant to root for her. We are supposed to take her quirks and unsociability as endearing and a sign of her perfection. She’s way ahead of her time (about 50 years or so) and loves making sure everyone else knows it (even if that means insulting any woman who finds pleasure in being a housewife). I think the idea was to have her be a static character, with everyone around her changing for the better… except she’s no Paddington bear and instead comes across as somewhat insufferable.

Aside from that, the general tone of preachiness began to grate on my nerves. There was a sense of female superiority, with lines like “marriage counsellors would go out of business if men just listened to women”. I also wasn’t impressed with the delusion that men and women are the same physically, so no need to separate for sports teams! I shouldn’t need to give a so-called science inspired book a lesson in biology (or common sense for that matter). If you’ve ever trained with a man, you’ll know this isn’t the case. I just don’t get why this book has embraced this idea- if it’s supposed to be feminist, then why must it go with the implication that the only way to be a successful woman is to be a man?! This coupled with the nausea for stereotypically female pursuits makes it seem like a book that doesn’t care for the feminine at all.

The plot was… middling. I found some parts cliché and designed to manipulate an emotional response (without actually managing it). That said, I was satisfied with how everything came together and even somewhat impressed by the ending.

All in all, this wasn’t the worst book in the world, it just lacked a certain pizzazz I’d expect from this kind of bestseller. Still, what makes me wonder about this book is how on earth has it been a massive success?!? Because every single person I talk to about it found it simply average. Yet the reviews seem positive online and it’s literally ***everywhere***. This really felt manufactured as a popular book- it certainly didn’t get to these heights organically. It’s very much a case of success breeding success- everyone is advertising it, so everyone reads it, so it gets more advertisement etc etc etc. I just don’t get why. One can only assume it’s because THE MESSAGE is on point for the publishing industry. And that’s a lesson for us all.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

So, have you read this bestseller? Did you get the hype? Let me know in the comments!

The Constant Princess Gave Me A Constant Headache

Oh dear. I’ve done it again. I picked up a Philippa Gregory “historical” novel and only have myself to blame for reading it.

As usual, Gregory’s gifted us with a book that’s historical nonsense (unless you count being based on an account from the 1960s as accurate). Other than having a hilariously bad scene where Catherine of Aragorn craves “salad”, Gregory decided to make her first marriage to Arthur far more significant. Which could have been potentially interesting- except that it muddied her motivations and was poorly executed. In attempt to make things interesting, Gregory decided to shorten the lifespan of an already short-lived romance by squeezing in a badly done enemies-to-lovers subplot. Since they are only together for such a short time, it’s hard to be invested in this supposedly great love affair that overshadows the rest of Catherine’s life. It’s even more daft that this motivates her want to be queen, because Arthur’s dying wish is for her to marry his 10-year-old brother?! Aside from how unbelievable this all is, it actually takes away the sting of Henry’s later betrayal, since it’s repeatedly made clear she never loved him anyway and was only using him to be queen. It would have been far more powerful for her to be telling the truth- but then we wouldn’t have had a trademark terrible heroine to despise throughout the course of the book.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how *utterly awful* Catherine is as a character. I’m not saying the historical figure was particularly likeable, but jeez. When she’s not praying to her lost love for guidance, she’s harping on about how she deserves power because it’s “god’s will”. There’s no actual reason beyond that, no depth and nothing to root for. She is simply a power hungry, warmongering coloniser with an appetite for spilling Moorish blood.

Which, incidentally, brings me to Gregory’s brand of feminism: the kind where the best kind of woman is the worst kind of man. To use the woke phrase, as it’s rather fitting for a change, all she displays is toxic masculinity. Catherine is a meddlesome bore begging for holy wars, with a violent streak a mile long, seeking to dominate anyone and everyone. There is not a single trait that makes her likeable. It’s astounding to me that Mantell could take a historical figure like Cromwell and make you love him- and yet Gregory could do the inverse to Catherine of Aragorn (but then Gregory is no Mantell).

If all this isn’t enough to put you off, there’s also the problem of the plot being all over the place. Again, to use an unfavourable comparison, Mantell managed to beautifully craft a story that spanned decades, cleverly building to a deliciously clever destination. With this, you get a plot that’s got no focus, feels disjointed and fails to come together. This book manages to make one of the most famous divorces of all time duller than dishwater. It’s a sloppy structure not worthy of the story it’s telling.  

And naturally there’s also some vomit-inducing scenes with the king lusting after his daughter-in-law. Because this is history with the icky bits added in. Whatever would make the grossest version of events has to be there- this is a Philippa Gregory book after all. 

It’s no wonder Gregory put me off historical fic for so long. I don’t know why she has it in for history and must make up the worst possible versions of it- but there you go. This was not remotely enjoyable- but on the plus side it’s not her worst book- and that’s saying something!

Rating: 1/5 bananas 

Oof- dare I ask- have you read this book? Did you like it? Were you as bored as me? Let me know in the comments!

Treading Water in the House Across the Lake

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review***

house across the lakeThis was not the book for me. Obviously, the title should’ve raised some warning flags, BUT I consider the author an autobuy and I had high hopes for Sager doing something unique with the trope of a woman spying on her neighbours. WELL, he certainly did something unique- I’m just not convinced I liked it.

Opening on a moody lake scene, Sager dredges up an intriguing premise and wades out into uncanny territory. Evocative and intriguing, the atmospheric writing instantly lends itself to a sense of mystery and character. I certainly felt fully immersed from the start.

Quickly, however, the story falls into a seemingly generic plot of an unreliable (drunk) narrator watching her neighbours. Unfortunately, this trope is becoming a little tired and I could barely stifle a yawn as she stays up late watching a random couple’s marital antics. At this point, the only thing I had to worry about was being bored.

… Annnnd then the book went right off the deep end. I guess the good news is it’s nothing like all those books where the woman watches a murder. Bad news: it’s a very weird book.

Of course, there were the typical twists and turns you can expect in a book like this, some of which I rather liked, yet then it went a little too far and I felt like I was drowning in the unknown (where all the ghosts and ghoulies dwell 😉). I can’t be too harsh, because as I’ve hinted at already, there was a promise of something supernatural- I can only blame myself for not taking those hints seriously enough.

Without spoilers, I can say that this starts as a psychological thriller- then abandons reality somewhere in the murky middle. So, if you like supernatural genre benders, like Behind Her Eyes, then this could very well be the book for you… Otherwise, this was a well written book of utter nonsense.

Rating: 2½5 bananas 

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

A Quick Note on Dear Fahrenheit 451

To “Dear Fahrenheit 451”,

Yes, I am duty bound to write this review as a letter to you. Yes, I know it’s a cliché at this point- but it’s only a cliché because you made it so 😉

Firstly, thank you so much for welcoming me into your library. You made me feel so at home and I loved getting to explore the stacks with you. I had such fun hearing your real-life stories of what it’s like to work in a library (and found them far too relatable! We’ve all passed on a book a patron absolutely will not like!!)

What I didn’t realise when I picked you up was how this would read more like a story than a collection of reviews. As you weeded each of the books, I felt like I was going on a personal journey with you. And it clarified for me why weeding is simultaneously the saddest and most interesting job. Each story is full of memories and stories of their own- so it’s not a simple act when we send them off to live another life elsewhere.  Luckily, I don’t think I’ll be parting with you any time soon.

Above all, I appreciated your wit and humour. Your playful writing was so on point (I definitely chuckled at the line where you said you were “seeing someone else” with regards to Anna Karenina!) You definitely felt made for me.

I must admit, though I really enjoyed reading your suggestions for more books, I’m not sure we share entirely the same taste. But that’s okay- it would be boring if we were all the same and it was fun reading why you love and loathe different books nonetheless.

Once again, I want to say how grateful I am to you for keeping me company. You are an inspiration and a delight. I will be sure to push you into the hands of unsuspecting readers whenever I can!

All my love,

The Orangutan Librarian

PS: enclosed are four and a half bananas- I hope they’re not too squished!

The Plot Worth Dying For…

Here’s a story that really takes the expression good artists copy, great artists steal to a new level. Washed-up writer Jacob Finch Bonner hasn’t had a good idea in years… until his student hands one to him on a plate and conveniently dies. It seems a shame to let such a good story go to waste, so he does what any *ahem* reasonable person would do in that scenario and helps himself. The only problem is someone knows and they would kill to get justice.

Naturally, reading the synopsis for this book had me instantly hooked. Because really, you can’t mess up a plot like this. Sexy and salacious, meta in an unusual way, it’s a story that comes to life right away. It’s a story many writers would kill for.

Of course, it’s one of the most unusual books about writing I’ve ever read- raising more than a few questions (and eyebrows). Wittily exposing the neediness of dejected writers, there is a humour to this dark narrative. There’s a sharp understanding of the pain that comes with failing to live up to your potential. And it stings, along with the carefully plotted out punches to the gut.

I found the voice unique enough- though with perhaps not enough differentiation from the original extract. Yet, that has little impact. This is a novel with a pulse. This is a thriller too original to beat. Even while I guessed certain outcomes, it’s quite simply a story that sells itself.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

Have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Excuse me while I ugly cry (over how good this book is!!)

List of all the reasons I loved this book:

  1. Written in list form, Quinn keeps a diary of all her deepest, darkest secrets… a diary that is now being used to blackmail her! Now she has to do what the blackmailer wants… before all her lies are exposed! I’m choking back the emotions this book gave me, cos as you might be able to tell from that description… it was a wild ride!
  2. Bold and different to a lot of other contemporaries out right now, this is a coming-of-age story for a new generation.
  3. Far from being a goody two shoes, our main character has a lot of growing up to do. And yet, that’s what makes her so relatable. Her journey isn’t about achieving perfection or being the best (amazingly this isn’t yet another book where the main character gets into an Ivy League 😉), but about her finding out who she is. I really appreciate how this book shows that it’s okay to make mistakes and grow from them, because life is a process. And your story doesn’t end at your high school graduation!
  4. Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry gives us a fair dose of realism, showing the complexity of friendship, romance and family relationships. The romance is cute and has a fantastic first-love feel. The friendships are explored with great care. And I especially loved that it didn’t give us the cookie cutter family image- it’s more down-to-earth than that.
  5. Happily, so many of the characters are humanised. Sure, there’s one or two irredeemable people in the bunch, but most have some humanity to them.
  6. There’s a lot about redemption and hope and growth in this book. This deals with difficult and significant issues in a grounded way. I loved the maturity and heart of the main character- and it was her attitude that was the saving grace of the story.
  7. Plus, we get to cheer on some justice being done by the end of the book!
  8. I can safely say I was delighted with this contemporary- it was one of the best I’ve read in a while!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

And that’s all for today! Have you read this book? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

The Paris apartment was a très chic thriller

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for review, but all opinions are my own*

A locked-in thriller set in Paris- ou la la! 😉

Stuck in a Parisian townhouse with some dodgy rich characters, Jess is running out of time to find her missing brother. And in this creepy, claustrophobic old building, there’s more than a few secrets stashed away. Being a massive Francophile, I could certainly appreciate soaking in the French atmosphere. It was as heady and intoxicating as a good vintage.

Though very much grounded in reality, our heroine was reminiscent of Bluebeard’s wife, poking her nose where she shouldn’t. Finding dark and sordid details behind the wealthy façade. Shining a light on some serious issues. In many ways, it reminded me of Lisa Jewell, tackling something greater than simply a murder mystery. It showed the seedy underbelly of so-called upper crust society.

While Jess acts as our guide- the other characters are far from trustworthy. I thoroughly enjoyed how delightfully unlikeable they all were. D’accord, some of their secrets were a tad obvious- but others completely caught me by surprise!

I will say this was decidedly a slower burn than I prefer, especially giving the ticking clock element. That said- mon dieu! What a plot twist!!! The ending took me by surprise in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s a very sharp ending.

And that’s all I can say without giving anything away, so I’ll leave it there…

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

Night Swim Didn’t Go Absolutely Swimmingly

Darkly mysterious, this book simultaneously centres on a rape trial and a historic murder in a small town. Using the true crime podcast trope, this was perfectly suited to the audiobook format, with performances that brought the story to life. It seemed at first to be a smooth-sailing success.

A gruelling book, I felt sucker-punched by a lot of the subject matter. Which is as it should be- I don’t want another precious, artsy book exploring the subject. And this doesn’t do that. Showing not only the horror of rape in raw and unfiltered terms, it also explores the topic of how harsh the justice system is for victims and how too often public sympathy is with the perpetrator. 

However, as with a lot of #MeToo books, this falls into the ideological quagmire of opposing jury trials. Rather than suggesting support for victims or another practical solution, it rages against the concept of a jury trial as “archaic” (with the presumed alternative being the far more archaic “guilty until proven guiltier”). I just don’t understand why books like this want to fight injustice with further injustice. Arguing against evidentiary support is paving the way towards kangaroo courts and witch trials- as if those have ever ended well for any society. It’s not, as the book purports, the question of 10 guilty men going free- it’s a question of punishing hundreds of innocent people.

I also didn’t entirely agree with the way the book explores trauma. There is a fine line between recognising the damage done and describing women as irrevocably broken- and I felt this verged into the latter, implying there was no life after. It is a pity that when characters do speak out, only their vulnerability is highlighted, instead of their strength. I just think these tropes are so unhelpful for healing.

Still, I did like how this wove together two women’s stories- although how they converged at the end did raise eyebrows. I mean, aside from the decision to go and confront a killer (with only a phone between them… that they weren’t even using to livestream?!) And I also found the choice of villain realllly depressing- even if it was clearly signposted and made sense. I dunno, as the main character said, I wish it had been *anyone else*.

Now I may have flooded this review with negativity- but I really don’t think it’s a bad book. A lot of the execution was on point- even if some of my criticisms drown that out.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana half-a-hand-drawn-banana

So, have you read this book? Am I being overly critical? Let me know in the comments!

Can I Interest You in Some… Crap Days Out?!

This book was the shit.  I looked at that cover and thought “this will either be brilliant or awful- there is no in-between”- and it turned out to be really funny (if you have a somewhat immature sense of humour). Yes, I get why this isn’t the most popular or well-loved books (just look at the goodreads rating of 3.13) BUT it’s perfect if you don’t take things too seriously. And it’s ideal for people looking for new places to visit in 2022… and need a list of places to avoid!

In this quintessentially British guide, you’ll hear about some of the worst best beloved places you ABSOLUTELY DO NOT NEED TO GO TO! Nowhere is sacred- not even our top attractions like Madame Tussauds and Stonehenge (honestly, I love both of those… though I can’t quite put my finger on why… something this book had me questioning!) It even gave me flashbacks to my childhood, when a misguided parent tried to take me to the pencil museum (even I don’t like stationary that much).

With hilarious observations about just how weird British culture can be, you’ll read this book and question your life choices and why you listened to me and titter at all our idiosyncrasies. I already know I’ve got one person to read this and regret it- you could be next!

I do have to admit, this fizzled by the end and got really repetitive (I have to ask the authors why they felt the need to put some of these places in twice?!) However, I can forgive it because I only have myself to blame for reading this in the first place and it was only delivering what it promised. Really though, I learnt a valuable lesson from this book (and can save you the time and money of reading it if you like): kids only want to go to Disneyland, you cheapskate! Gonna give this book a great big pile of bananas (even if the authors of this book end up writing a follow up book complaining about why all fruit are rubbish:

I may be the only person on the planet who enjoyed this book- but sometimes you love what you love! 😉 What’s the weirdest book you enjoyed lately? And… are you bonkers enough to pick this up too?? Let me know in the comments!

I Can’t Keep Quiet About the Silent Patient!

silent patientWhich is why I have to SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS THAT YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK (seriously, it’s really good). Telling the story of a woman who killed her husband and the psychotherapist who can get to the reasons why, The Silent Patient is a book a lot of people have been talking about. And it’s easy to see why.

I picked this up after discovering The Maidens and was quickly drawn into this mystery. The book lends itself to the audiobook format. Michaelides has a brilliant ability to capture different voices, cleverly contrasting the artist’s diary with the doctor’s more clinical notes. I felt like I was inside the psychotherapist’s head, watching with horror as events unfolded.

And once again, the classics references were on point. The myth of Alcestes was artfully incorporated into the plot and used to illustrate difficult themes. It helped to capture the sense of heartbreak and betrayal, exhibiting the realism behind these thrillers. Because these books are better than simply pure entertainment- they have hidden depths. They are filled with pain and truth and snapshots of beauty.

And of course: a fabulous twist (which I won’t be spoiling for you! You’ll just have to read it!!) It was neatly done and boldly executed. I have nothing but good things to say about this book!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

5 bananas

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