Well that was an absolute disaster

Disastrous. That’s how I’d describe this book.

Badly written and contrived, you may be inclined to consider this a “How Not To Write” guide. I certainly did when I came across a part where the main character says something along the lines of: “I have a great idea, why don’t I ask everyone’s names so we can bond”. Not exactly the best way to introduce a motley crew. It didn’t help that the sarky tone was complete overkill. It’s trying very, very hard to be funny- which of course means it only comes across as childish and insufferable. Add in details like the ship being called (I kid you not) Swiftkick and you will be wondering how such a juvenile manuscript ever made it past an editor (especially when the book’s title gives you a great option).

What makes all this worse is how desperate this book is to prove its geeky credentials. There are more than enough derivative illusions to Star Wars to make you want to join the dark side (complete with a “maybe I should shoot first” line). All of which is no mere accident- I found it amusing that the author’s bio has a weird flex about loving Star Wars more than you. Especially when it doesn’t come close to bringing the magic of Star Wars. Still, more noticeable is that it comes across as an Illuminae ripoff- except without the charm of the characters (or a good conspiracy to drive the plot… but we’ll get to that).

What’s most entertaining about how one note this supposedly diverse crew are (one reviewer described them as straightforward jocks- and I have to say I agree). What’s most frustrating is that in a book about failure, they’re not actually allowed to fail. For instance, the supposed brains of the operation gets herself captured, for no real reason and with nothing to gain, but oh-would-ya-believe it, she gets herself out of it with no harm done. Not only does this suck all the fun out of the concept, it also manages to remove all the tension. Very quickly, the crew that’s (justifiably) not getting on are now all the best of friends. Because this has to be the kind of story where they’re all pretty much useless, but also geniuses. In fact, we’re actually supposed to root for them because *twist alert* all their problems come down to discrimination.

That’s right- this book is woke as hell. And it wants you to know it. This book is on a tick box mission to cover all woke bases. The characters are defined by their immutable characteristics- and that’s it. Naturally none of the characters are allowed to have real flaws or personal development (because we all know diverse characters aren’t allowed personalities- implying they are human would be a travesty 😉). Hilariously, it’s also woke in way that accidentally ties itself in knots- especially when it comes to the so-called villain.

Because this is a woke book in favour of colonisation. I kid you not. As the official “bad guys” the Earth First group don’t make a lot of sense. Look, I get that the author was trying to parallel America First and far right movements- except that their motivations are more like a group of left wing eco warriors? This is a group saying that we shouldn’t colonise other planets when Earth has enough problems of their own- which to the author means they’re on the wrong side of history… yet to anyone else creates a crater sized flaw in the narrative. Here we have a story purporting to stand for left-wing progressivism… that somehow manages to be an argument for pro-establishment capitalism on (a)steroids. Needless to say, I don’t think the messaging is as right on as the author intended. In fairness to the author, this might be the most unintentionally funny story I’ve read in a while.

When it comes to the plot and world building I wouldn’t get excited. There’s not much to say about this supposed intergalactic setting, other than it doesn’t feel remotely like the future or another planet. In its pro-colonisation message, it does tell us that if we do take over other habitable planets, we may manage to set up a utopia for lefty ideals… though once again I’m not convinced this is what the author intended to put across. And in terms of plot, my notes are simply full of how bored I was. It’s just an endless stream of chase scenes and a rush to a stupid ending. Oh, but there is a polyamorous love triangle, because famously everyone that reads YA wants more love triangles. Give the people what they (don’t) want I guess.

Unfortunately, this book was nothing short of a mess. Other than the title and the cover, I can’t say there was anything I liked about it. I wanted to give this book a higher rating, since it’s not the worst book in the world, yet I simply couldn’t find a single thing to give it credit for. I didn’t even enjoy it as an audiobook- it was grating and irritating and could’ve done with more perspectives. So, I’m giving it the rather undistinguished honour of getting one of my rare banana peels:

Phew- that’s over with! I’m curious- have any of you had the displeasure of reading this? Or have you read any books lately you consider a disaster and think I should avoid? Let me know in the comments!

I Dig Burying Eva Flores

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review… needless to say I won’t be keeping any skeletons in my closet***

Gossipy and intriguing, this paranormal YA has the potential to kick up quite the social media storm. With aspects that are hit and miss, it’s one of those books that I reckon will go down like marmite. For me, swept up by the drama and distinct characters in this audiobook, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Instantly grabbed by the tone and the voice, I definitely found the multiple povs, texts and interviews lent themselves to the format. And while the supernatural elements could have detracted from the intense teen-rivalry plotline, they were integrated enough so as not to feel too out of place.  

What was a bit much was the protagonist’s attraction to an older man. Of course this did connect to the wider narrative and I saw the place this dark subplot had in the overarching story- yet it still made me uncomfortable. I get that it’s supposed to be toxic- but I wouldn’t blame anyone for tapping out at that point.

Personally, I was always going to be most invested in the revenge fantasy element- and luckily for me that part worked well. Delightfully dark in the best way, it kept me reaching for the book at every minute of the day!

I also really appreciated the social media aspect (even if the mere mention of Tiktok makes me feel old 😉). This is a novel about fame, authenticity and most importantly of all finding freedom from the constant glare of the camera lens.

Full of WTF moments, twisted charm and an entertaining ending, this story grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let me go until it was done.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

So, have you read this? Do you plan to? And what are your favourite girl-rivalry stories? Let me know in the comments!

Nettle and Bone was DEAD GOOD!

There was a lot of buzz around this book- which hooked me in- though nothing could have prepared me for the magic in store. This standalone fantasy has a sting to it that makes it impossible to forget. It’s an unexpected read, with something special about it.

Entirely original in its world building, it still manages to feel like it’s based in fairy tales. The mythical edge to the narrative carries the plot. I truly felt like I had stepped into a different world, where there’s magic… but that magic comes at a cost.

The concept is simple. It’s about an unmarried going on a quest to save her married sister. Yet that synopsis does not do the story justice. Because this is the kind of novel that is all about the characters. With a not-so-typical cast, Kingfisher establishes characters who feel like real people. The main character isn’t just “almost a nun” and a princess- she’s been formed by these experiences, such that she’s been deprived of an education in the ways that matter. And yet, her charm and determination run deeper than her background. She forms connections in a natural way that endears you to her. And endears you to the other members of her team: from the gravewitch to the knight to the (somewhat wicked) godmother. Oh and a demon chicken… which was a great touch.

Getting down in the dirt, this shows that fairy tales don’t have very pleasant origins. Just because a story has a prince marrying a princess doesn’t mean it’s all happy endings. This is a book about taking control of a bad situation and that power doesn’t have to come from brute strength. And as much as this is a feminist commentary of how women are treated and the unfairness of the world, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. As much as this story deals with dark topics, there’s a light touch and humour to it.

Written with sharp and lyrical prose, Nettle and Bone had a lyricism I admire. Listening to it on audio absolutely got me feeling the moody tone and made me feel like I’d left our world behind. With a great performance from Amara Jasper, this is the kind of story that is meant to be heard. With its fairy tale vibes, it lent itself so well to this format.

Original and with great staying power, I can safely give this book my blessing. Especially since this book has a dog in it 😉 

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

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!