book review

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CW: This novel discusses sexual abuse/rape, so this review mentions the same topics

Image result for the night swim

I love the premise of thrillers but I rarely actually rate a thriller novel highly or enjoy it while I’m reading. I find they can be quite trope-y, predictable and often badly written – I know this sounds like I’m generalising an entire genre but this is just based on my experience. I want to love them, but I often just can’t. However, I persist reading them because I get drawn in by the blurbs, with the hope that the one I’m reading will be different.

So now you can see why I was so pleasantly surprised by The Night Swim, which is a fast-paced, compelling and unsettling thriller. The novel follows Rachel, a true crime podcast host, as she travels to a small town in America to cover a rape trial that is dividing the town. While she’s there, she also gets pulled in to a cold case from 20 years before. Jenny Stills’ death was ruled an accidental drowning, but her sister is convinced that she was murdered.

One of the things that this novel does really well is it’s handling of the rape trial. Goldin handles such a sensitive topic in a respectful and honest way. In terms of the way the book is written, she doesn’t sensationalise and she doesn’t include unnecessary or graphic detail where fewer would do. In terms of the content, she includes a sensitive, considered commentary on the treatment of rape victims (both in the media and by a gruelling and violating trial) – set in the context of a small town where everyone has an opinion/takes a side. The result is often heart-breaking and uncomfortable to read. I don’t think I’ve ever read a thriller that so sensitively discusses the topics it covers. A difficultly with enjoying true crime/thrillers/murder mysteries etc. is the way that the genre exploits violence against women (think: unnecessarily graphic shots of violence against women in TV shows) – one of the results of centring the discussions from the point of view of the female gaze instead of the male gaze is a book like this, I think. It was very refreshing.

I thought the narrative balanced the two plots well – and I don’t feel like either of them suffered as a result of the other. The story is told through multiple formats – the main is Rachel’s third-person narrative, and this is interspersed with letters from Jenny’s sister and podcast transcripts from Rachel’s podcast. I thought this mix was well-handled, and Goldin chose good moments to take you out the main narrative and switch it up, leaving you wanting more from each thread of the story. The chapters were short and succinct, which worked really well for me and meant I felt like I flew through the novel.

The one thing I would say about this novel though is that it’s not your typical thriller novel – it’s definitely more considered and character-driven rather than focused on plot. The rape trial isn’t a mystery and Rachel doesn’t play a very active role in the case. That just might be one to bear in mind if that’s not your cup of tea/you prefer your thrillers to be action-packed.

The Night Swim was compelling, well-written and unsettling. I really enjoyed reading this book, and found it a refreshing and interesting read. It seemed to me at the end that they were leaving it open for a sequel, and I would definitely be up for that if they were! In the mean time, I’ve heard good things about her other novel, The Escape Room, and will definitely be picking that up when I can!

For more of my reviews, connect with me on Goodreads.

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book meme

WWW Wednesday | 24 Feb

Hi everyone! I’m back with another WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The three Ws to be answered are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

Pachinko: The New York Times Bestseller: Amazon.co.uk: Min Jin Lee:  9781786691378: Books

I’m currently reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and I’m absolutely loving it! This is a generational saga following a Korean family who moves from Korea to Japan in the 1930s. I’m about 50% of the way through this book and I’m excited to see where it will go! The writing is really beautiful, the characterisation is rich and I’m learning so much about Korea and Japan in this period that I wasn’t aware of. I’ve only managed to pick it up twice, but considering it’s a large book (over 500 pages), I’ve made really good headway into it because it’s just so captivating. Obviously I have to see what the rest of the novel brings, but I could see this being a five star read.

What did you recently finish reading?

Get a Life, Chloe Brown: A Novel (The Brown Sisters, 1): Hibbert, Talia:  9780062941206: Amazon.com: Books

Before Pachinko, I read Get a Life, Chloe Brown, which I really enjoyed! I hadn’t read a contemporary romance in ages – it’s definitely my first of the year and might be my first in like 6 months, so I found it very refreshing. There’s a lot of hype surrounding this book and I think that if you like contemporary romance, you will like this one; it’s fun, fluffy, steamy, well-written and has really good representation. Chloe, the main character, has a chronic illness and Red is trying to overcome trauma from a previous abusive relationship – and I think both aspects were handled really well! I’ll definitely be able picking up the next two books.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I think probably Transcendent Kingdom, as I loved Homegoing and I want to get to it before it’s released in the UK in early March. After that, I’m completely unsure! I’ll be thinking about my March tbr later this week, so that should help me narrow down my options at least.

What are you currently reading? And what do you think you’ll read next?

book review

Review: Bunny by Mona Awad

Image result for bunny mona awad

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Before I started reading this book, all of the reviews I’d seen said something along the lines of ‘wow, this book was wild/bizarre/strange/unusual etc., etc.’ – so I went into this book knowing that something weird was going to happen, but not knowing what. Like these other reviews, I’m not going to give you more detail about why this is the case, as I think you’re best going into this novel completely fresh and unprepared. This book follows Samantha Mackey, who is studying an MFA at an elite university. She feels like an outsider in her class – she’s poorer, less put together than the ‘Bunnies’, a group of unbearable rich girls who call each other ‘Bunny’. However, at the beginning of the new school year, the Bunnies invite Samantha to one of their ‘Smut Salons’ and from there Samantha is drawn into an utterly bizarre world that she struggles to escape.

I enjoyed this book, but I would say that I think it relies quite heavily on the ‘what the fuck’ shock value – the turn from slightly unsettling to absolutely absurd comes whiplashingly quickly, and I think the momentum of this reveal carries a lot of the novel from there. It was strange, it kept me reading and I was desperate to figure out what exactly was happening. Did I? Not really. Was I left with more questions than I began with? Yes. Did I enjoy it? I think so?

The author is undoubtedly talented – this novel is disorientating by design – and she creates such an incredibly close, claustrophobic atmosphere the entire way through to add to your discomfort/confusion. However, I’m not sure that I found the characters convincing – I could accept this for the Bunnies as they are a parody of a group of popular girls (though taken to the nth degree) but I found Samantha lacking in personality. The novel tries to talk about loneliness as a theme, but I found this a bit weak and lost in all of the ‘what the hell is happening’ parts of the story. Samantha also lacks agency, which I believe the story itself actually references, but I found the way she fell in with the Bunnies too quick and easy – and when she starts witnessing weird things happening, she doesn’t doubt or question them, even right at the very beginning.

I think this would be a very divisive book – I think some people will absolutely love the absurdity of it, I think others will hate it with a passion – but I do actually find myself sitting on the fence with it. I thought it was interesting, I admire the bizarre and ‘wtf’ moments, I like that it’s different – but I also think that past the shock value, there wasn’t as much going for it as I expected, and I did find the main character unlikeable.

Would I recommend this? I think so, if only so you can read it for yourself and make up your own opinion.

For more of my reviews, connect with me on Goodreads.

For pictures of pretty books, follow me on Instagram.

discussion

Let’s talk: dnf’ing!

I recently received a book from NetGalley for review, which I was quite excited to read. It sounded like a cute rom com – I was expecting fluff, fun, sweetness, maybe a narrative about a woman finding herself. But the book started so slowly, with a lot of backstory, and by 16% of the way through I was just really finding it difficult. It felt like the real story hadn’t started yet and I was just finding it quite boring. I don’t like using the word boring to describe books, as someone’s obviously put a lot of time and effort into it, but I really was just feeling bored by it. I put it down, I tried to pick it back up, I read another page before my mind started wandering again, and eventually I decided to just put it down for good. But I feel a bit guilty about it – did I give it a fair chance? How long do you think you need to read a book for before deciding it’s not for you?

I don’t often dnf books – I’m very curious and hate not knowing things, so if there’s a mystery involved, I will usually read until the end, even if I’m not enjoying it. But when I do, I feel quite guilty about it – especially if I’ve been sent a book for review. That makes me feel more obligated to finish the book as I’ve been sent it for free, in return for a review. But I guess dnf’ing something is sort of a review in itself.

How do you feel about dnf’ing something? Do you have any particular rules or limits for when you will put it down or for how long you will read it for before dnf’ing it?

book meme

WWW Wednesday | 17 Feb

Hi everyone! I’m back with another WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The three Ws to be answered are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

Image result for get a life chloe brown

I started reading Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert last night. I’ve seen lots of hype around this book and I’m really in the mood for a good rom com, so I’m very excited about this! I read around 10% of it last night before bed and have found it fun and captivating so far!

What did you recently finish reading?

I picked up The Dog Share by Fiona Gibson a couple of days ago (thanks to NetGalley for the eARC), but really struggled to get into it and I put it down for good yesterday evening. I just wasn’t enjoying it – though it has made me feel a little bit guilty as I hate dnf’ing books!

Image result for the night swim

Before that, I read The Night Swim by Megan Goldin, a thriller that I really enjoyed! [CW: Sexual abuse, skip to the next paragraph to avoid.] My review is still to come but I think I’ll give it four stars. It follows Rachel, a host for a true crime podcast, as she covers a trial for a rape case in a small town. While she’s in town, she also gets pulled into a cold case from 20 years before; the sister of the victim believes she was murdered, but the case was ruled an accidental drowning. I liked the juxtaposition of the two cases, and I found this a quick and engaging read. I think the author handled the sensitive subject matter particularly well.

Before that I read Bunny by Mona Awad – my review will be posting for that soon, but in short: what on earth did I read?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Image result for pachinko min jin lee

I set myself a four book tbr for this month, and I’ve already read three of them. The fourth is Pachinko, which I think I’ll dive into after my current read; a slight change of pace but I like mixing it up and reading some quicker books followed by some heavier ones. I think after Pachinko, I will jump into Transcendent Kingdom – the UK release date is 4 March and I have an eARC from NetGalley to read before then. I absolutely loved Homegoing so have very high hopes for that one!

What are you currently reading? And what do you think you’ll read next?

book review

Review: The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale

Image result for the haunting of alma fielding

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Over Christmas I read and adored The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale so I obviously had to treat myself to The Haunting of Alma Fielding, Summerscale’s latest book. This is a nonfiction book, set in 1938 when Nandor Fodor (a ghost hunter for the International Institute for Physical Research) starts to investigate a haunting at Alma Fielding’s house. The book follows the characters over the months, as Fodor realises the case is even stranger than he first believed. All of this is set to the backdrop of the run-up to WW2.

I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the first – I think the first probably appealed more to my personal interests (true crime, detectives, Victorian literature) – but I nevertheless found this one very interesting, well-researched and enjoyable. Kate Summerscale has such an easy writing style, and the book never felt dry, dense or repetitive. I think she’s a very gifted storyteller, weaving together information from scattered primary sources to create one vivid and interesting case. I really liked the way that she reflected what was happening between Alma and Fodor in the general pre-war feeling of England at the time, but perhaps wanted a little bit more of this detail. I think I found this a slightly simpler book than The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, as it didn’t deal with quite as many themes. This is all personal preference though, and I think this one would definitely be a better starting point if you aren’t sure about reading nonfiction/don’t want anything too heavy or time-consuming.

The subject matter was really interesting – I had no idea that people had such an interest in the paranormal in the 30s or that there were Societies dedicated to trying to prove it. As well as Alma and Fodor’s brushes with the paranormal, Kate Summerscale also relates some other stories of hauntings and investigations from the time, which I found very interesting.

This book explores the hauntings in relation to psychology (Freud makes a cameo!), especially to trauma. Fodor’s own suspicions and beliefs about the hauntings are interesting, but I actually found Summerscale’s own most interesting, and I was disappointed that these were mostly kept out of the book until the final chapter. Obviously, she wanted to tell the story in an objective manner, but her thoughts on the subject were so interesting that I would’ve liked to see them spread more throughout the book itself.

After buying the hardback for myself, I should say I was then sent the audiobook to review through NetGalley (which is typical really! I was approved about two months after requesting it so had by then bought it for myself!). I listened to some chapters as the audiobook and read some of the others, and really enjoyed both formats. I think this is the perfect subject matter for an audiobook (I much prefer to listen to nonfiction than fiction) and the narrator did the various characters really well; he really added a creepiness to séance scenes.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding was meticulous and fascinating, and I certainly recommend it to fans of nonfiction and those who like the idea of investigating real-life hauntings!

For more of my reviews, connect with me on Goodreads.

For pictures of pretty books, follow me on Instagram.

book review

Review: The Confession by Jessie Burton

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Image result for the confession

The Confession is a split narrative novel, following Elise in the 1980s and Rose in 2017.

When Elise meets acclaimed author Constance Holden in Hampstead Heath, they are drawn to one another – they fall in love and Elise is drawn fully into Connie’s life, following her to LA (where they are making a movie of one of her novels) so that they can be together. Connie thrives in the atmosphere of LA, but Elise does not, feeling herself become increasingly distant from Connie. In 2017, Rose is seeking answers about her mother, who disappeared when she was a child. Her investigations lead her to Connie, now reclusive and living a lonely life in Hampstead; like Elise, Rose is drawn into Connie’s orbit.

Jessie Burton is an exceptional writer. Her characters are so well developed and they feel so distinctly human. They aren’t caricaturist or surface level – they are well-developed, flawed and authentic. I sometimes find that when stories follow two different timeframes, the characters can become blurred or indistinct, but I didn’t find that the case here. The characters were each unique and recognisable.

I’ve loved The Miniaturist and The Muse by Jessie Burton, and like these books, Burton’s historical research is meticulous and comes to life on the page. 1980s Hollywood felt as real to me as late 2010s London.

I felt instantly hooked and drawn into this novel, reading it over two sittings because once I picked it up, I just didn’t want to put it back down. That’s good going for a 400-odd page novel! The prose is beautiful yet understated, and the pacing was really great – I never felt bored or rushed – it was plotted really well.

There are lots of heavy themes throughout – motherhood, friendship, love, loss, secrets, searching for your own identity – and I think Burton handled them all really well. By the end of the novel I felt a real fondness towards the characters and their struggles, I think because they felt so lifelike and the things that they were struggling for felt so real. This was a truly compelling, engaging read, and I definitely recommend it!

For more of my reviews, connect with me on Goodreads.

For pictures of pretty books, follow me on Instagram.

book review

Review: Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Publisher: Little, Brown Group UK

Pub date: 11 February 2020

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Insatiable follows Violet, a woman in her mid-twenties who is struggling after recently making a few big decisions in her life. She broke off her engagement, broke up with her best friend and moved into a terrible house share with people she doesn’t know. Understandably, she’s feeling quite lost. When she meets the glamourous Lottie at a work event she feels out of her depth at, she is immediately dazzled. When Violet goes to interview for a job at Lottie and her husband’s new start-up, Violet is drawn into a world that she desires but has never had. What follows is a lot of sex and a lot of bad decisions.

I really wanted to like this book. I loved the cover and I loved the premise, and I was very excited going into it. However, it just fell a bit flat for me. I didn’t feel like Violet was very likeable – something that I don’t usually mind in a main character – but I felt like her characterisation and development was very superficial and she didn’t really learn anything in the novel. There was a lack of emotional depth throughout the book – when it came to the big reunions and revelations towards the end of the book (both on a friendship and romantic level) I just didn’t feel enough for the characters to care. Not enough groundwork had been done throughout, and so it all felt very undeserved. For example, Violet believes her obsession with Lottie has turned into love by about 3/4s of the way through the novel – but they’ve met maybe five times by this point? There’s just not enough development or groundwork done to deserve this. And the worst part is that sentence could apply to more than one character!

There is a lot of sex in this novel, so if that isn’t your thing then you might want to give this one a miss! For the most part, I didn’t think it was badly written (sometimes sex scenes are atrociously cringe-y), but I also felt that it probably took up too much of a book that struggled to add much depth to its characters. Though I will say the worst line of the book for me was undoubtedly the description of a ‘delicious Jelly Tot nipple’.

Violet felt quite familiar to me – I feel like I’ve read her character before. It’s quite common in similar books for the main character to feel aimless/purposeless, to feel attacked by life and to be struggling with money but having a penchant for designer clothes. I feel like I’ve read this before. What added to the flat feeling of this novel is that all of these things are magically swept up and solved at the end – much like the relationship issues – with little to no work from the main character. People just fix her problems for her? I would’ve liked the book to explore more why women feel that way and what she could’ve done herself to get her out of the hole she was in.

Violet also struggles with an eating disorder – this was one of the parts of the book that I felt had a lot of potential, but the author didn’t do much with it. It was sort of forgotten about by the end? Again, it just added to the feeling that all of the themes in this book were very superficial. Given that the tag line was ‘A love story for greedy girls’, I was perhaps looking for more of an analysis of female desire, perhaps a link between that and the eating disorder? There was also an instance of sexual assault that felt mostly like a plot device, rather than anything of depth or consequence. Ultimately, this book just didn’t really work for me – though I do think I may be in the minority here as I have seen a lot of four and five star reviews for this novel.

For more of my reviews, connect with me on Goodreads.

For pictures of pretty books, follow me on Instagram.

book meme

WWW Wednesday | 10 Feb

Hi everyone! I’m back with another WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The three Ws to be answered are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

Image result for the confession

I’m currently reading The Confession by Jessie Burton, which I’m really enjoying. The novel is a split narrative, between Elise in the 1980s and Rose in 2017. Elise meets the acclaimed novelist Constance Holden and falls in love with her, following her to LA (where they are making a movie of her novel) so they can be together. However, while Connie is thriving, Elise is not. In 2017, Rose is seeking answers about her mother, who disappeared when she was younger. Her investigations lead her to ingratiate herself with Constance Holden, who has become reclusive in her old age.

I really enjoyed both The Miniaturist and The Muse, Jessie Burton’s previous novels, and I’m loving this one so much that I’m wondering why I waited so long to pick it up! Burton has this amazing ability of making all of her characters seem so vividly real.

What did you recently finish reading?

Image result for the haunting of alma fielding

I missed WWW Wednesday last week, so I’ll quickly recap what I’ve read over the last two weeks. I most recently finished The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale last week, which I very much enjoyed. It wasn’t quite as good as The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, I don’t think, but still really interesting and well-researched.

Before that, I finished Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan. This was an eARC that I was really looking forward to, but I ended up finding very disappointing. Hopefully I’ll get my review up for that soon!

And I also read and loved Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, which I have miraculously already written a review for!

What do you think you’ll read next?

Image result for bunny mona awad
Image result for pachinko min jin lee

I have two more books on my February tbr – Bunny by Mona Awad and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’m looking forward to both of these but don’t know which one I’ll feel like reading most. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read either of these!

However, it was my birthday on Monday and was lucky enough to get a few books as presents, including Luster by Raven Leilani and The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, so I can’t promise I’ll stick to the tbr I set out at the beginning of Feb!

What are you currently reading? How are you finding it? And what are you planning to read next?

book review

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Publisher: Viking

Pub date: 4 Feb 2021

Thanks to NetGalley and Viking for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

She tells you she loves you and now you know you don’t have to be the sum of your traumas.

Open Water follows two young Black people (never named) who meet at a London pub and fall in love. The writing in this novel is beautiful and poetic – it’s only about 150 pages, which I think is the perfect length for this intense and evocative novel.

Open Water explores what it’s like to be Black person in a world where you are seen primarily as Black body, the trauma of racism and the effect of police brutality. While dealing with these heavy themes, Nelson also celebrates the love and depth of feeling between the two main characters, as well as highlighting and celebrating Black art. The story is littered with references to Black photographers, authors, films, painters and musicians – Nelson honours Black culture.

There’s a vulnerability to this novel too – it’s a reflection of and insight into masculinity that you rarely see in the mainstream.

Sometimes it’s easier to hide in your own darkness than to emerge, naked and vulnerable, blinking in your own light.

This is a beautiful, emotionally raw and incredibly powerful debut. This book publishes tomorrow and I heartily recommend you pick up a copy and prepare to be emotionally shattered!