book meme

WWW Wednesday | 31 Mar

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?

I’m actually between books right now! I finished Girl A by Abigail Dean the day before yesterday, and I didn’t get a chance to pick anything up yesterday as it was randomly 23 degrees in London and lockdown is finally being eased – so I went out to sit in a friend’s garden. It was my first time seeing someone other than my boyfriend (who I live with) since before Christmas – how surreal is that?!

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Anyway, I am waiting for a copy of Tall Bones by Anna Bailey to arrive (hopefully today!) and that will be my next read, as part of a Tandem Collective Readalong (so I guess this should be (#gifted). I’ll be posting some stories and content on my instagram as part of the readalong, so feel free to join me over there if you would like to hear more about it! For now, here’s the synopsis:

When seventeen-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, she believes, like most girls her age, that their lives are just beginning. Many things will happen that night, but Emma will never see her friend again.

Abi’s disappearance cracks open the façade of the small town of Whistling Ridge, its intimate history of long-held grudges and resentment. Even within Abi’s family, there are questions to be asked – of Noah, the older brother whom Abi betrayed, of Jude, the shining younger sibling who hides his battle scars, of Dolly, her mother and Samuel, her father – both in thrall to the fire and brimstone preacher who holds the entire town in his grasp. Then there is Rat, the outsider, whose presence in the town both unsettles and excites those around him.

Anything could happen in Whistling Ridge, this tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark – the truth of what really happened that night out at the Tall Bones…

What did you recently finish reading?

Girl A: Abigail Dean on her shocking debut novel that's taking the book  world by storm | Books | The Guardian

Girl A by Abigail Dean, which was so unexpectedly good! It wasn’t what I expected at all in terms of plot – it was very character-driven, in the best way , and not your typical plot-driven thriller. It follows a girl who escaped from her parents’ house, freeing her younger siblings from their captivity. When we start her story, her mother has just died in prison, causing Lex to have to revisit her past, and through flashbacks and conversations with her siblings, we learn more about what when on in that house. It’s a very dark novel, but it’s not as bleak as I was expecting – and I think Abigail Dean does a very good job of balancing the novel, making it sensitive and not exploitative of trauma.

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Since my last WWW Wednesday past, I’ve also read Luster by Raven Leilani – review here – and Rescue Me by Sarra Manning, a very sweet rom com about two people who fall in love after starting to co-pawrent a dog. My review is still come.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Hmmm, well I still have two books left on my March tbr. These are actually the same two books I put in this section of my post for my last WWW post – I’ve just been mood reading since then. So, I think that I will probably read The Mountains Sing or The Little Stranger next (after Tall Bones), depending on my mood. I’m hoping to get lots of reading done over Easter, so maybe one of these will be in the recently read section this time next week!

book review

Review: The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale | Waterstones

The Wicked Boy is a non-fiction book about Robert Coombes, a 13-year-old boy who is arrested in 1985 for killing his mother. This has all of the components I thought I would like: it’s set in Victorian England, it’s true crime, it’s a crime that can lead to lot of discussion/social commentary. My problem was that I found this book quite superficial, and I feel like Summerscale really only grazed the surface of all of the interesting things that could be said about a 13 year old being tried for murder. Though a very detailed and interesting summary of the crime, trial and Coombes’ life afterwards, Summerscale rarely if ever injects judgement or opinion into the writing. This meant that it came off as an almost purposeless book – I left it thinking it was very interesting but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to have gained by the end?

This all seems very harsh for a book I’ve rated 3.5 stars. I still think Summerscales’ narrative non-fiction and storytelling ability are very good, and she has still created a fascinating account of this crime and Coombes’ life. As with the other books of hers that I’ve read, it was meticulous and well-researched. I just didn’t find it as enjoyable as her other Victorian true crime The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or her nonfiction book about a ghost hunter in the 1930s, The Haunting of Alma Fielding.

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

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book review

Luster by Raven Leilani

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Luster: Amazon.co.uk: Leilani, Raven: 9781529035988: Books

Luster is a sharp novel that follows Edie, a young black women, who starts a relationship with an older, white, married man. This is what I would call (and have seen described as) a millennial novel – it’s about a woman who makes pretty disastrous decisions and it’s written in a similar sharp, detached, wry narrative voice as other books I would class a millennial novels.

For me, though, the sense of detachment from the main character is a problem. I felt a similar thing in Exciting Times, when I was watching the main character making bad decisions. I like unlikeable, flawed characters but I have to understand them and why they made the decisions that they did. And I’m not sure I can say that I understand Edie in Luster, the same way I’m not sure I understood Ava in Exciting Times.

I do think part of it is that Edie doesn’t understand what she wants, or how to get what she wants, and she’s definitely struggling with a sense of ennui throughout the novel. But she has no fight and just lets a lot of things happen to her – for me, I just really struggled to connect with her.

There were plenty of things I did like about this book: there’s no doubt that Leilani is an excellent writer, and I loved her style. She creates a beautifully uncomfortable atmosphere, and it makes you not want to look away – you need to read to see what is going to happen next. I loved Edie’s relationship with Akila. I thought there was a lot of potential in Edie’s relationship with Rebecca. Don’t get me started on Eric, who is truly, truly unlikeable in all ways.

Overall, I’m not sure how much I can say I enjoyed this novel. At times, Leilani’s writing truly sung, but overall the novel felt mostly purposeless, and very morose and bleak. I’ve seen the writing style described as humorous, but I would say that only applies to the first chapter or so. This book wasn’t for me, but I would say that doesn’t mean it’s not for you! If you loved Exciting Times or Such a Fun Age, I can see you getting more out of this book than me.

book review

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Pachinko is an epic novel/multigenerational tale that follows four generations of a Korean family who move to Japan.

I found this book fascinating. It was brilliantly written, simple in a way that makes you know it was anything but. The characterisation is rich and detailed – by the end of the novel, I felt like I knew the characters so well that I was sad to say goodbye to them. I shed a little tear during the last chapter of this book.

One of the things that I think is done particularly well is that this is quite a long novel, but it never felt like it dragged or was repetitive. It was always moving, through time and from character to character. Lee manages to seamlessly switch her third person close narration from one character to another – in a way that means that we get to know so many characters, but it isn’t jarring or difficult.

This novel tells two stories here: it is a historical novel that highlights the relationship between Korean and Japan, and the way that Koreans were treated in Japan (a lot of which was shamefully completely new information for me!) and it also a family saga that focuses on the personal lives and fates of one family. I thought the two elements of the story really worked well together and it managed to be educational while making me feel deeply connected to this particular family.

Pachinko is a beautiful novel. I adored it and I’m still thinking it about it weeks later (… I’m very behind on my reviews) – it has absolutely blown me away. I recommend this to everyone – please go out and buy it and enjoy it!

book meme

WWW Wednesday | 17 Mar

Hi all! I’m back after a bit of a break with another WWW Wednesday. WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme 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?

Luster: Amazon.co.uk: Leilani, Raven: 9781529035988: Books

I’m currently reading Luster by Raven Leilani. This was always on my tbr for this month, but I made it my next read after it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction last week. I’ve only actually picked it up once so far, but I managed to read about 1/4 of the novel in that sitting – it’s quite a short book and moves at a brisk pace. Currently, I would say that I think the writing style is fantastic but I find the main character (Edie) quite aloof and detached – though perhaps this is because I’ve only sat down with the book once so far. I’m interested to see if my feelings change as I progress with the book.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale | Waterstones

At the weekend I finished The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale, which is a nonfiction book about a 13-year-old boy who kills his mum in Victorian London. It encompasses his actions right after the murder, his court case and then his life afterwards. As you might know, I’ve read and enjoyed both The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale, but I found this one was probably my least favourite – which was a surprise. I don’t know if maybe I’ve read all of these books too close together (all since Christmas) but I found this one slower than the rest and a bit repetitive. I think I’ll still give it four stars when I write my review, but I think it will have only just edged that.

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Mountains Sing: Amazon.co.uk: Quế Mai, Nguyễn Phan: 9781786079220: Books
The Little Stranger: shortlisted for the Booker Prize: Amazon.co.uk: Sarah  Waters: 9781844086061: Books

There are two books left on my tbr for March – The Mountains Sing and The Little Stranger – so we will see what I feel like next. However, I’ve found reading particularly challenging the last few weeks as I have had a lot going on personally, so I will definitely be listening to my instincts and just reading what I feel like.

discussion

Reaction: Women’s Prize for Fiction

It’s better late than never, eh? I have been meaning to write a reaction/discussion post on the Women’s Prize longlist since it was released last week, but I cannot even express to you how terrible the last two weeks have been, so I just haven’t got round to it. But I’m here now!

What did you all think of the list? Any books you’re surprise to see on here? Or feel like should’ve been, but aren’t?

From my point of view, there are lots of ones I expected to/hoped would be on the list, but still a few surprises too!

Books I’ve read

I’ve already read five books on this year’s list, which is a record for me! Since starting this blog and my bookstagram, though, I have definitely been more on top of the new releases than ever before, so that probably accounts it.

  • Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers: I read and absolutely adored this book last year! It was one of my two favourite books of the year (tied with Hamnet). For some reason, I hadn’t even twigged that it was eligible for the Women’s Prize, so I was very pleasantly surprised and excited it made the list. Check out my review for more of my thoughts on this book. I would love for this to be shortlisted!
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: I read this book before starting this blog so I don’t have a review to link you to, but this was another five star read for me, and made my list of favourite books of the year. This has such an interesting premise and there’s so much to unpack/discuss, and on top of that, Brit Bennett’s writing is beautiful. I have a suspicion this will be shortlisted, and rightfully so!
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi: I finished this book a couple of weeks ago – you can see my review here. I thought this book was phenomenal, and I could well see it being my favourite book of the year. I’m so happy it made the list and, again, I think it really should be shortlisted.
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan: I read this book last year (again, pre-bookstagram) and I’d read a lot of hype going into it, and for me it fell a little flat. I’d still rate it four stars, I think, but I didn’t love it the way others do. However, her writing is superb and she definitely deserves a place on this list.
  • Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller: I reviewed an ARC of this earlier in the year and only gave it two stars, finding it overwhelming bleak and a bit boring, to be honest. Though I didn’t enjoy it, I gave it two stars over one as I felt like there would be something in there for others, if not me – and it turned out I was right, as it must be well-loved by others to make the list! Fuller undoubtedly is an accomplished writer, but this book just wasn’t for me.

Books I want to read soon

As well as having read five of these books, I had another three of these on my shelf. I’d bought these recently, so I obviously already wanted to read these soon, but they have been bumped up my reading list now they made the longist!

  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: This is a novel about three women whose lives collide after an unexpected pregnancy. I’m so glad that Torrey Peters is the first transwoman to make the list, though we mustn’t think that the prize is perfect because of this – Akwaeke Emezi isn’t submitting their novels to the prize.
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: My boyfriend loves her other novel, so I got him this as a present when it was first released. I’ve not read it yet, but I definitely want to! I’ve heard that it’s better to basically not knowing anything going into this book, so that’s the way I’m going to keep it!
  • Luster by Raven Leilani: I actually picked this up yesterday – and so far I’m enjoying it, but I’m not loving it. However, I’m excited to see where it goes from here! The writing is amazing, I just don’t feel too connected to the main character!

Out of the remaining novels, I think my next purchases will probably be How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones, as this was already on my tbr, and then Consent by Annabel Lyon – a book I wasn’t previously aware of but which I think sounds great. The rest are probably lower down my list and ones that I’m less interested in – but if you’ve read any of them, I’d be really interested to hear what you think about them!

book review

Review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Transcendent Kingdom

Publisher: Viking Books UK

Pub date: 4 March 2021

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

Late to the party, I only read Homegoing this January and it was my favourite book of that month – and I said at the time that I could well see it being my favourite book of the year. Though I had high hopes for Yaa Gyasi’s second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, I did not necessarily expect to love it as much as I did.

Transcendent Kingdom follows Gifty as she struggles with the aftermath of the death of her brother and her mother’s depression. Even her PhD studies are centred around her family’s tragedies: her brother died from an overdose, and Gifty is studying reward-seeking behaviour in mice and how this connects to addiction and depression.

This novel is an intimate and intense examination of one family. It is beautifully written – sharp, vivid, concise. I don’t know how pack so many poignant themes and give characters such life in such a way. I admire Gyasi’s writing so much because her characters are so nuanced and so real. Her writing feels almost stripped back to me – concise is probably the wrong word to use, but it’s not a particularly long book, the chapters are quite short and the author jumps between the present and the past. In this way, she gives us snippets of a life that feels incredibly real. I saw someone else say that she is an author who says as much in her words as she does in the spaces that she leaves, and this feels very true to me.

Ultimately, this novel is about grief and a search for meaning, and within it, it explores poverty, depression, racism and the experience of immigrants in America. I can’t really explain how or why this novel touched me so deeply, but it left me wanting to read more. I 100% recommend this book to you – I adored it, and I hope you do too!

book meme

WWW Wednesday | 3 March

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?

Transcendent Kingdom

I’m currently reading Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (thank you to NetGalley & the publishers for a copy of this book), which is out in the UK on 4 March. So far, I’m really enjoying this one! It’s very different Gyasi’s other book, Homegoing, which I absolutely loved – but that’s not a bad thing. Transcendent Kingdom follows Gifty, a neuroscience PhD student who is studying the affects of depression and addiction. Switching between the present and the past, it also tells the story of her childhood, as part of a Ghanian family living in Alabama. Her writing, as expected, is superb.

What did you recently finish reading?

Every Last Fear: Amazon.co.uk: Finlay, Alex: 9781250268822: Books

My last read was Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay, a thriller which grapples with two mysteries about the Pine family. Did Danny Pine, the eldest son, really kill his teenage girlfriend? A new true crime Netflix documentary thinks not. And, when the Pine family (apart from Matt, our main character), is found dead on holiday, was foul play involved? Or was it an accident? I linked my review if you’re interested in how I found it.

Just before that, I finished Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – I absolutely adored it and I will be posting a very gushing review very soon, I’m sure.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Luster: Amazon.co.uk: Leilani, Raven: 9781529035988: Books

I just posted my March tbr, so you can check that out to see all of the books I want to read this month. I haven’t decided what I want to read next – I think it’ll be very dependent on my mood. Perhaps Luster by Raven Leilani. I’m very intrigued to see if that lives up to the hype.

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

to-read

Bedside books: March tbr

So what books are on my bedside, waiting to be read this month?

I’m hoping to make a dent in my physical tbr, and I also have a couple of ARCs I need to read and review. I always like to set myself a smaller tbr than what I’ve managed to read the previous month, as it means there is still room for mood reading and picking up books on a whim! As always, I’m not going to stick religiously to this, but I did pretty well at sticking to my tbr last month, so hopefully March will be the same.

Physical tbr:

  • The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: I’ve heard nothing by phenomenal things about this one, so I’m very excited! It’s been compared to Homegoing and Pachinko (both of which I thought were excellent) in it’s epic, multigenerational structure – but The Mountains Sing tells the story of the Tran family in Vietnam. Hopefully this lives up to all of the things I’ve heard about it.
  • Luster by Raven Leilani: I’ve been hearing increasingly mixed reviews of this one lately, but I’ve been interested in Luster since I first heard about it last Autumn. Luster follows a young black woman who is figuring out her life. She starts seeing a man who is in an open marriage, and I believe she becomes increasingly involved in his life, in a way that is supposed to be quite uncomfortable to read about? It’s hard to summarise books you haven’t read!
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: While the previous two are relatively new releases, The Little Stranger was published in 2009. It is, I believe, a historical fiction with a horror/mystery/supernatural element, set in Warwickshire in the 1940s. Sarah Waters is such a well-loved author, and this will be my first book of hers – I’m very excited to see what happens!
  • The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale: This is my non-fiction book this month. It’s a true crime novel about a 13-year-old boy who is convicted of killing his mother in Victorian London. It’s another by Kate Summerscale, whose non-fiction I’ve really admired, and I’m excited to see what this one is like!

ARCs:

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

Transcendent Kingdom
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi: I’m currently reading this book. It’s Gyasi’s second book, and it is incredibly different to Homegoing. Set in America, it follows Gifty, who was born in Alabama but whose parents were from Ghana. It’s told in first person and it jumps around in time, telling the story of present-day Gifty and her life growing up. Gyasi has such an engaging narrative voice, I’m really enjoying it so far! The publication date in the UK is 4 March – I’m hoping to finish it tonight and post a review tomorrow (don’t hold me to that!).

I’m really excited to read all of these books (and hopefully a few more if there’s time!) – I think it’s going to be a month of some very good books.

What’s your most anticipated book on your March tbr? And have you read any of these books? What did you think?

book review

Review: Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Every Last Fear: Amazon.co.uk: Finlay, Alex: 9781250268822: Books

Publisher: Head of Zeus/Aries

Pub date: 2 March

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

Danny Pine, the eldest son of the Pine family, was convicted 6 years ago for the murder of his teenage girlfriend. His parents have always believed he’s innocent, and recently cooperated with a Netflix doc that claimed he was wrongfully convicted. Matt Pine, Danny’s brother, isn’t so sure of Danny’s innocence. The book opens when Matt hears some devastating news: his family – including his parents and two younger siblings – were found dead in their holiday home in Mexico. The book grapples with two mysteries: is Danny innocent? And how did the Pines die?

I thought the two mysteries were handled well, and I liked the way that they intertwined. This thriller kept me guessing as I was reading, though my suspicions were proved right in the end. Another thing I liked about this novel is the way that it’s told – though Matt is the main character, we also get the point of view of the FBI agent and Danny in the present day, flashbacks to other members of the Pine family before their deaths, and transcripts from the true crime documentary. The author did a good job of building suspense through the time jumps and narrator switches, drip feeding you information in a way that was frustrating in a good way (frustrating because I really wanted to know what happened!)

Another reason I thought these switches in point of view worked so well was that none of the characters were particularly well-developed or interesting – this was a book that definitely prioritised plot over character development. Constantly switching between people meant the author could get away more easily with having quite two-dimensional characters. However, as someone who prefers character development over plot, it did begin to wear on me a bit.

I also couldn’t connect with the characters. A lot happens in this book that should have me empathising like crazy with Matt, but I just didn’t really care. On top of that, I found his reactions to a lot of the events unbelievable/unconvincing. Death in this book is definitely a plot device – it is not meant to be emotional and it doesn’t want to engage with the theme of grief. So overall, though I liked the premise for this one, I found the character aspects of this book a bit of a let down. This is definitely one for people who prefer fast-paced and plot-focused books, who don’t care if their characters aren’t well fleshed out.

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