book review

Rescue Me by Sarra Manning

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sarra Manning has always been my happy-place writer. Since I read Diary of a Crush as a teenager, I have devoured and loved almost all of her books. They just make me really happy. So I of course had to pick up her new book – Rescue Me – and even more so when I so the adorable cover and learnt it was about two people who co-parent (or co-pawrent, as Margot would say!) an adopted dog. The dog in the novel, Blossom, is based largely on the Staffy that Manning herself adopted, which makes it even cuter in my mind.

Rescue Me is told jointly from the points of view of Margot and Will. When they cross paths at a dog adoption centre, they end up adopting a dog, Blossom, together. Margot takes one week, then Will the next. At first, they don’t get on – Margot finds Will rude and cold, Will finds Margot overbearing. But, as they spend more time together, they realise that first impressions are deceiving, and there might be a spark between the two of them.

This book was as lovely as I expected it to be! Cute and fluffy in all the right places, but not at the expense of serious backstory and character building. Both Margot and Will have their own issues that they need to work through and deal with in order to be healthy and happy people – the book is just as much about this as it is about them falling in love. You can always rely on Manning’s books to be well-written and well-paced, and this book was not an exception here.

Rescue Me is a heartwarming and compelling novel. I definitely recommend for those who love rom-coms, love Sarra Manning, or are looking for a lighter read. This book won’t let you down!

And if you’ve already read Rescue Me, may I suggest some of Sarra Manning’s other novels? Unsticky, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, and Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend are all wonderful adult rom-coms – some of my favourites in fact!

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book review

Girl A by Abigail Dean

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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CW: Child abuse

I devoured Girl A by Abigail Dean – I read it in two sittings, staying up late on a work night to finish the book. It wasn’t like what I expected at all – I’ve seen it described as a thriller but it’s much more psychological than your average thriller, relying on characters rather than plot.

Lex, the eponymous Girl A, escaped from her abusive parents’ house and freed her siblings from captivity. Now, years later, her mother has died in prison and Lex is left as executor of her will, causing Lex to revisit her past. The story switches between the present and flashbacks, and from the flashbacks and conversations with her siblings, we start to learn more about Lex’s childhood and the truly awful things her parents did.

The content of this novel is very dark, but I think Dean does a good job of balancing the novel, making sure it isn’t too bleak and remaining sensitive/non-exploitative.

The novel is gripping and absolutely fascinating – as what happened is told through flashbacks (which are mostly in chronological order), the story of the past is drip-fed to you, never answering too many questions and always keeping you guessing about everything that happened. The present-day material is also very interesting; the family dynamics feel very real and well thought out. There’s obviously a lot of powerful emotions at play, and the relationships are complicated (as you would expect). I was just as interested in the siblings as I was in Lex – and Abigail Dean does a very good job of managing a large host of very complex characters.

This novel is intense and twisty – it leaves you guessing for as long as it can (which I enjoy) and never fails to surprise you! There were definitely a few twists I did not see coming at all. It’s a really thorough look at the long-term effects of child abuse, and it can be difficult to read at times: both their parents’ abuse, and the way that the children were treated afterwards – for example, one of the sibling’s treatment by his adopted parents and the media comes to mind.

I really, really enjoyed this novel. It won’t be for everyone – it’s very character driven, and some people could be deeply affected by the content of the novel. However, I found it incredibly well-written, and it will be a novel that stays with me for a very long time.

book review

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Piranesi: THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER (High/Low): Clarke,  Susanna: 9781526622426: Books

I bought Piranesi a while ago for my boyfriend, who is a big fan of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell, but I confess I didn’t know much about it/wasn’t that intrigued by it until it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize last month. I’m trying to read as many as I can from the list, and as this one was already on my shelf, it felt like a good place to start.

I went into Piranesi knowing virtually nothing about the story, and to be honest, I think that’s the right way to go. I hadn’t even read the blurb! So I’m going to give you the briefest hint of the novel, only telling you what you’d read in the first couple of pages: Piranesi lives in a building with an infinite number of rooms, all lined with statues, and which is periodically flooded by the ocean. He only knows one other person, who he calls The Other.

That’s it! If you’re intrigued, you should definitely pick up the book to find out more.

This is a slightly disorientating, very atmospheric read. I enjoyed the first-person narration of the main character, and the sense of humour that Clarke instils in the narration. This is a short novel, and I read it over two sittings – it’s very immersive, so it’s easy to lose yourself in what’s going on. I spent a fair amount of the first half of the novel trying to figure out what was happening, flicking back to earlier parts of the story to re-read bits and see if I could work out what was going on.

The confusion of that first half was definitely the best bit of the novel for me – I enjoyed not knowing what was happening and trying to figure it out. However, I did think that everything was revealed a bit too quickly, and once you worked it out, some of the fun and mystery of the novel disappeared. It didn’t help that as readers, you understand more things than the main character does, so you work things out quicker than him.

I enjoyed this novel and think that Clarke is a very talented writer, but overall found it a little bit lacking – it’s interesting, but the second half of the novel fell a bit flat for me and I wanted more from it! Overall, I would say this novel has lots of potential but I’m not sure it was realised.

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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.

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book review

Luster by Raven Leilani

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Luster: 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 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 review

Review: Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Every Last Fear: 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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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

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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!

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Review: Bunny by Mona Awad

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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.

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