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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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 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.

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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!

book review

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Publisher: Fig Tree, Penguin

Pub date: 28 Jan 2021

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

What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant? What would you do to get it back?

Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Their rented cottage is simultaneously their armour against the world and their sanctuary. Inside its walls they make music, in its garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.

But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. At risk of losing everything, Jeanie and her brother must fight to survive in an increasingly dangerous world as their mother’s secrets unfold, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.

Blurb

I found this novel incredibly difficult to read, and considered giving up on it multiple times. To be honest, the only reason I kept reading it was because I don’t like not knowing how things turn out in books with mysteries – but even the ‘reveals’ were disappointing and anticlimactic, and they weren’t worth hanging around for.

There was nothing much wrong with Claire Fuller’s writing, but I found the book really difficult to sink into. It felt cold and distant, and I struggled to connect to any of the characters. On top of this, I was never really hooked by anything that was happening – mostly because, for the majority of the novel, nothing really was happening. The ‘twists’ were easy to work out, but they weren’t even really that interesting.

This book lacks charm and it feels so incredibly bleak. Maybe this is my fault, and I just wasn’t in the right headspace at the time, but there was no contrast to the bleakness. There was never really a moment of fun or light-heartedness to balance out the intense feeling of bleakness throughout the novel.

The reason I haven’t given this one star is that I thought Claire Fuller’s writing was the best thing about the novel – her writing could be beautiful at times, but the story didn’t capture me. This one is not for me, but I feel like someone else out there might appreciate it, especially if you are already a fan of her novels.

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book review

White Ivy by Susie Yang

White Ivy: Amazon.co.uk: 9781982100599: Books

Publisher: Headline

Pub date: 7 Jan 2021

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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

Ivy Lin, a Chinese immigrant growing up in a low-income apartment complex outside Boston, is desperate to assimilate with her American peers. Her parents disapprove, berating her for her mediocre grades and what they see as her lazy, entitled attitude. But Ivy has a secret weapon, her grandmother Meifeng, from whom she learns to shoplift to get the things she needs to fit in.

Ivy develops a taste for winning and for wealth. As an adult, she reconnects with the blond-haired golden boy of a prominent political family, and thinks it’s fate. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the almost-perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.

Filled with surprising twists, and offering sharp insights into the immigrant experience, White Ivy is both a love triangle and a coming-of-age story – as well as a dark glimpse at what can happen when we yearn for success at any cost.

Blurb

White Ivy is a coming-of-age story about Ivy Ling, a girl who moved to America from China when she was four. The main thing to know about Ivy is that she wants – the whole book and her character is defined by wanting for things: to assimilate, to fit in, to be rich, to have power, to have ‘peace’, as she calls it.

I found this novel incredibly compelling. The character of Ivy is unlikeable in many ways, but I think she is realistic and I think a lot of people will see a bit of themselves in her. Maybe not to the extreme of Ivy, who is manipulative and opportunistic at almost every opportunity – but I think the way that she wants things to such a strong degree is very relatable. As a child, Ivy wants to fit in with all of the rich white children at school – she feels ashamed of her more humble upbringing and at the ways that her family is different from other peoples’. Susie Yang creates a brilliant and tense atmosphere, and you truly feel the otherness that Ivy feels in her life. It makes all of the feelings of shame and humiliation tauter, and the negatives in her character more understandable, more forgivable.

My favourite part of the novel was Ivy’s relationship with her mother and grandmother. They are complicated, and she often clashes with Nan (her mum) and Meifeng (her grandmother), but I loved learning more about them and the choices that they made in their lives. As Ivy learns more about them too, you see that they are more alike than she’s ever thought. As Ivy’s relationship with Gideon is mostly born out of a want for more in life, her connections with her family are really the backbone of the novel.

I’ve seen this book described as a thriller, and I can see why (it definitely takes some twists and turns) but it is more slow burn than you would expect. It is more character-driven and a coming-of-age story, with thriller elements interspersed. I would say I found the final twist predictable, but after I had guessed what was going to happen, I was very invested and spent a lot of the time with my head metaphorically in my hands, thinking: no, Ivy, no!

Roux was a much more interesting character than Gideon for me (and I think he’s meant to be!), and I really liked their dynamic – he was the only one that really saw Ivy for who she was, and he liked her anyway. Ivy says that what she really wants in life is peace – the peace knowing she’s reached the top, the peace knowing that you have ‘something no one could take away from you’. This is linked of course to the fact that she was a Chinese immigrant from a lower income family, that she went to school surrounding my white and wealthy people – Ivy has never felt secure, has never felt admired, has never felt like she is top of the pile. So she dedicates her life to reaching the top and achieving peace – and really, how can you blame her for wanting that?

Roux, from a similar background as Ivy, says the most important thing is leverage. She dismisses this is ‘unused power’, as not important – but she finds by the end of the novel that Roux is right, and leverage is how she will achieve peace.

This is a compelling and tense novel, full of sharp storytelling, and I really enjoyed it! I thought the ending was perfect, and exactly what Ivy deserved – I was wondering how the story could possibly be wrapped up, but the author did a very good job of it. This was a brilliant debut, and I will absolutely want to see what Susie Yang does next.

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book review

Review: The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon (spoiler free!)

Pub date: 26 January 2020

The Mask Falling (The Bone Season, #4) by Samantha Shannon

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

I’ve seen Samantha Shannon refer to The Mask Falling – the fourth book in her seven-book series – as ‘the heart of the series’. And oh wow, was she correct. In my review of book three, The Song Rising, you may recall me saying that I thought she’d got the pace right, but was hoping that she’d invest more time into relationship and character development. And that’s exactly what she did!

The Mask Falling is just as action-packed and fast-paced as The Song Rising, but it’s also more reflective. While the stakes have never been higher, there is still the time and space in this novel for us to truly explore Paige’s mental health, her character development and her relationship with Warden. My little shipper heart lapped up every second of this novel, loving the blend of action and character.

I think this is the book where everything started to pull together and the threads from the other novels all built into one overarching plot, rather than the slightly more broken-up feeling from the previous three books. This novel is set in Paris, and I really enjoyed seeing the syndicate in a different country, and the way that Samantha Shannon describes Paris was beautiful. She certainly has a knack for creating a world and setting the scene. She really upped the stakes in this novel, expanding Paige’s remit not just from the underworld of London to, well, the whole world, really.

I will warn you: once again, this book ends on an INSANE cliff hanger. The end of the novel was enough to give me heart palpitations, and I immediately want the next book in the series. This is definitely the first book in the series that has made me immediately want to pick up the next.

I really recommend this series for dystopian/fantasy lovers, and if you read the rest of the series a while back and are wondering whether to get stuck into it again, I can only say: do it.

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book meme

WWW Wednesday | 13 Jan

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?

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I have literally just picked up Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, which I’m very excited to get into. Hood Feminism looks at the women that women that the feminist movement forgot, making the point that while privileged (white) women often focus their feminism on gaining more privilege, they forget and leave behind the women that are struggling to survive – through lack of education, medical care, living wages, safe neighbourhoods etc. The book takes the form short essays covering all of these topics (and ones I haven’t mentioned), and I’m really excited to get into it properly!

What did you recently finish reading?

The last week has been a great reading week for me, so I’ve got quite a few to mention (lockdown 3 has definitely helped here!). I haven’t written reviews for these yet, but they are all coming!

  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This was a five star read for me – I found it absolutely phenomenal, so vivid and vibrant and full of humanity. I found myself slowing my reading down to truly savour the experience, as I was enjoying it so much. There’s so much to unpack and discuss about this book that I’m looking forward to sitting down and properly writing my review on it!
  • White Ivy by Susie Yang – Another very accomplished debut! I’m still a bit undecided about my rating for it, but it will probably fall somewhere in the 4 to 5 star range. I’m still thinking about this book days after I finished it, and it’s another I’m looking forward to writing the review on.
  • Unsettled Ground by Clare Fuller (eARC, NetGalley) – I was on such a run of good books for the year, and unfortunately this book really let me down. I found it overly bleak and quite…boring? I never really felt invested in it and I left the book feeling a bit like I wasted my time, which is not what you want to feel after finishing a book!
  • Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green (eARC, NetGalley) – this was actually a dnf for me. I feel bad about putting books down unfinished, especially when I’ve been sent them for review, but I just couldn’t continue with this one. Written in the form of epistolary, combining emails, letters and diary entries, I was expecting to really like this one, having been such a big fan of Meg Cabot’s Boy series (heartily recommend if you love rom coms), which follows this structure. But this book was not fun, the character was rude and unlikeable, and 25% of the way in, there was no plot – just the main character emailing back and forth with plumbers and catering companies.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Ooh, this is a tough one! I’ve recently gone on a bit of a book-buying frenzy, with some Christmas money and also just because there’s nothing else really to do during lockdown – so I have a lot of good ones to choose from! I think I’ve narrowed by choice for the next read down to a couple though!

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I have the eARC of Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson to read by 4th February, which I’m very excited about as I’ve seen amazing reviews. I also want to read The Magpie Society by Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch, as I bought this Nov/Dec time and had planned to read it by the end of the year. Another book high up on my to-read list is The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, which I bought on Kindle (for 99p, bargain!) after hearing rave reviews and seeing people mark it as their fave book of 2020.

What are you currently reading? How are you finding it?

book meme

WWW Wednesday | 9 Dec 2020

Hi everyone! I’m participating in WWW Wednesday again today, which was originally hosted at Daily Rhythm and has been revived by 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?

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I just finished The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon last night, so I have to choose my next physical book. I’m not sure whether to go straight onto The Song Rising or to take a break from that series and then come back after to read The Song Rising and The Mask Falling back-to-back.

I’m also listening to Three Women by Lisa Taddeo on audiobook (thanks to NetGalley and the publishers). I’ve always wanted to read this book and when the option came up for the audiobook on NetGalley, I automatically requested it. So far, I’m really enjoying it. Lisa Taddeo is a journalist who immersed herself into the lives of three women to learn about female desire. This is one of those non-fiction books that reads like fiction, which I enjoy. So far, Taddeo is letting the lives of the women do the talking, but I would like to also see some more explicit discussion from her about the concept of desire – a bit like what we got in the prologue. Excited to see where this one goes!

What did you recently finish reading?

The Mime Order (The Bone Season, #2)

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon. I haven’t written my review yet so I haven’t fully sat down and thought about what I thought of it, but I will say that the first 200 pages of the book were very slow and it took a long time to get started. But, like the first book, the final 100 pages or so were almost unputdownable.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Sisters: the exhilarating new novel from the Booker prize shortlisted  author of Everything Under: Amazon.co.uk: Johnson, Daisy: 9781787331624:  Books

I think that I probably will take a book from the Bone Season series, just so I can read The Song Rising and The Mask Falling back-to-back, rather than read three in a row and then take a break before the final one. I’m really enjoying the series but it is quite heavy going and the books are quite long.

I think next I might read Sisters by Daisy Johnson. It’s quite short and a different genre, so will hopefully be a nice change of pace from what I’m reading now.

Well, that’s it for me this week! What are you reading?

book review

Review: The Haunting of Brynn Wilder by Wendy Webb

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Published: November 2020

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

After a devastating loss, Brynn Wilder escapes to Wharton, a tourist town on Lake Superior, to reset. Checking into a quaint boardinghouse for the summer, she hopes to put her life into perspective. In her fellow lodgers, she finds a friendly company of strangers: the frail Alice, cared for by a married couple with a heartbreaking story of their own; LuAnn, the eccentric and lovable owner of the inn; and Dominic, an unsettlingly handsome man inked from head to toe in mesmerizing tattoos. But in this inviting refuge, where a century of souls has passed, a mystery begins to swirl. Alice knows things about Brynn, about all of them, that she shouldn’t. Bad dreams and night whispers lure Brynn to a shuttered room at the end of the hall, a room still heavy with a recent death. And now she’s become irresistibly drawn to Dominic—even in the shadow of rumors that wherever he goes, suspicious death follows.

Blurb, NetGalley

I’m not going to lie – I found this book very difficult to finish. I considered putting it down multiple times but didn’t – partly because I’d got it through NetGalley and wanted to give it a fair shot and partly because I’m terrible at letting go of books and hate not knowing how things end!

I wonder if I misunderstood what type of book this was going to be? But it was filled under mysteries and thrillers on NetGalley and so I presumed it was going to focus primarily on the mystery mentioned in the blurb and be quite a ghostly read. There are ghosts in the novel but only a few and it was very tame. But at it’s heart this book is a romance novel with a minor supernatural element. But the problem was that neither of the main characters were strong or interesting enough to sustain a romance plot.

Brynn, the protagonist is fine but boring – she is nice and kind and everyone likes her and she has the typical main character trait of having had everything that could possibly go wrong with a person have happened to her in the last year. She just had no personality! For example, Brynn arrives in town in order to escape from her life, and within days she is having creepy dreams and seeing things she thinks might be ghosts. She talks to some of the other residents and they are like ‘of course you are seeing ghosts, they are real’ and she just accepts that and it’s not a plot point in the novel at all?

Dominic, the love interest, is equally as bland and nice – apart from the fact he’s supposed to be a bit of a ‘bad boy’ but this never goes anywhere.

And this is the crux of why I didn’t enjoy this book: nothing goes anywhere. Nothing actually really happens. I was reading, trying to work out what the book was heading towards and then I got to the end and found out the answer was: nothing. The bits of the novel that are thought were the main parts of the plot end up being loose ends and any questions asked are never answered. I was reading this on an e-reader, so without a physical indication of how far through the book I was, and I was actually surprised when it ended as I didn’t think it possibly could without answering anything.

This book ended up being a cheesy insta-love story filled with lots of creepily nice people, with no plot or point. I think what is worst is that I like and read romance novels, but even that part of the book fell flat and lacked chemistry. My rating is 1.5 stars as I would not recommend this book to others, but do think that there is possibly someone out there that would enjoy it!

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