The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris – Book Review

Well, this was one crazy whirlwind of a debut! This author has created something truly original, a genre-spanning novel which tackles big issues and gives a new perspective on being a black woman in a modern, cut-throat and predominately white industry. But, it’s definitely a little out there – and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary, Drama, Horror

Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid – Book Review

This is only the second TJR book I’ve read after her smash hit Daisy Jones and The Six (which I loved). But, this novel does have a very different vibe. In Malibu Rising, Reid weaves a multi-generational family saga. It’s a genre I don’t usually opt for but in the hands of this capable author, set against the glamorous backdrop of Malibu spanning from the 1950s – 1980s, it really, really works.

With this Daisy Jones follow-up, Taylor Jenkins Reid showcases and hones her incredible skills as an author. Not only is she able to recreate a period of history and write about a place so well she brings it to life, most importantly in this novel she creates an incredible cast of characters in the Riva family. They’re a family that feel authentic, sympathetic and real. Their experiences juxtapose extreme privilege and extreme hardship and that meant, while my world is so far removed from them I’ve never experienced either extremes as boldly, I felt able to connect and sympathise with them.

The story is split into two main parts – before the infamous annual Riva party, and the party itself. It’s in the first half that Reid takes us on a journey through the history of the Riva family, back to when young couple June and Mick met on the beach in the 50s, before either of them had experienced true fame or true pain. The two marry and have four children – Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit. The story moves back and forth between June and Mick’s relationship and and the siblings’ childhood, and present day (1980s) when they’re independent adults, navigating their own lives while getting ready for the party of the year.

The four siblings are really well drawn, and it’s as the details of their upbringing are gradually revealed that the reader gets to understand why they are in present day. How much does your upbringing shape your personality? And how much are you doomed to repeat the mistakes of your predecessors? Through these characters Reid explores these questions, and you can’t help but care about their wellbeing and their relationships.

Then part two – and party time – begins. This part is all set in present day, and it has a different feel as many minor characters are introduced. Reid takes us on a journey through the party, meeting the guests and understanding their motivations for being there. Some are there to find love, some are there just to party, and some for something else entirely. This was a little distracting after the first half’s sole focus on the Riva family, but I think expanding the world helped to add to its authenticity.

Overall, this is a gorgeous story of love and loyalty, both in relationships and family. It has enough intrigue to keep you turning the pages to find out what is going to go down at this party, and the characters are some of the best I’ve read in a while. But the time period and setting really make this book stand out and bring it to life – I love that the family were budding surfers who had grown up by the sea. It makes for an enchanting and touching read.

I received Malibu Rising in exchange for an honest review. 4.5/5 (because I didn’t love it quite as much as Daisy Jones).

PS. I have 3 TJR books to read on my Kindle – The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo, Maybe In Another Life and One True Loves. Any recommendations on where to start from her backlist would be appreciated!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary, Drama, Family, Romance

The End Of Men, Christina Sweeney-Baird – Book Review

This fictional debut about a global pandemic was written before the current global pandemic, but its release comes while we’re still in the throes of masking up and social distancing. So, it definitely comes with mixed feelings, a familiarity and resonance the author probably never initially intended.

Of course, the fictional virus – nicknamed the ‘Plague’ – in this story has a much higher fatality rate and has the added complication of only affecting men, but still there’s some parallels between the world we currently live in. Basically, this debut creates a more brutal 2020 and sprinkles it with a strong dash of feminism, and the result is a clever, unique and multi-layered story.

Amanda Maclean is a doctor in a busy Scottish hospital. When a man dies suddenly on her watch from what appears to be an incredibly fast-acting flu, she knows something isn’t right. She traces the illness back to patient zero, and immediately tries to quarantine any at-risk patients and raise the alarm.

But, like with real whistle-blowers and well-meaning doctors in these situations, Amanda isn’t taken seriously, and virus rapidly escalates across Scotland and beyond. It kills, young, healthy men and boys within in a matter of days. There is no known treatment or cure.

The story is told through multiple narratives, mostly women, each dealing with the pandemic in their own way. Some are doctors, virologists and government officials, others are regular members of the public. Through the chorus of voices from many countries and walks of life, the author paints a picture of the pandemic and the medical, personal and political problems it brings. This narrative really works to provide an overview of the world at crisis, but the constant changing of narrative and scattering of news articles did feel a little disjointed at times, and meant it was a little difficult to connect with all the characters on a personal level, although there were definitely some standouts.

I did really enjoy the writing of this novel. There’s no flowery or superfluous language here – each character’s narrative is raw and to-the-point. It really feels like these people are talking to you directly, and that they’re at breaking point. I could feel the sense of panic and the descending chaos in the earlier chapters. It’s reflective of how we’ve all felt at points since the beginning of 2020.

“Surely they’ve got it all figured out but I don’t think anyone knows what to do. Nothing like this has ever happened. We’re all blindly stumbling around in the dark and none of us knows a thing.”

The story follows the entire pandemic over years, from initial breakout through the development of a vaccine and attempts to rebuild society. I have to admit the last few chapters felt a little anti-climatic to me as endings go – but I guess I should know there’s no hard and fast ending to a pandemic. But what it does well is challenge ideas -particularly around the role women play in society – and ask some thought-provoking questions around the issues of relationships and repopulation (with a serious lack of sperm).

This was a really impressive, thought-provoking novel. I’d be curious to know what the author’s job was before she wrote this as the book feels knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. And, of course, I’ll be looking out to see what she does next.

I received The End Of Men in exchange for an honest review. 4/5.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books with titles that are complete sentences

TTT is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl (it was originally created over at The Broke and the Bookish) and she provides great prompts week in and week out to get us talking about books!

This week’s topic is books with titles that are complete sentences. I actually love this idea, writers obviously have a way with words and their book titles are no different. This is a selection of books I’ve read in the past and some on my TBR, all with full-sentence titles I can appreciate.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Two former best friends return to their college reunion to find that they’re being circled by someone who wants revenge for what they did ten years before—and will stop at nothing to get it—in this shocking psychological thriller about ambition, toxic friendship, and deadly desire.

A lot has changed in the years since Ambrosia Wellington graduated from college, and she’s worked hard to create a new life for herself. But then an invitation to her ten-year reunion arrives in the mail, along with an anonymous note that reads “We need to talk about what we did that night.”

It seems that the secrets of Ambrosia’s past—and the people she thought she’d left there—aren’t as buried as she’d believed. Amb can’t stop fixating on what she did or who she did it with: larger-than-life Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, Amb’s former best friend, who could make anyone do anything.

Alternating between the reunion and Amb’s freshman year, The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a shocking novel about the brutal lengths girls can go to get what they think they’re owed, and what happens when the games we play in college become matters of life and death.

You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry.

Eva never really wanted to be a mother – and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; now that she’s started college, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone—vanished from her life. Her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man. And there was something unique about Rosemary’s sister, Fern.
You’ll have to find out for yourself what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Pitching an extraordinary battle between cruel authority and a rebellious free spirit, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a novel that epitomises the spirit of the sixties.

Tyrannical Nurse Ratched rules her ward in an Oregon State mental hospital with a strict and unbending routine, unopposed by her patients, who remain cowed by mind-numbing medication and the threat of electroshock therapy. But her regime is disrupted by the arrival of McMurphy – the swaggering, fun-loving trickster with a devilish grin who resolves to oppose her rules on behalf of his fellow inmates. His struggle is seen through the eyes of Chief Bromden, a seemingly mute half-Indian patient who understands McMurphy’s heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them imprisoned. The subject of an Oscar-winning film starring Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest an exuberant, ribald and devastatingly honest portrayal of the boundaries between sanity and madness.

Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kerman

With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before.

But that past has caught up with her.

Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424 — one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system.

From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance.

Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.

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When The Stars Go Dark, Paula McLain – Book Review

This is the first I’ve read of this author – I’ve had her hit historical fiction novel The Paris Wife waiting on my Kindle for years, and it will be getting bumped up the list now. McLain is an established writer who’s enjoyed success in a range of genres – even poetry – but this is her debut in crime fiction. And I adored it. You can tell reading this novel that this is a seasoned author, one who knows how to use words in a literary, almost lyrical way, but also how to craft a suspenseful, plot-driven story.

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Watch Her Fall, Erin Kelly – Book Review

Erin Kelly is one of those authors I’ve come to rely on for high-quality psychological thrillers, and I’m happy to say that this release is up there with the best of them. In Watch Her Fall, the author draws us into the cut-throat world of ballet, in a story pitched as Black Swan meets Killing Eve. A pretty irresistible combination, right?

The story opens with Ava, 30-year-old ballerina at the pinnacle of her career, who has just landed the coveted main role in Swan Lake at her father’s elite ballet school, London Russian Ballet. We meet Ava in the lead-up to opening night, and the atmosphere is tense from the outset.

“The spotlight was a shining cage, and it kept you safe or kept you lonely, depending on how you chose to look at it.”

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The Songbook of Benny Lament, Amy Harmon – Book Review

Benny is man who has always tried to make his own way in life. Despite his family’s mob connections, he’s forged a new path as a musician and songwriter in 1960s New York. He’s quite content with his lot, making a profit keeping behind the scenes, never letting anyone close and even keeping his own family at a distance. Until, his Pop takes him to a club to hear Esther Mine sing, and everything begins to unravel.

Suddenly he finds himself letting someone close for the first time, agreeing to manage Esther and her family’s band and falling for a woman of a different race with a complicated background, one that’s intertwined with his own family history. He even takes centre stage alongside Esther, as their natural bickering and chemistry makes for great watching and even better songwriting.

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You Love Me, Caroline Kepnes – Book Review

Our third dalliance with Joe Goldberg has just hit the shelves, and it’s peppered with his trademark dark cynicism, obsessive internal monologues and unique way of looking at the world.

This time, he’s a few years older and wiser, he’s spent time in prison following his exploits with his ex Love and the Quinn family, and he’s just looking for the quiet life. He moves to a small town on the coast and starts volunteering at the local library. But drama and obsession follow Joe, and it’s not long before there’s a new lady in his life.

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The Midnight Library, Matt Haig – Book Review

I got this book for Christmas (on request) and I’ve been saving it for a while. I just knew Matt Haig wouldn’t disappoint – and I was right. This book was the heart-warming, life-affirming breath of fresh air I needed in my life right now. This is a book I think I could turn to time after time when I’m not sure where my life is going, and it’d bring some comfort and inspiration. And that’s a pretty special book.

After attempting to end her life, protagonist Nora finds herself suspended between life and death. She enters the Midnight Library, a magical place where she’s given a chance to experience how her life could have been, to undo her regrets and answer all those ‘what ifs?’

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The Last House On Needless Street, Catriona Ward – Book Review

This book. I thought I was entering into familiar territory here – a psychological thriller, maybe a little sprinkle of horror. Nothing I can’t handle. I was wrong. This book threw me. It gave me nightmares (I don’t mean that metaphorically). It gave me a twist I never expected. And ultimately, after spending a while in a dark place, it gave me hope.

This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. And an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet they are all lies…

This description is a pretty standard blurb for this type of novel. But in this case, it’s really accurate. So much so, it’s a very difficult one to review as I have to step over the gaping spoiler that really brings the novel together and alters its entire theme and purpose.

But I’ll try.

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