reviews

Gravity Is The Thing – Jaclyn Moriarty

“What I think is that life is full of memories, stories and facts, and we push our way through them – and now and then, we pluck one, pull on the seam and make that responsible for everything.”

I honestly don’t even know how to begin talking about this book. I have so many thoughts about it, totally disjointed, and the idea of structuring them into something readable is daunting. I was unsure of this book at first, but after a while I was falling more in love with it with every passing chapter.

From the beginning, you as a reader can honestly not tell where this book is heading. Not at all. After a mysterious letter leads a group of seemingly unconnected people to a retreat, where a select few will learn the secrets of human flight, how much do you utilise the suspension of disbelief? After all, none of the people there believe in what they’re studying, so why should you. But there is always a tiny hint of “but, what if?” hiding in the background.

So yes, this book is about the theory of human flight. But god, it’s about so much more than that.

Light-hearted ridiculousness has been perfectly balanced by Moriarty with gut-punching devastation. When this book hits hard, it hits hard. Abigail, the narrator, has a tone similar to that of characters such as Kimmy Schmidt and Eleanor Oliphant – and the almost naive outlook that these characters share is mirrored also in the trauma under the surface.

The exploration of self-help books is a potent theme throughout the story. “The Guidebook”, non-chronological chapters of which Abigail had been receiving through the post since she was a teenager, is what draws the key group of characters together, after all. The outlandishness of the book’s purpose – to teach humans how to soar through the sky like birds – lends to the satirical nature of this exploration. And yet, the story also feels – to me, at least – like a kind of homage, too. A cautious one. Via The Guidebook and various other self-help books, and also via her critique of them, Abigail goes on a journey of self-discovery throughout the story.

The final few chapters were so painfully honest, and one scene especially had me particularly choked up with its naked depiction of emotions, long-buried, suddenly surfacing in the most brutal way.

Summing up this book is impossible, but to me the most striking theme is the exploration of past trauma – particularly trauma that has not had its closure.

I definitely recommend this book, regardless of whether talks of “human flight” and “self-help” have put you off. Go into it with an open mind, because it will take you on a journey.

Rating: 4/5

(An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.)

reviews

Safe Harbour – Christina Kilbourne

This is a great YA for readers at the younger end of that demographic, but with appeal to older readers through different eyes too. It’s a stark and sympathetic look at homelessness, with relatable characters and strong friendships driving the narrative.

The two main characters – Harbour and Lise – come from very different backgrounds, something that doesn’t matter a great deal when in the same dire situation, especially in a city with particularly harsh winters. Harbour isn’t homeless, she keeps telling herself. She’s just waiting in Toronto for her dad to come and meet her on his boat from Miami. However, as winter quickly approaches and without any word from her father, she must face the reality of her situation with the help of Lise, a homeless teen who’s been living on the streets and in a shelter for two years.

The mystery of Harbour’s past, although really a subplot, is well executed, and at the end I was left considering that everyone in the story is a victim of some kind. The shift from a rose-tinted vision of her past – and her father – to the reality was well paced and shocking, even when (possibly particularly as an adult reader) you can see it coming.

I found this a quick and engaging read, highly recommended for younger readers.

Rating: 4/5

(An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.)

reviews

Reverie – Ryan La Sala

“Dreams can be parasites we sacrifice ourselves too. Dreams can be monstrous, beautiful things incubated in misery and hatched by spite. Or dreams can be the artifacts we excavate to discover who we really are”

I honestly don’t know where to start with this book. It has a bit of everything… actually, a lot of everything. Contemporary fantasy. Action-adventure. Romance. YA friendship dramas. All through the unapologetically queer rainbow-tinted glasses… I mean, there is a drag queen sorceress as a central character.

I was instantly hooked into this book, from the first page of the opening chapter. Teenager Kane has woken after an accident, missing an enormous chunk of his memory, and a focus of the local police. He embarks on the adventure – with the often unwilling help of his protective sister Sophia – to piece together his missing past, and what he begins to uncover very quickly becomes very surreal as he meets the people known as the Others and learns where he fits into their lives.

This story really is an adventure, and through the reveries – the worlds created by people unaware of the fact that their daydreams have become very real – the reader is taken across multiple worlds on multiple planes of reality. The ensemble characters could have been explored a little more, I feel, but they still feel defined enough to have distinct personalities.

What brought my rating down slightly was my inability to fully picture some of the reveries, or rather, not having the time to have each new world feel real enough. That was just because once in the reveries, the book became so fast paced in true action-adventure style, that some aspects whizzed by. I think that this book could work really well as a screen adaptation for that reason!

“Just because something is imagined doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous”

Rating: 3.5/5

(An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.)

my favourite · weekly memes

My Favourite… book cover of 2019

My Favourite… is organised by bookishlyrebecca and this is my first attempt at joining in with this weekly meme, and it’s not an easy one!

I’ve read several books with really stunning covers this year – the difficulty I had was separating my opinion of the books with the covers! I fairly quickly narrowed it down to three favourites, and then really struggled to single one out.

But… going by cover alone, with no relation to the quality of the story, I think that this is my favourite cover of 2019:

I love how bold it is, and so much more striking than most of the international editions’ covers that I’ve seen. I love the graphic style, and the contrast between the bold red and black, with the stark white background. I’m also a sucker for a cover that suddenly makes sense either whilst, or after, reading the story, while giving very little hint to someone who hasn’t read it.

Read my review of The Grace Year by Kim Liggett here!

reviews

The Scorched Earth – Rachael Blok

“Jess knows. The village knows. Everyone knows.”

A dead body shows up, and this quote is the resulting inner thought in the opening chapter of the character whose world we are being introduced to. This instantly hooked me, and I knew this was a book for me.

I didn’t realise that this was the second book in a series, and luckily it turns out that it works perfectly as a standalone book. I will, however, be adding the prequel to my TBR list!

The Scorched Earth is a deliciously meaty crime thriller that drops so many feasible suspects along the way that as a reader your guesses at solving the mystery are likely to change with almost every chapter. There are lots of subtly dropped hints that could implicate almost any character who crosses the reader’s path, and – although, sure, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief needs to be in place to justify the vast number of consequences that occur – the pace at which the path twists and turns is perfect and by the end I was completely unable to put the book down!

There is a claustrophobic atmosphere built up from a combination of a suffocating heatwave occurring in the country at the time, along with a growing paranoia and fear that Ana, one of the main characters, is experiencing throughout the story. Many of her fears felt like a very relatable aspect of womanhood, sadly, however they were amplified by specific instances in her life. The use of a heatwave as a trope for tension is a cliche one, but a cliche for a reason – it works!

The two main characters that the reader sees the world via are Ana, and DCI Maarten Jansen, are both hugely sympathetic characters, and I warmed to them both very quickly. Other chapters are seen through the eyes of Leo in flashbacks, and his brother Ben, who is serving time in jail for his brother’s murder.

I ended up suspecting the person behind the mystery fairly early on, however I soon lost that suspicion due to the number of convincing red herrings along the way. In fact, by the time that his part was fully revealed, I’d kind of forgotten that I’d ever suspected him!

There was a final reveal in the epilogue which had been hiding in plain sight for several chapters by this point, and yet still took me completely by surprise – to the extent that I actually vocalised my shock and sadness. That was a testament to how well the book had been crafted.

On a personal note, as someone who knows the area that the book is set in extremely well as I grew up there, I really loved being able to picture the settings so perfectly.

Rating: 4/5

(An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.)

tag challenge

“Would You Rather…?” Tag

Tagged by the lovely KBbookreviews whose reviews I greatly enjoy, and I loved her answers for this. Thanks for the tag!


Would you rather… read only trilogies or standalones?

I think I’m going to say that – while I love trilogies and series – I tend to find a hard-hitting standalone to be more impactful. It also doesn’t tie you into a longer time commitment, which is sometimes an issue with an ever-growing TBR list!


Would you rather… read only male or only female authors?

So a few years ago, I made my way through a list of some of my favourite books, and realised how few female authors there were on it… and it blew my mind how much I’d been subconsciously restricting myself! So I made a point of making 2017 the year that I read nothing written by a man. And it opened me up to so many books that, for some reason, I might not have picked up otherwise, instead going with the new highly-marketed book from a male author.

Anyway, in 2018 I ended up also reading books purely from female and/or non-binary authors. Only, that wasn’t by design. 2017 taught me that I tend to, as a broad generalisation, prefer the female voice and find it much more relatable.

While I now read more books by men again, I would definitely tend towards women writers if I had to choose, as most of the books that really connect with me are not written by men. 2017 and 2018 gave me several new favourite books!


Would you rather… shop at Barnes & Noble or Amazon?

I live in the UK, so Barnes & Noble isn’t so much a big thing here. I try to support independent bookshops where I can, but the truth is that I’m a Kindle addict, and as much as I hate Amazon as a company, I do get a huge number of my books through them for the convenience of having my whole library in something that fits in my handbag!


Would you rather… all books became movies or TV shows?

TV shows, for sure. The great thing about the written word is how it can use hours upon hours to explore in-depth the story that is happening. Movies do not allow for that in the same way that TV shows could replicate it. I know that given the later seasons, this isn’t the most rock-solid example, but imagine if they’d made Game Of Thrones as one movie per book!

(Side note: super excited for the TV adaptation of His Dark Materials next month!)


Would you rather… read 5 books per week, or 5 pages per day?

This one honestly varies month-to-month. This month has been so busy with work and my personal life that 5 pages per day feels like not much less than I’ve actually been reading! But in quieter months (or when on a lazy holiday!), 5 books per day is also a reality.

If I had to choose one though… as much as I’d love 5 books per week, it’s not a sustainable reality for me at the moment! So 5 pages per day, reluctantly.


Would you rather… be a professional reviewer or an author?

One of the reasons I love reading other people’s stories so much is that I am not good at thinking up my own. So a reviewer, for sure!


Would you rather… only read your top 20 favourite books over and over, or always read new ones that you haven’t read before?

As much as I’m itching for a reread of so many books, I think that out of all of the books I’ve read over the past two years, only two have been rereads (Station Eleven for the second time last year, and Watership Down a few months ago for the first time since I was a child). Again, as my TBR list keeps growing, I’d have to say that I’d want to keep exploring new work!


Would you rather… be a librarian or a bookseller?

I like the idea of being a librarian, however with friends who actually do that job I hear about all of the many negative aspects, especially as they become more and more underfunded in this country. I have worked a few retail jobs in my life, and one of my favourites was working in a bookshop, so I’d probably go back to that if I had to choose between the two.


Would you rather… only read your favourite genre, or read anything except your favourite genre?

Oh I’d read my favourite genre over and over again, easily. At the moment I have a huge love for post-apocalyptic books, and despite some similarities obviously emerging between works, I love how different they can also be. So, so long as I can choose that as a genre (which is kind of cheating as obviously “post-apocalyptic” can encompass general, sci-fi, fantasy, and many other genres!) then that’s an easy one to answer.


Would you rather… only read physical or e-books?

E-books for convenience, easily. The convenience of carrying them around, the convenience of marking sections and/or making notes on them and easily being able to search for them, the convenience of a built-in dictionary allowing you to look up words you don’t understand as you read them..! If I could use a loophole where I could still support physical bookshops by buying from there and either giving to friends, donating to places that could use them, or donating them to charity shops, then even better!


I tag:

Shalini’s Books & Reviews
Sandy’s Book A Day
Life Of Chaz
The Book Crunch
Omnivourous Reader

…all of whom are worth checking out!

reviews

Impossible Causes – Julie Mayhew

“How contagious evil can be… dressed in the guise of justice”

This is an odd one, a unique one.

The writing style has a feeling of the action, the characters, the story, all being behind a pane of frosted glass that the reader is trying to peer through. Everything is just slightly semantically obscured in a way that has a dreamlike effect, almost as if the story is taking place on a different plane of reality.

Everything that is, except for the setting. The location is so perfectly described, and the slightly opaque writing style adds to a very particular mood. I can picture the stormy Atlantic island of Lark so perfectly, even as I feel no connection to the characters within. The claustrophobia, the superstition (both of modern and more ancient religious sorts), the paranoia… it all comes together to paint a vivid picture of a remote community.

We are introduced to the isolated island of Lark through the eyes of newcomer Viola Kendrick and her mother. Paralleled with their arrival is another “coycrock” in the form of a new teacher, Ben Hailey. The suspicion awarded to these outsides adds another layer to the setting and fuels much of the story.

The most interesting theme throughout for me was the spreading of rumours within a small, isolated community. There are essentially three voices in this book – Viola’s point-of-view chapters, Leah’s first person chapters, with the third voice being the whisper of gossip travelling like wildfire across the island. This resulted in a strong point about the dangers of a secret known by a whole community, that is deliberately “forgotten”, and how that only leads to more victims of its truth over time.

The Eldest Girls – largely the focus of the story – feel unknowable outside of the gossip. Even as Viola gets close to them, they’re talked about from a distance. Until the final few chapters, no interactions are even witnessed by the reader between Viola and the girls in an active way – occasionally they’re mentioned as passive anecdotes. This kept them mysterious and added intrigue to the story – are they really witches? are they evil? what are they trying to achieve? – but I do feel like as a result, some understanding of their motive was sacrificed.

This book took me a long time to get into. The first half – it didn’t drag, but it didn’t remotely grip me, either, and the constant changes not only of point-of-view but of timeline too didn’t help this. And then I reached about the halfway point, and everything changed. I had to force myself to go to bed after cramming in an hour or two of reading at the end of a busy day, because otherwise I would have stayed up all night to finish it.

Two scenes in particular hit me pretty hard. One a poignant uprising, and one a tragic twist. Both are towards the end of the book, so I shan’t spoil, however they are reason alone to keep reading if you find the book a little difficult to get into.

As for a rating, I found this hard to decide upon one. I really wouldn’t be surprised if months down the line, I return and change the star rating, depending on how the book sits with me after I’ve had time to let it stew a little.

Rating: 3.5/5

(An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.)

reviews

Jack Of Hearts (And Other Parts) – L.C. Rosen

CW for homophobia, stalking, graphic sex.

The acknowledgements section of this book describes the book as wanting to be a “loud, authentic voice that a lot of people don’t want young adult readers to hear”, and well, it succeeded.

I think this is an important read for teenagers, as well as older readers. It’s unapologetically honest about sex and sexuality, written from the POV of a gay character.

The writing style is easy to read, yet the story itself is gripping. Besides the “whodunnit” factor, the accompanying themes of talking about sex issues across all kinds of spectrum – along with other issues that most teenagers in school will face at one time or another – in a totally matter-of-fact way makes this in important voice for YA fiction.

Particularly recommended for people who’ve watched and enjoyed Netflix’s show Sex Education.

Rating: 4.5/5

(An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.)

reviews

The Forgiving Kind – Donna Everhart

CW: child abuse, domestic abuse, parental death, homophobia, non-graphic rape

As the content warnings I’ve listed suggest, this is a heavy book. It was emotionally exhausting to read, and while I had to take several breaks just to regroup, I also wasn’t able to put it down fully and as such, raced through it despite this.

The growing hatred you as a reader feel for Mr Fowler through is a truly visceral reaction. He represents, in many ways, the kind of character that many of us have crossed paths with in our life: manipulative, abusive, and so charming that others are blind to his true nature.

The feeling of claustrophobia and helplessness I felt while reading this was intense – when you’re hoping that a 12 year old child commits murder, you know that you’re reading something that you’re emotionally invested in!

The setting was described so beautifully that I could easily picture it – the idyllic Southern lifestyle, with the dark taint of bigotry always looming. Feeling Sonny’s innocence with regards to this slowly crumble throughout the book – from an awareness that people of colour are treated differently but no understanding of why they should be, to first hand experience of bigoted abuse – was heartbreaking.

And yet, despite – thankfully – being a childhood very different from my own, I felt like I was living hers first hand.

What is perhaps the most tragic takeaway from this book is that although the hatred is on display is exacerbated by the historical location – 1950s North Carolina – as the author notes in her acknowledgements, it is just a catalyst for something that is sadly timeless.

Rating: 5/5

(An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.)

reviews

If Darkness Takes Us – Brenda Marie Smith

Woke post-apocalyptic Texan granny’s paranoid disaster planning may save her neighbourhood.

I’ve read my fair share of post-apocalyptic novels – in fact they’re one of my favourite genres. However, they can begin to get a bit samey. This one puts a fresh spin on things though.

The cause of the apocalypse – is it a solar pulse? A nuclear event? A side effect of climate change? Or something completely unknown? With all electricity and communication down, who knows?

It’s an interesting and very current take on the apocalypse that climate change is mentioned so heavily. Much as many disaster novels of the past few years have heavily referenced clueless but dangerous politicians, this fits into the zeitgeist in a terrifying way.

Pretty much the entire story takes place inside one Austin neighbourhood. Rather than featuring dangerous travels like many books of the genre does, it’s more of a feature on community in hardship.

Particularly in the earlier section of the book, the dilemma between helping other people and prioritising supplies for yourself and your loved ones becomes apparent, and was explored in an interesting way with opposing viewpoints. If I were to get political I could explore how this could be compared to the political spectrum and how one’s ideology may shift in times of genuine crisis, as priorities change.

It’s a shame that the writing style is a little inelegant. This was particularly apparent during one pivotal scene in the final quarter of the book – a scene that should have been devastatingly emotional, but instead passed without the gravitas it deserved.

The final chapters however, were achingly real. The final tragedy of the book was a very human one, apocalypse or not.

Rating: 3.5/5

(An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.)