My favourite blog posts of June 2018!

I’ve seen a few people doing posts like this recently and I really like the idea of showing some love for fellow bloggers so I wanted to make a contribution too! I won’t be able to keep up with a weekly post like many of you amazing bloggers do but I will try to do a round-up at the end of each month, highlighting blog posts I’ve loved that month!

So here’s what I hope will be the first of many ‘favourites’ posts! 🙂

 

Reviews

Joanna @ Bookneeders gave a glowing review to The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. This is a book I’ve been wanting to read for some months now but still haven’t got my hands on – Joanna’s review makes me want to go out and buy it tomorrow!

Cat @ Tack Fiction wrote a wonderful review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (you guys know how I love him). She raises some really interesting points and now has me itching to reread this one!

Rachel @ Pace Amore Libri wrote a great balanced review of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Rachel’s reviews are always so eloquent but I particularly enjoyed this one focusing on a book I’ve been interested in for a while.

Jenna @ Bookmark Your Thoughts wrote a fantastically detailed review of Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young, a YA Viking-inspired tale that I would love to read!

Tina @ Reading Between the Pages gave a great, succinct review of Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot more thrillers than usual and I like the sound of this one with its multiple perspectives.

Zuky @ Book Bum brought to my attention a book I had not heard of but which sounds fantastic! The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley seems like a book I would really enjoy.

Melanie @ Mel To The Any wrote a stunning review of Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. In all honesty, I could have picked any one of Melanie’s posts to feature because she writes with such obvious passion; every time she uploads a glowing review, I add another book to my wishlist! But in this case, her review was so powerful that I ordered the book right then and there.

Wendy @ What The Log Had To Say reviewed All Out, an anthology of queer YA short stories which I’m really interested in reading. I particularly liked the way Wendy was able to outline what the stories were about while not falling into the trap of making her review too lengthy.

LaRonda @ Flying Paperbacks reviewed When the Moon was Ours and made me question yet again why I still have not read an Anna-Marie McLemore book. They sound perfect for me!

 

Discussion posts

Kelly @ Just Another Book in the Wall wrote a really interesting post about why she loves anti-heroes. Some of my favourite books are about anti-heroes but I sometimes struggle to articulate why; Kelly’s post perfectly puts into words why I find these kinds of stories so fascinating.

Krysta @ Pages Unbound wrote a post about how rereading can boost your blog. As I’ve been rereading a lot of books lately, I found this post really helpful for giving me some ideas of how to incorporate these rereads into my blogging schedule!

 

Other fun posts

Becky Wright wrote a delightful post about the basis of all books being like an onion. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read her post 😉

The Orangutan Librarian wrote a list of bookish dreams and it made me crazy happy! Gotta dream big, right? 😉

Jodie @ Read the Write Act provided some great advice on how to get review copies. This is something I’m starting to think about since I’ve been blogging for a good while now (while I obviously blog because I’m passionate about it, I’d be lying if I said the free books weren’t a huge bonus.) I love being able to promote debut authors and new titles so I’m sure I will find Jodie’s post hugely helpful!

Mandy @ Book Princess Reviews completed the Bookish Academy Awards tag and caused me to add a ton of books to my wishlist!

Callum wrote a piece comparing the movie adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby to the book. Callum’s writing is always intelligent and insightful, and I thought he raised some great points here.

 

Bonus travel posts!

A couple of the book bloggers I follow also post about their travels and they give me serious wanderlust every time!

Marie @ Drizzle Hurricane Books wrote an online travel diary of her time in Berlin and I loved the feel of the whole post. Marie’s combination of words and pictures have definitely made me interested in visiting Germany!

Rachel @ What Rachel Did has been chronicling her travels in New York and this post about Greenwich Village was great. I loved reading about all the places she visited (especially as a fellow F.R.I.E.N.D.S fan!)

 

So those were my favourite blog posts of June 2018! Thank you everyone for providing such high quality content and for keeping me entertained 😉 Here’s to another great month of blogging in July!

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5 reasons to read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’

I recently read Stardust for the second time and was reminded why it’s one of my favourite Neil Gaiman novels. I know many people say that the movie is better – and, while that may or may not be true, I believe the book is still worthy of a read. So I thought I’d put together a list of 5 reasons why I love this book and why you should give it a go if you haven’t already!

(This is also the book I picked for Zuky’s book club theme this month – a book made into a movie – but since it was a reread, I didn’t want to do another straight-up review.)

So here are 5 reasons to read Stardust!

 

It reads like a classic fairytale…

There’s no shortage of fairytale retellings out there these days. However, Gaiman manages to capture that fairytale feel we love but in a completely original story! It’s magical from start to finish but especially the larger portion of the tale which takes place in the realm of Faerie. You’ve got all the classic elements of a Grimm’s story – magical beings, spells and curses, royalty, romance and, of course, a quest.

 

…but with a modern twist

While the classic ingredients might be there, Gaiman’s tale also has a thoroughly modern feel to it. It takes the dark undertones from the likes of the Brothers Grimm but goes a step further with it. First-time readers may be surprised to find sex scenes and substantial gore within Stardust’s pages (which definitely keeps it from being another boring old fairytale!)

 

The characters are great

You’ve got the quintessential fairytale cast right here. Freaky old witches who need to steal hearts to regain their youth, royal lords who are so Slytherin it hurts, the classic naïve hero and diva love interest. There are many more I can’t even talk about because SPOILERS but they are all fantastic and you need to meet them. One character in particular is so salty and I loved it.

 

Gaiman keeps it real

How many fantasy books have you read where the protagonist goes on some crazy long quest and never once needs to eat? Other than the works of Tolkien, I can’t call to mind a single instance where a hero complains about being hungry or needs to stop for a snack break. So when Tristran does it, I was cheering so loudly for this tiny realistic detail. Thank you Mr Gaiman for your digestive realness.

 

It’s short and fast-paced

If you’re completely new to Gaiman, this is a perfect place to start because it’s not as intimidating as some of his larger works. If you’re behind on your Goodreads challenge, this will give you an easy boost. And who doesn’t love that sense of achievement when you get through a book quickly?!

 

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So those are my 5 reasons to read Stardust! If you’ve read it, do you agree with my reasons? And if not, would this potentially persuade you to pick it up? 😉

Please let me know if this is the kind of post you’d like to see more of – I’m thinking of turning it into a regular series!

‘Song’ spoiler-free review!

Hi everyone! Today, I am honoured to be the first stop on the blog tour for Song by Michelle Jana Chan. This was such a powerful story and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

 

What the book was about…

Opening in the mid-nineteenth-century, this dazzling debut novel traces the voyage of Song, a boy who leaves his impoverished family in rural China to seek his fortune. Song may have survived the perilous journey to the colony of British Guiana in the Caribbean, but once there he discovers riches are hard to come by, as he finds himself working as an indentured plantation worker.

Between places, between peoples, and increasingly aware that circumstances of birth carry more weight than accomplishments or good deeds, Song fears he may live as an outsider forever. This is a far-reaching and atmospheric story spanning nearly half a century and half the globe, and though it is set in the past, Song’s story of emigration and the quest for opportunity is, in many ways, a very contemporary tale.

 

What I thought of it….

I am so pleased that people pledged money to have this book published because it is a definitely a story worth telling.

In technical terms, the writing is superb. The author sets the scenes so perfectly, with sumptuous and evocative descriptions that really helped me to visualise a country I have neither seen nor read much about. There were some gorgeous foody bits (something you know I love) and I could almost feel the heat under the mosquito nets and see the shops on the dusty streets.

Song is such a great main character. His resilience is truly inspiring and I was rooting for him the whole way – though he is by means a perfect character. He has flaws and makes some bad decisions but I felt that there was an inherent goodness in him. And to come from the start he had in life, he could quite easily have taken a different direction. It was uncomfortable to read about Song as a 9-year-old boy going through all the hardships he faced but the author was very sensitive in her portrayal of these scenes.

It was not only the main character whom I loved in this novel. Father Holmes was a complete joy to read about; he is a priest in a severely deprived area and he believes everyone deserves a chance. He is so kind and lovely, teaching Song the importance of learning and not just accepting things as they are. Even minor characters felt well-developed; the author’s portrayal of women was something I really appreciated. Sassy Jingy was a particular favourite.

There are some wonderful moral questions raised in this book, which was definitely one of my favourite aspects. The author highlights racism and corruption in the Church, exploring how even priests and church-going citizens can segregate certain groups of people. (This is not me making any kind of judgement on religion, by the way – I’m merely highlighting that the author raised an important and valid issue.) I loved the way the author called out this discrimination and it had me feeling so righteous on Song’s behalf!

This book was so inspiring. At it’s heart, it’s a wonderful Steinbeck-esque tale of trying to make something of yourself and get that small piece of land to call your own. It conveys the message that we should all believe in the power of our dreams and dare to strive for something bigger. I highly recommend.

 

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Thank you to Anne Cater, Unbound Publishing and Michelle Jana Chan for providing me with a copy of this stunning debut!  

 

Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour!

Song Blog Tour Poster

Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag! 2018

I’ve seen people doing this one recently and I remembered being a bit late with it in 2017, so I’m making a point of doing it on time this year!! I always love analysing what I’ve been reading, choosing favourites and seeing other readers doing the same so make sure you leave me a comment with a link to your post if I’ve missed it!

 

BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ YET IN 2018

For how it’s stayed with me, I’d probably choose Strange the Dreamer (I know it came out last year but I was late to the party!) You can find out why I’ve picked this one by reading my gushing review. However, I’m reluctant to hand out this award because I’ve read some really gorgeous books and I’m hoping for many more before the year is finished. I want it to be excrutiatingly difficult to compile my top ten this year!!

 

BEST SEQUEL YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2018

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This is the year that I have discovered The Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley so I’m choosing The Storm Sister for this one because it was every bit as fantastic as the first book in the series. Usually, I adore first books and then find things tend to slide a little; however, Riley kept me just as rapt with her second book, making me laugh, cry and flail like a madwoman. If you hadn’t already guessed, I adore this series.

 

NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET BUT WANT TO

…I could go on.

 

MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR

Nearly every one of these posts I’ve seen has picked Muse of Nightmares for this category – and with good reason! I’m dying to see how Laini Taylor will finish off this duology. I also want to give an honorary mention to another duology which will be completing in October this year but that I don’t see people talk about very often. Wicked like a Wildfire was one of my favourite books of last year and I’m hoping the sequel will be just as stunning!

 

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

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In case you missed my review of this extremely problematic book, you can find it here.

 

BIGGEST SURPRISE

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I recently read If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino and I really didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did! It was so fun.

 

FAVOURITE NEW AUTHOR

I’d probably choose either Lucinda Riley or Susanna Kearsley for this one. Both are authors I’ve read for the first time this year (though Kearsley was on my radar for a while before that). Clearly, I’ve been in the mood for historical fiction with a bit of romance!

 

NEWEST FICTIONAL CRUSH

I don’t really get crushes on book characters but, if I had to pick, I’d echo what many people have said and go with Lazlo Strange. He’s the perfect book boyfriend.

 

NEWEST FAVOURITE CHARACTER

Any one of the characters from Bone Gap. This novel was a recent read and it has one of the most well-developed casts of characters I’ve come across in literature.

 

BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY

These are the four books that have made me shed tears in 2018 so far.

 

BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY

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This novella set in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone world details the first date of one of my favourite ever female characters, Zuzanna. It was such a freaking cute read with great illustrations!

 

FAVOURITE BOOK TO FILM ADAPTATION

I haven’t watched any new adaptations this year!

 

FAVOURITE POST YOU HAVE DONE THIS YEAR

I really liked my discussion post about the benefits of reading for our mental health.

 

MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK YOU’VE BOUGHT THIS YEAR

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A double award for Bone Gap! Not only does this book have a stunning cover, it is a truly beautiful story as well.

 

WHAT BOOKS DO YOU NEED TO READ BY THE END OF THE YEAR?

ALL OF THEM! In all honesty though, I would like to finish some series that I’ve had on the go for a while. I’ve also been keeping some books for Halloween/Christmas-time because I love a good seasonal read, so I’m looking forward to reading those!

 

Have you done the ‘mid-year freakout’ tag yet? If not, I tag you! 🙂

‘Big Sister’ spoiler-free review!

Hey everyone! Today is my stop on the blog tour for Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen.

 

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What the book is about…

Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her apartment in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then, no-one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously. Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal.

 

What I thought of it…

There’s a good story here. There were a lot of seemingly random threads that I struggled to follow at first, but the way they were brought together at the end was very clever and satisfying, and I enjoyed the direction in which the author took things.

I felt like the story had a bit of a false start. It opened with a bang but then severely cut the pace and took forever to get going again. Indeed, the book wasn’t really holding my interest until about halfway through. However, in spite of the slow start, I did find it fairly easy to keep going with this one thanks to the short chapters. It was always a case of ‘just one more chapter’ and before you know it, you’ve read 10!

I appreciated that there wasn’t a lot of waffle about the previous books in the series (this is the first one I’ve read and I wasn’t really bothered about all the backstory). Big Sister worked well as a standalone and didn’t need unnecessary filler about Veum’s past. Perhaps I might have felt more of a connection with the main character if I had read the series from the beginning but I don’t intend to go back and find out (so many books, so little time!)

The inclusion of Scandinavian names and places helped to add a great deal of authenticity to this book, which I liked. I had no clue how to pronounce them but they added an extra dimension to the setting! There was a muted tone to the descriptions of Bergen that worked really well for the story.

This book did feel quite tame compared to other Scandinavian crime thrillers I’ve read, but it had an interesting plot and some nice imagery scattered throughout. Perhaps if the likes of Jo Nesbo are too gritty for you, give this one a try. Personally, I like a bit more blood in my thrillers!

So while I liked the premise behind this one, the execution, unfortunately, fell a little flat for me. I couldn’t really connect with the narrative voice but I don’t know if that’s an issue on the author’s part or the translator’s (or indeed my own). Some sentences felt slightly unnatural, like perhaps they had been translated literally and not formed into better English? I also felt like there was a lot of telling rather than showing but, again, I don’t know if something has perhaps been lost in translation. Clearly, this author is very popular, having written more than 20 books, so it’s also possible I just wasn’t in the right headspace while reading it.

 

In summary…

Likes

  • Interesting plot with a clever final twist
  • Short chapters
  • Authentic Scandinavian detail
  • Some nice imagery

 

Dislikes

  • Slow pace
  • No connection with the main character
  • Issues with translation?

 

Overall, I gave this one 3/5 stars because I did like the story. I just didn’t connect with it as I had hoped – but maybe you will! I’ve tried to give a balanced review so that you can make up your own mind whether this is one you’d be interested in or not 🙂

 

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What Scandinavian thrillers have you read? 

‘Bone Gap’ spoiler-free review!

Hey everyone! Prepare for some flailing because I have found a new favourite. (Also, I read this book immediately after buying it and that never happens? Maybe I should do it more often hehe).

 

 What the book is about…

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

 

What I thought of it…

Guys, this is how you write a book. This was absolutely perfect from start to finish. I was hooked from the opening line and by page 4, I had been completely transported to those Illinois corn fields. The scene-setting gave me the biggest heart eyes; it read like a fable and I was 1000% there for it. It reminded me a little bit of All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater but SO MUCH BETTER. Don’t get me wrong, I liked ATCS but I felt like there was something missing; not so here.

One of my favourite things about this book was the cast of characters. Every single one of them was bloody brilliant. They felt real and had so many layers, my precious little onions. Finn was so sweet and endearing, and I thought the extra *specialness* about him was a great unique addition to the story. Petey was this vulnerable salty girl and let me tell you, I shipped them SO HARD. Sean, Roza, Charlie Valentine, Mel – there wasn’t anyone who didn’t have a history, an emotional depth. Heck, even the animals in this book were fantastically written.

And also, I think I have a newfound love for bees? The scenes with the bees were so frickin’ beautifully written and they just enchanted me. Not to mention, they provided one of the best foody moments in any book ever. Get in my belly, honey-dipped smores.

This book was actually so gorgeous that I want to turn right round and read it all over again. The writing was stunning, with some beautiful metaphors. And the story just had so many levels?! Like there are so many different ways you could interpret things and I LOVE THAT. I loved the ambiguity and how twisty everything was.

I also really liked the way this book drew to its conclusion; the pacing was perfect and the ending had enough of a resolution to satisfy the reader while also leaving things slightly open and not tying it all up in a neat little bow. I know I’m going to be thinking about this one for a long time.

Bone Gap is a genre-bending masterpiece and a new-found favourite. I feel like it’s a very underrated book that isn’t really talked about anywhere but I’m going to be recommending it to EVERYONE from this day on. Please please read this one if you haven’t already!

 

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Have any of you read this? Do you like your books on the magical side?

‘Love and Luck’ spoiler-free review!

“Labels aren’t big enough for people. And once you try to categorise someone, you stop looking for who they actually are.” – Love and Luck, Jenna Evans Welch

 

Hello my lovelies! Today, I’m reviewing Love and Luck, the second book by Jenna Evans Welch. This is a companion novel to 2016’s Love and Gelato, though it makes total sense as a standalone so don’t worry if you haven’t read that one!

 

What the book was about

Addie is visiting Ireland for her aunt’s over-the-top destination wedding, and hoping she can stop thinking about the one horrible thing she did that left her miserable and heartbroken—and threatens her future. But her brother, Ian, isn’t about to let her forget, and his constant needling leads to arguments and even a fistfight between the two once-inseparable siblings. Miserable, Addie can’t wait to visit her friend in Italy and leave her brother—and her problems—behind.

So when Addie discovers an unusual guidebook, Ireland for the Heartbroken, hidden in the dusty shelves of the hotel library, she’s able to finally escape her anxious mind and Ian’s criticism.

And then their travel plans change. Suddenly Addie finds herself on a whirlwind tour of the Emerald Isle, trapped in the world’s smallest vehicle with Ian and his admittedly cute, Irish-accented friend Rowan. As the trio journeys over breathtaking green hills, past countless castles, and through a number of fairy-tale forests, Addie hopes her guidebook will heal not only her broken heart, but also her shattered relationship with her brother.

That is if they don’t get completely lost along the way.

 

What I thought of it

This was another lovely read from Jenna Evans Welch! I don’t often connect with contemporaries but there is just something about this series that I really like. I really hope she continues this series; she’s now written books set in Italy and Ireland, and I’d love to see her take on other places!

I loved the guidebook spin in this one; I thought it was very original and I really liked the tone of these sections. As someone who has tried many self-help books in the past, I really appreciated the non-patronising way in which Welch wrote these sections and loved the homework she set for Addie. And the Irish slang was right up my street (though there wasn’t so much of it that other readers would struggle with it).

The book made me giggle a number of times, which is just what I was needing after a string of disappointing reads. Yes, the storyline is fairly unbelievable but if you just go with it, it’s a fun ride.

I really liked Addie as a character and, of course, Rowan was an adorable little peach. I half expected Welch to go down the insta-love route with these two but I was delighted with what she actually did instead! It was also great to get a little cameo from Lina and Ren from the first book – but again, I will reiterate that this one will still make total sense if you haven’t read Love and Gelato!

This book also has some really lovely messages at its heart. It emphasises the importance of being ‘you’ and not letting other people put you into a box. The sibling relationships were fantastically portrayed and I loved the whole angle of building each other up and supporting our strengths.

This was another book that was chosen by my online book club and it was another success! I definitely recommend this one for contemporary fans or anyone who loves Ireland 🙂

 

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What are some of your favourite contemporaries? Can you recommend me some that I might like? And if you’ve read this series, where would you like to see Welch take us next?!

‘My Bad Reading Habits’ tag!

Hi everyone! I was tagged by The Orangutan Librarian (who you should definitely be following!) for the ‘Bad Reading Habits’ tag – no judgement here please!

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Bad Habit #1: Judging Books By Their Covers

I’m very guilty of this one! I can’t help it; publishers seem to have realised recently that pretty covers SELL and they have been absolutely blessing our eyeballs. I do try to only pick up ones that have an interesting synopsis as well or that I would be interested in reading regardless of what they looked like, but I’m definitely less selective these days and more likely to impulse-buy a book if it has a nice cover!

Pretty covers with just as gorgeous stories…

(There were so many I could have chosen but I decided to pick some that I haven’t featured very often!)

Books that didn’t live up to their pretty covers…

 

Books I really hope will live up to their gorgeous covers…

 

Bad Habit #2: Avoiding Longer Books

I can’t help it; I have commitment issues. If a book is longer than 400 pages, I am a lot less likely to pick it up. It’s a shame, really, because I know there are some fantastic longer books out there – and don’t get me wrong, I do read them! But if I’m undecided about what to read next, I’m definitely more likely to pick a shorter book. I think I like the sense of achievement it gives me because reading shorter books means I can get through more in a month, whereas it can take me a week to read a 600-page book and then I feel like I’m falling behind. I’m fully aware of how ridiculous this is so I do try to make a point of picking up longer books when I feel I can.

 

Bad Habit #3: Ignoring My Backlist

I’m trying so hard to stop doing this but it’s really difficult; I need all the shiny new books!! I’m so bad at buying books and then leaving them sitting on my shelf because something else comes out and I get too excited about it. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this but I’m making a conscious effort this year to try and read some of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for a while. I’m not actively depriving myself of new releases if I truly can’t wait to read them but I’m definitely not buying as many; they’ll still be there waiting for me when I eventually have the time for them!

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That’s all I can think of for now! (And they’re bad enough so I don’t really need any more haha). I can always make a second post if I come up with more bookish sins I’m guilty of committing 😉

What are your bookish bad habits?! If you want, make a post of your own and then let me know so I can read it; otherwise, leave me a comment below! x

 

‘The Surface Breaks’ spoiler-free review!

Ok, prepare yourselves my friends. I have a lot of thoughts on this one. Before I start ranting, take a look at the synopsis…

 

What the book was about

Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding.

 

What I thought of it

So before I start, I want to emphasise that this review is by no means a personal attack on the author. I appreciate that a lot of hard work will have gone into this book; sadly, it just didn’t work for me.

I found The Surface Breaks to be seriously problematic. O’Neill raises a number of topical issues but unfortunately, I didn’t feel as though any of them were afforded the attention or respect they deserved. The book features misogyny in SPADES, sexual predation and abuse, oppression of women and minority groups, fat-shaming, the notion that homosexuality can be ‘cured’ – I could continue. While I realise that these are very real issues that are faced by people all too often in this day and age, I did NOT like the way they were presented in this book. It felt forced and I’d even go so far as to use the word disrespectful. If an author is going to raise issues like this, it needs to be done sensitively and should ideally leave the reader feeling hopeful and empowered, not seething with anger. There was no uplifting message that I could take away from this book. Maybe the ending tried but it was too little too late for me and, by that point, I had completely stopped caring. I was hurting and feeling frustrated.

Putting aside the content for a moment and looking at the more technical aspects, I didn’t really find the book all that well-written. The blurb promises sharp writing and stunning world-building – neither of which was delivered. The writing was average; there were a couple of nice turns of phrase at the beginning but nothing that made me do heart-eyes as I would have expected from a mermaid book! And the world-building was distinctly lacking. None of the politics of the world were explained and the author seriously missed the opportunity to indulge in the kind of opulent descriptions of this underwater kingdom that I wanted/expected.

And now to the characters. They felt paper-thin with no understandable motivations for their actions. The protagonist Gaia was the most annoying character I’ve come across in recent literature. The insta-love was INSANE and so unrealistic; I get that the author was actually being quite faithful to the original story in this respect and I don’t know if she was attempting to poke fun at the concept but the whole thing just felt ridiculous. I was so irritated by Gaia and the nonchalance with which she threw everything away. She took everything for granted all for a boy she’d seen ONCE.

Which brings me to Oliver. His character was so weak and there were huge chunks of the novel where he wasn’t even present?! I did not understand the choice to have him missing half the time. The scenes where he did feature felt jarringly contemporary in comparison to the first half of the novel which took place under the sea; Oliver behaved like a spoilt little rich boy, drinking and acting entitled. Any attempts at explaining his behaviour were feeble. The author could have done so much more with his character (and his mother, for that matter). There wasn’t a single character that wasn’t a cardboard cut-out and I just didn’t care about any of them.

I’m going to wrap this up now because I’ve ranted long enough. My final feeling on this book is one of betrayal; a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid could have been a dream-come-true and instead, I got a nightmare. So much about this book is hurtful and I feel like there will not be a single group of people whom the author will not offend with it. By all means, call out the BS we face in society – but don’t just leave it sitting there and making us feel bad. Give us something hopeful to take away from it. This book might have a beautiful cover but it masks some very UN-beautiful content. I feel distinctly let down.

the surface breaks

Has anyone else read this one? Did you pick up on any of these issues? What other books have lured you in with a pretty cover and then disappointed you?

 

 

‘The Spirit Photographer’ spoiler-free review!

Hey guys! Today, I’m reviewing The Spirit Photographer by Jon Michael Varese, which was kindly sent to me by Duckworth Publishing (thank you!)

 

What the book was about

Boston, 1870. Photographer Edward Moody runs a booming business capturing the images of the spirits of the departed in his portraits. He lures grieving widows and mourning mothers into his studio with promises of catching the ghosts of their deceased loved ones with his camera. Despite the whispers around town that Moody is a fraud of the basest kind, no-one has been able to expose him, and word of his gift has spread, earning him money, fame, and a growing list of illustrious clients.

One day, while developing the negative from a sitting to capture the spirit of the young son of an abolitionist senator, Moody is shocked to see a different spectral figure develop before his eyes. Instead of the staged image of the boy he was expecting, the camera has seemingly captured the spirit of a beautiful young woman. Is it possible that the spirit photographer caught a real ghost? When Moody recognizes the woman in the photograph as the daughter of an escaped slave he knew long ago, he is compelled to travel from Boston to the Louisiana bayous to resolve their unfinished business—and perhaps save his soul. But more than one person is out to stop him . . .

 

What I thought of it

This was a really interesting read. The book kept me guessing from start to finish; I was never quite sure if the photographer was a fraud or if he really did have the ability to capture ghosts in his photographs. The author managed to create an atmosphere of ambiguity that really compelled me to keep reading.

One of my favourite aspects of the book was the historical detail. Obviously, some of the political aspects were simplified for ease of reading (the author specifies this in his author’s note at the end of the book and I think it was a sensible choice). However, I definitely think that these details added a fascinating layer of depth to the story that I really appreciated. Some scenes made for uncomfortable reading (the book is set at a time when slavery was still an issue and the treatment of black people was, frankly, disgusting) but I understand that the author was painting a realistic picture of the era.

The book’s setting was another element I loved. I thought the author encapsulated the essence of the southern states really well, especially during the scenes in the swamps. Yet, I could also vividly picture the city scenes and the photography studio. I felt transported while reading (and isn’t that the whole point?)

The quality of the writing in this book is excellent, especially when you consider that this is a debut novel (it really doesn’t read like one). The author clearly has a lot of talent. The book tackles a number of heavy themes and they are woven together seamlessly with a compelling story.

I will say that the book did feel a bit slow at times and, for that reason, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. However, if you like your plot full of intrigue and uncertainty, this might be one for you!

 

the spirit photographer.jpg

 

Huge thanks again to Duckworth for sending me an ARC (even though I’m late reviewing it, oops). I gave this one 4/5 stars!