Categories
Book Review

Book Review: Parade by Michael Graves

A huge thank you to Tomek at Storgy for sending me a review copy of Parade by Michael Graves! This was such a fun read, here is my review, and a little bit more about the book & the author…

Summary:

Reggie Lauderdale suffers from a crisis of faith. His cousin, Elmer Mott, dreams of becoming their hometown mayor. Both boys are stuck in suburbia trying to be adults … but they aren’t sure how to be themselves yet. When a twist of fate sends them fleeing in a stolen limousine, the cousins escape to Florida where they meet a retired televangelist, who inspires them on a path of glitzy sermons and late-night parties. But are the celebrations sincere or deceptive? And who is keeping tabs? Who is watching? Parade is a tour-de-force, comic tale of faith and friendship.

About the author:

Michael Graves is the author of Parade and Dirty One, a collection of short stories which was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Literary Association Honouree. Michael’s fiction has been published in numerous literary publications. He can be found online at
www.michaelgravesauthor.com
@MGravesauthor

My review:

This was such a fun, unique, and interesting read! One of the things I enjoyed most was the eclectic set of characters; they were each so well written and believable, and were really what made this book for me – I won’t be forgetting them any time soon that’s for sure! The story itself was also fascinating; I was really drawn to the humour in this book, it’s dark, but so clever. Another thing I absolutely loved about Parade was Graves’ descriptions and writing style, which are just incredible, I was completely immersed. It’s really difficult to compare this book to anything, as it’s really like nothing I’ve come across before, which is maybe one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much – it’s uniqueness! In the front of my copy, there is a Spotify playlist of some fantastic songs, which really added to the reading experience and overall vibe of this book. A highly recommended book!

Parade is out now! Get your copy here.

Categories
Book Review

Review: The List by Carys Jones

Thank you so much to Alainna at Orion Books for sending me a print copy of The List by Carys Jones!

Book Summary

Beth Belmont runs every day, hard and fast on the trail near home. She knows every turn, every bump in the road. So when she spots something out of place – a slip of white paper at the base of a tree – she’s drawn to it.

On the paper are five names. The third is her own.

Beth can’t shake off the unease the list brings. Why is she on it? And what ties her to the other four strangers?

Then she discovers that the first two are dead.

Is she next?

Delving into the past of the two dead strangers, the truth Beth finds will lead her headlong into her darkest, deadliest and most dangerous nightmares…

My Review:

I absolutely loved the concept behind this book! It’s so unique and compelling. Perhaps my favourite part of The List was the number of twists and turns it had, many of which I really just didn’t see coming. There were moments where I genuinely struggled to put this one down! I love thrillers so much, and sometimes they can get a little predictable and dull, but The List was full of surprises and uniqueness, which made it thoroughly enjoyable. I also really enjoyed Jones’ writing style and her characterisation, particularly of Beth, the protagonist. I would highly recommend the list for fans of a twisty psychological thriller!

The List is OUT NOW!

Categories
Book Review

Book Review: The Tears of Monterini by Amanda Weinberg

Thank you so much to LitPR for sending me a copy of The Tears of Monterini by Amanda Weinberg! Here is my review:

Summary:

Set in the fictional village of Monterini in Italy, during the fascist period, this novel explores the lives of two families, one Catholic farmers, the other Jewish intellectuals. Yacobo, a dreamer, works in the family book shop and Angelo, a contadino, makes good wine by singing to the grapes (Yacobo’s discovery).Their children grow up and fall in love. Amidst a backdrop of village communal life, Etruscan tales and the growth of fascism, we witness the characters’ struggle to come to terms with the Italy of Mussolini as their peaceful village is torn apart. While the 1938 racial laws are passed, the love between Bella and Rico thrives amidst, and perhaps because of, the fear and uncertainty. When Angelo discovers their liaison he suggests they marry but life is complicated and tensions simmer beneath the surface of love and friendship. When war is declared on the day of Bella’s wedding to Michele, a fellow Jew, the peaceful village they live in is torn apart. The Levis find themselves displaced and fighting for their lives. Will life ever be the same again?

About the author:

The Tears of Monterini is Amanda Weinberg’s first novel inspired by an Italian village with which she has a deep connection. Amanda has a degree in modern languages from the University of East Anglia and a PGCE from King’s College, London. She taught languages for several years (French, German and Italian) in a London comprehensive and then moved into advertising, sales and marketing working for publishing companies. In 1988, she launched a small company with a business partner called A-Z International Sales.

After 20 years organising sales and exhibitions for telecommunications magazines worldwide, Amanda decided to return to tutoring foreign languages in order to write this novel. She is currently writing a memoir of her personal experiences in the real Monterini – Pitigliano.

Amanda has attended several writing courses at the City Lit in London. In 2004, she was short listed for the London Writer’s competition for her short story The Rose and again in 2005 for her short story It’s My Turn. In 2014, Amanda attended a nine month UEA/Guardian course: How to Finish a Work of Fiction, under the supervision of Gillian Slovo. She is represented by Curtis Brown and lives in London, and spends lots of time in Italy. She is married with two grown up children, works as a volunteer for the Jewish Volunteer Network where she is involves in a mentoring programme.

My review:

The Tears of Monterini was a stunning read. From the first few pages I was sucked into the lives of the characters, as well as the setting; Monterini feels so incredibly vivid, and I could really imagine it. I loved the mix of historical fiction and romance; it made for a truly interesting and compelling mix, and I found myself unable to put this book down at times. Amanda Weinberg is so skilled at describing people and places, and I felt truly transported to the era in which it took place. I also loved the integration of the Italian language into the narrative, it really helped to make the story more vivid and alive. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, a powerful romance, or books set in the beautiful Italy!

The Tears of Monterini is OUT NOW!

Categories
Book Review

Book Review: Older and Wider by Jenny Eclair

Rating: 4/5

Many thanks to Quercus for providing me with a proof copy of Older and Wider in exchange for an honest review!

I recently read and reviewed comedian Jenny Eclair’s new non-fiction book, Older and Wider: Menopausal musings from the midlife, and absolutely loved it. I read it as part of a buddy read with a Bookstagram friend – it’s a really fun book to read and discuss!

Shining a light on a string of different issues faced by menopausal women, Jenny Eclair hilariously documents an A-Z of symptoms, shares anecdotes, tips, and adds a humor to what has, for the longest time, been a taboo subject. Though I am nowhere near the menopause and therefore couldn’t relate to many parts of it, this book was nonetheless hilarious, and I actually laughed out loud on numerous different occasions. Older and Wider is really well written, is incredibly witty, and whilst acknowledging how difficult this stage of life can be for some women, Eclair reminds us to laugh about it where we can, which I think is a mindset that can be applied to so many different issues and problems.

Older and Wider is out now!

Thank you for reading! ❤

Categories
Book Review

Book Review: The Shelf by Helly Acton

This book was just so much fun. Such an original and unique concept, and I’ve never read anything like it before!

The Shelf follows the story of Amy Wright, a 32-year-old woman who is definitely feeling the pressure to settle down, get married, and have kids. From the start, Amy is constantly checking up on social media, seeing who’s posting what, and always comparing herself to everyone else in her life; she sees all her peers getting engaged, posting pictures of their children and seemingly being completely happy and successful. She’s been in a relationship with Jamie for two years, after matching on a dating app, but it is evidently clear from the start that they are completely different people – he is self-obsessed, inconsiderate, and always puts Amy down; I could write a whole essay on how unlikeable Jamie is, and how frustrated I felt with him throughout the book. I may have voiced my annoyance out-loud (to myself…) once or twice. After Jamie tells Amy to pack a suitcase full of holiday items, she’s convinced that he is FINALLY going to ask her to marry him. However, what actually happens, is that he breaks up with her LIVE in front of a huge audience, on a new reality TV show, The Shelf. Several other new ‘dumpees’ (if that’s a word…) arrive, and they are all in the running to be crowned ‘The Keeper’, which comes with a £1,000,000 prize.

There were so many things that I enjoyed about this book, and it really took me by surprise. Firstly, I just loved the premise; it’s so interesting and unique, and The Shelf was actually really convincing, I think if it were a real TV show it would actually be really popular and lots of people would probably watch it (including myself…). Reality TV is definitely one of my guilty pleasures, but The Shelf really does highlight some of the issues with it, particularly regarding the well-being of the contestants. For example, on the show, there is a live feed of comments that often focus on the way the contestants look, or make nasty jabs at them etc, but the contestants really help to lift each other up and clap back at the horrible messages; the strong female friendships in this book were one of my favourite aspects.

Another element that I really enjoyed was how much Amy grew as a character. At the beginning, she let loads of things slide with Jamie, even when he was being incredibly cruel to her (I’m definitely getting annoyed at him all-over again), and generally just had very low self-esteem. She was very focused on what she should be doing in life, rather than what actually made her happy. By the end, Amy’s confidence in herself sky-rockets, and she realises her self-worth; even though Jamie dumped her on The Shelf to promote himself and his own business, Amy really begins to flourish, and starts doing what she truly wants to do in life.

Overall, this was an amazing read; as soon as it came through the post, I added it straight to the top of my TBR. The Shelf shuts down assumptions that by a certain age you must have all of these boxes ticked off – settling down, getting married, having kids etc – and enforces the idea that you should never settle for anything less than what makes you happy.

Okay, this review has been way longer than usual, but I just have a lot of feelings!

Thanks so so much again to Helly Acton and Zaffree Books for gifting me with a proof copy of The Shelf, I really loved it, and would highly recommend to anyone looking for an uplifting and original read.

Thank you so much. ❤

Categories
Book Review

Book Review: True Story by Kate Reed Petty

Rating: 5/5

I’m not even really sure where to start with this book, as I feel my review will never do it justice.

The plot of True Story is structured around a rumor regarding a sexual assault, and how much of an impact it can have on the lives of everyone involved. Written from both the perspective of Nick Brothers, a High School student who is part of the lacrosse team, and Alice Lovett, a private school girl, who is the victim of the rumored assault at the hands of Nick’s teammates. Supposedly taking place in the back of a car after one of the team’s legendary booze filled parties, the truth about what actually happened that night is so unclear, and the book flips back and forth between Nick and Alice at various stages in their lives, as they each grapple with the truth about that night.

I was absolutely mesmerised by this book from the get-go, and still can’t stop thinking about it. Kate Petty Reed takes us on a real journey through time and place, from 1996, which was a few years before the rumored sexual assault takes place, to the night of the event in 1999, all the way to New York City and Barcelona. Alternating between narrative, essays, emails and film scripts, True Story really subverts conventions, and is truly genre-defying; it’s been described as a campus novel, psychological thriller, horror story and crime noir – it really encompasses all of these styles without committing to one exclusively. Kate Reed Petty has crafted an absolute masterpiece, and True Story is a gem of contemporary fiction.

This book is heavily character driven, though there are also lots of sub-plots taking place beneath the overarching story of the rumored sexual assault. Kate Reed Petty touches on some pretty heavy but important issues, such as addiction, in the form of Nick’s alcoholism, abusive relationships, focusing on Alice’s toxic and dangerous relationship with Q, as well as power, and the abuse of power, in terms of who gets to have their voice heard, and who is forced to remain silent.

This book was so powerful, and Kate Reed Petty does an outstanding job at allowing the reader to get inside of the heads of the characters. She integrates the theme of memory excellently, and I found myself being swayed in various different directions depending on whose perspective I was reading, and what they wanted me to believe.

I’m just in awe of this book. I finished it nearly a week ago now and still can’t get it off my mind. It really forces you to question both yourself and the world around you, and makes you think about the nature of truth, and the various factors involved that shape the truth.

I actually won a copy of True Story – Quercus Books were running a competition to win 1 of 40 proof copies, and I won! This book has four amazing covers, and all you had to do was answer a few questions to determine which of the covers suited your personality the most, and I got pink! Thank you Quercus! ❤

True Story is published on August 4th, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Have you read True Story? Do you plan on adding it to your TBR (you definitely should!)?

Thank you so much for reading. ❤

Categories
Book Review

Book Review: The Sound Mirror by Heidi James

Rating: 5/5

Thank you so much to Heidi James and Bluemoose Books for a proof copy of The Sound Mirror in exchange for an honest review!

Tamara is going to kill her mother, but she isn’t the villain. Tamara just has to finish what began at her birth and put an end to the damage encoded in her blood. Leaving her job in Communications, Tamara dresses carefully and hires a car, making the trip from London to her hometown in Kent, to visit her mother for the last time. Accompanied by a chorus of ancestors, Tamara is harried by voices from the past and the future that reveal the struggles, joys and secrets of these women’s lives that continue to echo through and impact her own.

The Sound Mirror spans three familial generations from British Occupied India to Southern England, through intimately rendered characters, Heidi James has crafted a haunting and moving examination of class, war, violence, family and shame from the rich details of ordinary lives.

The only word I can use to sum up Heidi James’s The Sound Mirror is WOW.

From the very first pages, I was completely swept up into the book’s magical, poetic language, the beautiful metaphors and just the overall tone. The Sound Mirror spans across several generations, and covers so much in so many different ways; I found the narrative to be very intimate, but I also felt like an outsider looking in, and I found this balance and contrast to be so compelling.

Rather than orchestrating an overly complex plot, James focuses the narrative on the complexities and challenges of women’s lives throughout history and across different contexts, revealing things both about the characters, and encouraging the reader to self-reflect. The chapters of The Sound Mirror are relatively short, and each one is from the perspective of either Ada, Claire, or Tamara; I thought this worked really well, as each chapter felt like a fleeting snapshot into the mind and circumstances of the character. Each character is completely distinctive and different from one another, but there are also so many subtle parallels between them, and I found this incredibly fascinating.

This book was an absolute joy to read. I’m not really sure what I expected from The Sound Mirror, but I definitely was not expecting to be blown away by it in the way that I was. For fans of insightful contemporary literature, this one should be high on your TBR for summer.

Again, thank you so much to Heidi James and Bluemoose, I loved this book. It’s out in August, and you should DEFINITELY pre-order!

Thank you for reading. ❤

Categories
Book Review

Book Review: This Ragged, Wastrel Thing by Tomas Marcantonio

Rating: 5/5

“The Rivers. A spiderweb of alleys for the drunk and destitute, weaved together from stones and shadow. Winding backstreets forking off like rotten veins plunging into every shady corner. The greasy smell of glass noodles and exhaust fumes from late night scooters. Neon blinking on every grimy surface and crooked alleys disappearing into a black and sorry night. Home.”

– Daganae Kawasaki – 
This Ragged, Wastrel Thing

After eleven years of imprisonment in ‘The Heights’ for murdering his girlfriend Hana, Daganae Kawasaki is finally free; released back into Sonaya, a gritty dystopian city of immense contrasts, from the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the impoverished, lavish rooftop parties and cramped slums bursting with deserted, neglected children, Daganae sets out to discover the truth behind his incarceration. Yet, upon his release, it becomes increasingly apparent that Daganae’s freedom does not suit some people’s agenda, and a new murder case is pinned on him; entangled in this situation, Daganae comes face-to-face with his past, and must navigate the corruption of the city and the individuals that stand in his way, in order to truly take hold of his freedom.

This is the first time I have read a book like this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps my favourite aspect of This Ragged, Wastrel Thing was the construction of the world in which the story is set; Sonaya, with all of its strange and dystopian rules, from the taxation rates based upon attractiveness that results in inhabitants striving for ugliness in order to achieve employment and lower tax rates, the banning of meat, internet and phones, to the plethora of government drones that scan the city to monitor and control any activity. The descriptions of the setting were well-balanced with the narrative and plot, and were extremely vivid and captivating; the blinding neon-lit streets, the dingy, seedy bars and alleyways, as well as the smells and sounds of the city all served to create an atmosphere and tone that were incredibly unique and realistic, despite its fictionality.

Another element of This Ragged, Wastrel Thing that I really enjoyed was the range of fascinating and quirky characters; each added a unique dimension to the plot and contributed to the overall impression of Sonaya. By extension, interpreting these characters through the eyes and mind of Daganae was also interesting, as it reveals information about him as much as it does them. The pace of the book was also spot on; Marcantonio does a fantastic job at building a sense of tension throughout the book that culminates in the final 50 or so pages, and I genuinely did not see the twists and turns coming – I cannot wait to jump back into the bizarre but wonderful world of Sonaya in the next two books of this trilogy.

Thanks so much to Storgy for sending me a review copy of the book; it is released August, and I cannot recommend it enough!

You can pre-order This Ragged, Wastrel Thing here.

Thank you for reading. ❤

Categories
Book Review

Book Review: Very Nearly Normal by Hannah Sunderland

Rating: 5/5

Many thanks to Avon and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Very Nearly Normal follows the story of Effie Heaton, a young woman who is completely unhappy with how her life has panned out; she lives at home with her parents, is completely unlucky in love, drinks too much and works a low-paying job at a bookshop. She is incredibly insecure, especially as her passion for writing has got her nowhere, and those around her appear to have wealth, success, and solid relationships. However, the bad luck that Effie has endured throughout her life seems to shift upon meeting Theo, who pushes her to rid of her grudges and jealousy, to try new things, and to live her life to the fullest; however, Theo has a hidden secret, which will change the course of their love story entirely.

When I started this book, I thought that it would be an easy, light-hearted romcom with lots of clichés, but it proved to be so much more than that; I felt so many different emotions, at times feeling happy and laughing at the blunders and awkward situations that Effie finds herself in, to feeling angry, sad and frustrated at other parts, that I will not go into detail about because of spoilers! I felt so heavily invested in the lives of the characters, and there were many aspects of Effie’s character that I found to be very relatable. Sunderland does an amazing job at exploring a huge variety of themes, from love, forgiveness, self-acceptance and jealousy, and what it actually means to be normal; the story follows the journey of two realistic, but nonetheless broken individuals, and delves into how things are not always how they seem to be on the surface, whether it be Theo’s secret, or the apparent success of Effie’s childhood friend Kate. One of my favourite things about Very Nearly Normal was the character development; Effie and Theo are both flawed and complex characters, though they were incredibly realistic, and I really warmed to both of them. I also enjoyed the characters that were not central to the main plot, especially Effie’s cat, Elliot!

Overall, this book was definitely not what I excepted; though it has many conventions of a classic romcom novel, it avoids being cliché, and leaves you guessing and engrossed until the very final pages. Sunderland delivers a really important and powerful underlying message of self-acceptance and to live life to the fullest, whilst keeping you entertained the whole way through. This is the perfect read for these strange times, and I could not recommend it enough.

Very Nearly Normal is out tomorrow, 14th May! Will you be reading it? Let me know your thoughts!

Thank you for reading ❤

Categories
Book Review

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Rating: 3/5

“All he did was fall in love with me and the world turned him into a monster”

This is one of the most jarring, disconcerting yet nonetheless striking novels I have ever read, and I have really mixed feelings about it.

My Dark Vanessa follows the life of Vanessa Wye, switching between her 15-year-old self, where she was groomed and coerced into a sexual relationship with her 42-year-old English teacher, Mr Strane, and modern day, where at 32-years-old, she is starting to come to terms with what happened in her past, following a string of allegations that have exploded in the midst of the contemporary climate.  The book begins in the year 2000, where 15-year-old Vanessa starts her new school, Browick; at the beginning she is excited and ambitious, before the subtle advances from Strane start to ensue. However, rather than feeling victimised, afraid and powerless, Vanessa feels as though she is an exception to the rule of consensual, appropriate (and LEGAL) relationships; she is the one, special girl who she believes Strane has risked his reputation, career and freedom for, and she truly believes that their relationship is an immense, passionate love story that no one else could possibly understand; it is absolutely chilling to witness the coercive, calculating behaviours enforced by Strane, filtered through the innocent, and completely manipulated mind of Vanessa.

I found this book so unsettling, and there were moments where I felt sick, and had to walk away from it. The reader is transported into Vanessa’s head, and we see all the tricks and tactics Strane uses to break her down; the frightening thing about this, was that as an adult reader outside of the situation looking in, it is easy to recognise such manipulation, but Vanessa is forced to constantly question herself and the world around her, as her entire adolescent life, and views of life, have been shaped by her abuser.

I really enjoyed the alternation between the time frames; it was interesting to see how much the abuse Vanessa endured throughout her early life had shaped her sense of self as an adult; over the course of the novel, we see that it has impacted everything, from the way she interacts with people, her job, and her attitudes towards sex. It was fascinating, yet tragic, how she still continues to engage with Strane even years later, despite him no longer being attracted to her; it is glaringly clear how attached she is to him, and that she imagined their relationship as an almighty love story, rather than the abusive reality of which she was a victim. By extension, I enjoyed the interwoven literary references, particularly that of Nabokov’s Lolita, which is first introduced to Vanessa when Strane gives her a copy; there are textual and thematic references throughout the novel, and Vanessa definitely idealises and romanticises the relationship between her and Strane, and the characters of the book.

There were, however, many aspects of the book that I did not like, and found very frustrating. One of which is the passivity and seemingly willing blindness of Vanessa’s parents, who know what is going on, but appear to think it is better left unmentioned. The same goes for the behaviour of the school; several of the teachers seem to prefer to turn a blind eye to the situation, despite the blatant inappropriateness of the relationship between Strane and Vanessa. Though this does reflect the reality of these situations in real-life, I did nonetheless find it incredibly infuriating. Secondly, I did not enjoy the length, and pace of the book; at times, I felt that the book was far too long, though I can see that this may have been intentional, as a way of reflecting the gradual pace of Strane’s grooming process of Vanessa. However, I did, at some parts, find myself loosing interest; some sections of the book seem to linger on insignificant details and chunks of dialogue that appear to have had no wider importance, and I felt that the last 50 pages or so dragged, and that the ending was very abrupt, and did not tie up the story succinctly.

Have you read My Dark Vanessa? Let me know your thoughts!

Thank you for reading ❤