Tag Archive | debut author review

Best Books of 2016 – aka, I Am A Terrible Person

So firstly, I am ashamed, ASHAMED, of my lack of blogging since my Journey to Employment post – my only excuse being my employment. With how busy my first two months of work have been and keeping up with the PubInterns account, and attempting to have a social life, I just haven’t had the time or inclination to blog as much as I used to. SHAME CHLOE, SHAME.

But I’m making a quick return, and though I can’t promise my blogging will be better in 2017, at least I’m ending 2016 on a high note, with a run down of the best books I read this year (totally my opinion, probably not the mainstream or what everyone else thinks, but whatever, this is my blog, not theirs). Incidentally, I am currently reading The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and loving it!!!

No particular order, just wonderful books, and I can’t even remember all the books I read this year (there were lots okay) but these are the ones that stood out to me.

Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t? 

Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all. 

And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend. 

But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…

I loved this book, such a brilliant, humorous read, that made a difficult subject honest and real and entertaining without taking away from the severity of it. Shappi is a fantastic writer and this was definitely a stand out this year – Nina is a great character and I wish she was my friend.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. 

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

This is a book that I felt really and truly affected by after I read it. It has stuck with my long after I read it and I am itching to get my hands on Jennifer’s next book, Holding Up the Universe to enjoy her writing again. I wrote a longer but still ‘mini’ review of it here but to repeat the most important thing from that review – this book is not afraid of the hard stuff, of real life and unhappy endings. And that’s what makes it special.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one – beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way. 

Until that night . . . 

Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing.

And those pictures – those pictures that everyone has seen – mean she can never forget.

This is the kind of book I just want to throw at people and force them to read it. Again, longer review here but in essence Louise O’Neill teaches a valuable lesson about the blurred lines between consent and rape, victim blaming, and the painful after effects of rape. What’s really quite special is that Emma is not a hugely likeable character but that still is no excuse for what happens to her.

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible . . .

Controversially, I actually prefer Fangirl to Rowell’s more celebrated novel, Eleanor and Park. (I’ve done reviews of both here and here, and state why I prefer Fangirl in my E&P review.) I felt really connected to Cath as a character and really enjoyed seeing her different relationships: with Wren, with Reagan, with her parents, and with Levi. How each relationship added personality to Cath and developed her as a person was so great to read and I loved seeing her grow. However, this book is certainly not without its problems.

Every day I am someone else.

I am myself – I know I am myself – but I am also someone else.

It has always been like this.

Each morning, A wakes up in a different body. There’s never any warning about who it will be, but A is used to that. Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And that’s fine – until A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – every day . . .

Such an interesting idea for a novel, and so well written. For a character whose body is constantly in flux, A manages to have such a complex and solid personality and development. My longer review is here and I have re-read it since then and still love it just as much. I love that it explores loss of identity in quite a bold way by actually having A lose their identity repeatedly.

They were the victims of separate massacres. Three strangers bound by similar traumas grouped together by the press.

When something terrible happens to Lisa, put-together Quincy and volatile Sam finally meet. Each one influences the other. Each one has dark secrets. And after the bloodstained fingers of the past reach into the present, each one will never be the same.

Is this cheating if it isn’t out until next year? Whatever, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a proof copy and devoured this novel. It was so well written and so great for a debut, I will encourage everyone to read it if they can next year! A total page-turner that keeps you guessing throughout. Definitely a must-read in 2017.

Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close – until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don’t realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

You can see my longer review here and see that I do love Jandy Nelson as a writer and think she is so talented. What is great about I’ll Give You the Sun is that, like Fangirl, it understands that relationships other than romantic ones are so formative in your teenage years, especially ones between siblings. Also the dual narrative is absolutely brilliant – two different characters and two different timelines that manage to complement each other so well.

What if you had said yes . . . ?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

I love, love, love this book! It’s such a clever idea by Laura Barnett and I wrote a nice long review of it here. It was such a gift to receive it as part of a competition I won, that I had no pre-conceived ideas of it and was allowed to fall in love with the purity of a great story and brilliant writing. This is a love story that goes beyond the norm. It’s one for the ages.

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

It’s no shock that this was on my must-read list this year and that it gained so many good reviews. It is superbly written, compelling and exciting. Clare Mackintosh does a brilliant job of keeping the reader’s attention and focus and the book zags in places where you expect it to zig which I love. I wrote a full review here and still maintain that it was the best thriller since Girl on the Train. 

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realizes, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

I just finished this last week and am so pleased to write a review of a book with NO ROMANTIC INTERESTS. This book passes the Bechdel test on so many levels and pages which gets all the applause. Caddy reminded me so much of me at 16 though without a Rosie or a Suzanne and it was so easy to see how she could get swept up in the danger of someone a little bit more exciting than her. It was a beautiful representation of life after a trauma, how tragedy affects the victim and damages them even after they are supposedly saved.

In this historic romance, young Elizabeth Bennet strives for love, independence and honesty in the vapid high society of 19th century England.

Shock horror but I hadn’t actually read Pride and Prejudice until this year. But then I found myself addicted to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which if you haven’t watched you really really need to) and decided it was about time I actually read the most famous novel in the English language. Plus, now that I knew the story from LBD, I would be able to keep track of what was going on and focus more on Austen’s words. And I have to say, I totally understand why it’s so popular and beloved (aside from Colin Firth coming out of a lake sopping wet). It is a great narrative, with the original boss bitch Lizzie Bennet and a brilliant representation of 19th century high society.


So, what were your top books of 2016? Any recommendations?

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Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes & Between You and Me – Lisa Hall: Comparative Review

Doing something a little different with the blog this week! I recently read two books that I thought were quite similar in premise: a domestic abuse story, so I decided to do a comparative review of the two (even though at this stage, I’m still not really sure which I preferred).

The two books in question are Into the Darkest Corner (IDC) by Elizabeth Haynes and Between You and Me (BYM) by Lisa Hall, and they are terribly difficult to review without giving spoilers away, which I will aim to do.

Blurbs 

Into the Darkest Corner

Catherine has been enjoying the single life for long enough to know a good catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic, spontaneous – Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell. But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape. Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything. This is an edgy and powerful first novel, utterly convincing in its portrayal of obsession, and a tour de force of suspense.

Between You and Me

They say every marriage has its secrets.
But no one sees what happens behind closed doors.
And sometimes those doors should never be opened…

Sal and Charlie are married. They love each other. But they aren’t happy. Sal cannot leave, no matter what Charlie does – no matter how much it hurts.


What I like about both books is that they have a compelling dual narrative; IDC uses a dual-time narrative, whilst BYM has a dual-persepective narrative. I think this keeps the reader on their toes and keeps the story engaging at all times.

I felt that the abuser in IDC was more frightening and more cleverly crafted, making them more believable and making the story more gripping and powerful. In BYM I felt that the abuser was more of a caricature of what an abuser should be and thus less subtly dangerous.

Both novels had a really solid and engaging ending, which kept the pages turning and kept me focused until the end. BYM‘s ending had me stop for a moment and made me go back and re-read some of the novel to see if I could get my head around it, whilst IDC‘s ending felt a little more satisfying.

I think the premise of BYM was incredibly clever and very well written, to the point that I fully believed what the author intended and was shocked by the ending.

However, overall, I feel that IDC was much better written with more interesting and complex characters and secondary storylines.

I would definitely recommend reading both these books (and Between You and Me is only 99p on Kindle at the moment) and then you can make your own comparisons and decisions on which you prefer.

I think the whole concept of abusive relationship fiction is so gripping and really allows for a deep look into the psychology of characters. What I particularly like about IDC is that through the dual-time narrative it showed the aftermath of abuse on a formerly outgoing, extroverted character, which was a really nice comparison.

So do read these books and prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster in each, and when you get to the end, do come back here and let me know what you think!

Musing Mondays – Monday 2nd May

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I’m trying something new today! Musing Mondays is a weekly meme hosted by Books and a Beat, which asks you to answer  one of the following prompts and a random question:

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: Name any 5 books from your “to be read” pile (even if it’s a “virtual” pile).

I’ve gone for ‘I can’t wait to get a copy of…’ and the book I can’t wait to get a copy of is I See You by Clare Mackintosh.

I just finished I Let You Go (you can read my review here) and it was probably the best book I’ve read this year and definitely the best thriller since The Girl on the Train, so I’m really excited to see what Clare does next.

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: Name any 5 books from your “to be read” pile (even if it’s a “virtual” pile).

Let me whip out my Kindle app and have a look…

  1. Maybe Someday – Colleen Hoover
  2. The Fever – Megan Abbott
  3. Find Me – Laura van der Beg
  4. The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer (yes, still)
  5. Asking for It – Louise O’Neill (yet to buy….)

You can read my full TBR list here, and let me know what books you want to read soon!

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

I have been desperate to read Asking For It by Louise O’Neill for a long time, but unfortunately it’s currently £8.99 (ON KINDLE AS WELL?!!) on Amazon, and I just can’t afford that right now. Maybe for my holiday. So when Only Ever Yours was down to 99p, I took advantage of having at least one Louise O’Neill book in my library.

The book is described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls. Confession, I’ve not actually read The Handmaid’s Tale, but I know it’s a dystopian fiction. Mean Girls, however, I know well.

O’Neill’s novel is set in a near-future society in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, they are left as concubines or chastities (teachers, with bald heads).

frieda and isabel (without capitalisation, because women are not even worth that much) have always been highly ranked, but when their final school year starts and isabel begins to spiral and gain weight, frieda is left with no-one to turn to and a desperation to become a companion that supersedes everything else, even her longest friendship.

It’s an interesting novel and highly disturbing, right from the outset. The idea of a school where girls are programmed to rate each other and focus only on their looks, surrounded by bald-headed teachers who tell them that they must always be happy and never be fat is frankly disconcerting. Then, once you get involved with frieda and her story and life, her own personal downward spiral is haunting and terrifying.

I don’t think I have ever felt more sorry for a character than frieda and, though I knew it unlikely, I was so desperate for her to get her happy ending because reading her unravelling was just so painful. I suppose this reflects O’Neill’s prowess as a writer.

Meanwhile, isabel is repeatedly noted as ‘special’ – she doesn’t have a number like the other ‘eves’ and is excused things that the other eves would never be permitted to do. Perhaps her mystery is one of the most compelling, yet her ending is the most rushed.

The divide between the sexes is highlighted even further by their names: the girls are all named after great beauties of our day – frieda (Pinto), isabel (Lucas), megan (I can only assume Fox?) and cara (Delevingne?), whilst their future husbands are named after great thinkers, the highest ranked being (of course), Darwin.

It is such a shocking and disconcerting novel, far more disturbing than other dystopian novels of our time, that made me feel really, truly uncomfortable. However, for me, the ending needed a little more clarity and resolution. I suppose maybe I wanted more for freida (which for her story was not possible) but as a protagonist, I felt she needed a more satisfactory (if not pleasant) ending.

It’s a sickening book, let’s be honest here, but it is fantastically written and extremely compelling. It’s impossible to like because it’s so intolerable to read and I felt uncomfortable for at least the last third of the novel. It’s terribly bleak speculative fiction of what our society could become if we allow it to progress in the way we are: with such focus on looks and perfection, are we girls looking forward to a life where we can only be satisfactory as companions or concubines?

Only Ever Yours is published by riverrun. 

The Martian – Andy Weir

This book was given to me by Paul Martinovic at Penguin General last year, so thanks Paul! Only just got around to reading it but I’m glad I did, and I definitely wanted to read it before watching the film.

The novel tells of Mark Watney, a botanist-astronaut who gets stranded on Mars after a dust storm makes his crew think he’s died. Whilst Mark’s initial struggle is working out how to survive on Mars, NASA eventually realises he’s still alive and the mission turns to working out how to get Mark back to Earth.

It’s a sciency novel, let’s be honest here, and it was a little difficult for me to wrap my head around. Whilst Mark’s going on about oxygenation and EVAs, I found my attention waning, but once the secondary storylines of NASA back at home and the Ares 3 Crew are brought into play, the novel became much more engaging and exciting to read. Mark faces a lot of obstacles throughout his journey – which is understandable, survival and escape from Mars was never going to be an easy task, but it did become a bit repetitive at times.

The characterisation of Mark really is the novel’s highlight. He is witty, immature and incredibly relatable, rather than being a smarty-pants geek of an astronaut. Maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t have a huge psychological breakdown (which in all fairness, might well come after the end of the novel, because during his time on Mars it’s highly likely that he was just trying to get from one day to the next) because otherwise it would have been a really bummer of a book. Instead, the novel and its protagonist are captivating and engaging, which makes you want to read on and see how this joker is going to get off Mars.

And you can bet that Mark’s interviews once he gets back to Earth were probably hysterical.

As I said, it’s slow to build and can be a little jumpy at times (there was a whole section of interspersed paragraphs describing the production of something for the airlock that ultimately failed, which felt a bit out of place), but if you like science and outer space, then this is definitely for you.

I also really liked the little prequel in the back of my book, telling you about Mark getting into the Ares 3 programme. I’d be interested to read more of that, and even a sequel/epilogue about Mark’s return to Earth.

I think readers of this novel will divide into two camps: people who like science and people who don’t. Those who do will love the opening sections of all the maths and sciency stuff, and those who don’t (like me) will enjoy the human side of the novel, and the action going on off-Mars, such as the parts on the ground and of the Ares 3 Crew.

Overall, if you stick with it, I think it’s a really great book and extremely well written by Andy Weir. Which is saying something for someone who is clearly intelligent enough to invent his own Mars mission. Usually science and emotions don’t really mix, but here, they do.

The Martian is published by Del Rey, the SFF Imprint of Ebury. 

Mini Reads Vol. III

So way back September I published a blog post called ‘Summer Reads Vol. I’ and got around to Vol. II in November. The purpose of these posts was to write mini reviews of all the books I’d read over summer in succinct reviews rather than in depth ones. Whilst some books do deserve longer reviews, my hectic final year life just can’t keep up with it (currently balancing The Martian with The European Tragedy of Troilus, which I know you’ll all be adding to your TBR lists). So I’m continuing the concept of mini reviews in this new series, which follows on from the Summer Reads to the Mini Reads series.

This is Volume III.

1. Dream a Little Dream – Giovanna Fletcher

Cover Image

I love this book. I won’t lie, I’m a bit of a Gi fangirl – I watch hers and Tom’s videos frequently on YouTube and I knew I wanted to read this desperately, so when I got my hands on a copy at Penguin last summer, I wasn’t letting it go easily.

It’s a gorgeous romantic novel that centres on Sarah, a twenty-something year old in the midst of her twenty-something year old slump. Her PA job isn’t exactly what she’d always wanted, her career is somewhat disappointing to her mother, and she happens to still be friends with her ex and his perfect new girlfriend. Who can blame her for enjoying the dreams she’s begun to have about a handsome stranger from her past? But when her dream guy appears in her real life, things get a little more complicated than she expected…

It’s an extremely easy, satisfying read. Yes, it’s a little predictable in places, but that’s the joy of it. You kind of know how it’s going to end up so you can enjoy the journey to the final destination. Giovanna is a very accomplished romance writer and perfectly understands the torment of unlucky-in-love post-graduates and the way that friends become your family once you move away from home. I loved the little nod to husband Tom in one of the dreams and found myself staying up late to finish reading it over Christmas.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a lighter read, full of warmth, character and substance.

2. Funny Girl – Nick Hornby 

Nick Hornby’s most recent novel is a tale of Sophie (née Barbara) who finds fame in 1960s London in a sitcom about married life. The book follows Sophie from her humble beginnings in Blackpool, to her life as a young ingenue, to full-blown stardom. Surrounding Sophie are an ensemble of characters working with her on the sitcom including suave co-star Clive, producer Dennis, and the writing team Tony and Bill (who offer an interesting subplot about homosexuality).

Most of the humour in the novel comes from Sophie’s interactions with the ensemble, rather than Sophie herself. It’s a good read, but ultimately simply isn’t as strong as some of Hornby’s earlier works like About A Boy and A Long Way Down. It is a pleasant novel that is never hilariously amusing nor darkly observant (as it could be of stardom in the 1960s). Rather than racing down a train track, it simply meanders and never reaches the peak interest of the earlier novels.

It’s sweet and it’s pleasant, just like Sophie’s eventual golden years, but it simply isn’t enough from an author as talented as Hornby.

3. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion 

I had wanted to read this for a while after hearing about it through various channels, but was initially wary as my mum hadn’t liked it. That just goes to show you can’t always trust someone else’s opinions. I thought it was a fantastic read, though it does take a little while to get into.

It is novel about Don and Rosie, the former a man of ritual, and the latter a reckless fireball, who find themselves embroiled in a plot to discover Rosie’s birth father, whilst Don himself attempts to find a Wife. Once the introductory material introducing Don gets out the way and the plot gets going it is a humorous and captivating read, that is really driven by the relationship between Don and Rosie, who are so mismatched but so perfect for each other.

I found myself laughing out loud at various points and motivated to keep reading as both the A-Plot of the Rosie Project and the B-Plot of Don’s search for a wife were equally engaging. It was a thoroughly entertaining novel and easy to read once you got into Don’s brain and accustomed yourself to his method of narration. The only problem I had with it was that I simply couldn’t understand how someone of such intelligence as Don, with a speciality in genetics and a strong awareness of Asperger’s, couldn’t place himself somewhere on a scale on which he clearly belonged.

Nevertheless, I would wholeheartedly recommend this, and encourage you to push on through the somewhat challenging opening as you navigate Don’s narration, to get to the truly special, sentimental hilarity of the second and third thirds of the novel.

4. The Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen 

This is marketed towards lovers of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones and I can definitely see why. It’s a fantasy novel set in the future, which rather than making 1984-like predictions of the future reverts the future back to a medieval time of horses, highwaymen and sword-fights.

On Kelsea Raleigh’s 19th birthday, her mother’s guards come for her to take her to her throne, for she is the Queen-to-be, inheriting her mother’s throne after living in hiding all her life. Now Kelsea faces a kingdom who doesn’t quite trust her, the threat of the Red Queen in the neighbouring nation and the legacy of her mother’s reign weighing on her shoulders. With only her Guard and the mysterious Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea must save her kingdom without losing herself.

It was a solid read; it wasn’t anywhere near as captivating as The Hunger Games but had a host of interesting characters including Lazarus, Kelsea’s Mace and the Fetch, a mysterious outlaw. If I’m being honest, I’d want to read the second book only to find out more about him.

Johansen’s difficulty is that she is trying to set up a new world that’s interesting but is neither here nor there. It’s medieval, but it’s set in the future. She could have spent less time on Kelsea’s long journey to the throne and more time setting up the world to make it more understandable for readers; I was certainly confused about where and when the story was supposed to be taking place.

And Kelsea herself is a weak character. She’s plain but strong. That’s her description. She is also frequently excused her failings as a character because she’s only nineteen. Except Katniss Everdeen had more strength at age sixteen. (I’m sorry to keep comparing, but if the copyediting is going to point out THG as a common interest, I can’t help but compare the things they have – or don’t have – in common.)

It was a slow story, with an extremely slow build, but made an interesting opener to a trilogy. It felt more like a prologue (and it needed a prologue to try and explain all the Crossing/Pre-Crossing setting) that was waiting for some real action. I suppose it was as the next book is titled The Invasion of the Tearling. If Emma Watson is indeed attached to a film version (as is one of the book’s main selling points) then I hope the film has more action and is more deserving of Emma’s calibre. Though how they’re ever going to make Emma Watson look as plain as Kelsea’s meant to be is beyond me.


So there’s the next volume in my Mini Reads – have you read any of these novels? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Shtum – Jem Lester

I must start this review by thanking the wonderful Sam Eades for sending me a proof of Shtumalong with The Versions of Us by Laura Barnet, which has been added to my expanding ‘To Read’ list, as part of a Secret Santa giveaway.

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I had heard so much about this book: on THE Book Club on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the general book world. Since diving into the book world myself on my unwavering hunt for a job in a publishing house, I have become more eager than ever to read proofs before the book is publishing so that I too can rave about them upon publication. Therefore, I knew I had to get my hands on Shtum, if not to see what all the fuss is about really.

And it’s completely worth the fuss.

Shtum tells the story of Ben and his autistic ten-year-old son Jonah, who are forced to move in with Ben’s father Georg in order to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal. Thus, three generations of Jewells are thrown together and a tale of family, history, identity and crisis unfolds.

I found the novel initially, not so much challenging, but challenging in its simplicity, in that I kept waiting for the bomb to drop and for it to to become the incredible novel I had read about. I did however, enjoy the opening sections for Lester’s writing similarities with Jonathan Tropper. I found his depiction of Ben to be quite similar to Tropper’s Judd from This Is Where I Leave You, though the two characters are on paper rather different. The way Lester plays with family dynamics and the meaning of family – in that family does not necessarily have to be blood – is incredibly reminiscent of Tropper’s writing, and Lester achieves that same casual elegance in his development of character and character relationships as does Tropper.

The wit and humour in Ben and his father Georg in times of hardship is what keeps the novel afloat and really makes up the heart and the emotion of the novel. The way the three generations interact and share their lives is simply charming and effervescent,

However, once the bomb dropped, and the bombs continued to drop, with more and more punches and twists to the tale that strike right at the heart, I realised just how fantastic this book would really be, and how it exceeds Tropper in so many ways. There is an emotional depth and an authentic sentiment to the closing chapters that really makes you root for the Jewells, despite their, at times, negative qualities, such as Ben and Emma’s dissolving relationship and their own individual demons.

The very end of the novel packs a serious emotional punch, that I was not expecting and really shook me as I read it. I don’t wish to spoil it here, but I will say that I felt it was slightly rushed, and though there were hints of it throughout the novel, I would have preferred a different narrative style, perhaps interweaving the close of the story throughout the novel in a dual narrative style.

I have seen much success with this kind of narrative in the past, though at the same time as it is a common narrative move, I can understand why Lester would choose not to write his story as such. But I really do feel that as impactful as the final note of the story is, it would benefit from more attention throughout.

I have no doubt that this will be a huge seller in 2016, and the success of it is truly down to Lester’s incredible ability to write compelling but relatable characters that really tug on your heartstrings, as well as packing a punch at the end of the narrative. I read it in approximately four hours, and have no doubt that with the right amount of hours in a day, you could too.

 

Shtum is published by Orion books on 7th April 2016 and again, all thanks go to Sam Eades for sending me a copy of this much desired first novel.