Tuesday, 30 May 2017

What I've Been Reading Recently

I have read some utterly brilliant books recently - prepare yourself for many 5 star reviews! - together with one absolute stinker, which is sometimes as much fun to write about as a great book. What are you reading at the moment? I'm currently enthralled by Kraken by China Mieville, after it was recommended to me by my brother, and although it's out of my comfort zone it's completely absorbing.

The Upside Of Unrequited*
Becky Albertalli
Rating: *****
Molly and her twin have always been best friends as well as sisters, but when Cassie meets the girl of her dreams and falls head over heels, Molly's suddenly left behind. It's not that she's never been in love - she has, 26 times - but it's always been unrequited. Luckily, Cassie has a cute friend, Will, who's showing an interest in Molly... so why can't she stop thinking about her nerdy co-worker Reid?

Albertalli's first novel, Simon Versus The Homo-Sapiens Agenda, is one of my favourite books ever and the one I'm most likely to press upon friends while shouting, "READ THIS!" so it's fair to say that anticipation was running high for The Upside Of Unrequited. But I absolutely loved this sweet, charming, funny romance. It's fantastically diverse and, best of all, Molly is the fat YA heroine of my dreams. What leaps off the page is that Albertalli knows teenagers - knows what makes them tick, knows the cadences of their speech - and, perhaps more importantly, likes them. Her characters are fully-rounded, interesting, flawed beings, with whom the reader cannot help falling in love. This book would have been so, so important to me when I was a teenager and I'm not too proud to admit that even now, I cried happy tears at seeing a fat girl (with lesbian moms! It me!) represented on the page. And for Simon... fans there's the added Easter Egg of a guest appearance by the man himself.

One Of Us Is Lying*
Karen McManus
Rating: *****
Five students enter detention, only four come out: the jock, the swot, the homecoming princess, and the rebel, leaving the much-disliked Simon Kelleher - the brains behind a devastatingly accurate school gossip app - dead. And so begins a police investigation that has the power to destroy all their lives and root out secrets they'd all prefer were kept buried.

One Of Us Is Lying is an absolutely brilliant read. Despite accurately guessing whodunnit at about 20% - I read a lot of thrillers and this is frequently an issue for me - I still felt compelled to keep reading. The characters of Cooper (jock), Bronwyn (swot), Addy (princess) and Nate (rebel) are so fully rounded that I was more than happy to go on this journey with them, despite knowing where we'd end up. Comparisons to The Breakfast Club are inevitable, but this is so very much more than that film: more complex, with more likeable characters, and with much greater tension and higher stakes.

The Pearl Thief*
Elizabeth Wein
Rating: *****
Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her grandparent's ancestral home for one last summer, after the death of her grandfather forces the sale of the house and land. This, together with the mysterious disappearance of the family pearls, followed closely by the discovery of a body in the river, leads Julie into a summer of self-discovery. Although The Pearl Thief is being marketed as a 1930s period mystery, in the vein of Agatha Christie, it's so much more than that. Yes, there's a mystery element, but it's less important than the exploration of topics as varied as burgeoning sexuality, disability, anti-traveller prejudice, and privilege. Julie - who could so easily come across as just another poor little rich girl - is instead winningly self-aware and willing to examine her own privilege, and the novel has a beautifully elegiac tone (the more so when you realise it's set in 1938 and that the shadows of war hang over all). A lovely book that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Sometimes I Lie
Alice Feeney
Rating: *
Amber, our narrator, is in hospital in a coma. We know this because she tells us immediately, along with two other salient facts: her husband doesn't love her anymore, and sometimes she lies. Sounds intriguing, right? Well, within the first 10 pages of Sometimes I Lie Amber had employed "rape" as a verb to describe something other than sexual assault, and used horribly derogatory language to describe a fat character, so it's fair to say I wasn't well-disposed towards it from the start and, unfortunately, it doesn't get any better. The plot - switching from Amber's hospital bed recollections of the days leading up to the accident that put her in a coma, to childhood diary entries - is utterly ridiculous and the only reason I read to the end instead of DNF-ing was because I was stuck on a train with nothing else to read. If you're in the market for a ludicrously far-fetched thriller, in which virtually every character is thoroughly unlikable and completely unbelievable, and with a laughably bad denouement, then maybe this is the book for you. It certainly wasn't for me.

The Lauras*
Sara Taylor
Rating: ****
Alex is 13 when Ma pulls them out of bed and into the car and embarking on a road trip across America, sometimes settling in one place for months at a time, at others staying briefly before moving on. The Lauras is so named for the girls and women from Ma's youth, which she spent in and out of foster care, and about whom Alex is regaled with tales. It is through these stories, told during their years on the road, that Alex learns to view Ma as more than just a mother but as a person too.

The novel has an episodic feel and, despite the potential for repetition inherent in the narrative moving from gritty motel to dusty road to gritty motel, each stop along their journey is beautifully drawn in immersive and lyrical prose. Neither Alex nor Ma have uncomplicated lives, and it's not a book that ties everything up in a neat bow at the end, but there was a sense of hope nonetheless. By far the best coming of age novel I've read in years.

Who Runs The World?
Virginia Bergin
Rating: ***
"They said that," he murmured, "They said you was lost without us."
"We are not lost," she said, calmly, "We are running the world."
Sixty years after a virus wiped out almost every man and boy on the planet, teenager River is being brought up in the Matriarchy, a place where war has ended, greed and violence not tolerated, and empathy is the prized quality in a person.

Who Runs The World? has a brilliant premise and it is, for the most part, well executed. Because it's a middle grade/YA novel it's not always as complex as, say, Naomi Alderman's equally feminist dystopian novel The Power. And as the pace picks up towards the end, things become over-complicated and under-explained. However, River is a great protagonist - well-rounded and sympathetic, although not always likeable - and the world that Bergin creates is entirely believable. A warning, though: it's impossible to read this without the Beyonce song cycling constantly through your head!

* This title kindly provided for review by the publishers via NetGalley


  1. Nice round-up. Now I want to read both of the Albertalli books!

    1. They really are excellent, the best of contemporary YA.

  2. 'fat YA heroine of my dreams' = exactly what I want to read about! :)

  3. I have seen Albertalli's book in the bookstore but wasn't really sure if it'd be all that exciting. Now that I've read your review I'm kinda bummed I didn't get it, next time I'm there I think I'll pick it up!

  4. You've had a good run recently, haven't you? I must read The Lauras; coming of age books are my favorite. Lots of these sound really interesting, though, so I imagine I'll be picking up a few of them.

    Also, I've had Abba stuck in my head all day because of this post.

    1. There have been quite a few duds amongst these, too, but I just didn't feel inspired to write about them. Very good or very bad books are infinitely more fun to review!

  5. You always read such interesting books! I love the sound of these, esp the Whodunnit one from the 1930’s! I love the sound of that book that you identified with so much. By the way, THANK you- I ADORED Eleanor and Park! I gave it to my local library in the hope that someone else or many someones might love and enjoy it also!!

    1. Oh my gosh you would LOVE The Pearl Thief. And also her first novel Code Name Verity, for which this is the prequel (although the latter will make you cry ugly tears).

  6. OK, I had to stop reading after the second book as I can't buy anymore books, or put anymore on my wish list. Stop encouraging me, I can't read as fast as you can!

    *whispers* The first two have been put on my wish list ;)

  7. Ooh so many of these sound so good! It's funny you mention the derogatory comments in that book - I just finished a Paige Toon book that had a few similar lines throughout the book. I was somewhat disgruntled by it and it made me think of you. Although the writing was so terrible anyway, I won't be picking it up again!

    1. Oh that's a shame because I used to really like Paige Toon's writing back in the dark ages when she wrote for Just Seventeen!