Top Ten Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday | Books with numbers in the title

Welcome back to another Top Ten Tuesday! I love these creative themes and they always get me remembering books I’ve not thought about in forever. This one is pretty self-explanatory, so here we go…

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Since I recently read and adored The Kite Runner, this has just been bumped up my TBR.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

I so enjoyed this journalistic tour de force, a deep dive into the love and sex lives of three real women. Check out my full review here.

One Day by David Nicholls

One Day by David Nicholls

I know I’ve found a way to fit this into a top ten tuesday more than once, but I can’t help it. It’s so charming and moving and funny.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Back at the start of the pandemic, I was on a pandemic-book-themed reading sprint, and this was a very good addition to that oeuvre. Full review here.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 – famously the temperature at which books burn (cannot confirm). Not a book that I loved like I’d hoped I would, but a worthwhile read none the less. Full review here.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult’s books were the background to my mid-teen years, and while she doesn’t always get it right, she doesn’t shy away from heavy topics. And boy does that woman know how to write a page turner.

Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup

Is this pushing the boundaries of the theme? Quite possibly. But it’s close enough. I don’t remember all that much about this book, which I read over 10 years ago, but I enjoyed the film (if enjoy is the right word).

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I’ve not read this nor do I really want to watch the TV adaptation, but I know it’s hugely popular and it fits the tag so here we are.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Rachel Cusk, and I think I would enjoy her writing, but I’ve not yet summoned up the strength to give it a go.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review | The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

There’s something just so delightful about Beth O’Leary. You never know exactly what you’re going to get, but you know that it will be equal doses of funny and heartfelt; intensely readable with genuine characters and a solid storyline.

The Road Trip doesn’t disappoint. Addie and her sister Deb are on a road trip up to Scotland for their friend Cherry’s wedding. As luck would have it, not long into their journey someone rams into the back of their mini. That someone happens to be Addie’s ex, Dylan, and his insufferable friend, Marcus. Dylan and Marcus’s car is wrecked, and in a moment of madness, Addie and Deb take pity on them. They all bundle into their mini – along with Rodney, who’s a fellow wedding attendee and stranger to them all.

In the narrative that ensues, we witness the comical scenes of five grown adults packed into a mini with a not inconsiderable amount of tension, not enough aircon, and Rodney who keeps whipping out a tub of flapjacks, as if that will solve everything. Much amusement ensues with the arrival of Kevin the truck driver, and an unfortunate pit stop that ends in a missing persons search.

‘I have a feeling that if this journey had been any longer, it would have become progressively more Lord of the Flies, and Marcus probably would have eaten somebody.’

Alongside the present-day journey to Scotland, we get alternating chapters in both Addie and Dylan’s point of view, charting the early beginnings – and eventual ending – of their relationship. This is where you need to be prepared for what is a messy, sad, complicated set of circumstances – where issues of class, privilege, education, parental pressure, alcoholism, sexual assault, etc. come to light. I can see why readers wanting a pure light and fluffy romance might find the inclusion of ‘grittier’ themes to be a disappointment, but I felt that O’Leary deftly explored these issues while also providing the reader with light relief. In another author’s hands it might have felt at best contrived and at worst totally distasteful and mismanaged, but here it worked perfectly in tandem.

‘I think he’s going to say it, and once he has, that’s it, like he’s putting a time stamp on our lives. Creating a before and after. I feel it coming like I’m speeding toward something, and for one panicked moment I think I ought to slam on the brakes.’

I wish that the author had cut Marcus less slack – he was truly insufferable and I didn’t entirely buy into his redemption arc – and there could have been more done to establish an emotional chemistry between Addie and Dylan in their early scenes to build a firmer foundation for a swept-off-your-feet romance. But these are small comments in a book that kept me up reading. This isn’t normally my genre of choice – but as long as it’s got Beth O’Leary’s name on it, I’ll be adding it to the TBR.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Related Reads…

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson Book Review

Book Review | Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

It was time for a gear shift around here, after the emotional upheaval of last week’s reading.

Peter Swanson’s latest addition to the genre starts off the way any good thriller starts off: a hasty marriage to someone you don’t know that well. Abigail is living paycheck-to-paycheck, working in publishing in New York, when handsome, kind, and obscenely wealthy Bruce sweeps her off her feet. Things might be moving a little too fast, but before she knows it she’s said yes to the proposal and is off on her California bachelorette party with her girlfriends.

With one too many drinks in her system, and nagging doubts about the wiseness of her decision, she’s ready prey for a handsome stranger who charms her one evening after her friends have gone to bed. One thing leads to another, and they have a one-night stand. Wracked with guilt, Abigail returns to New York, determined to keep her infidelity a secret from Bruce and reassuring herself it was nothing but a drunk mistake.

‘Deep down, she knew that Bruce was more in love with her than she was with him. But wasn’t that the case with every couple? There was always one person in each relationship who cared a little more than the other. And wasn’t it better to be the person who cared less?’

The one-night stand man, who she calls Scottie (they didn’t reveal their real names to each other), is, as it turns out, quite unhinged. He tracks Abigail down and begs her not to marry Bruce. He’s lurking in the shadows on their wedding day. And then he shows up on the exclusive, remote island off the coast of Maine, where Bruce has taken her for the honeymoon.

This seemingly idyllic island has an oppressive, menacing quality to it. Swanson builds up the suspense and tension in a masterful way, a slowly creeping sense of dread coming over Abigail. At first there’s the fact that there’s no phone reception (sold as an ‘off the grid’ experience), an uncomfortable ratio of staff to actual guests, and almost no women. Then there’s the aforementioned stalker who also appears. And Abigail realises nothing is quite as it seems.

‘That whole day she felt like a chasm had opened up in front of her, a big black hole she was powerless to escape.’

I sometimes find with thrillers that the best bit is just before you know what’s happening. When all the cards are still to play for, when the narrative might go in any number of directions. Swanson does a great job at building up the menace in a propulsive way, and then he doesn’t really know what to do with it once the big reveal has happened. The plot goes a little bit wild and becomes less psychological thriller and veers more into horror territory. It’s cinematic in its unravelling, but not quite believable and not entirely wrapped up in a satisfying way.

Without giving anything away, there’s a clever and compelling commentary on the dangers of toxic masculinity, incel culture and radicalisation – an ever-increasing concern, particularly given tragic events like those in the UK last week. Mix these hateful beliefs with almost unlimited access to money and resources, and you have a very dangerous cocktail indeed.

I enjoyed this one – more so than the previous two, All The Beautiful Lies and Eight Perfect Murders. Nothing has yet measured up to The Kind Worth Killing – but as a page-turning, unpredictable thriller, I’d recommend Every Vow You Break. Even if you now have the Police song stuck in your head on repeat. 🙂

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Book Review | The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Amir is a young Afghan boy, born to a wealthy merchant father in 1960’s Kabul. And Afghanistan of the 60s and 70s has a haze of nostalgia to it – Amir lives a charmed childhood, flying kites, watching Hollywood Westerns, reading adventure stories to his best friend Hassan.

Of course, there’s a darkness simmering under the surface, as Afghanistan teeters on the brink of catastrophe – the monarchy falls, the Soviets invade – and, eventually, the tyrannical Taliban seize power. Within a few decades, nothing will be left; ‘the Afghanistan of our youth is long dead.’

But before all of this tragedy unfurls, Amir and Hassan are just kids. Hassan is the son of their household servant, and can’t attend school. Despite their close friendship and Amir’s objectively much better lot in life, Amir finds himself prickling with jealousy at his Baba’s fondness for Hassan. A complex figure, in equal parts imposing and charming, Amir longs for his father’s attention and approval. Since his mother died in childbirth, his father is the axis around which his life spins.   

Hassan is Amir’s unwavering loyal and devoted friend, forever his companion in the kite competitions that are a popular pastime for children in the city. But as a Hazara, a member of a persecuted minority, Hassan has a target on his head – and it’s not long before a shocking act of violence will change all their lives forever.

Decades later, Amir and Baba are thousands of miles away from the country of their birth. Refugees in California, they struggle to rebuild a life. For Amir, the guilt, grief, and cowardice he feels over what took place that fateful summer in Kabul will plague him forever.

‘Long before the Roussi army marched into Afghanistan, long before villages were burned and schools destroyed… Kabul had become a city of ghosts for me. A city of harelipped ghosts.


America was different. America was a river, roaring along, unmindful of the past. I could wade into this river, let my sins drown to the bottom, let the waters carry me someplace far. Someplace with no ghosts, no memories, and no sins.’

It’s not very often that a novel makes me weep, but this did it. Hosseini is an incredibly gifted storyteller, weaving together a novel that not only encompasses swathes of political and social history, but tells an incredibly moving and intimate story of a life. He doesn’t spare us from horror – life under the Taliban is gut-wrenchingly terrible – but this is also not a book without joy, hope, and redemption.

Something that will stay with me for a long, long time is the contrast between the old Afghanistan of Amir and Hassan’s youth, and the war-torn failed state that it has been for many decades – longer than I’ve been alive. The way in which a country can cease to exist – the obliteration of a culture, way of life, societal structure – committing current and future generations to a life of poverty, desperation, and torment, is horrifying and powerfully rendered in this book. I think back to more recent parallels with what’s happened in countries like Syria – once thriving, developed centres of culture, history, and commerce – reduced to physical and psychological ruins.

The last thing I’ll say about this extraordinary and explosive book is that it is not an intimidating read. Hosseini’s prose is sparing, controlled – and even though he weaves Farsi words throughout, it’s not at all alienating to the reader. It took me a decade of having this sat on the shelf – it’s made it through several transatlantic trips with an unbroken spine – before I picked it up last week, and it might be the best book so far this year.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read if you enjoyed: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Book Review | Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Our lives are inextricably shaped by the material facts of our birth. And for the young men living their gilded youths at Oxford University in the early 1990s, they’re pretty much untouchable. Our narrator describes the ‘smooth, smiling faces’ of ‘men who will sail through life: Eton, Oxford, parliament, government.’

And twenty-five years later,  these men have risen to seats of power, just as they always expected to. In close-enough to the present day (although 2016 seems like a lifetime ago now), our narrator Kate Woodcroft is a prosecutor, specialising in convicting perpetrators of sexual assault.

One day, the papers get their hands on a grubby new story: a junior Tory minister, James Whitehouse, has been caught with his trousers down as his affair with a much younger member of staff is exposed. The Prime Minister being a close friend from Oxford, James is reassured the whole nasty matter will quickly blow over – until his mistress, Olivia, comes forward with an accusation of rape. James’s wife, Sophie, determines to remain the doting and devoted wife, even as doubt begins to gnaw at her.

What follows is a nail-biting courtroom drama, where driven, successful Kate is convinced of James’s guilt – but has her work cut out in trying to ensure justice is served. The world of the court is one that she admits is ‘archaic, anachronistic, privileged, exclusive’. And these privileged, white, upper-class men truly believe them are impervious to the rules – of law, of morality, of common decency. (It was interesting to read this not long after the story broke of the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, having an affair with a coworker in the midst of stringent lockdowns where you weren’t allowed to hug your mum, much less fornicate with a colleague…)  

‘“I sometimes wonder if we spoiled him. Let him believe that his opinion was always right? I suppose school inculcated that feeling—and Charles, of course, never brooking an argument. Perhaps it’s a male thing? That complete self-belief: the conviction that you never need doubt your opinion. The girls don’t have it and neither do I. He was like it as a little boy: always lying at Cluedo; always cheating at Monopoly, insisting he could change the rules. He was so sweet, so persuasive, he got away with it. I wonder if that’s why he thinks he still can?”’

Vaughan shifts timelines and perspectives, keeping the varied pace of the novel and giving us historical context that feeds into the present-day drama which is unfurling. Whilst there aren’t many twists and turns to be had, this is suspenseful and well-crafted book that lays bare the lives of the rich and powerful, puts consent and conviction under a microscope, and explores the ramifications of toxic masculinity – when combined with money and privilege, a lethal cocktail. A slow burn, but a recommended read nonetheless.

9 Titles That Made Want to Buy the Book

This is another Top Ten Tuesday, but since I am at the mercy of these WordPress layouts I’m resigned to just go with 9. Have you read any of these? What books have you bought on the basis of their title alone?

Books I’ve read with brilliant titles

Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory

The title was 100% the reason why I picked this otherwise slightly obscure short-story collection off the shelf – and boy am I glad I did. Equal parts tragic and funny, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – perhaps the best short story collection I’ve ever read.

Full review here

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

A stunning story that begins in 1940s Ireland and takes us through the decades of the life of Cyril Avery, a young man desperate to discover his identity.

Full review here.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

I could have equally picked Vuong’s poetry collection – Night Sky with Exit Wounds. This is his first novel, suffused with poetic detail, pain, pleasure and heartbreak.

Full review here.

And now on to the ones I’ve not read yet and what the critics have to say about them…

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

“A symphony of a novel. Sunil Yapa inhabits the skins of characters vastly different to himself: a riot cop in Seattle, a punk activist, a disillusioned world traveler and a high-level diplomat, among others. Through it all Yapa showcases a raw and rare talent. This is a protest novel which finds, at its core, a deep and abiding regard for the music of what happens. Yapa strives forward with a literary molotov cocktail to light up the dark.” — Colum McCann

An Artist of the Floating World

“In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro offers readers of the English language an authentic look at postwar Japan, “a floating world” of changing cultural behaviors, shifting societal patterns and troubling questions.” — Amazon

My Wild and Sleepless Nights

“The best evocation of the all-consuming, self-eroding reality of motherhood, while also being luminous with love.” — Sunday Times

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Okezi

“Ozeki weaves together Nao’s adolescent yearnings with Ruth’s contemplative digressions, adding bits of Zen wisdom, as well as questions about agency, creativity, life, death, and human connections along the way. A Tale for the Time Being is a dreamy, spiritual investigation of how to gracefully meet the waves of time, which, in the end, come for us all.”
—The Daily Beast

Cities I’ve Never Lived In

“Majka brings the reader to startling places. . . . From certain angles, it’s a kind of New England gothic, where the lost children and dead women and doppelgängers serve to add atmosphere and meaning to the narrator’s past peregrinations, her dalliances and uncertainties. It turns out in the end that this is in fact a book about an arty person with a complicated personal life. But it’s a lovely one, written in a moving and uncanny register.”―The New York Times Book Review

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World

“A story about the dogged survival of hope when all else is lost . . . Messina shows us that even in the face of a terrible tragedy, such as an earthquake or a loss of a child, the small things – a cup of tea, a proffered hand – can offer a way ahead. Its meditative minimalism makes it a striking haiku of the human heart.” ― The Times (London)

P.S. Try Book of the Month for $5!

I’ve recently joined Book of the Month, where you get one new hardback release (of your choice) to your door each month. This was my ‘new job treat’, and a way to read new releases without paying the sticker price or having to wait 6 months to get it from the library! If you’re interested in checking it out, this referral link means that you get your first book for a bargain $5. After that, it’s $14.99 +tax each month and you can skip or cancel whenever.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr - book review

Book Review | The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr

It’s hard to know where to start with a book like this; a book so unflinching and devastating that it’s definitely not one I would recommend to everybody. So I better start with a warning: this isn’t for the fainthearted, and content warnings abound in this book and, subsequently, in what I’ll discuss in this review.

Samuel and Isaiah are two enslaved young men on an antebellum plantation in Mississippi, a place that the enslaved characters refer to as ‘empty.’ In the most unimaginable set of circumstances, the two find solace within each other – friendship, companionship, and eventually, love.

‘Sometimes, in Mississippi, maybe in the whole world, except one other place lost to memory, the sky was heavy. It was thick with something unseen but surely felt.’

Jones doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of plantation life; the ritual rape, torture, back-breaking labour and degradation. But in his lyricism, and careful attention to the interior worlds of his characters, he makes it more than just that. He also shows us the small moments of communion, of peace, friendship, gossip, and love. In doing so, it feels like a reclamation of history – a voice given back to the voiceless.

‘Tiny resistances were a kind of healing in a weeping place.’

I couldn’t help but be reminded of a fateful trip to a Tennessee plantation I made in 2017. Newly arrived in the US, I was naïve – I thought that the point of going to a plantation was to open your eyes to the brutal history of enslavement and the lives of those who had been forced to toil to enrich the enslavers. How wrong I was. The guided tour spent the first hour walking the plantation house and learning about the ‘master’s’ love of horses. The last 5 minutes we were led into the grounds and shown some reconstructed shacks, with a footnote that they were trying to learn more about the history of the enslaved on the plantation, but there weren’t many records so not much they could do *shrug*.

This novel is so powerful because we haven’t heard these voices, and Jones brings them so vividly to life. A powerful and effecting theme running through the novel is that of a severed connection to history. The enslaved characters in the novel cannot ever know their history – most don’t know their parents or the names that were given to them at birth.

‘The sound… made Amos long for the old place – Virginia. The longing was misplaced. That wasn’t home and neither was this: not these shores, certainly, but which ones, exactly, he knew he would never know, and that was where the pain was.’

Jones effortlessly slips in and out of different consciousnesses, both of the enslaved people on Empty and of the enslavers themselves. He develops complex male and female characters and gives us both a sweeping and intimate picture of life on the plantation.

There are times he does too much. There are interludes from a matriarchal African society who have fluid definitions of gender identity and sexuality, and we follow them as they are cruelly ripped from their homeland and forced on slave ships to the Americas. As important as this origin story is, it felt a little clunky slotted into the narrative. The writing throughout is also beautifully lyrical, but sometimes to the point of being inaccessible – when a slightly pared down style would be less alienating to a wider group of readers.

But these are small flaws in a hugely moving and accomplished novel. This is vitally important reading for anyone who wants to better understand the long-lasting legacy of slavery and institutional racism in the U.S., and I also encourage readers to seek out voices of colour on this book and these topics.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

6 Books I Read In One Sitting

You may notice that this topic looks awfully like yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I half drafted this weeks ago, and since then work has been very busy (I start my new job on Monday), then Tuesday came and went, so this is where we find ourselves…

The days of curling up with a book and reading non-stop now seem to be few and far between – but over the years I’ve had delightful read-in-one-sitting experiences. These are some of the most memorable.

One Day by David Nicholls

I took this with me on a 2-month trip to India in 2012, and the host family I stayed with definitely thought I was strange for being so absorbed in this book. Tony Parsons on the cover says it’s totally brilliant, and I can’t put it better myself. A contemporary classic (and I love the film, Ann Hathaway’s accent excepting).

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Holidays. The perfect time to indulge in lying-on-the-sofa-reading behaviours for days on end. I read Such A Fun Age during Thanksgiving 2019, and was so engrossed it even distracted me from shopping in the Black Friday sales.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

This was published on the 21st June 2003 – how is that a whopping 18 years ago? But I remember the day like it was yesterday – chasing the postman in his red Royal Mail van around the village so that I could get my hands on it as soon as humanly possible. I think my first read was over 2 days, and then I promptly started it all over again and finished it in 24 hours.

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

Everything I Know About Love accompanied me for a full cosy winter’s day in 2018 where I read it in one sitting, apart from breaks for tea and snacks. It feels like a chat with your best friend and is highly recommended millennial woman reading.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

One of my favourite books of all time from the greatest Modernist writer VW – I’ve read this in one sitting on multiple occasions. It’s a short one, too – so if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This may be cheating a little, as took me about a month to get through the first chapter, but after that I was hooked. I read the rest of the novel almost in one sitting lying on the bottom bunk in a hostel on the Chinese island of Hainan, in summer 2015, and I would not stop talking about it.

Thanks for reading! Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Book of the Month referral code - $5


Book of the Month for $5!

Book Review | Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage

Book Review | Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage

It’s 2009, and Jonah is a broke and lost aspiring playwright who has recently moved to New York. He’s working for a predatory boss at an upscale restaurant and barely scraping by. Estranged from his deeply evangelical parents who believe being gay is an unforgivable sin, he is isolated, desperate, and friendless.

 So when he sees an opportunity to catapult himself into a life of wealth – and possibly success – he begins to scheme. Richard represents the kind of life Jonah can only dream of: a wildly successful playwright who has a penchant for (much) younger men. An engineered encounter at one of Richard’s events one evening, and Jonah is one step closer to escaping his miserable life. Soon they are inseparable.

‘I became giddy with the possibility that after months of hell, filled with the pain of inventing an identity in an unforgiving metropolis, I might have finally found hope.’

There’s a building sense of dread as Jonah is pulled into Richard’s orbit – the sheen of money and success a gloss over a much more frightening reality. And Jonah feel this too, deep down – ‘underneath the giddy euphoria of our early romance,’ he says, ‘I felt a nascent unease.’

It’s at an extended trip to Richard’s gated compound in the Hamptons that things take a turn for the worst: there’s a deeply unsettling but magnetic feel about these chapters; you can’t look away, even as things grow ever darker. Richard’s home is staffed by much younger men, there to cater to his every whim. And during the debaucherous parties with Richard’s circle of powerful friends, things get even more horrifying. Jonah reasons that it’s different for him – he and Richard are in love; it’s not the same.

‘Life was a horror movie on repeat, less shocking because we knew the twists by heart.’

This intense and propulsive coming-of-age novel doesn’t just explore this summer, but also what came before and what comes after. The idea of the ‘father’ features heavily – not only a queasy nod to Jonah’s relationship with Richard, but also his own fractured relationship with his father, and his struggles at a relationship with an evangelical God who he has been told despises him for what he is.

There’s a lot packed into this novel: class and power dynamics, the #MeToo moment for the gay community, religious fanaticism, the untouchable lives of the elite. It ended up being a lot more than what I thought it would be. Towards the end we realise that the novel is epistolary, and that the writing of it is in an attempt to heal.  

What didn’t work so well: the novel felt overwrought and bordering on sensationalist at times, and it also suffers from a failure to flesh out plot points or character development that would make for a more interesting and believable exploration of the key themes. I felt particularly than the central conceit – the recipient of the letters and his relationship with Jonah – was used as a plot device. At more than one point, it felt like a first draft.

Nevertheless, Yes, Daddy is compulsively readable, described as a ‘modern gothic’. Parks-Ramage writes in expressive prose and creates a nuanced, complex protagonist who is flawed but deeply sympathetic. I’ve heard it’s being adapted for TV, so it’ll be interesting to see if the producers can sensitively balance all the weighty topics at play.

TW: rape, suicide, assault, conversion therapy, drug use