10 books with fruit on the cover

Inspired by the recent Top Ten Tuesday prompt of ‘Books with —- on the cover’, I decided to try this one out…

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Devotion by Madeline Stevens

New Animal by Ella Baxter

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Putney by Sofka Zinovieff

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Things We Say In The Dark by Kirsty Logan

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (sorry, I had to)

Final scores:

Apples: 1
Oranges: 3
Strawberries: 2
Peaches: 2
Pomegranates: 1

Can anyone identify the fruit on the cover of ‘New Animal’? Maybe I need to be more adventurous.

5 dystopian fiction reads for AAPI heritage month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. I’m going to be doing a mini-series on books I’ve loved by AAPI authors in different genres – last time it was lit fic, today it’s dystopian fiction…

How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

I picked this book because of that beautiful cover and title, and this is a case of judging a book by its exterior completely paying off. If you’re mentally prepared for a (fictional) pandemic read, and aren’t opposed to a dose of sci-fi, give it a go.

The School for Good Mothers by Jassmine Chan

I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this chilling novel about a woman who makes a mistake and risks losing her daughter forever. It feels very prescient today as I write this the morning before heading to the national march in support of a woman’s right to choose.

Severance by Ling Ma

I still think about this book at least once a week. It’s a blistering satire on the millennial workplace and our late-capitalist malaise as a pandemic turns 99% of the population into zombies. One of the best books I’ve read in years.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

I know this book is polarizing, but the GR description is just so compelling I think I’ll have to find out for myself: Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation… But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

The Resisters by Gish Jen

I haven’t read this one yet, so here’s a snip from the back cover copy: An astonishing story of an America that seems only too possible, and of a family struggling to maintain its humanity in circumstances that threaten their every value—even their very existence.

Do you have anything you’d add to this list? Let me know!

5 literary fiction reads for AAPI heritage month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. I’m going to be doing a mini-series on books I’ve loved by AAPI authors in different genres, and coming up first are my favourite lit fic reads – to be enjoyed any time of the year!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Read if you like: short, lyrical novels about growing up and discovering your sexuality, navigating the immigrant experience, the trauma of war, the power of storytelling and survival, and the occasional inscrutable metaphor.

Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades

Read if you like: books set in New York that celebrate girlhood in its many forms, the trope of being a ‘good immigrant daughter’, stylistically bold writing, and something you can read in half an afternoon.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Read if you like: having your heart torn into a thousand pieces.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Read if you like: slow burn novels about family dynamics, the unease of unbelonging, quiet and sad prose, and the ripple effects of trauma.

All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

I haven’t yet started this, so this is from Goodreads: All the Lovers in the Night is acute and insightful, entertaining and engaging; it will make readers laugh, and it will make them cry, but it will also remind them, as only the best books do, that sometimes the pain is worth it.

Do you have anything you’d add to this list? Let me know!

I’ll be continuing this miniseries with a post spotlighting dystopian fiction by AAPI authors later this month.

One-Word Reviews for the Last 10 Books I Read

This is this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic. My reviews may be many things but they aren’t brief, so this might be a challenge…

True Biz by Sara Nović

In a word: Revelatory.

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

In a word: Twisty.

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

In a word: Feverish.

Fight Night by MIriam Toews

In a word: Raucous.

How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

In a word: Devastating.

The Hop by Diana Clarke

In a word: Refreshing.

Reputation by Sarah Vaughan

In a word: Gripping.

Girl A by Abigail Dean

In a word: Transfixing.

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

In a word: Incisive.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

In a word: Tense.

Reacting to one-star reviews of books I love

Reacting to One-Star Reviews of Books I Love

I can’t remember where I first saw it (if you’re the creator, let me know!) but I love the idea of this book tag. Disclaimer that everyone is entitled to their own bookish thoughts and feelings and just because they’re wrong about these books, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. 😉

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Okay, most of the scathing reviews of GWO took umbrage with the lack of punctuation. Which I get – I do! When I recommend this book to people, I always warn them about this particular style quirk. I know that it’s a personal preference thing (which I personally liked, once I got used to it).

But how can this reviewer call the characters uninteresting? We literally have socialist anarchist artists living in squats in London in the 80s, which may be many things, but it certainly isn’t boring. That’s just one example amidst a huge cast of characters that span genders, sexualities, backgrounds and time frames.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I confess I did laugh out loud at: ‘If chapter 14 is an example of how Brits flirt, I can’t believe their whole race isn’t already extinct.’ Then I went back and read chapter 14, and laughed again to see Rochester’s line ‘does my forehead not please you?’

I think this reviewer needs a bit of a history lesson, though. This is stuffy and staid Victorian times, and this chapter 14 dialogue is about as risqué as you’re going to get.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

– favourite line from Jane Eyre

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Did I read the same book as this reviewer? I am left scratching my head, wondering if I somehow missed a fifty shades esque romp couched in the language of a multi-generational family epic of love and loss in 20th century Korea.

The reviewer actually makes a fair point about getting attached to characters you then don’t see again, as the narrative jumps forward to the next generation. I don’t disagree that that was mildly dissatisfying at points. BUT – that is the only part of this review that is sensical to me.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

This did elicit a wry chuckle, perhaps ELaIC is pretentious – honestly, that’s never something that’s bothered me very much in and of itself, so I am the right market for this book.

I enjoyed how the scathing takedown of the book in paragraph two actually describes what I loved about the book – the charming wistfulness, the innovative prose, the playing around with traditional form.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

I just want to preface this by saying I am no Sally Rooney stan. I enjoyed Normal People, didn’t love Conversations with Friends, so was intrigued by the hype around BWWAY but didn’t go into it with any real expectations.

But I do think it’s fascinating that she invokes such strong emotions in people. There is some real vitriol in the negative reviews for BWWAY. But I picked this one as I don’t actually disagree with it being self-indulgent, essentially plotless, with pretentious characters. I guess this is just a matter of to what to degree you enjoy and/or tolerate such literary tropes.

(P.S. – finishing out of spite is funny, though.)

True Biz by Sarah Novic - book review

Book review: ‘True Biz’ is an exuberant, revelatory story about Deaf culture ★★★★½

‘True Biz’ is an incredibly eye-opening read that introduced me to Deaf culture in all its exuberance. Centuries of marginalisation from the hearing world have led Deaf communities to form a strong cultural identity and myriad ways of successfully navigating the world around them. It’s by no means a utopia – they have to grapple with daily discrimination in anything from trying to buy a bus ticket to seeking medical treatment – but their rich and distinctive identity shines through these pages.

Charlie, one of our three protagonists, is born Deaf to two hearing parents. Medical wisdom at the time tells them that she should get cochlear implants as early as possible, and that learning to sign will be a detriment to her learning to speak. The implant does not deliver the results promised, and Charlie finds herself struggling at mainstream school and isolated from both the Deaf and hearing communities around her.

That is, until her Dad wins a court case to enrol her at River Valley School for the Deaf. The students there, led by the big-hearted force of nature headmistress February, are Deaf children from all walks of life. At River Valley, they are enveloped in an environment with signing teachers, administrators, nurses and groundskeepers all around them. For Charlie, who has been suffering through try to interpret spoken language for years, it’s a steep learning curve.

‘Fewer things were more motivating than a fear of one’s own extinction, and Deaf people were already on the verge.’

On the page, Charlie’s isolation from language is shown through blanks. When she fails to understand something in spoken language or in sign, it appears as a –––––. That’s just one of the many ways in which Nović uses the written form (which I heard her talk about as being creatively restrictive, in comparison to the full-bodied movement of ASL), to convey part of the Deaf experience.

February assigns Austin to befriend and guide Charlie through her first few weeks at school – a boy whose upbringing could not have been any more at odds with hers. He comes from a family who are ‘somewhat mythical in the Deaf community, the playing out of a great sociolinguistic isolationist fantasy’ – multiple generations of successful Deaf people who have households that fully embrace and embody the culture.

This book accomplishes so much, every page rich with insight into not only Deaf culture but also how – just as in the real world – poorer children or Deaf children of colour have very different experiences to their richer, whiter counterparts. We learn about Deaf history, the evolution of American Sign Language (and Black American Sign Language, born out of segregated Deaf schools in the 20th century), and the civil rights movements fought by Deaf people throughout the centuries.

…And on top of all of that, there’s a rollicking good plot – a coming-of-age story that also confronts the breakdown of a marriage, first loves, ageing parents, new babies… My only quibble is with the ending, which felt hurried and slightly unfinished. But nevertheless, it’s an immersive and revelatory book – I loved it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

P.S….

True Biz was my Book of the Month (BOTM) pick for April. If you’d like to try it out, get your first box for just $5 at this referral link.

10 books with disembodied female faces on the cover

If you hadn’t noticed, the publishing industry has got a bit of a thing for this.

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is books with —– on the cover. I surveyed my Goodreads shelves and it was very obvious that there is a trend at play – disembodied female faces in various states of artiness.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan

Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Hysteria by Jessica Gross

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Real World by Natsuo Kirino

I could go on, but I’ll stop at 10. Are there any other covers in this category that spring to mind?

The other passenger - louise candlish - book review

Book review: Privilege, envy, twists & turns in ‘The Other Passenger’ by Louise Candlish ★★★½

If you were able to commute by riverboat, wouldn’t you? Gliding along the Thames with the wind whipping your hair, instead of crammed onto an airless tube hundreds of feet underground? It certainly sounds like the appealing option for Jamie, whose panic attack on the underground was a viral sensation, for want of a better word.

He’s not alone in his riverboat commute. Kit, a twentysomething who works in insurance, joins him on the regular. Along with two others, they form a little group calling themselves the water rats.

Jamie and Kit begin an unlikely friendship. Jamie is in his late forties and lives with his partner, Clare. He left the corporate rat race after he could no longer face the suffocating enclaves of the tube, and now works at a café. Clare, a successful estate agent, laments his lack of ambition but remains with him, the long-suffering girlfriend.

Kit’s girlfriend, Melia, has just begun working with Clare. She’s extremely attractive, a fact that Jamie, predictably, can’t help but notice. But Kit and Melia, once aspiring actors, are up to their eyebrows in debt, and are green with envy at Jamie and Clare’s beautiful Georgian house (owned, of course, by Clare’s parents).

‘We were accustomed to the house being an object of envy, even among our peers. Prospect Square, a five-minute walk from the Thames, is an intact Georgian conservation area sometimes used in the filming of period dramas… We were fortunate by anyone’s standards and every so often the realization would take possession of me: I’ve got it made here. I’m #Blessed.’

Despite Jamie being hashtag blessed, he can’t help but jeopardise everything for himself. He’s a pretty deficient in the charisma department right from the start – a compulsive liar who laments ‘woke’ culture and clearly doesn’t know a good thing when it’s staring him in the face. We have some sympathy for him – his claustrophobia is undoubtedly life-limiting and serious – but those reserves quickly run out when he gets himself in a very sticky situation indeed. Because the book begins with him disembarking the boat one December morning with two detectives waiting for him, wanting to question him over the disappearance of Kit. The last time they were seen together, they’d been fighting.

This was a smartly-written and plotted thriller – Louise Candlish’s voice is sharp and distinctive – a pleasure to get lost in. I had some ideas about where the plot was going, but the twists and turns still kept me hooked. I enjoy a dollop of social commentary with my thrillers, and Louise Candlish delivered, as she interrogates the generational divide and how privilege and financial freedom – or otherwise – shape our lives. I’ve knocked off some stars for the pacing – a solid start and punchy end were hampered by a dragging plot in the middle when we don’t know what’s happened to Kit and things meander slightly. But it’s still a deliciously absorbing read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Other books by Louise Candlish…

Book review: Pacy, page-turning and emotional thriller ‘Then She Was Gone’ by Lisa Jewell ★★★½

Ellie is about to sit her GCSE exams. Smart and kind and bubbly, she has her whole life ahead of her. So when she vanishes without a trace, it’s hard to agree with the police assessment – that she probably ran away from home.

Her family – Mum, Dad, and two siblings – are forced to move on, but her mother Laurel doesn’t really give up hope that her golden girl will come home to them. The public interest in the case fades and they slide back into their ordinary lives.

Ten years later, and now divorced, Laurel walks into a cafe and locks eyes with a handsome author, Lloyd. A relationship quickly develops, and Laurel meets his precocious daughter Poppy – who has an eerie resemblance to Ellie.

There’s a palpable tension that builds as we approach the truth of what really happened to Ellie. There’s a poignant part of the story told in her third-person narration in the time leading up to her disappearance, and as we get to know her character, it makes the inevitable even more harrowing. The switching of narrative – a textbook thriller device – is a successful way of making her more than a(nother) faceless missing/dead girl.

It’s pretty sad, and pretty dark. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as the beach-read sort – although it’s an addictive read you can whip through it in a few sittings, it’s also emotional and raw and shows the devastating impact of not knowing the fate of a loved one, and the endless bounds of maternal love.

There’s some suspension of disbelief – as there always is with domestic noirs like these – but it doesn’t detract from it being an engrossing, twisty and character-driven thriller.

‘So, in retrospect, she could have blamed her sister’s friend with the loud laugh for her being there at that precise moment, but she really didn’t want to do that. The blame game could be exhausting sometimes. The blame game could make you lose your mind … all the infinitesimal outcomes, each path breaking up into a million other paths every time you heedlessly chose one, taking you on a journey that you’d never find your way back from.’

For anyone who has read this book, did you know that Lisa Jewell envisioned an entirely different ending in her first draft to her editors? Here’s a fascinating post where she talks about it. Obviously, spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read it!!

More psychological thriller reviews below…