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.


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…

Book review - Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

Book review: ‘Burntcoat’ by Sarah Hall – art and love in the shadow of a deadly virus ★★★★

There’s something unsettling about reading a moment in history as that moment is still happening. There’s not the perspective that comes from distance from the event having passed, it feels all a bit too close to home.

Thankfully (I suppose?) the virus ravaging Sarah Hall’s fictional world is not Covid-19 but something even worse, even deadlier, even more contagious. If it doesn’t kill you the first time, it will live in your cells until it does.

Why would anyone want to read about a pandemic while we’re still very much not through the woods of a pandemic? For me personally, it helps me to make sense of our current time. And this is a short book that is ambitious in its aims – it interrogates the meaning of art, particularly in the face of death, what it is to be intimate, and how precarious and precious life really is.

The precariousness of life is something Edith, our protagonist, knows only too well. When she’s a child, living in rural Northern England, her writer mother has a massive brain haemorrhage. The spectre of her catastrophic injury hovers over them both – while she regains some function, the doctors warn that a similar event could happen again at any time. As such, Edith is raised ‘capably and neglectfully, by a borrowed woman and her shadow.’ Eschewing a chronological timeline, the novel jumps around from Edith’s childhood, her rise through the ranks to become a celebrated modern sculptor, her period of lockdown at the pandemic’s onset and the years that have passed since.

One of the axes around which the plot spins is Edith’s relationship with Halit, a chef who has fled war in the Middle East. They meet shortly before the pandemic descends, and not wanting to spend lockdown apart, Halit moves in to Burntcoat, the converted warehouse where Edith lives and creates her art. Their relationship moves swiftly, an accelerated timeline in the face of the oncoming apocalypse. Their intimacy is a place within which to shield from the horrors unfolding in the outside world – the overspilling hospitals, widespread food shortages, society brought to the brink of collapse.

‘Do you remember? Is that even possible? The dark, burning river. The turning tide; everything loosening beneath tight forces. None of it was happening and it was all unstoppable. Closing the door when we got back, and promising each other we would be all right. All we had was love, its useless currency, its powerful denial.’

There’s a lot of sex in this book, but it’s the well-written kind – not too anatomical or too metaphorical. The atmosphere around Edith and Halit is also built up in a thick and feverish and sensual way – Sarah Hall’s vivid descriptions of place reminded me of Sarah Moss’s Summerwater.

‘I would walk back to the grandfather house in the arboreal dusk, the leaves above luminescing and murmuring like the low voice of a woman. The morning sun behind the forest was golden and open, the mouth of a fish.’

Sarah Hall began this at the start of England’s first lockdown. And two years on, the book starts to make sense of what might come next. Maybe we’ll learn to treasure the unimaginably precious and infinitely fragile life we’ve been given, maybe we won’t.

‘The world doesn’t come back as it was before. The seas and mountains remain, the cities slowly fill up again, jets take off over ochre and turquoise aprons. Finance begins to move. Children are allowed to play together. Humanity is re-established. There is grief, its long cortège; the whole world joins and walks. Such shock is both disabling and enlivening; everything before was a mistake. We will do it differently; we’ll repent. Consume less, conserve more, make sense of our punishment. It’s been said the virus reached levels of superiority other pathogens never have. Like the vastation of ice ages, and condensed gene pools, language, blood and milk, it will evolve us. Of course, the old ways return. Our substance is the same; even with improving agents. We are our worst tendencies. We remain in our cast.’

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The No-Show by Beth O'Leary - published today

Happy Publication Day | The No-Show by Beth O’Leary

Happy publication day to The No-Show by Beth O’Leary!

I’m a big Beth O’Leary fan, and her latest book is no exception. Three women are all stood up by the same enigmtic Joseph Carter on Valentine’s Day – and over the course of the novel, we begin to understand why. The characters are a fully fleshed-out and authentic cast, and although there are some darker turns that the story takes, it’s told with O’Leary’s trademark warmth and compassion.

Book review: ‘Fight Night’ by Miriam Toews – a hilarious and moving adventure through the eyes of a nine year old ★★★★½

Well, this was a riot.

Nine-year-old Swiv has been kicked out of school, so she’s spending more time than usual with her heavily-pregnant mum, Mooshie and decrepit but vivacious grandmother, Elvira. 

The matrilineal bonds in this family are messy, but they’re inseparable and they love each other fiercely. Mooshie is an aspiring and angst-ridden actress who spends her days fighting with directors. Elvira is the larger-than-life octogenarian who sprays hose pipes at policemen, lives in sweatpants and says ‘bombs away!’ when her pills scatter on the floor. What we come to learn is that both adult women are also battling trauma – that of growing up in a repressive religious community and of losing two close family members to suicide. Swiv’s father is nowhere to be seen.

‘Lou looked sad and happy at the same time. That’s a popular adult look because adults are busy and have to do everything at once, even feel things.’

Swiv, our narrator, is simultaneously innocent and wise. She knows her grandmother’s cocktail of drugs off by heart, is exasperated at her mother’s desires to smoke and drink whilst pregnant, and yet recoils in horror at the discovery of a pair of her aunt’s thongs and can’t quite understand why the adults around her behave as they do. But she is laugh-out-loud funny without being contrived, an authentic and refreshing voice that parrots the expressions of adults in her own niave way.

‘Mom is having a complete nervous breakdown and a geriatric pregnancy which doesn’t mean she’s going to push an old geezer out of her vag, it means she’s too old to be up the stump and is so exhausted.’

There’s an irrepressible energy within these pages, and it’s told in a stream-of-consciousness style with no speech punctuation. Don’t let that put you off – it sweeps us up in its tide and takes us along on the journey, as Swiv and Elvira embark on a chaotic trip together to the US.

Fighting in this book is a triumphant rallying cry to persevere against tragedy, repression, patriarchy – all the forces that work to dim the light of these vivid and unforgettable women. ‘She has to fight to feel alive and to balance things out,’ Swiv says of her grandmother. ‘So she keeps fighting. She said we’re all fighters, our whole family. Even the dead ones. They fought the hardest.’

It’s hilarious and moving, and truly original. Right down to its bittersweet ending, it’s a triumph. 

‘Maybe you should tie me to the mast! Grandma shouted. Like my friend Odysseus! She winked at me. She was still drinking! If we tied Grandma to the mast and we tipped, she’d drown. I could hear Mom’s voice in my head saying, Why the hell did you tie Grandma to the fucking mast!’

I went on an ARC requesting spree… 4 new releases

Well, I clearly have no self-control. Despite the growing pile of books on my TBR shelf, I couldn’t resist a virtual visit to Netgalley last night… these new releases just looked too good to pass up.

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley

“A dazzling, unforgettable novel about a young black woman who walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system—a debut that announces a blazingly original voice.”

Pub Date 07 Jun 2022

The early reviews in for this are excellent, so I’m hoping my reading experience is just as positive.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

“Fathomlessly inventive and original, Julia Armfield’s Our Wives Under the Sea is a portrait of marriage as we’ve never seen it before.”

Pub Date (US) 12 Jul 2022

I love this cover, what can I say.

All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

“Bestselling author of Breasts and Eggs Mieko Kawakami invites readers back into her immediately recognizable fictional world with this new, extraordinary novel and demonstrates yet again why she is one of today’s most uncategorizable, insightful, and talented novelists.”

Pub Date 03 May 2022

I’ve not read Breast and Eggs (what a title) but I’ve heard good things so hoping I enjoy this one.

The Fell by Sarah Moss

“From the award-winning author of Ghost Wall and Summerwater, Sarah Moss’s The Fell is a riveting novel of mutual responsibility, personal freedom, and the ever-nearness of disaster.”

Pub Date 01 Mar 2022

I loved Summerwater so I’m looking forward to diving back into Sarah Moss’s evocative and descriptive prose.

Descriptions and pub dates taken from NetGalley.

Do you have better self control than I do when it comes to accumulating new books?! Have you read any of the above or do you plan to?