Mini Book Reviews / Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Suicide Club, The Sun and Her Flowers & Milk and Honey

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“I find lateness exceptionally rude; it’s so disrespectful, implying unambiguously that you consider yourself and your own time to be so much more valuable than the other person’s.”

How could I not read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?! It seemed like readers with all different tastes adored this novel and so, without knowing much about it, I jumped in.

Although Eleanor is not what other people consider “normal”, she’s a 30-year-old woman who’s competent at her day job, a Tesco fangirl (home to her weekly frozen pizza and vodka), and, minus the weekly frustrating phone calls with her incarcerated mother, she’s doing perfectly all right. That is, until she becomes friends with Raymond, the new guy from work. He’s a man-child and quite disgusting but they seem to be becoming… mates? And so Eleanor is forced to break her routine. Even if she refuses to admit it, she is lonely. Throughout the novel, we watch Eleanor open herself up to other people and discover that she doesn’t have to do everything alone.

“LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is all about our quirky protagonist. There is an intriguing backstory to Eleanor, but it’s the present that kept me reading. Her life is often mundane and yet Eleanor herself is anything but. I’ll watch the adaptation featuring Reese Witherspoon, even if I can’t see it doing justice to this fantastic character who has the sort of “deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit” that I’ve never experienced before. Her story is emotional and brilliant and warm. Now that I’ve finished reading, I’ll miss E.

“When you’re struggling hard to manage your own emotions, it becomes unbearable to have to witness other people’s, to have to try and manage theirs too.”

Suicide Club by Rachel Heng

It’s so much fun delving into science fiction. I used to read sci-fi often, mainly the YA dystopia and post-apocalytic type. I love reading about societies that are similar to our own, but feature advanced technology and despotic governments – although I guess this is becoming more fact, less fiction!

“In near-future New York, life expectancy averages three hundred years. Immortality is almost within our grasp. It’s hell.”

As soon as I read the above tagline, I knew Suicide Club was for me. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror but much less likely to make you feel funny afterwards. It all starts to go wrong for Lea Kirino when she spots her estranged father on the way to work. She’s a “Lifer”, so she’ll potentially live forever due to her genetic makeup, successful career and covetable relationship – if she follows the guidelines, including no fresh food, no running, no heavy music. Upon pursuing her father, Lea’s eventually drawn to the Suicide Club, a group that rejects society’s ambition and strict regulation surrounding immortality. Members are set on a life in which they get to choose whether they live or die, when, and how.

Suicide Club isn’t a fast-paced, action-adventure novel. It’s a slow-burning exploration of Lea’s world and the society she grew up in. As Lea begins to question everything she thought she knew, we’re introduced a variety of fascinating characters, each with their own motivations. What would it look like to live in a world where people lived for more than 300 years? What if only some people did, and others lived for less than 100? Rachel Heng’s near-future NYC isn’t so different to our present, where luck, money and knowing the right people can get you far. Nonetheless, I’m happy Suicide Club is mostly fictional, for now.

The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

it takes grace
to remain kind
in cruel situations – rupi kaur

I have a funny relationship with poetry. Whenever I’m asked whether I enjoy poetry, I say “no”. It makes me think of studying school poetry anthologies, when I would’ve much rather have read a novel. And yet I’ve enjoyed Sarah Crossan’s novels in verse. I’d seen so many of my friends talk about Rupi Kaur’s work that I finally bought a copy of The Sun and Her Flowers whilst visiting Pages of Hackney bookshop with my friend Louise last year. I read it over a couple of evenings and instantly saw why people adored it so much. Even if Rupi’s experiences aren’t the same as mine, I could take the poetry as my own, especially thinking about loneliness, sadness and relationship breakdowns. A friend then gifted me a copy of Milk and Honey which I found less relatable than The Sun and Her Flowers but appreciated Rupi’s talent to explore moments in life that many women around the experience, from negative body image to abusive relationships. I’m definitely up for giving more poetry a shot!

“it isn’t what we left behind
that breaks me
it’s what we could’ve built
had we stayed” – rupi kaur

Book Review: How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne

HDYLMN“Turning thirty is like playing musical chairs. The music stops, and everyone just marries whoever they happen to be sitting on.”

Holly Bourne is known for writing relatable teenagers (such as the Spinster Club girls), but, as a 28-year-old, How Do You Like Me Now? is her most relatable novel (for me) so far. I keep telling friends – all in their mid-to-late 20s – to read it as soon as it’s out, messaging screenshots of paragraphs eerily similar to conversations we had that very same week.

31-year-old Tori Bailey is… well, she’s unlikeable. Vain, selfish, and blunt, she’s not someone I would be friends with (sorry Tori), but she behaves like many of us on social media. Her posts project her best self and her best life, while the messy, complicated, and upsetting bits are restricted to private DMs. According to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, she’s a hugely successful self-help author with a lot of self-confidence, and in the perfect relationship. But her thousands of followers are oblivious to her not-so-perfect life. Her longterm boyfriend, Tom (we hate him), won’t even talk about marriage, while all her friends are getting engaged and having babies. Her clock’s ticking – or, that’s what everyone says. What’s more, her publisher has asked for a second book. How can she write self-help when she can’t even help herself?

I much prefer being in my 20s to being a teenager (no homework! money! independence!), but it’s hard. ‘Millennial’ is a word for us young people. We enjoy avocado on toast, iced lattes and city breaks. We’re apparently bad at managing money and rely too much on our parents… but the world’s a difficult place when you’re spending half of your wages on someone else’s mortgage, especially if you’re single. Definitely if you’re single. You graduated not that long ago, only a few years into your career, and you’re expected to be successful, a proud homeowner, a wife, a mother… all before you’re 35. In 2018, it’s unrealistic, often unattainable, and horrendous for mental health.

I adored How Do You Like Me Now? because it tackles all of the above in Holly’s characteristically hilarious, engaging and honest way. Through 9 months of Tori’s life, Holly breaks down issues that adult women face: what makes a ‘good’ feminist, maintaining adult friendships, dealing with the pressure to constantly ‘succeed’ (my friend Louise wrote an excellent blogpost about the same topic here), mental health and self-care, unfulfilling relationships, and the fear of being single.

Holly is one of my absolute favourite YA authors … and I’m so, so excited for the world to read her adult fiction. As much as I love her YA, this is where she really shines. She makes me feel not so alone as a twenty-something, alongside writers Louise Jones and Grace Latter, and I cannot wait to read the sequel to How Do You Like Me Now?, likely when I’m 30. 😱

“We have to wait for a table. Of course we do. The coffee here looks good when you take a photograph of it from above.”

How Do You Like Me Now? is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 14th June.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.

What I’ve Read / Exit West, This is Going to Hurt & Lily and the Octopus

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

As you can probably tell, I mainly read young adult fiction, not literary fiction. But Exit West was the first pick for my work’s new book club. Even though it’s not one I would’ve chosen for myself (it’s my first Man Booker-shortlisted book!), I was excited to try something new – and it paid off.

Tucked up in bed, I found myself whizzing through Exit West, not wanting to put it down. It’s about Saeed and Nadia, and how this young couple’s relationships begins and changes after they’re forced to flee their war-stricken homeland. I particularly loved Nadia’s character – she’s vivid, funny and surprising. Exit West, although mostly contemporary literature, has drops of magical realism – we read about mysterious doors that act as portals to new countries. As a group, we chatted a lot about the meaning of migration and borders, a timely and sensitive topic.

Exit West was a fantastic book club pick, I’d say.

“We are all migrants through time”.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Lives of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

This is Going to Hurt is one of my favourite books of the year. If you’re all over book industry news, you’ll know that it just won the Non-Fiction Award and Readers Choice Award in the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, and I’m sure they are the first of many accolades! I know that I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know, young and old.

This is Going to Hurt is Adam Kay’s funny and timely memoir of a junior doctor. Now a writer for film and TV comedy, Adam turned his compulsory doctors’ notes into a book. It opened my eyes to what it’s like to be a junior doctor and I particularly enjoyed the audiobook – narrated by Adam himself!

We know that Adam was a doctor for six years and left after ‘a devastating experience’ on his ward. After we realise how tough it is to be a junior doctor, and after we’re told about the impossible demands that are placed on them, we discover what forced Adam to leave the profession he worked hard to be a part of – and having this context made it even more of a tragedy.

This is Going to Hurt is hilarious, honest and heart-breaking, and makes me want to fight for the NHS even more – but not in its current form. I read another review that said don’t read it until you’ve had a baby – and I now know why! As a woman, Adam’s field of expertise (obstetrics and gynaecology) is particularly relevant to me, so that was especially interesting. Even so, This is Going to Hurt is a must read for everyone.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley and narrated by Michael Urie

I’m on a real audiobook kick at the moment. I love listening to them on long journeys, or before going to sleep. I needed a new one and randomly picked Lily and the Octopus because I adored the cover – I’ve developed a recent love of pups, dachshunds in particularly.

‘This is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without. For Ted Flask, that someone special is his ageing companion Lily, who happens to be a dog’.

I began listening to Lily and found one half of our protagonists, Ted Flask, overly dramatic and sentimental. I’m not a fan of quirky books, and this was a little too quirky for me: Ted notices one day that Lily has a tumour on the side of her head and he refers to it as a ‘octopus’. But, as the story goes on, and we discover how Ted ended up becoming best friends with this excitable puppy, I started to become attached to Lily as much as as her owner was. I also really enjoyed Lily’s speech in the story – the audiobook probably made it funnier!

Lily and the Octopus, as I now know, is not just about loving, and the impending loss of, a beloved pet, but about depression, loneliness and relationship breakups. It’s a moving read, especially if you have your own fur baby. (And I love Lily!).

What I’ve Read / Beautiful Broken Things, Head Over Heels & The Ballroom

What I've Read / Beautiful Broken Things, Head Over Heels & The Ballroom
Here are three reviews of books I’ve read recently!

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

If you’re looking for books about female friendship, Beautiful Broken Things is an excellent place to start. It has one of the most honest accounts of friendship I’ve read so far. It tackles that intense feeling experienced when one of your best friends becomes better friends with someone else and what it’s like to see your friendship falling away – and not knowing what to do about it.
Caddy and Rosie are super close until new girl Suzanne comes along. She’s interesting and fun and beautiful. Caddy is suspicious of her until she finds out something from Suzanne’s past that no one else knows. As Suzanne opens up, Caddy finds herself drawn to this fascinating person who’s so different to herself – more daring, more fun, more exciting.

Beautiful Broken Things is difficult to read at times – Suzanne’s mental health and the things she’s experienced are horrendous. And at times it’s tricky to like Caddy as a character, with her comparably easy life of private school and zero Significant Life Events. And yet there are many people out there who haven’t had something traumatic happen to them but struggle through life all the same; feeling the pressure of society, parental expectation and their own self-criticism. Beautiful Broken Things shows what happens when Caddy and Suzanne are convinced they need each other – and who’s to say they don’t?

Head Over Heels & Sunny Side Up by Holly Smale

Oh, what fun it is to see Harriet Manners again! Every time I pick up a new Geek Girl story, I’m transported to a happy place.

Head Over Heels is the fifth book in the series the perfect mix of modelling and the equally as eventful world of Harriet Manners. Team JINTH (Jasper, India, Nat, Toby and Harriet) have it down: they frequently meet at their favourite coffee shop (and have allocated seats) and have pre-planned sleepovers (Harriet has the schedule written up). Harriet’s had a difficult time making close friends up until now and so it was great to see her in this dynamic, even though it’s not as easy as she might think. And it was lovely to greet the supporting characters we know so well and love, from Wilber (even if he isn’t completely himself lately) and Richard (ever the quirky parent) to Rin (still kawaii) and baby sister Tabitha (and potential future model). I had a brilliant time reading Harriet’s fifth adventure – this time set in beautiful, colourful India – and didn’t want it to end.

But Sunny Side Up helped fill the spot nicely, with Harriet on a trip to Paris Fashion Week. I read it after Head Over Heels, but it actually takes place before the fifth book (a little tip!). It’s a short, sweet and fabulous summer novella, with more stunning outfits and hilarious antics. I also enjoyed the extra short: we get to see the first time Lion Boy meets Harriet, from his point of view. I’m ready for you, book six!

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

I’ve always been slightly fascinated by asylums – how easy it is to get committed, how difficult it is to get out, what defines mental illness and the blurry line between “sane” and “insane”. Asylums are a common appearance in horror stories, but they were a genuine horror for the people who had to stay in them.

The Ballroom is set in Sharston, an asylum located on the edge of the Yorkshire moors in the early 1900s. We hear from John Mulligan and Ella Fay – who meet and dance in the asylum’s elegant ballroom, a privilege provided to well-behaved patients – and Charles Fuller, a doctor who writes and researches the eugenics movement. Charles proposes that music therapy can improve the lives of patients, or the “feeble-minded” – until the reader begins to believe that Charles may be the only one who truly belongs at Sharston.

The Ballroom is incredibly compelling and one of the few adult novels I’ve had the chance to read this year. John and Ella’s developing romance is heartbreaking, as is the life of Clem, a bookish friend that Ella in her dorm. Eerie, bleak historical fiction that somehow still manages to leave you hoping.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Classic #4)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Classic #4)

Shelved: Adult fiction (mystery/crime, classic)
Series: Hercule Poirot (#4)
Published: 1926 by William Collins and Sons
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics – #4
Buy: Foyles
More: Goodreads

This is my fourth post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 450+ other people in reading one classic each month.

Roger Ackroyd was a man who knew too much. He knew the woman he loved had poisoned her first husband. He knew someone was blackmailing her – and now he knew she had taken her own life with a drug overdose.

Soon the evening post would let him know who the mystery blackmailer was. But Ackroyd was dead before he’d finished reading it – stabbed through the neck where he sat in his study…

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I received it in 2012 for Christmas. I’m not sure why I asked for this one in particular, but it’s likely that I scrolled through Goodreads to see which ones were her most popular (it’s currently her fifth most read book).

“It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.”

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was time for my annual dose of Agatha Christie! I’ve (mostly) read one a year for the classics challenge: Murder on the Orient Express (2014), Death on the Nile (2013) and And Then There Were None (2012).

WHAT Makes It A Classic
Agatha Christie is one of the most well-known and beloved crime writers. If she’s not a classic of the genre, who is? The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of her most popular mysteries, known to have a shocking twist, and apparently had a significant impact on the mystery/crime genre. It was voted by the British Crime Writers’ Association as the best crime novel ever.

“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is narrated by Dr James Sheppard, who lives in the fictional village of King’s Abbot. He’s a great narrator: full of wit, light mockery and surprising vivaciousness. He’s shocked when he receives a phone call saying that his friend Roger has been found dead. Dr Sheppard knows it must have occurred shortly after Roger received a letter from someone who blackmailed the woman he adored into committing suicide – but does anyone else? He calls on as many people as he can (even his gossipy sister!) to help solve the murder. As with previous Christie novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is full of clever detail, interviews with fishy suspects, and a lot of surprises.

It was my third Hercule Poirot and I enjoyed his character a lot more than I have previously. I’ve not found him to be memorable but, this time, the Belgian detective had more of a Sherlock/Watson dynamic with Dr Sheppard – and they worked well together on solving the mystery. Even so, I can’t say I’m a Poirot fan. I’ve not yet come across a Christie that has gripped me as much as And There Were None. I’ll continue to hope I didn’t read the best one first, and try a Miss Marple next…

I’ll have to agree with Robert Barnard: “Apart — and it is an enormous “apart” — from the sensational solution, this is a fairly conventional Christie. … A classic, but there are some better Christies”. I was enjoying the first half until it all got a bit puzzling, with a lot of red herrings thrown in. Even though the ending was a little bit of a surprise (I did wonder at some point, though!), it’s still not my favourite Christie so far. Sorry, Agatha.

WILL It Stay A Classic
I’m sure Agatha Christie will continue to be loved many for years to come! Even if Poirot isn’t my favourite, I’m looking forward to seeing why Miss Marple is a much-adored detective.

“It is odd how, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial.”

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love crime/mystery stories. People who love twists. People who are new to classics.

“The things young women read nowadays and profess to enjoy positively frighten me.”