Mini Book Reviews / Open Road Summer, Bibliophile & The Summer of Impossible Things

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Who doesn’t love the idea of American road trips, especially with country music (old school Taylor Swift-esque)? Open Road Summer is about Reagan O’Neill, who spends the summer with her bestie Lilah Montgomery (aka Dee). Lilah is a country superstar, about to embark on a 24-city tour… and she’s suffering from heartbreak. Reagan’s here to help her navigate the world of singledom, paparazzi and nasty rumours, but when Matt Finch joins the tour, Reagan has to learn how to follow her own advice…

Open Road Summer was exactly how I expected it to be, but with sassier, not-so-perfect characters. Lilah aka Dee is super adorable and you cannot help but love her. Open Road Summer is all about the characters, and the musical backdrop just adds to the fun. Matt is everyone’s perfect Good Boy book-boyfriend; gorgeous, talented, flirty and fun, while Reagan’s there to shake things up a bit.

As much as I wanted to love her, I did have a difficult time supporting Reagan. She absolutely despises girls other than Dee – frequently making comments about their looks, and calling them “desperate” for having a crush on Matt (when she fancies him herself!) – and that was a real shame because I think she could’ve been a brilliant feminist sidekick. I’m all for characters having flaws, but it’s difficult to like a girl who constantly puts other girls down. 

When We Collided is still my favourite, but I’m glad I finally got to read Emery Lord’s debut.

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount

I was sent a copy of Bibliophile by my bookish buddy Katrina because I’ve been working with the publisher for my day job (you can win a signed copy over on Caboodle!). This really is my sort of miscellany. Jane Mount is super talented – I have been coveting a bookstack print myself – and Bibliophile is full of literary facts, book recommendations, and bookshop spotlights, and it kept me entertained during my lunch breaks.

As one would expect from an illustrated miscellany, it’s packed full of Jane Mount’s gorgeous illustrations – on every single page, which I loved. But it’s not just about the pictures. Jane’s fascinating chapters are well-researched, well-written and incredibly up-to-date and varied, so it makes a great read as well as a beautiful object. I particularly loved the recommendations (Jane’s covered everything from dystopia to romance), the feature on bookshops all around the world, reminding you that they’re the best place to be, and the chapters on incredible book covers.

Bibliophile is the perfect book for anyone who calls themselves a bookworm, and I’ll be treasuring my copy!

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

“I think men that read books are the most attractive kind.”

I was fortunate to get a copy of The Summer of Impossible Things at my first ever Lush Book Club. It was a wonderful evening, full of bookish chat, Lush bath bombs, and delicious cupcakes. I was unfamiliar with the story up until the event – that’s what’s so great about the book club! – and it has taken me a while to pick it up because I have Too Many Books (as my family keep telling me), but this summer I was determined to read it. And so I met Luna, our time-travelling protagonist, and her sister Pea.

After the death of their mother, Luna and Pea head to Brooklyn to sell their mother’s house and learn more about her past. But what Luna doesn’t expect is to be suddenly transported to 1970s Brooklyn, where she comes face-to-face with her mother as a young woman. 

As a fan of a little magical realism, I fully got behind Luna’s time-travelling abilities. As a physicist, even she’s not quite sure what’s going on, but she cannot resist getting to know her mother, Riss. The Summer of Impossible Things is a cosy read. Luna and Pea are sweet, likeable protagonists and you really feel for them, and the difficult decision Luna has to make – should she try and attempt to change the past, even if it’ll mean she doesn’t exist in the future? I loved meeting all the characters from Riss’ past and Luna’s present – lovely Michael especially – but it did make me glad that I didn’t grow up in 1970s Brooklyn!

The Summer of Impossible Things is about “family, courage, sacrifice and love in all its guises”. It’s easy to forget that our parents had an entire life before us, and in this novel Luna is on a mission to find out what really happened.

“Stories are the only things that can ever really change the world.”

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Mini Book Reviews: Save the Date, Ready Player One & The Silent Patient

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

It’s no secret that I adore Morgan Matson’s books. I’ll add them instantly to my TBR before I even know what they’re about. In Save the Date, Charlie’s sister Linnie is getting married at their family home – and the house is filled with all four of the Grant siblings. Well, almost. Save the Date doesn’t just focus on the protagonist, 17-year-old Charlie. The spotlight is on the entire Grant family and we get to know them all ready well. As someone who has a small family and no siblings, I enjoyed the family drama (with brother Mike in particular), all the wedding havoc (complete with an adorable rogue puppy), and the relationship between siblings, in particular JJ, who is the joker of the family and is hilarious. The Grant family are picture perfect and the basis for the comic strip created by Charlie’s mum that has made the family famous across America.

But Charlie discovers that not everything about her family can be perfect. From conflicts that the press aren’t aware of to the pressure of being the youngest in the family, Charlie’s feeling the tension build. As with most contemporary YA novels, there is a romance, but it isn’t at the centre of the story. Will is the step-in wedding planner who aims to help Charlie save her sister’s wedding, and he’s completely lovely.

If you loved To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, you’ll probably love Morgan Matson, too.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Set in the 2040s, Halliday is the creator of the Oasis, a vast virtual society that provides everything that the real world cannot. Upon his death, he creates a video announcing that he’s hidden an Easter egg in the Oasis. Whoever finds it first wins his immense fortune – and complete control over the Oasis. And so the fun begins when 18-year-old Wade becomes the first person to discover the first key.

Ready Player One is fun, fast-paced and filled with 80s references. As it covers an entire decade, it could’ve done with celebrating a few more women – female authors, movies, directors, singers, game creators, etc. I rolled my eyes when Halliday’s favourite authors were listed… male, male, male. Halliday didn’t read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin? Or Margaret Atwood? It seems unlikely!

Ready Player One read like a game walkthrough, which I found immensely fun (or, as I’ve just discovered, is described as a Literary Role Play Game), and I loved all the characters… Wade, Aech, and Art3mis (but no, Ernest, you didn’t need to tell us it was pronounced “Artemis”), plus Shoto and Daito. I’m so glad I finally got to read this cult classic sci-fi novel. I now need to check out the film!

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I really do want to read more thrillers, but I find it incredibly difficult to choose one – I need them recommended to me! So when The Silent Patient was announced, I was intrigued. It looks set to be one of the most talked about books of 2019. In Alex Michaelides’ debut, Alicia Berenson is the silent patient. Her life is seemingly perfect. She’s a successful artist and married to famous fashion photographer, and everyone is surprised when she is found at home, having just shot her husband five times in the face. And she hasn’t said a word since. Six years later, criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber takes on the job of treating Alicia at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London – and Alicia’s case threatens to spiral out of control.

One of the reasons I read (albeit, rarely) thriller/crime/mystery novels is that I love not knowing what’s going to happen next, and guessing what the truth might be. I knew there was a lot of hype about The Silent Patient (something I’m unable to resist), and I kept on reading, intrigued by Alicia Berenson and her motivations, and the people in her life – who can be trusted? You’re taken on a journey through Theo’s personal and work life, not necessarily knowing where it is going or whether he’ll be able to get Alicia talking again. I would’ve loved a few more twists and turns throughout the novel rather than just one huge (although impressive) twist, but The Silent Patient certainly gave me the thirst for even more thrillers!

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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!).