Mini Book Reviews: The Couple Next Door, Floored & City of Ghosts

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I’m not a massive consumer of audiobooks, but when I do listen to them, it’s in bed – and I never thought that a psychological thriller would be the perfect choice. I don’t get to read thrillers often, but when I saw that The Couple Next Door was available to borrow on Libby, I had to download it. 

The Couple Next Door is about Anne and Marco Conti, who are at a party next door while their tiny baby, Cora, is at home asleep. When they come home, Cora is missing.

The Couple Next Door was a great audiobook choice because it’s not violent – I didn’t have to worry about listening to someone describe murder in graphic detail whilst lying in my bed at night – but it was still incredibly gripping. I almost didn’t want to go to sleep when the next chapter started. I had my suspicions and the story didn’t go the way I expected. I was often frustrated at the characters – from Marco the husband to the police detective Rasbach – and desperately wanted the baby to be found alive.

I’ll definitely be listening to Shari Lapena’s A Stranger in the House. If you have any other thriller/mystery audiobook recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

Floored by Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson, and more

Floored is described as The Breakfast Club meets One Day; a unique collaborative novel by seven YA authors: Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood.

I’ve been in a reading slump for the past few months and knew what I needed was a fun, fast-paced YA contemporary novel. Floored is about six teenagers – six strangers – who meet when they get stuck in a lift with a man who suffers a heart attack, and continue to meet up on the anniversary of his death every year.

Floored is definitely about the characters’ friendship – and how that one day impacted all of their lives – rather than the plot, which was absolutely fine with me. I loved getting to know each of the teenagers, seeing how they developed and changed over the years. I managed to correctly guess which authors wrote which character for a few of them, particularly my fave Holly Bourne! (MyKindaBook tweeted the reveal here). I adored each character in their own way, but my favourites have to be Velvet, Kaitlyn and, I’d hate to say it… Hugo (although I love a Good Boy and so would have to throw Joe in there too). 

Floored was the perfect pick-me-up and made me want to get stuck into even more contemporary!

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts was my first Victoria Schwab (aka V.E. Schwab) book. It was my Halloween pick, set in one of my favourite cities: Edinburgh, Scotland. I adored City of Ghosts as soon as I opened the page to a map of the city. 

City of Ghosts introduces us to young Cassidy Blake and her best friend – who happens to be a ghost – Jacob. Cass’ parents are The Inspectres, a famous ghost-hunting duo, but she’s the only one who can really see ghosts. That is, until she travels to Edinburgh to film the first episode of her parents’ new TV series and meets Lara, who is on a mission to send ghosts back to where they belong. As for the setting, you really feel like you’re in Edinburgh, walking through Grassmarket and visiting Blackwell’s on South Bridge (although I didn’t know about the underground vaults – I’ll have to visit!). 

I loved all the characters we meet in City of Ghosts. Cassidy, our protagonist, is not wholly into the whole seeing-ghosts-thing, although she completely adores Jacob and couldn’t imagine ever sending him away, even if she feels he’s keeping something from her. Cassidy’s parents are wonderful and show up in the story quite a bit, as does her new frenemy Lara. And what’s more, it’s full of Harry Potter references. It made me feel warm and cosy inside, which isn’t quite what you’d expect from a Halloween read, but it was a perfect choice nonetheless. 

City of Ghosts the first book in the Cassidy Blake series and I cannot wait to see where her next adventure takes her. 

“What you feel, Cassidy Blake, is called a purpose.”

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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!

Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend

“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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What I’ve Read / All These Beautiful Strangers, My Heart Goes Bang & More Happy Than Not

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth

All These Beautiful Strangers was recommended by one of my good friends, Bella, who knew that I enjoyed boarding schools, secret societies, and a lot of mystery. Charlie Calloway is immensely privileged. She’s rich, has a close family, a loyal set of friends and achieved top grades at her fancy boarding school. She’s always been taught that she’s different; special, better, so when an exclusive secret society – the A’s – sends her an invitation to join the club, there’s no question that she should join. But Charlie quickly finds herself at the heart of a decades-old mystery involving a terrible family crime: what does her mother’s disappearance have to do with the A’s? And is Charlie willing to risk her membership to find out?

All These Beautiful Strangers switches between 2017 and the 1990s, with everything slowly unfolding until Charlie discovers the truth. It was such a fun, immersive read – even though I’d have loved for it to focus more on Charlie and the the A’s – and is a fabulous blend of YA and adult fiction. Charlie really develops as a character and you end up loving her even though you shouldn’t, and the twists will keep you guessing until the end.

My Heart Goes Bang by Keris Stainton

I bought My Heart Goes Bang for London Pride and it turned out to be one of my favourite books of the year. It now sits on my favourites shelf next to Freshers, and I’d absolutely love to see more books set at university. Ella, Lou, Issey, Liane and Paige are ready for their second year at the University of Liverpool and their new student house. They’re settling in when Ella comes across a magazine article with a list of men they should date before they’re 21 (e.g. someone who’s been on TV, someone who has tattoos), and challenge her house to complete it.

When you come across ‘Bastard’ and ‘Fuck. Me.’ on the first page, you know it’s going to be a great book. I adored our five protagonists and you’re bound to identify with one of them – I’m very much an Ella, fairly sensible, bookish and attracted to nice boys.

My Heart Goes Bang brought back so many memories of being at university (minus the Fuck-It List!). It’s narrated by five awesome girls – I enjoyed each of their storylines, featuring everything from bisexuality to money worries – and is sex-positive (which we need so much!), funny and relatable. I wish I had this as a fresher. There will be a sequel, right?!

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Adam Silvera has been one of my favourite authors since I read They Both Die at the End & History is All You Left Me, so I was super excited when Simon & Schuster sent me a copy of his first book, newly published in the UK, More Happy Than Not. Adam Silvera does magical realism excellently. Aaron Soto lives in a world where, if you wish, your memories can be completely wiped so you no longer have to remember troubling times. Aaron hasn’t had the surgery, but he’s struggled with depression ever since his father died and, with help from his girlfriend, he’s slowly remembering what happiness feels like. But then he meets Thomas, who’s smart and funny and gets Aaron. They’re best friends until, much to his surprise, Aaron falls in love with him. And then he must make a decision.

More Happy Than Not is another brilliant contemporary story from Adam Silvera and, like his previous books, doesn’t go the way you expect it to. It deals with sexuality in an incredibly complex way. Aaron’s story is intense and sad, but layered with geeky comic book references and rediscovering the joy of being with someone who understands you. I’m ready to read What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera!

P.S. Pretty Books is 8 years old today!

Mini Book Reviews / Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes?, The Summer of Us & Lying About Last Summer

Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? by Holly Bourne

Holly is an author whose books I’ll read no matter what: her mental health + feminist chat is always on my insta read list, so when Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? was handed to me at work, I was super excited.

Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? takes place in Camp Reset, which promises a shot of “normality” for Olive, whose poor mental health is a struggle. Olive, with help from fellow campmate Louis, comes up with a plan to solve everyone’s problems, hence #KindnessIsContagious. As with Clean by Juno Dawson, I adored meeting the campmates and learning about their individual experiences. It’s important to remember that other people’s experience of mental health won’t necessarily be the same as yours, which is one of the reasons why Olive doesn’t want to know her diagnosis; it can define you, how you see yourself, and how people treat you.

I adore Holly’s writing style and Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes?, like her other novels, tackles an important issue that people need to read about in a way that makes you understand. Self-care is a phrase that’s banded around a lot lately, but Holly shows us that it’s essential, not just for individuals, but for everyone.

“You don’t have to stop looking after yourself just to help the world. In fact, sometimes it’s better for the world if you put yourself first. That’s not being selfish, in fact looking after yourself is the greatest act of kindness you can give the world.”

The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse

The Summer of Us was the first book from my summer TBR. Aubrey has two weeks before she leaves for college. She and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last trip across Europe to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible.

But, as usual, trouble arrives in boy-form. Jonah (Aubrey’s perfect boyfriend) is also coming along with his best friend Gabe (who Aubrey accidentally kissed, awks). And not forgetting Rae’s crush, Clara. For the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed city break adventures with my friends, so it was fun seeing these five teenagers visit Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Florence, and Barcelona.

It can be tricky to travel with friends, especially as I’m the anxious Aubrey-type. You’re together 24/7. It’s stressful and intense. And that’s even without the relationship drama. It was difficult to read about the tension between Audrey and Rae, and I silently pleaded with them to just talk to each other (communication is everything, people!). I enjoyed the love triangle that is Aubrey, Gabe and Jonah, plus Rae and Clara were completely adorable.

The Summer of Us is a fun novel about friendship, travel and relationships… and it was the perfect start to the summer.

Lying About Last Summer by Sue Wallman

To accompany the slightly lighter novels on my summer TBR, I thought it’d be fun to add a contemporary thriller into the mix! Skye’s older sister, Luisa, was killed in a tragic accident, and her parents think that a camp for troubled teenagers, Morely Hill, might help Skye process the grief. But once there, she begins to receive messages from someone pretending to be her dead sister.

So, Morely Hill isn’t quite as relaxing as Skye’s parents expected. She has to deal with her fellow campmates, some of whom make life extremely difficult (aka Joe), being expected to join in with activities that remind her of her sister, plus the frankly terrifying texts from someone who has access to her sister’s group message. I really felt for Skye. I haven’t experienced the death of a sibling, but it’s a lot for one teenager to hold onto, especially because she lacks someone to talk to and support her.

Lying About Last Summer deals with grief, loss, memories and guilt, and I liked that the storyline is much about Skye’s recovery as much as it is about the mystery.