Review: Hello, Goodbye and Everything In Between

Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between is a book about uncertain futures. 

Look at me, summing up a book in a single sentence. Is this a phenomena that has never been seen before? Perhaps. 
Anyway, that’s what it is. & the premise is actually pretty clever. The book takes place over a single night. The last night Claire and Aiden have together before they leave for college as they decide whether they should break up or do the whole long distance thing. That’s what drew me to it, that it’s a little bit different, that this is a whole novel centred around Just One Night. I am always all about the books that take a step away from convention.

It’s the first of Jennifer E Smith’s books that I’ve read, FYI.  I’ve heard a load of stuff about The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight, although I’ve not actually read it and that along with the general buzz that surrounded HGaEiB was more than enough to make me curl up under a blanket with some beef Space Raiders and give it a go.

I liked it. It’s a story with a lot of heart and the romance is just the right level of sweet and it’s honest and relevant.

I never went away to university. I never went to university at all. I got a job at 18 and it’s the same job I have now and it’s funny because I felt like people were disappointed and even now people seem surprised when they find out that I don’t have a degree and sometimes I feel a bit weird even admitting it. What’s that about. It was the right choice for me though, and I’m a director now of the company I started working for when everybody else set off for uni and so you know, I reckon I did ok. & I have no idea why I have gone off on that tangent. What was the point I was trying to make? Oh,that’s it. Relatability and uncertain futures and how that’s the same for pretty much everyone whatever your life might look like on the cusp of adulthood. Whilst I didn’t have to make any of the choices Aiden and Claire made and whilst the direction my own life took meant that I felt a little bit distant from them and didn’t understand all of their reasons or thought processes, I bet there’s teenagers all over the place that find something they can relate to in Claire and Aiden’s story. Even if they’re not faced with an LDR themselves the whole growing up and moving on and not being entirely sure what your future looks like, or even what you want it to look like, well, it happens to us all. & whilst I am all about the fantasy and the dystopia and the out-of-this world stuffs right now (always) sometimes you just need a book that looks like your life, that makes you feel like what’s going on in your head isn’t that messed up at all. It’s good sometimes to be able to identify, especially when you’re a teenager and you find yourself quite easily feeliong isolated. This book hits that spot.

I love the idea of reading a goodbye love story rather than a hello and watching Aiden and Claire retrace their relationship was mostly sweet, although to be perfectly honest it was also kind of depressing. I felt like I knew exactly what decision they were going to make from chapter one (and no, I’m not going to tell you if I was right because HELLO ALMIGHTY SPOILER) and because I thought I had it all figured out, it felt like that walk down memory lane you do after you’ve had your heart broken rather than an optimistic look for reasons to make it work. & that just made me feel a little bit depressed. Just a little bit.  Also Claire bugged me a small amount, I mean not loads,  but enough to stop me engaging fully with the book or really sympathising with her at all. Which, well, that’s always kind of a problem, isn’t it? I actually liked the secondary characters more than I liked either Claire or Aiden, Again, kind of problematic.

When Helen and I went with our Mum’s to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in London a few years ago, Helen’s mum said as we left the theatre that ‘the best bit of that show was the end.’ I’m saying the same thing here, not for the same reason as Helen’s Mum who really didn’t enjoy Priscilla at all (I did like this book) but because it kind of was. The way the ends all tied together neatly, the way the story developed and came together all packed up and wrapped nicely in a bow. I liked that. It ended how I wanted it to end and that made me happy.

This is a nice book and it’s an easy book and it’s a book that people are mostly going to like I think, it’s good.

Review: Everything, Everything.

Sometimes I reread my favorite books from back to front. I start with the last chapter and read backward until I get to the beginning. When you read this way, characters go from hope to despair, from self-knowledge to doubt. In love stories, couples start out as lovers and end as strangers. Coming-of-age books become stories of losing your way. Your favorite characters come back to life

At some point I think I’m going to do a post about why I (aged 32 and a half years) still love a good YA novel so hard. At some point. Not now though, because now I still have a backlog of reviews to post and I haven’t done a book haul or a post about what’s coming up in ages and I need to get back in the game. The point is, though, is that I do love a good YA novel so hard and it’s relevant now because I want to talk about Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything. Which, FYI, I liked.

It’s about, in a nutshell, a girl who is allergic to the world and as such hasn’t left her house for seventeen years (and seriously how terrible and awful would that be.) The only people she ever sees are her Mum, and her nurse. And then some people move in next door. A family with a son who’s a bit of a hottie and there it is: teen love story with a twist. & yeah ok it is a little bit instalove, but go with it: it gets better, I promise and the slow build of this first love after that is delicious.

It's a hard concept to hold on to--the idea that there was a time before us. A time before time.

In the beginning there was nothing. And then there was everything.

And it’s kind of excellent. It’s light-hearted and funny and some of the writing is just out of this world gorgeous. I made so many notes when I was reading this, so many ‘I NEED TO QUOTE THAT’s’ you have no idea, because I love those sentences that make you want to roll around in delight and kick your feet and do a bit of squealing, and I find I get that more in young adult books actually than anyplace else: the richness of description, the relatability (blogger tells me that's not a word. I DON'T CARE), the use of words that’s powerful enough to make me goosebumpy. I love it. So, the writing is good. Italics good. & the characters (Madeleine’s Mum aside) are excellent and well rounded and diverse (it bugs me that I still feel like I have to give kudos for an African-American main character because really that so should not be a thing. But it is. & so hats off to you Nicola Yoon.) and flawed: Madeleine is selfish and she wants, she wants so badly all of the time and I love that we got to see that, that she’s painted as this very real teenage girl who is quite rightly pissed off at the hand she’s been dealt rather than the kind of Pollyanna character that you sometimes want to slap in the face.

Wanting just leads to more wanting. There’s no end to desire.

It went a bit fast at the end, which bugged me because that’s a thing that bugs me. Sorry. It’s so annoying though isn’t it, when you’re loving a book and you’re totally engrossed and you can’t turn the pages fast enough and you want to know every. little. thing. And then BAM! The end. I had so many feelings about the way this ended. I mean, we’re not talking One Day levels of rage here, but more a big old sigh because why? Why give me this story that sucked me in and these kids that I fell in love with and then Do The Thing and then after that fast-forward to an unsatisfying end so quickly I felt dizzy. S’just not fair.  I also figured out what was going to happen pretty early on, so it maybe loses marks for predictability too.

I feel though, that if a copy of this book crosses your path you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t give it a read. Go forth.

Review: One

I was totally drawn in to Sarah Crossan’s One by the buzz. I’m not going to lie: I was hearing about this book everywhere: on twitter, on instagram, on booktube, in the blogosphere, and I’m a bit like that really: I kind of like to know what all the fuss is about. I don’t stay away from books that get a lot of hype because I have this need to break free from the crowd and ‘those books are never any good anyway’ – I go after them with grabby hands because what if they are that good and I am missing out. I don’t like to miss out.

So, One, the story of teenaged conjoined twins Tippi and Grace was everywhere and there were whispers of a Wonder like magic and I loved Wonder so freaking hard and I wanted in. I WANTED IN. & soooooo I read it (thanks Netgalley, for that) and here I am SO MUCH LATER BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW I HAVE SUCKED THIS SUMMER and I am ready to talk at you about it.

S’a good book.

Don’t worry, that’s not the end (hello, have you met me? Of course that’s not the end.)

That’s the starting point though: it’s a good book.

The ending is predictable (and I feel like such a little rebel starting at the end) and possibly a little bit too much, probably the only time actually when I felt that emotions were being shoved in may face: this is how you should be feeling Josephine so go ahead and feel it, but Wonder was the same at the end and I suspect that might have more to do with my not being the target demographic than anything else you know? & honestly? I did feel that way, all of those things that I think Crossan wanted me to feel. I totally felt them.

Really, the whole thing could totally have been overly sentimental and teeth-rottingly sweet and just too much but it wasn’t. This is actually a pretty beautiful book.

It’s very cleverly written which as always gives me all the love/hate feelings (how do you words I love you. how do you words I hate you) and it’s poignant and powerful and lovely. It’s written in verse which is awesome and unusual and I love and so sometimes there’s only a handful of words on the page so you know, no overly flowery descriptions here, but that’s what makes it so clever: every word feels like it counts for something, like it holds a message, like it matters.
It’s such a refreshing change too, to read something that’s different to most other things. You don’t get that many books written in free verse, unless you’re hanging out in the poetry section obvs (and perhaps I ought to do that more. Jen, send me some recs please *heads over to Jen’sbooktube*) I mean, what is this book? Poetry collection? Novel? Both? 

Whatever it is, I bloody loved it. It’s what made it for me I think. I mean the story is excellent and the characters are gorgeous and it’s a book about issues – not just Tippi and Grace and what their lives look like, but anorexia and HIV and alcoholism all feature – and it’s a book about life and it’s a book that makes you think and question and feel; it’s relevant and it’s important but more than that it’s so beautiful. SEDUCE ME WITH PRETTY WORDS. I’m not going to lie: I’m a bit of a smitten kitten and I want some more Sarah Crossan in my life please.

You should read it peeps: this has been a recommendation.

Review: A Place Called Winter

I think, basically, that if you haven’t read this book then you’re doing life wrong. In fact, if you haven’t read this book then what are you even doing right now? Don’t read this blog post: READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. Go. Go.

In case you can’t work it out for yourself, I cannot recommend A Place Called Winter highly enough. I loved it with a capital L O V E D. It’s just…it’s..well it’s a really well told story I guess. Basically, it’s what a good book should be. It’s wonderful and moving and raw and just…freaking excellent. It’s incredibly beautifully written and so atmospheric and its one of those books that sort of gets under your skin and stops there. It ripped my heart from my chest in the first chapter and then kept hold of it until the very last word. It’s fascinating and enthralling and ALL THE GOOD ADJECTIVES. ALL OF THEM.  If you visit this blog often (in which case I love you) then you know I could totally rant on for all of time about all that is good about this story and how I love Harry so hard it makes my chest tight but I don’t really want to do that. What I want to do is thrust this book into the hands of everyone I know and demand they read it right now. & I want to give Patrick Gale a really huge hug and say thanks, matey, for writing it. .

It’s about – because God knows you’re likely not going to read a book based on that paragraph alone – this guy called Harry, who in early 20th century England somehow finds himself married to a lady called Winnie, and father to their little girl Phyllis. Harry is quiet and stuttering and unassuming and utterly enchanting and for a while, all seems to be pretty okay. And then he meets someone, and he cheats on his wife and as often happens with these things, he gets found out. By his wife’s brother which you know: killer. Anyway, actions have consequences and Harry finds himself with little option but to leave everything he knows and loves behind and move to Canada, were he makes his home on a plot of land in a town called Winter and well, stuff happens: good stuff and bad stuff and sad stuff and beautiful stuff.

It’s another of those split narrative books – alternating between Henry’s time in the ‘therapeutic community’ he joins after leaving a mental asylum and the events that led to him being institutionalised in the first place –from his life before Winnie, to his marriage, his affair, his moving to Winter and beyond. It’s stunning. It’s exceptionally well researched (and is based on the story of Gale’s great-grandfather. Right in the feels people, good gracious.)
The whole thing is a really fascinating look at human nature and at treatments for mental illness – and what constitutes mental illness in the first place -  and the views on homosexuality in the early 20th century. It was hard and heartbreaking but it was also fascinating you know? Besides which, Gale’s prose is glorious – you’ll be captivated by his descriptions alone. 

I'm not even above begging here: please, please read this book.

Review: The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last. God, but you have no idea how much I wanted to love this book; how excited I was when I first heard about it; how I actually danced around my living room when I finally got my hands on it back in the summer. You cannot beat a good bit of living room dancing. Or kitchen dancing: last night I danced around my kitchen to Kylie whilst cooking my tea (and then I had regrets because my back is the hurtiest this week omg) but I digress: my dancing skills or lack thereof are not what I am here for. 

The point is, I love Margaret Atwood. I have such an author!crush you don’t even know. I adore the woman. Actual feelings of adoration. I was so ready for this book to be all kinds of glorious because it sounds like everything I love about Margaret Atwood and everything that she does best.

A sinister, wickedly funny novel about a near-future in which the lawful are locked up and the lawless roam free

That’s what it’s being sold as and yep, sign me the hell up because you can’t beat a good dystopia and nobody does it like Atwood. This was going to be glorious: terrifying and shrewd and darkly funny and I could not wait. I was totally ready to read it and be all ‘but Margaret, how do you words.’

& you know what, it was all of those things. It really was, it’s just that…oh, I don’t even know. I have this woman on an honest to God pedestal and I had all of these (probably stupidly high) expectations and I was left feeling sort of deflated. I think I wanted it to be a little bit more The Handmaid’s Tale but it’s nowhere near that good, not even close. & that makes me the saddest.

It’s a bit like when I read The Year of the Flood and really loved it but didn’t love it as much as Oryx and Crake. I was sad about that too. I really loved Year of the Flood but still, I didn’t love it as much as Oryx and I had all the feelings about that. That said, somehow The Heart Goes Last did feel a little bit like The Blind Assassin does dystopia and everyone knows how much I love The Blind Assassin (AKA my fave Atwood EVER) so swings and roundabouts I guess, swings and roundabouts.

The story centres around a young married couple, Stan and Charmaine, living in their car and living off stale food, the key always in the ignition in case they need to make a quick getaway and all to eager to sign up for the Positron Project that promises them a brighter tomorrow, despite Stan’s brother’s promise that if they do they’ll only leave in a box (FORESHADWING ALERT). The whole premise is nuts, again: obviously. Who else could write this shit and make it believable, really? There’s a woman sexually attracted to a teddy bear (thanks to this procedure that programs people to fall in love with the first person they see when they wake up) and these sex-cyborg dolls (better than real) and a boat load of Elvis and Marylin Monroe impersonators, and there’s this city where people live a month in jail and a month ‘free,’ living the dream. Whilst they’re in prison another person, their ‘alternate’ takes their place, and vice versa and so much stuff goes on that it kind of makes your brain hurt :blink:

It’s fucking nuts.
It’s Margaret Atwood.
It’s like a really mental version of Pleasantville.

It’s weird, and when somehow – quite without the other realising – Stan and Charmaine find themselves embroiled in a plot to bring Positron down from the inside it gets crazier still and I love that. I love the premise, I love the story, I love the characters - the characterisation is excellent, obviously (and probably that’s where my whole The Blind Assassin comparison comes from because that book is such a character study and I love it so hard) but of course it is: this is Atwood, this is what she does - and I love the potential that I could see in the whole thing. I’m just really sad that it didn’t quite reach it you know?  I think a major point is, is that there’s so much dystopia around these days – all dystopia all the time - and there’s a risk of it becoming a little samey you know? With The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood had the chance to show she was still at the top of her game, to be the one to take that next step, to give us something utterly original and whilst she did, she also didn’t.

What you may or may not know about The Heart Goes Last is that it’s edited into a novel from a serial that was originally published a few years ago and you can totally tell – the editing shows I think, it’s kind of badly sewn together in places. I mean don’t get me wrong here, it  has the social commentary  you come to expect from Atwood’s work, it’s as satirical as her stuff usually is and yep, it makes you think, but whereas I believed utterly in Handmaid’s and MaddAddam, I believed in this a little less and that surprised me. Atwood’s ‘speculative fiction’ is usually so freaking excellent because you can totally imagine it happening, can see it being just a short step away from wherever we are now; it has that ‘holy fuck what are we doing to the world if we don’t stop everything will go to shit and we’ll all be eating chickienobs’ quality to it. I didn’t get that feeling here, not in the same way. Not enough is explained, not enough is shown, the editing is sort of shoddy and whereas Atwood is usually so good at the tiny details that grab you and hold you and awaken your imagination, here, a lot of that is missing. It feels, and I can’t believe I am saying this, rushed. Also Margaret, where is my strong female protagonist please? This book was crying out for a woman that did not make me want to shake her.

I can’t believe I’m even saying all this. I feel like a house elf right now, like I have to go and smack myself in the face. 

All of the above said, Margaret Atwood is incredibly good at what she does, she’s so very very socially aware, she’s observant, and she’s a really freaking good writer. I guess when it comes down to it, the truth of the matter is that I felt a bit let down. Le sigh.
I mean, you should read it, you should because it’s not bad (it’s good)  and it’s not boring and some parts made me laugh out loud, but it’s nowhere near her best, and if you’ve not read any Atwood before then holy smokes but don’t let this be the place you start. 

(Start with The Handmaid’s Tale because Margaret, how do you words.)

In which I am back...

Let’s talk about life.

I feel like that is a thing that should happen, since it’s what’s been going on in the way that it tends to do, and seems to have gotten in the way of any kind of blogging ever. I was doing so well this year too, reading all the books and writing all the reviews and then LIFE. So, let’s have a catch-up post. Not that any of my news is all that exciting.

Except, maybe a little bit exciting.

You may remember that I spoke a few months ago about The Break-Up which was epically epically shite and totally knocked me off my feet. It took me a while to pick myself back up again truth be told, but I did. I did some crying and some shouting and I lost my dignity for a while because hey, there’s nothing less dignified than a heart that is broken, but now I’m here and I am doing ok.

No really. I am. I’m doing ok. I am doing so much better than I was two months ago. I can stand here, finally and say I’m alright and more importantly I can mean it. I made it.

And, AND, I have my own place.

This is A Major Thing. I’m 32 and for the first time ever (save for a few months when I was 18 and lived in a grotty bed sit that falls under Things We Don’t Talk About) I am living on my own. ALL BY MYSELF. I know. Amazing.
It’s a cute little house too, super small, and also super cute and I feel like I’m going to really love it. I already kind of really love it. I mean, it’s not perfect yet: I need to get pictures on the walls and my books on shelves but once all that happens I feel like it’s going to be excellent and I’m actually kind of excited.

Let’s be real here: this was not what I wanted and this is not the direction I ever expected my life to go in, but since it has I’m kind of determined to make the very most of it. I’m going to make the rest of my life the best of my life and I care not a freaking jot how much of a cliché that makes me. Do you hear me? I do not care.

So, in amongst breaking up and moving out and starting over, WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING?

Well, I went to London to visit Jen. We walked a million miles along Regents Canal -  a million miles and that is not an exaggeration (I know, I know, totes an exaggeration) – and drank cider and ate pizza and giggled our way around Alice’s Adventures Underground which is crazy and trippy and all kinds of excellent.  I also saw Jen again on Saturday night – this never happens. Seriously, the two of us being in the same place at the same time without several months between is unheard of. So on Saturday night I drove over to Ilkley where Jen was doing an event and we went for dinner and it was, as always, marv. Jen’s doing another 100 poem challenge this week actually, you should check that out.

And Helen had a baby who has stolen my heart oh my God. Seriously, I am so in love. SO IN LOVE. She’s called Molly and she has all this hair and she’s just perfect. Perfect.

I’m off to London again on Friday to see Cumberbatch as Hamlet, again with the exciting. That’s with my friend Natalie. We’ll see Hamlet and eayt lots and drink cocktails and probably shop and maybe catch the Audrey Hepburn thing at the National PortraitGallery and it shall be a lovely lovely time.

Other than that I guess I’ve just been being, you know? It’s been nice because I live 5 minutes walk away from my favourite pub so I’ve slipped right back into going there on a Friday night with the same friends I used to drink with a decade ago so that’s been excellent. I’m seeing Helen and my Mum and I have other friends in walking distance and I’m also doing a really godo job of enjoying my own company. Naturally that means I’ve done a little bit of reading and a little bit of getting excited about books because that’s just what I do, even if I’ve done it a little bit less this summer. Let’s talk about that a minute shall we? Let’s talk a little bit about the 6 books that I am probably most excited about right now, and then I’ll queue up some reviews and it will be like I WAS NEVER AWAY. (You do not even know how much I cannot wait to have internet access at my house. Hashtag first world problems, I know.)

If you know me at all then you’ll know how much of a Rainbow Rowell fangirl I have turned out to be and it will come as no surprise that I am spiralling a little every time I think about her new novel Carry On which is released this month. Carry On is the novel that features in Rainbow’s fabulous Fangirl and I am gloriously delighted by all that it stands for. I absolutely laughed my socks off when I heard that Rainbow was writing it and I cannot wait.

The third book in Kat Zhang’s Hybrid Chronicles was released in paperback a couple of weeks ago. I loved the first two books in this series, and if you haven’t already I suggest you read them right now. SO GOOD. I read Echoes of Us this weekend, and I actually really liked it. It’s a pretty good conclusion to the series I think and I’ll talk about it soon in its own post so I shan’t go on too much, just, check it out okay? Okay.

There’s a new Atwood - The Heart Goes Last - out RIGHT NOW, which y’know even though this is definitely not my favourite of hers, Atwood owns a piece of my soul and I can’t not be excited for more of her stuff being out in the world. I’’ll be posting a review of that one very soon so eyes peeled please! 

Ilke Tamke’s Skin was released in August. It’s on my TBR and I am super excited to give it a go: 

 Imagine a world where everyone is born with a 'skin' name. Without skin you cannot learn, you are not permitted to marry, and you grow up an outsider amongst your own people. This is no future dystopia. This is Celtic Britain

I know right, it sounds amazing. There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding this book and I have to admit to having gotten a little caught up in the hype. I hope it’s as good as I feel like it might be. 

David Levithan’s Another Day was published at the end of July. It’s a companion to Every Day which I loved and I’m super looking forward to it. 

Since The Gracekeepers is one of the best books I read so far this year it’s probably no surprise that I’m super excited about A Portable Shelter. It’s on my bookshelf due to my pre-ordering skills (it was published in August) and it’s so pretty and I just know it’s going to be wonderful. I can’t wait to read it. 

If you keep checking back I’ll be talking about the new Atwood, Patrick Gale’s fabulous A Place Called Winter, Sarah Crossan’s One, Katie Pierson’s ’89 Walls, What Milo Saw  and The Sin Eater’s Daughter as well as The Hybrid Chroncicles over the next few days. I’m also planning a lovely re-read of the Little House on the Prairie books so I’ll likely blog about those. Lets see if I love them as much as I did twenty-plus years ago. Also Jen and I discussed a reread of His Dark Materials so that might be a thing I talk about.

Right now I’m reading Rainbow Rowell’s Landline. It’s a nice time. Then I might read A Little Life. I’ve had an ARC for a while, but it’s so huge. I think I need to work on my arms a bit at the gym to be able to lift it….

Review: The Book of Strange New Things

What a strange couple of months. I read 10 books in June. In July I read 2, and I’ve only read 2 again so far in August. Somebody it seems has stolen my reading mojo. I plan to steal it back though pretty soon – I’ll have little choice; I move into my new house in a few days but my internet and Sky television and in fact most of my furniture will all be a week or so behind me. I figure that if all I have in my (shiny new) house for a while is my bed and my Kindle then I’ll have plenty of time to catch up on some reading and consequently some blogging. 

For now though I really want to talk about Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things because oh my goodness did I love that book. SO MUCH AMAZING YOU GUYS. I’ve wanted to read it since it’s hardback publication, but I didn’t because well, we all know I have this thing about hardback books especially the larger ones like this one. I could have got it on the Kindle I know, but I didn’t and I don’t know why other than sometimes I just kind of have this instinct to have an actual physical copy of something in my hands. Sometimes I just feel way ahead of time that an ebook just won’t cut it. So, I waited like the patient girl I am (and stop laughing right now because ‘patient’ is totally an accurate description of me, thanks very much) for the paperback publication.

And then I fell in love.

This is the kind of book that makes you feel things. All the things. It’s the kind of book that gets under your skin and gets you right in the gut and you’re just aware the whole time you’re reading it that you’re reading something amazing and then you finish it, and you kind of don’t know what that is. Does that make sense? Like, I finished this book and was totally and utterly bowled over but not I’m here and I’m trying to explain why. And I kind of don’t know how.

Faber is an extraordinary writer, or rather his writing in The Book of Strange New Things feels to me to be extraordinary; I haven’t actually read his other stuff. Yet. This book makes me want to, so badly. His use of language is so stunning it makes me want to cry a little (seduce me with pretty words), the imagery is beautiful, the characterisation breathtaking, the whole thing just out-of-this-world kind of good. AND THAT IS NOT EVEN A PUN.

Buy why Josephine, I hear you ask; don’t just tell us it’s fabulous, tell us why.


Well. I loved the whole premise of this and what Faber did with it. Looooved it.  This book was (is) an incredible exploration of religion, one that I think would appeal to you whatever your beliefs – I recommend this book to you whether you’re a firm believer in any kind of higher power or whether you’re an atheist. I do. I just want you to read it, whoever you are. Go forth.  The way Peter goes about teaching the inhabitants of this planet about God and Jesus – they’re so receptive and so hungry for knowledge that it’s almost too easy - juxtaposed alongside his wife, left behind at home with nothing but her own faith to guide her and struggling, is so damn clever. So clever and so moving and so good.

It’s a book a refreshingly flawed protagonist - and I won’t lie here, there were at times I wanted to get hold of Peter and shake him oh my goodness - and also it’s a really clever take on the whole sci-fi thing. Science fiction is a thing here, obviously, and it’s a big thing because let’s be real the very premise of this book is a dude trying to spread the word of God to aliens, but it’s not the thing, you know? This isn’t a book about aliens or about space travel or any of that stuff, not really. It’s not a book you should shy away from because ‘science fiction is not your thing.’ It’s a book about human nature, about morality and faith and relationships and love with an ending that will make your heart stutter in your chest.   

The ending. 

Oh my goodness the ending. I had a conversation with Jen whilst walking along Regent’s Canal with a latte when I was about halfway through this book, and that coloured I think, the way I looked at certain elements of the whole thing, specifically Peter’s relationship with his wife Bea who has been left behind on earth but you know, I think the ending of this book would have gotten me in the same way regardless. It hit me like a sucker punch, a beautiful beautiful sucker punch.

I believed in this book. I did. And it’s set on another planet. This guy is telling bible stories to a species without faces who speak a language he can’t even begin to comprehend and I believed in it. Every word. I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to shove it in the face of everyone I know and say READ THIS DAMN THING WILL YOU and if that doesn’t tell you something, well, I’m afraid I don’t know what else to do. 

It is, quite simply, The Book of Strange New Things.

Review: The Beach Hut

Oh but I’ve been a terrible blogger this month. Terrible. I’m not going to make any excuses because that would be totally pretending people actually give a shit, which you know, it’s just a blog and I’m pretty sure nobody does. I am however going to spend a quick few minutes right now talking at you about a book I read a couple of weeks ago that I totally should have already reviewed and haven’t because I’m terrible.
I don’t mean to be terrible, obvs. Sometimes you just need to switch off your brain and watch Pretty Little Liars and rewatch House and do a happy dance over all the Klaine in season 6 of Glee, you know? (always such a sucker for the pretty boys in love.) I’ve been all about the television in July. I blame Netflix really, it’s just too easy to watch episode after episode after episode. I wonder how many collective hours have been lost to binge-watching since Netflix became a thing?  It’s a thing both terrible and fabulous.

I haven’t just laid in my bed watching American tv shows and stagnating though, I promise. There’s also been house-hunting (both terrifying and exciting) and weddings (beautiful, with books as favours, books as favours) and birthdays (always fun times) and all manner of other fun stuff. We hired out a beach hut for my Mum’s 60th the weekend before last which was all kinds of glorious and segues quite nicely into the whole actual point of this post. 

Which is this rather excellent book that people really ought to be reading.

It’s called The Beach Hut (I know, and I didn’t even do that intentionally. SERENDIPITY) and it’s by the marvellous Cassandra Parkin who wrote The Summer We All Ran Away which I read and loved last year. First things first, you can get hold of a copy of The Beach Hut right now, and you should because it’s really really good. Really good. 

S’about a brother and sister, Finn and Ava, who build an (illegal?) beach hut on the Cornish coast, much to the chagrin of the landlord of the local pub, Donald. Finn and Ava have this backstory that makes your heart hurt, Donald’s a bit messed up –his wife has died and he’s really not at all sure how to handle his teenage daughter, and she in turn has stuff of her own going on – it’s a book about life I think, really and the whole thing is actually kind of beautiful.

In a similar way to The Summer We All Ran Away (again, grab a copy because holy smokes so good), The Beach Hut moves between the past and present pretty much chapter by chapter. I loved this with The Summer We All Ran Away and I love it again here. It’s quite a popular narrative device at the moment it seems, the split timeline. I am reading so many books that tell me what’s going on via then and now. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This is one of those times that it absolutely does. It also moves really seamlessly between the viewpoint of this character and that and lets be real here, all these different voices and all these different times and all these threads to all these stories. It could quite easily have been a shitstorm. It’s not though, it works, and it works really really well.

Also also, Cassandra Parkin has a knack for creating a cast of characters that you believe in and relate to and really freaking care about. I mean, it, the people in this book, I just love them so damn hard. Finn, I think, is the one I love the most, with his attitude and his all-encompassing love for his sister and his sense of adventure and his book of fairytales. I would like him to be my boyfriend. WHOOPS DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD? Also, Alicia: Cassandra Parkin is absolutely bang on with her portrayal of mixed up teenage girl who wants to be simultaneously child and adult and her relationship with her Dad is just so bittersweet – that’s a relationship that I understand so well, the fragile one between father and daughter as daughter moves beyond ‘little girl’ and into something else entirely. I am grateful every day for the fact that my Dad and I got through that time (relatively) unscathed. It’s not just that relationship that’s so on point here though you know? The Beach Hut is a clever exploration of relationships and of love: sibling, familial, romantic and it draws you in and holds you as the story slowly unravels and HOLY SMOKES does it unravel. There’s some stuff going on here that will grab you like an undercurrent and throw you sideways. In a good way, not in a seawater in your face feel like your drowning kind of way. Maybe that was a bad metaphor; it sounded better in my head. Anyway. What I am trying to say is that there’s a sense of immediacy to Parkin’s writing which I absolutely adore; I can not get enough of her words and you know, I totally love it when a book grabs me and holds me like that, makes me feel like I’m in another place. That’s what this book does.

Fun fact that I also really love: I read that the beach that this book centres around is based on Perranporth in Cornwall. Yep, that totally makes me do a happy dance. I love Perranporth. I’ve spent many a happy hour on that beach, drinking rose lemonade and reading and there used to be a restaurant just off the beach called The Tin Fin that did the best calamari I ever tasted. I don’t think it’s there now which is a shame. Anyway, I digress. This is a gorgeous book, I loved it and I really can’t wait to see what Cassandra does next.

Review: The Quality of Silence

Here I am, endlessly annoyed that Goodreads does not have the half star option. 3 or 4 stars? WHICH WAY TO GO?

I absolutely loved Rosamund Lupton’s debut novel Sister, as in could not put it down to even eat, read it in one sitting and promptly shoved it in the faces of everybody I knew. I loved it. I loved it so much that when her second novel Afterwards didn’t measure up I kind of wanted to cry a little bit. I had wanted to love it so very badly, and just didn’t. & what a shame, I thought, if Rosamund was just a one hit wonder. Didn’t stop me though, from doing a happy dance earlier this year when I heard that her third novel was due for publication in the summer. That goes to show I guess just how much I really did enjoy Sister – enough that not even a disappointing second novel could dampen my excitement at the revelation of Something New.

The Quality of Silence was published last Thursday; I started it last week and finished it last night. &, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Let’s place it, I think, somewhere between not-as-good-as-Sister but not-as-disappointing-as-Afterwards.

Let’s say, that actually, I really liked it. It’s just, I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to like it, and that makes me sad.

Probably I shouldn’t have been excited about it as I was; probably I shouldn’t have got caught up in all the pre-publication excitement (this book was everywhere I looked, if you missed it then clearly you live on Mars); probably I should have thought to myself ‘now Josephine remember how you felt the last time,’ but I didn’t. I did none of those things. I bought into the crazy and I got caught up in all the ‘SISTER WAS SO GOOD OMG NEW ROSAMUND LUPTON’ thus setting myself up for disappointment. 

That’s totally my fault though, because this book was Good. It was good. It was chilling and haunting and very well written – Lupton’s writing is extremely evocative and her desecriptions of the desolate bleakness of an Alaskan winter made me cold to my bones – figuratively speaking not actually: I read this in plus 30 degree temperatures last week, the only thing would that would have made me cold to my bones would have been an ice bath. It’s fast paced but slow-moving and it made me feel kind of…quiet. I don’t know what that means. WHY CAN I NEVER DO WORDS?! It’s a desolate fragile kind of a book I think, it’s cold and lonely and isolating, much like Alaska I guess which, well, it’s pretty bleak because winter in Alaska is not a thing you go into unprepared. Like, ever. It is the very opposite of A Nice Time. It is darker than a dark thing and colder than a cold thing and really, not a place you take a ten year old with just some clothes you got from Go Outdoors or some such. BE PREPARED.

The problem was, that in the beginning at least, it just didn’t grab me. When I read I kind of want to get lost for a while, I want the real world to fade away into nothingness, so that the only world that exists is the one within the pages. That totally happened with Sister. It didn’t seem to be happening here. I mean, when I was reading it, I liked it. The writing is good, and the story engaging, but, when I had to stop reading I was kind of fine with that and I wasn’t itching to go back to it. Example: I was babysitting on Saturday night. Babysitting is always excellent reading time; I knew the girls would all be in bed for 8.30, which gave me approx. 4 hours of uninterrupted book. I could totally have finished this baby, I should have finished it with time to spare. But I didn’t. I took my iPad instead and watched a few episodes of season 6 of House – the Huddy buildup, you remember, be still my heart - I guess that says it all doesn’t it. I decided to rewatch an old tv show rather than finish this book and I was very sad about that fact. You don’t even know much I wanted to love it.

 (Lookit them. Still not over it, will never be over it. 'I always want to kiss you.' BRB sobbing forever.)

And then - back to the review despite the distraction of Hugh Laurie and his face -  it was also pretty unrealistic. I mean, I’ve watched Ice Road Truckers – everyone’s watched Ice Road Truckers, right? It’s not just me – and I know that driving those mahoosive trucks across frozen Alaska is not easy. You don’t just rock up in Alaska one day and think, yep, I’m gonna drive a truck across a frozen lake now, catch you later. Unless it’s Top Gear. That’s just not a thing that happens. You can’t just grab a big fuck off truck and go for it you know? People die doing this job, people with actual years of experience and knowledge die. I don’t see how, then, Yasmin could just hop on a plane from England with her ten year old Deaf daughter, harness a truck and set off in these awful conditions across a frozen country. & I know that sometimes you have to suspend the belief and I get that people will be saying ‘but it was so beautifully written, so haunting and emotional and gripping and tense so why does that tiny little detail matter’ but it does because without that tiny little detail the whole thing falls apart and that tiny little detail, well, I couldn’t get past it.  Perhaps it’s me – and I’m not going to lie, I don’t even know how to open my bonnet. I can’t change a trye, I’ve never even attempted an oil change and I only park in car park spaces that I can drive straight through, I’m not driving across any kind of frozen anything in the dark – but I just, it didn’t feel real, that Yasmin would attempt it, never mind manage it and it bugged me the whole way through.

All of that said though, and despite the fact that the first 40 percent of the book took me almost a week to drag myself through, I read the second 60 percent in two hours last night. Two hours. I don’t know if it was my state of mind, if I was just in a better place for this story, or whether the book just got that much better, but it was like something magically slotted into place and I was turning pages and my heart was racing and I just thought this, this is what I wanted from this book. I even did Ruby's sign for hurrah, I was just that pleased about it. I mean, the whole Yasmin driving this truck through an endless night still niggled at me, but less so somehow because everything else was so much more vivid. The descriptions, of it being so cold that your eyes closed shut, of the howling winds and the snow that could be knee deep in minutes made me snuggle further under my duvet and those two blue headlights that Yasmin can always see in her rearview mirror, slowing and stopping whenever she does but always staying the same distance away made my heart actually race. Suspense, that’s what Lupton is good at, that’s why Sister was so epically good and perhaps why this book took so long to get going: the set-up and  the back story, it was nowhere near as gripping as this race (chase) away from the unknown towards God even knows what. 
It’s kind of funny actually, because even once the book gets going, even when I was flying through it with my heart in my mouth it still wasn’t an ‘in your face’ kind of thriller,  it was more….quietly compelling. Ooh, I like that, yep, that’s what we’ll go with: quietly compelling: layer upon layer of slowly building tension, the almost-terror of being utterly utterly alone and utterly utterly helpless and desperately aware that nobody will ever hear your calls for help is never quite articulated but the whole thing is quietly chilling all the same AND IT'S SO GOOD. Nothing particularly dramatic really happens the whole way through and yet still you find your hands curling into fists and your breath catching, just a little bit. There’s a lot to be said for what goes unsaid here: the isolation, the fear, the way everything that wasn’t inside that cab with them felt like a threat, it was that that built the tension; Lupton’s incredibly atmospheric writing rather than car chases and gun fights and loud confrontation. It was quiet, because Alaska is quiet and Ruby is quiet and it was so so effective.

There’s also this really lovely secondary story of Yasmin’s relationship with her daughter, Ruby. Ruby’s deaf and communicates using Sign Language or an app on her laptop that converts her typed words into speech and vice versa and you want to know a thing? It’s really difficult to talk using sign language when you’re in the darkest place in the world. Yasmin and Ruby’s relationship is complicated and touching: Ruby’s obviously much more comfortable with being Deaf than her mother is, and the way they quietly lock horns over Yasmin’s need for Ruby to ‘use her words’ and ruby's reluctance to use her 'mouth voice' at all made my heart hurt. Beautifully done Rosamund Lupton, high five.

I was a teeny bit disappointed in the ending. It felt rushed and it wasn’t what I expected and I don’t know, I mean I guess I had major trouble suspending reality with this book, because I had exactly the same issue with the Big Twist as I did with the whole Ice Road Trucker element: it was just a bit too far-fetched, it went just a tiny step too far what with – oh, actually that would be a spoiler wouldn’t it. Imma shut up about that. 
(Explain to me though how I can read books about post-apocalyptic futures, or about magic and dragons and faeries and trees that come alive and not even question the reality of the situation even one time but I struggle with a book where someone has to drive a truck across a lake. What is wrong in my brain?!)

Anyway, in a nutshell, this still is no Sister but as long as you go into it knowing that then I think it’s defo worth a read and since it's out now, you can go grab a copy.