Review of ‘You and Me on Vacation’ by Emily Henry

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

I read and really enjoyed ‘Beach Read’ by the same author last year. I think she is very skilled at writing chemistry between characters and describing how people can move from an initial dislike of someone to a deep love.

Those skills are also evident is her new book and it is another fun, easy read. However, I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as her previous book. The chemistry between the central couple, Poppy and Alex, is wonderful but too much of their relationship is based on misunderstandings which could be cleared up with one good conversation. Obviously, this trope is present in most romantic fiction, but I do find it particularly frustrating to read. In this book it means it takes 12 years for the main couple to get together, which seems like such a huge waste of time and opportunities, so I couldn’t be entirely on board with it.

I did really enjoy reading about the holiday destinations in this book. Especially, at the moment when we barely leave our village, it’s wonderful to satisfy a bit of wanderlust through reading.

Top Ten Tuesday – Mardi Gras

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is: Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers (in honour of Mardi Gras). I’ve already written a post on purple book covers, so I’ve chosen some books that I’ve read with yellow and green covers.

Review of ‘The Survivors’ by Jane Harper

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

Jane Harper is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and I will definitely continue to read everything she publishes. Each of her books has had a different setting in a different Australian landscape and they are so atmospheric and perfectly evocative of the setting. Her brilliance at conjuring the sense of place works to make her books thoroughly immersive. It is a real skill.

Harper is also brilliant at creating realistic characters with difficult pasts committing small wrong doings with big impacts. The crimes are believable and it is easy to understand how normal people end up in tricky situations. Harper is also very deft at peppering red herrings and misdirections throughout her books to get your mind working and make you speculate (mostly wrongly) about what might have happened.

‘The Survivors’ is set in a coastal town in Tasmania. It follows Kieran Elliott as he returns to his childhood home 12 years after a storm took the lives of three residents, an accident for which he feels responsible. A day after his return another person ends up drowned and this crime brings up lots of secrets from the day of the storm.

I really enjoyed this book, the characters are relatable, the setting is perfect and the ending is surprising, although it ends a bit abruptly and I would have liked to see reactions to the final revelations from more of the townsfolk. I felt it dragged slightly in the second half, but that may have been because I was so keen to get to the conclusion and find out what really happened. I liked the main character Kieran and his girlfriend, Mia and enjoyed reading about their relationship.

I would highly recommend this and Harper’s other books, particularly ‘The Lost Man’.

Top Ten Tuesday – Christmas books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is a Christmas freebie topic, so I picked 10 of the Christmas books I’ve read this year in an attempt to distract me from the depressing COVID and Brexit news.

These books have done the job of distracting me but none of them is brilliant and I can’t really recommend any very highly. However, easily the best of them are ‘A Surprise Christmas Wedding’ by Phillipa Ashley, ‘A Wedding in December’ by Sarah Morgan and ‘Comfort and Joy’ by India Knight. By far the worst is ‘The Christmas Train’ by David Baldacci which infuriated me no end with constant descriptions of women’s weight and appearance; judgements which of course are not equally applied to the male characters. You can definitely tell it’s written by a man.

Audiobook review: The Island by C.L. Taylor

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins and HQ for the ARCs of this book. N.B. I read the first couple of chapters of the written copy and then switched to the audiobook.

‘The Island’ is a YA thriller which follows six teenagers on holiday in Thailand who are stranded on an island where their worst fears start to come true.

It feels a bit like Lord of the Flies mixed with The Beach. It’s a fun, fast-paced read with some exciting sections, but never really feels that high stakes or scary.

I loved the idea of this book. It could have been absolutely thrilling. I thought it was genius to gather a group of teenagers together who are friends because their parents met in their NCT class. This was a perfect setup because they would have known each other their whole lives but wouldn’t necessarily see each other regularly which could lead to distrust and misunderstandings.

Unfortunately, there is a fundamental flaw with the structure of the book. There are two narrators, one is in the first person and one is in the third person. This spoils the whole premise of the book because it signposts immediately who is the ‘villain’ of the piece. You immediately know there must be some information being held back or some kind of unreliable narration going on, otherwise both narrators would be written from the same perspective. It signposts that the danger is coming from within the group and narrows the potential of the storytelling.

I found the final reveal of what was going on completely obvious and unsurprising, despite the book’s attempt to make it an amazing twisty reveal. It completely fell flat for me. Possibly a teenager who has read fewer books would be less likely to spot this problem with the mechanics of the storytelling and would be blindsided by the ending, but I’d be surprised as I found the twist so heavily signposted.

The audiobook has two narrators. I thought the female narration was good but found the male narrator’s voice a bit grating, although he definitely sounded more like a teenager.

Audiobook review: A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the ARC of this audiobook.

In the past few weeks to try to keep my mind off Lockdown 2, the increasingly scary COVID figures and the fact we’ll probably have a very low-key Christmas this year, I have been mainlining cheesy Christmas romcom books and films. I’m looking for something easy and sweet which requires very little effort and has a nice happy ending and is a simple distraction from the crazy real world.

This is probably the best of these books I’ve read so far this year. It has a nice setting for a Christmas book, an estate in the Lake District with a Christmas tree farm and wedding venue. It has an intriguing premise, a woman is abandoned by her fiancé only to discover she has to plan his wedding the following Christmas. The writing is of a high standard, the dialogue is not too cheesy. There is a nice balance of romance and melancholia. The situations aren’t too far-fetched or contrived and there aren’t too many irritating misunderstandings which could just be fixed with a simple conversation. It does exactly what you expect and want from an escapist Christmas romance.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book which is well read by Laura Kirman. I thought her northern accents were pretty good and narration style was engaging.

From this book, Phillipa Ashley seems to be a superior writer in a genre full of plenty of examples of substandard, lacklustre, repetitive writing. I will definitely look out for other books by this author.

Review of ‘Serpentine’ by Philip Pullman

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the ARC of this book.

Philip Pullman is publishing a third short story companion book to his His Dark Materials series. He wrote this story in 2004 but is releasing it now because it’s a good companion piece to his latest book The Secret Commonwealth. It concentrates on the relationship between Lyra and Pan following the events of the end of the original trilogy. The tensions in this relationship are the central theme of The Secret Commonwealth.

It’s not a very exciting or dramatic story, but it is interesting to see how these ideas were swirling around Pullman’s head 16 years before he wrote his latest book when he has no idea he would be writing another trilogy set in this world. It’s a nice book to own if you, like me, are a His Dark Materials completist, However, sadly nothing Pullman has written since has come close to the perfection of the original trilogy.

Top Ten Tuesday: long book titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is ‘super long book titles’. I picked the 10 longest I could spot from the books I’ve read.

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  2. The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud
  3. The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
  4. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You
  7. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
  8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  10. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Review of ‘The Inheritance Games’ by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the ARC of this book.

I picked this book because its blurb compared it to ‘Knives Out’ so I thought it would be fun. The basic premise, rich man dies and leaves his estate to working class girl rather than his family, is the same but the plot diverges pretty quickly. This is not a quirky, fun whodunnit; it is an angsty YA whydunnit, trying to solve the puzzle of why he left his fortune to a stranger.

It’s an interesting concept, but, as it is YA, for me there is far too much “The boy with silver eyes is looking at me” and not enough “Excuse me, please could you explain exactly how this inheritance works?”. Seriously, why do all boys in YA fiction have to have silver, gold or green eyes? Have you ever met someone with silver eyes? What is wrong with brown?

The lead character, Avery, does not really have much agency, things happen to her and, even when she thinks she is making her own decisions, they turn out to be pre-ordained. I wanted her to be more inquisitive, less interested in the beautiful boys and more questioning about how her life as a billionaire would be. If I were left that amount of money at the cost of a whole family, I’m sure my first step would be to try to work things out with the family and assure them that I would make sure that they still got most of the money and we’re able to carry on living in their house. This doesn’t seem to cross Avery’s mind, she is entirely lacking in empathy because she has to be self-involved by virtue of being the lead character in a YA novel. She is a cipher for the reader who will inevitably imagine themselves in her position, maybe it didn’t work for me because I’m not a teenage girl and, if I were, maybe it would make sense to me that she chases the boys around rather than trying to nail down the practicalities of inheriting billions of dollars.

The mystery element is really just backdrop for a love triangle which goes nowhere because it is clearly setup for a sequel. So the ending is fairly unsatisfying. In addition, there’s a twist right at the end which I’d guessed was going to happen when I was about halfway through the book, so I was also frustrated not to read the resolution of that plot-line. Love triangles are a staple of YA fiction, but I’m not sure why they are so popular, if the lead heroine doesn’t have the presence of mind to know which of the perfect men drooling over her is the one she actually wants, then probably neither is the right one for her.

This is an easy read, with lots of YA tropes and a fun mystery at its centre, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential and would be more satisfying if were a standalone book with a firm resolution and not the beginning of a series with a strung out messy love triangle.

Top Ten Tuesday: Autumnal book covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is ‘book covers with fall colours/vibes’. I picked some which stood out from the books I’ve read.

Bonus, for autumnal books, you can’t beat the gorgeous illustrations in Jill Barklem’s Bradley Hedge book ‘Autumn Story’.

I love autumn! It’s my absolute favourite time of the year.