The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

Book review: ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’ by Mackenzi Lee

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The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. Mackenzi Lee. Katherine Tegan Books. June 2017.

Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

So Monty vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.


I don’t tend to reach for historical fiction often, but if more historical fiction books were written like this one, I would be far more inclined to pick them up. This book’s writing style was so accessible and modern, which made it light and fun to read. There was plenty of historical detail, and I could picture everything vividly, but there wasn’t so much as to make the book dry, and I never felt like the author was trying to overwhelm me by cramming in everything she knew about the period.

Something I really appreciated about his book was the author’s guide to the historical context at the end. There had been points throughout the story where I had been thinking ‘Could that really have happened in the 1700s?’ (even though I know NOTHING about the 1700s, so I was clearly talking out of my posterior), but everything had a factual basis, and it was clear the author had done her research. I learnt a lot from this book, particularly regarding race, sexuality, and scientific thought during this time period, but the story always came first, and I never felt like I was being lectured, which to me is the way all historical fiction should read.

Monty was a fabulous narrator – funny, self-deprecating, arrogant, yet insecure. Monty messed up A LOT in this book, but he felt like a real person BECAUSE of his flaws. I abso-bloody-lutely adored him, and just wanted to cuddle him, and tell him everything was going to be okay. Percy was another wonderful character. He was calm and sensible, but never boring. Beneath his quiet façade he had a wicked sense of humour, and the solid sense of confidence needed to call Monty out whenever he was being an idiot. Percy, despite growing up in a white aristocratic household, was a mixed raced character, which was a refreshing perspective to see explored in a historical novel. Characters of colour are not often enough given the spotlight in historical fiction, unless said books are exploring race-related topics specifically (which of course this book does too to a certain extent); it was wonderful to read a story about a POC character in the 1700s embarking on a thrilling (and romantic!) adventure with his best friend. We need more books like this one!

My favourite thing by far about this book was the relationship between Monty and Percy. Monty is a bisexual character who is secretly (but quite obviously) in love with his best friend, and I felt so many feels in all of the scenes where Monty was pining over Percy. These two were SO shippable, but also their relationship was flawed and realistic. There are moments when Monty is being selfish, and not really thinking about what Percy needs/how he feels, and there are moments when he really needs to be called out on that. Percy doesn’t hesitate to do so, and I felt like Percy really helped Monty to grow as a person, and acknowledge his areas of ignorance. I felt like Percy was the perfect match for Monty, bringing him back to reality whenever he went too far, and brining balance and harmony to their relationship. Percy, in short, was exactly what Monty needed.

Monty’s sister Felicity was also a character I loved to pieces. She was crotchety, smart, and always had her head stuck in a book, even at the breakfast table. Basically, she was a girl after my own heart. I hate the phrase ‘strong female character’, but to me, Felicity was exactly that. She wasn’t someone who knew how to fight, or use a weapon, but she was someone who could use her brain to outsmart anybody, and her self-taught knowledge and practical skills helped her to come up with solutions to so many of the problems the trio encountered throughout their journey.

I loved how far from the course of their original Tour the characters ended up, and I loved how much of an adventure this book became. I don’t want to go into plot details too much, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book takes you all over Europe, leading you into lots of unexpected, and dangerous, situations along the way. This story never stopped being exciting! If I had one little quibble, it would be that the pacing was at times too fast, which sounds like a strange criticism, because nobody wants a 500-page book to drag! I just sometimes felt like we jumped from one situation to another too quickly, without any time to breathe in between. However, this was a very minor grumble – it didn’t bother me enough to spoil my five star rating of this book.

I loved this book so much; it more than lived up the hype for me, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a well-written, entertaining, funny, diverse read full of characters you will fall in love with. JUMP ON THAT BANDWAGON, YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO!

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2018 Reading Resolutions

In 2018 I want to do things differently. This list of reading resolutions may make it seem like I want to read and blog LESS, but that’s not true at all. What I want is to read and blog more CAREFULLY. I want to put less pressure on myself, and I want to enjoy books as much as I can. Without further ado, here are my five reading resolutions for 2018…


1) Change the way I use the Goodreads Challenge

For the past two years I have set huge goals for myself in the Goodreads Challenge. In 2016, it was 100 books, and last year it was 52. I struggled to read 100 books, I easily ready 52, but I’ve realised that neither of these was a healthy goal for me.

Why?

Because when I set myself a challenge like that, I start thinking of reading as a race, and I start worrying about getting behind. I try to cram in as many small books as I can in order achieve a bigger number, rather than reaching for the books I actually want to read. I start reading books a quickly as I possibly can, and not getting anything from them. I do a lot of flailing. But all of this is silly, because reading should be fun, and should preferably not involve any flailing.

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I want to focus on quality, not quantity this year, so I am setting my goal at 12 books. Obviously I will read more than 12 books, I am just using 12 as a token number, as I still want to participate in the Goodreads challenge to track my reading over the year. But the point is, having a nice low number will stop me from caring so much about how MANY books I’m reading. Because it really doesn’t matter at all.


2) Review every book on Goodreads

This year I am planning to record a couple of lines about every book I read on Goodreads. I am not going to write long reviews, and may even write them in bullet points, but I want to be able to remember why I gave a certain book a certain rating.

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Why?

I feel like ratings have come to be largely meaningless for me, because how I rate books is very random, a number out of five is never enough to demonstrate how I actually felt about a book, and I often struggle to choose a number. (If I’m being honest, I’m way too liberal with the number five…) I was going to give up rating books altogether this year, and may still do so later down the line, but for now I am just going to put a couple of thoughts with each rating so it has some context for me and for others.


3) Stop buying so many books

Ahh I know, I know this sounds dreadful, and I’m not sure how long this is going to last, but at least for the first couple of months of 2018, I am going to try not to buy (m)any more books.

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Why?

Because I have over 200 unread books, and I should probably read them at some point.


4) Read the books I own

Why?

Because having 200 unread books is

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I bought each one of those books and at some point was super excited to read them. The problem is I keep getting distracted by shiny new books, and that’s just not fair to the ones gathering dust on my shelves. I want to get excited about them again. This year I want to tackle my TBR, and make enjoying the books I own a priority.


5) Do more wrap-ups and less full reviews

Why?

Don’t get me wrong, I like writing reviews, but I’ve realised over the past year that I much prefer writing (and reading/watching) wrap-ups with mini reviews of books. I wrote quite a few of these in 2017, but I want to do this a lot more in 2018. If I’ve got tons and tons to stay about a particular book, if I feel the need to let out approx. 1000 words of rage, or if it’s an ARC, I’ll review it in full, but otherwise I will review books in wrap-ups (probably once or twice a month). I also want to do more tags in between, because tags are fun!

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YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!


So, those are MY reading and blogging planz for the year. What are some of your reading resolutions for 2018? I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

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2017 End of Year Book Survey

Hello everyone! Hope you are all having a lovely holiday and have eaten your weight in cheese/pistachio nuts/chocolates/your outrageously fattening food of choice. I personally have eaten thrice my weight by opting for all three of the above.

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I did the End of Year Book Survey last year, and really enjoyed it. This tag was created by The Perpetual Page Turner, and I find it a great way to review my year of reading!

Without further ado, let’s get started…


2017 READING STATS:

Number of books you read: 85
Number of re-reads: 3 (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Rebecca)
Genre you read the most from: Contemporary, closely followed by horror/thriller


Best book you read in 2017?

the hate u give

ABSOLUTELY THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS. A phenomenal book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, with a hugely memorable narrative voice, characters I adored to pieces, and some powerful things to say we could all do with sitting down, shutting up, and listening to.


Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

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This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab was a big disappointment for me. I know this is a beloved book, but I found it kind of slow and boring, and I felt the world-building in particular was lacking. I wish I could have loved it as much as everyone else, but I just didn’t get the hype.


Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

sladehouse

Slade House by David Mitchell was a total mindf**k for such a tiny little book, and I loved how complex and creepy it ended up being. Definitely in my top 5 favourite books of the year.


Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did)?

The Hate U Give! And I will keep on pushing. Everyone should read this book.


Best series started in 2017:

diviners

The Diviners series by Libba Bray! I fell for these books so hard. I loved the 1920s New York setting, and the paranormal elements made them so creepy and compelling. Libba Bray has put so much research into these books, and every detail comes together to create something luxuriously rich and believable; I couldn’t help but be completely sucked in.


Best sequel of 2017:

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That would have to be Lord of Shadows (despite the traumatic ending). I think the Dark Artifices series is some of Cassandra Clare’s best writing, although I will always hold The Mortal Instruments dearest in my heart.


Best series-ender of 2017:

mafiosa

Mafiosa, the final book in Catherine Doyle’s Blood for Blood trilogy ripped my heart to pieces and remade it again. This YA mafia romance trilogy is such an emotional rollercoaster full of danger, passion, and intrigue. I am 100% obsessed with it and will definitely be reading it again soon.


Favourite new author you discovered in 2017?

invisiblechild

Tove Jansson (author of the Moomin books, a Finnish children’s series about cute troll-type creatures that live in a valley.) I loved the Moomin television show as a child, but I had never read any of the books until this year. There is something so lovely about them; they are quiet, quirky, and packed full of meaning and wisdom. I also picked up a collection of Tove Jansson’s short stories for adults this month (The Winter Book) and loved the stark poetry and subtle charm of her writing style. Can’t wait to read more of her work.


Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

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I read my first graphic novel this year – Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – and I loved it to pieces. I’ve never rooted for ‘villains’ so hard; these characters made me laugh on every page and rendered my heart all squishy.


Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

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Nemesis by Brendan Reichs was one of the most addictive books I read this year. The premise of a girl who is killed over and over again but never dies drew me in, but all of the mystery and conspiracy and weird things going down in her town kept me reading and reading, desperate to know what it all meant. The word unputdownable was designed for books like this.


Book you read in 2017 that you are most likely to re-read next year?

caraval

I found quite a few new favourites this year, but I will almost certainly re-read Caraval next year in preparation for the sequel. I know opinions are split on this book, but I fall into the camp that adored it; it was so atmospheric and strange and dreamlike and I ate it up like the most decadent box of chocolates.


Favourite cover of a book you read in 2017?

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The cover of The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell is so gorgeous, and I will treasure this book of short stories forever because it is SO aesthetically pleasing, both inside (with the word-pictures it paints) and out.


Most memorable character of 2017?

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Eleanor Oliphant from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. This book probably ties with THUG as my favourite book of the year. I related to Eleanor in ways I can’t even explain, and found her narrative voice so authentic and distinctive.


Most beautifully written book read in 2017?

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The Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle. Her writing is mesmerising and otherworldly. It took me completely away from myself.


Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2017?

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Esther the Wonder Pig. This is a memoir about two men and their pet micropig… who grew up to be not so micro after all. Not only was this book adorable, hilarious, and heartwarming, but it also got me thinking much more seriously about vegetarianism. This year I gave up pork, lamb, and beef, and in 2018 I will be going completely meat free. I have Esther to thank for my shift in world-view and I am very grateful 🙂


Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read?

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Murder on the Orient Express. How have I only just read my first ever Agatha Christie novel?! Madness! This book was fabulous and I intend to read many more of her novels in 2018.


Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2017?

It’s not the most profound passage from the book, but this oddball line from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, for some reason, made me crack up laughing:

“If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, “What would a ferret do?” or, “How would a salamander respond to this situation?” Invariably, I find the right answer.” 


Shortest and longest book you read in 2017?

Shortest: The Invisible Child and The Fur Tree by Tove Jansson (80 pages)

Longest: Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare (720 pages)


Book that shocked you the most?

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The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden. Whatthedamnhell was that ending?! Read my rant review if you want to know more…


OTP OF THE YEAR? (You will go down with this ship!)

I’ve not read many romance-centric books this year, but I do adore the pairing of Emma and Julian in the Dark Artifices series. Cassandra Clare is Queen of the Forbidden Romance and theirs is so agonisingly, heart-wrenchingly shippable.


Favourite non-romantic relationship of the year?

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I loved the relationship between Peter and his fox Pax in Pax by Sara Pennypacker. This is the story of a boy who gets separated from his pet fox and sets off on a journey across the country to find him again. The connection between these characters was so pure, and melted my heart into a pile of gooey slush.


Favourite book you read in 2017 from an author you’ve read previously?

upside

I loved The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, just as much as Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Everything about it turned my insides to warm and fuzzy, and I loved the cameos from Abby and Simon. I can’t wait for Becky’s next book, Leah on the Offbeat.


Best book you read in 2017 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure?

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I finally read Bone Gap by Laura Ruby this year after so many fellow bloggers recommending it to me. I’ve decided that I need more magical realism in my life because this book was so weird and disorientating and fabulous.


Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?

Luca from the Blood for Blood trilogy. He’s the underboss of a prominent mafia family, but he’s secretly desperate to leave his family’s way of life behind. And he’s all sexy and Italian and stuff. *fans self*


Best 2017 debut you read?

I would have to say The Hate U Give or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – my two favourite books of the entire year, and both, unbelievably, debuts!


Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year?

The worldbuilding in the Diviners series is some of the most impressive worldbuilding I have ever encountered. I’ve never been so immersed in a setting.


Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?

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Esther the Wonder Pig by Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter; I laughed so much whilst reading this book, and all of Esther’s antics left me with a big soppy smile on my face. If you’re interested, she has a Facebook page, and it is glorious. Warning: you will fall in love with her and may decide to give up bacon for the rest of your life like I did.

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Also, shoutout to Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch which I read on my summer holiday. It was so light and fluffy and sweet, with a cute romance, and a lovely estranged father-daughter relationship. I also adored the setting (Florence, Italy). It was the perfect happy-making summer read.


Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2017?

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden.

Me upon finishing this book:

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Hidden gem of the year?

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The Wrong Train by Jeremy de Quidt. This creepy book is about a boy who gets the wrong train in the middle of the night. He gets off at a station which isn’t a station in the middle of nowhere, where he meets a strange old man who proceeds to tell him a bunch of horrifying stories. Although this was YA horror, it was actually extremely unsettling. The weirdness of this book gives it a feeling of ‘wrongness’, and that feeling of wrongness makes you want to shut all your curtains and block out the night. In other words, it was my favourite kind of book and I ADORED it.


Book that crushed your soul?

To re-use an answer (again), The Peppermint Pig. I don’t understand why a parent would read this to their child. It’s devastating.


Most unique book you read in 2017?

Slade House, which I’ve also already mentioned, was creepy and confusing and I would describe the reading experience as akin to walking UP a staircase only to arrive on the ground floor. It was a head-twisting masterpiece and like nothing I’ve read before.


Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

dimily

Did I Mention I Love You?  by Estelle Maskame. Ugh, the love interest in this book was toxic, and the main character was an idiot, and they were both selfish, and I just didn’t want them to succeed at all, y’know?


New favourite book blog you discovered in 2017?

I’ve been terrible at blog-hopping this year, but I have spent a LOT of time watching Booktube over the past 12 months. If you’re looking for recommendations, my favourites are Duvet Day Devours, Francina Simone, Peter Likes Books, and Hannah Tay.


Favourite review that you wrote in 2017?

I’m pointing you at my review of The Hate U Give, not because I think my review is anything special, but simply because I want EVERYONE to read this book!


Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

I’m really proud of my ‘Self-care tips for book-bloggers’ post, and I was so happy with the response it received, as a lot of people seemed to relate to it. 🙂


Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) at London Film and Comic Con was so much fun this year. I saw lots of awesome author panels, bought 22 books, and even spotted Benedict Cumberbatch wandering around the building (so much fangirling!)

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Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2017?

thehazelwood

Getting approved to read The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert on Netgalley was SO FREAKING EXCITING! And it absolutely lived up to the hype.


Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

Posting… you may have noticed I haven’t done a whole lot of that these past few months. My mental health has been up and down, and it has been so hard keeping up, but don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere – this blog and all of you guys mean too much to me, and I don’t want to let my anxiety win!


Most popular post this year on your blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

Apparently my most popular post was The Unpopular Opinions Book Tag… Because we all love throwing a bit of good ol’ fashioned shade!


Post you wished got a little more love?

Hmm, I don’t really have an answer for this one. I’ve learned to stop worrying so much about numbers, and it’s very freeing 🙂


Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

This year I started buying books from charity shops and it’s so worth it! I scan the shelves specifically for books on my TBR, and it’s so satisfying when you manage to find, for example, a hardback copy of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor for £1.50. BARGAINS ARE MY NEW FAVE.


Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

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#boom


One book you didn’t get to in 2017 but will be your number 1 priority in 2018?

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Empire of Storms was my answer last year and it applies again this year because I STILL haven’t read it. I don’t know why, but I’m getting really behind in everything Sarah J. Maas. I don’t know if I’m losing interest… I hope not, because once upon a time I adored these books.


Book you are most anticipating for 2018 (non-debut)?

These please:

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2018 debut you are most anticipating?

Most definitely this:

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Series ending/sequel you are most anticipating in 2018?

Squealy-excited about these:

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One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2018?

I want to try and post more regularly in 2018, but not put pressure on myself to review every book. That will hopefully mean lots more book tags and other bookish content as those are the posts I enjoy writing the most. 🙂 I also want to do much better at keeping up with all of YOUR wonderful blogs. ❤


A 2018 release you’ve already read and recommend to everyone:

thehazelwood

Of course my answer to this one has to be The Hazel Wood. It has everything I want in a story… mystery, intrigue, weirdness, creepiness, and fairytale magic. Absolute perfection! I can’t wait to pick up a physical copy when it comes out in February, and I can’t wait for you guys to read it too. Review coming soon.


If you’ve done the End of Year Book Survey too, please link me to your posts down below as I’d love to see which books you loved and hated in 2017.

Much love to you all and a very Happy New Year; I hope your 2018 is a happyful one! ❤ xxx

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Thriller review: ‘The Marriage Pact’ by Michelle Richmond

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The Marriage Pact. Michelle Richmond. Penguin. July 2017.

Would you stake your life on your marriage?

Newlyweds Jake and Alice are offered a mysterious wedding gift – membership of a club which promises its couples will never divorce.

Signing The Pact seems the start to a perfect marriage.

Until one of them breaks the rules.

The marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

Because The Pact is for life.

And its members will do anything to make sure no one leaves . . .


Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Marriage Pact is hands down the best thriller I have read this year. I very rarely give 5 stars to a thriller these days because they are often samey and predictable, but this one had such a unique concept, and it was so well executed, that it ended up really wowing me.

I’ve always been fascinated by cults, but all of the cult-related books I have read have featured closed-community type cults. I loved that The Pact was a completely different kind of cult – an organisation operating on a global scale, with seemingly unlimited funds, and extreme levels of secrecy regarding its members and its methods. The scale, influence, and sinister mystery of The Pact made it all the more terrifying.

Jake and Alice were both likeable and believable characters, and I really enjoyed the development of their relationship, particularly seeing how it fared under such pressure (the whole being terrorised by a marriage-cult thing… just your standard marital problem). Although I loved both characters, they both frustrated me at times. The Pact really got between these characters, and the danger it put them in forced them to hide things from each other. But, if only they had communicated with each other more, they’d have had so much more ammunition with which to fight back against The Pact. I just wanted to smack their heads together, and be like: ‘Talk to each other, you fooools!” That being said, the deeper the trouble Jake and Alice got themselves into, the faster I was turning those pages. I cared about them, and I could barely put this book down; I carried it with me whilst I washed, dressed, cooked, ate, and absent-mindedly participated in conversations.

The Marriage Pact is told from Jake’s point of view, and I really connected with him as a narrator, although I would have welcomed some chapters from Alice’s point of view. There are sections of this book where Alice is going through (scary, scary) things that I would have loved to have heard about from her perspective. However, I guess I can appreciate why the author has chosen not to do this; the tension is ramped up to the max when Jake is separated from Alice and has no idea what is happening to her.

What I loved most about this novel was the world-building. World-building isn’t something I would usually associate with a thriller novel, but The Pact, as a wide-reaching cult-like community, needed a lot of setting-up. I think the author did a marvellous job of making The Pact feel like an authentic ‘world’, and succeeded at weaving in details throughout the story, rather than information-dumping everything at the beginning to set the scene. Every aspect of The Pact was well-thought out, from the rules, to the rituals, to the ridiculously terrifying Pact headquarters, named Fernley. I don’t want to reveal any details about what Fernley is/is like in this review, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I felt like this gigantic place was so well described, so intricately thought out and revealed, that it felt scarily real, like the setting of a vivid nightmare.

If you are going to read this novel, naturally you are going to require a little suspension of disbelief. One thing that perplexed me when I first started reading this novel was how readily Jake and Alice signed their lives over to The Pact. Of course, they didn’t really know what they were letting themselves in for, but that’s where my issue lies; neither of them read The Pact’s main text ‘The Manual’ before deciding whether to join. In fact, they both scribble their signatures hastily, without even bothering to have a proper look at the contract they are signing. Alice is supposed to be an attorney, so it made no sense to me that she would sign a legal document without reading it first! Anyway, I quickly decided to suspend my disbelief, and I’m glad I did, because the story that followed was so exciting, I ended up being fully appreciative of Alice’s moment of madness (even if I do still think she needs to go back to Law school!)

All in all, I loved this thriller to pieces, and I decided to give this one a full 5 stars, because it gripped me so hard I was still thinking about it hours after finishing it. Highly recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for something to devour in one sitting.

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The ‘cute’ children’s classic that filled me with rage! #rantbookreview

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The Peppermint Pig. Nina Bawden. (First published 1975)

It is a difficult year for the Greengrasses. Poll’s father has lost his job and gone overseas, the family are living off the charity of two aunts, and Poll and her brother Theo just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. It takes a tiny, mischievous pig to bring laughter back into their lives.


I picked up this book because I love pigs and I thought this cosy-looking children’s classic would be the perfect cheer-me-up book. I am not usually one to discourage people from reading a particular book, but if you are an animal lover, vegetarian, or sensitive soul, I would strongly advise you don’t read The Peppermint Pig. I am also not usually one for spoilers, but I am going to spoil the ending of this book in my review/discussion because I need to talk about it and vent my feelings. Look away now, if you don’t want to be spoiled.

So, just to give you a brief idea of why I was so upset by this book, let me give you a synopsis:

  • Children’s dad loses his job. Dad goes off to America to try and make his fortune, leaving the rest of the family to move in with their aunts in a cramped cottage. They do not have much money.
  • Family get a little pet pig called Johnnie who is so small he fits inside a pint glass. Johnnie is a mischievous pig with a penchant for Hot Cross Buns, and cheers the family up with his cheeky antics.
  • Johnnie gets large and fat and too big for the house. Family gets a new puppy to distract the children from what is about to happen.
  • Mum sends Johnnie to the butcher to be slaughtered.

DEAR GOD, WHAT A CRUEL AND BRUTAL WAY TO END A STORY. I had no idea how to rate this book out of five stars, so I ended up giving it no rating at all. I wanted to give it 1 star, but I felt it would be unfair of me to give the book such a bad rating for having a sad ending. But I felt so angry with the author, and even more so with the publishers. Let me explain…

Up until Johnnie is killed, the book had been sweet and lovely and heartwarming. If this book didn’t have such a horrible ending, I might have given it four or five stars for its cosy, charming writing and amusing characters. But I felt incredibly betrayed by this book, because it pretends to be something it isn’t. If I was reading a Stephen King novel, I would expect at least one of the characters to come to a grisly end, because that’s kind of what I signed up for. But, the adorable pig on the front cover and the cutesy blurb on the back cover give no indication that Johnnie is going to end up on someone’s dinner plate by the end of this story. This book is packaged so that it will appeal to animal lovers, yet animals lovers are exactly the kind of audience who should avoid this book like the plague. It all feels so misleading: “Read this cute piggy book, it will make you so happy… oh wait, we’re lying to you, it will actually rip your heart out of your body and spit on it, whilst you sit there and cry a salty river of tears!”

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An even cuter purveyor of evil lies!

I think in some way the author intends for her audience to feel betrayed, because in feeling so we can fully empathise with the little girl protagonist Poll, who loves her friend Johnnie and feels horribly betrayed by her mother for sending him away to be killed and eaten. Perhaps the author is trying to explore the theme of adults lying to/misleading children, and that we cannot always trust those we love. But, the thing is, a few scenes later, the author attempts to justify what has happened to Johnnie by having Poll’s Aunt Sarah take her to the butcher and explain that animals HAVE to be killed so that we can eat them. After this, Poll forgives her mother without much more fuss. So, I’m not really sure what message the author is trying to convey. It doesn’t really seem like she’s on Johnnie’s side though. (RIP)

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the mum has to sell the pig; I understand that the family are poor and struggling, and that sometimes bad things happen. I know that bad things happening in a book doesn’t make the book itself bad. I know that not all stories have happy endings, and that we shouldn’t shy away from helping children to understand that. But, at the same time… I would never read this story to a child, and I regret reading it myself. Sometimes we NEED a happy book with a comforting ending, to give us hope, to make us feel better. That’s what I thought I was getting, which is the reason I was left so bitterly disappointed by this book.

This is not a bad book, and I can see why lots of people DO love it, because it is well-written, with loveable characters (especially the late Johnnie, RIP). However, this book really wasn’t for me. I’m sorry if this review was an incoherent rant where I repeated myself a bunch of times. I probably could have just typed the word BETRAYAL over and over again and it would have had the same effect. 😛 Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go read something fluffy with a proper happy ending. Recommendations welcome!

P.S. If anyone needs cheering up now, you are welcome to look at this photo of me hanging out with an adorable micro pig (who just would not look at the camera, sorry!) and live vicariously through me 🙂

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9 Comments »

Mini reviews: ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’ and ‘Let the Right One In.’

Review number one: ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’ by Anna Kendrick

Rating: 5 stars

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I picked up Anna Kendrick’s book when I was feeling poorly, and it was exactly what I needed to cheer myself up. I love the way Anna writes and she is so damn funny I was laughing out loud the whole way through.

When I was younger, I used to think celebrities weren’t ‘real’ people. Obviously I don’t think that now, but Anna Kendrick’s book made me fully appreciate that they *are* real, and Anna Kendrick is one of the realest. (Too many reals in that sentence, for real.) Anna comes across as so human, relatable, and down to earth. Even though she’s a successful actress, she’s just as awkward and anxious as I am. She’s got a fabulous self-deprecating sense of humour, she’s struggled with insecurities throughout her life, and she doesn’t take anything she’s achieved for granted. I loved reading about her school days full of awkward relationships and embarrassing moments. I just wanted to hug her and be like: aww, Anna, me too.

It was fascinating learning about Hollywood movies behind the scenes. It’s actually a lot less glamourous than I would have imagined, and there is no way in hell I would be able to do it. I need way more sleep than Anna Kendrick gets (and it sounds like she does too!) It was awesome reading about the funny things that happened on the sets of some of my favourite movies too.

My favourite section of the book was the chapter entitled “The World’s Most Reluctant Adult”. I swear to God I’ve never related to anything harder in my life! It’s so reassuring to know that even someone as successful as Anna Kendrick procrastinates doing housework, and promises herself every year that THIS will be the year she gets her shit together.

My other favourite part of the book was the ‘bonus reading group guide’ at the end of the book, a total satire full of hilarious questions written by Anna herself which had me cracking up with laughter. I desperately want to quote them, but they won’t make a dollop of sense unless you’ve read the book.

I thought I loved Anna before I read this book, because I enjoy her movies and find her tweets funny, but now I know I adore her and want her to be my best friend, thank you please.


Review number two: ‘Let the Right One In’ by  John Ajvide Lindqvist

Rating: 3 stars

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I have mixed feeling about this book, hence the three star rating. The writing was five stars for me: it was so atmospheric, and the author put just enough detail in to make every scene vivid, yet not so much as to make the descriptive sections drag. He managed to make a fairly ordinary suburban setting creepy as hell, and I found the first half of the novel so thrilling because of said creepiness.

The plot for me, however, was only okay. I didn’t feel that much actually happened, and for a 500+ page book I needed way more *story*. Most of the characters were interesting, but Eli, the vampire, who is the whole point of the book, was two-dimensional for me. I know Eli was supposed to be an enigma to begin with, but by the end of the novel I at least expected to have a clear understanding of how Eli became a vampire. But, nope. Eli was severely lacking in the back-story department.

Oskar and Hakan were the most interesting characters for me, but I didn’t feel like they underwent a whole lot of development as the story progressed. Everyone in this novel felt static to me. I felt like if I were to leave them, and come back to revisit them at a different point in their lives, they would all be sitting exactly where I left them. Despite this, I enjoyed reading about these two characters, because I found both of them very twisted.

Hakan is a paedophile, and reading from his perspective was extremely uncomfortable, but somehow fascinating. The author took this character to some very dark places indeed. Oskar, our main character, was also an interesting one: he’s a young, clever, slightly overweight boy, and by all appearances sweet and innocent, but spends his spare time scrapbooking articles about serial killers and fantasizing about murder. He was a pretty messed up kid, but I did find him likeable, and I was rooting for him. Not sure what this says about me…

I really rated the first half of this book, but the second half dragged. I did enjoy this book, but I think I would have loved it more had it had either had more character development and exploration of Eli’s backstory, or simply been about 100 pages shorter!

7 Comments »

My favourite creepy books!

Hello everybody and happy Almost-Halloween! I hope you’re all lounging around in your pyjamas soaking up the spooky vibes through your day-light-saving-time-darkened windows. (I know the clocks haven’t actually FALLen back yet, but it’s getting darker day by day, and I’m loving the otherworldly walks home in the dark when I go out after 6pm.)

Today I am bringing you some of my favourite creepy reads, because I am feeling Halloweeny, and I want to pass those pumpkin-feels on, y’know?

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Without further ado, here are some books that will give you the shivers, even though you probably already turned the heating up last week because there’s a CHILL in there airrrrr…


Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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Night Film is one of my favourite novels of all time, and I can’t think of a more perfect book to read in October. The story follows Scott McGrath, a journalist who is investigating the suspicious suicide of a woman named Ashley Cordova, daughter of the renowned, but reclusive, cult horror movie director, Stanislas Cordova.

Cordova is a fascinating character, elusive and strange; his films have been banned because of their horrifically disturbing nature, and there are rumours that some of the things that happened in those films were not quite as fictional as they appeared on screen…

This book is a total mindf**k, you’re constantly questioning what is and isn’t real, and it’s so gorgeously written it hurts. Please read this and become as obsessed as I am with it.


I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

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This is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, and it’s really hard to explain why. It follows a woman who is travelling with her boyfriend to visit his parents for the weekend, which doesn’t sound creepy at all, but there’s something really, really off about the situation. You feel in your bones that something horrifying is going to happen, but you have no idea why you feel that way.

The feeling does not let up, and the book proceeds to get creepier and creepier until it is so unbearably creepy you can’t sit still. The final sequence of this book still haunts me to this day.


Slade House by David Mitchell

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Slade House is a story told from several different perspectives, about a strange house where, every 9 years around Halloween-time, a different guest is summoned to the house, and something utterly terrifying happens to them there.

This book is so freaking perfect; it’s tricksy, and strange, twisty, and beautifully constructed. It made my heart beat faster, and gave me proper heebie-jeebies. There’s a quote in the book where one of the characters describes the evening she spends at the house as being like “a board game co-designed by M. C. Escher on a bender and Stephen King in a fever”, and to be honest that’s a pretty good description of the entire book. It messed with my mind, and blew me away. As I said, PERFECTION.


Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

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Psychological thrillers don’t often stick in my mind after I finish them, because they’re usually quite samey and forgettable, but I’m still thinking about this book a few months after reading it because it was genuinely frightening.

The story follows a woman named Grace who is being held prisoner by her husband Jack, who keeps her in line using extreme psychological abuse. It’s not a mysterious book – we know who the villain is and understand their motives straight away – but that doesn’t stop this book from being hideously tense and scary; in fact, I think it makes it more so.

The tension is relentless, and claustrophobic, and you really find yourself trapped inside Grace’s head, trapped inside Jack’s house, with no way out. A powerful and memorable read.


Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

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This book is set in Victorian London and follows an opium-addicted doctor who is investigating a string of brutal, copycat, Jack-the-Ripper-style murders which may or may not have something paranormal behind them.

This is one of the darkest, goriest, scariest books I have ever read. Victorian London is shadowy and murky and creepily atmospheric, the narrative is dreamlike and strange, and this book contains scenes which literally made my heart pound with fear. It’s SO freaking brilliant and evil, and I’m desperate to re-read it at some point.


Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

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Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, but I would actually recommend reading this as a standalone and not bothering with the other two. If you like all your questions answered, and you’re not a fan of ambiguity, this won’t be for you, but if you like spooky strangeness and mysteries we’ll never fully know the answers to you will adore this.

The story follows four scientists who are sent to investigate an ecological anomaly referred to as ‘Area X’. Several other parties have been sent into Area X previously, and many of those parties have not made it back. The ones who have been fortunate enough to return have been changed… irrevocably.

This book was creepy as all hell, weird as all hell, and I never knew what was going to be around the next corner. It thrilled the conspiracy-nut side of my personality, and reignited my desire for there to be something ‘other’ to the ordinary world we live in.


What are some of your favourite creepy books? I’m always on the lookout for recommendations!

10 Comments »

A creepy & atmospheric Autumn read: ‘S.T.A.G.S.’ by M.A. Bennett

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S.T.A.G.S. M.A. Bennett. Hot Key Books. August 2017.

Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…


I picked this book up at YALC on the recommendation of somebody I met in the Waterstones queue. As soon as she had explained the concept to me I was SO desperate to read it that I immediately ran to the Hot Key Books stand, terrified that they might sell out before I got there. Thankfully I got my copy, despite the book being their best-seller of the weekend! As I was so excited to read this, I had very high expectations, but I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed. This book was SO exciting, and I was hooked from the very intriguing beginning to the chilling final sentence.

S.T.A.G.S. tells the story of Greer, a scholarship student who is struggling to fit in at her elite boarding school. Having made no friends by the time the first school holiday rolls around, she is excited and surprised when she receives an invitation to spend the weekend at Longcross, an estate in the Lake District belonging to the de Walencourt’s, a wealthy family who have been attending S.T.A.G.S. for generations. There is something off about this invitation from the beginning, because neither Henry de Walencourt, nor his group of friends (who refer to themselves as ‘the Medievals’) have ever spoken to Greer, except to make fun of her Manchester accent. Nevertheless, Greer is charmed by Henry, intrigued about the group’s way of life, and lonely, so she accepts without question.

This book is beautifully written, with vivid, immersive descriptions that transported me directly into the story’s setting. S.T.A.G.S (which the author herself has described as a kind of ‘dark Hogwarts’) was a wonderful creation, and the worldbuilding employed to set the scene was magnificent. Longcross estate was also constructed with so much detail that I believed in its existence wholeheartedly. I adored all of the descriptions of the vast rooms and endless corridors, the named bedrooms with their roaring fireplaces, and the sinister presence of stags’ heads on almost every wall. I also appreciated the detail which went into describing every elaborate dinner which took place at Longcross. Every page felt like taking another mouthful of some rich, decadent meal – one in which you can taste every single flavour – and it was just so satisfying to read.

The characters in S.T.A.G.S. are just as layered as the setting. Although there are nine characters in total (eleven if you count ‘Perfect’, the creepy headkeeper of the estate who never speaks unless it’s to his master, and ‘Betty’, his surly wife), they were all well drawn and distinctive. The dialogue in this book was fabulous, and it was never difficult to tell which character was speaking because they all had a clear ‘voice’.

There are only three likeable characters in this novel, and all of them are ‘outsiders’: we have Greer, our main character, Nel, a girl who doesn’t fit in because she comes from the ‘wrong’ kind of money, and Shafeen, an Indian boy, who despite growing up with the same privileges as them, is mercilessly bullied by the Medievals. I really enjoyed the bond that begins to form between these three characters as they start to realise they are in danger. The rest of the characters, the Medievals, are all unlikeable, and yet there is something seductive about them too; I found it so interesting to see the way Greer found herself manipulated by them and the charm they could so believably conjure, and yet quickly and bluntly turn off when they were about to do or say something insidious.

One of the most interesting things about the novel was the exploration of privilege and ‘otherness’. Greer, Shafeen, and Nel are considered to be ‘different’ by the Medievals. They don’t fit in to the aristocratic, white, privileged world of the Medievals; Greer because of her class, Shafeen because of the colour of his skin, and Nel because of her family’s ‘new money’. The views the Medievals held disgusted me, and the ignorant way Shafeen in particular was treated was very hard to stomach. The Medievals’ sense of entitlement and self-importance led each of them down a very dark path in this book, and I think their belief in what they were doing, and the casual, dispassionate way they went about it, as if they were doing nothing wrong, were the most chilling aspects of this novel. Naturally there was a fight against their bigotry in this story, but I would have liked to have seen a stronger counter to what the Medievals were saying. I wanted Greer to speak out more. I understood that she was being seduced and manipulated by Henry, but I did find myself getting annoyed with her every time she gave him the benefit of the doubt.

What I loved most about this book was the creepy atmosphere and tension it managed to sustain throughout. I loved that even in scenes of supposed safety, nothing felt safe. This book wasn’t super-gory like I was expecting, but somehow it didn’t need that to be utterly chilling. I also felt that, even without the concept of the teenagers themselves being hunted, the scenes where the Medievals were hunting and shooting animals were sinister enough in their own right.

This book really made me think about the brutality of hunting, and the arrogance of it too: assuming that our lives are more important than the lives of animals, and the idea of hunting them for sport, for fun, makes me feel sick. Of course, I’ve always held that opinion, but reading about it made me consider that maybe I should do more in terms of fighting against it, particularly as our conservative government in the UK want to lift the ban on fox-hunting. Going back to the story, however, what was most interesting and terrifying about the hunting scenes was how compelling they were to read, despite the repulsiveness of the action they contained. The scenes were so immersive and atmospherically written that it was somehow believable that Greer would be swept away by it all, even if she disagreed with it in principle. Very clever storytelling.

The ending of this book was unexpected and the last sentence gave me chills. I can’t really say any more about that because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was the perfectly sinister way to end a book. If you want to read something dark, original, well-written, and gripping I highly recommend giving S.T.A.G.S. a read. I gave this book five stars, and I can’t wait to see what the author writes next.

11 Comments »

The A-Z Book Tag

Hi guys! Hope you’re all having a lovely week, and enjoying the season of pumpkin-spiced-everything as much as I am.

I haven’t done a book tag in 5eva, so when I saw this one over at YA Allegiance, I couldn’t resist giving it a go, because apparently I am never going to get around to doing any of the tags I have actually been tagged in. I’m the worst.

If you want to give this tag a go, feel free lovely people. Link me to your answers down below if so. Here are mine (and in case you couldn’t tell, I’ve made them as Autumnal as possible because October is my life):


Author You’ve Read The Most Books From:

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Lucy Daniels. I read approx. fifty gazillion of the Animal Ark books when I was little, and I was obsessed with them, even though they were all basically the same story but with a different animal. I recently discovered that ‘Lucy Daniels’ is not a real person, but a bunch of different authors writing under a pen name. My childhood imploded.


Best Sequel Ever:

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This is such a difficult question, but I think I’m going to have to steal YA Allegiance’s answer and go with A Court of Mist and Fury. It was my favourite book of 2016, and Rhysand is bae. I mean, I really f***ing hate the word ‘bae’, but let’s be real, he is bae.


Currently Reading:

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I’m currently reading The Diviners by Libba Bray. I’m in the mood for paranormal reads at the moment because I live and breathe the month of Halloween, and I am enjoying this book SO MUCH. I love the creepy, occult vibes, I love the 1920s New York setting, I love how outrageous and fun the main character is, and I’m very impressed with Libba Bray’s writing.


Drink of Choice While Reading:

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I love cosying up with a mint hot chocolate and a good book.


E–Reader or Physical Book?

I much prefer reading physical books. There’s something so satisfying about turning pages; swiping on a screen is just not the same.


Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

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Michael Moscovitz from The Princess Diaries, my very first fictional crush, obvs.


Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

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A Game of Thrones. I put off reading this book for the longest time, because I thought it would be too violent for me, but when I finally got around to reading it, I adored it. I really need to read the rest of the series, but those books are so intimidatingly long, and the TV show has Kit Harrington, so…


Hidden Gem Book:

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Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson. Why do people Not Know about this book? It is the most adorable gay romance with the most hilarious narrator of ever. It will make your heart so HAPPY.


Important Moment in your Reading Life:

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I guess that would be the moment when, at the age of 17, I fell unconditionally and irrevocably in love with Edward Cullen. I was SUCH a Twihard teenage fangirl. Just to clarify, I fell out of love with Mr Sparklypants eventually, but I still give Twilight and Stephanie Meyer credit for igniting my love of reading, and turning me into the bookworm you see before you today.


Just Finished:

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I’ve just finished reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This is a very short, very strange book, with very odd characters, a cat called Jonas, and a mass-murder involving blackberries. Right up my alley, basically.


Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

I’m not the hugest reader of historical fiction, unless there are paranormal elements involved, or the characters are LGBTQ+.


Longest Book You’ve Read:

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The longest book I’ve ever read is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I enjoyed parts of the book, but on the whole, I was bored to tears, especially the part where there was a ten-page description of some characters mowing a field. TEN F***ING PAGES, PEOPLE!!!!


Major Book Hangover Because Of:

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I don’t often get book hangovers, because I’m usually excited to start another book, but when I binge-read a series I tend to struggle to get into something else straight afterwards, because I’m still wrapped up in the characters I’ve been spending all my time with.


Number of Bookcases You Own:

I have three bookcases at my flat in London, and two bookcases at my parents’ house in Oxford, although not all of them are full yet. Why helloooo, Waterstones, I haven’t bought anything from YOU in a while!


One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

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I’ve read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone over and over and over. It’s not my favourite book in the series (although of course I adore it), but I’m really bad at finishing the full re-read, so I always end up going back and starting at the beginning again. The beginning is pretty magical though, tbh. 🙂


Preferred Place To Read:

Probably on the sofa, because when I get into bed, my eyes automatically get sleepy, and my book gets neglected. This sounds like sacrilege but I think I like sleep more than books, you guys. Don’t throw things at me!


Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All The Feels From A Book You’ve Read:

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I adore this quote from Wild by Cheryl Strayed (one of my favourite books of all time):

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”


Reading Regret:

That I’ve never, ever read a graphic novel. So many people seem to be into them. I feel like I’m missing out!


Series You Started And Need To Finish:

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I seriously need to finish the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, because I really want to read Six of Crows. I enjoyed Shadow and Bone, but I’ve been reading Siege and Storm for ages now and I’m finding it a bit boring.


Three Of Your All-Time Favourite Books:

I’ve already mentioned Wild by Cheryl Strayed, so I’ll go with Night Film by Marisha Pessl, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.


Unapologetic Fangirl For:

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I’m trash for Malec, Rhysand, and Damon Salvatore.


Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

the accident seasonlosta …????

I have no idea what this book will be called, or when it will be released, but I can’t wait to get my hands on Moira Fowley-Doyle’s next book. I read and loved The Accident Season in 2015 (which, btw, is the PERFECT Autumn read, if you’re looking for recs), and I recently finished her second book, The Spellbook of the Lost and Found. If you love magical realism and atmosphere with a capital A, I highly recommend her books.


Worst Bookish Habit:

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I’m sure everyone can relate, but definitely buying books and then not reading them, then buying more books, and reading them instead of the ones I already owned, and then buying even more books. And repeat, forever.


X Marks The Spot: Start At The Top Left Of Your Shelf And Pick The 27th Book:

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The 27th book on my shelf is The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, which I am ashamed to say has been sitting on said shelf since before I started this blog. I am, however, planning to finally read it this month, because it feels like an October kind of book, and I’m trying to read as many of those as possible this October.


Your Latest Book Purchase:

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I ordered Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury from Amazon yesterday. It’s a story about a dark carnival, set around Halloween, so it’s top of my TBR for the last week of October.


ZZZ-Snatcher Book (The Last Book That Kept You Up WAY Late):

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I don’t often stay up late reading these days, because I get hella cranky without my beloved bed, but when I read I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid, I sacrificed sleep because that book was just too damn addictive. It was also very creepy and legitimately scared me, so I may have struggled to nod off after finishing it too…


Have you read any of the books I mentioned? I’d love to know what you thought of them! 🙂

35 Comments »

Book review: ‘Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness’ by Susannah Cahalan

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Brain on Fire. Susannah Cahalan. Penguin. September 2013.

Brain on Fire is the stunning debut from journalist and author Susannah Cahalan, recounting the real-life horror story of how a sudden and mysterious illness put her on a descent into a madness for which there seemed to be no cure

‘My first serious blackout marked the line between sanity and insanity. Though I would have moments of lucidity over the coming days and weeks, I would never again be the same person …’

Susannah Cahalan was a happy, clever, healthy twenty-four-year old. Then one day she woke up in hospital, with no memory of what had happened or how she had got there. Within weeks, she would be transformed into someone unrecognizable, descending into a state of acute psychosis, undergoing rages and convulsions, hallucinating that her father had murdered his wife; that she could control time with her mind. Everything she had taken for granted about her life, and who she was, was wiped out.


Brain on Fire is the one of the most interesting books I have read this year. I don’t often pick up memoirs, but this one sounded too fascinating to ignore. Susannah’s story was terrifying, but so compelling, and I couldn’t put it down. Although there are scientific explanations and statistics peppered throughout this book, it is primarily told like a story. To begin with, it feels psychological-thriller-esque, as there is so much mystery surrounding Susannah’s increasingly worrying behaviour, and what exactly *is* going wrong in her brain. You can’t help but put yourself in Susannah’s shoes and imagine how scary it would be if this were happening to you.

Susannah takes us from the point at which she first becomes ill, through her period of hospitalization, up to her diagnosis, and beyond to her eventual recovery. Whilst Susannah remembers very little about her time in the hospital, she has used interviews with family, friends, and those who treated her, to piece together the missing month of her life. She also describes videos of herself, recorded in the hospital, which give an insight into what was happening to her body when her mind was seemingly absent. These descriptions are unnerving to read, as I am sure they were unnerving for Susannah to watch. She doesn’t recognise the person in those videos, and I can’t comprehend what a strange, disconcerting experience it must have been to see herself like that.

The scariest thing about Susannah’s story is that this could happen to any of us, without warning, at any time. Our brains and the bodies they live in are unfathomably complex and wonderful, but if even the tiniest part of the system malfunctions, our lives can descend into chaos. What Susannah went through is horrifying – seizures, paranoia, insomnia, psychosis, and eventually catatonia – and I can thoroughly appreciate why Susannah describes herself as having been ‘betrayed’ by her body. All of these symptoms came about because Susannah’s body decided to turn on her, and she had no control over the situation whatsoever. It was so interesting to see Susannah trying to come to terms with *why* this happened to her, but also with why *she* survived her illness when many others don’t.

The sections of the book when Susannah is in the hospital awaiting her diagnosis were the most interesting to me. It was worrying, but fascinating to see the diagnosis process laid out, because the doctors on Susannah’s case tried so many different things before they eventually landed upon the correct diagnosis and treatment for her. It is scary when you consider that there are some people for whom the correct diagnosis is never found. There were times when it felt like Susannah’s doctors were trying to find a needle in a haystack, but they found that needle, and I found the whole thing mind-blowing. Reading this book gave me so much awe and respect for those working in the medical profession: out of the millions of possibilities as to what could have been causing Susannah’s symptoms, they had the correct one within a month, and were able to treat her. How incredible is that? Medicine, honestly = magic.

What I found so remarkable about this book is that it exists at all. Whilst Susannah is in hospital, and before she is correctly diagnosed, her illness gets progressively worse until she is unable to read, write, eat, walk, or hold a conversation. The fact that she made a full recovery, and went on to write this incredible piece of non-fiction, which is intelligently written, journalistically researched, as well as being a powerful story, feels nothing short of miraculous. Brain on Fire is a fascinating read, and Susannah Cahalan is an incredible woman. Highly worth picking this one up!

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