The Mud and Stars Book Blog

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

Recent reads: Giant Days & Dear Evan Hansen!

Happy Sunday, bookish friends!

Today I am reviewing a couple of the books I’ve read recently! Both books are in fact novelisations of pre-existing stories that have been told in another format (the first being the novelisation of a musical, and the second the novelisation of a musical!) I was going to call these ‘mini reviews’, but I realised that what I call ‘mini’ is not actually all that mini… I tend to get carried away with my thoughts haha. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy these ‘mid-length reviews’ of two books I have recently enjoyed!


Giant Days by Non Pratt

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Giant Days is the novelisation of the comic book series of the same name by John Allison. I haven’t read the graphic novels so I am not really sure how the two formats compare, but I have seen quite a few Goodreads reviews from fans of the comics who have been disappointed by this novelisation. Having no comparison, I actually really enjoyed the novel, although I had some issues with it.

The story essentially follows three friends  – Susan, Esther and Daisy  – in their first term of university. Each girl has their own storyline: Susan is trying to avoid a boy from home whom she has some *history* with, Esther is trying to befriend a goth girl from her course whom she idolises but who isn’t actually very nice, and Daisy has joined a yoga society which may or may not be a cult! Although there are storylines, this book didn’t really feel like it had a plot. It’s a slice of life kind of story, which is okay as I enjoyed reading about the lives of these girls, but I can see why this type of story probably works better as a graphic novel.

I found this book very funny, and I really enjoyed all three of the characters. That being said, these characters in some ways felt like caricatures. They were all very quirky, and their dialogue was whip smart, but they didn’t feel all that much like real people. I felt like they had been written to be entertaining first and foremost, and that stopped me from connecting deeply with any of them. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as their antics were very amusing, but it meant that overall I was purely entertained by the novel, rather than wowed by it.

Nevertheless, I did think the novel covered some important topics relating to university life, namely the ups and downs of choosing and making new friends, finding somewhere you belong, and trying to forge a new path for yourself at university. Although it explores these topics through far-fetched, comedic storylines, I still found there was wisdom to be drawn from them.

I’d love to give the comics a try at some point, so if you have read them, please do let me know what you thought of them!


Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich

dearevanhansen

(Trigger warnings: anxiety, depression, suicide)

Dear Evan Hansen is the novelisation of a musical of the same name. I’ve never watched the musical Dear Evan Hansen, but I have listened to the soundtrack a lot, and I absolutely adore the songs and their message.

The story follows a boy named Evan Hansen who has severe anxiety. His therapist asks him to write a letter to himself every day, beginning with the words ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. When a boy called Connor gets hold of one of Evan’s letters, and later commits suicide, Evan’s letter is found with Connor, and Connor’s parents wrongly assume that Connor wrote the letter to Evan, and that they were best friends. Anxious, confused and lonely, and not wanting to upset Connor’s parents, Evan finds himself going along with the lie. He finds himself drawn into the fold of this grieving family,  feeling like he belongs somewhere for the first time in his life. And, as he begins to feel a connection to this boy he never knew, Evan decides to start ‘The Connor Project’, a movement designed to remember his ‘friend’, and reassure others who feel alone that they are not.

I have a huge emotional connection to the soundtrack, but I didn’t find the novelisation had quite the same impact on me. There are some emotionally empowering and emotionally devastating songs in the musical that honestly give me chills, and the message that everyone deserves to be remembered and recognised, and that nobody deserves to be alone and forgotten is a big theme. This message was definitely in the book, but I didn’t feel it came across as strongly as it does in the musical. It didn’t stir me up in quite the same way. Nevertheless, there were some things that got me, especially the representation of Evan’s anxiety, loneliness, and struggles to fit in – I thought they were very relatable, well-written, and at times heartbreaking. I also found a particular scene between Evan and his mum extremely moving, and it made me cry, just as its musical equivalent did.

It’s a hard story to ‘enjoy’, because you spend a large part of the reading experience feeling uncomfortable and conflicted. Obviously what Evan does is very wrong, and the more time he spends with Connor’s family, and the deeper he gets into the lie, the more nauseous you feel about what he is doing. Yet at the same time, you also find yourself feeling desperately sorry for Evan. It’s heartbreaking when he starts to feel this connection to Connor as somebody he perhaps really could have been friends with, but now never will. He’s so lonely, and the only friend he has is essentially imaginary (as he never really knew Connor), and that just made me want to comfort him, despite how problematic his actions were becoming.

I felt that the ending of the story was a bit rushed, and I wish that the fall out was explored in more depth, but I thought the very ending hit the right emotional notes, and I think overall it was a good, if imperfect, book, which has earned a place in my heart. The story is one that makes me realise I am not alone, and helps me towards starting to accept myself, especially when told in its musical format. I definitely recommend listening to the soundtrack before you read this book, as I think you will get even more from it if you do. I would love to see the musical on stage someday!


Have you read either of these books, or consumed either of these stories in their other formats? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!

Lots of literary love, Jess! xxx

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Books I’ve read recently: mini reviews!

Happy Friday, lovely bookish people!

Today I thought I’d share with you my thoughts on some of the books I’ve read since my last post! I’ve actually read 5 (almost 6) books since I last updated, but I’m only reviewing 3 today otherwise this post would be ridiculously long (even for me, who can’t help but turn everything I write into a dissertation!) More mini reviews coming soon. 🙂


A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

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This book is the first instalment in a YA mystery series following the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (Charlotte and Jamie), who meet at boarding school, and become friends when they are both seemingly implicated in the murder of one of their classmates. They start working together to find out who is trying to set them up, and who the real murderer is.

I really enjoyed this book, but I loved the first half a lot more than the second. What I loved most about this book were the characters, and watching their friendship develop. Charlotte and Jamie are undoubtedly similar to Conan Doyle’s characters, but because this is so obviously intentional you can appreciate how well the spirit of those beloved old characters is captured in these new ones. I thought Watson was a loveable narrator, and Holmes a fascinating character. I loved seeing Sherlock’s traits in a female character; I think it’s rare to see female characters struggle to express emotions, and be unapologetically haughty, and I really enjoyed both of those things about her! I found the dialogue of both characters sharp, often funny, and I loved the banter between our two leads.

What I didn’t love so much about this story was the mystery itself. I didn’t find myself fully invested, and although I didn’t necessarily work out what was going to happen in the end, I didn’t feel all that shocked by the outcome either. The other thing is that I had to suspend my disbelief a LOT when it came to the things Holmes and Watson pulled off, but I guess that’s kind of the point; the tension and stakes were certainly high!

I definitely want to carry on with the series, because I am invested in the relationship between the characters, so I am hoping that I will feel more compelled by the mysteries in the next two books.


Never Trust a Rabbit by Jeremy Dyson

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I found this collection very entertaining, but I had a few issues with it too. Overall the stories were dark and surreal, but unlike a lot of stories in the ‘weird fiction’ genre, these all had fairly satisfying resolutions that often had a poignant point to make. I really appreciated this, because sometimes the endings of these kinds of stories can be *too* ambiguous.

The stories I loved most in here were ‘City Deep’ and ‘The Maze’. Both of these were extremely unsettling. City Deep is about a forgotten branch of the London Underground where something ‘other’ is lurking, and I am still thinking about how spooked I was by this story. I had to take the tube the day after reading it, and my heart was beating so fast, purely from thinking about the creepiness of this story’s ending. ‘The Maze’ is about a man who remembers a maze in a park that he visited as a child, but he can’t seem to find anybody else who remembers it too. This story was weird in the best way, and the ending was quite shiversome!

I don’t think there were any stories that I wasn’t entertained by, but some of them bothered me because of the way their male narrators talked about women and women’s bodies. What I will say, however, is that the sleaziest and most unlikeable characters were not rewarded for their behaviour, so I did appreciate that, even though reading their thoughts did make me feel uncomfortable. ‘The Engine of Desire’ is a particular story I had this issue with, and I would give a trigger warning for rape with this story. However, if that is something you are okay with reading about, the story is very interesting, and the ending fantastically creepy.

The other issue I had is that there is some homophobia throughout the text, which wasn’t relevant to the stories, so had no reason for being there. This book was published almost 20 years ago, so it’s not necessarily surprising (and I am sure it would have been edited out if being published in more recent times), but it’s there, so just be aware of that going into this.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this collection. If you like all things creepy and strange, this is definitely worth picking up!


Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

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I picked this book up at YALC last year, after really enjoying Freshers by the same writing duo. I didn’t love this one quite as much as their other book, but I still found it entertaining, funny, and relatable, as well as being a quick, fun read.

The story is told in alternating perspective chapters, and follows two characters called Hannah and Sam who meet during the summer before they start university. Both characters want to lose their virginity before they go off to college, so there are a lot of references to sex in this book, and it was quite refreshing for a YA book to be so sex-positive (and in a realistic way too – yay!) The romance between Hannah and Sam was a little bit frustrating, because it took them a long time to sort themselves out and get together. I don’t mind slow burn romances, but theirs was more a case of a whole ton of miscommunication, misunderstandings, and unnecessary jealousy! I really just wanted to smack their heads together.

Despite my frustrations with the romance, I did actually like Hannah and Sam as characters, and there were a lot of hilarious side characters in this story too. One of my favourite things about this book was the comedy – Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison write humour so well. There were some characters that I hated though, one of them being Hannah’s best friend Stella. Their friendship was so toxic, and I found it hard to understand why they were even friends?!

A lot of the story focuses on the summer being a kind of limbo period for Hannah and Sam. They’ve finished school, and they’re waiting to get their exam results to find out whether they’ve got into their chosen universities. I thought the anxieties about exam results were well portrayed, and I think a lot of teenagers (and adults who have been through this experience) will relate to this! I also really enjoyed reading about the (separate) holidays our main characters go on during that summer; that period just before university is such a strange time because you feel so much more grown up than you are, and experiences like the freedom of first holidays with friends instead of parents can turn out very differently from how you expect them to be. I thought this was really well reflected in Hannah’s experience in Kavos with her friends, where her behaviour and feelings, as well as theirs, end up surprising her.

All in all, I enjoyed this novel a lot, despite a few minor frustrations, and I can’t wait to read whatever these authors come out with next.


Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear what you thought of them!

Lots of literary love, Jess xxx

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The Spring has Sprung Book Tag

Hello, lovely bookish people! 

Today I thought I would have a go at the ‘Spring has Sprung’ Book Tag, which was created by The Naughty Librarian.

It doesn’t look much like spring outside my window right now, so here are some pictures of some lovely spring flowers to get us all in a sunny mood (featuring my stuffed pig, ‘Piggly Puff’: he has his own Instagram account and has more followers than this blog!!!)

Hope these cute pictures brought you some warm fuzzies on this cold, un-springlike day!

Without further ado, here are my answers to the tag. If you would like to participate too, consider yourself tagged! 🙂


1) Flowers: All the flowers we remember are blooming again. Pick a book that’s a fresh take on a retelling.

Okay, so this is a weak start, but I’m struggling to come up with an answer for this question. I very rarely read re-tellings any more, simply BECAUSE they don’t feel fresh to me.

studyincharl

It’s not strictly a retelling, and I haven’t actually read it yet, but I’ve got A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro on my shelf, and I’m so excited to get to that! It’s the start of a murder mystery series which follows the descendants of Sherlock and Watson at boarding school! Sounds like a unique spin on the original stories, and exactly my kind of book.


2) Mini Eggs: Obviously the superior springtime candy of choice. Pick a book that you consider to be a sweet treat.

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Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch was a really cute and fluffy treat (despite having some sad parts to it). The romance was adorable, the setting (Tuscany, Italy) was beautiful, and the storyline of the main character getting to know her estranged father melted my heart too. It really was the novel equivalent of eating a super sweet and yummy ice cream on a sunny day, and it filled me with joy.


3) Allergies: Seasonal allergies often make your eyes water. Pick a book that made you cry.

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All of the books in The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. I will never get over the fate of a certain character in this series. I have honestly never cried so much whilst reading a book as I did during this one scene. The books follow a boy named Todd in a dystopian world where all the women have disappeared, and all the men can hear each other’s thoughts. Then, one day, Todd stumbles across a girl…


4) Spring Cleaning: Out with the old and in with the new. Pick a book to unhaul.

cruelprincewickedking

I’m thinking of unhauling The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King by Holly Black. I picked up the sequel for 50p in the charity shop before I’d read the first one, and now I’ve read it I’m not sure I can be bothered to continue with the series. I gave it 3 stars and found it quite forgettable, plus I only like a couple of the characters, and Prince Cardan definitely isn’t one of them! I sort of like Jude, but not enough to fall in love with this series.


5) Spring Break: It’s the perfect time for an adventure. Pick a book involving a road trip.

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I loved The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. Set in the 1700s, the story follows Monty, Felicity and Percy as their Grand Tour across Europe goes wildly awry. This book is full of crazy escapades, hilarity, and diverse, loveable characters. It’s so fast paced for historical fiction, and I loved every unexpected twist and turn of this adventure.


6) Mating Season: It’s that time of year in the animal kingdom to make some babies. Pick a book with some smutty delights.

Smut-AMAZON-Copy

It’s been a while since I read it, but I really loved Smut by Karina Halle. It’s a hate-to-love romance about a guy and a girl who are paired up for a project in their college creative writing class. They decide to write an erotic novel together to make some money, and the tension between them starts to turn into something a little less fighty, and a lot more makey-outy.


7) Rainbows: Spring is made of rainbows! Pick a book featuring LGBTQ+ character(s).

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I feel like I mention this book all the time, but my favourite LGBTQ+ book is Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson. It’s so pure and sweet and fluffy and lovely. It’s set in an arts and crafts store, the dialogue is really witty and fun, the characters are a joy to read, and the romance is adorable. It has some really lovely and positive coming-out scenes too, which I think is important to see in books. This novel really is one of my favourites of all time, I can’t recommend it enough.


8) Spring Awakening: An amazing musical even though it’s filled with completely dysfunctional characters. Pick a book that’s also filled with completely dysfunctional characters.

monsterscover

I actually just wrote about this book in my last post, but it fits perfectly for this question – Monsters by Emerald Fennell. This is basically about two 12 year olds who are obsessed with murder. At least one of them is a sociopath. The other comes from a very dysfunctional and sad family background. This is such a well-written, character-driven book, and one of the best I’ve read this year.


9) In like a lion, out like a lamb: Pick a book series that didn’t get better as it progressed.

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I’m sure this is an unpopular opinion, but I feel like the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor progressively deteriorated. I really loved the first book, but I felt like the second and third books dragged, and they were so utterly bleak and harrowing, I felt very little joy whilst reading them. The only thing I ended up liking about them were any scenes featuring Zuzana and Mik, because they are just the best, most hilarious and adorable side characters of all time.


Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Lots of literary love, Jess xxx

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Mini reviews: “This Is What Happy Looks Like” by Jennifer E. Smith, and “Ink” by Alice Broadway

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

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If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

It’s June – seventeen-year-old Ellie O’Neill’s least favourite time of year. Her tiny hometown is annually invaded by tourists, and this year there’s the added inconvenience of a film crew. Even the arrival of Hollywood heartthrob Graham Larkin can’t lift her mood.

But there is something making Ellie very happy. Ever since an email was accidentally sent to her a few months ago, she’s been corresponding with a mysterious stranger, the two of them sharing their hopes and fears. Their developing relationship is not without its secrets though – there’s the truth about Ellie’s past… and her pen pal’s real identity. When they finally meet in person, things are destined to get much more complicated. Can two people, worlds apart but brought together by chance, make it against all the odds?

My rating: 3.5 stars

This book was a cute, quick read and the perfect summer escapism story. It’s pretty grey and grim weather in the UK right now, so it was lovely to spend a few hours in a small, sunny town in Maine getting away from it all.

I mainly purchased this book because I read the first few pages in the shop and discovered that the love interest, Graham, had a pet pig. A pet pig is the thing I want most out of life, but my boyfriend is not at all keen on the idea, so for now I’ll just have to live vicariously through Graham. I very much enjoyed all of the Graham’s-pig related anecdotes; although they weren’t the biggest part of the story, they were my favourite part of it.

The romance between Ellie and Graham was gentle and sweet. I wasn’t overwhelmed by feelings and chemistry because it happened fairly quickly, but I enjoyed reading all of the email interactions between them, and their banter about whether the ‘whoopie pie’, the supposed ‘state treat’ of Maine, actually existed. Graham’s determination to find somewhere that sold whoopie pies in Maine was a force to be reckoned with.

Ellie and Graham were both interesting characters. Reading Graham’s chapters left me wanting to give him a big hug. Sure, he was a famous movie star – theoretically he had it pretty good… But delving into Graham’s perspective reinforced what I already suspected: being famous would really suck. The thing which had me feeling most sorry for Graham was the way his family treated him differently from how they had before he became a star. Graham just wanted people to treat him like an ordinary person, but even his parents acted awkwardly around him. Poor baby.

Ellie had an interesting family background, and it was fascinating to see how secrets from her past impacted her relationship with Graham. I also appreciated how selfless Ellie was when considering their relationship and its consequences. She thought about how the press attention would impact her family, and treated her own feelings as secondary. But of course, I was rooting for her to get together with Graham anyway!

All in all, I really enjoyed this novel. It didn’t wow me, but it was a fun read that made me smile and took me away from rainy reality for a while. I’m glad I picked it up!


Ink (Skin Books #1) by Alice Broadway

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In Saintstone, every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever. When Leora’s father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all…

My rating: 3.75 stars

Ink is an underrated book – I haven’t heard anybody talking about it in the bookish community, but I would love for more people to read it. I picked this book up at YALC because a) the cover is SO gorgeous and b) the author spoke on her panel about writing this book whilst she had severe depression, and I thought that was such an incredible, brave thing to do, and an amazing achievement. It inspired me so much to get back into writing.

I’m really glad I bought this book, despite knowing very little about it beforehand, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful and fairytale-like, without being flowery. The plot wasn’t packed with action, yet the book felt pacey – the story flowed very smoothly, and the short chapters had me whizzing through the book. I almost want to go back and re-read it, because I went through it really quickly, and didn’t savour as many of the details as I would have liked. The way this book is written also feels very cosy – it’s the kind of book which would be perfect to read in Autumn, curled up in a blanket with a hot chocolate.

My favourite aspect of this novel was the worldbuilding. Although the plot itself was quite standard dystopian, and it didn’t throw all that many surprises my way, the society of Saintstone felt very unique, and the concept was woven so perfectly into every aspect of life within that society. I particularly enjoyed the use of the myths and fairytales which were scattered throughout the novel; these stories were the foundations of the society and its beliefs, and it was so interesting to see how those in power used stories, which they insisted were literally true, to strengthen their agenda.

I loved all of the scenes in the tattoo shop (or the ‘inker’s’ as it is referred to in this story) where Leora begins her first work placement. It was fascinating to read about all of the different marks people asked for, and the meanings behind them. I don’t have any tattoos myself, but I like learning the stories behind other people’s, and I loved that this book explored the idea of how much we can read into another person from the marks on their skin. Tattoos are a big part of many people’s identities, yet they cannot possibly reveal every little detail of a personality, and I liked the way that Leora, who has always believed she can read people, starts to question whether she truly knows the people in her life after all.

The reason this book just missed out on a 4 star rating was because I didn’t feel like the characters were super-distinctive. The society of Saintstone itself feels like the main character in this story, and the other characters feel like they are there to tell Saintsone’s story, if that makes sense. There was also a romantic subplot in this book which I felt was unnecessary. It’s such a small part of the story, however, that it didn’t bother me all that much.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a dystopian with a fresh concept, strong worldbuilding, and beautiful writing. Pick it up and let me know what you think!

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