Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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Virginia Woolf wrote: ‘English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache… the merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.’ And we’re such language based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify, which is why I’d ask you to frame your mental health around a word other than crazy.

I know that this is a very long quote to start my review with and I apologize. But it hit me hard as one of the best descriptions of what people with a mental-illness go through that I have read/heard in a very long time. I want everyone to read that passage.

I am not a John Green fan. I know that these days that’s a very unpopular thing to say but I’m just not. I read The Fault in Our Stars about 4 years ago and it was okay. But honestly just okay. I can’t remember if I read Paper Towns before or after I read TFIOS but I really hated that one. I read Let It Snow and couldn’t even finish John Green’s section. I think I tried Will Grayson, Will Grayson too and DNFed about 30 pages in. So I have given him a reasonable try and had given up.

When Turtles All The Way Down came out I thought the title was interesting and the cover attractive. But I had given up on John Green already so I was mostly ignoring the very small hype. But the other day I went with my best friend Elri to the library and I was picking out some easy vacation reads. TATWD was there and I looked at her and I grabbed the book, resolving to give him one last try and if I hated this book then never give his work a second glance ever again.

I did not hate this book.

There, I said it.

But I didn’t love this book either. I actually gave it 3 stars.

I think one of my biggest difficulties with John Green was that he tried too hard. He so desperately wanted to be deep that instead it felt cheesy to me. I think he might finally be getting to the maturity of a writer who can actually be deep. I also like that there weren’t a million and one f-words and incessant swearing and sexual language from the characters. This book was actually pretty PG. I’m not against some of that stuff in YA, but it can be a bit over the top and that’s how I’ve felt about his works in the past. This was refreshing to me from Green.

I liked Aza, I sympathized with her. I liked her best friend Daisy and I felt for what she had to put up with. I liked Davis too and how much he accepted Aza’s boundaries. Aza’s mom was sweet and Noah was too. I found the characters likable and the plot decent.

I don’t know why I didn’t love it. It may honestly be that I am still biased, I’ll admit to that. But it might also be that I felt that John Green is getting there, but isn’t quite there yet. I think I will give his next book a go. I might even consider buying this one as it is good enough to own. That says something right?

One final note: the texting actually resembled teenagers how teenagers text. FINALLY!

Buy Turtles All the Way Down here (you should do it, you know you want to, look how pretty it is).

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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Reese Witherspoon declared this her Reese’s Book Club X Hello Sunshine pick of October and so I decided to pick it up without any real knowledge of what the book was about. So I downloaded the audio and off I went on a journey with no expectations.

I loved it.

Honestly, every single second of this book was loved by me. It is a story of a family, a family in which the last born doesn’t want to be a “he” but rather a “she”, but really it is simply about a family.

I don’t tend to spend a lot of time reading LGBTQ+ books. I have read one or two, but I don’t personally seek them out like some of my friends do. Sometimes I feel like I really can’t relate to them at all because they seem to be pushing an agenda at times and then it can honestly come out seeming contrived to me. This book wasn’t contrived, this book was so real and so heart warming and yet heart breaking simultaneously.

Penn, the dad, was my favorite character. Maybe that I have ever come across in any book. The simple reason being he reminds me of Christian. Penn is a sweet man and all his moments are what will stick with me from this book. Staying in the ER so that he can talk to Rosie whenever she comes out, or maybe just so she will get a glimpse of him, because he wants to woo her. I loved that everyone did homework together under his supervision and only after he had made them “a really good snack”. I loved loved loved his stories that he told his wife and children (honest moment: Christian makes up stories for me regularly and this similarity may be the reason I most loved this book).

I think the biggest thing about this book is it simply felt so raw and real. You could have no relation to anyone LGBTQ+ or even really know anyone LGBTQ+, and you would still likely relate to this book in some way. Because reading (or listening to, like I did) this book feels like you have been invited to join the family. The characters were real and lovable and relatable and I felt like I knew them. In this book I laughed and I cried, I got anxious and fearful, and I had so much hope.

I don’t feel like I can adequately sum up this book. I don’t feel like I can give this book what it deserves in my review. I kept saying to Christian (and Elri, my best friend) “you have to listen to this book” and that’s my advice to you too. Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, stop and go listen to this book!

Buy This Is How It Always Is Here (I personally recommend the audio)

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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She had just bought a three hundred and fifty thousand dollar diamond ring she didn’t much care for, a twenty-eight thousand dollar bracelet she quite liked, and a seven hundred and eighty-four thousand dollar pair of earrings that made her look like Pocahontas. For the first time in weeks, she felt bloody fantastic.

This book can be summed up as indulgent and dramatic. It is exactly what you would expect of this kind of chick-lit novel. Everyone is out to get everyone else, the younger generation spends wildly and the older generation are stingy and pretend they have no money at all, mothers hate daughter-in-laws and fathers just try and keep their wives happy.

I really enjoyed this novel (although when I originally heard the title I actually thought it was a biography). Once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down and finished the 403 pages in just over 48 hours. The characters weren’t necessarily likable or relatable, but they were juicy and I wanted to find out what would happen next.

I am not sure how I felt about Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young’s relationship. They were almost a side plot in my opinion whereas the book set them up as the main event. This was more a soap opera kind of book than anything else. So if you’re expecting a romance, I would warn you that it is not the kind of book where you read all about the characters love lives, it was more the kind of book where the romance was necessary to induce all the drama. But the drama was worth the read.

I am interested to see where this trilogy goes and so I will be reading China Rich Girlfriend. Hopefully on my next vacation as Crazy Rich Asians was the perfect beach read.

Buy Crazy Rich Asians Here

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

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I was lying in bed, Christian’s new job meant that I couldn’t talk to him until after midnight so I was scrolling through Libby looking for a way to pass the hours. I clicked on “Available” and then “Audiobooks” and then “Romance”. This was at the top of the list. I thought it looked light and fun and comforting.

That is the story of how I found this book. I love romance novels, they’re my guilty pleasure, and with our wedding less than 6 months away I am enjoying them even more. I also love the royal family and a fan-fiction that mixes the love stories of Prince William and Kate Middleton and of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle seemed like a really good idea.

The thing is, while I really enjoyed the beginning of this book and the end of this book, the middle was long and dragged. Instead of being 454 pages, this book could have been around 250 or 300 and been far more enjoyable and engaging. About half way through the book I realized that they had been together (on-again-off-again) for four years and thought “where else could this go”. As a result what was supposed to be a fun and light read for me ended up being a chore to get through (I did really want to know how it ended) and having several hours of boring audio in there.

One final complaint is I got all mixed up with the names. Gemma, Emma, Eleanor… they were rather similar. And sometimes it felt like a character would disappear for a while and then return and I would have no idea who they were. This is a pet peeve of mine in books.

My advice to all you romance readers looking for a royal romance would be to give this a go. I thought the characters were fun and I did enjoy the story. However I wouldn’t recommend the audio as it is so long (about 18 hours) and I would be willing to skim through some of the scenes that felt repeated. The beginning and the end were all worth it in my opinion but, unfortunately, I have to give the book as a whole only 3 stars.

Buy The Royal We Here

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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I normally would not choose to display the movie or TV show cover of a book but I have done so this time because its hype as a TV show is what got me to pick up this book in the first place.

“I wish I’d be murdered… Then I’d never have to worry again. When you die, you become perfect. I’d be like Princess Diana. Everyone loves her now.”

The people in this book are messed up. You spend a lot of time sitting there thinking “did I just read that?” and having to read it again because it’s almost impossible to take it in. This novel is not nice. It’s not an entertaining read. This is a psychological thriller/drama that will leave you feeling like you’ve read enough of them for a while.

One reviewer that I follow on Goodreads put it very well:

"You know how you eat a bag of potato chips? You pull it off the shelf, and you begin with a small handful. And then you take some more. And some more. And before you know it, you are just eating the whole thing. In one fell swoop.

And then you feel a little sick afterward. Not sick to your stomach, but sick that you gobbled all those chips and enjoyed them so dang much when they really aren't good for you AT ALL.

That's pretty much analogous to how I felt about this book."

There is messy stuff in this book. The sexual content (warning, the book is full of it) alone is horrific, often manipulative and sickening, and left me skipping a paragraph here or there. I wouldn’t suggest this to someone with a weak stomach as there is also a fair amount of gruesome content in it.

So why did I read it?

I read it because it was fascinating. Flynn is a fantastic writer who sucks you in and you want to see how this is all going to end. About 2/3 of the way through I found myself thinking I knew who the suspect was, and right at the very last minute, in the last couple of pages, she turned the whole thing on its head.

I also read it because it felt like watching a horror movie that had no music. Normally when you read a book you can sense that something is coming, sort of like the scary music in a horror movie, but this book would slap you across the face with something brand new and unexpected. It’s not often you get a book like that and so I wanted to keep reading.

Finally, I was interested in the way Flynn dealt with women. Throughout this book, women are grossly undervalued and it is believed that they are simply the decorative and gentle sex whose greatest purpose is to please men. She didn’t tell you how to feel about that, she just told you the story.

I would recommend this book mostly for how good Flynn’s writing is. I may even read another of her books simply for the pleasure of experiencing her brilliant pacing, writing and storytelling… but probably not for a while.

I am now off to read something lighter and happier.

Buy Sharp Objects here

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Cather is a freshman in college. She has always had her twin sister Wren by her side but now Wren wants to experience college life without the “built in best friend” benefit. Cather finds herself with a scary roommate and feeling alone. She wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were, with Wren and her attached at the hip again. But in this time of distress, who else could she turn to but Simon Snow, the main character of the book series she and Wren have followed obsessively since their mother left them when they were kids.

Ok, my summary is terrible. But I enjoyed this book so much that I am scared to give more information for fear of spoiling it for you. I was expecting something else from this book, but it was so much better than I thought it would be.

Now, I’m not sure that everyone else would love this book as much as I did. It was well written and sweet and I think that is what most people would see in it. But I saw myself in Cather. I know what it’s like to feel completely alone in a place where I am unfamiliar and feel almost paralysed by that fear. I completely understand staying holed up in my dorm room wanting to interact with no one and simply write and read. To not go looking for the cafeteria and to sit in my room eating protein bars. To become completely obsessed, for lack of a better word, with a series and not be able to think past it. To not even start a project because I feel that I simply cannot do it so I am not even going to try.

I listened to this on audio but I am going to buy myself a copy of the book. I am not such a fan of the language or the gay fanfiction; but for the reasons above this will be one of my favourites for a long while.

Buy Fangirl Here

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Callum McGreggor is a nought, he is pale skinned. Persephone (Sephy) Hadley is a Cross, she is dark skinned. Crosses and noughts do not mix and they are never friends. There is a clear divide between the two and the Crosses are superior to the noughts simply because of their coveted dark skin. Crosses are there to rule the world and hold all the good jobs, noughts are there to serve them. But Callum and Sephy have been friends since they were kids. Can they stay strong in a world of noughts and Crosses?

The idea behind this story was good. I really enjoyed the plot, and since I enjoy dystopian that doesn’t follow the typical themes this suited suited my reading tastes. I felt the way it played out was realistic and the characters were believable. I liked how this idea was a twist on what we already know and I admire the author for undertaking this feat.

But there were a lot of problems with this book. In the beginning I felt patronised because the writing was childish: “He actually kissed me! Wowee! Zowee!” – I have never heard anyone say “zowee” and I felt like she was overemphasizing the immaturity of a fourteen-year-old.

For quite a way through the book “noughts” has a lower case “n” and “Crosses” an upper case “C”. I remember thinking this was an interesting way to show that Crosses are more important and noughts are lesser. But then towards the end of the book they became “Noughts” and “Crosses”, both with upper case starting letters and no reason for the switch. This annoyed me a little bit because it felt like the author had let something symbolic slip.

As someone who has read many articles on writing, I know that common writing advice is to keep the reader hooked by never finishing a chapter or even a scene with closure. Rather the reader should be baited into reading more by have something new and exciting happen. Blackman tried hard to do this, several times, but she didn’t execute it well enough. For example she would say something like “I was shocked to hear what she had to say” at the end of the chapter but then when I turned the page, it wouldn’t tell me what “she” had to say but other random events would occur and only several pages and scenes later would she get back to that point. This honestly just left me frustrated because it was too easy to forget things that had happened and it interrupted the flow.

The book was also just a little bit slow. It took me four days to read the 446 page book, and it had big print. I should have been done a lot faster than that (particularly since I was up until 1 or 2 in the morning reading when I couldn’t sleep). But because it felt set up to drag me into it, I was unable to get lost in the book.

So in conclusion, the story and plot were good. The basic idea behind the book was good too. The execution, not nearly up to standard. It simply wasn’t all it could have been.

Buy Noughts and Crosses Here