Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Posted on Monday, May 29th, 2017 by Emily May

Exit West by Mohsin HamidExit West by Mohsin Hamid
Published by Penguin on March 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 240
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In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

I thought this book was quietly brutal. And quietly beautiful, as well.
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One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Posted on Thursday, May 25th, 2017 by Emily May

Into the Water by Paula HawkinsInto the Water by Paula Hawkins
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on 2017
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense
Pages: 400
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The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller and global phenomenon The Girl on the Train returns with Into the Water, her addictive new novel of psychological suspense. A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.   Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from--a place to which she vowed she'd never return.   With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.   Beware a calm surface--you never know what lies beneath.

I’m going straight down the middle with a 3-star rating but, in truth, my thoughts are all over with this book. I think the only way I can make sense of it is to break it down into points.
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One StarOne StarOne Star

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 by Emily May

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn GreenwoodAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Published by Macmillan on August 9th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 352
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A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives.
As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It's safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.
By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy's family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world. A powerful novel you won’t soon forget, Bryn Greenwood's All the Ugly and Wonderful Things challenges all we know and believe about love.

Right up until that moment it was sweet and funny. Odd couple that they were, they had a real connection. Then he tugged her boot off and kissed the bottom of her bare foot. I could see him doing that kind of thing to his own kid, but she wasn’t. She was somebody else’s little girl.

This book destroyed me. I have never read anything like it. If you know the basic premise – that this is a so-called “love story” between an adult man and a female child – you might be thinking Lolita! But nah, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is a completely different beast.

Ugly and wonderful really are great descriptors for this story. The best thing about it is the completely unsentimental storytelling that, with its constant switching between perspectives, as well as alternating first and third person, beautifully presents a dark tale of childhood, family and abuse.

It’s so… not manipulative. The author narrates a series of events, using gorgeous writing, but it’s a fantastic example of how showing works so much better than telling. We are never told how to feel. We are allowed to be disgusted, sad and angry on our own terms, and we are allowed to draw our own conclusions about the relationship this book portrays.

I came to the end of the novel with my mind reeling, my emotions scattered, and completely unsure exactly what I did feel about it… but one thing is certain: I felt. Oh hell, I felt.

She nodded against my arm and after that, we were quiet. We didn’t need to talk. We just laid there watching falling stars go streaking white through all that darkness.

The story is about a girl called Wavy and it is a tale that spans around fifteen years. Through the perspectives of Wavy’s cousin, brother, teachers and friends, as well as Wavy herself, the story of her childhood emerges as one filled with physical and emotional abuse. Her mother is a drug addict, her father is violent, and her mother’s issues with eating and germs manifest in Wavy’s behaviour, which, in turn, earns frustration from her teachers and fellow pupils.

Then a motorcycle accident brings Kellen into her life. Kellen is a big guy with his own history of abuse at the hands of his father. Called a “fat slob” and generally thought of as a waste of space his whole life, there is an instant connection between these two outsiders.

While uncomfortable, disgusting and often graphic, it is so emotionally confusing because Kellen is not another Humbert. His motivations in his relationship with Wavy are loneliness and compassion, and he is not driven by sexual agenda. In fact, Wavy seems somehow removed from the regular notion of sexuality, existing on a plane where she is not an adult or child, male or female, but simply Wavy. Just herself.

I’m sure it will provoke many conflicting reactions, but there remains one overwhelming certainty: it’s hard to not react passionately to it. Whether you view Wavy and Kellen as two unfortunate victims of their personal circumstances, or as a child being abused by an adult who should know better, their story is a compelling one.

Sad and disturbing. I don’t think I’ll ever get these characters off my mind.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Posted on Monday, May 16th, 2016 by Emily May

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain NeuvelSleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Published by Random House Publishing Group on April 26th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 288
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A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.   Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.   But some can never stop searching for answers.   Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

You have to understand that this flies in the face of everything we know about American civilizations.

Sleeping Giants is being compared to the bestseller and now successful Matt Damon film – The Martian – which is misleading, if not entirely inaccurate.
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One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Posted on Monday, April 18th, 2016 by Emily May

Me Before You by Jojo MoyesMe Before You by Jojo Moyes
Published by Penguin on December 31st 2012
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Women, Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 400
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They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

As much as I like a good love story, I wouldn’t call myself a romantic. Not by a long shot. In fact, I can be pretty cold-hearted when it comes to romance books, remaining emotionless in the face of tragic heartbreak and loss. The Fault in Our Stars didn’t move me. Eleanor & Park was cute, but still an average read for me.

There’s just certain things that I don’t like. Emotionally manipulative books that feel as if the author set out with an agenda to tug at my heart strings – that would be up there with the worst. I guess I subconsciously rebel when I can see what the author’s trying to do to my feelings. I avoid a lot of adult chick lit for this reason – because experience has shown that most of these books are like Lifetime movies: melodramatic and cheesily message-driven.

But somehow – despite my reluctance to try this book because it seemed it would fall into all the aforementioned boxes – I ended up caving under the pressure and grabbing this book from my local library. I didn’t expect much. I was just going to try a little bit and see how it went, feeling confident that it would be crappy and I would be right. But hell, I got schooled.

I just… I can’t even pretend anymore, screw the book snobbery, I thought Me Before You was wonderful.

I laughed.
I cried.
I shipped like crazy.
I stayed up most of the night.

Being proven wrong may never have felt so good.

I got the giggles about halfway through chapter one and struggled to get rid of them. Humour books are always a difficult sell because I guess it always depends on what you find funny… but I found Lou Clark to be an hilarious heroine. She’s one of those charming but unfortunate individuals that finds herself in numerous awkward situations but somehow gets through them and just warms your heart with her delightful lack of propriety.

I don’t know if there is really such a thing as a “British sense of humour” but I’ve enjoyed a bunch of British chick lit/humour with similar MCs – Bridget Jones, Confessions of Georgia Nicholson – so maybe there’s a pattern here with my tastes.

If you’re considering this book but think you’re a shameless unromantic like me, DO NOT read any quotes from it. People keep pulling up these quotes about the meaning of life and carpe diem and it makes the whole thing seem much cheesier than it is. I thought there was a pleasant lack of cheese, hehe. It’s also nowhere near as romantic as everything tries to make you think: the cover (the UK one is even worse), the blurb, the title… when actually there’s very little romance. There is a touch of finding love in unexpected places and against the odds, but the main focus of this book is about life and the importance of choices.

If you haven’t already been told, the story is about Lou who needs a job and Will who needs a carer after an accident left him paralysed. Completely unable to move anything below his mid torso, Will longs for death and wants to go to Switzerland to put an end to his misery. Horrified by this discovery, Lou sets out to improve his life and give him a reason to live and look forward to each day. The relationship between them is told in such a wonderful way and develops through several stages, each filled with hilarity.

I think people’s reactions, emotions and decisions felt completely realistic in Me Before You, even if I didn’t always like them. The whole book was filled with the funny, ridiculous situations that we expect to find in comic fiction, but balanced out with a hard dose of reality. It makes you think about things you didn’t think about before without seeming like the author wanted to make you think about them. Things like just how depressing the lack of wheelchair access is in most venues. But there’s a great balance between the funny and the serious, so the latter never becomes too much.

This book made me feel all the emotions without seeming to try too hard. Love was found in a very unexpected place and I definitely want to check out the author’s other work.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Posted on Friday, April 15th, 2016 by Emily May

The Magicians by Lev GrossmanThe Magicians by Lev Grossman
Published by Viking on 2009
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 402
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Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he's secretly fascinated with a series of children's fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. . . .

I know this is a thing us bibliophiles really shouldn’t say EVER, but: I think the TV show is way better.

Don’t hurt me.
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One StarOne Star

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Posted on Thursday, April 7th, 2016 by Emily May

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuireEvery Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Published by Macmillan on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 176
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Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the Home. There's a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.
No matter the cost.

“We went down, and at the bottom there was a door, and on the door there was a sign. Two words. ‘Be Sure.’ Sure of what? We were twelve, we weren’t sure of anything. So we went through.”

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One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Posted on Monday, April 4th, 2016 by Emily May

Jane Steele by Lyndsay FayeJane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Penguin on March 22nd 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 400
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“Reader, I murdered him.”   A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.   Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

The first 1/3-1/2 of this book was really great.
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One StarOne StarOne Star

Once Upon a Kiss by Robin Palmer
Posted on Friday, March 25th, 2016 by Aimee

I received this book for free from Penguin, Speak in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Once Upon a Kiss by Robin PalmerOnce Upon a Kiss by Robin Palmer
Published by Speak on January 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC, print ARC
Source: Penguin, Speak
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So much has happened since 1986, and Zoe Brenner is about to find out just how much.
From the author of the book that inspired the Disney original movie Geek Charming!

It's 1986 and sixteen-year-old Zoe Brenner's world revolves around Depeche Mode, Judd Nelson, exercise-obsessed parents, and her best friend Jonah. Then one day, in a freak Fun-Dip choking accident, Zoe falls unconscious, and awakes in the year 2016. So much has changed, and Zoe needs Jonah to help her make sense of it all. But in this life, Zoe is the most popular girl in school, and she soon realizes this Zoe doesn't associate with nerds like Jonah. As Zoe juggles new technology, attempts to hide her enthusiasm for poet blouses, and manages to keep her super jock boyfriend at bay, she tries to rekindle her friendship with Jonah and use her popularity for a good cause. Will she ever get back to 1986? And more importantly, does she want to?

A Review Told in Reaction Images: Once Upon a Kiss
(aka Sometimes I Write Short, Harsh Reviews)

#1: The Plot

Once Upon a Kiss is filled with nothing but filler, filler, filler. And plot holes. Lots and lots of plot holes. (Basically NOTHING that happens is ever explained.)

#2: The Heroine

Zoe is a judgemental “special snowflake” character with absolutely no redeeming qualities. The sad part is, she THINKS she’s totally nice and open-minded, when in fact she’s the quickest one to stereotype and judge. The girl-on-girl hate was just… ugh.

#3: The Writing

This book was so full of pop culture references that it was going to explode. Dude, I get it. Some part of the book’s set in the 80’s–I got that from the 231287 you reminded me so. And by that, I mean the heroine takes every opportunity to TELL us it’s the 80’s.

#4: The Characterization

EVERY. SINGLE. CHARACTER. IN. THIS. BOOK. IS. BASED. ON. A. STEREOTYPE. They’re basically just cardboard cutouts with no depth to them whatsoever.

#5: The Romance

This is the only saving grace of the entire novel for me. Again, it was your typical high school romance, but you guys know how much I love best-friends-to-lovers stories.

Overall, way too shallow and full of teenage drama for my tastes. With annoying language and one-dimensional characters, Once Upon a Kiss was just not the read for me.

One Star

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2016 by Emily May

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica MorganThe Royal We by Heather CocksJessica Morgan
on July 15th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 464
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How much would you give up for true love? Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister is the romantic who fantasizes about glamour, fame and fortune - Bex has always been a tomboy. So when she spends a year at Oxford, and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, she is the only girl not interested in dating the future king.
But eventually Bex can't resist falling for Nick, and as their friendship turns to romance, Bex becomes immersed in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace - a world away from her humble upbringing.
The relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling ex-girlfriends, and a family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

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One StarOne Star

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Hi! I'm Emily May but feel free to call me Emily. I'm a nerdy, book-loving Politics graduate from the North of England.

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