The Kicking the Bucket List by Cathy Hopkins – Book Review


The Kicking the Bucket List by Cathy Hopkins (Harper Collins UK)

Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Genres: Drama, Women’s fiction, Family

RATING: 4/5

The Story

Three estranged sisters have a shock when they attend the reading of their mother’s will – in order to receive their inheritance, they must complete a list of tasks together, spanning a year. For sensitive Dee, being close to her sisters seems like an impossible dream. Fleur, the free spirit and Rose, the control freak, think it’s a waste of time. The feud between these women can’t be fixed in a few weekends. For the sake of their mother, they’ll give it a go, but none expect the program to succeed. What they don’t know is that the next year will change their lives and relationships forever.

The Review

The Kicking the Bucket List is a wonderfully unique concept. How many of us would kill to have such a legacy from a parent who has passed on? An entire year of activities to bring a family closer together. Some say that love cannot be controlled, but this novel shows it can, at the very least, be manipulated.

The three sisters, Dee, Fleur and Rose, are distinct, well outlined characters. At time they can be a little two-dimensional, but some elements of their different personalities are sure to resonate with most, if not all readers. The majority of the novel is written from the perspective of Dee, however Fleur and Rose do get a bit of personal narration themselves. Although I believe it’s important for the story that each sister has ‘their say’, at times I felt that Hopkins struggled to strike the correct tone or style. Whilst Dee’s narrative is just that, a first person narrative like that found in many novels, the other two were harder to pin down. Sometimes they read like a diary entry, sometimes like a prayer, sometimes like a conversation with their deceased mother. I would have preferred if each sister had their own distinct narrative style, to provide context and individuality to their thoughts and feelings.

Nevertheless, The Kicking the Bucket List is for the most part a beautifully handled tale of sisterhood, touching on themes of grief, loss, love and happiness with great tenderness and respect. There were points during this novel were I was on the verge of tears, and many more when they were free flowing! Having siblings myself, I found it so easy to relate to the struggles these sisters were experiencing. Misunderstandings can cause so many difficulties and frustrations, and oftimes during the book I was close to yelling at them “JUST EXPLAIN YOURSELF!”. If everybody was honest, at least the world would be simpler.

Dee was the main focus of the novel. An artist and single mother of a grown-up daughter, she had a peaceful life down in the countryside of Cornwall, but the death of her mother alongside the passing of her landlady threw her life into turmoil. Many would crumble under these circumstances; her mother was the only member of her family she really spoke to, and she was being evicted from the home she had rented for over 25 years. I was really intrigued to see how Dee would handle these situations, and I can’t say I was disappointed. Although I don’t usually enjoy escapades of sensitive, big-hearted characters (I find them a bit unrealistic, weak and dreary), Hopkins has written a woman with backbone and integrity which is extremely admirable. The same goes for Dee’s sisters – although they all have dislikable traits, there was also something sympathetic about all of them.

My favourite parts of the novel were definitely when the three sisters were interacting on their weekend excursions. With a host of activities including colonics, cat sanctuaries and perfume palaces, Hopkins exploited many wonderful opportunities for laughs and tender moments. Often funny, always meaningful, The Kicking the Bucket List has to be one of the more unique novels of friendship within families. It’s an issue which affects us all, and I think we could all learn something from this book. I know I did.

The Kicking the Bucket List is published TOMORROW, 9th March!

Cathy Hopkins can be contacted via her website and twitter.

 

 

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli – Book Review


The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (Penguin Random House UK, Children’s
Penguin)

Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Genres: Romance, Teen, Young Adult, Coming-of-Age

RATING: 4/5

The Story

Molly is on the cusp of womanhood, though she doesn’t feel like it. She’s never been to a house party, never had alcohol, and never kissed a boy. That’s not to say she hasn’t wanted to; in fact, she’s had 26 unrequited crushes in her 17 years. But no matter what advice her twin sister Cassie has for her, Molly never has the courage to speak to boys. In fact, the only one she can speak to is the nerdy guy at the store where she works, but she doesn’t crush on him so that doesn’t really count, right? When Cassie begins dating Mina, Molly is pushed into a circle of friends she’d never normally hang out with, and she makes a pact with herself to let go of control and be daring. Speak to the boys. Especially Will, who might be the coolest guy Molly’s ever been friends with.

The Upside of Unrequited is a delightful look at the trials and tribulations of an almost-adult. It’s never easy to find love, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find you, in the most unexpected of places.

 

The Review

What strikes me most about this novel is that it made me remember. I’m 25, which I admit is not very old, but 17 still feels like a lifetime ago. Molly’s story reminded me about that time in my life, where everything was more emotional, more dramatic, more important. When I look back on my memories I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe, but I expect both is in order. Becky Albertalli has managed to successfully inhabit the teenage voice without being patronising, minimising or childish. Molly was someone I could relate to, and I understood her struggles.

As well as being a great example of how to write for teenagers, about teenagers, The Upside of Unrequited also reads like a love-letter to nerds. Being a self-proclaimed nerd myself, it’s nice to see them win every once in a while. Pinterest lovers will enjoy the crafty side to Molly’s personality, whilst LOTR geeks like myself will also find nods to their particular brand of interests.

The novel centres around Molly’s quest for love, but it also has a strong vein running through it concerning sisterhood, and the problems which can arise between siblings during young adulthood. All siblings grow apart a little as they transition from teenager to adult, but with twins this experience can be even more difficult. Molly and Cassie clearly have a very close relationship, but they are also distinct characters with their own ideals and aspirations. Albertalli handles this with care and realism. I completely feel for Molly when she feels that Cassie is drifting away, but I also totally understand Cassie’s desire for more independence.

I’m very impressed with this novel. What could have been a by-the-numbers story of a teenager wanting to find love is actually a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of what it is to be a teenager in today’s society. I think The Upside of Unrequited can give hope to those who feel like they’re always going to feel alone and unloved. There’s someone out there for everyone. I’ve also got to add that I love the subtle way Albertalli promotes LGBT relationships in this novel. Because it is such an important issue, I think that sometimes authors can shove it in your face a little too much.  With The Upside of Unrequited, all the LGBT relationships just seem right. There are no ‘token gays’. It’s just real life.

The Upside of Unrequited is released on 11th April 2017.

Becky Albertalli can be reached via her website, tumblr, instagram and twitter.

 

 

 

Ida by Alison Evans is out TODAY


I reviewed Ida last month when I recieved a copy via NetGalley, and the book is now available to the general public.

If you like fantasy teen lit, you’ll love this. Check out my review here, and then go buy it! 😀

Gingernut x

Final Girls by Riley Sager – Book Review


Final Girls by Riley Sager (Random House UK, Ebury Publishing, Ebury Press)

Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Drama, Mystery

 

RATING: 5/5

 

The Story

Quincy is a baking blogger living a picture-perfect life with her lawyer boyfriend in central New York. At least, that’s what an outsider would see. When Quincy was in university herself and her friends were brutally attacked at Pine Cottage, a trauma which Quincy has carried with her, along with a media label she can’t escape – she is a ‘Final Girl’. This name links her with two other survivors of violent crime, Sam and Lisa.

The famous trio have never met, but that will quickly change with Lisa’s apparent suicide and Sam’s arrival on Quincy’s doorstep.Alongside her Final Girl companions comes the past Quincy wants to forget, and some hard truths which make her question even her most steadfast beliefs.

Final Girls is a compelling mystery thriller with a intricate narrative that keeps the reader hooked until the very last page.

The Review

The first thing I thought when I picked up this book was that it was extremely well written.

This may seem obvious –  after all it is a published novel. Sadly, that is becoming less and less indicative of quality literature nowadays. When I started reading Final Girls I could tell within the first few pages that it would be an easy read. Sager’s prose has a diversity and fluidity which makes it interesting, engaging and yet not so complicated as you have to work out what she’s on about. Even better, it’s not so simple that you feel like you’re reading a book aimed at tweens.

By no means, however, does an easy-reader mean that we are faced with a simple chick-lit novel for people who aren’t interested in a good plot or character development. The story is one of the most compelling I’ve read in a long time.

Sager has actually managed to write a novel full of twists which I didn’t see coming. I don’t mean to bang my own drum here, but I find imaginative twists more and more difficult to come by. Perhaps I’ve read too many books, so I expect the unexpected. Or maybe quality authors who still have the ability to surprise a modern audience are just harder to come by. Whatever the reason, I’m delighted to have come across Sager. She’s one of those authors who gives you just enough information to make you think you’re clever and that you’ve worked it out, and then throws not one but ten curve-balls at you.

I will admit, I wasn’t always happy about those curve-balls. The ending of the novel is not as satisfying as I’d like it to be, because it results in Quincy losing someone who I thought was a brilliant, admirable character. I felt a little cheated, and I’m not sure that the decision really benefited the novel. That, however, is personal preference.

 

Final Girls is an intriguing, harrowing, uplifting and occasionally tragic story, which sensitively illustrates the reality for many real victims of violent crime. Sager provides a unique opportunity to delve into the psyche of the ‘victim’, not with one character but with many, and reveals just what we would expect; no two victims are the same, and they may, in fact, be something entirely unexpected.

In many ways Final Girls is a by-the-numbers mystery novel. As you proceed through the story you discover, alongside the protagonist, the gratifying and horrifying truths of life. What helps it to stand out from the crowd, however, are clearly defined characters with real motivations. They are the backbone of this novel. The reader feels for them, understands them, envies them, hates them, and has to find out how their stories end. The plot is compelling, but without this strong cast of characters I’m doubtful the story would have the same impact.

A review copy of this book was sent to myself via Netgalley – the novel is released to the public on 29th June 2017.

I hope you put it on your reading wishlist, and please let me know what you think!

You can follow Riley Sager on Twitter.

Ida by Alison Evans – Book Review


Ida by Alison Evans (Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo Publishing)

Genres: Teens and Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction

 

The Story

Ida is a high school graduate struggling to find meaning in her life. She has a great family and a fantastic relationship, but as far as a career goes, she stuck in a dead-end cafe job with no way out. But she’s still a teenager – does it really matter if she hasn’t decided which high-flying career she wants?

Her lack of inspiration, combined with an unusual ability to turn back time and undo her mistakes, leaves Ida feeling adrift, unable to stick to one path.

A chance encounter with a familiar face makes Ida wonder if she has as much control over her life as she thinks. What if her decisions aren’t actually hers at all?

The Review – SPOILER FREE!

I started this book knowing nothing except the title. By about page 20 I knew I wanted to read it to the very end.

Ida is a truly unique story, and it is very hard to say that in this day and age. It is a beautiful exploration of what it is like to be a teenager today, in a modern world filled with expectations, enforced opinions and stereotypical views. Just thinking about it is stifling. It wasn’t so long ago that I was in a very similar position to Ida. I’d completed my degree, I was working at a cafe, no one would hire me and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

Sadly, that’s where the similarities end. Very early on in the book we discover that Ida has the ability to go back in time and not only re-live experiences, but change them. Before discovering this power, I was worrying the book would be a little predictable for my tastes (bear in mind I was on page 4 at this point!). I was soon proved wrong as Ida avoided a near-fatal car crash by going back in time and changing her route home.I definitely didn’t see it coming (no pun intended).

Being able to fix our mistakes is perhaps one of the most coveted fantasies out there. I know I’d make excellent use of it. I’m a bit of a sucker for books which explore these sorts of desires, and Ida is no different. How wonderful would it be to erase every mistake you’ve ever made? You remember them so you can still learn from them, as the old adage says, you just don’t have to inflict your own idiocy or self-importance on others.

It took a while for Ida to realise she had this ability, but once she knew what she could do she didn’t hold back – and why would you? Even simple problems could be swept under the rug – you could clean up the broken china from the mug you dropped, but why bother when you can just close your eyes and make it go away?

As with all good things, however, Ida’s ability has a dark side. She begins to encounter individuals who seem to wish her harm, but by escaping them she digs herself into even darker situations, and ultimately comes to understand that her ability is not at all what she thought it was. These experiences culminate in some excruciating choices for Ida. In situations like this, as a reader, you can’t help but make your own decisions about what you would do in her situation. Evans has managed to write a compelling novel which encourages reflection both of how you live your life but also how your choices impact on everybody around you. Even the smallest decision can make a huge impact later in life -the butterfly effect.

As well as challenging my ideas about myself, Ida also challenged my expectations of people in general. Ida is in a relationship with Daisy, who is genderqueer (i.e. a person who doesn’t conform to the idea of gender as binary). I thought that I’d have absolutely no issue with a character like Daisy, but I am not afraid to admit that initially I found her presence a bit jarring.

Why? Daisy uses the pronoun ‘they’, rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’. This is not something I’ve come across before, and seeing it written down on paper felt, strangely, a little dehumanising to me. I was reminded of a bad habit I used to have of talking about someone to another person, with the first person in the room and without my referring to them by name.”I’m right here you know!”

Thinking about it logically, there is absolutely no reason that referring to someone as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ should make me feel like this, and I’m glad to report that it only took a couple of chapters for me to get used to it. I guess it’s a reflection of our society – although being genderqueer is becoming more and more accepted, it might be a long time before we’re completely used to it. It’s a real shame, but the more books published like Ida, the quicker that understanding will come. Daisy doesn’t feature in the book as much as I’d like. They seem to be a great grounding presence for Ida, and Evans really manages to convey Ida’s sense of loss when, for reasons I won’t go into, Daisy isn’t always available.

There is a relatively small cast of characters but they are all extremely well developed. It may seem like small praise, but it’s amazing how many two-dimensional people we read about in novels. In Ida, Evans has been able to create a group of individuals who each clearly have their own thoughts, desires and motivations. I’d perhaps have liked to see a little more of Ida’s father – he was often on the sidelines of Ida’s live, though this may be a reflection of any relationship between a teenage girl and her dad. Always there, but not always noticed.

There are two more characters in the novel who I found very intriguing, Damaris and Adrastos. I won’t go into any detail, but their presence definitely indicates that there is more to the world of Ida than Evans reveals in this novel.

I don’t know whether the book will be standalone or become part of a larger series, but I sure it’s the latter.

RATING: 4/5

A review copy of this book was sent to myself via Netgalley – the novel is released to the public on 30th January 2017.

I hope you put it on your reading wishlist, and please let me know what you think when you read it!

You can follow Alison Evans on Twitter, Facebook and her personal website.