Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Returning to a novel by Marian Keyes is like catching up with an old friend. So, I do ask myself why ‘Grown Ups’ was left unread on my shelf for so long – I now realise that was a mistake.

I devoured this book, all 656 pages of it, as I could not put it down. This is a book that does what Marian Keyes does best, and examines family relationships in all their complex glory.

Told back from one fateful family dinner and then showing us what happens next, we follow the chaotic Casey family. Each have their secrets and their own journey of self-discovery, which takes them to the dinner and beyond. The glamorous life presented to the outside world is certainly not always as it seems. And, as always, this is handled beautifully by Marian Keyes’ writing style and narrative. There is so much warmth and wit amongst the pages, and tough topics are handled sensitively and with care. And, on the very final page, I shed a tear, as I felt I had been on quite a journey with the Casey family, and for all of those who deserved a happy ending – that was certainly on the horizon.

To put it simply, I adored this book and was not disappointed by it at all. In fact, it has reminded me that there are still some of the novels of Marian Keyes that I am yet to read, and I really must change that soon.

Thursday Thoughts: Graphic Novels

‘Heartstopper: Volume 4’ was recently published and, of course, I had to purchase it immediately. And then of course, I read past my bedtime because I can never leave Nick and Charlie part-way through a story. I absolutely loved the book, as I knew I would.

So, this has made me think about graphic novels. They were something that I had not really considered until the Heartstopper universe because I always thought they were only fantasy and sci-fi books. However, I have slowly started to realise that this is not entirely true. In fact, there is a whole world of wonderful graphic novels out there that cover all sorts of fabulous genres.

Now, I do have to admit that I have only really read the Heartstopper volumes (and my other love, Shakespeare manga, which I know is another genre again), but I have seen so many brilliant books being shared on bookstagram. That means the wishlist has grown.

I guess what I am trying to say is that books and genres should not be judged by their covers and that books full of illustrations are just as wonderful as books full of words, even when you are an adult.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The second title from the ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’ was ‘Transcendent Kingdom’. This has been a great book for a buddy read because there are so many different opinions on this one.

It took me a while to reach any opinions about this book. When I started this novel, I found it hard to get in to – it took a lot of concentration to follow the narrative. However, as I got through the story, I found out more about Gifty, her family and her past. I can see why this book has been nominated for a prize as it is beautifully written and it tackles some tough issues. Especially in a family and community that are not entirely willing to talk about social issues – including addiction and mental health issues. Also, handling well the way our past and experience can influence our future and even challenge the ideas and beliefs that you may have formed about the world around you.

‘Transcendent Kingdom’ is a slow burn (that does seem to divide opinion) and I am still not entirely sure what I think – but I am certainly pleased that I read it. And I do think that maybe I should read ‘Homegoing’, as many people have recommended since.

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

This month’s ‘Tasting notes Book Club‘ pick is ‘Florence Adler Swims Forever’. A really beautiful book, based on a true story and it is hard to believe it is a debut novel.

Florence Adler is determined to swim the Channel and be the best. However, when events take a tragic turn, Florence’s family are forced to face their relationships head on and secrets are revealed and characters are tested as their lives change forever. Set in the community of Atlanta City in the 1930s, it also tackles ideas of prejudice, especially towards the Jewish community, displaced people and the events unfolding in Europe at the time.

It is a beautiful read, as we follow each character as they deal with the events unfolding around them. Each of them with their own ‘secrets’, ideas and ways of handling what is happening. Esther is quiet the matriarch leading the way, but each character has their own way of ensuring that Florence Adler will swim forever.

I would really recommend this book as it is a well-woven narrative; a slow-paced, thoughtful read that will stay with you once you have finished the last page.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

If you want to ensure I read a bookl that I probably should have done already, get Chris Riddell to illustrate it.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is 42 years old and to celebrate that fact , an illustrated edition was released. And it is wonderful; it certainly made me pick it up.

This is another book that I am not sure why I have not read before, especially as I remember it being on a list of recommended reads from my Year 9 English teacher, Mrs Dove. It is also something that my parents have always enjoyed, and my sister has definitely read it. However, now I gave and I really enjoyed it. This is quite a comical adventure, as our hapless hero, Arthur Dent, travels the galaxy with Ford Prefect after the end of the world as he knows it.

It is a quick read, but good fun, and Chris Riddell’s illustrations portray the colourful characters perfectly, bringing the galaxy to life. Although small parts may slightly date the book, it is still a comic tale – even for those of us who are not fans of science fiction.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

May appears to be the month for me to read outsdie my comfort zone. ‘Shadow and Bone’ is not a book I would ever had picked up before, as it is YA fantasy. Yet bookstagram and Netflix made me do it – and I do not regret anything.

I am no YA fantasy – or any fantasy – expert, despite Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse being a huge fan of the genre. However, I was gripped with this this book from the first page. So much so, I was finding sneaky reading time before work as I need to know what going to happen. So, it is safe to say that this is a page-turner.

I am probably the last person in the world to read this book, but I still do not want to spoil it just in case there are still some bookworms who need to pick the book up. However, what I loved about it is that there was a clear plot (as sometimes fantasy is all over the place – yes I said that) and there is a strong female lead in Alina. She demonstrates great strength and dedication to the things she believes are right. She may be a little misguided at moments, but she soon realises her mistakes and makes some better decisions.

I cannot wait to read the second book in this trilogy, and become even more immersed in these novels and this world.

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

As ‘The Women’s Prize for Fiction’ shortlist has been announced, I have a joined a great bunch of wonderful bookstagrammers in reading the titles before the winner is announced.

Our first book was ‘Unsettled Ground’ by Claire Fuller. This is a book I am still thinking about because, as I read it, I wasn’t sure what I thought about it. I could not put it down as I was totally caught up in it all, but I could decide if I actually liked the book. It was quite a conflict for me as I read it.

‘Unsettled Ground’ is beautifully written, and that draws the reader in from the first page – and quite a devastating start. Jeanie and Julius have the world they know turned upside down after the death of their mother. They realise that the world they have known for 51 years may not be quite as it seems. Both almost have to work out how they can survive and if they both see the future the same way.

This is almost like a coming of age tale for an older generation as the twins start again. Jeanie finds a world beyond the cottage of their childhood and Julius tries to work out how their world can continue.

This is an emotional read and the characters show resilience in a world that they realise they may not have fully fitted into before.

So, after my ramblings and stepping away from the book, I did enjoy it. Because it stayed wth me after the last page was finished, it made me think and it is truly beautifully constructed.

This is a book I may not have read without my book buddies and I cannot wait to see what the other titles have in store for us.

The Glass-Blowers by Daphne Du Maurier

This was my pick for April for ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2021’. I have read ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Jamaica Inn’ as I am sure many of you have; however, ‘The Glass-Blowers’ was a book I was not familiar with.

This is actually a really fascinating read, as Daphne Du Maurier based it on her own family history. Based in France at the time of the French Revolution, this tells the story of a family of glass-blowers, the path the siblings take, and the choices they make based on their beliefs and ideals – creating divides and secrets in the family, some with tragic consequences.

At times, the story is truly heart-breaking as Sophie is at points torn between each of her siblings despite loving each of them dearly. Unfortunately Robert is quite a disagreeable character. Ideas above his station, and poor life choices, lead to him leaving quite a trail of destruction in his wake. Although, that is all part of the story, as many of the characters are also not his biggest fans.

This is a book that has reignited my interest in the events of the French Revolution. And, as you would expect from any work from the pen of Daphne Du Maurier, it is beautifully written and engaging. I really enjoyed this piece of historical fiction and, for me, it cements Daphne Du Maurier as a truly great novelist of many genres.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

I was lucky enought to be selected for a global readalong of ‘The Notebook’ as part of ‘The Tandem Collective Global Readalong’, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this book’s publication. (Yes, I know 25 years – what?)

I know ‘The Notebook’ from the film and, like so many others, I have sobbed. I was really intrigued if the book would be as emotional and if, maybe, the film would be better than the book. (I know I should hand in my bookworm card now, as that is a terrible thing to say).

‘The Notebook’ is a beautiful book. Told in the present through the reading of the notebook, we follow the romance of Allie and Noah – a truly lifelong romance. I do not want to spoil the tale in case there is one person out there who doesn’t know it. Other than to say this is a true love story between two people who are ideally suited, even if the society of the time is not so sure.

It has been a while since I have seen the film (and I have not yet braved a revisit), but I will say the book is better. Noah is a much more sympathetic character throughout compared to the film, certainly less gruff. Allie is an impressive lady who knows her own mind and, despite expectations, is willing to follow her head and her heart.

It is a really emotional and heartbreaking read. But it is also hopeful. I absolutely loved it and think I should probably read more of Nicholas Sparks’ novel (once I have recovered from this one).

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

I am not sure I can do ‘Moonrise’ the justice that it deserves. Sarah Crossan’s novel in verse is one heck of a powerful story, the sort that will stay with you for eternity.

Joe has not see his brother for a long time. His brother is away. His brother is on death row. Joe visits his brother reguarly in the days and weeks leading up to his execution date, trying to get to know him again, reflecting on the events that got them there and the memories he has of his older brother as his greatest protector from childhood. It all creates a completely heartbreaking story as the family looks for hope in the darkest times, right up until the very last moment.

It also really makes you reflect on the system that is supposed to offer fair justice. I found it particularly poignant with current events in the media from America. But, also hopeful that it will encourage readers of all ages to reflect on what justice means.

This is a beautifully written book that demonstrates again the power of verse to crate a narrative full of emotion.