The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

I love the Simonverse and was so glad that this book took me back there as my March choice for ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2021’. Becky Albertalli books are beautiful pieces of YA fiction that I honestly believe can and should be enjoyed by readers of all ages. And ‘The Upside of Unrequited’ is certainly a book I wish I could have read as a teenager.

Molly was the perfect star of the novel for me. She has all the insecurities that I remember having as a teenager – and all the worries. But, through Albertalli’s great storytelling, we see how Molly tackles world – and this is something that I think so many readers could relate to and find comfort in. Especially about the complex world of relationships of all kinds.

As always, there is also a brilliant collection of characters. Diversity is celebrated, as it should be, through these fantastic characters. However, flaws and issues within society are also tackled. These books educate as well as entertain, which, to me, is a perfect read. And, of course, there is the fact that you want to become best friends with Molly and her gang.

If you are looking for a comfort read, then this is a book I really recommend as Becky Albertalli gives us another story full of joy.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

I am doing really well at picking up books that have been on my unread shelf. This is, of course, thanks to ‘The Unread Shelf Project, 2021’, which is really encouraging me to improve my reading habits and pick up the books I already own.

So, this encouraged me to finally pick up ‘Hamnet’ – a book I had seen so muhc hype about in 2020. Again, I was not sure how I would find this book, as historical literary fiction is a genre I often struggle with. However, this book is so beautifully written I was enthralled from the first page. I was not sure about the backwards and forwards nature of the narrative, but once I was used to it I actually enjoyed the voyage of discovery it took us on about the family ‘Shakespeare’. I also found it fascinating that it is never really stated that this is the family we are looking in on, as this is Agnes’ and Hamnet’s story – a fascinating focus and imagining of their tale.

I am not sure this has converted me to historical literary fiction. It is a stunning book which has made me more open to novels of the genre, rather than assume I won’t enjoy it.

This is a beautiful read and Maggie O’Farrell clearly has her own beautiful writing style. In fact, I am keen to read other books she has written, as I was so engaged in her unique style.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Wow! End of post!

Oh, maybe I can’t stop there, but I am not sure I am going to say anything that has not been said before about this absolutely stunning book.

I realise I am, again, late to the party with this book. I will be honest: I was not sure that it was a story I would enjoy – however, it well and truly proved me wrong.

This, in one instance, is a coming-of-age tale that evolves into a really fascinating and engaging crime story, all set within the marshes, and all its stunning and fascinating nature. However, it does not stop there as it tackles prejudices – of many different kinds – as well as social hierarchy and privilege.

It is such a beautifully written book that I genuinely could not put it down. In fact, it really had me reading past my bedtime, as I had to know how the book ended. And, like any good murder mystery novel, it had me guessing until the very end – or at least reflecting on the impressions I had formed as I read the book.

This is also a book full of fascinating characters, especially Kya (the Marsh Girl), who are brought to life with the wonderful words of Delia Owens.

I realise I have not given much away about the plot, but I feel this is a book that you really need to pick up yourself, rather than have the story spoiled by the words of another.

The Cousins by Karen M McManus

Around this time last year, I was going to go to an author event with Karen M McManus and Holly Jackson – and then a global pandemic struck. However, that does not stop us enjoying the books these fabulous authors write, so I was excited when ‘The Cousins’ hit the bookshops.

‘The Cousins’ is another great piece of YA fiction. In fact, I feel I have enjoyed this one the most, and I have loved them all. This has all the ingredients you expect from a great thriller – secrets, lies, unknown dark figures and a family mystery. And all this creates a brilliant page-turner (in fact, like all dedicated bookworms, I read past my bedtime because I had to know what happened).

As I always say, I don’t want to give away too much about the book, as it is a thriller. What I will say is that if you have enjoyed the other books from Karen M McManus then you will enjoy this one. I could say so much more but I don’t trust myself not to spoil it. But, please, if you love a YA thriller, go on the adventure with the cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Dare I say it? I preferred this to ‘The Flatshare’. Don’t get me wrong, I loved ‘The Flatshare’, but I loved ‘The Switch’ even more. I think possibly because, as a story, it was a little more relatable. This was full of situations and scenarios that many of us may have found ourselves in or at least could relate to from our own experiences.

Also, not only is this a book of strong female characters, but Eileen is an amazing older character. I loved that this book was willing to explore the lives of women of a variety of ages, and wasn’t willing to shy away from romance for the older lady. But, also, it made it clear that age is only a number – Leena certainly benefits from the friendships she develops with her Grandma’s friends when they switch lives – and Eileen is definitely a tour de force for Leena’s friends in London.

This book is just a wonderful, optimisitic read full of hope – especially at the moment. You can imagine hanging out with these characters and being part of their journey of self-discovery – and that goes for all the characters. Amazing how some seemingly small changes can have quite an impact on your life and the path it takes.

I am really looking forward to the other stories Beth O’Leary has to bring us, because they really are an enjoyable piece of escapism.

Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

The second book second book of 2021 was one that caught my attention on that lovely bookish TV show ‘Between the Covers’. It just sounded like a fascinating crime thriller. And it was!

To begin with, I thought this tale was a little slow. Two sisters, each blaming the other for the murder of their father – and each having called 911. Yet, as the tale progressed, the pace and tension picked up dramatically as Eddie Flynn and his team investigate their defense of Sofia Avellino and new kid on the block Kate investigates her defense of Alexandra Avellino. I really can not talk much about the story, as I do not want to give away any spoilers, other than to say it’s a very well-crafted thriller that becomes a real page-turner. There is quite a collection of characters who you do become quite invested in. And Cavanagh really does manage to manipulate your beliefs about some of the key characters – even if you do not realise it.

Steve Cavanagh has become an author who I would like to read more from. I did not realise that there had been a number of adventures for Eddie Flynn before this one. I guess that is always the joy of reading – you can always make new discoveries of new stories.

This also allowed me to tick off a little bonus prompt from ‘The Unread Shelf Project’, as ‘the unread book most recently acquired’.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Unread Shelf Project 2021 has influenced my choices for my reads this year. The January prompt ‘A Book with High Expectations’, so I decided to take ‘The Nickel Boys’ from my shelf.

This is a book that I have seen around a lot and, obviously, is one that I had wanted to read. However, I did not expect it to be a book that could become one of my favourite reads, but part of the joy of ‘The Unread Shelf Project’.

With a book like this, I am not sure that I can do it justice in my blog posts. ‘The Nickel Boys’ is inspired by the story of the Dozier School, a reform school in Flroida – and the reality of the experience of those who had to attend. I was concerned that this would be a difficult read; however, Whitehead’s handling of this tale is sensitive and thought-provoking. It is shocking that events described in the book were ever allowed to take place and be a part of America’s social history, but Colson Whitehead wants you to learn from this tale. His wonderful narrative style makes this a page-turner. Especially, as it becomes all too clear the part twists of fate really do play on the path some people have to follow.

This is a book that carries very high expectations, it is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and understandably so. Yet, it lives up to all of these expectations, as it is a truly fantastic novel and has been a great start to ‘The Unread Shelf Project, 2021’.