I’m not really overly keen on books purely about love so anything classed as a ‘love story’ tends to put me off before I start. But this isn’t just a love story…

I was aware of the success of All The Bright Places, but having not read any Jennifer Niven before this, I had no expectations. Purposely didn’t read many reviews; just decided to start and see where Holding Up The Universe would take me.

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Libby and Jack are both coping with different mental health issues. A few years ago Libby’s mother passed away. In the immense grief Libby turned to food and began over eating to an extremely unhealthy level meaning she had to be craned out of her own house. Much to the delight of the school bullies when she returns, still labelled as America’s Fattest Teen (though lost a lot of weight), it’s no surprise she suffers from anxiety attacks, who wouldn’t? But how she deals with school life, self confidence, and being true to herself is definitely something to admire. Young Adult novels need more main female characters who don’t need to be rescued, which was beautifully and ironically shown in Holding Up The Universe.

Jack, on the other hand, is much more insecure than he lets on. With a condition called Prosopagnosia (the inability to recognise faces) he’s constantly battling to identify his classmates, his girlfriend, even his family, but he hasn’t told anyone. Still managing to have a bucket full of swag, he just about gets away with it, until he doesn’t. He makes some awful decisions to keep up appearances but doesn’t even recognise himself, metaphorically and literally. It was fascinating and heart breaking to be inside Jack’s head. It’s evident that Niven has researched a lot about Prosopagnosia and I feel executed it well. If anything shining a light on the condition that 2% of the population, millions of people, are dealing with every day.

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Something I usually get annoyed with when reading romance is the stereotypical love at first sight. Or one character is already head over heels, with the reader waiting to see if the one they’re swooning over likes them back. Especially young adult books, it’s all so pathetically teenager-y and mostly lust driven- that kind of love really doesn’t interest me. However, in this, Jack and Libby grew with each other, which felt more realistic than other YA books I’ve read. Pairing both of what Jack and Libby are dealing with with the usual stereotypical acceptance issues of school life, it was cringey but also heart warming to watch them develop, as people, as friends.

Love didn’t come until later and that felt realistic. Plus it wasn’t clean cut “I like you” “ditto” done, it was messy, involved other people and was confusing; like far too many school relationships are. Mind you, there was still a ‘together forever’ attitude, as if that’s it; they’ll get married, they fit so perfectly nothing could go wrong, which I wasn’t so keen on. But I did like how they didn’t complete each other, they found their own happiness themselves. They’re road to self discovery, confidence and self acceptance was helped with the support of one another but it wasn’t because they were with each other that it developed. They didn’t rely on it. It meant that they could have just been really good friends and still would’ve grown as much as they did.

Niven was under scrutiny for portraying characters, especially Libby, that seemed a bit far fetched and possibly offensive. Although I neither suffer with Prosopagnosia or have ever been overweight, so may not be deemed the best judge of this, I felt the characters were true to life. There are people that do deal with both of these issues, just because they are a smaller percentage of the population doesn’t mean they can’t be represented in novels. I think it brave of Niven to write about them and personally think she did a wonderful job.

Ultimately Holding Up The Universe is about who you are inside, and staying true to that person, and any story that has that message is good in my book.

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Review // The Wolf Road – Beth Lewis

by Zoë B on April 23, 2016

Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed Beth LewisThe Wolf Road. I feel as if I could take on bear, but in reality I’d struggle to make a trap to catch a rabbit. Ha, this whole book showed me how very out of tune I am with nature, despite me living in the middle of nowhere on a farm. Need more dirt on my face dammit and a nice knife.

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We had rules a’living…
Don’t ask no questions. Don’t wander out a’ sight a’ the hut. Don’t take to no people ’bout him.
Any lie can turn in to the truth if you believe it long enough.

Written in Elka’s accent her words immediately transport you to . Her phrasing, her word choice, her storytelling was perfect in creating clear images of forest huts, poison lakes, thundering storms and the smell of wood fires. It made my heart ache to be out and doing things, I don’t know what, but I really wanted dappled sunlight on my back whilst I carved wood or something, just me and the forest, surrounded by the scent of pine trees. I loved reading phrases to anyone who would listen just of the way Elka described things because they were quirky, or made me laugh. Seen as there was mention of the Yukon, I think it’s set in British Columbia or “BeeCee” as it’s referred to, so she would have a Canadian accent. But not being one to have spoken recently with someone with a BC accent, amusingly, the voice in my head reading Elka’s words was from Yorkshire. But that’s totally my weird brain, not anything to do with the writing (very much not the accent I’m sure Lewis was going for, I’m sure, sorry). In terms of when it is set though, I’m not sure. Could be post apocalyptic wild west as there was mention of possible nuclear bombs, but it could also be set in an alternate late 1800’s. I don’t know, my history of North America is not great but it’s not that important to the plot, more the setting, and that really isn’t hard to picture.

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You follow Elka on her adventures to find her parents, which sounds sappy and light hearted but I said that on purpose because it amused me how nice that sounds when it really isn’t. Her parents left her with her Nana when she was a baby to go find a fortune of Yukon gold. Seven years later, they’ve only sent one letter, and she’s not much enjoying the company of her Nana, who really doesn’t get how much she likes being outside. So when a tornado or ‘thunderhead’ hits, sending her flying, practically landing at the feet of a bloke she names Trapper, who lives in the forest and fends for himself, she doesn’t look back. He’s the father she never had and for ten years he teaches her everything he knows about successfully living in the wilderness. Turns out he’s a nasty piece of work, and is wanted for murder, so she runs away with the idea of going to find her parents in the north. But her face is next to his on the wanted posters and Magistrate Lyon isn’t far behind. Suddenly she’s the one that’s being hunted. Adventures ensue, as you can imagine. It’s sinister and disturbing, but with a humorous edge, and I absolutely loved it.

Trapper was my family even though I didn’t know a sure thing about him…Trapper was the kind a’ family you choose for yourself, the kind that gets closer’n blood.
He was what I chose and I chose wrong.

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Must admit there was a couple times when it felt like the plot had taken an unrealistic turn, “She can’t really be that blind to what’s happening?”, but that was the point. She’d been living in the woods for the best part of 18 years, more in touch with nature, better friends with a wolf. Was what I liked about her though, how in tune she was with the forest, how she sensed things by the way it behaved around her. It’s that instinct that we lack in the 21st century with all our wonderful technology and warm houses, we’ve lost our roots to nature, but reading this felt like I’d gained a little back. I was with Elka building a smoke house, I was with her trekking the forest hoping she wouldn’t be found, heck I’m vegetarian, but I was with her gutting a fish. Eager for her to do the right thing, to get free of her dark past, I was gripped by her story and her view of the world.

Raw, gritty, captivating and laced with a tinge of humour, I felt more human for reading The Wolf Road. But that feeling of being watched always lingered too long after I’d closed the book.

Definitely recommend you pick up a copy of the extraordinary flipping début novel when it comes out in the UK on the 30th of June 2016, and US July 5th 2016!

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Black Eyed Susans were such pretty flowers…

by Zoë B on September 28, 2015

besBeen reading a few crime/thrillers/murder mysteries recently; little bit of Dr Kay Scarpetta, dash of Peter Robinson and yeah, okay, Lee Child. Particularly enjoying anything where you get to see behind the scenes of the case. The forensics, the psychology, the profiling.

I enjoy puzzle solving, always have. I relish on figuring out whodunnit, and if I can say so myself, I’ve gotten reasonably good at it. Problem with that is I ruin the story for myself if I guess correctly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that if you invited me to give my insight on an unsolvable case I’d crack it in half an hour. The cases I’m solving are glamorised, they can only tell their full story in 300 pages, in two hours of BBC prime time; there is only so much information they can give you. But having watched so many police dramas I’ve figured a pattern and can hazard an educated guess half way through a 12 part series, even earlier if it’s dumbed down for an audience.

So I judged Julia Heaberlin‘s ‘Black Eyed Susans by it’s cover and glanced over the reviews on Goodreads, deeming it a possible intriguing read and one that I hopefully wouldn’t suspect the killer straight away. It was, and I didn’t…for a while.

You join a 16 year old Tessa in 1995 after the trauma of being left to die with a couple skeletons and a corpse in a grave of flowers, in the days leading up to the trial of a man thought to have committed the crimes, relaying (or not) to her psychiatrist the confusing, mixed up things going on inside her head as she attempts sifting her way through a fog of blindness, trying to recall what happened that day.

With alternating chapters between 1995 and ‘present day’ (seventeen years later) Tessa; the mother, the artist, the surviving Black Eyed Susan is having second thoughts over whether the accused man, living on death row with only a few months left, is the killer. Someone has planted Black Eyed Susans under her window and she convinced it’s her monster.

I can’t fault the suspense or desire to know what happened, I was finding time in my day to squeeze a few chapters in, however I’d use the term thriller loosely. It wasn’t a fast paced, car chase, edge of seat thrill. It was a slowish build at the beginning, which others would consider irritating, but completely necessary to build the foundations of the plot. It purposely eased you into the weird world of Tessa, which you can’t just throw at someone, you have to try to understand her, she was odd, her family was odd, her friend was odd. It disguised itself as quirky Luna Lovegood-esk unusualness with a heavy dose of sarcasm, but it’s much darker and Tessa is not okay. She’s dancing with the illusion of normality although it becomes apparent she’s in fact drowning in confusion, lost in solving the seventeen year old mystery where nothing makes sense. It took me a second to understand the reasoning for some of the decisions she makes, as to me, they didn’t seem logical, but she was only trying to protect everyone, even though she was the victim. I really liked her, both old(er) and young, in all her weirdness.

Overall I enjoyed and liked it, written brilliantly and I completely related to the characters. I was immersed and am happy to recommend it to anyone who fancies a not so straight forward mystery. The creepiness was brilliantly creepy, I was definitely feeling that, however the shocks, for some reason, didn’t shock me, which was sad. I guessed a couple just a few pages before they happened which means I’d probably mentally prepared myself. I wasn’t looking wide eyed at the words mouthing ‘No’ but I’m pleased I didn’t anticipate the whole ending five pages in. In fact I didn’t fully realise the extent of the oddness I felt halfway through would end so dramatically. Definitely didn’t guess that ending. But still, it didn’t shock me.

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my reading pile

by Zoë B on April 2, 2015

I’m experiencing one of those common bookish problems where I can’t seem to settle on reading one book. I could contradict myself in saying there will, and always will, be a book that I’ve started reading, placed a bookmark in, and begun reading something else. But there’s always one book that takes all your time. Even though you have a large pile of books containing numerous amounts of bookmarks stacked next to you, in my experience, there is always one you reach for first.

Sadly, I am not experiencing that now.

I have at least four books on the go at the moment and am finding it difficult to decide which to read the next chapter of. It’s not that I’m struggling to connect with them, I’m enjoying each one and I’m hooked, which I think is the problem. I want to find out what happens in these books but obviously as I only possess two eyes and not enough focus to concentrate on two plot lines simultaneously (which I’m not sure is possible anyway. Imagine trying to watch two films at the same time on two screens next to each other, my brain would melt) I can’t do it and in a weird twist this is stopping me from reading any of them at all.

It’s a hard life being a book nerd.

What books are on your reading pile? Do you have any fighting over gaining your attention?

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i’ve developed a curse…

October 25, 2014

Treated myself to some books over the past couple of weeks…twenty-three of them.

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An almost travelling review of Julia Bell’s “Massive”

July 12, 2014
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Been doing a tad bit of travelling recently (thanks to my other life) and aside from discovering new places one of my favourite perks of visiting new areas is stumbling upon the quaintest of shops. Do love myself a brilliant charity shop but the most thrilling yet calming place to find, of course, is a bookshop. […]

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{Cover Reveal} Daughters of Lilith: Book 3 // Sacrifice

January 30, 2014

Bad-ass sword wielding heroine alert! Lovely Jennifer has sent me the first in the Daughters of Lilith series, Thrall, to review so I’m utterly excited to get my teeth into this series. Loving these covers, apparently Quintenz did them herself, how cool?! Sacrifice (Daughters of Lilith: Book 3) by Jennifer Quintenz So this is it, […]

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Green & Levithan are FAB // Will Grayson, Will Grayson Review

January 16, 2014

In all honesty, do I need to review it? Not really. We already know John Green is a genius and we already know of the brilliance of David Levithan, need I ramble on about how wonderful their book child is? I guess, yes. They probably hear them enough, but another compliment towards these fantastic writers […]

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It’s the end of the year and I’m poop at posts

December 28, 2013
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First of all, I have a confession to make. Have come to the conclusion I am not cut out for a post a week, never mind one everyday. The whole idea of ‘book blogging’ is you read, you review, read, review, read, review, jabber on about some book related topic then read and review. However, […]

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Katie Cotugno is brilliant // A How to Love Review

October 30, 2013
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Have you ever picked up a book and just fallen in love with it? The words on the page just seem to fit. The little film inside your head appears instantly. There are no problems finding the words around you, just letting your eyes wander and so easily you’re right there in the midst of […]

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