All posts by Glass Houses and Bookshelves

The Lies They Tell, Gillian French: Review

I have heard very little about The Lies They Tell, and after reading it I realised I have a lot of thoughts I needed to process. So here I am having raced to my laptop fuelled only by lots of cups of tea this morning and words at my fingertips raring to go.

I shall inform you now that there will be spoilers within this review. But because I’m a lovely reviewer who caters for both those who can’t wait to know, and those who want to find out themselves, I am going to split this review in two. The first being a general overview and the second half having all those juicy bits – in the words of Hannah Montana it is the best of both worlds.

So, The Lies They Tell by Gillian French centralises around Pearl – a quick witted girl working at the Country Club of her town, where during the summer months is overrun by the upper class visiting their holiday homes on “millionaire’s row”. However, this summer comes with its added challenges for Pearl as her father is ruined after one of the elite families die in an arson attack during his shift as a caretaker.

It was the initial premise of this book that drew me in. I love a story that keeps me guessing and I am an absolute sucker for an enemies to more plot (all hail the original star crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet) which the class divides in this story promised. Unfortunately, that promise fell flat.

Firstly, there was three potential love interests for our leading lady. Three! Personally, it felt a little like ‘this is my main character and I need to show she’s likeable after all’. Despite this, I actually did like Pearl – she felt honest and real and she has a very unexpected type of humour about her. I feel like this could have been explored further through her rather than the amount of males that was present in this book (honestly even none romantic it was extremely male dominated). One of the reasons I believe this was stunted was through the narrative choice. Despite the novel clearly being focused on Pearl’s perspective it was written in third person which halted some of the personal insights I was looking for. Furthermore, the dialogue was few and far between so the description felt like it was being drawn out.

This leads me to another issue I had with the book – the pacing. I don’t think anything actually happened? I don’t wish to sound overly negative but despite finishing this book in one sitting I think it was more me trying to find some type of action rather than being so enthralled I couldn’t put it down. I suppose if you like an easy read that you don’t necessarily have to think too hard about then this could be an excellent ‘filler’ book so to speak.

Overall, I liked the idea of this book more than its actual execution. I really enjoyed the rich vs working class dynamic and the setting of the Country Club was actually rather interesting. It was relieving to read a character that felt so relatable in her work environment and it really helped ground the novel. However, as already said, the pacing and narrative distracted from the plot and wasn’t the one for me.

Ok, overview over! If you’re like me (the neighbour peering over the garden fence if you will) you’ll be ready for the spoiler section.

As hinted at above – there was three love interests for Pearl. She loves her best friend Reece who doesn’t feel the same way (honestly loved their dynamic as friends and so wish authors actually wrote platonic friendships as it would have suited them better in my opinion). One of the elite family’s and posh boy Bridges (seriously that’s his name) takes a fancy to her indifference, and then there’s Tristan who’s family died in the fire (Gillian French actually hints that they have a deeper understanding that could blossom and I was SO here for it. That ‘we’re different but get each other’ vibe).

Now Bridges it turns out is rather bloody lack lustre and a bit of a sleaze (choosing her to get over his previous girlfriend – the dead sister of Tristan who actually he was having an affair with). Now that sounds juicy and interesting when put like that but French’s delivery of this takes out all the excitement and revelry of it.

But it is Tristan I have the main issue with. He has a few vulnerable moments with Pearl that hinted he was going to be a more three dimensional character with layers I could really get my teeth stuck into. But no. Turns out he organised the arson on his family anyway despite being the main suspect but with no real reason or motive and suddenly all previous emotion from him has disappeared. This reveal was so utterly disappointing – not necessarily because I expected it but because I wanted more. I really thought the big reveal was going to be some twist I never saw coming but this was just me holding onto hope that was not to be.

Seriously! Tristan’s reason for killing his entire family was that his rich father was mean to him (shocker) and his sister was protecting their younger brother who accidentally has video evidence of his plans (like that’s it). The actual details feel far fetched and slightly unbelievable but again, it was the delivery of all this information that made it expected and dare I say it – slightly dull. Ultimately my hopes for this book were higher than it could deliver which is a shame as again, the premise was there… the execution wasn’t.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Negative Reviews

I’m back again with another one of my ranting sessions about an offhand comment I saw; this time it’s all about leaving a negative review.

I’m guessing that as a fellow reader you’re no stranger to the wonderful world of goodreads; the primary source of my never ending Want to Read List and the biggest Devils advocate for spending more money on books. I’m also guessing that you, like me, have spent a lot of hours browsing for your type of book and perhaps gauging the feel of it through its reviews. So now I ask you if you take head of the negative ones?

To me, a well written review has the potential to tell me what I will like about the book and ultimately what might put me off it; whether that may be predictability, pace, character development, love interests, or writing style. I sincerely value book reviews because the perspective I want to learn from is that of the reader (not the publisher or author) as their experience will liken to my own. So why is it then that there is such stigma surrounding actually writing a negative review?

Personally I believe that it’s easy for others to jump on the bandwagon and follow suit with the opinions of others. This in essence creates a ‘hating for the sake of hating’ response that ultimately clouds the real purpose of these reviews. Sadly, I think people often focus on the negative, even when positives are included, to the point where it no longer feels constructive or informative. That’s what the review really is: an opinion to help inform likewise minded people. I personally would much rather have an honest representation than a blind one where I may end up disappointed in the book.

So, I’ve decided in any future review I write to include both the positives and the negatives. My aim is never to be hurtful or detrimental but to just create a sense of awareness for any future reader. Besides, the optimist in me wants to remind you that if I say something negative about a book that you end up loving – well then at least it went above and beyond your expectations which is always a happy ending (even if the book doesn’t have one).

The Dreaded DNF

So, during my time in the reading community I have discovered that there are two types of readers; the ones who persevere and the ones who Do Not Finish. I’ve also noticed that there is some debate about actively marking a book as DNF; I myself have struggled with which category I wanted to be in. When a book appeals to you and you’ve invested time, energy, and money into it the last thing you want to do is give up. Recently I have made the decision to alter my own perception of not finishing books and I thought I would share them here for any other conflicted readers out there!

As recently as a few months ago I refused to not finish a book, and if I really really couldn’t I wouldn’t tell anyone and pretend I was still reading it; that I hadn’t given up. There was a part of me that felt really guilty if I wasn’t feeling it. I felt bad for the author and wanted so badly to keep going in case I was wrong and it did get better; but I also felt bad in myself. I had this weird notion that I wasn’t ‘the reading person’ if I stopped halfway, or even two thirds of the way through; almost like a was a phoney or a pretender. Retrospectively, I know this is wrong, nobody should feel like that. I mean, I never get mad at myself if I turn a movie off before its finished, so why is a book any different?

I believe that it’s because books are more personal. Theres an intimacy with books; the closeness of the pages, the images you make in your mind, the way the words make you feel. In a way the story is yours as well as the author’s. That’s actually when I realised that maybe it is ok afterall if I don’t finish a book. If it is such a personal experience, I cannot expect every single book to connect with me on an individual level. Everyone is different right?

And from there I began to think about it even further. When you browse a book and you put one back on the shelf, you don’t get mad at yourself because it’s just not what you wanted to read, theres no guilt associated with that and rightly so. There should be pride associated with the fact that we’ve tried a new book, a new author, or a new genre because even if we don’t finish it we’ve learnt more about what we do like in the stories we read. We’re expanding our knowledge, our repertoire so to speak. In trying these different books we may discover some things we like; maybe a new writing style, the voice of a narrator and maybe because of that we’ll pick up a different book by that author and fall in love with it. Everything is trial and error in life and books are no different.

Forcing yourself to finish a book you’re simply not feeling just isn’t worth it. Resentment builds and you end up projecting negativity about the book and possibly more; it puts unwanted pressure on yourself and ultimately could be time spent reading a book you actually enjoy. So, my fellow readers; those who persevere I applaud your optimism. To my fellow readers who sometimes DNF; thats ok too because theres always another book for us to read.

Top 5 underrated favourites

Hello fellow readers! Recently I have been moving my bookshelves around and began thinking whether I wanted to organise them by authors, colour, genre, or by favourites (we all know the struggle). Well, I may have decided to go with genre but a few reads stood out to me for how underrated they are and so here we are; a list of my top 5 underrated favourites.

Underrated #5

Don’t Look Back – Jennifer L. Armentrout

So if you have no clue what this book is about it follows Samantha, who has just emerged battered and bruised after being missing for four days with absolutely no memory of what happened. Now this at first may get your deja vu senses tingling BUT theres an extra layer that Armentrout has weaved into the fold; and that is although Samantha has been found, her best friend Cassie is still missing. This then makes the entire plot not only a contemporary – fit the jigsaw pieces together – mystery but also a thriller. Coupled with Armentrout’s engaging writing style I simply could not put this book down and raced through the pages. What I was particularly impressed with was how the book kept me guessing throughout and yet I still did not see the reveal coming- it took me by complete surprise and I loved it. Another surprise was the character of Samantha; often it’s easy for a main character to be ‘the golden girl’ but she most definitely has faults. It was actually rather heartwarming to see her admit them and try to better herself along the way.

Underrated #4

This is Where it Ends – Marieke Nijkamp

I will not lie this book is quite a marmite read (you either love it or you hate it) and the little comments I have read about it have been equally divided. This is Where it Ends is a first person, in the moment, telling of a school shooting and is ultimately an extremely heavy reading experience. Many other readers, who I am inclined to agree with, seem to have an issue with the antagonist (the shooter) in that his motives, reasoning, and overall development are extremely lack lustre and fall quite flat. However, I decided to include it on this list because there are some amazing qualities of this book that does make it underrated. Firstly, I love that the chapters are from multiple character perspectives; in a novel with a setting such as this I think it really adds to the personal factor when the reader can feel the weight and the consequences of everyone rather than just one individual. It makes it feel more real and the ultimate connectedness of the characters translates to the reader and really makes you question ideals of community and what matters to you. Another reason I feel this book is underrated is the inclusion of a lesbian relationship that is presented in a natural and wholesome way; it definitely feels LGBTQ inclusive as a means of representation and not of baiting the community.

If you do enjoy books that deal with settings and themes of this nature then I would also recommend Hate List by Jennifer Brown as an honorary mention. This book is interesting in the portrayal of guilt as an aftermath of the event and is definitely worth a read!

Underrated #3

I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson

I first read this book as an advanced reading copy and it was the first time I read anything of Jandy Nelson. However, I enjoyed it so much I was then sent her first book The Sky is Everywhere so I could devour more of her words. Despite the wonderful flow of her writing style and the dynamic characters that I fell in love with, this book is on this list because of its unique structure. The novel follows twin siblings Noah and Jude and each chapter changes to the corresponding perspective. What’s different about this is Jude tells her side of the story from the perspective of the present day whereas her brother Noah’s chapters are from years previously. I found this really intriguing because the reader knows an event has happened that has separated them; we know the consequence because of Jude and we get all the anticipation and build up from Noah. Its such a uniquely fascinating way of keeping the reader guessing and sometimes feels like you get two stories in one. Another reason I personally adore this book is the chapter configuration feels almost symbolic of the characters coming together again; which I ultimately craved and loved because i’m a sucker for all things poetic.

Underrated #2

My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece – Annabel Pitcher

This was such a tough decision for me to place this book first or second because I nearly cry just thinking about it. Now don’t get me wrong this book is not a ball your eyes out, purposefully sad book, but theres such a sense of childhood innocence that translates so well it just warms my heart and makes me teary. This book is from the perspective of 10 year old Jamie (and wow does the author do a fantastic job of making this FEEL like the voice of a child). His elder sister died during the London bombing and her urn sits on the mantlepiece whilst the rest of his family struggles with the aftermath years later.

The themes in this book could have been represented so much darker and heavier if it weren’t for Jamie and ultimately the author Annabel Pitcher. This story isn’t about grief but about friendship, loyalty and essentially humanity. One of the biggest things I took from this book was Jamie’s friendship with Sunya as it showcases how people overcome and form their own opinions even at such a young age when we are said to be the most impressionable. Sunya is a muslim girl who wears a hijab and due to how Jamie’s sister’s died his father has begun to nurture islamophobic ideals and doesn’t want them to be friends. The reader really gets to see Jamie try to process what’s right and wrong, being a good friend, and a good son and the raw and honest portrayal is great to see. If you haven’t read this book I will not spoil things for you but please watch out for two things; The Superhero shirt and Rodger the cat (if you have read this book then you’ll know).

Underrated #1

Under Rose-tainted Skies – Louise Gornall

My number 1!! This book has an idealistic slow burn love story, a supportive mother daughter relationship, AND most importantly an accurate representation of mental health. It truly is refreshing to see. Under Rose-tainted Skies follows the life of Norah, who is agrophobic with OCD and anxiety, as she watches life from the safety of her window, until Luke arrives and changes her own perspective on self-care and mental health. I want to be really clear here, although the romance is quite fanciful it is most definitely NOT a relationship that sets out to fix Norah and her mental health, prior to meeting Luke she attends therapy and counselling and her dialogue about her conditions is as open at the start as it is at the end.

It’s this representation of MH that really makes this book shine; the author herself deals with the same conditions as Norah which just makes her character feel even more real. I may be biased in that I connected with Norah so heavily as I am also diagnosed OCD and anxiety. However, it wasn’t until reading this book that I realised some of the things I did or thought was apart of my personality, was actually an attribute of my conditions. I have been officially diagnosed with OCD for 5 years now and I can honestly say I have never read a more realistic interpretation that doesn’t fantasise MH than in Gornall’s novel. Despite it being just a heartwarming and enjoyable contemporary read, I will always recommend this book to anyone that would want to know what my brain feels like or just MH in general.

Caraval, Stephanie Garber: Review

I am no stranger to a fantasy novel, in fact I would go as far as saying that its my go to genre. So, its no surprising that Caraval found its way onto my ‘to be read’ pile. And it didn’t stay there long. Once I picked this book up I found it hard to put down and was racing through the chapters.

“It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .”

The beginning of the novel I found particularly enticing as Stephanie Garber is a true mastermind in backstory. I instantly knew the main characters; Scarlett and Tella, and their personalities came through brightly. Scarlett was a character that I found much more appealing and someone I could root for. Whereas Tella was a little lacklustre for my personal taste and a character I found even annoying at times. However, it was Scarlett that took centre focus.

The action really begins when Scarlett arrives at Caraval; a spectacular treasure hunt style performance where the winner is granted a wish. This is where the questions really begin. Where’s Tella? Who’s a player? and most importantly is it real? The game no longer felt like a game, especially with her sister missing, and I was utterly invested. This is what I really liked about the novel. I enjoyed the suspense and mystery the game gave me, especially when it led to the darker aspects that I really wasn’t expecting. The seedy underground tunnels, the tortured past of experienced players and the reveal of a murder really made this novel stand out.

The ending to this book, although it was a real twist disappointed me. I was interested in the art of trickery that the plot presented and the understated magic than ran through it. I wanted more of a presence from the enigmatic Legend who created Caraval.

Overall however, this book was a true fantastical YA hit. It teased me with a budding romance, it warmed me with a sisterly relationship and it captured me with its magic. I would definitely recommend Garber’s Caraval, especially to those that perhaps wouldn’t pick it up because of its fantasy elements. This book is first and foremost a mystery and it is absolutely compelling.

Rating: 3 out of 5.