Books You Need In Your Life: April – June 2018

flatlay of four YA books on a white background, along with sunglasses and wooden coaster

It’s that time again! Put down your book, grab yourself a cuppa, and get cosy: I’ve read some absolute crackers this quarter, and I’ve been looking forward to telling you alllll about them. As always, everything is linked by the title (affiliate links- see bottom of post for more information), so have a browse, let me know if anything takes your fancy, and a suggestion or two for what I should be reading next wouldn’t go amiss either. Past experiences have shown that you guys have the BEST taste in YA reads!

Paris By The Book by Liam Callanan (HarperCollins)

“… I didn’t miss him. And part of me, I confess, did not. But the reader in me, the makeshift muse, word-drunk and bereaved, she suffered. And yes, the rest of me, my fingers and mouth and hair and stomach, I missed him like air, like water, like a second skin, like a book you love, you need, but is no longer on the shelf when you go to look because it turns out it was never written”.

I’ll be honest, I completely misjudged this book. Before reading, my first impression was that this was going to be yet another chick-lit romance where a woman having a midlife crisis moves to Paris, has life-affirming realisations about her childhood, and just so happens to meet a handsome stranger who conveniently turns out to be the love of her life. I began reading this book expecting nothing other than for it to follow this set pattern I’m bored to the back-teeth of seeing in romance novels over and over again. However, these first impressions couldn’t have been more misguided, and I rapidly found myself completely taken-in in this beautiful, beautiful book.

The story follows protagonist Leah, mother of two, as she tries to come to terms with the abrupt disappearance of her author husband. Due to past sentimental value and a mysterious note and ticket to the capital left behind in their Milwaukee home, the family find themselves relocating to Paris. Now, please don’t immediately scorn when I tell you that they take over a little French bookstore: rather than an over-glamourised Tumblr account of becoming a hashtag-goals family of booksellers, the story immerses us in the Eady family’s struggles to simply make ends meet, whilst coming to terms with the missing family member. They may well be dead and gone, but could just as easily be closer than they realise.

pippa wearing grey leather jacket, holding paris by the book cover in front of her face

Not only is the tale gripping and satisfyingly unpredictable from start to finish, it’s full of sentimental value. Callanan does such a wonderful job of animating this small family unit in a way that’s utterly heartwarming: I loved that the main characters’ faults were discussed without hesitation, and yet done so in a way that doesn’t take away any of the affection you end up feeling for them. It’s my favourite thing when characters feel real, when you can imagine them as people who you would actually expect to meet in life, and this novel is a brilliant example of how I think this should be done.

And the thing I loved most of all about this book? The fact that it celebrates an undeniable love of reading. By following the story of a family for whom reading is ingrained into every part of their existence, written in such an engaging and enriching way, I felt a sense of pride in my own love of reading too. Despite my initial low expectations, Paris By The Book was an absolutely stunning read, undoubtedly one of my favourites of the year so far, and fellow book lovers: this is definitely one to go on your TBR pile.

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty (Penguin Books)

Gabrielle: Next thing I hear, Harper is accusing Jane of assaulting her in Turtle Corner, which seemed unlikely.

Sue: Harper carried on like a pork chop… I don’t know. I’d just got a call about a blown mains water line. I didn’t have time to deal with two mothers fighting it out in the sandpit.

Miss Barnes: Those parents were crazy. How could we possibly have suspended Ziggy? He was a model student. No behavioural issues. I never had to put him on the Sad Chair. In fact, I can’t remember even giving him a red dot! And he certainly never got a yellow card. Let alone a white one.”

Big Little Lies has been one of my favourite reads for years, simply for the catastrophically clever storyline and three-dimensional characters. I think a snippet of a review I recently read on Goodreads sums it up perfectly: ‘Probably the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse I’ll ever read’.

Set in the idyllic Pirriwee Peninnsula, we find out right at the beginning of the story that there’s been a murder at the primary school’s trivia night. However, it isn’t right until the very end of the book that we find out what exactly took place on that balcony, who the victim was, and ultimately, who was responsible. We’re kept in the dark throughout the book, as we meet the mums of Pirriwee Public School. And the more we find out about their day-to-day lives and backstories, the more blurred the lines between right and wrong seem to become.

Sounds quite ominous, right? And yet this has to be one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. Lianne Moriarty has a gloriously witty writing style, and the highlighted sections of dialogue from police interviews with each of the characters, scattered through the book, were laugh-out-loud brilliant. The book isn’t shy in poking fun at the modern-day school mum stereotype, and yet flawlessly intertwines discussion on much more serious matters: everything from playground bullying, to covert domestic abuse. Big Little Lies strikes a perfect blend between thought-provoking literature and light-hearted entertainment, in my eyes giving it universal appeal for any kind of reader.

Flawed by Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins Children’s)

“He did this to me. Him. I feel nothing but disgust for him. I used to think that I couldn’t be afraid of someone so human, now I realise it is his humanity that scares me most, because despite having all those traits, having shared the moments we’ve shared, he could still do this to be. Now I find him terrifying. I see the evil in him.

…’brand her tongue’ he says coldly, then steps back”.

I picked up this book on a whim after seeing a cracking offer on it at the supermarket, at the time not giving it a great deal of thought. Fast forward a few weeks, I begin reading, and… I am shook. Flawed is quite possibly the most unsettling, uncomfortable read I’ve ever experienced, and I mean that in the very best way.

flawed book cover on white background along with purple glasses and flowery glasses case

Set in a society where those who display morally questionable behaviour are visibly branded as ‘Flawed’ and treated as outcasts, protagonist Celestine North finds herself accused of being ‘a Flawed’ by association after taking a stand and assisting an elderly Flawed man in danger- something seen as unforgivable and morally corrupt in this civilisation. We see her experience her new policed, uncompromising way of life under constant surveillance from the authorities, the mass media and those around her, and discover more about the corruption layered at every level within the political climate. For me, something that came to my mind time and time again whilst reading this book was the rather alarming parallels between how the Flawed were regarded by the non-Flawed, and how marginalised groups are subtly still regarded by some in the UK… it’s the same world, but different rules implicitly apply. Food for thought, to say the least.

The book is such a cleverly ironic, almost satirical take on a world where the more those in power try to police a ‘morally correct’ nation, the more morally incorrect said nation seems to become. It’s worryingly easy to see elements of current society reflected in this fictional dystopian world, and Ahern’s writing really makes you question judicial practice and how it’s enforced. I’m not exaggerating when I say I found some parts of the story almost too difficult to read: at one point, I closed the book in denial. Y’know, just in case my stopping reading stopped the thing that I could see was going to happen, from happening. It’s a heavy, but rather outstanding read: stay tuned to find out if Pippa has the emotional strength to get through the sequel, too.

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown (Pushkin Press)

“‘Little kids like stories they know,’ remarked Maddy. ‘Maddy ought to know what they’d like,’ Jeremy teased her. ‘Personally, when I was eight, a really juicy murder appealed to me as much as anything,’ Maddy told them”.

As much as I love contemporary YA, you just can’t beat a wholesome, traditional read sometimes, particularly when it has theatre ingrained at every level of its existence. The Swish of the Curtain was written in the 1940s by then 16-year-old Pamela Brown, with the royalties consequently paying for her own RADA training and thus beginning her own career (how amazing is that?!), and it’s a pure celebration of realising ambitions in the theatrical world. Featuring seven young people all with their own ‘unrealistic’ dreams of being in the performing arts industry, the story sees them rather unintentionally establish their own ‘Blue Door Theatre Company’ in their school holidays and set out to make a name for themselves, in spite of resistance from their parents and some of the local community.

hand holding the swish of the curtain book, with rainbow bookshelves in background

For me, the book struck a really lovely balance between that pure and charming narrative style that you often see in less-contemporary reads, combined with a wicked wittiness and ideas that would have likely been ahead of their time when the story was first published. The characters are feisty and determined, with little Maddie Fayne being a firm favourite of mine, and I think Maggie Smith sums it up nicely when she says “I wanted to act before I read this book, and afterwards there was no stopping me”. It’s a wonderful read that’ll take you from wherever you are and put you right in the centre of the action. You wouldn’t think you could suffer such second-hand stage fright from reading a novel, but there I was, on the verge of palpitations as the children prepared for their stage debut. This gorgeous new edition by Pushkin Press is definitely one to get your hands on, particularly if you’re a stagey person yourself.

And there we have it! Do let me know if you decide to give any of them a go and how you find them, as I’m always up for a bookish chat. As always, recommendations of your own are very gratefully received: if there’s a read that you think should be in my next Books You Need In Your Life series, I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, you can browse my January- March 2018 favourites here, check out my own charity book ‘Dear Chronic Illness’ here, and keep up with all my current reads (including the books I’m considerably less enthusiastic about…) over on Goodreads. Yay!

What are you reading at the moment?

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Disclaimer: Each of the above reads are linked by the title. I earn a small commission from any purchase made from following these affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. This is also the case for any Wordery orders placed by following this cheeky link, and any Amazon orders by following this link. I’m so subtle, I know. And whilst we’re at it, you can also get a 30 day free trial of Amazon Prime here: this is how I buy the vast majority of my books, and the free one-day delivery is an absolute lifesaver for when you’re caught short without a good read.

I’m also very grateful to receive books from various publishers and authors, some of which are included in my posts. Others are re-reads of old favourites, and most are purchased of my own accord. I’d like to make clear that (unless otherwise disclosed), I’m under no obligation to review any of the complementary books I receive, so do be assured that all of the reads included in this post are genuine favourites of mine that I hope you’ll enjoy too.

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