Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – Book Review

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I’ve never read a novel quite like this. It’s intriguing, mysterious, and its slow pace is less boring than realistic – it reminds you painfully of the memory loss its main character is struggling with. I read this novel a month ago, and when recommending it in a bookstore today, I realised that I actually hadn’t written my review yet. Thankfully, it’s still pretty fresh in my mind, so read on for the review!

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

This novel is about an elderly woman and her struggle to find answers to a question that nobody will seem to listen to. Her friend, Elizabeth, is missing. She can’t find her anywhere, and she knows something is wrong, but can’t remember what it is. Her search is made a little bit more difficult by the fact that she is losing her memory, but some things are coming back to her – over fifty years after they happened. They may not help her find Elizabeth, but her search for her best friend may help her understand a mystery that should have been solved decades ago.

Maud is a lovely bundle of a character. I want to hug her, I want to sit and drink tea with her, and most of all I want to help her. When you’re picking up things that she observes but later doesn’t remember it takes a little less time to figure out what happened to Elizabeth than it does for Maud herself. At times this can be a little bit annoying, but I think in quite an intentional way. The frustration you feel really does emulate the frustrations you can feel when in this situation in real life – when your brain forms connections between memories that a loved one simply cannot, you do have to be patient and try and understand, no matter how hard this is. On top of this all is a really charming sense of humour that had me laughing, Maud is hilarious.

I can’t lie, as well as laugh this novel made me cry, it really struck a chord with me. From a young age I watched my grandma struggle with Alzheimer’s for years until the day she died, and my nan is currently beginning to show signs of having to live with dementia. Not only did it remind me of all of the horrible things my grandma went through, it also highlighted what my nan might currently be feeling. It gives an insight into the way the minds of people with dementia may actually work, in a painful but illuminating way. 

I think what’s important is that this really important message doesn’t have to make up for any terrible story-line or lack of plot. There is plenty to find interesting and compelling in this book. There are, essentially, two mysteries that are solved by the end of Elizabeth Is Missing. They just take a while to come about, and it’s more the journey towards those realisations that is the most enjoyable part. It’s one of the slowest-paced mystery novels I’ve ever encountered, yet it’s written in such an endearing way that it does not take away from how thrilling it can be. What I can tell you is how fast I read it (very) because I was dying to find out what happened next on every single page.  

All the feels. That’s pretty much what happened with this novel. It has had really great commercial success and quite rightly – Emma Healey really knows how to make you feel something. I would recommend this book to anybody who wants a quick but meaningful read. I’m currently in two minds about whether or not to suggest my mum reads it, because I think the personal issues may hit her even harder than they did me. Has anyone else read this book? How did it make you feel?

My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 4.3/5. Goodreads average: 3.75/5.

Buy from: Amazon / Book Depository / Hive / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Publishers: Penguin.

Publication Date: January 1st 2015.

Follow the author on Twitter: @ECHealey

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City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett – Book Review (spoilers)

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Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power.

Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian.

As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.

I received a copy of City of Stairs from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

WARNING: I ACCIDENTALLY INCLUDED SOME MILD SPOILERS IN HERE. NOTHING MAJOR, AND NOTHING DETAILED, BUT I KIND OF COULDN’T HELP IT BECAUSE I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT IT. SORRY. PROCEED WITH CAUTION

When Efrem Pangui, a Saypuri historian, is found murdered in his Bulkovian office on the Continent, Shara makes her way into the city to find out why and seek out his killer. Of course that isn’t all she finds. Instead she discovers active working miracles, not-as-dead-as-expected divinities, information about her own ancestry, and so much more.

City of Stairs is set in Bulikov: one of the cities on the Continent, a nation once held up by active and present Gods, a ‘chosen’ nation that once enslaved the people of Saypur. When the Gods disappeared, Saypur held a technological advantage over the Continent, which had depended on its Divinities for everything. The tables turned and Saypur held all of the power, the money, and outlawed any acknowledgement of the Continent’s history, the Divine, on its soil. Bennett sets all of this up, with context that makes you feel it. which makes it matter. With characters who appear so real that their history is real too.

The characters of City of Stairs are difficult to forget. A few days after finishing the novel, I am still thinking about them. Shara, Mulagesh, Vohannes, Vinya, and Sigrud. SIGRUD! I loathe a perfect, flawless character, and thankfully – City of Stairs doesn’t even have one

If I could, I’d visit Bulikov right now. Robert Jackson Bennett’s world-building is second to none, the best I have read all year, and I can honestly say that it was so thorough and detailed that I had no problem suspending my disbelief. I found it difficult to put this book down and come back to reality – and that’s exactly what I want from a book. An escape. Even if it is to a secondary world that is plagued with much more murder, drama, and politics than my day to day life. My heart pounded, I felt stressed, I was nearly ripping my hair out at times. But at least it’s not boring.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when starting City of Stairs. I hadn’t read anything about it, nor other reviews, as I wanted to make up my own mind about it. The concept and cover struck me as YA, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t give this to any teenage reader (not that YA is specifically for teenagers, of course). It is a novel written for adults. Not just because of the swearing, the killing off of romantic interests (thank gods that this novel wasn’t centred on a romantic entanglement), or the pretty descriptive and gory scenes. It’s complicated at times, it needs to be read slowly and digested properly, no matter how much you want to speed ahead and find out what happens next. It’s heavy, and it’s worth it, it doesn’t feel like a slog.

One of the things I loved so much about City of Stairs, though there are many, has to be its unapologetic political commentary. Despite being set in a completely different world, it is an allegorical criticism of racism, homophobia, unequal power structures, colonialism, and the blind following of religion. It is a novel written by a man, with a strong female main character that I didn’t find incredibly unrealistic – and that’s an achievement. This is a novel I’d be happy to champion.

I’m not going to try and fit City of Stairs into a definitive genre, least of all because I’d find it terribly hard, mostly because I feel as though if it is defined as something specific – a lot of readers who stay within one genre or another, or avoid certain genres, would miss out on this incredible book. It doesn’t need a genre. It has fantasy elements, science fiction elements, mystery elements, and more. Trying to slot it in some pigeon hole would be reckless and unnecessary. If it were not completely fictional, I’d put this on a shelf with historical fiction – because the history of the world Bennett has created is just so comprehensive.

More people need to be reading City of Stairs, more people need to be talking about Robert Jackson Bennett (and saying nice things, hopefully), and more people need to be paying attention to the goings-on in Bulikov, because that shit is important, folks!

This is honestly the best book I’ve read so far this year, definitely my favourite of 2014… but there are still three months to go. Let’s see if it can hold out (it probably can). Its reviews on Goodreads are tellingly positive. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Bennett’s previous publications, and the sequel, oh god the sequel. This is the book I’ll be buying in bulk to give to friends for Christmas but shh, don’t tell them. They don’t read my blog.

My personal rating: 5/5. Amazon average: 4.5/5. Goodreads average: 4.39/5.

Buy from Amazon / Hive / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥ It’s not out in the UK until October 2nd it seems, but it’ll be published by Quercus and you’ll be able to buy it in Hardback then.

Pages: 464

Publishers: Broadway Books / Quercus

Publication Date: September 9th 2014

Follow the author on Twitter: @robertjbennett

What Happened To Marilyn – Alexander Rigby – Book Review

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What Happened to Marilyn – Alexander Rigby 

Marilyn Monroe wakes up inside the rust-colored brick walls of an extravagant mansion in Savannah, and is informed that it’s the year 2062. The young man who tells her this is Jeremiah Gold, whom Marilyn met just days ago in California, a century earlier. He quickly explains how he traveled back to 1962 in the time machine he invented, to save her from the death that would have otherwise overtaken her. At first Marilyn is unable to comprehend the truth, but as Jeremiah discovers that the news of her legendary demise is still mysteriously in place, she decides to align her trust in him. In time, the brazen blonde emerges out into the southern city, taking caution so that none of the citizens of Savannah recognize her. Marilyn knows it’s dangerous, but she can’t quench the urge she has to explore this futuristic world, regardless of the warnings Jeremiah gives her. What Happened to Marilyn is a time-bending novel that gives one of the most famous women in the world a shot at redemption. As she struggles to deal with her identity and her unfulfilled dreams, Marilyn wonders if she should stay with Jeremiah, or return to the past that will never let her go.

I’ve been trying to review this for quite a while, as Alexander Rigby very kindly sent me a review copy, but I’ve had such a busy time lately (going up to Liverpool, Reading festival, work experience, babysitting… a lot of babysitting) that it has taken me a lot longer than I intended!

I had actually seen this book tweeted about a couple of times before I got my hands on a copy, and the premise really interested me. A young man travels back in time to save Marilyn Monroe from her untimely, tragic death. I was unsure of the reasoning behind it at first, but Rigby convinced me of its importance in relation to the characters – and I got behind the idea rather quickly. Characterisation in What Happened to Marilyn is, in my opinion, its distinguishing quality. Yes, the narrative is an original take on the over-done time travel sci-fi trope, and it is done well… but the characters are most redeeming.

Jeremiah is a genius, but a relatable one. His family are slightly clichéd, but you’re made to care anyway. I can’t say that I’m an expert on Marilyn Monroe, or how accurate the portrayal of her is in this novel, but I like her as a character all the same. I don’t know whether I’d be more impressed by accuracy or by Rigby’s creation, so I’m going to let the more Marilyn-minded of you decide what you think. What really brought the characters to life was the interaction between them. A bit dialogue-heavy, but infectiously emotional, it drives the narrative and keeps it relevant and enjoyable.

Of course, like with all literature, there were certain aspects that didn’t suit my usual tastes. I felt like, although it’s sci-fi, it would have been more believable without the explanation behind how the main character managed to make a time-travelling ‘floca’ (flying car). I’d have happily gone along with being told that Jeremiah managed it because he was a genius in ways I’d never understand, rather than the way Rigby came up with. I also felt a little at sorts trying to follow a lot of the sentences, which were often too long and not very well structured. I do feel as if another line-edit might have done the world of good, but it’s not painful to read, and it may just be down to personal tastes.

Another thing I did really enjoy was the description of Savannah, Georgia. I felt as though I was transported, not only through time, but also over to another place.

I’d suggest picking up a copy of this book, whether you’re a fan of Marilyn or not. It’s not terribly complex, but has enough twisting and turning to keep any reader engaged. Personally, I’ll probably be seeking out Rigby’s debut to see what else he can come up with, because thus far I’m impressed and intrigued.

My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 4.7/5. Goodreads average: 4.67/5.

Add to your read list on Goodreads. Buy from Amazon.

Pages: 320

Publishers: Maple Lane Books

Publication Date: August 5th 2014

Would You Rather… Books or more books?

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Would you rather…?

1. Read only trilogies or stand-alones?
I’ve read some pretty great trilogies in my time, but also some not-so-great trilogies and series. The amount of quality stand-alone novels by far outweigh any trilogy, so I’m going to have to say stand-alone.

2. Read only female or male authors?
It doesn’t really make much of a difference to me, but if I had to choose I’d pick women writers, because they tend (not exclusively) to write stronger/more female characters, and that’s always a quality I love in a book.

3. Shop at Barnes & Noble or Amazon?
We don’t have Barnes & Noble here, but I’m going to swap it out for Waterstones. If I can afford it, I always buy from bookshops, preferably independent ones (like my wonderful life-long indie bookshop back home). I know that Amazon can be cheaper, and if you can’t get out to a shop you can always order it with next-day delivery (I used to have Prime. It was pretty swish.) and that’s helpful, but not worth it. And it means you end up missing out on loads of lovely books you might not have seen if you’re just clicking around the internet!

4. All books become movies or t.v. shows?
Films, definitely,

5. Read 5 pages per day or 5 books per week?
Five books a week! Although reading five pages per day of a book might be interesting. I might try that some time (while reading other books quickly, of course).

6. Be a professional reviewer or author?
Author. Without a doubt. I’ve always been a writer, and one day I might pursue getting published. For now I’m happy being a reviewer, though.

7. Only read your top 20 favourite books over and over or always read new ones that you haven’t read before?
Always read new ones. I’ve re-read so many books and enjoyed them every time, but if they were the only ones I could read, I doubt they’d stay favourites for long.

8. Be a librarian or book seller?
A book seller.

9. Only read your favourite genre, or every genre except your favourite?
Every genre except my favourite. I think if you only read your favourite genre you’d quickly get to the lesser-quality titles. With every other genre at least you have variety and can choose more quality books.

10. Only read physical books or eBooks

Physical books. I’m always a physical-book lover and will generally only read eBooks if it’s my only choice for that book (review copies, etc.). I can’t deny that they’re pretty handy, but there’s nothing like the feeling of a good book in your hands.


This tag was created by RayKaybooks – here is the link to the original video, but I found it on Bookishrebel‘s blog.

I tag anybody who feels like doing this!

Image: Jennifer Egan’s bookshelf from My Ideal Bookshelf as illustrated by Jane Mount.

The Walled City – Ryan Graudin – Book Review

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I received an advanced review copy of this novel from Orion, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Disguised as a boy, Jin Ling searches for her missing sister, Mei Yee, who was sold into the brothels of the Walled City. It’s a cut-throat world of gangs, drug-dealers and warlords and every day is a struggle to survive. Jin Ling relies on her speed and cunning but how long will her luck hold? When a mysterious boy, Dai, requests her help with a dangerous mission Jin Ling’s inclined to say no – this is a world where no one can be trusted – but the mission offers her a vital chance to see inside the brothel where her sister may be being held. 

Jin Ling and Dai join forces, but will either of them survive the mission? Is Mei Yee still alive? And how will any of them ever escape the stifling city walls?

With a fantasy setting inspired by Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, Ryan’s novel has a rich authenticity and an intense atmosphere, and its pace will enthral the reader from the very first page.

THE WALLED CITY manages to uniquely slot a dystopian crisis into a modern-day landscape. The Walled City, Hak Nam, is set right in the middle of a functioning civilisation, and serves as the local melting pot for criminal activity, drugs, prostitution, poverty. What makes the The Walled City a little more striking is that it is a fictional story based on a real place, Kowloon Walled City, which was demolished from 1993 to 1994.

The Walled City revolves around three main characters: Jin Lee, a young vagrant girl running around the city looking for her sister: Mei Yee, trapped in a brothel having been sold by her father, and Dai, a young boy with a tendency to save people, and a pretty big secret, who is dying to get out of the Walled City.

I really enjoyed this novel, the characters were a joy to read, there were some surprising twists and turns in the plot, and the links with a genuine historical place made it feel compellingly significant.

I can’t deny that I noticed far too many similes, and clichés, in the narrative for my usual taste. It felt a little like they marred what was otherwise a well-written, beautifully sculpted novel. Definitely would recommend to any fan of fast-paced YA books.

My personal rating: 4/5. Goodreads average: 4.18/5.
Pre-order from: Amazon / Hive / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥
Publish date: 6th November 2014
Pages: 432
Publishers: Little, Brown / Orion
ISBN: 9781780621999

Let’s Get Lost – Adi Alsaid – Book Review

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I received this copy via NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

LET’S GET LOST – Adi Alsaid

The road trip of a lifetime…

One girl could change four lives forever…Mysterious Leila, who is on the road trip of a lifetime, has a habit of crashing into people’s worlds at the moment they need someone the most. There’s Hudson, who is willing to throw away his dreams for love. And Bree, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday-and a few stolen goods along the way. Elliot who believes in happy endings…until his own goes off-script. And Sonia who worries that she’s lost her ability to love. Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. But Leila’s trip could help her discover something bigger – that sometimes, the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get lost along the way…

I read this book over a few sittings, or more, a few journeys. I limited myself to reading it on the train/tube, and it was quite fitting considering how the whole premise of the novel is set around Leila’s journey to see the Northern Lights.

I absolutely loved this novel. I can barely fault it at all. When the first section ended, and Hudson is left, replaced by Bree, I was absolutely heartbroken. Eventually I got used to the idea that each section would be, rather than about Leila, a small part of each character’s life. In effect, it is four short stories, linked only by whirlwind Leila and the open road between her home and Alaska. The stories are barely believable, but the dialogue is realistic, and I found myself believing mostly the characters that Alsaid created, they felt like real people to me, with real reactions to the strange situations they were in. I only wish I could have followed them where they next went in their lives, but the point is that we can’t.

What I wasn’t expecting was the plot twist towards the ends. I won’t spoil it, of course, but there are moments in my memory that linked up once that secret was revealed. It was satisfying, to say the least, but came a little out of left field. Like a standard YA novel, there is a happy ending, but I appreciated that Alsaid made it a little less happy than it could have been. Not everything is perfect, though when you get attached to your characters, and want to make your readers happy, it is tempting to tie up every loose end.

This book is one of the easiest recommendations I could make. I’ll happy buy this for a friend, I’ll probably buy it for my sister when I next pop to my local bookshop. You should too!

My personal rating: 4.5/5. Amazon average: 4.4/5. Goodreads average: 3.83/5.
Buy from: Amazon / Hive / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥
Published: 29/07/2014
Pages: 352
Publishers: Harlequin
ISBN: 9780373211241

A month of books – August 1st.

I’ve not been feeling well today, unfortunately. However I was planning on blogging briefly each day about what I’m reading, how much I’m reading, and how I’m feeling about these books, throughout August. You know, on top of actual reviews and other blog posts. Who knows if I’ll keep up with it… but so far:

I’ve started the month by beginning to read Alice Oseman’s debut Solitaire which came out yesterday. I had pre-ordered it, it turned up yesterday, but I wanted to finish Fangirl before I opened this one up. (Who am I kidding? I’m kind of in the middle of a few books, but oh well.) I finished Fangirl, of course. I couldn’t put it down once I really got into it. There’ll be a review coming as soon as I feel well enough to collect my thoughts on it.

As far is Solitaire goes, I’ve only read the first five chapters or so. I like it so far. That’s all I can really say. I’m enjoying the voice but hoping it becomes a little more complex than the stereotypical cynical, sarcastic teenager. I’ve read a few of those (hell, I’ve lived one) and I’d like to see something a little more for once. The plot seems to be moving towards something interesting though, so that might force the main character into some situation that will make her change her attitude a bit. Or at least react in an interesting way that will justify the cynicism. Fingers crossed! I have high hopes for this one.

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#BookADayUK

I’m going to be doing the #bookadayuk challenge this month on Twitter. It’s being run by the Siobhan Dowd Trust this month.

The prompt for today was ‘the most arresting opening line’ and I chose Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation. “I start to get the feeling that something is really wrong.” 

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I had a flick through a bunch of novels on my bookshelves (because I’m terrible at remembering this kind of thing) and this one stood out the most to me. Mostly because of what it gives away, while also giving away nothing. It’s present tense, so it’s unfurling right now, it’s first person narrative, so it really makes the reader feel like it’s happening to them too, and the choice of language is impeccable. The language is not pretentious or fancy. It’s not trying too hard. It’s exactly how you or I would try to get across the sense that something isn’t right. That unassuming yet infinitely powerful word: really. It gives everything away. It tells you the narrator means it. But who is the narrator? And what is wrong? Well, you’ll have to keep reading to find out. 

It’s most striking when you realise that this opening line isn’t fiction, it’s autobiographical. It makes it stick that much more.

August TBR:

I have a feeling this tbr list is going to change pretty quickly, but here are some of the books I’m going to try and get read this month:

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

N-W by Zadie Smith

Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

I have a load more on my list, and can imagine I’ll discover more that will worm their way in there. But that’s a start, right? Not to mention that this month I’ll be working at Reading from the 21st to the 25th. Then I have to get ready for my week of work experience at John Murray Press, which is part of Hodder & Stoughton, which is of course part of the Hachette UK group, starting September 1st! Hopefully the first of many.

Right, well I’m off to bed to watch the latest episode of Suits and then attempt to sleep off whatever is making me feel so ill. I’ll post again tomorrow with what will hopefully be more reading progress, as well as the next #bookadayuk prompt – best pairing of words and pictures. 

If you’d like to read some grumpy tweets about things like a) my headache, b) my family, c) my unemployment (and how much I hate it), and d) my eating habits… you can follow me on Twitter