Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I’ve had this on my shelves for a while, yet I only just got around to picking up. Like Arcadia, I’m not entirely sure why it took so long. There was so much hype about Celeste Ng’s debut, and with her second novel Little Fires Everywhere coming out soon I was excited to catch up.

This novel has perhaps one of the most memorable opening lines I’ve ever read:

Lydia is dead, but they do not know this yet.

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Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

I bought Arcadia shortly before the paperback was published because I wanted the hardback edition and its beautiful cut-out. That was more than a year ago – for a long time I resisted actually picking it up. I’m not sure why; perhaps because at 596 pages in hardback it looks like a tome. As with many other books, I originally was interested based on a video by Jen Campbell. I finally gave into temptation. I fell in and got swept up and now I am in love.  

Arcadia follows three strands of a story which are slowly, brilliantly, drawn together. In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is creating an imaginary world on paper, telling his young neighbour Rosie about this world he has created. She reminds him that eventually something will have to happen: Don’t they fight, or have adventures? Couldn’t you get someone to fall in love, or something?

In Anterwold, a young boy called Jay sees a strange apparition. In a futuristic laboratory, eccentric scientist Angela Meerson is creating a machine which may allow travel between parallel universes – or perhaps travel in time. We move between these threads, and gradually it is possible to draw connections between them – in place, time, characters. Some things the reader has to leave in the hands of the author to reveal, trusting that it will all, eventually make sense. The narration is so deftly and carefully handled though that this is never a difficult trust to have.

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Review: Franklin’s Flying Bookshop, written by Jen Campbell, illustrated by Katie Harnett

Today is something a bit different. Franklin’s Flying Bookshop is a picture book, which I’ve never reviewed on this blog before. I pre-ordered it months ago because it’s written by the amazing Jen Campbell – she of the amazing YouTube channelWeird Things Customers Say in Bookshops series, The Bookshop Book, a brilliant poetry collection The Hungry Ghost Festival. Her short story collection The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night will be published in November, which I’ve also obviously pre-ordered. I was so excited when Franklin landed in my hands a week early and took a writing break to read it. And then I read it again, and then a third time for good measure.

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Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Back to non-fiction again. Trevor Noah writes about his childhood in South Africa incredibly touchingly in this memoir covering his life up to about his early twenties. I listened to this as an audiobook, which I would absolutely recommend – Noah’s voice is brilliant to listen to, and you will have the benefit of hearing the many South African languages he refers to spoken properly.

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Review: What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

What We Lose is a fragmented meditation on grief and loss. Revolving around the loss of a mother in small sections of intense prose, it powerfully evokes the far-reaching effects of a major bereavement in a beautifully written debut novel. Using a first person narrator interspersed with excerpts from blog posts, photographs, biographies, Clemmons carefully stitches together many disparate elements into one whole.

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Review: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Despite having heard a lot about this book before I picked it up, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A young girl goes missing while on holiday in a village in mid-England. The villagers join in the search parties. And then time passes, and life in the village goes on.

McGregor’s prose is lucid and full of sharp observation. This book takes in an impressive number of perspectives and voices, casting its gaze on many characters within the village. The girl who disappeared, her parents’ later comings and goings and the broader effects on the community serve as a centre of gravity, although many other little dramas are explored. She is forgotten and remembered in waves, the narrator occasionally sidestepping another story to remind us of the mystery, reciting the information known and how it might have changed.

The missing girl’s name was Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex. She had been thirteen at the time of her disappearance. She’d been wearing a white hooded top with a navy-blue body-warmer, black jeans and canvas shoes. She would be taller than five feet now. 

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Review: The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks

The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times is a fascinating book. It’s 1923. Lucy Marsh is a fourteen year old orphan. On Sundays, a man called Coach drives her and a bunch of other kids in his old Maudslay truck out to Epping Forest. There they meet the funny men: Toto, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. They have a picnic. This is my absolute favourite read of the year so far.

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The genius of this book is in how Xan Brooks manages to balance a creeping sense of the unsafe with an attractiveness, a charming quality. Lucy is our anchor, and although the story takes in a much broader scope it all puts her situation in context. She acknowledges this dichotomy of beautiful and dangerous in the first chapter, hinting at what is to come:

Maybe this, were she ever called upon to explain her actions, would be her chief line of defence. Your honour, she would say, I went back because the forest is fantastic, which is another way of saying that anything can happen. And this is why, as long as she lives, she will never completely regret her trips to the forest, in spite of the trouble they cause and the horrors that follow

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Review: The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

Of all the book recommendations I’ve ever received, this might be my favourite. I went to a book launch a few weeks ago, where I got talking to a man who used to work in opera. He was incredibly interesting and we got chatting about speculative fiction, Margaret Atwood and excellent writing in general. It was a brilliant conversation. He promised me I would love Penelope Fitzgerald, in particular that I should start with The Blue Flower. He was right.

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