Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Published: 7 July 2020 (print)/7 July 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Sourcebooks Casablanca/Dreamscape Media
Pages: 427/13 hrs and 11 mins
Narrator: Joe Jameson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I adored this book but I have found it incredibly hard to write a review for it which is always a weird experience. The set up for Luc and Oliver’s fake dating is interesting and realistic in that it is a wild idea that needs persuasion and rules which I loved because it is an inherently strange thing to start to do and seeing it being set up like a contract was great.

Having there be a semi long term date to aim for meant there was a solid investment in these boys that wasn’t the following week and it gave plenty of time for the plot to unfurl and have all the wonderfully devilish chaos, drama, emotional toil and evolution of feelings one needs for such a sweet story as this.

What I liked about this is the drama comes from two messed up people, one more open to admit they’re messed up than the other, and seeing the pair of them grow and learn, become comfortable with themselves and each other, but then also have to face their own fears breaks is brilliant.

Luc’s wall to suppress his feelings and not look any deeper than the surface is slowly broken down beautifully and the way Hall has built up his character for the reader means you understand him quite quickly but also have so much more to learn about him.

Oliver seems perfect from the start as we see through Luc’s eyes, but he too is broken down into more complex pieces and realise he’s putting up a wall and façade in his own way.

The story itself was well told, we explore the depth of their lives and see friends, colleagues and families in a way that makes them full, rich characters and you see the worlds in which they live where a fake boyfriend would be a necessity at times.

I loved the use of mirroring scenes and the in-jokes are incredibly cute. I love these boys and their unorthodox relationship and friendship and seeing them try to act naturally around one another when they are both a small mess is highly endearing and entertaining.

I haven’t read many (maybe any?) fake dating stories but this is a fantastic one because Hall gives it time to be convenient, messy, complicated and heartfelt and as the days and weeks and months go by the relationship between Luc and Oliver reshapes itself multiple times which benefits them both as people, but still leaves you wondering whether they will stay together in the long term.

The writing is amazing, the story is clever and funny, full of love and heartbreak, vulnerability and hope. For all the extra plot and life happening around them it all comes back to the focus around these boys which is perfect because they are delightful even when they’re being fools, which to be fair is a lot of the time.

You can purchase Boyfriend Material via the following

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (#1) by Hank Green

Published: 25th September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Dutton
Pages: 343
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

The Carls just appeared.

Roaming through New York City at three AM, twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armour—April and her best friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the centre of an intense international media spotlight.

Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

I waited a very long time for this book and it did not disappoint when it finally came. I was excited to see what Hank Green’s stories would be like given his love for science fiction as well as his internet experience and what I got was an absolutely remarkable story (I had to I’m sorry!).

Green pulls you along with intrigue and a casual writing style that you fall into comfortably. There’re also so many twists and turns that keep you guessing throughout that it’s hard to put it down for want of knowing what is happening next. The mystery of the Carls and their influence on the world plus April’s involvement and the impact it has on her life is so gripping and astounding it really shows the highs and low of internet fame.

You can certainly see Hank’s years of YouTube knowledge and experience coming through, also perhaps in part his experience of internet fame, maybe not to the extent shown in the book, but it feels like it stems from truth. I liked how we are shown the best and absolute worst of the internet and it never sounded exaggerated or unbelievable. Parts of this story also reminded me of Ready Player One which was delightful because I adore that book, but I think that’s just my mind seeing similarities.

I loved the complicated, flawed characters and their friendships and connections with one another. April’s friendship with Andy, as well as her relationship with her girlfriend, could be just as complicated and messy as the drama surrounding the Carls. Human nature is on show and the behaviour of society felt real and scary and the imperfectness of these characters was refreshing in a way.

The ending was the best kick in the guts you could ever want and because so much has happened you don’t even know how to process it. After going on this wild adventure and all that happens my mind pretty much short circuited when it finished and then the intense desire of not only wanting but needing the sequel kicked in.

You can purchase An Absolutely Remarkable Thing via the following

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Published: 4th February 4th 2020
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six: The band’s album Aurora came to define the rock ‘n’ roll era of the late seventies, and an entire generation of girls wanted to grow up to be Daisy. But no one knows the reason behind the group’s split on the night of their final concert at Chicago Stadium on July 12, 1979 . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ‘n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. 

I was caught up in the story from the beginning as it moves from introducing these famous rock figures years after their initial success to their lives in the band and the highs and lows of the music lifestyle. The use of the interview format was not only clever, but it is streamlined so succinctly and seamlessly I could see these characters sitting down being interviewed which Reid should be commended for. It really goes beyond an interview transcript – I could see this playing out before me in my mind.

There are twists and surprises and it felt like a rock and roll story. The pain and anguish these characters go through feels real and through the whole thing you were connected to their lives. Every experience, triumph and downfall comes through with Reid’s amazing storytelling. This is a fictional account of a fictional band (but based on a real band) but I have never wanted a fake band to be so real. The way the characters discuss music and lyrics, the creation and reaction to songs I wanted to hear them, I wanted to listen to the final edits. There are lyrics included at the end of the book which was a great surprise and a great chance to see how all that talk of words and meanings came together in the end. Though, I feel this would also ruing the magic a bit. Actually hearing the music probably would take away how I imagine is playing and how Reid has masterfully described it being played.

The change of view between band members, producers, managers and others shows how the same event is experienced differently from person to person, and how someone might perceive themselves isn’t how the world is actually seeing them. Reid’s creation of these characters make them own people and they are fully fledged and formed, but when you look at it as a fictional account based off a real band then it’s even more captivating because while so much is manufactured, there are true elements as jumping off points and it’s what makes this such a great read.

This is a story that takes place in the 1970s rock and roll scene so there are characters drinking and doing a lot of drugs. This topic is dealt with in a few ways with excess and abuse but also attempts at redemption and getting clean. There is a lot more to this story than the rock and roll lifestyle. Through the interviews we hear about the character’s hopes and dreams, their pain and their joys that are deep, personal and bittersweet.

Every time I picked this book up I was drawn back into these musicians and their lives and with each new chapter, each reveal, twist and surprise I became more invested. Even if this had no basis on any real band this reads like a real account of real lives and the power Reid has in her words to create such a response from a reader and world creation is impressive.

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Those Other Women by Nicola Moriarty

Published: 19th March 2018 (print)/25 April 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins Australia/Wavesound Audio
Pages: 448/11 hrs and 52 mins
Narrator: Louise Crawford
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★  – 4 Stars

Poppy’s world has been tipped sideways: the husband who never wanted children has betrayed her with her broody best friend. At least Annalise is on her side. Her new friend is determined to celebrate their freedom from kids, so together they create a Facebook group to meet up with like-minded women, and perhaps vent just an little about smug mummies’ privileges at work.

Meanwhile, their colleague Frankie would love a night out, away from her darlings – she’s not had one this decade and she’s heartily sick of being judged by women at the office as well as stay-at-home mums. Then Poppy and Annalise’s group takes on a life of its own and frustrated members start confronting mums like Frankie in the real world. Cafés become battlegrounds, playgrounds become war zones and offices have never been so divided.

A rivalry that was once harmless fun is spiralling out of control. Because one of their members is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And she has an agenda of her own.

This is a fascinating contemporary story about social media, modern parenting and the vindictiveness people are capable of when they feel justified in their actions. One thing I loved was Moriarty’s choice of narrators. Through the first few parts it alternates between Poppy and Annalise but when we get to see a third party, through Frankie’s eyes, I was amazed how I suddenly saw the previous events through different eyes. I could see how horrible Poppy and Annalise were being and it was a fascinating example of untrusty narrators and how perspective changes intent and meaning.

There are surprises and stereotypes that take sharp turns just when you think you know what is going on, a skill Moriarty is quite good at. She brings new twists to old clichés and I loved that it brought more depth and life to this story and the characters as a result. There is no relying on well-known tropes but Moriarty does play on them to her own advantage. In doing so it adds another level to the narrative and it reinforces the notion that people’s lives are complicated and there are a lot of different lives being led with problems of their own. Jumping to obvious conclusions is detrimental and damaging and it was fantastic to be drawn in myself and have it thrown back at me for my own assumptions. If you pay attention there are hints and clues that come to light after your whole viewpoint has shifted. This muddies the waters as more information doesn’t necessarily make things clearer but it definitely made it more intriguing.

The concept of having children versus remaining childless is confusingly a point of contention. This was something I was fascinated to read about because clearly there is an entire world of contention that I have been cut out of. The experiences described in this book will no doubt be familiar to some, certainly on both sides, and while I know of the general judgements and opinions, seeing it play out before me with Facebook groups and battles between mums and non-mums was a curious insight into a world I have never come across before. I’m hoping Moriarty took creative licencing with some of this because it was wild reading about these Facebook groups and what some of these women do.

Moriarty lays forth a story that has mystery and deceit, not to mention drama and emotional torment in her usual style. Crawford does a great job as narrator too. Her tone and pacing was great and didn’t distract from the story in any way. Overall it is engaging, captivating, a definite reflection of the modern parenting experience as well as the experiences of those left out of the conversation.

You can purchase Those Other Women via the following

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A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

Published: 4th June 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Viking
Pages: 395
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Meet Willa Waters, aged 8 . . . 33 . . . and 93.

On one impossible day in 1965, eight-year-old Willa receives a mysterious box containing a jar of water and the instruction: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’ So she does – and somehow creates an extraordinary time slip that allows her to visit her future selves.

On one impossible day in 1990, Willa is 33 and a mother-of-two when her childhood self magically appears in her backyard. But she’s also a woman haunted by memories of her dark past – and is on the brink of a decision that will have tragic repercussions . . .

On one impossible day in 2050, Willa is a silver-haired, gumboot-loving 93-year-old whose memory is fading fast. Yet she knows there’s something she has to remember, a warning she must give her past selves about a terrible event in 1990. If only she could recall what it was.

Can the three Willas come together, to heal their past and save their future, before it’s too late?

This is a beautiful story filled with magical realism, love, family, forgiveness, finding yourself. Told over  a few months and across a few decades, Bird explores the fascinating ability to change the past from the present and affect the future from the past. It’s amazing how through a simple action so much can change and I love how Willa knows it works in the future, but she doesn’t understand how it works in the past.

I loved Willa from the very start. I love her at 93 when she is trying to live the wild and quirky life she wants, but she also is struggling with losing her memory and generally being old. From early on Bird gives us a great insight to who she is with her thoughts and language and how she interacts with those around her.

Willa’s forgetfulness weaves into the writing quite well and you have to pay attention because it shifts so suddenly it feels real. One moment knowledge is there, the next it has drifted away. When you see it happening it is quite sad, but that is also what makes this story work, it keeps the reader in the dark for later secrets to come out and it plays into whether Willa is reliable, dreaming, making up stories, or all three. Something which helps understand those around her as well.

I also loved young Willa and middle Willa for their own reasons. Eight year old Willa is strong and fierce, she is a devoted sister and seeing her trying to do her best but be stuck in the body of a child breaks your heart, but it makes you love her more as she takes on the responsibility and burden of saving her family and herself.

As the story progresses you see the changes in each of the Willas; not just because of events that have happened or haven’t happened, but seeing them grow. There is a clear tone difference in how Bird write them which is wonderful. You can clearly see the different ages and life experiences coming through.

There is no chance of confusing the three different life stages as Bird separates each perspective with the date and age of Willa with each alternating chapter. But even when they are together they seamlessly interact and each has a descriptive name which helps identify them. There are also beautiful pen decorations throughout which are not only beautiful, but help keep track of where and when they story takes place. Gorgeous title pages also break up the different months to help understand the events are happening at the same time but over different years and lives.

One this Bird does remarkably well is managing the overlapping nature of the story. The things we’ve seen come back again and the present day is also the past. We’re teased with snippets of information, uncertain memories and information about characters and history that are in the past but also in the future. It was an excellent exercise of the mind because you keep these three people in your head, each their own character, own person with own lives, but they are also one in the same.

I adore the imagination that Bird has explored in this story. It has magic and it has heart and love, but there are also serious issues happening. The way Bird has approached these issue is with restraint but doesn’t shy away from the realities either.

You can purchase A Lifetime of Impossible Days via the following

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