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.

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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.

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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (#1) by Jonas Jonasson

Published: 12th July 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hesperus Press
Pages: 396
Format: Paperback
Translator: Rachel Wilson-Broyles
Genre: Fiction
★ – 2 Stars

It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. 

Having this on my TBR list for years finally ended as I read this and…it’s ok. I guess. Maybe. It’s a Swedish Forrest Gump style book where Allan unintentionally interacts with some of the major points of human history and the roles he played in them. However, despite this premise, the only parts even remotely interesting were the present day events. I didn’t mind the flashbacks in the first half, Allan’s life was funny, strange, tragic and bizarre, but about the half way point my interest was waning and I could not stay focused on the events. I found myself skimming and skipping until the present day picked up again. By the end of it I was skipping those chapters entirely and to be honest I noticed no difference in the story even at the end I was so uninvested I accepted the events and just went with it.

The flashbacks to Allan’s life have very little to do with anything that happens aside from giving us an insight to his previous adventurous life. Even the brief revisit to them in the present day is essentially pointless. They are not even depicted as Allan telling his story so the question of a reliable narrator never comes up, it’s just there as a comparison to his current adventures.

The present day plot is the most interesting part of this semi-interesting story. Allan’s adventures do not go unnoticed, there is a dedicated policeman trying to follow behind and work out what has happened and trying to solve the trail of crimes and mysteries that follow Allan. This gave off strong Monty Python and the Holy Grail vibes which increased my enjoyment.

The writing is filled with dark humour and while you may have to be prone to enjoy such humour it does throw it in your face probably more than necessary. I did not feel much connection to this story and while Allan is a mildly apathetic character, as are most of them in some way, Jonasson relies on the reader finding his manner charming and quirky and as these unfortunate and absurd events play out that should be enough to engage us.

Credit to Jonasson, it is a clever concept and I’m glad it has been enjoyed by so many people. I couldn’t quite engage with the story and I’m wondering now that Allan’s entire life has been explained, the sequels will focus more on his further adventures and less recap of his life.

I watched the movie afterwards and it was a whole lot better than sitting through the book. It is quite true to the events in the book and seeing the events play out on screen made them more enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend that over the book if you are looking to see what all the fuss is about without reading the book.

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The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns

Published: 23rd October 2017 (print)/26 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
October 23rd 2017 by Harlequin Enterprises/Wavesound Audio
Pages: 416/14 hrs and 30 mins
Narrator: Ulli Birve
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Mother: female parent of a child

Mum: the woman who nurtures, raises and loves a child

Radio host Harper Drummond lives for her career. Every day she meets fascinating people doing extraordinary things, but has begun to wonder whether there could be something more for her out there. She’s financially secure, happily married to Samuel and has a great group of friends — what more could she want? It’s only when she interviews one special couple that she starts to think about whether she could make a different kind of contribution.

Claire and Jasper Lombard are passionate about their thriving hot air balloon business and know they’re lucky to find such joy in their work and in each other. But while Jasper has accepted that he will never be a father, Claire has found it hard to come to terms with her infertility. She doesn’t want Jasper to regret choosing her over a child in the years to come. Is there a way to give themselves a real chance at being a happy family? Can they find someone who will give them the greatest gift? Or will it come at a greater cost?

From interesting and engaging beginnings there was promise in this story. The dual perspectives caught my attention and I was intrigued by the time jumps and seeing how Johns would being these separate lives together. But it is in bringing these two stories together when everything sweetens a bit too much. There is already a sweet romance, sickly sweet at times and a heartfelt story which Johns pushes even further.

For a subject this complicated, it sits oddly in your mind that there are no complications, no issues, everyone is lovely and likes each other instantly. As the story settles in and progresses I found it a tad predictable but it brought conflict and drama which had been lacking and a few unexpected surprises. I was curious how it would play out, eager to see if my own theories came into play. Unfortunately I was left disappointed as the second half sank back into the same plain tone it had before. The narrative was banal and there were longwinded conversations that seemed to draw out as characters covered every major theme and issue in full detail.

The further on I went I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was too nice, which seems strange to complain about. But it is. Too nice, too perfect. Too many things fall perfectly into place and while I understand it is a heart-warming and emotional story, it doesn’t actually have any engaging emotional complexity beyond the obvious. Even the few twists appear to only cause a mild ripple. For each surprising moment there were two predictable ones, making the balance a strange reading experience.

There are a lot of explanations provided through character thoughts and conversations. The process of egg donation and hospital procedures are recounted in full detail, something which isn’t uninteresting, but I felt like it took up too much time to outline every little part when it could easily have been summarised or stated in a sentence not a few paragraphs. As a subject not a lot of people probably know about I can see why John’s included it, but a more refined approach and less info dump might be have been better, even if she did try to weave it into dialogue.

The writing itself is repetitive in a few phrases and emotions. Despite the emotional conflictions present, they are rehashed over and over to the point it doesn’t feel like real indecision or emotion. It loses the poignancy when the same things are repeated because we’ve already been told these facts and telling us again, often in the same way with the same phrasing doesn’t reinforce the emotional components, it chip away at your patience.

If you are looking for a novel that is full of twists and strong drama this may not be the novel for you. There is an emotional draw-card, one I cannot personally connect to, but that didn’t engage me enough to look past the slow story and the circumstances that made everything fall happily into place.

The epilogue was the final nail in the coffin. From the first words I actually groaned and the longer it went on the more picturesque it became. I can see what Johns was trying to do; it just wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted after dealing with the rest of the book. It upholds the clichés (something Johns points out a lot actually in this book so she knows they are there), and concludes this book on the idyllic tone it started with. I hope this book is enjoyable to some people, I hope it is inspirational, comforting, or just interesting. But I’m a little saddened that I didn’t enjoy this as much as I hoped I would.

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