Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Lardwood

45046552Verdict: Delightful, clever, incredible world-building – not my favourite main character.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Published by Pan Macmillan, February 20th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

I loved very many things about this. The worldbuilding is impeccable and wonderfully integrated into the main storyline, giving just enough details to make the world(s) believable without overwhelming the narrative. I loved the prose which I found lyrical enough to work for me while being somehow quintessentially “fantasy”. I nearly always love fantasy books dealing with deities and this one was no exception. Set in a multi-world multiverse governed by many different deities, some of these half dead or lost, with many different belief-systems, our focus is Csorwe who was supposed to be a sacrifice to her (creepy and horrifying) god until a visiting wizard rescued her and made her his bodyguard/ assassin/ ward.

I adored this – the book just worked for me in every single way, except for Csorwe who I found indistinct and to be honest, sometimes painfully daft. She kept getting herself into situations that obviously would not work out the way she expected them to and she never seemed to learn. I did really appreciate her rivalry with another of the wizard’s men and their banter was great. I also loved the fraught and complicated relationship she has with her mentor and the way this wrapped up had me glued to the page. I was not so keen on the love story which ultimately kept me from giving this the whole five stars.

My favourite part of this sci-fi/ fantasy hybrid was the underlying mythology and the way in which Larkwood fleshes it out with different deities and their believers; in parts creepy, in parts interesting, always fascinating. There are so many ways in which the story can be developed next and I am excited for most of them. I had such a great time reading it and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel. This is the best high fantasy novel I have read in ages.

Content warning: disfigurement, death, huge serpents, death cults

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Mini-Reviews to catch up: Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Samantha Irby, André Leon Talley

I fell out of my reviewing groove some time last year and am only now starting to get back into things. This does mean that I have pending reviews for books that I read nearly a year ago – and I am not good at writing reviews if I leave them too long. Therefore I decided to write mini-reviews to finally catch up and start with afresh, hoping that I will not leave books unreviewed for this long.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

36510722Published by Quercus Books, July 23rd 2019

This book combines very many things I adore in books: whimsical writing in fantasy books for adults, a female main character I could not help but adore, ruminations on godhood and what makes humans human, as well as a mythology that I am not familiar with. I already knew that I would like Moreno-Garcia’s writing, as her short stories are consistently amongst my favourites in anthologies. I did ultimately enjoy this but did not love it. The aloof tone was something I appreciated but which kept me from adoring this. I am still excited about quite a few of Moreno-Garcia’s books though.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

47169050Published by Faber & Faber, April 2nd 2020

I adore Samantha Irby. Her humour and the way she structures her essays in a way that seems effortless but surely isn’t make her books a joy to read. Her third collection of essays is as good as the ones that came before and it came to me at just the right moment. It got me reading in the middle of a pandemic induced reading slump and made me happy. Irby writes about growing older, body positivity, the internet, imposter syndrome, and many things more in a way that makes these topics approachable and so funny. I hope she keeps on writing these books because I love them.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley

51794442._sx318_sy475_Published by 4th Estate, May 19th 2020

This book mostly made me sad. André Leon Talley has written a book supposedly telling it all – and he does tell a lot of things about the inner workings of Vogue, of the micro-aggressions he endured as one of the very few black people in the fashion world and as a black gay man in particular. Weirdly enough I never got a concrete understanding how much of the awful treatment he received was due to his identity and how much was just the way the fashion world worked, and it made me so very sad for him. I enjoyed being able to glimpse behind the curtain and I enjoyed how petty André Leon Talley allowed himself to be. I do think the book promises something in the introduction it then never delivers on: Talley does not spend a lot of time ruminating on the role of race in his trajectory, but rather tells of his life as he experienced it – and apparently he experienced it mainly as a means to wear extravagant clothes which he describes in minute detail, from the way things looked to where he got them to who complimented him on them – and that part of the book I was not that keen on. Reading between the lines, Talley seems profoundly lonely and I sometimes wished he would be more honest about that – but then again, he can choose to tell his story in any way he wishes.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

47545450._sy475_Verdict: Uneven but in parts brilliant.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction / Dystopia

Published by Hamish Hamilton, August 27th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you children. A blue ticket grants you freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And, once you’ve taken your ticket, there is no going back.

But what if the life you’re given is the wrong one?

Blue Ticket is a devastating enquiry into free will and the fraught space of motherhood. Bold and chilling, it pushes beneath the skin of female identity and patriarchal violence, to the point where human longing meets our animal bodies.

First things first: Mackintosh’s prose has gotten even better since her debut, which I already enjoyed a lot. There is something mesmerizing about the way she constructs her sentences and I am always in love with her metaphors and allusions. On a sentence-by-sentence level, this is excellent and cemented what I said after reading her debut: I will always be reading what she writes even if this reading experience was uneven for me.

Her depiction of female longing and female friendship worked exceedingly well for me – and I would indeed argue that this is what she is interested in because where this book falters is in its dystopian elements. Calla’s close first person narration is our entry point into the world Mackintosh has created here and as she knows very little about her society, it remains vague and what we learn makes very little sense. While this is arguably true for her debut as well, there I thought the vagueness worked because it was never quite clear if what the protagonists knew was true at all. This time around, this is very obviously a dystopian society and even if Calla does not know why things came about, the consequences are very true for her life. Again, I do not think the dystopian part is Mackintosh’s strength or even what she really set out to write about. Whenever the story focussed on what Calla experienced and on her inner life and struggles, the book shone and I wish that part had been more prevalent throughout. I knew going in that I probably should not expect the dystopia to be ground-breaking in its political machinations, so the book did overall work for me but I can see where other readers might struggle. In the end, I am such a huge fan of Mackintosh’s prose that even as parts did not work for me, overall I did appreciate the book a lot (and it made me cry).

Content warning: pregnancy, vomit, stillbirth, consumation of alcohol and cigarettes while pregnant, rape, sexual assault, assault (and another very spoilery trigger warning that you can find under the spoiler tag on my goodreads review)

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Harpy by Megan Hunter

48637753._sy475_Verdict: Weird, baffling, incredibly well-written, let down by the ending.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Grove Press, November 13th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Lucy and Jake live in a house by a field where the sun burns like a ball of fire. Lucy has set her career aside in order to devote her life to the children, to their finely tuned routine, and to the house itself, which comforts her like an old, sly friend. But then a man calls one afternoon with a shattering message: his wife has been having an affair with Lucy’s husband, Jake. The revelation marks a turning point: Lucy and Jake decide to stay together, but make a special arrangement designed to even the score and save their marriage–she will hurt him three times.

As the couple submit to a delicate game of crime and punishment, Lucy herself begins to change, surrendering to a transformation of both mind and body from which there is no return.

Told in dazzling, musical prose, The Harpy is a dark, staggering fairy tale, at once mythical and otherworldly and fiercely contemporary. It is a novel of love, marriage and its failures, of power, control and revenge, of metamorphosis and renewal.

Megan Hunter’s prose is as spell-binding as ever. I really enjoyed her debut but knew even as I read it that it would not stick with me: “But sometimes I like books told in style and glitter and beautiful sentences.” This book is different – the prose is deliberately over the top and overwritten, stunningly so, but still A LOT, whereas The End We Start From was deliberately sparse in a way that I prefered. However, this book has stuck with me and I cannot quite stop thinking about it. It is so very clever but was ultimately, for me at least, let down by its vague ending that did not work as well as the unflinching honesty the rest of the book possessed. I rounded up my rating anyways because of the aforementioned cleverness.

Told from a close first person narration by Lucy, as former PhD-student of the Classics who now lives her life as a stay-at-home mum of two who occasionally free-lances, this book is a look at motherhood and relationships. The book starts with Lucy finding out that her husband has been cheating on her and them agreeing to her being allowed to hurt him, three times. Interspersed are prose-poem like asides about harpies, the subject of Lucy’s abandoned PhD project. Lucy is, before everything else, resentful; resentful of the way her life has turned out, resentful of her husband, resentful of the other parents at her children’s school, and yes, often resentful of the time her children demand of her. Jake is not a bad man, he is present and an active part in their children’s lives but still – most of the mind-numbingly boring parts of motherhood are managed by Lucy alone – driving the children to school and to their different activities, making sure they have snacks, that they are clothed properly and so on, and Lucy resents that. It feels like she is even a little bit relieved when Jake’s affair comes to light because it gives her anger a focus, a reasonable excuse to give in to the swirling feelings she has. Lucy is difficult to root for because she is so grimly unhappy and humourlessly mean – but she is also stuck in a situation she never wanted to be in and as such I could not help but feel for her. Her husband has the job she was on a trajectory on, being a university lecturer at an unnamed university (it does feel like either Oxford or Cambridge from the way their town is described), her ambition left her but not enough for her to be happy with her life as it is.

Content warning: self-harm, alcohol abuse, cheating, domestic abuse, vomit, suicide

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Spring Cleaning: Sci-Fi ARCs

I am not somebody who really does spring cleaning in real life. Cleaning is just not my favourite thing at all. But given how my life is currently rapidly changing, I did feel the need to go through my ARCs and really reassess whether I want to still finish these books. I have unread or partially read ARCs on my Netgalley shelves going back as far as 2017 – and I am very much not the same reader I was then. For one thing, I have to just admit to myself that I struggle with Scifi – which is why I am starting with this genre. Even if a Scifi book is apparently super tailored to my tastes, I rarely rate it higher than three stars. Which is why I am genuinely close to just given up on forcing myself to read the genre at all. With my physical TBR, this is not a problem at all because my boyfriend primarily reads Scifi (yes, we are stereotypical like that), so the books will indeed get read – my digital shelves are different. Long story short, here are three ARCs that I have for now given up on.

41085049Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe

Published by Orbit, 2019

I actually got a good chunk into this book before putting it down and never picking it back up. I did mostly enjoy it while reading it but not enough to power through my inertia. Ultimately, my problem with this book is my problem with most science fiction books: I am just not interested in the intricacies of a book’s world building. I also did not love all three POV characters equally, which often means I won’t finish a book.

35292188Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Published by Head of Zeus, 2017

This is very much an aspirational book: I want to be the kind of reader who reads a Jane-Austen-esque science fiction novel with highly complex ideas and sentence structure. But I am not. I read a few pages, got frustrated, put it down, picked it back up again from the beginning, read a few pages, got frustrated, put it down again, and so on and so forth. I am sure this is brilliant but I am even more sure that I will just never be in the mood to read it.

40947778._sy475_The Outside by Ada Hoffmann

Published by Angry Robot, 2019

I got this ARC when I was in the middle of a weird reading slump/ romance binge and just never felt compelled to pick it up. AI Gods sounds like something made for me – and still, here is sits, nearly a year later, never once cracked open. I might read this at some point but not anytime soon. And I am feeling super guilty whenever the book basically stares at me from my Netgalley shelf. I am the worst reviewer.

 

 

TBR: ARCs on my shelves part I (2020)

I have not felt the need to write up a post like this in quite some time – but I have quite a few ARCs now that I am super excited for and want to share that excitement. For many reasons, I am even worse at following TBRs than I used to be but some of these books I am so very much looking forward to that I am hoping to read and review these books before their publication date for a change.

49385085._sy475_The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mantel

Picador, April 30th

Station Eleven by the same author is one of my all-time favourite books, so you can imagine how excited I am that this newest book of hers is getting rave reviews. I need to carve out a day to immerse myself in what is likely to be one of my favourite books of the year.

47545450._sy475_Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

Hamish Hamilton, May 7th

I really enjoy Mackintosh’s debut novel and am currently loving this one – I am about a quarter of the way through. Her prose is even better than in her first novel and I love the way in which she uses dystopian settings to explore human behaviour. People looking for a more classical dystopian novel are bound to be disappointed – but I get the feeling that this is just not the type of writer Mackintosh is.

44778722._sy475_The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey

Grove Atlantic, May 12th

This is a non-fiction book about the author’s struggle with insomnia. I have read the first few pages and it seems like just my type of book. It is just the right mix of personal and experimental that I really appreciate in creative nonfiction.

52272255._sx318_sy475_Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Bloomsbury Publishing, May 14th

A book about a failed PhD student, obsession, and poisonous plants sounds like it could be perfect for me. I am hoping for difficult women and introspective narration.

50186889._sx318_sy475_Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Jonathan Cape, July 2nd

I adored, adored Johnson’s debut and have been looking forward to her next book ever since. Her prose and imagination are just perfect and her brand of magical realism really works for me. I am beyond excited for this one, which focusses two sisters and their complicated relationship.

43301992Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford

Grove Atlantic, July 24th

The cover drew me in and then the blurb featured this brilliant sentence: “Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world—of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados—intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.” – and I could not not request this. I love stories about familial relationships and I am interested in the influence religious devotion can have on those.

51541496._sx318_sy475_Luster by Raven Leilani

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, August 4th

Honestly, this novel about a twenty-something woman getting caught up in a couple’s open marriage sounds like it could be similar to The Pisces, which is always enough to convince me to try a book – I have been chasing that high since reading Broder’s magnificent book about a horrible woman.

48637753._sy475_The Harpy by Megan Hunter

Grove Atlantic, August 11th

Again, a book by an author whose debut I really enjoyed, this also has possibly my favourite cover of the year. The premise of a woman whose husband has cheated on her and in return has agreed to be hurt by her three times sounds incredible – coupled with Hunter’s strong prose, this could be a favourite for me.

Mini-Reviews: Literary Fiction novels about female bodies with fabulist elements

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

45015676._sy475_

Published by Random House UK, February 6th 2020

I was beyond excited for this book – on paper this sounds like my type of book to the extreme. Its central conceit is a fabulist metaphor, it focusses women and their bodies, and the writing is lyrical enough without being flowery. I think this would have worked a lot better for me had it been a short story. As it was, I did not find it weird enough or realistic enough for me to work. I found the characters indistinct and never got a proper impression of the place – something that would have helped ground me in the world Beams builds here. I am (maybe unfairly) blaming this book for my reading slump because I have been reading it for two months, feeling too guilty to pick up another litfic kind of book and dreading having to pick it back up – so yesterday I decided to just not keep doing that. This is not a bad book and I might have actually rated it 3 stars had I kept with it, but it is very much not the book for me. I struggle with historical fiction and really wish this had been weirder.

My rating: DNF

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

44423086

Published by Random House UK, March 5th 2020

I adored this – the writing, the storyline, the absolute bonkers weirdness, and most of all the wonderful main character. This book is super weird and the prose is flowery enough to sometimes hide what is going on, to really, really work for me. It is also a deeply disturbing book, both in the central imagery of a ground that needs to be fed and of healers opening up their patients and then putting them into the earth to heal and in the casual horror of the main character’s relationship – a horror that Rainsford does not explicate but makes very very obvious nonetheless.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Content warning: body horror, pedophilia

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: And I Do Not Forgive You – Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

45894105Verdict: I still love her.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Short stories

Published by Liveright, February 6th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Exciting fans of such writers as Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and Carmen Maria Machado with prose that shimmers and stings, Amber Sparks holds a singular role in the canon of the weird. Now, she reaches new, uncanny heights with And I Do Not Forgive You. In “Mildly Happy, With Moments of Joy,” a friend is ghosted by a simple text message; in “Everyone’s a Winner at Meadow Park,” a teen precariously coming of age in a trailer park befriends an actual ghost. At once humorous and unapologetically fi erce, these stories shine an interrogating light on the adage that “history likes to lie about women”— as the subjects of “A Short and Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife” and “You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women” (it’s true, you won’t) will attest. Blending fairy tales and myths with apocalyptic technologies, all tethered intricately by shades of rage, And I Do Not Forgive You offers a mosaic of an all-too-real world that fails to listen to its silenced goddesses.

As always, these stories are brilliant. There is just something about the way in which Amber Sparks writes short fiction that hits all the right spots for me. This is the third collection she has written and she still does everything I adore in the format: her stories are weird enough to be exciting and realistic enough to be grounded, she focusses women and their experiences, her sentences are as wonderful as they have always been. Of the three collections, this is the one most grounded in reality – and it works because it is also the most angry collection and anger is needed at the moment (or possibly always, but there is just something about these last few years that particularly make anger feel neccessary). Amber Sparks is angry, viciously so, and I love it. I love what it does to the tone of her stories and to the premises she chooses, but most of all I love how her anger does not mean her stories are any less beautiful, quite the opposite actually.

Sparks’ short stories are on the shorter side, something that I am learning is my personal preference. She tells her stories in vastly different ways but I always find something to adore. Often she hooks me from the very first sentence in a way that I do not encounter very often. I cannot quite put into words what works about her first sentences, but just look at the brilliance of “I’ll bet you think ghosts are so fucking romantic.” or “At the end of the world, you discovered words could change.” or “The queen woke up one morning to te furious sound of the Future invading.” I have said it before and I will say it again, Amber Sparks is my favourite short story author and I eagerly awaited this collection and I will read whatever she chooses to write next – because I can just trust her to wow me.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Liveright. This did not affect my opinions. Quotations are taken from the unfinished copy and might have changed during the final edit.

 

Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

41910151._sy475_Verdict: Great world, mediocre writing.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Published by Orbit, February 6th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential – the cops can never make me talk.
3. I don’t work for humans.

It’s nothing personal – I’m human myself. But after what happened, Humans don’t need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came…
I just want one real case. One chance to do something good.
Because it’s my fault the magic is never coming back.

The Last Smile in Sunder City is a brilliantly voiced fantasy for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Rotherweird or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and the debut novel from actor Luke Arnold – known for his lead role in Black Sails!

I should have loved this. The world Luke Arnold created here (post-magic, well-thought-out, imaginative) is absolutely brilliant. I adore stories that deal with the fall-out of an event that fundamentally alters the laws of the physical world (see N. K. Jemisin’s books and Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Divine Cities trilogy for excellent examples) and this book does this incredibly – on a world-building level. I got the impression that Arnold’s imagination is endless and the way in which he thought out how this sudden disappearence of magic would influence different magical races worked really well for me. I also really like mysteries set in an urban fantasy kind of epic fantasy world. Sunder City is a brilliantly done fantasy city, with flavours of a darker Ankh-Morpork. But there were two big kinds of problems I had with this book – one that I think is a problem with the book itself and one which I have to admit has more to do with my own reading tastes.

First for the more “objective” criticism I had: I found the writing clumsy. This showed itself mostly in a pacing that was, frankly, abysmal. The story moved in fits and bursts to suddenly coming to an absolute standstill, with the backstory and the world-building integrated in heavy, heavy info-dumps. While it did not bother me as much as it could have if the word hadn’t been as fascinating, it led to the book feeling much longer than it actually was. The writing is also clumsy on a sentence-by-sentence level and filled with odd descriptions that took me out of my reading flow (examples: “My boots sucked up mud like hungry dogs in a pit of peanut-butter…”, “Thick smoke tunneled through my nose like an escaped prisoner…” or my personal favourite “The future of […] looked darker than a blackbird’s shadow at midnight”).

But ultimately my main issue with this book came down to the main character: Fetch Philipps is everything that annoys me with male protagonists in noir type stories. He is a guilt-ridden, alcoholic, direction-less, and unpleasant private investigator who is not snarky or intelligent enough to be interesting. He is also weirdly indistinct as a main character – he reads super young in the flashbacks and middle aged in present time, he reacts more to what is going on than being a more active player, his motivations are deeply selfish until they suddenly aren’t, and his narration never became a distinct voice for me (and additionally, I found it fairly male gaze-y). I admit that this has a lot more to do with my own reading tastes but he really did rub me the wrong way. He is also, and this is a petty issue, disgusting – there were a few scenes where he behaves in a weirdly disgusting way in order to intimidate (?) people (like when he downs the drink the bartender he is questioning spit in or when he drinks from an open bottle although other people informed him there were flies swimming in there).

Content warning: trauma, loss of a loved one, alcoholism, substance abuse

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced copy and are subject to change.

 

 

Review: Shelf Life by Lidia Franchini

43862291Verdict: Dark, brilliant, creepy, way too many dream sequences.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary fiction

Published by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, August 29th 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

Ruth is thirty years old. She works as a nurse in a care home and her fiancé has just broken up with her. The only thing she has left of him is their shopping list for the upcoming week.

And so she uses that list to tell her story. Starting with six eggs, and working through spaghetti and strawberries, and apples and tea bags, Ruth discovers that her identity has been crafted from the people she serves; her patients, her friends, and, most of all, her partner of ten years. Without him, she needs to find out – with conditioner and single cream and a lot of sugar – who she is when she stands alone.

I don’t know if I have read a book lately with a blurb this accurate that nonetheless completely failed to give an indication what the book will be like. On the surface it’s correct; yes Ruth has just been left by her boyfriend of ten years and has to navigate her life and yes the story is told by way of the shopping list he left behind – but it also something else entirely. Told in varies formats (stream-of-consciousness in the present, a series of text messages in the past, mixing more straight forward narrations with vague ones) and from different perspectives (mainly Ruth’s perspective in first person, but also parts narrated from Neil’s perspectives, parts in second person, parts in first person plural), this book is a portrait of a woman who was very much broken before she met the awful man and became more so during the course of a fairly horrible relationship.

When the book worked, it really worked for me – but there were just so many parts I could not properly get on board with, starting with the endless accounts of weird dreams Ruth and Neil had. I am unsure I grasped what the narrative purpose of those were and I found them relentlessly boring and confusing. While I appreciated the mixed-media approach, I didn’t love reading text messages that just never ended.

I really liked the framing of the story and I thought Franchini did something very clever: in the first chapter, when Neil breaks up with Ruth I couldn’t help but think that was the right choice because she seemed fairly awful. And then Franchini goes back and recontextualizes the scene in a way that made my heart hurt. Neil is, for all intents and purposes, really really awful. He is not only a cheater but also a stalker, he made Ruth into the person he wanted her to be and then punishes her for it, and his thoughts on women are unkind and horrifying (at some point he says this about his girlfriend of ten years: “The fact of her aging makes me uneasy.”). While I found his characterization believable and him endlessly fascinating, spending time in his head was very much not fun. Ruth on the other hand was just the kind of difficult to root for woman I adore in my fiction. Overall, I found this book impeccably structured and impressively constructed  – but often difficult to stick with due to its deliberate darkness.

Content warning: stalking, grooming, eating disorders, disordered eating, cheating, emotional abuse, bullying, assault, sexual harrassment

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Transworld Publishers in exchange for an honest review.