17 September 2020

Book of the month: 'Half A World Away' by Mike Gayle

Front cover of  'Half A World Away' by Mike Gayle on a tartan blanket

I'm going to kick start this by saying that this post is going to have a whole bunch of spoilers in, because I really want to talk about how this book SHATTERED my poor fragile little heart last month. I'm definitely a crier (books, films, those little facebook videos about dogs seeing their owners returning from active duty in the army, literally EVERYTHING can set me off), and I ignored all the warnings everyone made about how much this book could make me cry and then WEPT for the entire last quarter of this book.

Half a World Away is told from two perspectives: Kerry's and Noah's. Separated in the care system when Noah was a toddler, Kerry is desperate to get back in touch with her baby brother, but he doesn't even know she exists. Once Noah agrees to meet with Kerry, he realises their lives have been very different. He was adopted, but she never was; whilst he grew up in a well-off family and has now become a barrister, she was forced to fend for herself and is now working as a cleaner and single parent to her son.

Kerry tells Noah she just wants to have her brother back, and become a family again, but Kerry has an ulterior motive for reaching out. You see, Kerry has cancer, and she's not sure how to tell her son or how to sort out treatment when there's no one else she can rely on to look after him.

This really was a tough read. I fell in love with Kerry's character: she loves her son more than anything, but is stern with him and keeps him in line. Her life has been difficult and she's definitely a character to admire in her strength and her vulnerability. Noah's character is also a great one: we really see him progress from being quite a selfish twenty-something who can't quite put enough into his marriage to keep it going, or to help his wife understand him. Yet as the book progresses he not only really starts to work on himself in therapy with her, but looks out for their daughter and matures a lot in his reactions to Kerry and her son.

Now on to the sad bit. Kerry has cancer, and as the book goes on we see not only the devastating conversations she has to have with the people she loves about her treatment, but also the moment when we find out, and the characters find out, that palliative care is the only option. My heart broke a little for Noah finding out that the sister he's just come to know and love won't be here for much longer, and I can hardly think about them telling her son and him visiting her hospice bed without wanting to well up. 

Mike Gayle's writing is so incredibly emotive and well written that I can still picture the scenes of Kerry being visited in her final days, as well as the sparkliest funeral you could imagine. I read this well over a month ago now and I'm still absolutely devastated by how beautiful and just how deeply sad it is. I think I'm going to have to devour all of the rest of his books once I've had a chance to recover from this one because sometimes you just need your heart stomped on a little, and this really went IN.

What was your favourite book you read last month?

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12 September 2020

August reading wrap up

Book stack: Cinderella is Dead, The Starless Sea and To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Yet again it's basically the middle of the month and I haven't got around to writing a single blog post and thus my wrap up is pretty late. It was a month of really great reads, despite there not being *too* many of them because I actually left the house fairly often in August for the first time in months?!

Cover of 'Half A World Away' by Mike Gayle next to a candle

'Half A World Away' by Mike Gayle - 4/5 stars

This is my only kindle read of the month (again - I'm hoping to go for 2 in September) and wow it's the biggest tear-jerker I've read in a LONG time. The book is about a brother and sister separated by the care system as kids. Noah's too young to even remember that he has a sister, and when he meets Kerry he realises how lucky his life has been. Kerry was never adopted, and now lives alone with her teenage son in a block of high rise flats, working as a cleaner. She's desperate to get back in touch with her baby brother, and when she sees him all grown up with a high flying job, she's immensely proud. There's just one little secret Kerry's been keeping from Noah, and it might tear everything apart.

I started crying about three-quarters of the way through this and didn't stop until I finished. No exaggeration. It broke my heart and mended it a little and then had another little stomp on it. Mike Gayle is an incredible writer - I felt like I knew Kerry and Noah, and he wrote a really delicate story line incredible sensitively. He's definitely an author I'll be keeping an eye out for in the future, once I've emotionally recovered from this book!

To All The Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han - 4/5 stars

This is the first in a trilogy of teen books about protagonist Lara Jean's adventures in love. Whenever Lara Jean fell in love with a boy she wrote him a letter to close off the love in her mind, and stored it in a hatbox, never intending to send them. Now 16, her whole world is crashing down as somehow the letters have gotten out and been sent. And the worst thing? One of them is going to her older sister's now-ex-boyfriend! Desperate to make it seem like she doesn't have feelings for Josh anymore (though she's not quite sure), she makes a pact to start fake dating with Peter Kavinsky, another boy who got one of her letters.

Usually I'm a 'read the book before the film' kinda person, but I loved the film of this so much I wanted to read the full trilogy before watching the sequel. It was a cute love story in which I was totally rooting for the love triangle to work out the way I wanted. There was a lot of drama that kept me hooked, and I really think I would have enjoyed it as a teen. The book is set against the backdrop of Lara Jean navigating what it means to be a teen without her mum, and to feel connected to her Korean heritage now it's just her white dad raising her. It gave another really important side to LJ's character that wasn't just a bit of frivolous teen romance fun.

Title page of 'Cinderella is Dead' on a burgundy jumper with a string of fairy lights around it

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron - 5/5 stars

This is my only 5 star read of the month and boy did it deserve it. Cinderella is Dead takes place in a fictional town where 200 years after the death of Cinderella, all 16 year old girls are forced to go to a ball and have a man of the town (their prince) select them to wed, Sophia, our Black queer protagonist has no intention of marrying a man, but things aren't that easy. To not attend the ball, and not attend it in the way expected of you is dangerous not only for you but your family. Girls who are unsuccessful at the ball either straight up go missing, or are taken to work at the castle and never seen again either way. The book is a retelling of the Cinderella story, and one filled with fearless girls overthrowing the patriarchy.

I really enjoyed this - the LBGT representation in it was great, with not only one queer main character, but at least 4. I love a good fairy tale retelling, and this one was fast paced, and I so completely did not expect the twist in it that I gasped. The writing was really vivid, and although it did slow down in a few places, I'm really excited to see what this author brings out next.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern - 4/5 stars

I've never read The Night Circus, despite seeing so many people rave about it as the best book they've ever read, so this is my first foray into Morgenstern's work. The Starless Sea is a fantasy novel in which there are doors in our world that lead to harbours at the Starless Sea. Zachary Ezra Rawlins came across one of these doors as a child, but missed his opportunity to head into the world of the Starless Sea when he didn't try to use it. As an adult, he finds a mysterious stack of books in the library - one of the books has his exact story of finding the door as a child in it. Desperate to find out where the book came from and how the story got into it (he never told anyone about that day), he follows a series of clues that bring him deeper and deeper into a dangerous world.

This book was INTENSE, and definitely not something that's easy to dip in and out of. Each chapter was broken up with a couple of pages of shorter stories from various books that form a part of the main story, which all ultimately interlink with each other and the main story. The world-building in this was really great and it still feels like I can imagine some of the scenes and landscapes from it. There was a LGBT love story element to it, but it felt a little forced into the story; the character rarely engaged with one another, and I just didn't feel like there was much romance.

What did you read last month?

*Some of the books in this post were PR samples to discuss on Instagram*

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