Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval-150x225‘Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems…’

Throughout last year, this was probably the debut I heard about most. It was all over social media, at YALC we were constantly being alerted to contests to win proof copies. This is a book that was published really, really well. I was not lucky enough to win an advance copy, but when I finally picked it up I did understand why so much weight had been thrown behind it.


Scarlett has lived on her tiny isle of Trisda all her life, protecting her sister Tella and trying to survive their ruthless, abusive father. From a young age she writes to Legend, the enigmatic man at the centre of the mystical Caraval, a travelling, week-long event, begging him to come to visit their isle. When she turns eighteen, and she writes to tell him she is getting married and if he was planning to finally come to Trisda then he shouldn’t bother, he finally writes back.

Legend sends her an invitation to join him at Caraval as his special guest, promising adventure, intrigue, danger, and self-discovery.

When Scarlett and Tella arrive, Tella vanishes, and Scarlett must solve the riddles of the Caraval and navigate its winding world to find her sister before the last day of Caraval.

Remember, it’s only a game…

Things I liked 

I suppose the thing that stands out most is Caraval itself. Garber embraces the carnivalesque and adds her own twists. There are fortune tellers and tricksters, strange and magical rules, a Carousel of Roses, a Glass Tavern, and the prevailing sense that nothing is as it seems. Scarlett and her unlikely guide cannot trust anyone, even each other. One scene I feel is representative of the weirdness and originality of the Caraval world involves Scarlett paying for an item with days of her life. This kind of thing happens quite often in fantasy writing, but it’s not so often they take the days there and then.

There is some excellent YA romance writing in this. It does all the right things – it’s a bit dangerous and there’s some mistrust, but there are acts of kindness and loyalty, too. Mostly it’s just quite sexy, which is always a winner.

The mystery of Legend himself. Ever present yet inaccessible and unseen, Legend watches over Caraval and controls all the players. There are stories about him, his life, how long he has lived and whether he has done some awful things. If he is truly a magician or a fraud, if he is a good man or a villain. Scarlett and Tella are both drawn to different sides of him. I love a character like that.

Can I say the cover design? The designs of the proofs and the finished books are GORGEOUS. In the UK edition of the hardback, there are four foiled designs concealed under the already stunning dust jacket.

caraval four covers.jpg

Things I didn’t like

I love the idea of the sisterly love at the centre of this, however I didn’t feel totally convinced by Scarlett and Tella’s relationship all the time. I liked both of their characters separately, I liked them a lot. But I don’t know, something just…didn’t feel right.

Along the same lines, their dad felt a little two-dimensional. There was an attempt toward the end to humanize him a bit, but ultimately I wasn’t convinced.


Should I read this?

I was going to give this 3 or 4 stars on Goodreads at first. I thought it was good, atmospheric, and enticing, though a bit flawed. Then I realized I spent over an hour in an increasingly tepid bath just to race to the end, so I bumped up the rating.

So if you’re looking for an addictive YA adventure with romance and mystery and a wonderful carnivalesque setting, then you could definitely do worse than to spend a few hours lost in these pages.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here.

I am officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, so I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

To keep up with my reading progress you can follow me on Goodreads, here.


50 books in 2015 (ish)

It’s been over a year since I’ve written in this blog. Since I’ve been away I’ve moved to London, got a job, and I’m now over halfway through my masters at UCL. This is essentially a quick note to say this blog will be up and running again this year! And a list of everything I read (completed) last year.

Like many people all over the internet and all over the world, last year I set myself the goal of reading 50 books. Quite arrogantly I thought this wouldn’t be an issue, and now here I am having to admit that I completed a total of 49 books. Crud.

I don’t have any reviews coming up on these and will probably continue my usual format this year, but if anyone would like an in-depth review of any of the books mentioned leave me a comment below!

In alphabetical order (by author, because that’s how I wrote them down – multiple titles by the same author will be in the order I read them):

things-fall-apart_cover1&2. Things Fall Apart & Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe

These are the first and third installments of Achebe’s famous and extraordinary African Trilogy. They don’t follow on chronologically. They are incredible. I recommend.



illuminations3. Illuminations by Walter Benjamin

Collection of famous/important essays. Fantastic. How do you pronounce Benjamin? Academics are silently divided on this, and all just say it their own way.




4. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Graphic novel, selection of creepy folky stories. Amazing art. Atmospheric and intense. Short read. Highly recommend.



girls goddesses giants5. Girls, Goddesses and Giants by Lari Don

Children’s book, with classic myths from all sorts of cultures retold so the girl isn’t always waiting for the boy with the sword to come and save her, but gets herself out of trouble. My favourite is the one where the girl’s brains save the day, but the reason they escape and win the day is because the boy is willing to help and take her seriously. Great collection for any young girl who is sick of having to read about damsels.

sex criminals6. Sex Criminals vol. 1 by Matt Frachon (writer) and Chip Zdarsky (illustrator)

Two ordinary people with a special power. Every time they orgasm, time stops. They meet and hook up at a party, discovering the only other person they’ve met with this ability. One thing leads to another and they use this power to rob a bank. So good.


7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


Whoops. How did that happen. I mean,


Ahem. Outlander is the first in an epic time-travelling-historical-fantasy-romance series. It follows a young woman named Claire, who was a nurse during the Second World War. In the time that follows the war she is having a second honeymoon with her husband in Inverness to rekindle their relationship, but she stumbles accidentally into a magic stone circle and is sent back in time to 18th century Scotland.

There is also a TV adaptation….

diary nobody8. Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith (re-read)

Hilarious suburban goings on. Charles Pooter, middle-aged and middle-class, decides to start a diary.



eaoaraj9. Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Etta is 80 years old and she has never seen the sea. So she takes some chocolate and a rifle and decides to walk the 3000 kilometres to the ocean. Wonderful book.



10. johannes cabal coverJohannes Cabal: The Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal makes a deal with the devil to get his soul back. He traded it off for some powers or knowledge years ago but now it turns out he needs it, so over the course of a year he has to collect some souls to trade for his own, with the help of the reanimated corpses of some thugs who tried to mug him and his vampire brother, and a carnival.


crow-ted-hughes411&12. Crow & Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes

Poetry collections. Wrote an essay on Crow. I really liked it, sue me.




insanity13. Insanity by Cameron Jace

Self-published, dark re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland. Very enjoyable, quick read. Some clever twists.



portrait14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (re-read)

Coming of age story. Joyce is a genius, etc. This is probably his most approachable book and I would recommend it if you want to start reading Joyce. I re-read this for an essay



first bad man cover15. The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I don’t want to tell you anything about this book…maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t. Telling you anything would ruin it. That’s why there’s no info on the blurb, only quotes. It’s engrossing. It’s bizarre. It’s painfully honest and yet somehow unimaginable. Maybe go read it. Maybe don’t. I don’t know. But probably do. Then come and tell me what you think.


misery16. Misery by Stephen King (this was the first book I read last year)

I loved this. So much. As well as being the first book I read last year, it was also my first Stephen King. And what a start! I’d like to read Carrie next. Or the Shining.



angels-in-america-kushner-tony-paperback-cover-art17. Angels in America by Tony Kushner

Wonderful play. There’s a great HBO adaptation as well. Probably needs to be seen to be fully appreciated – I read and watched at the same time. Incredible piece of work.



1rosemary's baby cover8. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

This, I read in a single train journey (a long one). I couldn’t stop reading. I wanted to sleep, but I had to keep reading it. It was intense. I’m gonna slowly gather up all of Ira Levin’s books to read.



assassin19&20. Heir of Fire & The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas

Heir of Fire is the third installment to Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, and The Assassin’s Blade is a set of prequel novellas. The books follow Celaena Sardothien, an 18 year old girl with a shady and hidden past, who also happens to be the most infamous assassin in the land. Great YA fantasy. Lovelovelove.


acotar cover21. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

This is the first installment of the newest YA fantasy series by Maas, a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast. This was also fantastic – the writing has developed a lot since Throne of Glass and the story is just great.



33.Hilary Mantel-Bring up the Bodies22. Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

The sequel to Wolf Hall. I managed to read this just in time for the BBC series. I really enjoyed. Much more fast-paced than the first but it doesn’t lose too much of the slow-building intensity.



23.01-Cinder-high-res Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The first of the Lunar Chronicles. This is a retelling of Cinderella, who in this story is a half-cyborg mechanic, living and working in New Beijing. Pretty original, fun, looking forward to reading Scarlet next and finding out what happens.




24& 25. King Rat & London’s Overthrow by China Mieville

This was partly for an essay, partly for fun. Loved King Rat, I’d only read Kraken before this which I had loved, and I wasn’t disappointed. Trying to read The City & the City at the moment but it’s not grabbing me in the same way. I’ll persevere.

London’s Overthrow is actually the printed version of an online essay by Mieville which I will link here if anyone wants to check it out.

sky everywhere26. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I found this book on the tube, then I read it. It’s about a teenage girl whose sister died, and how she works through her feelings, her guilt and grief, while normal life continues to happen around her.



monster calls cover

27. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (sob)

This book devastated me. It’s probably one of my favourite books of the year, if not all time. I finished this book on the bus, crying for the last 20-odd pages. It was crowded, it was awkward.

Conor, a 13 year old whose mother is terminally ill, is visited by a monster who insists that Conor summoned him. He tells Conor that he will visit him and tell him three stories that will help him. And in exchange, Conor must then tell him his own story.


28. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer’s highly acclaimed and wonderful memoir/self-help book. I just….really enjoyed this.



pater29. Studies In The History of the Renaissance by Walter Pater

Pater’s essays on renaissance artists et al. Aestheticism, woop. I wrote an essay on this too.




plath-belljar30. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I don’t know what I expected going into this, but I loved it. I enjoyed the first half more than the second, but that’s only because the first half was SO GOOD.



Soul-Music131&32. Soul Music & Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Dipping back into Terry Pratchett. I was familiar with Soul Music thanks to the remarkably faithful animated adaptation which I have watched many times. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his, but definitely don’t feel like I’ve read enough. Aside from these I think I’ve only read Mort? Any recommendations for the quintessential Pratchett very welcome. I think The Wyrd Sisters is what I would like to read next.

goodmorningmidnight33. Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

Great novel (novella?) about a young woman living independently in Paris in the 1920s (I think). I loved the tone of Rhys’s writing in this book.



graveyardshift34. Graveyard Shift by Angela Roquet

Self-published book about Reapers, Grim’s assistants who collect the souls of the dead and live among Gods and creatures of various underworlds so that they can send the souls to the correct afterlife. Great idea, well-executed, fun characters and good use of mythology.




35. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (annual re-read)

The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One. Comfort reading. A world I’m happy to fall into any time. Intending to re-read The Wise Man’s Fear this year. Everyone read this. Please. Everyone. I haven’t met anyone who has read this and doesn’t love it.



fangirl36. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Coming of age story. The main character writes fan-fiction and has a dedicated following online, the book follows her first year at university – romances, friendships, difficulties. Really fun, immersive read. Great characters.



darker shade of magic

37. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

There is more than one London. There is Grey London – the one we know – and Red London, where there is magic, and White London, where magic rules. And Black London. But nobody goes to Black London. The main character can travel between these realms. So good.


vicious38. Vicious by V.E. Schwab

So I felt this one needed its own block even though I’ve grouped the same authors in some of the previous listings. Vicious is the story of two boys at university, when they are best friends, experimenting with near-death experiences to try to give themselves superpowers. It is also the story of the same boys ten years later, when they are enemies.

The anti-hero is strong with this book. I loved it.


lainitaylor39. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

A twist on the classic star-crossed lovers story. And a twist on the classic angels vs demons story. Great worldbuilding and characters, excited to continue with the trilogy.



40-44saga 1. Saga volumes 1-5 by Bryan K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Graphic novel series following a couple who had been fighting on opposite sides of a war, narrated by their child from the moment of her birth. Funny and full of originality, and my favourite cat-sidekick of all time, Lying Cat.




In fact, we’re just gonna pause for a minute here while I post some excellent Lying Cat moments.



Heheh. And this, more serious one:

sophie and lying cat

And finally, confused Lying Cat:

lying cat question

Ahem. Thanks for bearing with me on that one. Moving on….

slaughterhousefive45. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This took me an embarrassingly long time to get to. But I was given it for Christmas, so I read it on Boxing Day. I freakin LOVED it. I’ve been describing it as having an ethereal mutedness that I didn’t expect.

It’s an anti-war novel, lingering in particular on the Dresden Bombings.


46-1ratqueenscover47. Rat Queens volumes 1 and 2 by Kurtis J. Weibe (writer) and Roc Upchurch/Tess Fowler (illustrators)

Another graphic novel series I’ve been loving. A band of kick-arse mercenary women face evil, have sex, and….kick arse. Hilarious, well-designed, reads like a D&D session. Love it. Cannot wait for more.


artbeingnormal48. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

This is a YA novel about being transgender. Neatly put together, an easy and important read for young people. The characters didn’t grab me particularly but the story did.



revolutionary road49. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Suburbian life is hard. We all think we’re special but maybe we’re not. We make plans we never follow through and don’t want to admit we like the stability of a boring job…

This book is so intimately painful to read – in like, a good way? – with beautifully observed truths throughout. It was intense. My only criticism is the ending, which I thought was a cop-out. Feel free to disagree

BONUS: the first book I read in 2016, which I should have just read on New Years Eve since it took all of ten minutes

guinea pig pp50. A Guinea Pig Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Alex Goodwin and Tess Gammell

I have nothing negative to say about this at all.


Ready Player One

In the mood for some sci-fi? I have been this summer. This was recommended by various booktubers who have been right about things I’d like in the past. Ready Player One was no exception.

ready player one Synopsis

This is the debut novel from American author Ernest Cline. In the not too distant future, the Internet has been combined with simulation gaming to be the ultimate interactive experience – not just used for shopping, games, and social networking, but now you can even attend schools online. It’s called the OASIS, and the novel opens with the death of its creator, James Halliday, and the consequences of his death. As he started out as simply a game designer, he leaves behind an Easter Egg in the OASIS, accessed by finding three keys that open three gates. It’s a contest for the whole world. The prize: his entire fortune.

Our narrator, Wade Watts, is a poor, fat, orphaned teenager, who unhappily lives with his aunt and attends school in the OASIS. He has dedicated his life to hunting the Easter Egg, studying the creator’s life, his obsessions, his hobbies, for clues to the keys. At the end of chapter one we find out why Wade is telling us this story: because he’s the player who found the first key.

Things I liked

As a sci-fi novel that is heavily centred in a simulated, computer-generated environment, this is a completely approachable world to step into. It’s not overly-laden with alienating jargon, and what there is, is either explained or specific to the book – my favourite is ‘gunters’, the name given to the egg hunters.

The handling of the online identities vs the real people. Wade’s avatar, Parzival, his best friend, Aech, the lead female gunter, Art3mis, most clearly represent the diverse ways in which people represent themselves online. Another nice touch by Cline was that Wade was still limited in his online avatar, by having no money in real life. Once the Internet becomes an interactive, immersive, universal experience, it is governed by many of the same social restrictions as the outside world.

Likewise, the relationship between the gunters and the ‘sixers’ – members of an enormous corporation dedicated to finding the egg. The gunters work alone or join forces, going up against the sixers in the race to find the egg. If the sixers find it, they intend to stop the OASIS being free to join. Disaster for people like Wade whose lives revolve around the OASIS but have no money to spare.

The light-hearted tone compared with the very real danger Wade finds himself in.

The 80s references. Dear God, the 80s references. So many. I’m sure I only got about half of them, but someone who grew up in the 80s or loves things from that era (and I mean, any things: films, games, music) would have so much fun with this book. Because Halliday grew up in the 80s, many of the tasks are related to the games he played growing up, his favourite films and comic books. 

***Just been clued up on some slang slightly before my time. Halliday’s avatar, who still lives in the OASIS, is an archmage called Anorak. Anorak is apparently a name for a nerd/geek. Apologies to anyone who knew this already, obviously I’m just a noob, but it adds a nice layer to the jovial self-deprecation of the quest and the gunters.

Things I didn’t like

Occasionally felt like the odds were too stacked against the protagonists for any kind of happy ending. But not sure that can be a bad thing.

To be honest it was several weeks ago that I read it… I can only say that while I read it I was recommending it to people, and once I finished I bought it as a gift for my sci-fi coach, Motorbike Man, who tells me he enjoyed it. 

Should I read this?

Why not? If you’re looking for some approachable but immersive sci-fi, a novel that is not too long, not too short, with a compelling story and relatable but futuristic universe, then go for it. It’s the guy’s debut, too. I reckon we can expect some great things from Ernest Cline.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here.

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

Gone Girl

So it’s high time I got back into this blogging malarkey, since I’ve been putting ‘Blogger: book reviews twice a week’ on my CV and haven’t written a blog for exactly a month. I’m sorry, blogging universe, I have failed.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn has been sitting in my Kindle gathering electro-dust for months, but it was only after watching the trailer for the film coming out in October this year, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, with a dark cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘She’ (reminiscent of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Once Upon A Dream‘ for Maleficent), that I felt compelled to read it.

gone girl cover


Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, two writers from New York who move back to Nick’s home town in Missouri when Nick’s mother is diagnosed with cancer. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing.

The novel follows Nick in the days following Amy’s disappearance – ‘The Day Of’, ‘The Night Of’, ‘One Day Gone’ – and Amy’s diary from the beginning of their relationship. Nick, a not immediately likeable character, soon finds himself the lead and only suspect in his wife’s disappearance.

I won’t say any more, with all the twists and turns in this story it’s too easy to reveal too much.

Things I liked

The two different voices of Amy and Nick are distinct and separate, while having complex common traits that come from more than being written by the same author – they are characterful and personal. I find a lot of books with multiple voices often fall down in attempting to differentiate between them. This one hardly ever did.

The development of the two voices, and the different versions of the truth. For almost half of the novel there is no reliable narration, no version of the truth the reader can fix on and say ‘this is exactly what happened’. It’s unsettling and intriguing in the right amounts.

The story itself, which is so much about the characters and their development. There isn’t the feeling that this could just happen to any generic couple; the way the story turns out is entirely due to these very particular and well-designed characters.

The plot twists and surprises.

Things I didn’t like

Called it. Sorry.

Should I read this?

Yes, before you watch the film. It’s well-written, the characters are brilliantly constructed and the story unfolds in a wonderfully paced series of events.

But just in case you want to watch the film, here’s the trailer.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here.

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

The Road

I’m definitely late to tthe_road.largehis party, but that’s the point of this blog. I bought The Road by Cormac McCarthy in Fopp for £3 years ago, with every intention of reading it as soon as possible. The more I heard about it, the more I heard about the dark, bleak, harrowing tale, the beauty of the writing, the further I felt from wanting to read it. I don’t think I ever thought I was going to be ready to read it. This weekend, I finally got around to it.


A man and his son travel south through a desolate, post-apocalyptic America, aiming for the coast.

 There is no God and we are his prophets

Things I liked

There’s not much I can say about this that has not already been said. It was incredibly well-received when it came out, to warrant such quotes on the back of my copy that suggest McCarthy be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, for this novel, and others emphasising the long-term impact it will have on its readers, and literature to come. I have to say I agree. It has been eight years since The Road was released, five years since the film. To me it is interesting that, in the years following this adult post-apocalyptic novel, there has been a surge of popular teen fiction of the same theme. I’m not suggesting that novels such as the Hunger Games series, the Divergent Trilogy or the Maze Runner books are direct descendants of this, it just strikes me that teen fiction sometimes mirrors grown-up books – maybe to make sure the teens are up to date by the time they become adults, I don’t know.

Right. Here’s the real ‘Things I liked’ section. No more disclaimers.

The prose. It’s been said constantly about this book – hauntingly beautiful, simple, prose. It holds the characters apart from us by never fully letting us into their heads, and universalises them by leaving them unnamed. There were so many phrases I wish I had bookmarked to include here, just to show you how intense and observant McCarthy’s writing is. As a pedant I found it remarkably easy to let go of my inner editor and grammar persnicketer (yeah I’m neologising now) when McCarthy misses out apostrophes in words such as ‘won’t’ and ‘don’t’. It’s part of the style. Allow it. Move on.

The relationship between the boy and his father. I thought for a while there would be a huge twist where the boy had been dead the whole time, but realised I was projecting other recent reads onto everything I’m reading at the moment. Spoiler alert, that’s not what happens. The relationship between these two is so dependent. The boy relies on his father to get their food, keep them going. The father relies on the son to give him a reason to stay alive. The son was born after whatever mystery event occurred that covered the world in ash, and so does not understand a) what the world was like before and sometimes, b) why they should bother staying alive.

The moral issues. The dilemmas the father faces when it comes to the few people they meet on the road, and how he has to explain them to his son.

The dialogue. There are no speech marks in this book. You have to keep an eye out as to when there is speech and who is saying what. It is bleak, pragmatic dialogue. It fits with the greyness of the story.

It took me some time to decide which section this would be in, but it’s going here. The fact that you have to cannot skim read any of this book. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re reading, there’s a chance you won’t have a full appreciation of it. This is likely the case with most books, but it struck me particularly when reading this, probably because the prose is so sparse and there are no chapters, only sections.

Things I didn’t like




It…was pretty depressing?

But seriously, it’s quite a harrowing story. Dead babies and the like. Cannibals. Pretty rough. As mentioned above, it’s pretty bleak.

Should I read this?

Yes. Many of you will be reading this because you’ve already read it. For those of you who haven’t, go out and read it, ASAP.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here:

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

We Were Liars

I we-were-liars-e-lockhartfaced a difficult decision over the last few days.

What would be the first book I read after finishing my undergraduate degree?

I had a few contenders. Most of these you will see in the coming blog posts. However, this book was a treat I bought for myself to read after exam period finished, and eventually it won out over some other books, books that had been sitting on my shelf much longer.

I first came across this book two days after its publication date, about a fortnight ago. As is often the way, it was from one of my favourite BookTubers that I heard about this new young adult novel. She talked about the book without telling anything about it, but her description was enough to intrigue me into buying it. She talked about a Twitter live-read that happened last Saturday – unfortunately my book didn’t arrive in time, but I checked out some of the tweets. The general astonishment and intense emotional investment of the people reading it swayed me. If this review persuades you to read it, I urge you to check out the hashtag #liarsliveread.


I don’t want to go into this too much because it’ll ruin it. First I’ll give you the blurb:

We are liars

We are beautiful and privileged

We are cracked and broken

A tale of love and romance

A tale of tragedy

Which are lies?

Which is truth?

You decide

 Sounds pretty intriguing straight off. But it also sounds like a lot of young adult books out at the moment, so I was dubious going into this. It was only the quotes on the cover that persuaded me:

‘Thrilling, beautiful, and blisteringly smart, We Were Liars is utterly unforgettable’ – and that was from John Green, whose most recent novel The Fault In Our Stars I reviewed in April.

We Were Liars is narrated by Cadence Sinclair Eastman, a member of the rich and highly privileged Sinclair family, and follows her summers on Beechwood Island, Massachusetts, an island owned by the family, just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. In particular, the summer she was fifteen. She, her cousins Mirren and Johnny, and Johnny’s stepdad’s nephew, Gat (it’s complicated), are ‘the Liars’. I don’t want to tell you any more than that.

Things I liked

Cadence herself, and her relationship with Gat. You know from the second page that she thinks he is beautiful, so I hope no one thinks that is a spoiler. Following an ambiguous accident during her fifteenth summer, you may think Cady has become a rebellious teenager, dying her hair and being rude to her family. But it is through this that Lockhart disguises her mystery.

The language. Although I certainly felt as though I was in a young adult novel a lot of the time, having this as the first book I read after finishing my degree (which ended with Paradise Lost, Doctor Faustus, and The Tempest), it was so rewarding to fall into this self-conscious but simple and elegant, inherently modern, style. Like The Fault In Our Stars, it has many quotable lines of dialogue and prose, the one I’ve seen most being:

  “Can I hold your hand?” he asked.

  I put mine in his.

  “The universe is seeming really huge right now,” he told me. “I need something to hold on to.”

Although the dialogue is not particularly polished (or necessarily up to grammatical persnicketing standards), it is true to the characters, both in representing their ages and their individual personalities. I find a lot of young adult novels (and novels in general – I’m looking at you, Elizabeth Kostova) can slack on dialogue, with every character speaking with identical tone, regardless of age, situation, described personality, time period, gender, emotion…

The twisting turning story. I went into this knowing there was a twist, but made a conscious decision to try not to guess because, if you know me well, you know I ruin a lot of things that way. In truth I didn’t guess until a few pages before it was revealed. She really got me with this one, I was impressed. And emotional.

The role of the grandfather. I don’t want to delve too much into this, either, but he is a much more complex and sinister figure than he seems in the opening chapters.

The intermittent fairy tales. They are not the fairy tales you know. They also don’t distract too much from the main plot, of which I am absolutely in favour.

The allusions to Wuthering Heights. They were a good distraction from the mystery itself. I approve. When planning this post as I was reading We Were Liars, I was thinking up taglines such as ‘Wuthering Heights for the modern age’, ‘Bronte in Boston’, and ‘What if Cathy and Heathcliff had had e-mail?’. When I reached the end they were all irrelevant. Damn it.

Things I didn’t like

Sometimes felt a bit young for me, but I got over that quickly.

It made me sad.

The somewhat misleading blurb, ‘Which are lies, which is truth? You decide’. I think that, eventually, there is only one truth. If you read this and disagree, please leave a comment or message me on Facebook. I’d be interested to see.

Should I read this?

That depends. Are you in the mood for a story that is simultaneously a coming of age novel, a story about mental illness and trauma, a thriller and a romance? If so…put aside a couple of hours of your day. It’s best to read it all at once.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here:

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.