The Vanishing Half – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Brit Bennett
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2020
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Domestic abuse, racism, lynching, trauma, death of a parent, transphobia, sexual assault of a minor.

Synopsis

Identitcal twin sisters, Desiree and Stella Vignes, are inseparable as children but break apart and take different paths as adults – one living as a black woman and the other a white woman. In this multi-generational tale, we follow the Vignes sisters on a journey of love, loss and family.

What I liked

  • The emphasis on family and family dynamics
  • Writing style
  • Exploration of race and racism

What I disliked

  • The lack of detail on certain topics
  • The ending
  • How surface-level and unsatisfying a lot of the plot points and arcs felt
  • The lack of development of some of the main characters

Plot and Structure

Spanning 50 years from the 1940s to the 1990s, the book primarily focuses on Desiree and Stella and their families across three generations. The story opens with the return of Desiree to her Southern hometown, Mallard, after running away with her twin Stella at age 16. It’s then divided into sections by date and pieces together the events leading up to and after Desiree and Stella leave Mallard. Since this is a historical, literary fiction it isn’t particularly plot heavy and is focused on family drama with emphasis on the impact of racism on Desiree and Stella’s lives. It was rather slow paced, but engaging throughout because of how authentic the characters and their struggles felt.

The exploration of white passing was particularly fascinating. Stella’s ongoing struggle between her true identity as a black woman internally and a white woman externally was palpable. It’s impossible not to sympathise with the difficult choices she made to live the life she wanted and the sacrifce that went with those choices. Her character contrasted perfectly with Desiree who chose to live as a black woman and endure the discrimination, inequality and struggle that went with that.

Unfortunately, there was something missing within the story; a depth and emotionality that it just fell short of. There were so many interesting and important themes – racism, white passing, classism, transgenderism – but it only breezed past them. It felt like there were so many conversations between the characters that were omitted, details left out and the impact of certain events not fully explored. By the end, I was underwhelmed by the anti-climax of the sisters reunion and felt that a lot of what had been building was left by the wayside.

Structurally, I did find it a bit odd. Despite being divided into sections based on date, it wasn’t chronological and flashbacks were scattered througout which seemed to undermine the timeline. I love flashbacks in my books and liked how the flashbacks provided deeper insight into the characters and their past, but it did conflict a little with the timeline structure, in my opinion.

Writing Style

This is the first book of Brit Bennett’s that I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last. Her writing style is beautiful. She’s able to craft a vivid setting and write complex, relationships and characters. The detail she provides is focused on the human aspect of the characters; their emotions, experiences and perceptions. Her use of dialogue is well chosen to represent each character, which is particularly effective in a story such as this which examines race and has both Southern and Northern American characters. The manner of speaking and colloquialism of certain characters reflected their geographical, racial and class background. However, I did feel that her writing focused a lot on experience and this resulted on some aspects of the narrative and characters not resonating with me as much as they could’ve.

There were many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong.

Characters and Relationships

There was a good representation with the cast of characters. It was particularly refreshing to see a depiction of a trans character. The minor characters were interesting and time was taken to develop unique minor characters which I appreciated. However, the main characters weren’t the strongest. Desiree was the most complex and developed main character, but the rest of the characters never felt fully realised. I don’t really feel like I know any of the characters. I also felt that certain characters like Kennedy (Stella’s daughter) didn’t go beyond stereotypes.

However, the relationships were fantastic and probably my favourite aspect of the book. The romantic relationships were refreshing, understated and authentic, but the family relationships are what stole the show. The relationships are so complex; they’re fraught with tension, secrecy, pain, betrayal and hurt, but beneath that there’s love. There was acknowledgement of the dilemma between the family we are born into and our chosen family. Despite how family centric the book was, I liked that family wasn’t portrayed as something that was easy or a given. Love between families doesn’t always overcome hardships and sometimes people will choose themselves above the duty and obligation they have for their family. Generally, the relationship between Desiree and Stella was thought provoking and encompassed a lot of the conflict that can exist between siblings when they’re fundamentally different and want to establish themselves outside of that sibling relationship.

Concluding thoughts

The Vanishing Half is a wonderful, multi-generational family drama which captures the struggles of race, identity and family. The writing style is captivating and does justice to the heavy themes that are explored. Although the book fell short for me in regards to characters and the way in which certain plot threads and topics were brushed over, it was engaging and thought-provoking throughout. It’s a valuable read and the commentary around family and identity resonated with me on a personal level.

I’d recommend The Vanishing Half if:

You’re looking for a slow-paced family-centric historical novel which examines race in 1940s America.

Have you read The Vanishing Half or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2017
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Domestic abuse, alcoholism, misogyny, child neglect, statuatory rape, rape, underage marriage, slut shaming, homophobia, biphobia, toxic relationships, abortion, terminal illness, death/loss.

Synopsis

Evelyn Hugo, Hollywood starlet of the 1950s, has had a successful acting career spanning decades. She’s infamous for her talent and beauty, but it’s her scandalous personal life and seven marriages that is most intruiging. In a tell-all interview, Evelyn aged 79 finally reveals her life-story to young journalist, Monique.

What I liked

  • The plot
  • Evelyn’s characterisation
  • The themes
  • The setting (1950-80s Hollywood)
  • LGBTQ+ representation
  • Complex relationships

What I disliked

  • The jumping from past to present
  • Monique’s arc

Plot and Structure

The story begins with Monqiue, a young and fresh journalist who has recently started working for the magazine Vivant. When Evelyn Hugo gets in touch with Vivant to specifically request that Monique interview her, Monique is elated and believes she’s finally getting her big break. What follows is a story divided into seven main sections – one devoted to each of Evelyn’s husbands – as Evelyn recounts her life-story to Monique. Throughout, it flits from past to present, with a majority of the middle section focused on Evelyn’s past.

Similar to other books by Taylor Jenkins Reid (TJR) that I’ve read, the book is more character focused than plot heavy and the plot that is present is driven by the drama and emotional ups and downs of Evelyn’s life. Much like Daisy Jones and the Six it provides an insight into the explosive, tumultuous lifestyles of the rich and famous. It touches on the corruption of Hollywood within the context of the MeToo campaign, shedding light on the rampant misogyny and abuse that women in Hollywood and the media industry have had to endure and continue to suffer from. Most of the topics it touches upon are upsetting, but the way in which they were handled is incredible. There’s an authenticity to it and the characterisation of Evelyn’s character is so strong that it didn’t feel in any way exploitative. In general, I loved the plot from beginning to end and had only one gripe – Monique’s arc.

This was my second read of the book (see the end of the post for my first review), and I remember being indifferent about Monique the first time, but this time I just felt like she was unnecessarily stealing precious page time from Evelyn. I was so invested in Evelyn’s story and so addicted to her character and life, that I wanted to stay there and not be pulled back to the present. Monique does have a very important part to play in the story, and without her it wouldn’t be the same story, but unfortunately, her character and backstory is underdeveloped and in comparison to Evelyn who was such a big personality and character, she fell completely flat for me.

Writing Style

I really liked the writing style in this book. It’s not over the top prose; the language is modern but there’s an emotional depth to it which touched my heart. The dialogue is well-written and isn’t stiff or awkward like a lot of dialogue in historical fiction written by modern authors.

It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly.

Characters and Relationships

Oh, Evelyn, Evelyn, Evelyn… as a character I love her with every ounce of my being. It is Evelyn’s character that makes this book worth every single one of those five stars. She’s one of the most complex, flawed and nuanced characters I’ve read in fiction. I love that TJR built Evelyn on so many cliche tropes but elevated her way above that. On the surface, Evelyn is a beautiful, successful Hollywood actress that every man wants to be with and every woman wants to be, but there’s so. much. more. to her than that. I could expand but would slip over into spoiler territory. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on Evelyn’s character and her sexuality you can read a full analysis here 👀

The relationships are every bit as good as Evelyn’s individual character. It’s not just the main romance, but even it’s all of Evelyn’s relationships. Although some of them are awful and harmful to Evelyn, the honesty of what TJR captured in those relationships means that I can’t do anything but admire what she achieved with those relationships. Evelyn’s relationships and friendships are all complex and turbulent just like her and I enjoyed reading about those ups and downs even when they were at their extremes. The main love story is stunning and goes in directions you won’t anticipate.

Concluding thoughts

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is one of my all time favourite books. This book was the reason I fell back in love with reading and for that reason alone it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, this book also deals with very complex and important topics in a respectful, illuminating way. The characters (even minor ones) are dynamic and flawed as are the relationships. Although upon re-read, I felt that Monique’s arc could’ve been improved on, her significance within the story cannot be understated. I love that TJR manages to subvert all expectations and tropes with this story and if it’s your first time reading, I guarantee it will take you by surprise.

I’d recommend The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo if:

You’ve read Daisy Jones and the Six and liked it OR you’re looking for a historical fiction depicting the glitz, glamour and gossip of vintage Hollywood which explores hard-hitting topics, has a flawed, complex female protagonist and a heart-wrenching love story.

This review is based on a re-read. I first read the book in January 2020if you would like to read my original review you can find it over at Goodreads (it’s also spoiler free).

Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Emma – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Classic Romance
Publication year: 1815
Audience: Suitable for all
Content warnings: None.

Synopsis

Emma, a young 20-year-old woman rejects the idea of marriage for herself and instead devotes herself to finding love for others through matchmatching, which has some unexpected and hilarious consequences.

What I liked

  • The writing style
  • Social commentary
  • Emma’s character
  • Character dynamics
  • Romance

What I disliked

  • Pacing was slow in parts

Plot and Structure

Trying to describe the plot and structure of an Austen novel is practically impossible because her books are some of the least plot-centric books I’ve ever read. Suffice to say, the premise is very much what the book is. It follows Emma as she meddles in the life of her friends and neighbours and tries to set them up, but ultimately, her good intentions backfire. Along the way, she plays with the idea of finding love for herself but comes up against various barriers. It’s a slow paced story and intentional in the way it’s written. I was slightly disappointed that the matchmaking was abaondoned early on in the books because it was so much fun, but ultimately, this is a character study of Emma and a social commentary on Victorian society and gender.

Writing Style

I adore Austen’s writing style. Her writing it lyrical, poetic and simply beautiful. I’ve read three of her books to date and I’ve enjoyed them all but none of them blew me away, yet I find myself coming back to her books because I love her writing so much. She has a manner of writing which perfectly captures the setting and time period in which she lived and weaves social commentary within the narrative and character development. In my opinion, few classical authors can measure up to Jane Austen’s talent.

Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing; but I have never been in love ; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.

Characters and Relationships

Emma is my favourite Austen heroine that I’ve read so far because she’s so flawed and authentic. Not only is she spoiled and arrogant, but she’s poor at observing others and understanding social cues, which ironically she thinks she’s great at. She’s determined and stubborn and believes she knows best. Her naivety caues trouble but ultimately, she does everything with the best intentions and has a big heart. Her rejection of marriage and romance and her openness in expressing that is so refreshing to see from a female protagonist in a 19th century novel. Admittedly, Austen is known for writing forward-thinking, strong female characters but Emma stands above the rest for me because of her refusal to be defined by love or to accept anything less than she deserves. She’s unwilling to compromise or settle, she knows her worth and never wavers from that. Her development throughout the book was one of my favourite aspects of the book. Emma truly grows a lot, recognising the error of her ways, feeling genuine remorse for the impact of her actions on others and owning up to her mistakes.

The relationships in this book were wonderful. Emma’s friendship with Harriet was particularly enjoyable to read about and might just be one of my favourite female relationships in any book I’ve ever read. It’s Emma’s friendship with Harriet that is Emma’s primary motivation and the catalyst for Emma’s awareness of the damage she has caused and consequent development. Emma deeply cares for Harriet and places her on a pedestal. Because of this, she’s unable to let go of her notions about Harriet and the type of romantic partner she should be with, projecting her desires onto Harriet and unintentionally influencing an impressionable Harriet. Despite the blunders in the friendship due to Emma’s inability to fully empathise with Harriet and her determination that she knows best, there’s genuine affection between the pair and their friendship is very endearing.

Surprisingly I even enjoyed the romance in Emma. Generally, I’m not a big romance reader and have a lot of qualms with classic romance in particular because of the problematic depictions as a result of the gender norms and inequalities in the periods in which a lot of classic novels are written. However, the main romance is believable, authentically developed and mutually respectful. Emma doesn’t have to sacrifice herself in any way to make her relationship work. I also enjoyed the other minor romances throughout, including the drama and fall-out of Emma’s matchmaking disasters. For me, this was an enjoyable romance because it wasn’t overbearing and didn’t detract from Emma’s development or her friendship with Harriet or the other female characters and dynamics in the book.

Concluding thoughts

Emma is the third Austen novel and my favourite so far. Although it’s slow paced in places, my love for Emma’s character carried me through and meant that even the slow parts were enjoyable. I grow to love Austen’s writing style more with every novel of hers I read; it’s comforting yet also witty; like a big warm hug that never fails to put a smile on my face. The social commentary is on point, as is the humour, character development and relationships. There’s drama and satire, which Austen is renowned for, but also a serious tone with the exploration of themes around gender expectations as a 19th century woman, romance and identity. Together, this novel comes together in a beautiful package and this is a book I would read again without hesitation.

I’d recommend Emma if:

You’ve read an Austen novel before and enjoyed it OR you’re looking for a classic romance led by a strong female protagonist, which has strong female relationships, enjoyable romances, plenty of drama, excellent wit and fascinating social commentary.

Have you read Emma or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.


Daisy Jones and The Six – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2019
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Drugs, alcoholism, addiction, self-harm, domestic abuse, abortion and trauma.

Synopsis

Daisy Jones and The Six soared to stardom in the 1970s becoming one of the most successful and well-known bands in the world. Through a series of oral interviews the band’s history is revealed for the first time, chronicling the highs and lows of their journey from their inception to the their split.

What I liked

  • The characters
  • Daisy and Billy’s relationship
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Depiction of the rock-star lifestyle
  • Exploration of difficult topics such as addiction
  • Writing style and format
  • Discussions around love and long-term relationships

What I disliked

  • Structure in places
  • Lack of development and weak characterisation of minor characters
  • The cast of characters could sometimes get confusing

Plot and Structure

The plot tells an autobiographical tale of the band members – Daisy, Billy, Graham, Karen, Warren, Eddie and Pete – through a series of oral interviews with the band members, their loved ones and journalists. Essentially, it’s a transcript for a documentary about the band’s life. It’s not a very plot heavy story and is almost 100% character driven with a particular focus on Daisy and Billy. I personally adored the plot. I enjoyed the drama, angst and heightened sense of emotion that went with the rock n’ roll lifestyle the band led. I also liked the way that a full picture was built up of the band, their lives, their relationships and their ups and downs as individuals and as a band.

Generally, I would be skeptical of the interview transcript format that Taylor Jenkins Reid (TJR) used because I would expect it to create a disconnect and lack insight into the characters emotions and thoughts, but it really worked for me. I felt connected to the characters and their stories. I also found that way the dialogue was used helped me to build a more nuanced picture of the characters than I would in a traditional first or third person perspective, because I was able to hear other people’s perspectives on the characters.

Structurally, it was organised chronologically with chapters sorted by key dates. This was easy to follow and made sense for the chosen format. However, were some issues with the structure of the dialogue from the interviews. On multiple ocassions it jumped from one character telling a story to another character telling a completely different story. At times this made it difficult to follow and created some irritation for me due to the lack of flow. I also sometimes felt like the extracts from the journalists were shoe-horned in. But when considering the TV documentary style that TJR beckoned to, I understood her choice to include the voices of third parties outside of the band and the immediate people in their lives.

Writing Style

There’s not much to comment on regarding the writing style. In comparison to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, the writing style here doesn’t really shine but that’s understandable considering the format. Since it’s written exclusively through dialogue, the language is colloquial and plain. Personally, I’m a fan of complex, flowery language and writing style is important to me, so this wouldn’t usually be my cup of tea. But because of the way that the story was told overall, the writing style wasn’t much of an issue for me.

Characters and Relationships

Where to even begin with the characters and relationships in this book? I love them SO MUCH. Admittedly the character work isn’t strong with all the characters. Daisy and Billy were the main characters with Graham and Karen being the secondary main characters. The others were in the background and never fully realised. I kept getting confused about who Eddie, Warren and Pete were because they were just there but didn’t really have a part to play in the overall story. However, I felt like this was a reflection of real life bands and the way that the spotlight is often thrust onto one or two key players and the rest of the band live in the shadows. Case and point: I’m a huge Oasis fan, but outside of Liam and Noel Gallagher I know next to nothing about the other band members 🤷 I did enjoy the part that Karen played in the book with the feminist themes that were included in her arc as a woman in the 1970s who rejected the gender norms associated with feminitity around romance and family. I also didn’t mind that some of the minor characters were underdeveloped because Daisy and Billy more than made up for that.

Let me tell you, Daisy and Billy have stolen my heart. These characters are deeply flawed and a lot of people won’t like them, but they feel so real to me. They’re toxic individuals with a lot of issues and represent what we see so much in the media of big rock star celebrities. The exploration of addiction and mental health was relentless and it worked so well because TJR didn’t hold back any punches. She wasn’t concerned about writing them to be likeable but writing them to be authentic. Their struggles and flaws were so humanising that even though I disagreed with them on pretty much everything they did, I still sympathised with them.

There were some great relationship dynamics too. Billy and Graham with their sibling relationship, the father-son relationship between Billy and the band manager Rod, the turblent relationship between Graham and Karen, Billy’s relationship with his long-term partner Camila and of course, Billy and Daisy. There was a lot of conflict and tension in all of the relationships between the characters which added to the character development.

I particularly loved the messages attached to Billy and Camila about commitment and marriage. It was a refreshing perspective to read about long-term relationships. The expectations Billy and Camila had of each other were realistic and they were devoted to making their relationship work no matter what struggles they faced.

My favourite relationship was Daisy and Billy, because I’m that basic 😂 but oh my god, the sheer angst, tension and chemistry from these two seeped from the page. Every scene they had together had me on the edge of my seat. There’s something about the dynamic and chemistry that’s addictive (which is ironic considering the context of the characters, I wonder if that was intentional?). Again, I loved the messages attached to their relationship and how it was offset against Billy’s relationship with Camila without creating a love triangle.

Concluding thoughts

Daisy Jones and the Six is one of my favourite books. The fact that I’ve read it for the second time in two years is proof of that! Whilst the interview format might be off-putting for some readers due to the disonnect it can create, I feel it worked perfectly for what TJR was trying to achieve. Although the plot was straightforward, the character work and discussions around addiction, mental health and love truly struck gold for me. Complex, flawed and unlikeable characters are a personal love of mine and Daisy and Billy more ticked those boxes for me. This book is worth the read for Daisy and Billy alone.

I’d recommend Daisy Jones and the Six if:

You’re looking for a character-driven- easy-to-read formatted story about the intense rock ‘n roll lifestyle of a 1970s band which is filled with drama and angst and explores dark themes around addiction, self-destruction and love.

This review is based on a re-read. I first read the book in March 2020, if you would like to read my original review you can find it over at Goodreads.

Have you read Daisy Jones and the Six or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.


How to Disappear – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐

Author: Gillian McAllister
Genre: Thriller
Publication year: 2020
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Murder and violence.

Synopsis

After 14-year-old Zara witnesses a horrific crime, her life is turned upside down and her family is torn apart. In the aftermath of the crime, Zara and her mother, Lauren enter into witness protection and are forced to leave behind everything they love and everything they know.

What I liked

  • The premise

What I disliked

  • Predictable plot
  • Flat and undeveloped characters
  • Repetitiveness

Plot and Structure

As the synopsis suggests, the plot is primarily revolved around the initial crime witnessed by Zara and the family’s experience of witness protection as a consequence. There are some details relating to the crime which are witheld initially, but generally there was very little mystery around the crime and the focus was much more on the characters and their experiences. There are four POV characters – Zara, Lauren (Zara’s mother), Aidan (Zara’s step-father) and Poppy (Zara’s step-sister) and it alternates between their perspectives throughout. Each character is affected by the crime in a different way and have different reactions to the huge changes in their lives.

Generally, the plot was basic. The crime itself was revealed so early that I wasn’t invested in it and the motive for the crime felt silly and contrived. Considering it’s a thriller novel, I expected more intruige and mystery. The build-up was good in parts, but unfortunately, the end result was anti-climatic. There were a couple of twists towards the end, but they were underwhelming and lacked impact. Also, the limitations of writing about such a secretive topic as witness protection (an issue the author herself admits in the afterword) restricted where the story could go and required me to suspend disbelief on multiple ocassions. However, I do think some of the issues I had with the plot stemmed from the fact that I thought I was getting a crime thriller and it was more of a family crime drama.

Writing Style

The writing was okay – clean, simple and effective. It served its purpose and made for an easy read. Personally, I prefer a more distinctive writing style with complex prose and language, but I appreciate that for this type of book that writing style doesn’t necessarily fit. One aspect of the writing which particularly frustrated me was the endless repetition of phrases and character traits.

Characters and Relationships

Well-written and developed characters are my jam when it comes to books, but unfortunately, the characters fell completely flat for me. I believe this was partly what contributed to my lack of investment in the story. There was so much emphasis on the characters, but none of them were fleshed out enough to feel any attachment to them. The main characters had a handful of characteristics that defined them and they were repeated over and over. I know that Lauren loves baths, Zara is a social justice warrior, Poppy is a young carer and Aidan is an IT tech. Outside of that, I don’t know anything about these characters or have any sense of who they’re supposed to be. The character development was also inconsistent and sloppy. In the last third of the book Zara seemed to get a personality transplant and the only defining characteristics she had were completely dropped. It felt to me like the author was trying to write a character-centric story, but the characters weren’t up to the standard they needed to be to be able to pull that off. This also probably explains why I pinned all of my hopes on the plot – because I wanted it to make up for the characters!

On the other hand, I appreciated the focus on family in this story and the portrayal of the parent/child relationship. At its core, I believe this is a story of family and sacrifice. It did showcase the bonds between the family and the impact that their separation had on them emotionally and practically. In that regard, it achieved what it set out to do. Admittedly, the undeveloped characters did hinder the development of the relationships too, but I preferred the character dynamics over the individual character writing.

Concluding thoughts

How to Disappear was unfortunately just not the book for me based on personal preference. I’m generally not a big reader of crime thrillers and this book reminded me why that is. Despite being readable and exploring the intruiging and mysterious witness protection system in the UK, it lacked depth and I was unable to connect with it on any level. Although the premise was promising and the plot had interesting aspects, it was held back by the undeveloped and one-dimensional characters. Nonetheless, I did find it to be an easy and mildly entertaining read.

I’d recommend How to Disappear if:

You’re a fan of thriller novels and are looking for a family focused crime-drama.

Have you read How to Disappear? What did you think? If not, are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.