book blog · Top Ten Tuesday

TTT | Books I Was ‘So Excited To Set To’ But Are Still On My TBR…

May 17th, 2022

Note: Top Ten Tuesday Is A Weekly Meme Hosted by The Artsy Reader

Hi Readers!

Okay, firstly, Top Ten Tuesday, I feel so called out right now! There are so many TBR’s and Book Haul’s where I’ve repeatedly said how excited I am to read a book. But we all know I’m prone to doing ovely ambitious TBR’s and there’s just never enough time to get to all of them!

Here are ten books that have fallen victim to this very thing!

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The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore – I’ve put this on my February TBR, my March TBR, my April TBR, and now my May TBR. And it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to it in May either. But honestly, if I don’t get to it this month, I will next month. I promise! I’m so excited to read this!

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – I actually got this out of a book exchange little library. I was so excited when I found this in there. That was almost a year ago now…

Sylvia Plath Journals – I don’t usually buy books without reading them first, but because I was so excited to read this, I just had to buy a copy. And promptly left it on my shelf unread for a year…

The Priory Of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – Another book I bought. But this one I bought brand new, on release, because I of how excited I was to read it. Have I picked it up? No! It is because the size intimidates me? Possibly, probably, yes.

The Odyssey by Homer – Oh my goodness guys I’ve been so excited to read the Greek myths for years now. But you have to admit, these are some of the most intimidating pieces of literature out there! I have however started The Iliad and oh my goodness…

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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – I’ve already loved one of his books, I’ve heard so many good things about this book (not so much the movie though). How could I not be excited to read this one? I’ve just never made it a priority.

Robin Hobb’s Fantasy Books – Thinking about it, I’m always saying I’m so excited to read more fantasy, and then I never do!

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – I got these when the TV show was still being released, so you know it’s been a while. I even made my Mum buy me the leather bound edition of it for Christmas because of how excited I was! Sorry Mum.

1Q84 by Haruki Murikami – I was so excited when I found the first two books in a bind-up in a charity shop maybe four years ago now. Still haven’t started it. And since then I’ve even read something else from Murikami I borrowed from the library. Who knows when I’ll get to the one I actually own!

How Hard Can Love Be by Holly Bourne – I read and loved Am I Normal Yet? two years ago now, and ever since I’ve been meaning to pick up the sequel because I’m so excited to read it! But I just haven’t yet…

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

May 16th, 2022

Hi Readers!

So I’ve been really enjoying my non-fiction this year, and I think I’ve discovered a new love for literary non-fiction.

| Published: 1996 by Vintage |
| Genre: Non-Fiction |
| Themes: Literature, 20th Century, Virginia Woolf |
| Length: 893 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

While Virginia Woolf–one of our century’s most brilliant and mercurial writers–has had no shortage of biographers, none has seemed as naturally suited to the task as Hermione Lee. Subscribing to Virginia Woolf’s own belief in the fluidity and elusiveness of identity, Lee comes at her subject from a multitude of perspectives, producing a richly layered portrait of the writer and the woman that leaves all of her complexities and contradictions intact.  

Such issues as sexual abuse, mental illness, and suicide are brought into balance with the immensity of her literary achievement, her heroic commitment to her work, her generosity and wit,  and her sanity and strength.

This was an incredibly detailed, well-researched biography. It’s admiring, but also a balanced and fair telling of one of the literary greats of the 20th century. Lee doesn’t put Woolf up on a pedistal and forget that she was a flawed human being, and she treats Woolf’s mental health factually and sensitively.

Learning about her life has left me with so much more understanding of her novels. How her relationships and surroundings influenced them, why she wrote them, and the impact they had on her. This book is filled with insights into her books and what is clear is Woolf put so much of herself into her writing. Her pain, grief, joy and hopes are all immortalised.

“Thoby haunted her: she perpetually remembered and reimagine him. She wrote three versions of him in over twenty years, as ‘Jacob’ in Jacob’s Room, as ‘Percival’ in The Waves, and as himself in her Sketch of the Past.”

There’s a reason so many of her books are set around the sea, during the Summer, on the hottest days of London. All of these things had a significence to her and would eventually work their way into her novels.

“Her diary, like her essays and stories and novels, blurs the lines between history, biography and fiction.”

She lived during one of the most exciting times in British literature, and I loved learning about her famous literary friends, the Hogarth press she ran with her husband (I had no idea she owned the house that published all of her books!), her romances and her (slightly half-hearted) political endeavors.

“Virginia Woolf and her contemporaries were poised on the edge of revolution.”

You don’t have to have read Woolf to enjoy this book (although there are a lot of references to Three Guiness, The Waves, The Lighthouse, Orlando, Mrs Dalloway and, of course, A Room of One’s Own). It’s also just an interesting look into a writer born a Victorian and growing into a modernist, living through two world wars, going through immense amounts of loss and battling with her mental illness all her adult life.

“Books are a school for character, she (Woolf) argues, because they change (like people) as we read them, and change us as we read. Books read us.”

What got me, was her unawareness of just how incredible her writing was. Multiple times Lee shared quotes from diary entries and letters where Woolf said her writing was ‘nothing’, “she couldn’t do anything right or anything useful”, she felt she was wasting her time. Despite her successes, she still had moments of self-doubt. Well, if only she could see how her works have stood the test of time.

And of course, her self-doubt could have been part of her mental health problems. It’s a known fact she died by suicide, but from the very beginning of adulthood depression and suicidal thoughts plagued her mind, and writing was an especially strong trigger for it. There’s a lot of references to suicide and depression, but I thought Lee handled it carefully “Virginia was a sane woman who had an illness”and it was very interesting to see how these were delt with by doctors in the early 20th century. Very interesting…

“Everything suddenly became unreal; I was suspended; I could not step across the puddle; I tried to touch something… the whole world became unreal.”

Another theme Lee follows is Woolf’s sexuality and what I loved to see was, despite censorship and laws, almost all of Woolf’s friends were gay or in gay relationships. They were also so open about it in conversations and letter corrispondants as well which I think is brilliant.

“She could not bear to catergorise herself as belonging to a group defined by its sexual behaviour (just as she didn’t want to think of herself as an ordinary ‘wife’ or as a writer of ‘novels’). She wanted to avoid all categories.

I now have the uncontrollable urge to reread all of her novels, starting at the beginning. There’s also a whole lot of non-fiction work by Woolf I had no idea was out there, so I’ll be looking to get my hands on them soon as well.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog

10 Romance Books I Want To Read This Summer

May 13th, 2022

Hi Readers!

What is more idyllic than lying in the sun with a great playlist and a cute (and steamy) romance novel? This is how I want to spend my Summer, and here’s a list of romance novels I’ll be choosing from.

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The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang – I read the first two books in this series earlier this year and absolutely fell in love with Hoang’s writing and characters. I’m kind of sad there’s only one left to read, but I also can’t wait to read Quan’s story!

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas – This is another tik tok romance sensation. They didn’t let me down with the Love Hypothesis. I’m hoping this one will be a hit as well, although I have heard more mixed feelings about this one.

The STEMinist Novellas by Ali Hazelwood – I absolutely adored The Love Hypothesis and I’m so excited that Hazelwood is continuing with the theme. These little novella’s will be perfect to read in the sun!

Book Lovers by Emily Henry – Henry hasn’t let me down yet. I loved her first two novels and this one just sounds like everything I could ever want from a book.

The Spinster Club by Holly Bourne – I couple of years ago I read Am I Normal Yet? and really loved it, and since then I’ve been meaning to continue the series. I have yet to do that, but it will happen this Summer!

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It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey – I’ve heard so much about Tessa Bailey. I feel like anyone who reads romance has read her by now and I feel so behind!

The Flatshare by Beth O’leary – I really hope I enjoy Beth O’Leary because I feel like she comes out with 2 books ever year, so fans of her are so well fed. This one sounds especially cute.

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia HIbbert – The Brown Sisters series sounds like a lot of fun! I honestly can’t believe I still haven’t picked them up!

Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I’m always quite nervous about going into a new favourite authors backlist. Evelyn Hugo is what put Reid on a lot of our raidors, and I just don’t think her earlier novels can live up to it. But I’m hoping to enjoy them at least.

The Bridgerton Novels by Julia Quinn – I’ve already read the first four books but I’m hoping to continue. I also might reread Benedict’s and Colin’s books first though.

Do you like reading romance in the Summer? What will you be picking up?

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Still Life by Sarah Winman

May 3rd, 2022

Right after finishing this I was so close to giving it four stars, but I wasn’t sure and after giving it a few days I think it’s got to be three.

| Published: 2021, G.P. Putnams |
| Genre: Historical Fiction |
| Themes: LGBTQ+, War, Art |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 464 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

1944, Italy. As bombs fall around them, two strangers meet in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa and share an extraordinary evening.

Ulysses Temper is a young British soldier, Evelyn Skinner a 64-year-old art historian living life on her own terms. She has come to salvage paintings from the wreckage of war and relive memories of her youth when her heart was stolen by an Italian maid in a particular room with a view. Ulysses’ chance encounter with Evelyn will transform his life – and all those who love him back home in London – forever.

I wouldn’t have gotten through this book without the audiobook, which is funny because I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve listened to an audiobook. But it was available to borrow from my library and I thought I’d give it a try because I was struggling with the tone of the book and characters. An audiobook was definitely the way to go and I really like that it was read by Sarah Winman herself.

Firstly, this book is funny! It’s a certain type of humour. Very dry, very British, but it had me cracking up and that’s a rare thing to find in a book I think. There’s also a lot about art and references to E.M. Forster, so this really could have been a new favourite for me. It just didn’t end up that way.

It spans a long period of time, from WWII, to the 1960’s, and then back again to early 20th century, but despite the amount it covers, there isn’t really a whole lot of plot to this book. It more just dips in and out of the this tight-knit group of characters from London at significant moments in their lives. Sometimes this works for me, but this time I just felt like I was reading the longest book ever. There were parts where I was really invested, and parts where I just felt bored.

But the characters are captivating and beautifully drawn out for us. You definitely get a sense of who they are, and they became so endearing to me. They’re odd and eccentric, and so full of love for one another.

For a lot of people I’m sure that would be enough, but I just thought this book lacked flow, which was probably due to the lack of plot. It’s felt quite blocky and bulky and it just didn’t draw me into the novel like I wanted it to.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens…worth the hype

April 28th, 2022

Hi Readers

I really struggled with my rating for this. I kept going back and forth between three and four stars, and I would definitely give it 3.5 if goodreads allowed. I decided to give it a bit of time and all of the good points have stuck in my mind more than the bad, so I’m going with four.

| Published: 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons |
| Genre: Historical Fiction |
| Themes: Loneliness, Mystery |
| Length: 384 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

For years, rumours of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

This really wasn’t what I was expecting. Where The Crawdads Sing is insanely popular now, and from the way I’d heard people talking about it, I was expecting a Ruth Ware type book. Something like The Girl On The Train or The Woman In The Window. In the end we get a hint of that, but it’s more comparable to something like To Kill A Mockingbird.

This book follows a ‘marsh girl’ growing up from a violent childhood to a lonely adulthood in 1960’s North Carolina. One thing that will always stick with me from this book is how much I fell in love with its main character. Kya is abandoned very early in the book by everyone she loves and is forced to survive on her own, but she does more than survive. She thrives. She’s incredibly strong and I was rooting for her the entire time.

I loved how this book explored loneliness and violence against women. I most of all loved it’s message about the importance of education and how words, literature, can make a person flourish.

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”

The only thing that kept this book from becoming a new favourite was the atmosphere and build up of events. This book constantly toed the line between historical fiction and thriller, and whilst the ending definitely took it over the line, there was no build up of tension for me, no uncontrollable need to read on.

But in the end this was a pleasant surprise. I loved the setting, Kya, and the ending blew my little brain. I can’t wait to see what song this inspired Taylor Swift to write.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Bookish News

The Women’s Prize Shortlist Is Here And It’s Fantastic!

April 27th, 2022

Hi Readers!

Oh my goodness was I nervous for this years shortlist! The longlist had left me feeling a little underwhelmed with many books that were just absolutely not my thing, and many of them I never plan to read. Thankfully the shortlist is made up of my ideal books with just one I’m hesitant about (because of tw’s) but I might even brave that one.

So firstly, this years shortlist is…

I have read two. One is a new favourite and I will absolutely be rooting for it to win the whole thing.

I have one out of the library I will be reading soon, and the others I’ve got in reserve. Hopefully they come in soon, but we have a little while before the winners announced in June.

The Island Of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

My ideal winner!
I can’t express to you how much I adore this book, although I tried to in my review. I was having heart palpitations whilst watching the shortlist video until I saw the golden branches of a fig tree and I knew it had made it!

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

I have this out of the library and did start it over the weekend, but I wasn’t in the mood for it (and I have too many prompts I still need to finish for the magical readathon and this completes none of them, lol). I think I will read this next week.

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

I was so excited to see this on the shortlist! I didn’t predict it but had I done an ideal shortlist, this would have been on it.
I’m excited to read this because it sounds like I magical realism I might actually like.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Not surprised this one made it, but very relieved all the same because I definitely want to read it, but it’s a pretty big book and I definitely needed that extra motivation.
It’s another one that has a long wait list at the library though so it might be a while before I can get to it. Thank goodness we have until June!

The Book Of Form And Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

This is the second one I’ve read, and whilst I wasn’t wowed by it, I’m glad it’s here because it means one less book to read!
I can see why it made the shortlist as it does explore mental health and how we view objects and possessions in an interesting way, I just thought it dragged on for too long.

The Bread The Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini

This is the one I’m hesitant to pick up. I have been hearing nothing but incredible things, but I also know the trigger warnings and themes it explores will make this quite a tough one to read and I’m not sure if that’s something I want to do. I have reserved it from the library though, so if it does come in a might give it a try.

So that’s the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2022 shortlist! Are you excited? Happy? Is there anything you’re gutted didn’t make it? Honestly the only one I thought just HAD to make the shortlist was Island of Missing Trees so I couldn’t be happier.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Top Ten Tuesday

TTT | Ten Of The Best Books With Water On The Cover

April 26th, 2022

Note: Top Ten Tuesday Is A Weekly Meme Hosted by The Artsy Reader

Hi Readers!

I’ve always found myself drawn to books with water on the cover. They always promise Summer and warmth, and the sea is one of my favourite views as it reminds me of home. Here are some of the most beautiful covers with water:

The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell
These books are the essence of Summer. The best type of beach read if you’re not a fan of romance. These non-fiction memoirs are funny, but also a love letter to the island of Corfu, the nature, wildlife and surrounding sea.

Virginia Woolf by The Waves
A lot of Woolf’s books scream Summer and are set by the sea. I’m currently reading a biography of Woolf and there’s actually a reason why she wrote so much about the seaside, as it was very significant to her and her childhood.
The Waves is an incredibly unique novel, and I can’t wait to reread it soon.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
I actually think all of the Neapolitan Novels have the sea on their covers.
Set in Naples, Italy, the sea is an important setting and makes these books perfect Summer reads.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
One of my favourite books ever.
This is an epistolary novel set post WWII surrounding the island of Guernsey and how they survived the Nazi occupation. Despite the hard topics it explores, this is an incredibly light, hopeful, funny book that any book lover should read.

Beach Read by Emily Henry
One of my favourite romantic contemporaries, and another one for book lovers.
It’s kind of a rival, hate to love romance about two writers who write very different genres and have very different personalities, and challenge eachother to swap genres for a project.

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
I loved this book as a teenager and actually I reread it a couple of Summers ago and it still holds up today.
This YA Contemporary romance follows a teenage girl whose father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and they return to their family lake house for one last Summer together.

The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Another one of the best books I have ever read. They way Roy writes, she just reinvents it and makes it her own.
This is set during a tumultuous time in India and follows two twins from childhood to adulthood.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book is all about the beach, Summer vibes. The most perfect book to read during Summer.
It is set in Malibu and follows two timelines, four siblings and their parents turbulant love story.

Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzagerald is another author whose books I just associate with Summer.
This one I have a foggy memory of, I think because the story itself is quite bizarre and random. But it does begin on a beach in the French Riviera, so it at least starts with the right vibes.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
I mean, Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon so of course there’s water on the cover.
This series is a great introduction into greek mythology. I highly recommend them. I’m also so excited for the TV show! They just cast Percy and I think he’s perfect!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Bride Test by Helen Hoang…i love romance!

April 25th, 2022

Hi Readers!

I am absolutely loving romance at the moment, and it feels like every time I read a new one, it becomes a new favourite.

| Published: 2019 by Berkley |
| Genre: Contemporary Romance |
| Themes: Forced Proximity, Autism, Vietnamese Culture |
| Length: 296 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

This is a sequel/companion novel to The Kiss Quotient, which I loved reading earlier this year. It follows Khai, a character we meet briefly in The Kiss Quotient, and Esme, a Vietnamese woman Khai’s mother wants him to marry.

I thought this was brilliant. Funny, addictive, fast-paced, slightly melodramatic, but I was here for all of it!

What I love about these books is that they’re romances with substance. They could be enjoyed for the cute scenes, the steamy scenes, the ‘finally!’ scenes. But there’s also the story of immigration, starting over, grabbing opportunities to better yourself and your life. Through Khai we also get autism representation and how it effects and impacts relationships. I love learning about Vietnamese culture, from food to language. It’s a romance with depth.

There’s a lot I could criticise if I wasn’t completely enthralled by it. But honestly, the things I’m sure some would see as faults; the pacing, the tropes, the miscommunication, I loved it all. I also loved how rushed the ending was, because it made it feel so comical. I couldn’t keep up with what was happening and it had me bursting with laughter revelation after revelation.

In fact this book had me grinning and laughing out loud so much! It was also emotionally impactful and completely unputdownable.

I loved this just as much as it’s predecesor. I love the way Hoang builds a story and I can not wait to read more by her!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Tag

The Spring Cleaning Book Tag

April 22nd, 2022

Hi Readers!

I saw this post over on Kristen’s blog. I couldn’t actually work out who originally created this tag, but thank you to whoever did! Let’s get spring cleaning…

The Struggle of Getting Started: a book/series that you have struggled to begin because of its size.

The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
I always struggle to finish big books, even if I start out absolutely loving them.
The thing with them if they take a while to read (obviously) and I’m such a mood reader. So one week I might fancy a big classic, the next I don’t. I’ve tried taking a pause in thie book and returning where I left off, but it just doesn’t work.
I am going to try my best to finally read this book cover to cover this Summer.

Cleaning Out The Closet: a book and/or book series you want to unhaul

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
It’s such a shame because I think this series is a really interesting concept. It’s a dystopian twist on history where white people are the subordinate class.
I really thought I would love this, but I just don’t think Malorie’s writing is for me. The first book is fine, but then I get to the second book and I can never get past the first chapter. I may have to say goodbye to it one day.

Opening The Windows And Letting Fresh Air In: a book that was refreshing

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
This is a recent read of mine, and one of the best surprises so far this year.
This book has a lot of tropes I’ve read many times, but Hazelwood is able to make them feel literally fresh and new. This book was incredibly addictive and so much fun.

Washing Out Sheet Stains: a book you wish you could rewrite a certain scene in

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Reader, I Didn’t Marry Him.
This might be an unpopular opinion. But I think this book is incredible, brilliant, one of the best novels ever written. But the ending will never not annoy me.
I just don’t think Rochester is a romantic character, and I think Jane deserves far better.

Throwing Out Unneccesary Knick-Knacks: a book in a series you didn’t think was necessary

The Ballad Of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Kristan said this one as well, and I couldn’t agree more.
This book will go down as one of the biggest disappointments. If you liked it, I’m very happy for you. But there’s absolutely nothing in this that was for me. I despised every second I read this book, and I won’t be reading anymore she writes in this series.
The Hunger Games will forever remain one of my favourites though.

Polishing The Doorknobs: a book that had a clean finish

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Something I love about Austens books is she always relays at the end what happens to all of the characters and how their lives turn out. This book leaves me with no questions or concerns. She makes sure you know what every characters future/marriage will turn out, and I feel like I’m leaving these characters in a good place.

Reaching To Dust The Fan: a book that tried too hard to relay a certain message

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
This was a hard one to answer to be honest, but I recently read The Book of Form and Emptiness and I had a few issues with this book, and this was one of them. This book has many sub-plots and one of them is inspired by Zen Buddhism, and explores the kind of Marie Kondo relationship with material goods. I wasn’t really here for that and did skim those parts.

The Tiring Yet Satisfying Finish Of Spring Cleaning: a book series that was tiring yet satisfying to get through

Throne Of Glass by Sarah J Maas
I haven’t made it through very many series. But this was one of the longest ones and guess what, I’m going it again. I’ve just reread Throne Of Glass and I’m hoping to continue my reread soon!

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter/Spring Break!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Island Of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak… a new favourite

April 21st, 2022

Hi Readers

80 pages in I thought this would be a book I would want to push into everyones hands urging them to read it. Now I’m done and I’m not urging you, I’m begging you!

| Published: August 2021, Viking |
| Genre: Contemporary/Historical Fiction |
| Themes: Grief, War, Mental Illness |
| Length: 368 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. In the taverna, hidden beneath garlands of garlic, chili peppers and creeping honeysuckle, Kostas and Defne grow in their forbidden love for each other. A fig tree stretches through a cavity in the roof, and this tree bears witness to their hushed, happy meetings and eventually, to their silent, surreptitious departures. The tree is there when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, and when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns. He is a botanist looking for native species, but really, he’s searching for lost love.

Years later, a Ficus carica grows in the back garden of a house in London where Ada Kazantzakis lives. This tree is her only connection to an island she has never visited – her only connection to her family’s troubled history and her complex identity as she seeks to untangle years of secrets to find her place in the world.

The Island of Missing Trees was more than I had ever hoped it would be. Throughout the whole book I found myself choking up at the slightest of things and it had me sobbing through the last page. But this book didn’t need a shock factor to pull that out of me. There was no devastating reveal, no climax you didn’t see coming. All this needed was language and nature and healing to make this one of the most tug on the heartstrings books I have ever read.

grief has settled on the house like a vulture that would not leave until it had gorged itself on every last trace of lightness and joy

This book follows two timelines, and three POVs. First we meet Ada, a teenage girl living in London ‘now’ who’s grieving the loss of her mother and struggling to connect with her father. Then we follow her parents and their history in Cyprus. The third is a Fig Tree, who acts as a witness to all these events.

I’ve decided two things after reading this book. One is I love books written for adults, but have teenage POVs (when done well like this one is anyway). The other is I love books where trees are personified. Tree’s just make the most wonderful characters as they feel and sound so wise and ancient.

Shafak uses the tree as a symbol for many things, and one is the beautiful, almost comforting way she describes mental health. The fig tree is used to explain how mental health can physically affect a person. How it’s like when roots of a tree entangle the trunk and can cut off vital water and nutrients. It happens underground, it’s an invisible thing but, ‘can put pressure on the tree and it just becomes too much to bear’.

This book has many messages. Messages about war, history, memory, mental health, loss and grief, culture and family. But one that I found very significant was it’s message about compassion for something other than humans. The importance of trees, animals, nature to us and our ecosystem brought so much heart to the book and was written with so much emotion, and is very topical for current times.

The theme of war also made this book feel extremely poignant because unfortunately history really does repeat itself, and war has never been a subject of the past. Whether it’s Ukraine or the Middle East, there always seems to be a country that’s suffering, and I actually didn’t know that Cyprus had so recently seen conflict as this, and still bears the scars.

“Wherever there is a war and painful partition, there will be no winners, human or otherwise.”

There was also this beautiful scene where the tree is used as a symbol for migration:

Despite all this it would take me seven years to be able to yield fruit again. Because that is what migrations and relocations do to us; when you leave your home to unknown shores, you don’t simply carry on as before; a part of you dies so that another part of you can start all over again.

I haven’t given a book five stars in a while. But this one is more than deserving of every single one of them. I’m not sure a book has ever made me feel as much as this one did, and still left me with a sense of hope and lightness rather than just leaving me devastated and crying on the floor.

It’s an important book for our times. And frankly, I will riot if it does not win this years Women’s Prize.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X