On 3… Crescent City, House of Earth and Blood.

Can you believe I’m going into this review as a Sarah J. Maas virgin? I know. Crazy. There are a few of us still out there. But we’re like unicorns, or leprechauns, or any other ‘orn’. Tricky to find, and possibly just a horse in disguise.

Anyway…

Sarah J. Maas burst onto the writing scene in 2012 with her Throne of Glass series. It was a good year for YA Romantic Fantasies; Cassandra Clare’s 5th book of her Mortal Instruments series came out the same year, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, plus a whole slew of other sequels. Looking at the list, I’m surprised how few I’ve read, but at least I know I’ve got a back catalogue to while away the hours.

Of course, the most notable works SJM is known for is her Court of Thorns and Roses series, a beauty and the beast retelling with fae, intrigue and a lot of steamy scenes. So I’m told. As I’ve said, I’ve not read it.

No! Don’t leave! I’ve got nice things to say!

Crescent City is written for the adults that grew up with those previously mentioned books. Who loves the intrigue and fascination with fantasy – but won’t settle for ‘just kissing’ anymore.

Annotation 2020-03-05 103211

It’s also written by someone who has won awards, claimed the best seller, as not just one but three series under her belt, as well as side novels, manga projects… Which means it’s long. It’s thickly packed. And it’s fun!

I always find urban fantasies fascinating because you’re not throwing people into a world they’ll willingly accept, because it borders the real and the tangible. So the opening chapters are thick with description, whilst the action is relatively mundane. We’re introduced to key characters, and given a LOT of information about them to develop them as a character, and the world they live in.

Bryce, our main character, is half-fae. She has pointed ears, long red hair, and a not-so-secret-crush on one of the wolves in her flatmate, Danika,’s pack. The opening three chapters see Bryce navigate the world she lives in, from her job, to her home, to her social life. The f-bomb is dropped a lot! (Not dissimilar to when JK Rowling wrote for adults after 100 years of writing for kids, and she dropped the F-bomb like she’d been hoarding them the whole time for just this occasion).

As for plot, there are a lot of potential avenues, so if the romance element doesn’t hold your interest, the bomb-threatening mystery might. The political intrigue is there as back up, and the banter between characters will certainly see you through if you’re not that fussed.

This is a book written by someone who is wholly comfortable with her craft, her style, and her audience. Books, films, even Youtube videos are getting longer, and as someone who likes to binge on their content – I’m here for it. Crescent City is no different. At just over 800 pages, she’s a doozie and I’m not surprised. How does an editor tell a Goodreads Choice Awards Best Young Adult Fantasy winner, winner of the Publisher Weekly’s Starred Review, Dragon Novel twice nominated winner, that she needs to cut out anything?

*Side note* – I’ve just read some of the reviews on her House of Earth and Blood Goodreads, from people who haven’t even read the book yet. (Which is crazy to me in of itself). And people seem to be expecting smut (I’m sure!) bad writing (which is harsh. Some sentences run on a little long, but she’s trying to build a layered world here people!) and “cliche stereotypical depictions of feminism and strength”.

Feminism is a lens guys, there is no ‘black and white’ way of being a feminist. Although could you imagine how easy life would be if there were?! There are some stereotypes of femininity and femme fatals in the opening chapter, but I’m interested to see how these characters continue to explore the world they’re in, especially as they’re put under pressure and have to make tough decisions. No, I’m not expecting this to be a ‘Booker Style’ literary fest. But to be honest, that’s not my thing anyway.

So as a summary:

Interesting opening chapters, packed full of maybe a little too much information and not enough action for me. But too soon to tell much more. I guess I’ll have to read it to find out!

On Three… Wilder Girls

The students at Raxter School for Girls have been stuck on their island for two years. Those of them that are left anyway. In the opening three chapters, we follow Hetty – a quiet, thoughtful 17-year-old who has been living with the Tox and it’s effects alongside her two best friends Byatt and Reese.

“We had to burn the books for warmth, and wondering wasn’t fun anymore.”

The obvious comparison would be the 1954 novel by William Golding, ‘Lord of the Flies’. An attempt to maintain order, ‘at first’, before human nature, fear and the uncontrollable slide into chaos. But this works in concept only. A slightly more contemporary comparison could be made for The Maze Runner, and ‘The Flare’ plague which kills millions and the young men and women experimented in on aid of a cure.

But Wilder Girls is a horror. It’s a monster all its own.

The opening chapter may fool you into thinking the fast-paced drama is where the tension will build, but it’s the quiet moments of discomfort that are really powerful. Hetty, for me anyway, has the quietest way of describing horrific scenes of blood, and pain, and ‘Tox’ as mere facts. It’s hard to read, because imagining it is unavoidable. There isn’t a single character I don’t empathize with, even though they’re wildly different, and dying/grieving in their own way. 

Maybe it’s the Maine setting, the creepy Navy who seem to micromanage every part of the situation – except the one that matters, getting the girls a cure- or maybe it’s just I just don’t read a lot of stand-alone horror, but Wilder Girls has some Stephen King tang to it. It’s supernatural, and creepy. Dark, mysterious and dangerous.

A cure is coming, as long as we stay alive..png

I really enjoyed the way ‘time passing’ is shown in little motifs. Little ‘talismans’. The idea that the Tox isn’t one wave of pain and suffering, but a cyclical plague which follows the ‘seasons’. That girls fall ‘headlong into puberty’ before the Tox comes for them. That their symptoms are similar, but cruelly different. That the only two adults, Welch and Headmistress, suffer too, with the implicit further suffering of having to keep order amongst the girls who can become ‘feral’ or try to kill themselves.

Wilder Girls is compelling and thought-provoking. Cold, cruel and powerful. A Must-Read for 2020.

On Three… Empress of All Seasons.

For those of you who have not read an ‘On Three’ review before: I review books after the 3rd chapter and determine whether I’m going to continue reading or not. Most agents only give a book three chapters (or the first 50 pages) and I find it’s gauge enough to know whether I’m going to enjoy a book or not. Sometimes I’m wrong but hey – what’s life without a little surprise?

Empress of All Seasons:  

empress2

Fantasy writers, specifically Epic Fantasy writers, love opening a book with a fight scene. It does several things; establishes the main character’s strengths and weaknesses (their agility, their physical and emotional strength, potential superpowers etc.), it throws the audience into the main action – thus encouraging them to read on – and it allows the reader (sometimes) to understand the stakes of the world the character lives in.

But when you’ve read one ‘Opening fight scene’ you’ve – maybe – read them all?

Emiko Jean makes an interesting attempt at this trope as we’re introduced to a Mari, a self-described executioner, who has pitted herself against a Samurai – who mocks her for being a small child. Whilst this creates the aforementioned ‘interest’ with dramatic irony, it has been done before. It’s the opening chapter – we know she’s going to win. The Samurai – for all his great skill – is going to die. So if the opening chapter isn’t going to do anything original with the opening plot, does it do anything for the world-building?

Yes and no.

We’re introduced to Yokai, which are monsters, spirits and supernatural beings from Japanese folklore, first in the prologue of their creation. And then in Mari’s transformation into one. In the second chapter, we’re shown what happens to Yokai in this kingdom. Whilst they’re not executed outright, as the Samurai was, they’re are put to death via one of the seasonal rooms.

Here the stakes are raised, a secondary perspective explains that this is how an Empress will be chosen.

empress.png

But my main concern is how much is explained to us in this narrative. There’s not a lot of space in these opening chapters for the audience to work things out for themselves. Are hands are held the entire time, which I don’t really enjoy or appreciate. (As someone who reads A LOT of fantasy, I can be a bit particular…) Due to this, the world building feels stunted and inorganic. However, if you enjoyed any of the following:

  • Cinder, or the series thereafter.
  • Children of Blood and Bone
  • Socery of Thorns

Then yeah – give this book a go. At this point in the narrative, I’m HIGHLY sceptical. And possibly a massive bitch. I was just kinda hoping for “more”.

#Gothtober – Gothic Listening

Gothtober

Back in July I wrote a blog post about music being influential on writing, explaining that writers craving silence and solitude was a stereotype and ABSOLUTELY NOT how I like to write. Click here if you want a little slice of recap.

But a TLDR is: Some writers finds the blank page daunting, and music can help break numerous barriers.

And whilst music and literature might not seem synonymous, they both have tangible effects on us as human beings. When you’re a child you learn to sing along to music, keep to a beat and co-ordinate through music, whether that’s through music lessons or simply conditioning within the home. For example, my dad loves The Squeeze, so I know all the words to Up the Junction. (Test me). Equally, your parents might have read to you as a child, instigating your journey to reading and writing. Both are creative outlets developed and intrinsic to the person developing them. They’re large parts of everyone’s lives, whether they realise it or not, and the wider you explore both subjects the more you’ll get out of life and the wider cultural world around you.

The music I play when I’m writing is always curated to suit the mood of my writing.

So, with that in mind. I’ve created a playlist for you to listen to. Check it out on Spotify (not a spon – I don’t have NEARLY enough followers for that yet) and let me know what you think. What music do you listen to when you’re writing?

Welcome to #Gothtober

Gothtober

Okay, so… your first question might be – what is Gothtober? Or it might be, why? Both are reasonable. And I can explain.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess. *Cue the sicky noises. But, after my mum introduced me to some real princesses (the pageant kind) who wanted to borrow her very expensive dresses, parade about in them and smile – a lot – I decided being a princess probably wasn’t for me.

Skip twenty(ish) years – I’m definitely NOT a princess. Thank (insert preferred deity here). But that doesn’t mean my interest and love of the fantastical has died. In fact – quite the opposite. I get to visit castles, wear ball gowns, tame dragons (though the last bit isn’t in the literal sense) all the time. And I realised some months ago – I’m really lucky, and I had the opportunity to let people in on the party.

So back to your first question: What is Gothtober? Well, it’s 31 days of blog posts, pictures, games, videos, giveaways, and Q&As about Gothic Fiction, Ghost Stories and the dark underbelly of the fantasy worlds living in our heads. It’s a calendar count down to my event – Creative Writing Workshop – Gothic Fiction – and a sneak peek to the event itself. You see, Gothic Fiction is the Great Grandfather of all your favourite genres – Murder Mysteries, Horror, Thriller, Fantasy, Historical Fiction and Science Fiction. They all stem from the Gothic. And if you want to develop your writing – it might be a fun little exercise to try writing some Gothic Fiction of your own.

And – why Gothtober? That’s easy.

Image result for morticia addams gif

You see, once I got over the whole ‘wanting to be a princess’ I decided I wanted to be Morticia Addams. She has way more fun.

So enjoy this excuse to lacquer your nails in black, pull out your darkest lipstick, and listen to some dark and moody tunes, and don’t forget to comment below with your favourite Goth. 

Seam Submission: Woman

I recently submitted an essay to Seam’s anthology, Slant – the topic being women in the modern era. Unfortunately, though I made it through several rounds of filtering, it didn’t quite fit the overall feeling of the anthology and you won’t be able to see these words printed. But!

I do think I’ve put together an essay worth discussing (of course I do, I’m a narcissist) and I’d be really interested to know what other women have to say about it.

Men – the few of you that there are – whilst this essay isn’t ‘for you’ as such, I’d like to know how you feel about infertility and whether you feel the same pressures as the guy I mention below.

Woman.

I looked in his eyes as I told him, ‘I can’t have children.’ And he recoiled. ‘That’s so
sad,’ he said. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because… having children – that’s what makes you a woman.

It’s the key biological difference that separates you from a man.’
Then I guess I’m not a woman.

I’ve never had regular periods. When I was fifteen, I went into emergency surgery for
a ruptured appendix. They had to take my insides out and put me back again to fix me. My heart stopped beating at one point – and this is when I stopped being a woman. The severity of the rupture had caused the organ to disintegrate and I had three different blood poisonings. Water collected in the gap the appendix had once filled, and doctors were worried that if they tried to burst the honey-comb bubble within it, they might pierce my ovary. The bubble eventually subsided, and the water drained away. But my periods became even more irregular. It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I went to see my GP, having not had a period for over a year.

After some tests, bloods analysed and an ultrasound, I was told I had Polycystic
Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It’s a condition that impacts my hormones, creating more male
hormones, which causes me to skip menstrual periods. It can cause women to grow hair on the face and the body, can create baldness, and it contributes to diabetes and heart disease.

PCOS also makes it ‘almost impossible to get pregnant,’ my GP explained.
To an eighteen-year-old, this is not big news. I didn’t want children. I wanted a
university degree, a flat full of potted plants, nights out with friends. I’d recently broken up with a boyfriend and I was flirting with the next potential. I was told there were treatments, birth control pills, but was warned they’d make me gain weight – which was already a symptom of my PCOS, so I declined. Children were not a priority.

Nearly ten years later, I can’t say I feel differently. If anything, my PCOS has become
a shield. My stock response any time someone makes an assumption about me having
children, or giving up my career or settling down, I say, ‘I can’t have children.’ And much
like the guy sitting across from me at the start, they recoil. Worried my infertility might be contagious.

It isn’t.

When it comes to listing things that make me a woman, I’ll admit that I struggle. I
play rugby, a man’s sport. I go to the gym, I take the rubbish out, and I’m not afraid of
spiders. Maybe I’m being flippant. Maybe that’s a man thing too. But I’ve lived by myself for a long time. I enjoy my independence. Once you’ve lived by yourself for a few months you learn that ‘gender roles’ are a fallacy. You can’t dictate behaviour due to what’s between your legs. Chores have to be done. Bills have to be paid. You don’t have any excuses. Nowhere to hide. It leaves a permanence to the idea that any equality between genders is perpetuated by another agenda. Whether that agenda is materialism, capitalism, fear or misunderstanding.

His commentary on my situation should have annoyed me. The truth is I felt sorry for
him. Though his words were about me, this guy’s thoughts were elsewhere. How he would feel like less of a man if he were told he was incapable of getting someone pregnant. Unable to fulfill his one biological requirement.

He wouldn’t feel like a real man. So how could I be a real woman?

I see a lot of pity in the eyes of people who learn about my infertility. I see the pain
that would have been caused if they’d received this news, not me. I know there will be
women out there who can’t have children, and this is devastating for them. Maybe they found out whilst trying for their first. Maybe they’d always dreamed about having children.

According to Goodarzi’s The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, ‘27% of women have PCOS undiagnosed.’ I can’t imagine the pain of discovering, after years of
knowing you want children, that you’re unable to. That you’ll need medical or divine
intervention.

But – to me – my infertility is inconsequential. It’s one facet of my complex
personality. It doesn’t stop me from retaining the privileges of being a woman. I won’t
apologise for it, either.

On 3… Review of The Rabbit Girls

IMG_20190909_083536_264Usually, I preface these reviews with the intro about how I only read three chapters being interrupted by my mum… yada yada. But today’s review is part of a #BlogTour for Anna Ellory and I’ve decided to take a slight detour – so, if you’re ready for the emotional rollercoaster, sitting comfortably etc, I’ll begin.

Storytime: (If you’re not interested and want to just read my review, feel free to return at the **)

Five or six years ago, I was an ad-hoc daytime companion for a lady named Erna. She had dementia, was bedridden, amongst a long list of other ailments. She couldn’t watch television for more than five minutes without changing the channel a hundred times, unable to concentrate on anything, distracted or irritated. She hated having a pillow under her knee, but the nurse insisted. She’d try and trick you into moving the pillow, but you had to stand firm against her wily fragility. And she would scream or cry if left alone for more than two minutes, even if she’d asked you to make her a tea or fetch the paper.

But I sat with her, for hours, days, because I loved her husband, John Kidson, like an adopted granddad. And if he needed me to sit with Erna whilst he went to the rugby, Tescos or any other reason – I would be there for them.

At around one o’clock, the nurses would come. They’d always politely suggest I go have something to eat or leave the room so Erna could be bathed, changed and everything else. In my young and selfish mind, I was really glad I wasn’t the one who actually had to care for Erna. That I could walk away.

Stories about anyone in this position always make me uncomfortable, because books are an escape for me. A separate world from my own which is – hopefully – slightly less tragic than the Brexit hellscape we’re currently living in.

But with Rabbit Girls… I didn’t feel I could put it down. Not just but because I’d agreed to do this blog (I was actually two-thirds of the way through it when I was asked) but because the writing begged to be read. The story deserved to be told. And I’d agreed, whether consciously or not, to keep my promise and find out how it ended.

** The Review.

 Speaking of hellscapes… In half the story, the Berlin wall has fallen and in the other half, the Holocaust plagues our charming and compassionate characters as they’re tortured, experimented on and systematically destroyed. Both stories are intertwined by family, hope in the darkest of times and rebellion. Miriam Winter is caring for her dying father, Henryk, when she discovers an Auschwitz tattoo under his watch strap. Miriam, needing to understand more about her father’s past, discovers an inmate’s uniform which has letters smuggled within it.

What you should expect before going into this is:

  1. You’re going to cry. A lot. Have tissues etc prepared.
  2. You’re going to question yourself, whether you’re a good person. Whether, like me, you’re selfishly hiding from cruel realities others have suffered.
  3. You’re going to be in awe of the writing. It’s incredible, there’s no denying that.

Anna Ellory is a master (with a Masters) craftswoman of literary fiction, historical realities, and intriguing characters and narratives. It feels authentic, and it hurts. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

And I’m really excited to say this, to Anna’s face (potentially in an aggressive-loving-kinda-way) next week when I see her.

100/10 would recommend. Thank you for letting me be part of your Blog Tour!

 

On 3… The Night Manager

51p5pzv02HL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgHow do you create tension in the opening chapters of a book, without giving the game away? Without over-egging the pudding and making the tension unsustainable? Without boring your audience into early retirement.

Well,

You start by using present tense. If everything is happening in the moment, how could you not be caught up along for the ride? But then you juxtapose it with past tense, develop the story, the narrative and the characters. Their motives and motivations are in their pasts, their personalities and choices will be defined by those pasts and you’ll have to read more to see if they surprise you. They probably will.

The dialogue within your tense narrative should be strong. Almost script like. A complete contrast to the heavy setting description. It should flow like a real conversation, jar in the right places. Pause for reflection. Counter. And one person should always know more than the other.

For this, you need to have a compelling protagonist. Someone who is both relatable and ready for the action ahead of them. Possibly you might have an ex-military man turned night manager. Perhaps, there’s more to this mild mannered, well dressed individual than meets the eye.

‘Tentative, with a smile of apologetic self-protection.’

Of course, if you’re going to describe your characters this way, with a ‘mildness of manner and a fighter’s frame,’ you should also – and I cannot stress this enough – hire Tom Hiddleston to play him in the television series adaptation.

Mum: “The fatal thing about watching a film or tv series before you read the book is that you know what the character looks like. In the book, Le Carre is beautifully descriptive of Jonathan Pine but his description bears little resemblance to the gorgeous hunk who played him.”

Okay, you can stop dribbling now.

Mum: “The conversation between Pine and Madame Sophie was lovely, flirtatious. I could imagine myself with Tom Hiddleston… but that’s irrelevant really.”

I’m going to be sick.

I watched the series of The Night Manager before I read the book, which was definitely the wrong way around. When you know how this book ends, every sentence is edged with a tenacity for the final battle – which you obviously don’t get in the first three chapters. You do get a lot in the first three chapters, but your never satisfied. Always hungry for more.

John Le Carre has created a modern story in a classic style. His Fleming-esque characters are picture perfect for their seduction, mystery and cruelty. And of course, missiles and other nasty things are put on the table in chapter one.

Mum: “Excellent writing. It really captured my imagination. For some reason, I forgot that Hugh Laurie played the baddie (Roper) and had a completely different, horrible, obnoxious actors face in my head.”

Hitchcock once said of film, ‘if you have a gun on the wall in the first act, then it must go off in the second.’ Tension is then increased because we already know the stakes. This man, the one Pine (our protagonist) fears, is working with weapons that could kill thousands. Any additional stakes throughout the story will drive the plot but eventually these ‘Chekov’s gun’s must go off. And our Jonathan Pine is the only person we know in the way to stop him.

If you’re looking to develop your writing skills, read The Night Manager.

If you want to enjoy a spy-thriller with teeth, read The Night Manager.

If you want to imagine a world outside your mundane, read The Night Manger.

Basically what I’m saying is –

Well I don’t think I need to repeat myself. Do you?

On 3… A Review of How to Stop Time.

The concept: 

If you read the previous ‘On 3…’ you can skip this bit.

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not.

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

How to Stop Time, Matt HaigImage result for how to stop time

Confession. I went into this book already obsessed with Matt Haig. I’ve read snippets of his writing before, I’ve followed him on Twitter, I narrowly missed the chance to see him read in Bath and all my friends from uni rate his writing. So – I went in with big expectations.

I was not disappointed.

Matt Haig creates a lovely balance between informative information about the scientific perspective and philosophies of the main character whilst also including a colloquial voice, charming personality and an overriding sense that the main character is empathetic and warm even whilst surrounded by others who are not.

Tom, the main character, doesn’t age the way a normal human would – but makes a point to explain he’s not a ‘sexy vampire’ either, which always needs clarification when discussing age-related superpowers. (Thanks Twilight.)

Mum: It’s an interesting concept of ageing slower than the average person, something we would all like to be able to do once we are into our 30’s, 40’s onwards. So much to do and so little time. Blink and you’ve missed your life! I’m interested in going on a journey with Tom.

And the opening few pages create potential conflict, asking tense questions about the world Tom lives in – never giving too much away but with a voice that seems transparent and authentic. Not the easiest thing in the world to do.

The final sentences of the opening chapter GUARANTEED I’d read this book until the end.

‘Anyone who does discover our secret, and believes it, tends to find their short lives are cut even shorter. So the danger isn’t just from ordinary humans. It’s also from within.’

Love. The. Drama.

Mum: I already don’t like Hendrich because he’s controlling and playing games but I’m intrigued to read further because I’m yet to understand what hold he has over Tom and why people need to die?

Oh Hendrich is the worst. For all of Tom’s empathy and warmth, Hendrich is cold, calculating and ‘lawful evil’ if I’m allowed to make a D&D reference in this review. I did genuinely laugh when I discovered a man who doesn’t age got Botox and a brow lift to ‘fit in’. People are strange. And Tom describes him best as

‘An incredibly ancient child’

Which is the greatest oxymoron I’ve ever read.

Matt Haig’s characters are so inherently human. Even in only a few short pages. Panic attacks and attention deficits. I don’t understand why he’s trapped. I don’t understand why he wants to go back to London. I don’t understand who ‘she’ is, and if she’s also an albatross. But I’m excited to find out.

Mum: It must be pretty good if Stephen Fry and Graham Norton have put their names on the cover. And did you know, ‘but nothing ever happens in heaven’ is from a Talking Heads song?

Heaven is a place where nothing happens

 

I just immediately thought of the Artworks piece down in the Folkestone Creative Quarter. So, definitely showing your age there.

Mum: Ha. Ha.

But it is cool that an idea or perspective can transcend time especially when the main character has nothing but time.

Well done Matt Haig, we can’t wait to see how it ends.

On 3… A Review of We Were Liars.

The concept: 

If you read the previous ‘On 3…’ you can skip this bit.

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not.

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

We Were Liars

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Can I just say, I love a map. And a family tree. During my time studying Historical Fiction at Bath Spa University for my MA, I was told that including a family tree or a timeline was a ‘bit of a cop out’ as the story should world-build around the time you’re including for your story. But that the opening page is a map of Beechwood Island, with the building names and families in residence, and then the second page is the Sinclair family tree suggests a uniformity and quintessential nature to the world I’m about to travel through.

Which, of course, is perfectly in sync with the jarring opening sentences.

‘Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.’

Why does that strike me as insincere?

Cadence Sinclair Eastman sounds like every over-dramatic, hormone ridden student having a bad day. She’s full of existential crises and an overwhelming desire to both stand out and stay hidden. She’s condescending about her aunt’s ‘stay at home’ position, whilst calling her own mum ‘mummy’, seems overtly disgusted by money whilst spending it from a comfortable position of ‘not bothering to understand’ where the money comes from. I don’t like her. She’s too much a poet, and as a narrator – less than reliable.

Mum: ‘I’m so glad the first three chapters are no more than 3.5 pages. The short, staccato sentences were clearly meant to give impact and drama. I was just irritated by them. What utter drivel.’

I feel like it’s a stylistic choice to develop the character as opposed to just ‘for the drama,’ but I’ll echo my point from earlier that she seems over-dramatic and hormone ridden. As condescending as that might sound. A lot of literary writers at the moment are dropping the drawn-out complex sentences for short, brusque responses to the situation of the story and the character’s immediate thought. And We Were Liars is – in my opinion – literary fiction. The conflict so far has been internalised. Her father has left. Her family is a mess but won’t admit it. But, the ‘bullet’ – which I didn’t realise was a metaphor at first – is in her chest. Not out in open play.

And if you think I’m kidding about the metaphor – I genuinely read the sentence

‘And then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest’.

Twice with the response – Wait. What? Before realising she’d just had a break down at her dad driving away.

Mum: Oh. I read it three times and thought she’d actually been shot.

What? And then got up and gone shopping for furniture? With a chest wound?

Mum: That’s what she said. I was captured by the cover. I thought it was written for grown ups, a murder mystery and not a poetry-literary-teen-y bleurgh. It’s too deep.

And you say I’ve got a short attention span.

Mum: I just feel I was sold a pup. I thought it would be a grown up book for grown ups. But it was a sheep in wolf clothing.

Mum: The pretence to show the families as wealthy and clearly something to be proud of, or jealous depending on how you view Americans, was pathetic. It was like name dropping celebrities to gain kudos. Martha’s Vineyard, Ivy League colleges and famous cities were through out to prove a point, but instead made a pathetic attempt at a lazy list of places where the rich supposedly hang out.

They are obvious sign posts – but – signposting works. If I were to write a story about someone from Portsmouth University meeting someone from St Andrews – you’d immediately have expectations about both people just from the signposted uni alone. (To be clear, I don’t have a preference on either, but there’s a reason Kate Middleton met her prince charming at St Andrews and not Portsmouth.) And if this novel was marketed for teenagers (which makes sense because the character is 17, so her target audience would be 15-ish) then the signposts don’t need to be clever or intricate. They need to be clear. These people are clearly filthy rich.

Mum: I won’t be reading any further. Waste of space on the bookshelf.

I never thought I’d find myself defending We Were Liars. I guess a part of me remembers that it was one of my favourite students (I know it’s bad form to admit I had favourites but hey, what are you going to do?) that recommended the book to me in the first place. And whilst the language is both flowery and brief, over-emotional and stark, I do think there’s a place for it and I can see why so many young people enjoy it.

I am intrigued to find out what the ‘accident’ is because you don’t find out in the first three chapters. And I fully expect the family to unravel and reveal themselves to be less than worthy of the time the narrator spends thinking and talking about them. Maybe We Were Liars is worth the rest of my afternoon.

Only one way to find out.