The Goldfinch

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and an absent father, miraculously survives a catastrophe that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Theo is tormented by longing for his mother and down the years he clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. 


I will begin with saying that The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt comes in at 864 pages. Going into this book, I was incredibly intimidated. Generally speaking, I can finish a book in around ten days (slow, by book blogger standards I know. Quit judging me. I like TV, OKAY?!?) I think it took me a little over 2 weeks to finish. I was very sceptical about its ability to engage me for the amount of time it took to read it.

I needn’t have been.

Tartt’s narrative voice engrossed me from start to finish. In Theodore Decker we are gifted a protagonist who is deeply thoughtful, frequently wrong, occasionally disgusting but ultimately someone we desperately want to reach the point of okay.

This novel starts with a bang (poor taste? I apologise), with the death of Theodore’s mother in a terrorist attack. Theodore states that he views his mother’s death as ‘the dividing mark’ in his life. While the beginning of the book gives us a glimpse of the Before – enough to understand the depth of Theo’s loss – The Goldfinch is a narrative of After. ‘Things would have turned out better if she had lived’, but Tartt isn’t interested in better so much as determinism, grief and criminal activity.

Also, the writing is gorgeous. You know that feeling when you want to just eat something but it isn’t technically food? That’s how I felt about Donna Tartt’s prose.

‘Better wasn’t even the word for how I felt. There wasn’t a word for it. It was more that things too small to mention – laughter in the hall at school, a live gecko scurrying in a tank in the science lab – made me feel happy one moment and the next like crying. Sometimes, in the evenings, a damp gritty wind blew in the windows from Park Avenue, just as the rush hour traffic was thinning and the city was emptying for the night; it was rainy, trees leafing out, spring deepening into summer; and the forlorn cry of horns on the street, the dank smell of the wet pavement had an electricity about it, a sense of crowds and static, lonely secretaries and fat guys with bags of carry-out, everywhere the ungainly sadness of creatures pushing and struggling to live.’

How dare you, Donna. How dare you.

Theo’s mother was an art historian who died in a museum bombing of which Theo was one of the few survivors. Just before her death, she had been telling Theo all about a painting she adored, The Goldfinch. When Theo awakes after the explosion, confused and traumatised,  a dying man grabs hold of the painting and begs Theo to take it with him, to save it from destruction.

Theo does. Taking the painting is a choice that will define much of the next fourteen years of his life, a choice that will keep him afraid, addicted (Theo abuses drugs and alcohol for much of the novel) and eventually will drag him into the criminal underworld. Throughout the novel the picture functions as an emotional stand-in for Theo’s mother. In the months and years immediately following her death it lives underneath his bed, where he takes it out at night and memorises the lines of it. After a few years and increasing police interest in it (several paintings were stolen from the museum by opportunistic looters following the explosion), Theo locks the painting away out of fear. He buries the thing in a storage locker outside of New York and tries to live his life as if it never existed at all in the same way as he tries not to deal with his trauma – that’s where the drugs come in.

Ultimately, neither tactic works, for the grief or for dealing with the painting.

Though I spend much of my time writing about books, storytelling is one of those terms I have tended to take for granted. Narrative structure isn’t something I often consciously consider. During The Goldfinch, it’s impossible not to think about it. It was as if Donna Tartt were sitting on my shoulder whispering this is how you tell a freaking STORY, fool.

Theodore Decker isn’t just the protagonist, he’s the narrator. At various points throughout the novel he presents us with details of a vague present, telling us these events we’re reading – twelve-year-old Theo, seventeen-year-old Theo, twenty four-year-old Theo, even, are being looked back on. The timeline, as it’s chronically presented is immersive and a serious page turner that doesn’t reveal itself as a philosophical exercise until the very end.

When I finished The Goldfinch I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the day. I reread the final chapter twice. In the weeks since I finished it (I’m playing review catch-up right now), I have reread it a couple more times.

It is almost impossible to draw meaning from events as they are happening. It often feels as if life pushes you around and sends you sprawling in whatever direction it wants. The final chapters of The Goldfinch are like the moment when you pick yourself up, pat yourself down, address the damage and then, finally, move forward.

‘And as much as I’d like to believe there’s a truth beyond illusion, I’ve come to believe there’s no truth beyond illusion. Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.’



5 Reasons to Watch Search Party

search-partySearch Party begins with the disappearance of Chantal Witherbottom, a girl Dory (Alia Shawkat) kind of, sort of knew back in college. While her friends dismiss the missing girl, Dory becomes consumed with the idea of finding her.

I watched this show when I was in the depths of post-election, post Brexit anxiety. It’s a comedy and a grating satire with surprising moments of heartfelt emotional honesty that make for a pretty great comfort blanket for the news-bruised psyche.

Anyone in need of an emotional break, here are some reasons to watch the show:

It’s like Girls Meets Veronica Mars

This is how the show was sold to me, and it’s the most accurate description I’ve found. Search Party, like Girls, is a perfect satire of a certain kind of white, privileged twenties culture.

Conversations take place at each other, rather than to each other. All the characters so desperate to appear impressive they don’t even notice how they feel, or whether they feel anything at all. The show presents us with these now all too familiar archetypes of the emotionally undeveloped fame and success seekers and then spends a season ripping them to shreds. In a funny way.

It’s about being numb

…In a funny way. Dory is not living the life she imagined. A few years out of college, she’s in a relationship that’s past its best and in a job she doesn’t care about and she has absolutely no motivation to move forward – until she finds out about missing Chantal. It takes the disappearance of a girl she never really knew to wake her up.

She’s surrounded by friends who don’t really care about Chantal, or her mission to find her. Portia (Meredith Hagner), a wannabe actress is more deeply affected by her mother’s dismissal of her acting job than Chantal’s disappearance. Dory’s boyfriend, Drew (John Reynolds) is only concerned with keeping Dory from breaking up with him. Elliot (John Early) really only cares about himself, and his (probably) impending fame.

They mostly just come along for the ride for something to do. And for some great vigil outfits.

search-party-2They are playing at being in a detective show

Dory has us convinced she’s solving a mystery that has Chantal at its centre but her investigation is all dead ends. She spends a day following a woman around New York who swears she has information about Chantal, that she’s being followed, that it’s all about real estate.

We figure out she’s mentally ill a little while before Dory does.

This show does disappointment in a uniquely satisfying way.

Alia Shawkat

Shawkat’s performance really makes this show. She presents as this fragile, doormat of a person who doesn’t realise how desperately she wants to care about something until she learns of Chantal’s disappearance. She plays it with this low key air of desperation that undercuts the satire of the show to create a complex story about life and what meaning we inject into it.

It’s really funny

The important thing to understand about this show is that everyone in it is awful. They are insensitive naval gazers who make even the tragic disappearance of a girl they barely know search-party-1about them. They place themselves at the centre of a story that isn’t theirs – it belongs to a missing girl and a grieving family who get hardly a mention.

Everything they do is so inappropriate… and deeply satisfying to watch.


For anyone in need of a complete break from current events (who isn’t?) I recommend this show as part of your self-care regimen.

Blood for Blood

There would be blood.

Blood for Blood.

Blood to Pay.

An entire world of it.

The war may be over, but the fight has just begun. For the resistance in post-war Germany, blood must be paid with blood. For seventeen-year-old Yael and her unlikely comrades, there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But dark secrets reveal dark truths and one question hands over them all – how far can you go for the ones you love?


Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf duology completely blew me away. I know that Graudin isn’t the first to attempt an alternate history such as this, but for me, this series is like nothing I have ever experienced before in my reading life.

Graudin can really fucking write.

I know that’s a weird way to put it. But, even with my literature degree in hand, I find it difficult to describe exactly what it is about the way that Graudin constructs sentences that creeps so easily under my skin.

Because it really, really did.

I think part of it was that Graudin wrote trauma in a way that felt true to me. So often trauma, as with disability, is one of those things authors pick up and place aside as it’s convenient to them, as if PTSD is something a person can turn off when they want to be doing something pleasant, like going on a date with a hot guy. What was different, I think, with Graudin’s writing, is that she didn’t try and write Yael in a way that would feel comfortable to the reader. She didn’t shy away from the pain and destruction. Yael is a result of what she has been through, her trauma is permanently etched on her physical self. She’s a shapeshifter, created by Hitler’s regime, who has changed faces so many times she can no longer remember the face she was born with – she has literally lost herself. Her own face – which in fact is not her own – is a representation of what the Nazis have stolen from her.


Yael Reider is one of the most compelling characters I have ever read. Graudin writes her with such unflinching honesty, love and anger I had to take a short reading break after Blood for Blood because other characters just fell kind of flat for me after Yael.


If the first book was about Hitler’s regime and the complete devastation of the Jewish people, then in many ways, Blood for Blood was about everyone else. It is a book concerned with ignorance, and the horrors people will look away from in the name of their own convenience.

‘There was a part of Luka – one that grew larger with age – that knew these answers weren’t right… They were too glossy. Too simple. They did not fill the emptiness of the sand-scoured Saharan towns. They did not speak to the tangled skeletons of the Muscovy territories. They did not still the winds that sometimes slunk through the streets of Luka’s childhood, filling Hamburg with a smell that singed his insides, a smell his mother and teachers and neighbours all went out of their way to ignore.

Ignorance was not quite bliss, but it was easy.’

Graudin explores this through Luka Lowe and Felix Wolfe, who represent the spectrum of ignorance. Neither of them are evil as such, but they have lived lives of wilful ignorance, as afraid of putting themselves in danger as they are of confronting the truth. When it is finally revealed to them one, Luka, is changed forever. The other, Felix, covers his eyes and tells himself that it can’t be real.

Reading Felix Wolfe is a painful experience. There is a rich literary history of reading characters who exist in a moral chasm – from Lolita to books like The Walls Around Us – those people who are inexcusable but their authors will not allow us to dismiss. Though their every thought and action is wrong and leads to devastation, there are enough extenuating circumstances that we can’t give ourselves permission to view them as simply evil. There are plenty of characters like that in this book (it is about Nazis), but Felix is not one of them. In the character of Felix, Graudin asks us to confront those privileges that we wrap around ourselves as both comfort blanket and armour, both against others and against the truths we don’t want to see.

Blood for Blood is a book that asks you to feel everything. It forces you to question your assumptions and own ignorance as its characters do. It is a vital read.

Twitter: Some feelings

I should be writing a proper post. I had a proper post planned – it was about Sherlock, and how none of the emotional moments in it worked for me because Steven Moffat just does not understand that you’ve got to put money into the emotional bank in order for those big moments to pay off. I probably still will write that post.

Instead, I want to write about something almost as contentious.

I want to write about Twitter. Specifically, Bookish Twitter and how these days I can stomach it less and less.

There are two important points to be made before I get into this. One of which is that I am a person with a lot of privileges: I’m an educated white cisgender lady. The other, is that at 24, I’m definitely at the older end of the spectrum of book bloggers. And I didn’t even realise what that meant until I started watching how 19-year-olds act on the internet.

All that said, I see a lot of young white girls online who have taken up the gauntlet for bookish diversity and allyship, and rather than expressing that by reviewing books, posting articles and using their own following to bring attention to marginalised voices, they seem to spend the vast majority of their time bullying other users.

And I don’t think bullying is too strong of a word. Time and again, I see tweets linking to the twitter, goodreads and other social media accounts of people who’ve written – sometimes, yes, legitimately bad – things, always with the headline of how TERRIBLE this internet stranger is and how NO ONE SHOULD FOLLOW THEM. The effect of this is, to my view, twofold:

First, it’s just straight up a shitty thing to do. It’s bullying. It doesn’t take into account any possibility of lost nuance, or even that perhaps one dumb tweet isn’t representative of a person’s heart. Also, if this past election in the US, and the whole Brexit disaster in my own country that preceded it have shown us anything, it’s that spewing hatred at each other is not the most effective means of getting a message across. Yes, some people are legitimately heinous and to be avoided, but a lot are just teenagers who don’t know any better (and, to be frank, aren’t going to learn from someone just telling them they suck).

Second, I just don’t know why people always make the choice to uplift the voice of the racist, homophobic, etc stranger on Twitter. Spreading hatred around really doesn’t help anybody long term.

Okay, now that’s over with, my main point: Being an ally involves more than attacking strangers on Twitter.  

Yes, it does mean having difficult conversations.

You know what is absolutely fucking terrible for difficult conversations? A website that only lets you think in 140 characters.

And, to be clear, the definition of a difficult conversation isn’t telling someone who wrote something insensitive about gender to go fuck themselves, or that they are stupid, or that no one should follow them on Twitter. A difficult conversation is what happens when a person is open, and willing to understand the opposing viewpoint enough to effectively challenge it.

I don’t see this. All I see on Twitter is people who would rather attack someone than actually talk to them.

All I see is people who would rather talk about ‘the marginalised’ than actually listen to them. It is deeply troubling to me that many of the most prominent voices in the bookish diversity conversation are white.

Listening is the other important part of being an ally. I found a really great article on Salon a while back that put it perfectly. The author writes: ‘Refrain from centring yourself in a movement that deserves your support but is not about you and about which you are not an authority.’ Or, as I would put it, bluntly, but from the kindest place in my heart: SHUT UP.

FINALLY: Keep in mind that everyone is still learning. Especially in this community, where a bunch of you are teens. Always be willing to question your assumptions, view your motivations critically and check your privileges, but also be mindful that to do so is hard, and we’re all in the (I am starting the think never ending?) process of figuring it out.

ACTUALLY FINALLY: watch this video. It’s such a valuable resource for anyone looking to communicate with people via Twitter, but the questions it presents are also helpful to ask yourself in daily life as well.

I have Mike McHargue’s four questions pinned to my desk top. I try to keep them in mind whenever I’m communicating with people on the internet.

ACTUALLY ACTUALLY FINALLY: Talking about this is scary, because you don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing, or make a problem worse, or be insensitive. I get it. But I think it’s a discussion that needs to be had, because bookish Twitter has become a very toxic environment.

The Dream Thieves

Blue didn’t mean to fall for the Raven Boys, but she has – and the more her life entwines with theirs, the more dangerous it becomes.

Ronan is the most dangerous of all. He’s the haunted one, the darkest, the mot raven. His dreams invade reality and confuse what is true.

With magic growing stronger around them, now is a time to be wary. Before everything unravels… Friendships will be tested. Someone will get hurt. And a kiss will be shared.


I am pretty much ready to say – commitment issues and all – that I love Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series. The Dream Thieves avoided all the pitfalls common to second books. Part of the reason I so rarely read series is because of the difficulty I have in getting through the second book. While the first is all set up the second so often feels like a stop gap, an extended writing exercise usually designed to help a character have a realisation they really didn’t need 200 pages to reach. Not The Dream Thieves. While, yes, this sequel was certainly less plot heavy than its predecessor, the character development that took place was vital.

To be completely honest, I could probably read a book in which nothing happened but these characters sat in a circle talking to each other. I love them THAT much. I love them because they are awkward and imperfect and because they make resentment-driven decisions that feel painfully real to me. I spent a lot of my review of The Raven Boys discussing this, so I won’t get to far into it again, but Stiefvater’s approach to the tension inherent in friendships in which people come from massively different economic backgrounds is so perfectly approached. I have spent a lot of my life being friends with people who come from families who have a lot more money than my own and dealing with that shit is tricky, especially when you’re young and confronting the reality of people who have more for the first time. And – I see now that I am a (sort of) grown up who (sometimes) doesn’t perceive everything as a personal attack, that it’s the same the other way around. It’s awkward for the rich kids too. One time, in the early days of university a friend of mine told me I should have applied to Oxford or Cambridge because I would probably have got in on the quotas. Yeah. At the time, I was upset by it (now, not so much because that story kills among my poor friends), but a few years on I see she didn’t mean to offend me. I think it just honestly didn’t occur to her that she would.

Grown up life lesson #1: intention is important. Don’t discount it just because it’s easier to be offended than loving toward someone different from you.

I just wanted to use this review to say my own little thank you to Maggie for so empathetically writing about an issue that has at times been as raw and consuming in my life as it is for Adam in the series.

And with that ends the ‘personal sharing’ section of this review.

I saw video on Facebook a while back where two little girls are running around, and then one of the little girls clubs the other one in the face with a doll and she goes flying. The mingled emotions of horror, frustration – why is someone just filming this?! Why don’t they intervene?!?! – sympathy and regret I felt when watching this video is similar to the range of emotions that come with getting to know the Lynch brothers. If there were an award for Most Dysfunctional Family they would have as many as Meryl Streep has Oscars.

Stiefvater masterfully ties these people into emotional knots they can’t untangle. While much of the first book was dedicated to Adam and his origin story of poverty and abuse, this sequel was all about Ronan’s struggle with grief, depression and his sexuality. The relationship between Ronan and Kavinsky brought to mind the sexual tension between Sherlock and Moriarty back in season 2 of Sherlock. They both viewed themselves as the sole occupants of a lone island, and for Ronan it took getting wrapped up in a person so completely untethered to realise he wasn’t as separate from the mainland as he’d always supposed. No matter his foundational feelings of loneliness and despair he has friends – Gansey, Adam, even Blue – people who care for him, and the fact of them is what stops him, and I hope will continue to stop him from the complete self-destruction we saw end Kavinsky. Kavinsky was a theoretical future for Ronan, one where he doesn’t have his tethers, the people who love him. I’ll be really interested to see the ripple effects of that and how they affect Ronan’s character development as the series progresses.

In much the same way as she treats the financial tensions – delicately, and with empathy – Stiefvater tells us everything we need to know about Ronan without shoving it down our throats. She uses a mix of big events like the drag race and subtler moments, like when Kavinsky gives Ronan the bracelets to build a complicated, sexually charged atmosphere between these two boys that they explore through dreaming together.

This is, as ever, getting far too long, so I’ll sum up by adding that I thought the Gray Man was such a wonderful addition, and I 100% got my wish of spending more time with the rest of Blue’s family. I am totally ready to move into Fox Way. Gansey and Blue are adorable, and Adam and Blue were… painful, and I imagine will only become more so in Blue Lily, Lily Blue.

This series is smart, entertaining, whimsical and knows how to worm its way right into your heart. Despite my extensive TBR pile, I’m going to be reading the next one as soon as I can.






A Mystery

Something bizarre happened to me a few weeks back.


I came home from work to find a package had arrived for me. A book presumably (it won’t shock you to learn that this is what packages for me usually contain) – I was excited.

The package, somewhat oddly, had a French customs label stuck on it. I didn’t recall ordering anything from France, but I knew that sometimes Amazon sends parcels from outside of the UK, so I wasn’t immediately suspicious.

I was, however, surprised when I opened up the package to find… a book I definitely did not order.

Not only that, but a book I had never heard of.

No note.

Additionally creepy fact?

This book is a murder mystery.

Being the sensible person I am, I obviously concluded that someone is planning to murder me and they sent me the book as a sort of heads up.

When I told my manager at work what had happened, he patted me on the shoulder and told me it was nice knowing ya.

I will inform you of any developments.

*On a serious note, whoever sent me this, thank you! For the book and for the story 🙂


The Sun is Also a Star


NATASHA: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

DANIEL: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store – for both of us.

THE UNIVERSE: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lies before us. Which one will come true?


For whatever reason, I waited a really long time before reading Everything Everything, Nicola Yoon’s first novel. It was not a mistake I was about to make again with The Sun is Also a Star. I’m only writing about it now because of the unexpected hiatus – thanks for bearing with me, by the way – but I read this back at the beginning of December, pretty much in one sitting. My heart was hurting – because of the news, because of complicated personal stuff, because of the more typical twenties-related nonsense, and I was starting to feel like nothing I did really mattered. This book and its beautiful message communicated by Yoon’s gorgeous writing did a lot toward getting me feeling like myself again.

I don’t even know where to start with explaining how much I loved this one.

The Sun is Also a Star is a novel preoccupied with immigrant narratives in America. We get to see two sides – Natasha, undocumented and born in Jamaica, and Daniel, born in America to documented Korean parents. Their status obviously has a big impact on the economic situation of their families – Daniel’s parents own a business and have sent their eldest to Harvard (and Daniel is currently on the same track), whereas Natasha’s family struggle to get by and live in a one bedroom apartment.

Yoon uses Natasha and Daniel’s relationships with their families as a way of exploring the tensions that arise when trying to blend cultures. There is a particular focus on this in Daniel’s story. Yoon uses Daniel’s fraught relationship with his brother, Charlie as a lens through which to view the difficulty both boys have in allowing their identities – both Korean AND American – to coexist. While Daniel is comfortable with himself as Korean American, which means being happy to speak in both languages, include his American friends in Korean culture, etc, Charlie doesn’t want to be seen as anything but American. This is painfully shown in an incident from their childhood in which Daniel referred to Charlie as ‘Hyung’, a title a younger brother uses for the older, and Charlie gets angry after his friends tease him about it. That incident was the point at which Charlie all but cut Daniel out of his life, and now both in their late teens, they barely speak at all. Charlie pretends like he only understands English – even when speaking to their parents. He claims Korean food is disgusting. All his friends are white – a deliberate choice. Charlie is without a doubt the villain of the piece, but the reader’s hatred of him can’t help but be mitigated by how sad his story is. He is driven by self-hatred created by a society in which whiteness is considered the norm and the aspiration. Yeah. It SUCKS.

I adore the way that Yoon writes about family. She uses such a delicate approach for such a complicated thing, and it makes her characters painful, frustrating and ultimately so believable.

Have I mentioned yet that I love her? Because I totally love her.

My other favourite thing about this book, the thing that made me SO HAPPY I had to put it down for a little bit in order to just… you know, have a spontaneous dance party while I made a cup of coffee (like I said, reading this book was the first thing to make me feel like a human again in WEEKS)… was Yoon’s use of perspective. So, as the summary says, the majority of the novel is split between Daniel and Natasha. But in addition to that, Yoon frequently zooms out, allowing Charlie, Natasha’s dad and Daniel’s parents their own micro-story. But she doesn’t stop there. Those Daniel and Natasha’s lives touch – a security lady, a lawyer, a drunk driver, a waitress in a Korean restaurant and more, also get a moment under Yoon’s empathetic spotlight. This creates a real sense of Daniel and Natasha’s day as a microcosm – you get a sense of their story as one piece of the gigantic puzzle that is the city, and the world, even.

I’ve been watching John Green on vlogbrothers since I was 15, so the idea of imagining people complexly is hardly one that is new to me, but I don’t think I have read a book before that so eloquently presents the concept. It describes a world in which everyone – even that guy at work the other day who ordered a FLAT WHITE and then quizzed me on whether I knew what a FLAT WHITE was cause if I brought him a LATTE he was going to be angry about it – is mystifyingly, energetically and consistently complex.

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about what it means to be part of something bigger. When looking at the constantly awful news, and learning about the small privileges of everyday life most people don’t even think about that come at the expense of others, it is easy to feel like a pointless speck lost in the midst of a buzzing cloud of relentless bad. Reading The Sun is Also a Star helped me see this differently. Yoon presents the small moments – the beautiful ones and the sad ones – as individual pieces in the puzzle of the world.

The world she presented was a cautiously optimistic one, and I love her for writing it.

***A Word on Instalove

This review is WAY TOO LONG, as usual, but I couldn’t make myself post it without throwing in my two cents on this particular issue. I saw a lot of conversation on Twitter that described Daniel and Natasha’s relationship as instalove, but I completely disagree. To me, the definition of instalove is two characters with ZERO chemistry talking about how much they LOVE each other and fiercely making out without ever having had an actual conversation. What Natasha and Daniel have is an instant connection, serious flirty banter and the sort of chemistry that you can’t help but smile at while reading. Chemistry = goodPLEASEMOREthanks whereas instalove is just… lazy. You can FEEL the difference.