Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

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Guess The Classic Book From Its Opening Line

I might be a bit obsessed with opening lines. I’ve made a list of my favourites, and another list of more favourites. This week I got to thinking about what a great opening line tells us about the book to follow, and whether it’s enough. That’s where I came up with this game for you all: guess the classic book from its opening line!

And no, you won’t find any super-obvious “truths universally acknowledged” here (we all know that’s Pride And Prejudice, I’m not going that easy on you). Let me know at the end how many you get right!

Guess The Classic Book From Its Opening Line - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.


It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.


You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.


Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.


It was a pleasure to burn.


In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.


You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.


1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.


“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.


To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.


We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.


The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’.


The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.


Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.


When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.


You’d better not have scrolled down to the end to cheat 😉

The answers are, in order: Jane Eyre, The Bell Jar, The Color Purple, David Copperfield, Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, The Grapes Of Wrath, The Handmaid’s Tale, In Cold Blood, Lord Of The Flies, One Hundred Years Of Solitude, and To Kill A Mockingbird.

How many did you get right? Let me know in the comments!

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall is not my first foray into the ouveur of the Brontës. Way back in the archives, I read and reviewed Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (loved it!), and Emily’s Wuthering Heights (so-so). Being the dirty completionist that I am, though, I couldn’t stop there: I gotta catch ’em all! So, that’s why I finally picked up Anne’s longest and best-known novel, to complete the set.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Bronte - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall here.
(Anything you buy through an affiliate link like this one earns me a small commission, which helps me keep keeping up!)

The blurb made the story sound surprisingly contemporary – a mysterious and beautiful young widow moves in to Wildfell Hall, and Gilbert Markham finds himself irresistibly drawn to her despite the rumours that swell around town – but don’t be fooled. The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall has all the 19th century manners and customs that you’d expect, albeit with some unexpected progressive overtones.

A bit of background: Anne was the youngest of the Brontë sisters. She published only two novels (this one, and Agnes Grey, which is also wedged into my to-be-read shelf somewhere…) before she died in 1849, shortly before her 30th birthday. The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall was first published the year before her death, in 1848, under the now-famous gender-neutral pseudonym of Acton Bell. It was an instant success, but… well, big sis Charlotte got her Mean Girl on. More on that below.

To the story: it is an epistolary novel, styled as the letters from Gilbert Markham to a friend of his, including a rather large section drawn from Helen Graham’s diaries (Helen being the titular tenant of Wildfell Hall). Yes, it’s the ol’ Brontë switcheroo: the narrator is not always the “narrator”, and despite a supposed single narrative perspective, others’ points-of-view are substantial to the plot. That makes the timeline a little wonky, beginning in 1847 but telling a version of events from 1821 through 1830. Don’t worry, it all irons out nice and smooth.

Gilbert’s letters begin by describing the arrival of a mysterious widow, one Mrs Helen Graham, who has taken up a tenancy in the nearby abandoned mansion called Wildfell Hall. Although he says the woman is “too hard, too sharp, too bitter for my taste” (page 42), and he has his eye on the local vicar’s daughter, their occasional social interactions pique his interest. Eventually, he gets to know the widow and her son quite well (he and the boy bond over their mutual love of dogs, #relatable). Still, Mrs Helen Graham refuses to divulge much about her past or origins, even though doing so would put an end to some of the particularly nasty rumours that have started swirling around the small town.

This all unfolds in Part One of the novel, chapters 1-15. That section ends with Gilbert mistakenly believing that local man Lawrence has secretly entered into an illicit courtship with Mrs Graham. Gilbert has a real shit-fit (kind of inexplicably, seeing as it’s basically no business of his whatsoever), but Mrs Graham concedes that he has a right to know the truth of who she is and her relationship to Lawrence, so she hands over her diaries to Gilbert in the hope that they will speak her truth for her.

All of this might sound very Austen-y, a social comedy with the central romance pot-holed by misunderstandings. However, in Part Two – chapters 16 to 44 – The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall takes a sharp turn. The introduction of Helen’s perspective, through her letters, reveals an entirely different plot and purpose altogether.

It turns out Helen isn’t a widow at all; rather, she is on the lam, hiding from her alcoholic fuckwit of a husband, Arthur Huntingdon. They married young, back when Helen thought he was super-hot and had the naive notion that she could coax him out of his bad behaviour (with the drinking and the dames and what-not).

Sidebar: The prevailing view in analysis nowadays is that Arthur is a stand in for Anne Brontë’s real-life brother, Branwell, who himself was susceptible to the lures of drink and drugs, despite the efforts of his sisters to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Helen’s story is surprisingly gripping. it’s not like there are a lot of cliffhangers or anything, but I still found myself just-one-more-chaptering as I read my way through, crossing my fingers that the next chapter would be the one where she would leave the sorry sack of shit and be done with it. She’s all about dismantling toxic masculinity, it’s her life-long hobby and obsession, and over the course of the novel she realises and affirms that it shouldn’t be the job of women to reform bad boys. They should reform themselves, or shut the fuck up and leave the rest of us alone. See? Progressive!

Oh, and Mr Lawrence? The one Gilbert thought she was having an affair with? Actually her brother. Whoops!

The story seemed to be wrapping up around the 470-page mark, near the end of Helen’s diary, and I wondered what on earth could be left in the remaining 120 pages… but I stuck with it and, as it turned out, there was indeed more to come.

Part Three – chapters 45 to 53 – begins when Gilbert finishes reading Helen’s epic diary. She puts it to him that he should not pursue any romance with her, as she is not actually a widow and as such is not free to marry him. He’s all “yeah, okay”, but keeps the flame burning for her all the same. His hopes pick up when Helen’s estranged husband falls deathly ill, figuring that his path will be free and clear… only Helen does the “right thing” and zooms right back to her husband’s side to nurse him. Damn.

Still, her ministrations only keep him alive long enough to make him feel good and guilty before he shuffles off this mortal coil (good riddance). Gilbert keeps a respectful distance – also, he doesn’t know where she is or how to get a hold of her – until he gets word that she’s getting married to someone else. He hustles over to her town to do his “I object!” bit, but finds out when he gets there that it was actually Helen’s brother getting married (we’re back on the poor-communication-kills rom-com plot now) and Helen is overjoyed to welcome him back into her life. She makes him wait a bit, naturally, but in the end they live happily ever after.

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall falls smack-bang in the middle of the Venn diagram of the other Brontë sisters: all the angst of Wuthering Heights, with all the introspection and proto-feminism of Jane Eyre. The defining difference in Anne’s work is that she didn’t gloss over the gritty stuff the way her Romantic sisters did, and she didn’t play up spooky Gothic elements either (Wildfell Hall isn’t a “haunted mansion”, it’s just old and empty). All the darkness in her novel – the alcoholism, infidelity, violence – was real, and graphic for the time.

And that’s why Charlotte, her elder sister, removed The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall from circulation after Anne’s untimely death. It had been a great success on publication, but in Charlotte’s view it disgraced her younger sister’s memory. She wanted Anne to be remembered as a sweet, saintly girl who didn’t write about such horrid things. Never mind the fact that Anne did write about horrid things, and well: Charlotte knew best (and was probably quite jealous of her younger sister’s success, besides). And that’s why Anne basically fell from memory for decades, why the names we most commonly associate with the Brontë brand are those of her sisters.

Still, over the last century, Anne has finally garnered the kind of popular and critical attention she deserves. This might sound ridiculous, but I find it hard not to take it personally that Charlotte screwed Anne over like that. “I was rooting for you!” etc. I keep trying to imagine whether my attitude and preference would be different if I had read The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall before Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, but it’s difficult. I guess I’ll just have to let bygones be bygones (even though none of them were actually mine to begin with), and judge the works on their own merit. In that spirit, I reckon The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall is a winner. A bit convoluted, maybe, but a breath of fresh air in 19th century English literature.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall:

  • “Story was a sort of a downer even with the happy ending.” – Ericka Grant
  • “Anne cannot write up to her famous sisters. What a bore!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Too long, too wordy, too predictable and the heroine is insipid.” – ann v menche
  • “Interesting story. I never think of people in that era being so messed up. Why do they have so much free time on their hands?” – M Roberts
  • “This book is WAY too long. 100,000 words could’ve been deleted and we, as readers, would be none the wiser. The writing style is superb. I don’t think anyone in publishing today could emulate the style in which all three Bronte sisters wrote. The story itself is interesting, but Helen’s “abuse” did not really strike me as abuse, but rather “neglect.” When I first heard about this novel, I thought a woman was going to get repeatedly beaten and raped. But sadly, that is not the case. I guess beaten and raped was “too intense” for the time period. Leave it to Viktor Wolfe to write a good “beaten and raped” story!” – Viktor Wolfe
  • “All her angst was a bit tiresome.” – pamie65

10 Best Book Covers

Let’s stop pretending that we “don’t judge a book by its cover”. If we didn’t, publishers wouldn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on top-notch graphics and highly-trained designers. Of course the cover matters! It’s our first impression of the book, and it contains all kinds of clues as to what we might expect to find inside. I’m willing to go on the record and say that I love a beautiful or clever book cover, and I’m more likely to buy a book that has one. Here are ten of the best book covers on my shelves…

10 Best Book Covers - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If any of these book covers are beautiful enough to tempt you, I’ll get a small cut of the sale when you buy through a link on this page.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I don’t know who Sayaka Murata’s publishers have working on her books’ cover designs, but they knock it out of the park each and every time. This is just one of many gorgeous and clever editions I’ve seen of Convenience Store Woman: a bright yellow background, and the information styled as a convenience store workers’ name tag. It just instantly gives you a feel for the book, for the fluorescent lighting and carefully controlled climate in which the protagonist works and lives. Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Hunger - Roxane Gay - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Okay, in the spirit of continued honesty: it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what the cover of Hunger actually was. I guess I just didn’t look closely enough. At a glance, it might seem like another generic artistic swoosh. But if you focus on it, you’ll see it’s actually a super-close-up of the prongs of a fork, casting a shadow. It’s the perfect image to accompany this memoir, a forthright and at-times harrowing account of Roxane Gay’s most traumatic moments and how they affected her relationship with food (and, by extension, her body).

My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister The Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The cover of My Sister The Serial Killer is special for a number of reasons. Firstly, that shade of green – wow! It just leaps off the shelf at you. Secondly, it features a strikingly beautiful black woman – one who’s not cowering, or experiencing unconscionable hardship, or stuck there as Diversity(TM) filler. This woman is living her best life (albeit, one where she, ahem, murders her boyfriends). And, finally, there’s an Easter egg: look closely at the reflection in her sunglasses, and you’ll see a bloodied knife. Eeek! Read my full review of My Sister The Serial Killer here.

No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani

No Friend But The Mountains - Behrouz Boochani - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Every photo of Behrouz Boochani takes my breath away. Some of them have even moved me to tears. The one they chose for the cover of his memoir, No Friend But The Mountains, is uncomfortable but unforgettable. He stares out from between the lines of text, all surrounds in shadow, so it’s just his eyes meeting yours. To me, he appears desolate, but determined. An artsy person could probably whip out a clever line here about how Boochani returns the Panopticon gaze to which he has been subjected in detention… but I’m not that clever. I just think it’s brilliant.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People - Sally Rooney - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

At first, I was taken by the cover of Normal People because it was… well, cute. A little line drawing. A bright green background, with white block text. Cute. But this is another one of those book covers – those works of art – that benefits from close extended inspection. Two people are curled around each other in a sardine can, drawing on the old idiom (“packed like sardines”). It echoes the content of the book, and Connell and Marianne’s relationship, in a really clever but unsettling way. Read my full review of Normal People here.

The Helpline by Katherine Collette

The Helpline - Katherine Collette - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If I recall correctly, the first time I saw the cover of The Helpline, I literally laughed out loud. I may have even snorted. It’s a clever little visual device, using a broken biscuit to make a pie chart, but they really level-up with the labels. The graph is supposed to represent “Amount of work Germaine does vs. Amount of work other people do”. Naturally, Germaine’s is the (much) larger portion. Who among us can’t relate? Again, this book cover gives you an immediate feel for the tone and content of the book. A+ work, would buy again. Read my full review of The Helpline here.

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race has one of those covers that wins design awards. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it. The title of the book is controversial enough, but the design they use here takes it to the next level. From a distance, it might read as “why I’m no longer talking about race” (it might even render that way in this photograph I took), but when you get up close you can see the words “to white people” indented into the book’s cover. I have no doubt, when the designer pitched this, a penny-pincher somewhere balked, but I’m glad they went ahead regardless. Read my full review of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race here.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Hands up if the only thing you know about Carrie Fisher is that she played Princess Leia in Star Wars. Don’t worry, there’s no shame in that; it’s the case for most people. That’s what makes the cover design for Wishful Drinking so inspired. She plays on her public image (the Leia hair and outfit) and icons from the Star Wars franchise (the text that rolls up) while also subverting it. By presenting the Leia character as exhausted, with booze and pills to hand, she shows us – before we’ve even opened the front flap – that this book is going to tell us a different story.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One of my great frustrations in putting this list of the best book covers together was deciding whether or not to include my edition of The Bell Jar. It’s undoubtedly beautiful, but I’m just not a skilled enough photographer to do it justice (so please don’t judge by this picture alone!). They took the iconic original cover of Sylvia Plath’s only novel, with its circular pattern, and levelled-up by printing it in embossed gold against a felty black backround. It’s a truly gorgeous addition to any book collection (almost as gorgeous as the prose to be found inside). Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi - Susanna Clarke - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Piranesi is a masterclass in book design, from start to finish. At a glance, the dust jacket is beautiful, perfectly paired colours and intricate artwork that isn’t over-complicated or off-putting. They’ve used the same font as they used for Clarke’s debut novel, for continuity. If you slip off the jacket, you won’t find any old boring hardback inside: it features more gorgeous embossing, plus end-papers that are almost as fascinating as the story. It all captures the titular character’s charm, significance, and whimsy.

The Helpline – Katherine Collette

I first encountered Katherine Collette via her podcast with Kate Mildenhall (The First Time). She spoke there about The Helpline, writing it and the process of publishing, and I thought it sounded fascinating. To be honest, though, I probably would have picked it up anyway, based on the amazing and hilarious cover art alone…

The Helpline - Katherine Collette - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Helpline here.
(I’ll get a tiny cut if you do, because it’s an affiliate link – thank you for helping me keep keeping up!)

The Helpline is a book about Germaine. Germaine is in her late thirties, she’s very good with numbers, she loves Soduku (more than most people, she attends conventions and watches YouTube videos of champions in her spare time), and she very recently lost her job as senior mathematician at Wallace Insurance. Her mother, Sharon, is hardly the nurturing type, and full of useless suggestions, which is why Germaine makes a point of seeing her as little as possible. In fact, she avoids most people. She’d rather be analysing spreadsheet data than engaging in pointless conversation.

Germaine soon discovers that there is very little demand in the job market for senior mathematicians. In the end, she’s forced to accept the only job she can get: answering the senior’s helpline at the local council. She shares an office with her new colleague, Eva (who drinks three large Slurpees a day, and sleeps just five hours a night). Aside from the paycheck, the only good thing about working the helpline is the free biscuits.

It’s not long before the mayor, high-flyer Verity Bainbridge, recognises Germaine’s unique talents and work ethic. Naturally, she invites Germaine to participate in a secret project: ousting the chairperson of the local Senior Citizen’s Center, Gladys. Gladys has been causing a lot of trouble for the owner of the ritzy golf club next door. In fact, it might be best if the Senior Citizen’s Center was closed down altogether – for the good of the community, Verity reassures Germaine. Germaine agrees, and takes to her new assignment with vigor, but it all goes a bit sideways when she’s forced to get to know the people she’s supposed to be getting rid of…

The Helpline is a charming, heart-warming story for anyone who loves a good oddball protagonist: think The Rosie Project, or A Man Called Ove. Germaine’s quirky narration (complete with helpful figures and graphs to illustrate her story: anticipated career trajectory, persons at fault for The Incident, and so on) is immediately endearing. Of course, the underlying truth that makes these kinds of books enjoyable is the disconnect between the way the narrator sees the world and the way we know it to be, but the comedy is magnified by the fact that we can also recognise the truth in Germaine’s dealings with bureaucracy and office politics. In other hands, that could make The Helpline sad or confusing or (worst of all) dull, but Collette nails the voice that allows us to engage and empathise and laugh with (instead of at) Germaine.

Another masterstroke: Collette provides an array of small, delightful details that flesh out The Helpline without bogging it down. I can see how this plot and its characters could have easily swung too far in one direction or the other – grossly saccharine, or striving but soulless – but Collette gets the balance just right. Her prose is lighthearted, but sharp, and straightforward, but enchanting.

An important note: Germaine’s personality isn’t a front. There’s no shadowy childhood trauma that “made her this way” (unless you count the cheating scandal that robbed Alan Cosgrove of the 2006 Soduku Championship). It’s a welcome respite from the trigger-heavy “rom coms with depth” that build a character around a defining Terrible Thing that happened to them years prior to the narrative.

I’ve read elsewhere a couple of veiled allusions to the fact that The Helpline may have been inspired by real-life events (Celia may or may not bear a resemblance to a certain president of a certain senior citizen’s centre somewhere in this great country). It’s certainly not hard to believe, given the machinations of local councils and petty corruption we’ve all become too used to. That said, this book is more than just an office comedy with a light romantic sub-plot: it’s a witty contemporary parable about how we decide what to value in life, and what to do when the world throws us a curve ball or two.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Helpline:

  • “I didn’t finish , too slow characters pathetic, all they seem concerned about was biscuit jar .” – Jan Fischer
  • “The characters made me laugh throughout the whole book. Of course, they also made me quit doing Sudoku.” – Betsy Donaghey

7 Best Cheer-Up Reads

Well, after I read and reviewed A Little Life – the bleakest book in the history of language – I found myself in need of a few laughs. There are a few books that I keep to hand as my go-to best cheer up reads. Usually, they’re the ones I recommend to friends and loved ones who are going through a hard time, but this week I reached for them for myself. Here are my seven best cheer-up reads…

7 Best Cheer-Up Reads - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If you buy anything through an affiliate link on this page, I’ll get a small commission for referring you, which will cheer me up for sure!

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m going to serve you the cream of the crop right up front: The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is my number-one go-to ultimate cheer up read. I challenge anyone to pick up this story of a centenarian’s Forrest Gump-esque adventures around the world and not crack a smile or two. Something about the combination of curmudgeonly senior citizen with mad hijinks and happenstance just really tickles my funny bone. I regularly give this book to loved ones who are going through a hard time and need an escape, and it hasn’t failed us yet. Read my full review of The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s the perfect cheer up read for bookworms of any age: The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project. Lenore Appelhans draws on the tiredest tropes in modern rom-coms (as the title would suggest), and crafts this beautifully light but clever comedy about what happens when they go off script. Even though it’s been marketed to young readers, this slightly-older reader got a real kick out of it, and I’m sure even-older readers would, too. Read my full review of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project here.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less - Andrew Sean Greer - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When Andrew Sean Greer sat down to write a semi-autobiographical novel about the miseries of becoming an old gay writer, he realised the only way to make the story interesting was to make it funny. The result is Less, the remarkably cheerful and uplifting read about a miserable writer who flies around the world to avoid having to attend his ex’s wedding. This is one of the rare cheer up reads that found both popular and critical success: it was a best-seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner! Read my full review of Less here.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If there’s any writer guaranteed to make me laugh so hard my cheeks hurt, it’s David Sedaris. Me Talk Pretty One Day is his spectacular memoir, about growing up and getting out (of both the closet and the country). He is delightfully wry, cutting and witty, but never cruel or over-the-top. He mocks himself just as much as he does his family, friends, teachers, and strangers. If you don’t need a cheer up read so much as you do a good belly laugh at someone’s searing insight, this is the book for you. Read my full review of Me Talk Pretty One Day here.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding


Bridget Jones’s Diary is a cheer up read you can laugh at and laugh with, simultaneously. Who among us hasn’t committed to a year of eating virtuously, only to find themselves face-down in a tub of ice cream days later? Who among us hasn’t sworn off alcohol in the midst of the worst wine hangover of their lives, only to find themselves back down the pub counselling their best friends over a bottle the following night? Who hasn’t sworn off men only to find themselves between the sheets with a loveable rogue? Let them cast the first stone, I say! The rest of us will be enjoying Bridget’s thrills and spills and laughing with recognition.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian - Andy Weir - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

On the face of it, The Martian probably doesn’t sound like a cheer up read at all: in a Gravity-meets-Robinson Crusoe disaster, a man finds himself trapped alone on Mars, with rapidly dwindling supplies and no real hope for rescue. Weir’s masterstroke is that he made this story hilarious through the narration of the main character, Mark Watney, whose no-bullshit and no-holds-barred logs will have you snickering into the spine. While his colleagues back on Earth are worrying for his safety and his mental health, Watney is naming craters after himself and making the best of his shitty circumstances. Read my full review of The Martian here.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All The Boys I've Loved Before - Jenny Han - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I can be a cynical snot, I don’t deny it. Usually, hackneyed fake-dating young-adult romance tropes have me rolling my eyes so hard they might just pop out. Every once in a while, though, I encounter a book like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and I’m forced to eat a big ol’ serve of humble pie. This one ticks all the boxes – the nerdy but adorable girl who finds herself in a pickle, agreeing to fake-date the sexy sporty guy from her high-school to make her soulful “soul mate” jealous… but damn, it works. It’s sweet, it’s funny, and it’s a cheer up read sure to melt even the stoniest of hearts. Read my full review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before here.

Bonus tip…

If all else fails, break glass in case of emergency and pick up any of your childhood favourites that stand the test of time. (Beware of any that were racist or sexist in a way that you didn’t recognise as a child and can’t ignore now: they’ll only make matters worse.) There’s no cheer up read like a book you loved as a kid. It will take you all the way back to a time before any of what’s getting you down even mattered. Need help choosing one? Let me know in the comments below, I’m happy to help!

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