Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Page 4 of 183

All The Beautiful Things You Love – Jonathan Seidler

The blurb for All The Beautiful Things You Love promises a romance in reverse, a love story told from the break-up looking back. So, I’ve been steeling myself for a bummer ever since I opened the package with the copy sent to me for review by the wonderful team at Macmillan Australia.

It’s a very contemporary take on the tragic end of a marriage, with a woman selling off all the possessions that remind her of her ex on Facebook Marketplace. To keep pace on the rent of her London flat, Elly divests herself of everything that reminds her of Enzo – the couch, the dining table, the framed vinyl, the bicycle – and as she does, she takes the reader through the memories they shared around that object.

All The Beautiful Things You Love is a very passionate story, and Seidler does an excellent job of evoking the all-consuming grief of heartbreak. There was one Antiques Roadshow-style moment that actually had my eyes welling up, and I’m not the kind of reader who usually cries. I’d imagine these feelings would be compounded by listening to the curated Spotify playlist to accompany the book (accessed via a QR code in the front pages), but I’m not the kind of reader who can listen to music at the same time, either.

Still, there were some weird perspective shifts in All The Beautiful Things You Love that threw me out of the story. They probably would’ve been okay if not for the non-linear timeline playing out. That makes it a hard book to pick up and put down, so there’s little opportunity to take a break from the overwhelming devastation of Elly and Enzo’s conscious uncoupling. Perhaps that could’ve been mitigated with some more comic relief, but I don’t think Seidler wanted us to feel relieved at all. So, be sure to pick up some tissues before you sit down to read All The Beautiful Things You Love, and set aside a good chunk of time for it, too.

Buy All The Beautiful Things You Love on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

35 Amazing Debut Novels

Not a week goes by without a publisher promising a “stunning” or “sparkling” debut novel, or a “singular new voice” – but a debut is a tricky thing to get right. Authors-to-be often slave over their first book for years, before it ever makes it into the hands of an editor or a reader, and yet it’s still near impossible to sound like a practiced and masterful writer your first time out. That said, there are many debut novels that have shown us hints of the greatness to come from the pens of authors who have gone on to have illustrious and lauded careers (or are expected to imminently). Here are 35 amazing debut novels that actually stand up to the press-release hype.

35 Amazing Debut Novels - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

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Blurb: “Written with gemlike precision and marked by a sly sense of humor, Conversations with Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth, and the messy edges of female friendship.”

Review: “In this searing, insightful debut, Rooney offers an unapologetic perspective on the vagaries of relationships… a treatise on married life, the impact of infidelity, the ramifications of one’s actions, and how the person one chooses to be with can impact one’s individuality. Throughout, Rooney’s descriptive eye lends beauty and veracity to this complex and vivid story.” – Publishers Weekly

Read my full review of Conversations With Friends here.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

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Blurb: “Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated—and, through Mick, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.”

Review:The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a miracle of compassion, pity, and irony. Form and matter are perfectly blended in the novel.” – Virginia Quarterly Review

Read my full review of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter here.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

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Blurb: “A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.”

Review: “All great novelists are great listeners, and Such a Fun Age marks the debut of an extraordinarily gifted one.” – Slate

Read my full review of Such A Fun Age here.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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Blurb:Frankenstein presents an unworldly outcast who turns to violence only when he is rejected and deprived of affection. Yet his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, must pay the price for his scientific arrogance, his desire to play God, usurp the female role and ‘give birth’ to another living being. In scenes of nightmarish power, monster and maker meet in the shadow of Mont Blanc and chase across frozen Arctic wastes.”

Review: “In a story that’s reflected so much of the last two hundred years, and centers so much on choices, storytelling, and the potential for change, it only makes sense that Frankenstein reflects changes within its own creator.” – NPR

Read my full review of Frankenstein here.

Luster by Raven Leilani

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Blurb: “Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life—her hunger, her anger—in a tumultuous era.”

Review: “A darkly funny, hilariously moving debut from a stunning new voice.” – Brit Bennett

Read my full review of Luster here.

Green Dot by Madeleine Gray

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Blurb: “With its daringly specific and intimate voice, Green Dot is a darkly hilarious and deeply felt examination of the joys and indignities of coming into adulthood against the pitfalls of the twenty-first century and the winding, tortuous, and often very funny journey we take in deciding who we are and who we want to be.”

Review: “A heartfelt debut about the joys and disasters of young adulthood.” – People

Read my full review of Green Dot here.

When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald

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Blurb:When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all…we are all legends of our own making.”

Review: “In this engaging debut novel, MacDonald skillfully balances drama and violence with humor, highlighting how an unorthodox family unit is still a family.” – Kirkus Reviews

Read my full review of When We Were Vikings here.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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Blurb: “A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.”

Review: “A powerhouse of a debut novel, a literary mystery crafted out of shimmering prose and precise, painful observation about racial barriers, the burden of familial expectations, and the basic human thirst for belonging.” – Huffington Post

Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

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Blurb: “Susanna Clarke’s brilliant first novel is an utterly compelling epic tale of nineteenth-century England and the two magicians who, first as teacher and pupil and then as rivals, emerge to change its history.”

Review: “What kind of magic can make an 800-page novel seem too short? Whatever it is, debut author Susanna Clarke is possessed by it.” – USA Today

Read my full review of Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell here.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is In Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “A searing, utterly unvarnished debut, Fleishman Is in Trouble is an insightful, unsettling, often hilarious exploration of a culture trying to navigate the fault lines of an institution that has proven to be worthy of our great wariness and our great hope.”

Review: “In her witty and well-observed debut, Taffy Brodesser-Akner updates the miserable-matrimony novel, dropping it squarely in our times.” – The New York Times Book Review

Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

The Martian by Andy Weir

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Blurb: “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there… But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

Review:Weir combines the heart-stopping with the humorous in this brilliant debut novel.” – Library Journal

Read my full review of The Martian here.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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Blurb: “Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.”

Review: “With a diverse cast of characters, quick-witted dialog, and a complicated relationship between to young people with the eyes of the world watching their every move, McQuiston’s debut is an irresistible, hopeful, and sexy romantic comedy that considers real questions about personal and public responsibility.” – Library Journal

Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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Blurb: “Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.”

Review: “This riveting, brutally hilarious, ultra-dark novel is an explosive debut by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and heralds an exciting new literary voice.” – NYLON

Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History - Donna Tartt - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of thought and life a world away from their banal contemporaries. But their search for the transcendent leads them down a dangerous path, beyond human constructs of morality.”

Review:Tartt’s voice is unlike that of any of her contemporaries. Her beautiful language, intricate plotting, fascinating characters, and intellectual energy make her debut by far the most interesting work yet from her generation.” – The Boston Globe

Read my full review of The Secret History here.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Blurb:The Virgin Suicides is a modern classic, a lyrical and timeless tale of sex and suicide that transforms and mythologizes suburban middle-American life.”

Review: “A piercing first novel… lyrical and portentous.” – The New York Times

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb:Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open your heart. “

Review: “Debut author Honeyman expertly captures a woman whose inner pain is excruciating and whose face and heart are scarred, but who still holds the capacity to love and be loved.” – Publishers Weekly

Read my full review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine here.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Blurb: “Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly.”

Review: “[A] breathtaking debut…Written with multiple twists and turns, Sharp Objects is a work of psychological prowess and page-turning thrills.” – Richmond Times

Read my full review of Sharp Objects here.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, To Kill A Mockingbird views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.”

Review: “A first novel of such rare excellence that it will no doubt make a great many readers slow down to relish more fully its simple distinction.” – Chicago Tribune

Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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Blurb: “In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism.”

Review: “The best surrealist fiction resides somewhere between the eerie and the actual, and that’s exactly where Carmen Maria Machado feels most at home… A stunning debut.” – Los Angeles Magazine

Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb:Fredrik Backman’s beloved first novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.”

Review: “A charming debut…You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life. You’ll also want to move to Scandinavia, where everything’s cuter.” – People

Read my full review of A Man Called Ove here.

The Girls by Emma Cline

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Blurb: “At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader.”

Review: “For a story that traffics in the lurid notoriety of the Manson murders, The Girls is an extraordinary act of restraint. With the maturity of a writer twice her age, Cline has written a wise novel that’s never showy: a quiet, seething confession of yearning and terror.” – The Washington Post

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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Blurb: “A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre has dazzled generations of readers with its depiction of a woman’s quest for freedom. Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor-qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice.”

Review: “At the end we are steeped through and through with the genius, the vehemence, the indignation of Charlotte Brontë.” – Virginia Woolf

Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

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Blurb: “An unforgettable and heartwarming debut about how a chance encounter with a list of library books helps forge an unlikely friendship between two very different people in a London suburb.”

Review: “This moving debut demonstrates the power of novels to provide comfort in the face of devastating loss and loneliness, with relatable characters and a heartwarming tone throughout.” – Booklist

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Blurb:The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: young, brilliant, beautiful, and enormously talented, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s neurosis becomes completely understandable and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.”

Review: “As clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.” – The New York Times

Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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Blurb: “In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.”

Review: “An outstanding debut novel about love, death, and the lifelong repercussions of unresolved grief.” – Observer

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Pizza Girl - Jean Kyoung Frazier - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Blurb: “As one woman looks toward motherhood and the other toward middle age, the relationship between the two begins to blur in strange, complicated, and ultimately heartbreaking ways.”

Review: “Sharp and surprising, Pizza Girl shows us how obsession can fill the empty spaces in a young woman’s life. Jean Kyoung Frazier will make you laugh with one sentence and break your heart with the next. A delicious debut.” – Julia Phillips

Read my full review of Pizza Girl here.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

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Blurb: “In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also an heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.”

Review:Elizabeth is Missing will stir and shake you: an investigation into a seventy-year-old crime, through the eyes of the most likeably unreliable of narrators. But the real mystery at its compassionate core is the fragmentation of the human mind.” – Emma Donoghue

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

Blurb: “It would be the adventure of a lifetime for anyone else, but Allan has a larger-than-life backstory: Not only has he witnessed some of the most important events of the twentieth century, but he has actually played a key role in them. Starting out in munitions as a boy, he somehow finds himself involved in many of the key explosions of the twentieth century and travels the world, sharing meals and more with everyone from Stalin, Churchill, and Truman to Mao, Franco, and de Gaulle. Quirky and utterly unique, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has charmed readers across the world.”

Review: “A mordantly funny and loopily freewheeling debut novel about ageing disgracefully.” – The Sunday Times

Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

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Blurb: “This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can’t reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.”

Review: “If I had the ability to momentarily wipe my memory, I’d use it to reread Detransition, Baby for the first time.” – Vogue

Sense And Sensibility by Jane Austen

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Blurb: “Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love – and its threatened loss – the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.”

Review: “As nearly flawless as any fiction could be.” – Eudora Welty

Read my full review of Sense And Sensibility here.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

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Blurb:Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a landmark satirical novel by Anita Loos. In it we follow the diary entries of Lorelei Lee a blond flapper from Little Rock complete with spelling and grammar errors. What follows is a delightful romp as we discover that Lorelei is anything but a dumb blonde. Her observations on life are witty, humorous, cutting, and outrageous.”

Review: “The great American novel.” – Edith Wharton

Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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Blurb: “Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking. To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.”

Review:Horrorstör delivers a crisp terror-tale…[and] Hendrix strikes a nice balance between comedy and horror.” – The Washington Post

Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

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Blurb: “The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?”

Review:Well Met will especially appeal to readers who like bookstores, Renaissance fair shenanigans and nerdy English teachers wearing vests. DeLuca will have readers laughing all the way to the turkey leg vendor.” – Shelf Awareness

Read my full review of Well Met here.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

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Blurb: “A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.”

Review: “Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient is an absolute delight—charming, sexy, and centered on a protagonist you love rooting for.” – Buzzfeed

Read my full review of The Kiss Quotient here.

The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean McKay

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Blurb: “Bold, exhilarating, and wholly original, The Animals in That Country asks what would happen, for better or worse, if we finally understood what animals were saying.”

Review: “We’ve all wished we could talk to animals, but McKay teaches us that we really should be careful what we wish for. By turns bizarre and profound, this is a striking debut.” – Hill Of Content

Read my full review of The Animals In That Country here.

Reputation – Lex Croucher

Regency romance is truly having its Moment – but long gone are the days of chaste, historically accurate novels about the lords and ladies of the early 19th century. The new generation of Regency romances are full of life and colour, and rebellious men and women challenging the rigid class rules of the time. Lex Croucher’s first novel, Reputation, is one such story.

Reputation - Lex Croucher - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Get Reputation here.
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Reputation begins – as so many Regency romances do – with a young, middle-class lady, staying with stuffy and overbearing relatives (her parents having absconded to Live By The Sea), bored out of her mind. Georgiana is desperate for friendship and excitement, but her only excursions with her fussy aunt are to dinners with neighbours that bore the life out of her.

At one such dull ‘party’, she’s hiding in an alcove to escape the dreary small talk when she’s joined by Frances Campbell, an enigmatic and unfathomably rich party girl of the social set. Lacking any other options, they befriend each other, and Georgiana is introduced to a whole new world beyond her wildest dreams.

Yes, Reputation is not one for the era purists. The focus is on fun, rather than realism. It’s Regency England with sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. (Okay, fine, more the first two than the latter, but you get my point.) This Brat Pack of young lords and ladies thumb their nose at chaperones, get high on ‘peasant drugs’ in barns, drink themselves silly and generally cause chaos wherever they go. It’s everything Georgiana has been missing in her life, but of course, entering a world into which you weren’t born comes at a price.

Reputation has a romance plot, naturally, and a good one at that – but it’s really a book about friendship and class. It’s Mean Girls meets Bridgerton, and Croucher does an excellent job of incorporating critique into a standard storyline. In between all the lavish parties and clandestine debauchery, there are serious questions raised about sex, consent, wealth and privilege.

This is made abundantly clear in one particular scene, where one of Frances’s friends explicitly tells Georgiana that she can’t expect to get away with behaving the way the rest of them do, because she doesn’t have the wealth or the privilege of birth to protect her from the consequences that girls of her station would face. Georgiana’s shocked by this, which should tell you everything you need to know about the naivete of her character.

Reputation also has a remarkably diverse cast, with characters drawn from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, including nobility of Indian descent. Croucher says in the Acknowledgements that this was deliberate, a conscious choice to protest the widespread whitewashing of British history. For more context on that, I highly recommend reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.

All that said, what sparkles most in Reputation is, of course, the burgeoning romance between Georgiana and one of the men she meets in her new circle. My absolute favourite pages of Reputation were the letters exchanged between Georgiana and Thomas – they were so witty and flirtatious and fun! They had me grinning like a text message exchange with a new lover.

I also particularly enjoyed the (relatively) subtle resolution to the queer romance that blooms between Frances (who is revealed to be bisexual) and Jane, the same character who told Georgiana she was too poor to party. Their mutual attraction and distress at the social mores that keep them apart is brought to a really satisfying and clever solution in the epilogue, so hats off to Croucher for that.

So, if you’re looking for an accurate and appropriate Regency romance, full of long sighs and lingering glances across a ballroom, steer well clear of Reputation. If, however, you’re up for a fun romp through the Regency party scene, something to tide you over between seasons of Bridgerton, you’ll find this one to be a pure delight.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Reputation:

  • “it’s about as Regency as I am.” – Anita Sunday
  • “If you love historical/regency romance, this book is not for you. If you love YA and strong themes of alcoholism, morally grey characters, and don’t mind sexual assault, this is for you.” – Alice

Appreciation – Liam Pieper

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Buy Appreciation here.
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Now and then, you come across a book that makes your jaw drop. The latest one for me is Appreciation by Liam Pieper, kindly sent to me for review by Penguin Books Australia.

The conceit in and of itself is a bit of a show-stopper: a cancelled Australian artist has to enlist a ghostwriter to pen a memoir, in the hopes of rehabilitating his public image and restoring the eye-watering value of his paintings. “He will have to suffer the worst of indignities,” the narrator says on page 66. “He will have to write a book.”

The blurb promises Appreciation is “a wild romp through Australian celebrity that’s as bold and scathing as it is hilarious”, and I can tell you it definitely delivers. This book is sharp as hell, a brutal critique of Australian arts culture and the media-managed shrink-wrapped nature of ‘authenticity’ as a brand. Best of all, it comes from an insider – Pieper himself is an award-winning ghostwriter, and presumably has extensive experience dealing with real-life characters like his fictional Oli Darling. How else would he pitch the tale so perfectly?

I mean, the gall! The gumption! Pieper clearly doesn’t care about making friends in the industry (or not getting sued, for that matter). I imagine he’ll struggle to get any arts funding in the foreseeable future, but I’m very grateful for his sacrifice. Hats off!

Buy Appreciation on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read Appreciation on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

10 Books To Read When You Feel Lonely

There are few worse feelings in life than loneliness. In fact, it’s epidemic, and linked to poor mental and physical health. Luckily, for bookworms, we have shelves full of books that can help alleviate that feeling – a temporary salve at least. Here are ten books to read when you feel lonely.

10 Books To Read When You Feel Lonely - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Eleanor Oliphant has basically made loneliness her whole personality – not that she’d describe herself as lonely. She’s ‘completely fine’, as the title suggests, with her work and her pizza and vodka nights and her weekly conversations with Mummy. Over the course of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, though, she discovers that true human connection is not impossible, and there are people who can see beyond her eccentricities. This is one of the books to read when you feel lonely because, if an odd duck like Eleanor can overcome it, so can you. Read my full review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine here.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club - Richard Osman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Thursday Murder Club is a books to read when you feel lonely two-fer: it’s got a group of friends that will warm your heart and make you laugh, and a murder mystery that will keep you intrigued and distracted. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron enjoy investigating unsolved murders as a hobby, but when one occurs right underneath their noses in their retirement village, their skills are put to the test. They’re an unlikely gang of armchair detectives, but they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeves. Plus, there’s a few sequels that come after this one, and books are one of the few healthy binges that can help you deal with loneliness.

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

Everything I Know About Love - Dolly Alderton - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One of the most accessible solutions to loneliness is a good chat with a good friend. If one of those isn’t forthcoming, the next best thing is reading a memoir like Everything I Know About Love. Dolly Alderton is disarmingly frank, a bit of a mess but a loveable one, and reading her memoir is like listening to a friend tell you a bunch of stories about her life over a glass of wine (or five). She’s even got a couple of recipes to give you, along with some advice for navigating early adulthood and cautionary tales.

The Martian by Andy Weir

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

You think you’re lonely? Try being the only person on an entire planet! That’s Mark Watney’s situation in The Martian, a book about an astronaut accidentally abandoned by his team on the red planet. He has plenty of problems to contend with – figuring out how to survive, generating enough food and breathable air for himself on a planet that supplies neither, until the next spaceship arrives in a few years’ time – but he remains optimistic, no matter how insurmountable the obstacles. This is one of those books to read when you feel lonely because Watney’s enthusiasm is simply infectious, and his great sense of humour about his dire circumstances is sure to make you feel better about your own. Read my full review of The Martian here.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Loneliness is a problem for Don Tillman, and like all the problems in his life – grocery shopping, workplace politics, schoolyard bullies – he’s sure it should be approached logically and scientifically. That’s why he creates The Wife Project, a questionnaire designed to filter out candidates and find his most compatible partner for life. What could possibly go wrong? The Rosie Project is a book about looking for love and companionship in all the wrong places, but somehow finding it anyway. Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

The Reading List - Sara Nisha Adams - Keeping Up With The Penguins

For many lonely bookworms, the library is a place of solace. Whether you’re a patron – like widower Mukesh looking for a way to connect with his granddaughter – or an employee – like bright but anxious teenager Aleshia – it’s a place to find connection and comfort. In The Reading List, these lonely souls form an unlikely friendship over a list of book recommendations Aleshia discovers in one of the returns. This is a story about finding joy through the common interest of books, and we can all use a little of that, lonely or not.

The Helpline by Katherine Collette

The Helpline - Katherine Collette - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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), and she makes a point of seeing her mother as little as possible. In fact, she avoids most people. She’d rather be analysing spreadsheet data than engaging in pointless conversation. But now that she’s lost her job as a senior mathematician, she’s forced to find alternate employment answering phones for the local senior citizen helpline. It forces her to connect with other people, for the first time in a long time, and she discovers it’s not quite as bad as she remembers. Read my full review of The Helpline here.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

My Best Friend's Exorcism - Grady Hendrix - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Counteract your loneliness with a heaping serve of nostalgia, and a side of… demonic possession? My Best Friend’s Exorcism will take you back to the heady days of adolescent friendship, when your friends are your world, and you’ll do anything to protect them. Of course, it’s a Grady Hendrix horror-comedy novel, so things also get a little freaky, but that’s a nice distraction from the real-world horrors that exacerbate our feelings of isolation. Read my full review of My Best Friend’s Exorcism here.

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

When you live to be a hundred, you see a lot of friends come and go, and you inevitably experience some periods of loneliness. Allan Karlsson doesn’t let it get him down, though. There’s always vodka! In The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, he (you guessed it!) climbs out the window of his retirement home and goes on an adventure, one that takes him around the world and elicits some very strange memories from his century of living life to the fullest. This is one of the best books to read when you feel lonely because not only is it great fun, but it reminds you that it’s never too late and your life isn’t over until its over. Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock

The Other Side Of Beautiful - Kim Lock - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re feeling really lonely, it might seem strange that I’m recommending a book about someone who chooses to be alone most of the time – but give it a chance. The Other Side Of Beautiful is a really moving book about overcoming your fears to find connection and happiness. A woman who lives with severe anxiety and agoraphobia is forced out into the world by a house fire, and finds herself driving the length of Australia in a run-down van with her sausage dog, Wasabi, for company. It might sound bleak, but it’s one of the most heartwarming books to read when you feel lonely – promise! Read my full review of The Other Side Of Beautiful here.

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