The Book Ninja

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Apr 2018

Member Reviews

The Book Ninja is yet another book I’ve read of late which was written by two authors. This time by Aussie friends, Berg and Kalus. And unfortunately, like the other ones I’ve read, despite the title's hype, I thought it was an average read. 

Frankie, our heroine, has been unlucky in love for some time and is on the lookout for Mr Right. One thing she is looking for in a man is the same taste in books. She meets Sunny Day (not the best romantic hero name I’ve ever come across) when he comes into the bookstore where she ‘works’ and, although she is immediately attracted to him, he only reads Young Adult --a genre Frankie hates. Thinking about this later, she gets the brainwave of leaving her favourite books on the trains across Melbourne, along with her contact details and a "call me if you loved this book and want a date" message on one of its pages. The idea is when a random guy on the train finds the book, he’ll read her inscription and, realising they’re meant to be together (as he also loved the book), he’ll contact her, they’ll date, and fall madly in love. I don’t even know where to start with the flaws in this plan. 

Weirdly, the book drops do prove to be successful for Frankie and she goes on lots of dates, after which she writes them up in her blog. It's at this point that I realised the original and interesting sounding premise had become completely unoriginal and ridiculous.

As a leading lady Frankie's not the most likeable. She’s so judgey, for starters. She dismisses Sunny because he loves Young Adult. WTF? Maybe if he was reading porn on the internet, I might almost raise an eyebrow, but being a huge fan of Harry Potter, Hunger Games and The Maze Runner does not make you an awful person. There’s quite a few book heroes (and real life nice men) who don’t read at all, in fact. I can see that Berg and Kalus first introduced this YA hate to be funny but the joke faded fast. Besides that, Frankie was also homophobic, okay with cheating and lying, and self-centred. 

Then, there’s Cat--the obligatory chick lit crazy best friend. Cat’s behaviour was not even in the least bit funny. The joke about her husband, Claud, being a knitter was mildly amusing at first but, like the rest of his and Cat’s scenes, rapidly wore thin.

Instead of sticking with the one ‘quirky’ character, Berg and Kalus decided on writing every other supporting character in this ‘zany’ way. Unfortunately none of them were particularly original either. From the hippy mum to the lovestruck teenage friend, they have all appeared in other chicklit books or romcom movies, I’m sure. 

Even the idea of the blog and the ‘madcap’ fun of the dates has been done, and better. 

Despite all of the above, I could have maybe liked this book more if I’d enjoyed Frankie and Sunny’s romantic scenes. Together, they were boring and had not even the tiniest spark of chemistry. The only two characters who did have chemistry were the two readers who frequently commented on Frankie’s blog. (Not a good sign when I got more excited over characters who were restricted to one sentence every few chapters.)

Oh, and I must mention why I put 'work' in inverted commas earlier. Cat and Claud own the bookstore and employ Frankie but I’m mystified at how these characters can pay their rent even. Seriously, they are constantly closing the store for the most ridiculous reasons (from attending gym classes together to nipping out for coffee -- what’s the point of having two people if they both go out at the same time?) and they rarely serve anyone when they are there. And if they do, they’re super rude. Between that and ‘borrowing’ the stock to place around the trains, I can’t see this shop making much profit...

There is one thing that The Book Ninja does do well and that’s talk about books. It’s definitely a “book about books’’. Get ready to add to your TBR if you read this. I just don’t think this is enough for me to recommend it to anyone.

2 out of 5
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Depending on their location, and how often they frequent public transport, readers may or may not be aware of the Books on the Rail program in Australia, through which self-appointed book ninjas can order special stickers and drop their favourite titles off on trains to be discovered by other readers. It’s a fantastic idea to spread the word about great books and, as it turns out, a really interesting idea for an Aussie-based romance specifically for the book-addicted among us. So Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus, the creators of Books on the Rail, set out to bring us just such a story.

Despite being populated with characters who at times feel like they’re not so much characters as a group of over the top quirks whose sole purpose is to put Frankie in compromising positions, this is a lot of bookish fun.

//She liked to judge a novel purely by its opening sentence, which she and her best friend Cat dubbed a ‘book birth.’ In Emma‘s birth, Austen described Miss Woodhouse as ‘handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition.’ By contrast, the opening sentence of Frankie’s birth was her mother proclaiming, ‘she’s bald and has her father’s big nose.’//

Through alternating chapters, readers are witness to the events of Frankie’s desperately single day to day life and the blog posts and book ninja activities these events inspire. She’s scattering all of her favourite books across various forms of Melbourne public transport with her details on the seventh last page in the hopes of finding a bookish kindred spirit to date.

//Dating is much like beginning a new book.
First, there’s trepidation. You ask yourself: What am I looking for in a book? What mood am I in? What are my friends reading? Work is picking up, do I really have the capacity to invest in the Wars and Peaces of this world, or should I be looking for something lighter, perhaps a little more The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxyesque?//

At around the same time, she meets Sunny, a dreamboat who loves young adult books… and Frankie is a total book snob, so she keeps going on dates with the people who find her books because she’s embarrassed by the very idea of young adult books. We all know how that’s going to turn out, right?

//Frankie opened her menu and perused the list of cocktails. Gin and Twain, Bloody Jane, Grenadine Brooks, Lady Chatterly’s Loves Aperol, Gone with the Whiskey, Or-well, Better Make it a Double. This Young-Adult-reading man really pulled this one out of the woodwork.
‘Menu looks good, but there’s no The Fault in our Spritz or The Maze Rummer,’ Frankie looked up innocently. ‘Maybe they have a kids’ menu?’
‘So, just a Tequila Smugrise for you, then?’
‘Huh, there’s nothing arrogant about reading the classics!’ Frankie retorted. ‘It’s just common sense.’
‘Okay, Martini bit haughty, what can I get you, then?’ he asked with a cheeky grin.//

This would be a great read for fans of books like The Rosie Project, Happiness For Humans, and Whispers Through a Megaphone.

There were some things that rather annoyed me about the choices made by the characters within this story, especially when it comes to certain characters being particularly hypocritical and judgmental, all while lying to those closest to them. It also takes quite a while for Frankie to grow as a person and show some respect to the people around her. But, to be honest, these are the kind of issues that would make for a much shorter book had they not been present, and they don’t get in the way of the reader’s need to see how it all ends up.
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Frankie works in a book store with her pregnant best friend Cat. She’s a lover of classic works as well as an author who stopped writing after her second book was panned. Keen to find a new man, the unlucky-in-love Frankie decides to leave copies of her favourite books on the train with a note asking the reader to contact her for a date. This works a treat and Frankie goes on several dates, inspiring her to start a blog about her experiences. But meanwhile she has met the charming Sunny – she can’t get him off her mind but he reads YA of all things! 
This is a clever idea for a plot that will naturally resonate with book lovers. Frankie is a memorable character prone to getting herself into some hilarious situations. It’s a fun, witty read but it could have improved with some of the minor characters being either fleshed out more or left out altogether. I also would have liked a bit more resolution for Cat’s storyline. But overall well worth a read.
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THE BOOK NINJA by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus is a fun Romance/Comedy and just great for sitting in waiting rooms in hospital while waiting for medical people to push and prod your bored husband. Said bored husband was not impressed with me cackling with laughter on the odd occasion when he felt he needed love and devotion – or at the very least a little sympathy.

However, this personal insight does not tell you much about the book! Frankie has a life that many booklovers aspire to, she works in a bookstore – the Little Brunswick Street Bookshop. However, she is not just any old book lover – she is a classics booklover, to the point of being a book snob. The closest she would get to reading romance would be to read Pride and Prejudice. When Sunny, a gorgeous, intelligent man, came into the shop to buy a book she went weak at the knees – until he purchased a popular YA Science Fiction book. She felt his life was wasted and this misguided like of non-classic books was a flaw in an otherwise perfect persona. So dismissing Sunny – despite his keen interest in her, Frankie hatches a plan to find a man who would read classic novels – such an individual would be her perfect match surely? A fan of online dating Frankie decides to leave a letter and her email address on a slip of paper in some of her favourite books and leave a book on a train. The idea being the well-read person would contact her for a date and she could find her perfect match. Of course this wouldn’t be Chick lit if things went to plan – and she finds that just because maybe they read classics – they may not be normal. Frankie starts to blog her experiences and her followers urge her to reconsider YA lover – he may be worth a second look after all – I mean to say she can always train him to like the classics!

THE BOOK NINJA is a quick and quirky read. All of the characters, well maybe Sunny was normal, were out of left-field crazy; but all delightful and I would love to catch up with them in real life if I could. Well actually, I probably wouldn’t – I think it would be exhausting to have these people for friends if they lived outside this book – they are all very out there. As you would expect from a book with a classic loving main character and set in a book shop there are a heap of literary references as books from all genre are discussed. Overall the story is all about looking for love in the wrong places. As well as Frankie’s search for love, there is a sub story of her best friend Cat who owns the bookstore along with her husband. Cat has her own problems, she is very pregnant and very much in a pickle. And then there is Frankie’s alternative lifestyle mother, Putu – who honestly would drive me batty – and a High Schooler, Seb, who is a regular in the book shop. Cat, Putu and Seb all offer Frankie advice – mostly unwanted advice, which adds to her perfect match hunting.

…‘Seb just needs to add these herbs to his little potion and then rub it gently behind her ears without her knowing,’ Putu smiled knowingly. 
‘Without her knowing? Mum, that’s terrible advice! If Seb starts rubbing oil behind somebody’s ears he’ll get is a restraining order,’ Frankie snapped…

Authors Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus are the founders of ‘Books on the rail’ based on a British idea called ‘Books on the Underground.’ Michelle met the creator of Books on the Underground, which I have been following on twitter for a while, and when she returned to Australia she and Ali set up a version in Melbourne. I understand today its Melbourne and tomorrow the world, well the rest of Australia anyway. So it made sense to have Frankie use the trains of Melbourne to conduct her search for a life partner. 

3 stars – Above average - was very readable and I really liked it, but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.
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Frankie Rose is in a rut. She is disappointed with her career as a writer, her family and her love life. Since her life fell apart eighteen months ago, she has been working in The Little Brunswick Street Bookstore with her best friend, Cat.

Feeling frustrated by her unsuccessful experiences with Tinder, Frankie concocts an unconventional dating experiment. She writes her contact details in the middle of her favourite books and leaves them on trains, hoping to attract the sophisticated, intelligent, handsome man of her dreams. In an attempt to reignite her enthusiasm for writing, she decides to write a blog about her experiences.

As the emails begin to filter in, Frankie finds herself the object of an attractive customer’s interest. Although his literary taste is not aligned to hers, his persistence wears her down. As Frankie’s interest in the experiment decreases, the emails continue to come in and public interest grows in the blog. Frankie gets swept up in the momentum and jeopardizes all she hoped to achieve.

The concept of leaving books on trains to meet people is intriguing. Each chapter opens with a record of the most recent book and the train it was left on. There are similarities between the book on the train and the events that unfold in the chapter. There are also lots of book references and literary jokes woven through the text. 

The chapters are interspersed with Frankie’s blog entries about the dates, and emails and text messages between characters. This results in a fragmented but funny story, where lots of books, and people, are judged by their covers and chaos reigns.
The Book Ninja, is a light-hearted romantic comedy which is easy to read.
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Ali Berg, Creative Director for the Hedgehog Agency, and Michelle Kalus, a primary school teacher, both love books and writing and started Books on Rail, leaving books on trains to encourage people to put down their devices and turn the pages of an actual book. This wonderful concept has been taken a step further, in the novel they have written together, to use this idea to find love.
Frankie is also a book lover and works in her best friend, Cat’s bookshop. She too is a writer who has had two books published, but bad reviews for her second have scared her off writing another. Single and looking for Mr Right, she thinks she can find him through books. She starts leaving copies of her favourite books – old classics and contemporary novels, on the trains she rides in Melbourne. Her details are written in the books, asking the reader to contact her.
In the meantime a perfect-seeming man, Sunny, comes into the shop, and she is taken with him, except he loves young adult novels, which she cannot abide and can’t understand how a thirty-something year-old mand can read them.
Replies from her book drops start coming in, with a variety of interesting responses providing great amusement. They all have potential, but there’s usually a but. She starts a blog and documents the project, getting her writing again. She continues to see Sunny and their relationship builds, but there are issues there too.
This is a humorous and entertaining book, probably best suited to twenty and thirty-somethings, about trying to find love, with lots of book references. Comical characters from quirky regulars at the bookshop, to Frankie’s interesting parents were fascinating.
My main criticism is the way the bookshop is portrayed as somewhere where workers can put their feet up and read books and gossip while ignoring customers. Having worked in a bookshop I know it is a business, and while this romantic notion of working in a bookshop is widely believed, it is a fallacy. Otherwise, this was a light and fun book, and I did enjoy seeing some of my favourite books come up, including young adult novels that I still appreciate, even at my age.
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Frankie Rose is in a slump! She's 28 years old, single and a writer whose second novel received the 'worst possible reviews of all time'. Understandably, after those reviews Frankie was scared to write again. Currently Frankie whiles away her days working with her best friend Cat at The Little Brunswick Street Bookshop. Being a lover of books and reading Frankie concocts a plan to find the man of her dreams. She plans to plant books, that she has enjoyed reading, on trains with an email contact in them in the hope a single male will respond. Needless to say things don't quite go according to plan! Meanwhile she meets Sunny who turns her world upside down. Can she date Sunny while continuing with her experiment which has inspired her to write again?

This is a lovely, lighthearted read about losing love and finding love. I enjoyed all the book references although this just added to my list of books to read! Clearly the authors are very well read often citing quotes from various books. There is a side story with her married and pregnant friend Cat who is going through her own crises. I would have liked this storyline to have been explored some more. An enjoyable read.
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Written by 2 women, this is a rollicking bit of fun, about a woman who decides to find love by leaving her details in key literary books which are conveniently left behind on public transport.. I love that it was based in Melbourne and had many literary references throughout.
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A bibliophile uses her passion for literature to help find love. What could go wrong?
I really like the idea behind this book. Favourite books connect with the soul, so using them to help find the love of your life makes sense. The cast of characters are quirky and it's nice to see a book like this set in Australia (especially since that setting isn't 'pushed', it's just where they are).
Quirky, distinct characters are good, but in this case it initially made it hard for me to connect with the book. I got used to it, but it was a bit overwhelming to start with. In the end, the various character quirks all played their role in the story.
For a story where literature plays a key role, there wasn't enough discussion of the books. I'd read some, heard of others, but many were unknown to me. I'm sure you could make a really interesting reading list from the books mentioned, but there needed to be more detail as to what the books were about and why Frankie (and Sunny) loved them so much. It also meant I didn't 'get' a number of book references made. I know this is written in a lighthearted rom-com style, but the books are meant to have a starring role.
I didn't connect with this the way I'd hoped to, but it's an entertaining book.
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I loved this book and it isn’t what I would normally read.   I must admit the book references drew me in right from the start.

Book Ninja was quirky, funny and even sad at times but I couldn’t stop smiling while reading it!
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Written by Melbourne Book Ninjas Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus, this book is about Frankie, a book ninja who decides to find love by planting her favourite books on Melbourne's trams and trains. Those who read to the end of the book find a note from Frankie inviting them to contact her for a date. Although this sounds like a guaranteed way to find like minded souls, the people who contact Frankie don't always match her picture of the perfect man, as attested by her popular blog where she writes about her dates. Meanwhile, Frankie has met an  attractive, intelligent man who seems to like her. The only problem is that he likes to read YA fiction so how could he possibly be Frankie's perfect match?

This was a fun read about finding love in all the right and wrong places and being prepared to look beyond your horizons. Cat and Claud's bookshop where Frankie works sounds the perfect place to browse and I enjoyed Cat's ongoing baby saga.  I also enjoyed all the mentions of books that I love and the quotes Cat and Frankie liberally sprinkle into their conversations. An enjoyable read for all lovers of books and quirky romances.
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The Book Ninja is the brilliant and hilarious debut book from Aussie writing duo and creators of Books on the Rail, a travelling book service. I remember the first few posts they made on their Instagram account for Books on the Rail and the stickers that originally went out to go onto books to be left on trains. I thought it was such a great idea to have a floating collecting and share a love of books but I had no idea it would grow so successfully and thankfully, it inspired the two creators to write this novel.

Frankie is a character we all aspire to be, she's a lover of books, she works in a bookstore with her best friend and she's hilariously witty. Frankie is also unlucky in love and devises a plan to find a partner by dropping her favourite books on different trains with her contact information in the back. It sounds like a great way to meet people until she finds out there can be some pretty strange encounters but while she's conducting that experiment she happens to stumbles across a gorgeous guy that loves to read but seems to be all wrong for her because he only read Young Adult novels! As a strong lover of Young Adult I was totally in love with Sunny from the start and I knew she would come around at the end of the book once she realised how diverse and creative they are.

I basically breathed this book in because it was such a quick read and the characters were so outrageously wacky and loveable. Frankie had a real charm to her and she was constantly making me laugh, while Sunny made you swoon as a great guy and her best friend and other characters were always making my eyes widen with the crazy things they would say and do. This book is definitely a feel-good romcom right off the pages. Frankie's best friend Cat also had a pretty interesting and slightly scandalous storyline and I think they could easily write a whole novel about her character too with some appearances from Frankie and the gang after these vents. So, hopefully, this is just the beginning of this writing duo and their adventures.
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Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus are the creators behind Books on the Rail, a community project to get more people picking up books and reading on public transport (find them on Instagram and Twitter using #BooksOnTheRail). What started in Melbourne has grown nationally, and now books can be found on all manner of public transport all around Australia. I was thrilled to hear that Ali and Michelle were teaming up on another project, a debut novel. For those of you in Australia, you can now pick up a copy of ‘The Book Ninja’ as it is available from 21 May 2018.

Without spoiling the plot, the story follows Frankie (named after the train-line she was conceived on, Frankston!) as she uses her blog and her favourite reads (dropped around Melbourne, much like the real life #BooksOnTheRail!) to find both romantic love, but most importantly, to fall back in love with writing. Everything about the plot was a tick for me very early on – Frankie and her best friend are believable characters with more depth than I typically find in contemporary fiction. From their K-Pop dance classes to their time spent in their workplace, an indie bookstore, these two had me giggling along and wishing I could be joining them for a SIFUB (you’ll have to read the book to catch that reference!)

This was a delightful read that I became completely consumed by and finished in one sitting! Frankie and her best friend Cat are an endearing pair that sweep you up in their quest to return Frankie to her first love in life, writing. The literary references seamlessly slipped into the narrative brought me back to another extremely clever read, Jasper Fforde’s ‘Thursday Next’ series! ‘The Book Ninja’ rewards the well-read reader with quick associations and a particularly funny (yet perfectly apt for this plot!) debate about the merits of literary versus Young Adult fiction.

I often have people asking for recommendations for contemporary fiction by Australian writers – the setting of this book in Melbourne gives locals a great tour of some of the best bars, bookshop and eateries in the area, and is a perfect to-do list for those yet to visit the city! I loved this sweet story and can’t wait to read what Ali and Michelle have in store for us next!

I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher, Simon & Schuster Australia, in return for an honest review.
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I did not enjoy this book at all, and in fact found it impossible to finish. The writing felt incredibly clunky, it felt at times like the authors had gotten out a thesaurus to make themselves seem smarter. The characters were hard to like, but not in a way where they interest you despite that. Whilst I think there are those for who, this book will appeal, I was very disappointed, especially when on first description I thought this sounded like something tha I would love.
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What was not to love about this book ! You have a classic book snob, a YA obsessed man child & one dead turtle ! A clasdic grass is always greener on the other side love story that was LOL ! Loved it !
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This review will appear at the link below and on Goodreads on 21st May 2018.

In brief ★★★½

If you're looking for a funny, light-hearted, book-nerdy read, pick this up ASAP. The Book Ninja is a fabulous romp through both Melbourne and the complexities of romance, with lots of literary allusions. The characters are so vibrant and have great banter, and there are so many wacky, hilarious events, you'll find yourself laughing out loud on Frankie's quest for love. Fully set in the present day, the story includes blog posts (and associated comments), texts and even Instagram pic captions (not to mention current Australian book references!), for an immersive experience.

I received an advanced e-book copy from Simon & Schuster Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

In depth

Plot: Frankie Rose (named so because she was conceived on the Frankston train line) works in her best friend Cat's bookshop, after her latest novel received terrible reviews. But she's in the midst of a romance drought, unable to find a man with good literary tastes, and Cat, expecting her first child, suggests Frankie drop books on Melbourne trains and trams with her number, asking their discoverer and reader on a date. At the same time, Cat's relationships is looking rocky, and Frankie's mother is getting way too involved in her life, and she has a weird encounter with a very attractive man in the bookshop, and she decides to start a blog about her book dates. The story moves at a great pace, ploughing from one incident to the next with great comic effect. There are elements of farce and satire (sometimes in the same scene, as with the beetroot late), but they work with the banter reminiscent of Bridget Jones' Diary. Yes, it is over the top, but it is also a great deal of fun.

Characters: Frankie is flawed, fun and funny, making her a very likeable, relatable heroine. Her friendship with Cat is one of the best parts of the book (I mean, who doesn't have a best friend with balaclavas and revenge plots ready to hand?), but I was disappointed that so much of the plot revolved around Frankie mooning over a man. Cat's own moral struggles make her very human, and I particularly loved the gender-non-conformist Claud (her husband), a champion knitter and sensitive soul. Love interest Sunny has a good amount of his own complexities, far beyond his good looks and spontaneous nature. The cast of minor characters is fabulous too - Migel the Brazilian acrobat was a particular highlight - but everyone from the bookshop customers to the blog post commenters adds to the fabric of the story.

Themes: This novel is about finding love when you least expect it - i.e. not judging a book by its cover (see what I did there?). Infidelity is another key theme - both Frankie and Cat struggle with it after crossing lines - as is motherhood, embodied by Frankie's relationship with her mercurial mother, and Cat's impending childbirth.

Writing: Wit and humour crackle off the page, making this a delight to read. There are poignant emotional moments too, but the writing's strength is in the humour, and the clever use of contemporary media references (e.g. the dynamic between two commenters on Frankie's blog is priceless!). Pick this up knowing you can fly through it - I devoured it in a single day.

Recommended if you liked: The Rosie Project, Bridget Jones' Diary
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Melbourne living Frankie Rose was in a bit of a rut, both in love, and in writing after both a failed relationship and the release of a book to particularly poor reviews. But she has a plan, and with her helpful and sometimes sabotaging best friend, Cat, she's determined to find just the right kind of man; the sort that is as well-read as she is. 

And how is she going to achieve this? By leaving her favourite books out on train lines with a date offer for any who picked up and read through to the end. What could possibly go wrong?

The Book Ninja was an absolutely delightful read, full of quirky bookish themes, sweet and yet flawed characters and, of course, liberal dose of humor that left me giggling throughout. This book warmed my heart, and left me feeling all kinds of warm and fuzzies after I finished it.

I particularly loved all the bookish quotes scattered throughout the novel, everything from A.A Milne, to Christopher Paolini, John Green and, of course, Jane Austin. There was plenty of book culture, family drama, friend dynamics, hilarious mistakes, romance, and reminder about courage, and finding yourself. The fact that it was set in Australia, and featured plenty of public transport (which I am an avid user of myself), just was the icing on this bookish cake.

I loved it, better than pizza and I look forward to seeing what Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus come up with next.

5 out of 5 Stars.

* This ebook ARC was provided by Simon & Schuster (Australia) through NetGalley for an honest review.
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Sure to make you smile. 
Brimming with bookish banter, hilarious hijinks,   quirky characters and a rocking romance. I smiled, sighed and slapped my knee as dear Frankie Rose became ever more entangled in a muddle of her own making. 
Highly recommended for lovers of funny stories, fans of clever writing and book nerds who live for literary humour. 
Thank you @netgalley and @simonschusterau for treating me to an advance e-book copy. Release date: 1st June 2018
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