Review: Far From The Tree by Robin Benway

Note: We were sent this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

First can we take a second to appreciate this breath-taking cover. Okay, now that that’s done. Far From The Tree is the story of three half-siblings who were all put up for adoption and have only just been made aware of each other’s existence. Grace recently had to give her own daughter, Peach, up for adoption as she was only 16, Maya’s family have a lot of problems under the surface, and Joaquin has through a lot of foster families and the couple he’s living in now want to adopt him. Together, they want to try and find their birth mother.

Continue reading “Review: Far From The Tree by Robin Benway”

Advertisements

Review: Out Of The Blue by Sophie Cameron

Note: We were sent this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Sophie Cameron’s debut really is something special! I’m calling Carnegie and Waterstones Book Prize nominations for next year! It’s about Jaya, whose father is a Wingding, someone who is obsessed with the angels falling to their deaths all over the world, and as such has hauled their family to Edinburgh in search of the next angel. Jaya then, in secret, comes across a rose gold and pink angel who unlike all the other has survived the fall, and with the help of two new friends tried to help her get back home.

Continue reading “Review: Out Of The Blue by Sophie Cameron”

Review: Bad Girls With Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten

Note: We received this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. 

I read this is practically one sitting, and it’s been so long time since I did that! It’s also been ages since I’ve read a YA thriller, so it’s been a books of ‘the first time in forever’s. Bad Girls With Perfect Faces was unexpected, with its lyrical writing style and detailed characters. Unfortunately, I felt like it took way too long to get started – the thriller element didn’t start until roughly 60% through the book!

This is the story of Sasha and Xavier, who are best friends, and on Xavier’s birthday they go to a club and run into Ivy, Xavier’s toxic ex-girlfriend. Sasha’s in love with Xavier, so obviously she’s not best pleased, and tries to catch Ivy in the act of cheating.

Continue reading “Review: Bad Girls With Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten”

Review: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

This book had been on my wishlist for a long time before I bought it, and I’ve owned it for six months without picking it up. I’ve been hyping it in my head as a book I was going to fall in love with, and the sad reality is, I didn’t.

I wasn’t what I thought it was going to be mostly. I thought I’d signed up for a mystery in an unsettled, backwards little town, but the girl who goes missing gets focalised chapters too. So you know where she is/what’s happening to her and that complicated things. So the whole mystery element was void!

I liked some elements. Like the budding relationship between Petey and Finn, for example, but it wasn’t enough to drive me through the story. There were some passages that were beautifully written but I found a lot of the descriptions sounded like something I’d heard before. Considering how many great things I’d heard about the writing, I have to admit I was surprised by how purple it…wasn’t.

‘Bone Gap’ couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be magical realism or not, so in the end you get this odd fairytale vibe that’s doesn’t feel modern but isn’t working through tropes either. It was a strange story, and one I’ll probably re-read in 10 years time and like a lot more, but reading it now and comparing it to my expectations was really not a good idea.

Review: Keeper by Kim Chance

I devoured Keeper in one sitting, letting go of any reservation that this was a paranormal story which was mostly what I read in 201, and instead of thinking ‘oh no, this is exactly like this book’ I let myself be transported to when I first discovered YA and read romances like Hush, Hush, Fallen and Beautiful Creatures.

Keeper is a nostalgic YA mash-up. It feels a little odd to be reading it in 2017 because my reading tastes have changed so much, but you all know I’m a sucker for witches, I love Kim’s YouTube channel and I wanted to support the book. It’s a little trope-y but the secondary characters leap of the page and the ending definitely has me invested in a potential sequel. Thinking too critically would definitely spoil my enjoyment of it, so I tried to ignore the romance entirely and focus on the ‘discovering new worlds’ element, which was incredibly well-paced to begin with, but I think things got a little out of control by the end.

If you too are feeling like you want to re-experience your old reading tastes without having to re-read and potentially change your opinion on an old favourite, then Keeper is perfect for you. Alternatively, if you’re new to the supernatural genre, then Keeper could be your new favourite!

Review: 180 Seconds by Jessica Park

When I picked up ‘180 Seconds’ it had been a while since I’d read a contemporary, so I’d completely forgotten what t expect plot wise. It was obvious reading this book that Jessica Park had collected a few viral news stories and decided they would make unique backstories for her characters, which was quirky but didn’t build to one cohesive story.

We follow Allison during her second year of college where she takes part in a social experiment to keep eye contact with a boy, Esben, for 180 seconds and something magical happens and they end up having this deep connection.

This wouldn’t been the perfect opportunity for some Hilary Duff Cinderella Story realness, but no. The pair find each other and start a relationship quickly after this event. Conveniently, Allison doesn’t have any social media accounts so she has no idea that Esben is a famous personality online who does a lot of these social experiments, so she’s in the limelight unexpectedly. This is a novel idea in itself, and I would’ve been trash for this story if it had been just this, but instead it tried to cram in too much.

Allison was in the care system for 16 years of her life, and her anxiety and distress about this is eclipsed by the love story. There are a few lucid passages where Allison works through her feelings, but it really wasn’t the central focus I was hoping it could be. On the other hand, I think the line where Esben stresses she could get through tough situations with him (the love interest), she just ‘doesn’t have to’ was a powerful way of explaining that having a significant other to lean on in times of need isn’t a crime.

Then there was Esben’s sister Kerry was was gang raped at a house party, and I’m sure we’ve all ready horrifying news stories about the sickening reality of this kind of event, but again, it became something that was just there rather than something that was explored. There’s some dialogue about how ‘Kerry didn’t make them rape her, they were always rapists’ that did something to get rid of victim’s guilt, but it was a throw away conversation that felt more perfunctory than having any impact in the way the character’s thought. ‘180 Seconds’ had some really important conversations they just could have been the basis of an entire book not five pages of another.

The only time I had any emotional reaction was with the Steffi storyline, which I won’t go into because of spoilers, but the scene at the end really did have me tearing up even though I’d previously not cared about the characters, so that’s a real testament to how well that scene was written. It was emotional, gritty and really packed a punch. Could the whole book have been like this?

So, I had a couple of problems with ‘180 Seconds’ – maybe more than a couple. Don’t even get me started on the contrived text message fiasco at the end of the book. Sometimes a scene really doesn’t need more conflict. It had some really excellent idea gems, but they hadn’t been left to grow into their true beauteous form. (Weird metaphor, but we’re going with it.) Unfortunately, this was a contemporary that could’ve benefit from dropping one of the balls, so I can only give it 2 stars.

Review: Purple Hearts by Michael Grant

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

FRONT LINES review | SILVER STARS review | Michael Grant Interview

I’ve been a huge fan of this series from day one, and Purple Hearts did not disappoint. In fact, it’s probably the best ending to a trilogy I’ve ever read. THE CLOSURE WAS REAL. We got to see what the characters got up to post-war AND their obituaries so we know what they did with their lives as a whole. Thank you, Michael Grant, I’ve never been more satisfied with an ending. Not to mention, we finally learn who’s been writing these stories! (And I guessed right!)

I feel like in each book, the girls have an identity breakthrough, and I’m glad that I’ve loved a different girl most strongly in each book. In Front Lines it was Frangie, in Silver Stars is was Rainy, and in this book, I’ve rolled round to loving Rio. She’s arguably been through the most, because her character is almost unrecognisable to the girl who stepped into training. In Purple Hearts, Rio got a particularly wonderful scene about femininity and I cheered her on the whole way through. I really love the hardened person she became. She might have lost her innocent view of the world, but in the end she’s better for it.

I also loved that in the book, more than ever, it felt like the girls were interconnected. We’d often see Frangie talking with Rainy or Rio, and I love it best when they’re all aware of each other because, well…it’s just nice, isn’t it? Their moments take you out of the action, (in welcome reprieve) even though there was more explosions and death than ever before! Purple Hearts is gritty and harrowing in all the right places, perfectly capturing the terrors of war. There was also a bigger discussion on deserters and loyalty, which I don’t think has been touched on, but I’m sure if you’d asked the girls in Front Lines what they thought of deserting they’d be giving very different answers to now!

Overall, Rainy’s in top from being a bad-ass spy character, Rio has more responsibility and she handles the weight on her shoulders admirably, and Frangie’s still following close behind, patching everyone up. They all make me so proud, and I’m so pleased I picked up Front Lines, and have followed these girls on this truly epic journey.

I can’t recommend this series more, it’s got sustained action, lush, well developed characters, and brilliant narrative architecture. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up Front Lines again.

Review: The Fandom by Anna Day

The Fandom was a strange mix of dystopian satire, Inkheart, and a convention book. While I was relieved to find that the characters get transported into the world of their favourite book within the first 50 pages, I knew from the very beginning that this wasn’t going to be for me.

The premise sounded amazing. I wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise. But the opening chapter featured Violet reciting the plot of ‘The Gallow’s Dance’ to her English class as a presentation on plots. First of all, I had to suspend my disbelief that this class would actually happen and I was surprised no one in the audience shouted SPOILERS! This should have been a dead giveaway that the world building wasn’t going to work how I expected.

But nothing quite compares to how deeply I despised the quote-unquote friendship between Violet and Alice. For one, Violet and Katie are straight up bitchy towards her. They literally laugh when someone makes fun of her all ‘she deserved it, about time someone shot her down!’ and that kind of rivalry and competition between friends is not what I’m about. This kind of behaviour does not warrant the term ‘friendship.’ They break friends and make up so many times in this book, I couldn’t keep track.

While they were transported into the world of ‘the book’ there was an awful lot of movie references. Violet kept referring to a script, which made me wonder why it wasn’t just a film franchise to begin with. I really liked the moments where the script format was used – it was very cleverly done – and I wish there had been a bit more like it too.

I also wished that the book had leant more into the dystopian satire aspect, as all the characters were self-aware in the fictional world that the love interest had a silly name, and there was always a rebel group fighting against the government. It could’ve done something really interesting with setting up expectations, but the plot ended up being a pretty conventional for urban fantasy/dystopian fiction.

There’s not great consistency when it comes to the dramatic irony. Basically, Violet has to live out the life of the main female character in ‘The Gallow’s Dance’ so she knows exactly what she has to do, but there’s not really any sense of foreboding. (Apart from the whole ‘I will hang in four days’ line, which I swear was repeated OVER and OVER again to NO effect.) The whole magic system was underdeveloped too. And I had a lot of questions. Not only in the fictional world turned reality, but about how they ended up in the fictional world to begin with.

As for the writing, it was very repetitive. Day kept stressing that even though Nate was 14 he was more like a 5 year old, and I couldn’t help thinking, why not just make him five years old then?? It was supposed to add emotional impact, but I just kept getting annoyed that Violet was infantilising her brother.

The ending was far too twee, and I’m not sure whether to expect a sequel. I’m not sure how the stakes would change, but I feel like there’s still more of the fictional world to explore. Since we the reader were told the plot of the book in the very first chapter, nothing really came as a surprise…I’m disappointed that I wasn’t more impressed with this book, as it seemed like an absolute dream.

Review: Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

From the first few chapters I thought I was going to fall in love with this book. There was intrigue, beautiful writing, and a really interesting cast of characters. It’s the story of Otis, whose best friend and next door neighbour, Meg, moved away suddenly after an unforeseen incident. Otis is left devastated and in mourning for his little brother, and the girl he used to love. In the three years Meg is gone, Otis takes up swimming, coached by Dara the Scandinavian swimming goddess who lost an arm and had to give up her Olympic dreams.

I liked Otis’ voice…until he started describing every girl’s breasts whenever he met them. The male gaze is disgusting, and those moments made me realise why I often steer clear of hetero male protagonists. Otherwise, Otis fits in with the heroes in the writing of John Green, Robyn Snyder, and Jeff Zentner.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only reason I didn’t click with Phantom Limbs . I felt like the emotional tone was one note. It was the same level of sadness, trepidation and guilt the whole way through. There weren’t enough, I don’t know, light hearted, happy moments to encourage me to keep reading. The whole thing was a bit depressing, if I’m honest. There’s supposed to be this slow build up to reveal the exact details of Mason’s death and why Meg moved away but I’d vaguely put things together way before they were confirmed, so I’d lost the hook of the story.

As for character development, I was frustrated with both Meg and Otis as they were both consumed by the past. Obviously coming together again stirred up old emotions, but it didn’t feel like they were good for one another. Meg brought out Otis’ jealous, self-conscious side and it was difficult to read about characters who regressed instead.

Phantom Limbs is pretty romance heavy, even though Meg has a boyfriend already. Those kind of blurred moral lines always make me feel a bit uncomfortable but it added to the general teen angst Otis was feeling, and that was the only change of pace in the story, but the trivial glimpses into his hometown life didn’t always match well with the nostalgic tone. It’s like Otis couldn’t progress with two feelings at once.

I also can’t help but mention the LGBT+ aspect of the story. I’m not sure what Dara identifies as, even though Otis and Meg (who’d only met her a couple of times throughout the story) were OBSESSED with trying to label her as a lesbian. You know what, guys? It doesn’t matter. (Louder now for the ones at the back) IT DOESN’T MATTER. Why the heck these two were talking about Dara’s sexuality behind her back in their own free time, I couldn’t tell you. And don’t get me started on Meg’s ‘I knew she was a lesbian!’ at the end. Like, well done? Do you want a prize? I would kindly like to ask for this trope to die in 2018.

Dara as a whole was a very interesting sub-plot. It did what all great sub plots are meant to do, distract you from the main plot at convenient times but still be interlinked enough that it doesn’t seem obvious that that’s what’s happening. Still, at times I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be Otis’ or Dara’s story. And I have to admit, that at some points, I hoped it was the latter. Is it wrong to say that I probably cared about Dara the most over all? I’m not sure how, but I had a much stronger emotional connection to her. Dara and Otis had both lost a part of themselves, but from reading this books, I’ve realised I’d much prefer to read about the lesbian amputee sticking it to the man.

I didn’t particularly like what the ending suggested, but I still can’t bring myself to give it less than three stars because the opening showed so much promise. If you liked any of the comp authors I mentioned earlier, then I’d definitely give this one a go.

Review: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

*Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Because we’re just going to be shouting about how incredible this book was from now until the end of time, we thought instead of writing a review that would be 100% incoherent, we’d shuffle our thoughts into a Reasons To Read Invictus. So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

  1. PACING
    Invictus is heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat fast, but at the same time it has slow moments for you to savour things like the tentative conversations between the couples. There was not one moment where I thought, ‘this needs to speed up’ or ‘wait, I’ve lost what’s happening.’ It’s literally crafted to perfection so you’ll never want to put it down!
  2. FOUND FAMILIES
    If you’re a fan of The Heroes of Olympus series, or Six of Crows, basically anything where a group of kids have to come together and save the world/steal some stuff, then you’re going to love this book. Invictus has the wholesomeness of the Percy Jackson series and wicked sense of the Grishaverse. With some strong Firefly and Doctor Who vibes as well, but that just comes with the sci-fi territory. (Side-note for other influences: the recent Star Trek films. The prologue is very Star Trek opening realness, and I was living for it.)
  3. MIND BOGGLING REVEALS
    OH MAN. The twists and turns in this story were off the scale good. Like, I didn’t see any of them coming. It’s really not something you can put together yourself, and even when I thought I had a one-up on the characters, I really didn’t. I’d like to think than Ryan thought of the ways a reader could construe things and then was like ‘haha nope! They’re not going to guess this!
  4. ROMANCE
    There are two main romances. You’d got Far and Priya, and Imogen and Gram. The first are the most true-love destiny pairing you’ve read since Percy and Annabeth. They communicate and it’s pretty glorious. And even though they’re young, they’re really serious about their feelings which is so joyful to read. As for Imogen and Gram, they don’t communicate and that’s the best thing too. Like, unrequited love that isn’t actually unrequited has got to be everyone’s favourite relationship dynamic ever right? It’s like love/hate but with more angst and emotional tension rather than sexual tension. Basically, it pulls on your heart strings and turned me into a puddle of love and tears. The romances aren’t over done, they’re secondary to the action plot, but they’re pivotal to the adventure so, sign me up!
  5. ACCOMPLISHED WRITING
    It literally blows my mind that Ryan Graudin came up with both Wolf By Wolf (a stunningly original idea) and Invictus. Seriously, one person should not be allowed to be this clever at plotting books. Everything I’ve read by Ryan has been different, but all her books have the same tone and beautiful crafting. I need Ryan to run a webinar on plotting, for sure!

Also, thought we’d give a shoutout to our friends Carys, Kate and Lily who we buddy read this book with. It was super fun to discuss it with them, so maybe another pro of this book is that it’s great for a book club pick – there’s a lot of talk about!

So, obviously, Invictus is getting 5 stars from us! I so wish this was the first in a larger series, but it’s also such a rewarding standalone (and you don’t get many sic-fi ones!) that it’s perfect on it’s own! We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!