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.

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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!

Review: A Change Is Gonna Come by 12 BAME Authors!

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

We’ve been hearing non-stop buzz about this book since Stripes Publishing’s first YA Blogger event in February. Now, it’s finally here and we couldn’t be more excited to see the final product getting so much love and attention! If you didn’t know A Change is Gonna Come is an anthology of short stories and poems based on the theme of change, all written by black and minority ethic authors. There are some big names, like Patrice Lawrence and Ayisha Malik, but also some debut authors getting their first break!

As if that isn’t cool enough, the anthology also has diverse characters too, representing lesbian and non-binary identities, as well as OCD.

We thought we’d share our thoughts on our favourite stories!

Hackney Moon by Tanya Burne tells the story of Esther and her best friend Sam who pulls away when their peers taunt them for being lesbians.

The narration style is really unique, with a sort of direct address but not from either of the main characters, so it’s got this almost fairy-tale vibe! We loved the dialogue particularly, and the friendship group is one we would love a companion series about!

We Who? by Nikesh Shukla (*our absolute favourite*) is set after the UK vote Leave, and the main character struggles when his best friend starts to post harmful new stories, which expose that they have incredibly different political views that become destructive to their friendship.

It was quite a shock when ‘Leave’ was announced as the decision the UK had made regarding our position in the EU, and it upset so many people that this story is probably the most powerful and relatable in the whole collection. It’s difficult to watch the people around you, who you previously trusted and loved, repeating ideologies that are damaging and down right untrue. The disconnect you experience to those you once considered friends when something like this exposes your fundamental and uncompromising differences, is something I think we’re more likely to experience in this political climate. And not just in the UK, but the world.

Iridescent Adolescent by Phoebe Roy about a girl who sprouts feathers and longs to be hollow.

We adored the writing style of this story, it was magical and mystical. It’s not often that I connect to writing that is poetic in this way, but it also had some real down-to-earth moments that made it a lot – not relatable, per say, but something along those lines. It felt like a fresh take on the ‘Change’ theme, and was a real gem among other contemporary stories.

Dear Asha by Mary Bello is about Asha who’s mother recently died and so she goes to Nigeria to connect with her remaining family. She then hears some pretty dramatic news about her father that throws everything into a new light.

We really loved the setting in this and the emphasis on Nigeria culture. It was so cool that although being of that descent, Asha wasn’t really connected to it, and so witnessing her get in touch with her roots was great. This was also a short story that had a lot going, so could easily have been made into a full length novel!

A Refugee by Ayisha Malik is about a girl who is forced to volunteer at the a refugee camp by her parents and develops a strong friendship with one of the girls there, Homa.

This was such a powerful story about different experiences and how we need to open our eyes to the hardships of other people and help out where we can. The fact that Ayisha Malik managed to write such intense character development in such a short story was astounding!

Fortune Favours the Bold by Yasmin Rahman is mostly about a Muslim girl who decides to start wearing a headscarf, which splits her apart from her twin sister and also means she’s subjected to more religious prejudice.

Again, we loved the storytelling. It was a very accomplished short story, and the character had a great sense of voice. We’re really excited to see what Yasmin Rahman will produce next, because I hope she becomes a new big name for YA fiction. After this, I predict she will be a new auto-buy author, and to feel that strongly about an author’s capability to continually make me feel SO MANY THINGS just speaks to how wonderful this very short glimpse of her writing was.

Overall, A Change Is Gonna Come is a really powerful anthology that It think everyone needs to read. It exposes some fresh talent, whose careers I can’t wait to follow, and raises the voices of those who are underrepresented in the best way possible.

Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Right, so I hated ‘The Infernal Devices’ series by Cassandra Clare, but I do tend to enjoy YA historical fiction, so I was torn between ‘eww not demons again’ and ‘yes please this sounds like 100% my thing.’ I found after reading, that I would recommend, nay, highly recommend, ‘The Dark Days Club’ both to those that hated TID and those who loved it. If you loved TID then you will fall in love with the characters exactly as you did in Clare’s work, and if you ate it, then you can better appreciate the historical accuracy and tone.

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Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

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

Everyone has known that Stephanie Perkins was writing a slasher/horror for the last two years. Now I finally have my hands on it, and boy was it…different to what I was expecting. After being known for Anna and the French Kiss and other lovey-dovey titles, I thought Stephanie Perkins would be really stepping outside her comfort zone. Turns out There’s Someone Inside Your House managed to have about five deaths, but still be 98% romance. And when I say romance, I mean carnal teenage ‘relationship’ because there was no romance to be seen. So let’s talk about it… Continue reading “Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins”

Review: Spellbook for the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle

I had seen a lot of hype surrounding this book on twitter – lots of authors and publishers getting ARCS, which were beautiful, by the way. So, it’s one that’s been on my radar for a while, even though I had no idea when it was coming out. Then I went book shopping with Maddie and happened to see Spellbook For The Lost and Found on the table and I NEEDED IT. I picked it up practically as soon as I got home (which hardly ever happens) and I feel like I genuinely have some stuff to say about it, so let’s get to it.

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Review: City of Saints & Thieves

Apparently this book has already been optioned for a movie?? That’s so exciting! And, I think it’s probably best to put a caveat on this review, and say I’ll probably enjoy a movie of this more! So, City of Saints & Thieves is marketed as this sort of thriller/mystery story, but the one question I was left with after finishing was: where was the thriller?

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Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Now I Rise was one of my most anticipated sequels of the year. I absolutely loved And I Darker, though I thought the series had room to grow and, boy, did it ever!

FINALLY. Lada, murderess extraordinaire, has ARRIVED.

The first book is so beautiful with the character’s childhoods and world building being super rich, detailed and well researched. And I had the same sort of enchantment with the writing in this book. Book two definitely has more of a focus on war, with Radu being sent of to put some feelers out in Constantinople, like, we’re on the edge of a big siege. Now, this would normally put me off, but it was still resolutely based in the characters more than anything.

While I really enjoyed Lada being present and ruthless, it was Radu’s sections that I was most engaged with. Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you what Lada was getting up to other than sticking her middle finger at anyone with biased gender expectations.

Radu was going through an emotional journey and I was here for it. BUT first of all, let’s take a moment to appreciate Nadzira aka. the unsung hero of this entire series. I would read an eight book series all about her, to be honest. Even though I hate Throne of Glass, I would compare her to Nehemia, in the way she’s got her finger on the pulse of scandal and knows so much more about the social and political situations that she’s got this air of regality that no one can overlook. Nadzira and Fatima are ultimate cuties, too.

Anyway, back to Radu, who, in book one, could be summed up with the phrase ‘Mehmed please love me’ but now he’s left to deal with his previous emotions, and do some serious re-evaluation. Does he want to be a pawn? Not really, but he’s still loyal to Mehmed. He wants to know what Lada’s up to, but he’s pretty sure she thinks he’s betrayed her, so… things are tricky. I won’t go into the plot of the actual book but you can tell that he’s between a rock and a hard place, so watching him grow in this restricted situation was wonderful. Also, there’s a potential new love interest for him, and I am really looking forward to seeing Radu happier in the future, so I can’t wait to see this slow burn!

Still, I’m really intrigued with where this story is going to go because now I feel like Radu has come to some sort of resolution, but Lada’s still got a lot to happen to her, so the next book will probably be a reversal of focus.

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Review: None Of The Above by I. W. Gregorio

This is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year. Although ‘None of the Above’ isn’t an own voices intersex story, Gregorio is a medical professional who has dealt with intersex patients and the amount of research and sensitivity reading that has gone into this book shows in the way it’s informative, sensitive and, most importantly, a delight to read.

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Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

After hearing so much hype about Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath & The Dawn duology on booktube (plus, I’m obsessed with the new UK covers!) I decided it was about time that I read something by her! Flame in the Mist is her latest release which Goodreads calls ‘Mulan meets Throne of Glass.’ I’ve also heard a few people say that it’s a mash-up retelling of Mulan and 47 Ronin, and on both occasions, ‘Mulan’ is the only thing I’m interested in, so I was looking forward to some cross-dressing shenanigans. However, as you’ll already noticed by my star-rating, I found myself a little disappointed. I think this was mostly because I’d read another ‘Mulan’ mash-up retelling recently – though this time it’s ‘Mulan meets Pitch Perfect’ – in Riley Redgate’s Noteworthywhich was A++

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