Review: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

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

After falling in love with Moxie over the summer last year, I was really excited to find Jennifer Mathieu’s first book on NetGalley, as it’s being published for the first time in the UK, despite being a 2014 release in the US.

It was great to see Mathieu deal with similar themes in All About Alice as with Moxie. This book focuses on four different characters, dealing with the rumour that Alice slept with two guys at one party. Elaine is the party’s host and girlfriend of Brandon, one of the guys. Kelsey is Alice’s ex-best friend and responsible for spreading even worse rumours. Kurt is a nerd who’s in love with Alice and uses Math tutoring as a way to get close to her. Josh is one of Brandon’s best friends. Each character had such a unique voice, which I was so impressed by seeing as this was told in first person and it would have been so easy to make the girls and the boys POVs blend.

For such a short book, I felt like I got so much detail about each character. The only reason I didn’t give it four stars is because I felt that it was too short in places, and I would have liked if Alice was given more voice, rather than a few pages in place of an epilogue.

Just like Moxie, everything that happened in this book could happen in any school, anywhere in the world. I’ve heard so many of the rumours spread about Alice over my time in secondary school and it’s just a fact that gossip will never die. Mathieu manages to deal with sensitive topics with ease, and make me feel sympathetic towards bullies and boys that believe in the friend zone, which shouldn’t be possible. She might be a wizard.

This is the kind of book you want to read in one sitting and then pass on to your best friend. If you enjoy books that deal with slut shaming, feminism, and the good old rumour mill, this is perfect and pace-y and needs to be on your TBR.

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Review: How to Write a Love Story by Katy Cannon

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

How to Write a Love Story is all about Tilly, who secretly wrote the ending to her gran’s biggest romance series and sent it to the publisher while her gran, Bea, was in hospital with pneumonia. The reviews say it’s the most satisfying ending ever crafted, and so Bea encourages Tilly to write her own romance novel from start to finish. This should be no problem, since Tilly’s been living on a healthy diet of romance since she was twelve years old and has probably read every boy-meet-girl trope possible.

The downside is, even with all this theoretical knowledge of how to craft the perfect kiss, Tilly gets writer’s block and thinks the solution is experiencing love for herself to make the writing process genuine. I knew I wouldn’t be entirely on board with this plot point, because I fundamentally disagree that good writing can only come from lived experience, but whatever. That’s my ace showing. The angle made me think that young teen girls especially would get something out of this book.

(Also, this book was extremely hetero. It would have been cool if one of the books Bea had written included an LGBT+ plot line, or that one of the romances Tilly mentioned/wrote did. Especially because there are quite a few background romances in this that could have added that diversity I always look for. I think this comes from the fact that I’m doing a Romance module at university and all the books we’ve read have been M/F. I’m dying to find something different!)

All of the writing advice was sweet and definitely made me want to put pen to paper, but it was so easy to get invested in Tilly’s story, my novel had to wait until I was done. And I flew through this at record speed.

Something particularly great about this was the relationship between Bea and Tilly. You don’t often see relationships between grandparents and protagonists, and exploration into the experience of the elderly is something I want to read more of. If anyone has any recommendations for books with cute old people, please let me know!

As with most romance, Tilly’s love story was a little predictable. I saw the relationship twist coming as soon as all the boys had been introduced and yet I still liked the connection Tilly had with who she ended up with. I guess the lesson is always look for good banter, rather than good looks.

If you liked Katy’s other books, you’re guaranteed to like this one, but if you also like writing, romance and stories about fame, think about adding this to your TBR!

Review: Big Bones by Laura Dockrill

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

Laura Dockrill is one of my favourite writers. She’s hilarious and inventive and no matter what she does, I always fall in love with it. It’s no different for Big Bones.

I loved reading about Bluebelle, a character who talked so candidly about her weight, but never fell into that terrible ‘pretty for a fat girl’ mentality that needs to go and light itself on fire. It was all about body positivity. There was no shame attached to her weight and the lifestyle choices she needed to make to get healthy were decisions she came to on her own, never buckling to external pressures until she was ready for the benefits.

When reading this, you are going to be hungry. It’s just a fact. Each chapter is split up into what Bluebelle is eating at that moment and some much of it sounded delicious. Laura Dockrill is so talented with imagery and sensory descriptions that I was surprised to look up and not find a roast dinner in front of me. As well as being a story about change, Big Bones is a love letter to food.

As well as Bluebelle’s personal journey, you get to hear about her parkour-crazy sister Dove and the very weird and one sided relationship between her divorced parents. It was quirky and weird, but while reading, I got invested in each and every one of them. Especially Dove. She and Bluebelle had such different mentalities, so it was fascinating to see them interact and use their Sisterly Bond to get through to one another better than anyone else could.

It was refreshing to read about an overweight character, one of the most underrepresented body types in YA and it’s definitely encouraged me to find more. (Dumplin’ is bumped to the top of my TBR!) It’s also been a while since I’ve read a diary format before and I find that storytelling method so immersive, I read Big Bones in one sitting.

Overall, Big Bones is a fantastic book by a fantastic author. After you’re finished reading it, you’re going to want seconds…and thirds.

Shortlisted for the UKYA Blogger Awards!

If you’ve been on Book Twitter over the last couple of days, you’ll know that the UKYABA‘s are all anyone can talk about. It’s where everybody comes together to celebrate the community’s achievements. There are awards for bloggers, established and new, for content and design, for social media activism and for vloggers too.

On Wednesday 17th, Bee and I were long listed for not one, not two, but three awards: Adult Blogger, Champion of Diversity and Champion Vlogger. We can’t even begin to describe how much this meant to us. We’ve been making bookish content for coming up to five years now, and while it’s been great to be recognised along the way for our hard work, this is just generates next level gratitude.

We’re so proud to say that on Friday 19th we were shortlisted for Champion Vlogger! *cue delighted squeals* *confetti* *happy dancing*

In 2013, when we first made Heart Full of Books, we were starting at a brand new sixth form. We were 16 and we’d left everything behind for something we were completely unfamiliar with. We’d been quiet and judged for our social interiority throughout secondary school. Blogging and making videos about books was the perfect way to open up about our passions and find likeminded people who would just get us completely.

We don’t know where we’d be without this community. It’s introduced us to so many books, friends, trends and other passions that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. It’s been a way to champion seeing our underrepresented identity in YA and feeling like we have voices that matter. It’s inspired us to write a book together! It’s led to so many opportunities that have made these last five years the happiest of our lives, despite the anxiety of exams every year and starting (and soon finishing!) our degrees.

Honestly, we’re just so honoured to be on a list with three other amazing women who make this community infinitely better by just being part of it. Jean, Zoe and Lucy are all so deserving of this award, so please check out their linked channels and subscribe!

The category we’re nominated for can only be voted for by publishers/authors, so if either of those apply to you, then please consider voting for your champion vlogger. You can do so by requesting a form through emailing ukyaba@gmail.com with the subject: UKYABA Shortlist Voting – Author Voting Form. Voting closes on 31st January.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported us over the last five years, whether it’s through comments, likes, views or subscribing to our channel, we can’t wait to keep making bookish content forever. Yeah, forever seems right.

(Spoiler) Review: Quests for Glory by Soman Chainani

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Warning: This is a SPOILER review. If you have not read QFG, or the rest of the SFGAE books for that matter, you may not want to read.

The School for Good and Evil is one of my favourite series of all time. When I found out a fourth book was coming, I was beyond excited for it. Writing another series within the same world has become so common nowadays, that maybe I shouldn’t have been as surprised. So, Quests for Glory kicks off with a 100 pages ‘where are they now?’ section. If you’ve read the Handbook of Good and Evil, you already have a good idea of it. Sophie is the Dean of Evil, Agatha and Tedros are getting married but their relationship is on the rocks – when is it not, let’s be honest? – Hort is a teacher for Evil, and the Coven have been given the task of finding a new school master. Phew, we’re all up to speed!

Because Hort and the Coven are given sections, this first part is quite lengthy. It’s very expositional but familiarises the reader with the characters again, so I’ll cut it some slack. But, along with the main characters, every other student in Agatha and Sophie’s year gets name dropped, telling you what quests they’re on too…

The plot finally gets rolling when Tedros can’t pull Excalibur out of the stone and a new enemy turns up: the Snake. There’s this pretty long winded explanation about The Lion and the Snake, another fairy tale that’s going to frame the book. When we meet the Snake, there’s the suggestion that he’s Rafal from the first trilogy but one thing is for sure: he’s evil.

We also get to meet Rhian, who shares a name with Rafal’s twin, the Good school master so that can’t be a coincidence. He’s all handsome and generally a better version of Tedros that Sophie can fall for. He actually has King Arthur’s blood. It felt like wish fulfilment. Sophie didn’t get the guy in the first trilogy, so we’ll just make her a new and improved version of the guy she wanted all along. But, with the foreshadowing of the evil connection, it’s not a surprise when Rhian’s too good to be true and turns out to be the villain. We’re also heavy-handedly told that Sophie ‘isn’t good at choosing guys’, so does it come as a shock? No. It’s exactly what we saw in The Last Ever After. I would have much preferred if Sophie didn’t fall for another cute evil guy because what does it say about the most powerful witch in the world if she needs a guy to goggle at?

Tedros, by the way, is a complete whiny child. He’s always moaning ‘this is my sword, my kingdom, I’m the king, blah, blah,’ that he comes off as so immature and not kingly at all! Agatha is downgraded to Tedros’ assistant and never really given her own moment to shine until the end when she works out who Rhian really is. They don’t work together as a couple – they don’t even feel like a couple, although we’re tricked into thinking they genuinely care about each other with a few small kiss scenes. I just don’t see them working and I need their relationship to have more depth. Show me they’re in love, don’t just tell me.

We also get introduced to some new characters – as promised – but they’re nothing more than names on a page for me. Nicola, the new Gavaldon girl, was the most fleshed out and introduced seemingly just as a love interest for Hort. She’s smart and captains the ship for their quest, but I don’t really know why Agatha or Sophie couldn’t have done that. They’re both equally capable. There was also Willam, Bogden, Kei and…maybe someone else, but like I said, I know so little about them that they seemed irrelevant when we were just focusing on the characters we knew. Nicola seemed to vanish once she’d served her purpose. I hope they all have a stronger presence as the series go on, and we don’t have to rely so much on Agatha and the gang to draw in readers…but then again, the new characters didn’t get enough screen time to be established, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re destined to the background forever.

At least there are some deaths in Quests for Glory. Chaddick, Tedros’ best friend who I’d completely forgotten about, was the first to be killed of on his mission. It came a bit too early for me to care, especially because there was no scene between him and Tedros beforehand to really assert their brotherhood. It was really relying on you knowing Chaddick from the first trilogy. Second to die was Lancelot, who, again, was a secondary, maybe even tertiary character and the least important adult. I’ll need at least one big main character death in this series for it to have some sense of believability. (My guess is Hester so that Sophie’ll take her place in the coven, especially if we’ve established that Anadil and Dot are besties within the trio, so Hester’s more isolated.)

We’re also introduced to this HUGE bit of lore about the school that would have probably been important to know in the first trilogy, and that is that there’s a house in the school specifically for kids that are being raised by evil parents but who are actually good, or vice versa. We learn that Rhian, Kei and Aric are all from this house. To have a grey area is a really good idea, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t that have been where Sophie and Agatha went? Sophie was raised good but she was evil, and Agatha was the opposite, so to add this convenient but important nuance to the school is too little too late.

There were some scenes I really enjoyed, though. The more action-adventure scenes were the group was fighting the Snake – particularly in that trap-door room – was very cinematic and even though the ending felt a little rushed, the pacing meant I didn’t want to blink because that would mean taking my eyes off the page. It ended on a massive cliffhanger, if you think that Rhian pulling Excalibur from the stone, Tedros failing and the world being plunged into chaos was a surprise.

Overall, this book did a lot of setting the scene for the next two books in the trilogy. A World Without Princes is such a great sequel, and probably my favourite book from the first series, so my expectations are definitely high for the next book. I’ll be reading it, for sure, and just hoping that my Agatha is given some more of the limelight! Quests for Glory, as a first book, was promising and ambitious and did great things to already be establishing a threat as big (or bigger?) than Rafal. I just can’t believe I have to wait another year to read what happens next…

Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

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

More Than We Can Tell is a companion novel to Letters to the Lost, following the main secondary character, Rev and a new character, Emma. It’s not necessary to read Letters to the Lost, but it does add to the charm of this book that you get to find out how Juliet and Declan are getting on now. I wish all books by the same author happened in the same universe, it’s such a sweet idea!

Rev was severely abused when he was a kid. His father contacts him for the first time in a decade and it brings back all of his traumatic feelings. It’s pretty descriptive and will almost definitely be triggering. He’s also dealing with his parents taking on a new foster kid and feeling helpless to stop aggressive reactions.

Continue reading “Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer”

Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Letters to the Lost is all about Juliet, who leaves letters on her mother’s gravestone as a way to process her grief. Declan is the boy who’s doing community service and stumbles across her letter. He reads it and decides to write back. The pair then communicate through letters and emails, without ever telling each other who the other person is. What’s tricky is that they go to the same school, and while Declan figures out Juliet’s identity, she’s still in the dark.

Continue reading “Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer”

Review: Truly Wildly Deeply by Jenny McLachlan

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

I was really excited to read this after loving Stargazing For Beginners, earlier this year. I literally jumped when I saw this come up on NetGalley, because no way was I getting to read two new Jenny McLachlan books in a year. This definitely followed in the same style, and there’s so much to love about it.

First of all, Annie, the main character, has cerebral palsy and uses both a wheelchair and crutches in the book. I haven’t read about that many visibly disabled characters, and this is something I hope to change in the coming year. The discussion of Annie’s disability and her mentality surrounded it was really well handled, and although I can’t speak on behalf of those with CP, I felt it was respectful and insightful without trying to tell someone else’s story.

Second, it’s set at a sixth form and the representation of that environment is absolutely spot on. For the classes and cafeteria dynamic, to the desperate need to reinvent yourself and find new friends, I absolutely loved the setting. It took me right back to my sixth form years which were a delight.

Of course, it can’t be set in a school and not have English classes as a prominent feature. Throughout the novel, Annie and the boy she sits next to, Fab, are constantly arguing about Wuthering Heights. It felt like a copy and paste of my own A level lit lessons, as that was one of the texts we studied and I hated it. Jane Eyre, now that’s a book I can get behind. But, it was great to see how the book reflected Annie and Fab’s relationship and how it inspired the final 20% of the book in a very Sara Barnard style way. (Also, the style of the moors makes the cover beautiful!)

Annie and Fab are an interesting couple, mostly because they’re not a couple for most of the book. It’s obvious that Fab likes Annie, but Annie is apprehensive to be in a relationship. There’s a back-and-forth between them about this, and some classic miscommunication that could have been resolved quicker, in my opinion, and maybe I would have liked more reasoning for Annie’s disinterest in romance. She was showing a lot of demiromantic and asexual tendencies, and I got too excited about those possibilities when they weren’t canon.

I loved the scenarios that Annie and Fab were put in, like a costume party, a Polish wedding and a date involving berry-picking. It was all cute and lovely, exactly what I want in a contemporary romance.

Annie’s  mum was something special too. Close mother-daughter relationships are my favourite thing (see Radio Silence by Alice Oseman).  She was someone that Annie actually talked to about her problems and I loved her parental prominence.

Overall, I really liked Truly Wildly Deeply, if you couldn’t tell already, and give it 4 stars. There were a few things that I didn’t gel with, and there were a few pacing issues but they didn’t take away from how just lovely this book was. If you’re looking for disability rep, a love-tolerate romance and quirky plot points, I’d totally recommend this book.

Review: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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

This book comes to you in two very distinct parts. The first is a version of All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, with our main character, Maya, attracting the interest of two boys: the very sweet parents-approve Muslim and the most popular guy at school that Maya’s had a crush on for years.

In the first chapter, she seems really into Kareem. They meet at an Indian wedding and have a lot in common, with Kareem encouraging Maya to pursue her dream of being a film-maker. It was cute and I was looking forward to the romance unfolding, following in the footsteps of When Dimple Met Rishi. 

Then Paul gets introduced later and there’s this contrived way from them to hang out: teaching Maya to swim. Paul was an exciting prospect because I haven’t read many interracial relationship before, but I couldn’t get behind their romance because Paul was already in a relationship. He’s hanging out with Maya in a definitely romantic fashion, and neither of them show any remorse for the fact that what they’re doing is cheating. It wasn’t okay in Anna and the French Kiss and it’s not okay here. I can’t root for a couple when I know there’s another girl outside the page that’s getting her heart broken.

The cheating thing felt especially bitter when Kareem was so lovely and an all around great guy. I didn’t understand that something which started quite flirty quickly fizzled out into ‘let’s just be friends’. I’ve never been on the ‘wrong’ side of a love triangle before, so this was an interesting experience and one that I hope never to have again.

So, if you haven’t got the sense already, this is definitely a contemporary romance. It stays that way for around 60-70% of the book. The rest of the story takes a complete U-turn from this.

At the end of every chapter, you get this tiny scene that slowly tells the story of a suspected suicide bomber that shares the same surname as Maya. They are in no way related, but the town reacts as if Maya’s family is responsible for the trauma. The 15% where this storyline is pursued feels like a different book. I wish it had played a bigger part in the book as a whole, because it felt like I was waiting and waiting to get to the moment described on the blurb, and the romance was just filler until then. Regardless, this plot line was powerful and will always be relevant to what’s going on in the world, but particularly this year when every day we seem to wake up to news of another terror attack, or more mass injuries. It was jarring to place these two things together, but realistic in the way that a terror threat is always going to deeply disturb a normal life.

However, if I didn’t know this book was going to have such a powerful perspective on the repercussions of prejudice, hatred and Islamophobia, I don’t think I would have kept reading beyond the halfway point.

I’m so pleased that more books like this are being published, and that I got the chance to read about a character so far from my own perspective. It’s definitely inspired me to try and find more books like this in 2018 – and also finally get round to The Hate You Give…

Review: Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard

*Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(First posted on Goodreads on 4th November, having read the book on October 29th)

I’ve been really delayed in writing my review for this seeing as I finished it at the end of last week, but I was hoping that if I left in for long enough and I mulled over ‘Goodbye, Perfect’ I’d love it as much as I did Sara Barnard’s other books. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. (Hence why the rating in the featured image and the actual review are different – I had to be more honest with how I felt about the book, and not just be lenient with my rating because I loved Sara’s previous two books.)

I knew nothing about the plot before I started reading, which was definitely a good thing because if I’d have known it was about a student-teacher relationship, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up – not matter who wrote it. That relationship is one of my most hated buzzwords. Luckily, it’s from the perspective of the girl who’s best friend is groomed, delusional and ‘in love’ with her music teacher, which made it more manageable and definitely had me questioning the strength of loyalty in the face of a criminal offence.

My opinion was very firm. Even if Bonnie is Eden’s best friend, she doesn’t know how much danger she’s in so Eden needed to tell the police everything. And while I was sympathetic to the difficult situation Eden was in for the first fifty pages, I couldn’t deal with the same thought processes throughout the whole book. How this book managed to feel so long winded (slow paced and – dare I say it? – dull) at just over 300 pages is beyond me.

The saving grace of the book for me was Eden’s relationship with Valerie, her older sister that she struggled to bond with when she was first adopted, and Eden’s boyfriend Connor who was just an all around great guy. (Having a character in YA be in a committed relationship before the book began and NOT have any drama surrounding that relationship during the narrative was so refreshing!) These characters were both most prominent in the last fifty pages of the book where things started to get interesting for the first time.

Another thing that kept me reading despite feeling like I wasn’t getting enough out of the story was the newspaper inserts and text message exchanges. I was just waiting for what ridiculously warped thing Bonnie was going to say about how happy she was to be with Jack (ugh.) I love that multi-media is becoming more and more prominent in YA, at least!

There were also a lot of things happening in the background of this story that were super interesting but not developed enough for me. For example, Eden’s little sister Daisy and her descent into being a young troublemaker/following the path of Eden from years ago. Or the fact that Connor was a young carer for his mother. Or the relationship Eden had with her birth mother. Or Eden’s identity as biracial (with a Brazilian father). All of these things could have added a little zest to a story that was too consumed by Bonnie running away.

Also, (rant incoming) I’m never a fan of narratives that make a straight-A student/generally ‘good’ girl feel like she’s missing out on the ‘teenage experience’ (which doesn’t exist!) Being a teenager isn’t a check list of underage drinking and disrespecting your authority figures. I was told this way too much by people in secondary school that made fun of me thinking a nice evening consisted of watching Call the Midwife and knitting. Just because Bonnie cared about her exam results, that doesn’t make her boring or not worthy of her story being told.

Overall, this book gets 2.5 stars from me and I’m beyond disappointed that I can’t call this Sara Barnard’s best book yet. But she’s still one of my all-time favourite YA authors and I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that her next book is more my thing.