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.

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: 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: 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: 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: 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.