Review: Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel

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

Juniper Lemon has been on everyone’s radars since it was chosen to The Book of the BookTubeathon 2017. We had planned to read along with everyone else, but with YALC getting in the way, it was hard to coordinate. Now that YALC’s truly been and gone *sob sob*, we picked up Juniper and read it practically in one sitting. It was a fantastic book that dealt with grief and permanence in a way that didn’t make you want to bawl your eyes out, with a very lovely emphasis on building relationships with people who need them.

So, if you don’t know about it, Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index is all about a girl called Juniper (yes, Lemon. No, it’s not a spin off from Big Hero 6.) Her sister, Camie, died six months ago and she finds a letter she wrote to a mysterious ‘You’. Juniper then takes it upon herself to discover You’s identity, making a new friend along the way, kind of like the first six episodes of any magical girl series. The Happiness Index is a bunch of notecards that Juniper makes listing all the happy and sad things that happen during the day. One of her cards goes missing (with a pretty big confession on it) that’s the catalyst for Juniper’s to find her new love interest/ friendship group/ artistic mission for closure.

The mystery of ‘You’ definitely distracted Juniper from the grief and unspoken things surrounding her sister’s death. It wasn’t all overly dramatic and teary, with her crying in the cemetery late at night in the rain. (Although, Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer does that perfectly.) There’s certainly emotional resonance to Camie and Juniper’s relationship as you learn about what the pair did when they were younger or during national holidays but to have new beginnings as such an integral theme was a smart move of Julie Israel’s part. It was the perfect balance of quirky and fun, deep and real.

Our favourite aspect of the story was when Juniper was being a friend to the misfits, the loners and the just-likes-to-sit-in-the-library types. Seeing her surround herself with a growing circle of friends, while also trying to repair broken bridges with her bestie before Camie’s death, Lauren, was just the kind of positivity you needed.

I really liked that there was always more going on under the surface with Juniper’s mother and her grief, and Brand, Juniper’s love interest, and his home life. Her name might be in the title but she’s not the sole focus of the story, and to have so many little subplots involving the people around her made this a really rewarding read when you got to the end and the classic ceremonial burning of shared possessions.

Overall, we’d give Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index 4 stars. The mystery kept the pacing fast and the gotta-catch-them-all friendship group had us glued to the page. This was such a great debut for Julie Israel, and we’ll definitely be looking out for her next release!

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Review: The Girl’s Guide to Summer by Sarah Mlynowski

If you love travel, or have been on a similar European tour, then this will feel like a Travel Diary and send you right back to your own adventures.

As someone who likes the idea of travelling but knows it’s definitely not for me, I have to admit I was bored at times. This is also from someone who loves DCOMs where travel is a huge part. (I’m talking Cheetah Girls 2, the Lizzie McGuire Movie, etc.) And let’s not forget my obsession with the old Mary-Kate and Ashley films. ‘When in Rome’ and ‘Winning London’ are pure classics. My favourite place the girls went to was probably Monte Carlo, only because I love the film ‘Monte Carlo’ and it reminded me how much I needed to rematch it. So, it’s not like I can’t enjoy travel stories, but this wasn’t the right one.

I don’t think the girls went through any character development. The ones that were in relationships ended up single and the girls not in relationships, found one. That was the only change. Personality wise, and friendship wise, they still seemed to be the same as page one. The friendship in general, though probably realistic, felt very imbalances. Leela had double standards and I wish the disconnect they were having could have been more of the centre rather than this Jackson guy who Leela kept calling a ‘Man Whore’….um no. You don’t get to judge someone based on how much sex they have! And they’d never even met! So, that was annoying.

I really liked what was going on with Sydney’s mother back home – her being agoraphobic and Sydney becoming the primary carer – and I would have much preferred to know more about that than their summer holidays. It felt like the most unique part of the story was happening outside of what we were being told.

I feel like their travels become a little dull, and kept hitting the same note. They’d struggle with money but somehow get through it, meet up with really kind people and sort of pick them up as they went along. (Even though there was this weird kissing contest that seemed to present itself at random times…) But there were no real stakes. We didn’t see the consequences of anything bad happening, so any sort of tension was completely lacking. Sydney and Leela had a few hiccups but nothing to stress over. I guess that’s because they were building this whole ‘perfect summer’ vibe, but maybe one instance of them having nowhere to sleep because they couldn’t afford it rather than some rich guy who fancies one of them coming in to save the day.

However thee final page did seem to suggest some kind of companion novel sequel about what was happening to one of Sydney and Leela’s other friends at the summer camp she was a counsellor at, which sounds 100% more up my street, so in the end, I’m glad I read this, so I could get the Easter eggs for the second book!

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: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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

I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in a book. If it’s shocking to you, it’s shocking to me too because I thought I was going to love this. It was one of my most anticipated releases and I was so excited to read an #OwnVoices story about teenagers of Indian descent. And for the most part, the elements of Indian culture and passion for your own heritage was my favourite part of the book. It delivered that, but that was the ONLY thing it delivered for me.

So, let’s just pros and cons everything about this book, from character to plot to actual writing: Continue reading “Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon”

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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Summer Reading Recommendations!

Today’s Top Five Wednesday is all about your favourite books to read over the summer. So, basically, your favourite contemporary books. If you don’t pick up at least one YA romance in the next four months, you’re a monster (I’m sorry, fantasy loving friends!)

The Names They Gave Us by Emory Lord – In a summery read, you’re looking for a sweet, flawed main character, diversity (of course, that’s criteria for all books!), a slow-burning romance, a conflict that strikes just the right level of melancholy without ruining the cute vibe and preferably adorable kids. The Names They Gave Us gives you all of this and more. I haven’t read a better contemporary since my last Morgan Matson read, so this comes this more than a glowing recommendation. It’s a glowing command to read it (please?)

Proof of Forever by Lexa Hillyer – Following the summer camp theme, this tells the story of four friends reuniting after a long time apart and sharing a time-travelling adventure to when they first got to know each other. Missing pieces of that summer together fall into place and it’s an absolutely heart-warming and heart-wrenching story of friendship and being there for each other no matter what. Definitely pick this one up if you want to feel glittery, for lack of a better word!

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Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

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

This book completely took my by surprise, and it is easily one of the best contemporaries I’ve read all year. Actually, let’s be honest: one of the best contemporaries I’ve read ever. I haven’t been touched this much by friendship, family and faith since the Clearwater Crossing series, which is an old one from the 90s but one of my all time favourites due to it’s absolutely beautiful complex characters and range of emotion. Emery Lord managed to pack the punch of a 20 book series into 380 glorious pages. The Names They Gave Us has a beating heart at its core and I was fully blown away.

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Review: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

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

Within the last six months, I’ve read two Cat Clarke books. Entangled and A Kiss in the Dark. Both were chilling in some way, with plot twists that had me throwing the book to the other side of the room and hugging a pillow to my chest. She knows how to write a thriller, and with a tagline like ‘Sugar and spice and scars for life’, you know when you’re getting in, you’re getting in deep. Unfortunately, Cat’s reputation for writing YA thrillers ultimately led to both of us being like ‘Wait….was that it?’ With that said, Girlhood is my favourite of her books so far because of the different, less mysterious tone. And it takes place in a boarding school, so that’s a guaranteed win.

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Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

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

After really enjoying Seven Ways We Lie, we were excited to see what the super talented Riley Redgate had up her sleeve next! Noteworthy is the perfect mix of fun and series and it should 110% be on your radar.

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Jordan Sun is trying to get parts in her school’s musical theatre productions, but her range isn’t what anyone is looking for. Then Jordan sees an ‘member’s needed’ sign for The Sharpshooters, an all-male a cappella band, and knows that this is her change. So, she cuts her hair, adjusts her regular speaking voice and slips into the audition with no one suspecting a thing!

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Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Queens of Geek is the story of three Australian teens: Charlie, Taylor and Jamie, who travel across the world to attend SupaCon. Charlie is a Youtuber with 3 million subscribers, and she’s recently starred in a movie that everyone is obsessed with even though it’s only recently been released (so I’m a little confused by the timeline of this). Taylor has Aspergers but is conquering her anxiety so she can meet the author of her favourite book series. And Jamie’s basically just along for the ride so that Taylor can have some sort of love story.

I don’t want to say I have a problem with YA contempora

ries because that’s a sweeping statement and certainly not true, but quite a few ‘hyped’ books have severely disappointed me recently. And you know what aspect of the stories is letting me down? THE WRITING.

I honestly don’t want to get super negative, because it’s clear that Queens of Geek was Jen Wilde’s passion project but for me, the diversity was heavy-handed, the pacing was off, and the dialogue was really cringey and unrealistic. It felt like this book was trying to do too much.

The characters would lecture each other about intersectional feminism, handling anxiety, consensual sex, autism, leaving home, whether or not to go to university, being bisexual, slut shaming and body shaming (yep, all of these issues were talked about) even though everyone was on the same page with it anyway? They didn’t feel like real conversations the characters would be having, but rather conversations the author wanted the reader to contemplate. But the actually effect was that because it was trying to do ALL of them, none of them were done well. It was a classic case of spreading out too thin, resulting in everything being bad. If just two or three of these things had been the main focus then that would’ve been plenty, especially for a book under 300 pages.

But my main issue was suspension of disbelief:
1. I was ejected from the story the minute Charlie, who has 3 millionsubs, was acting as if no one knew her name. I’m sorry, but this is the kind of number where you’d be pulled over on the street to take pictures with your subscribers.

2. One part of the plot relies on Charlie not uploading a video, and instead asking her manager to upload it for her. The manager then uploads a different video which has some…consequences. HOW CAN YOU ULPOAD THE WRONG VIDEO? Charlie would have had to export only one video, turning it into a file that would probably save on her desktop?? But instead the manager goes into her editing software, exports clearly unedited footage (which would probably be like 40 minutes long and would take a long time on hotel wifi anyway so the consequences wouldn’t be as immediate as they are in the book), and then upload it to Youtube. She’d be waiting half a day if she had to export, upload and process herself! NO. The logical thing would’ve been for Charlie to upload and use the scheduling option for her own video. Does Charlie know how to Youtube???

I know, this is really nit-picking, but you can’t just jump hoops to make your logic work. This was stupid and contrived. I really dislike when things this are skipped over, because it just wouldn’t happen.

3. Taylor’s tumblr posts were never tagged with #personal, which is just completely unrealistic. Again, it’s a small thing, but show a lack of research. I’ve never seen someone use tumblr as an actual blog before all ‘Hi guys, so this is what I’m currently doing…’ Wouldn’t twitter have worked better for this kind of update?

So, that was a sort of rant, I guess. The only thing I’d ever heard anyone say about this was how ‘cute’ it was and that’s totally fine. But I’m not the kind of reader that just reads ‘for fun.’ Studying creative writing at uni and reading a ton of YA has resulted in my being highly critical (and probably a bit salty). We all get something different out of reading, and this book might have helped you with your own identity, but for me, it was very laboured and tried too hard to tick all the boxes, which didn’t make a successful story.

If you’re looking for a glowing review, I’d recommend Natalie’s. She goes into more detail about what good rep this book has, and picks up some issues it talks about that I didn’t mention. (Even though, do we really need more??)
And if you want to see a more balanced review, then check out Cait’sbecause she makes some really good points about how unnatural the speech is, but again comments on how good the diversity is.