(Spoiler) Review: Follow Me by Sara Shepard

*Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 
This review will spoil the contents of The Amateurs so be warned if you are yet to read the first book! 

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I read The Amateurs. It was such a well paced and excitingly driven story with a plot twist that I really didn’t expect. Of course, I was pumped to read the sequel, but in comparison to the first book, it fell flat.

The main reason for this, I think, is because we knew from the very beginning who Seneca and the gang were hunting down. Brett, the guy from The Amateurs who helpfully joined their team, pointing them in all the right directions, only to be the killer himself. Since then, Brett’s changed his identity but not his MO, so we follow the group as they try and rescue Chelsea Dawson, a beautiful Instagram-obsessed teen from his dangerous clutches. Part of what made the first book so great was not knowing and so this felt like an entirely different genre: a mystery turned thriller, as we knew what Brett was capable of. But, because the book is so short, we never got to linger in the more menacing moments and so everything was a little…underwhelming.

There’s also the half-baked romance subplot between Seneca and Maddox that’s very much banking on their relationship and way they interact with one another being set up in the first book so the scenes between them lacked emotion. And romance in the middle of a thriller is just the biggest case of ‘now is not the time’ ever.

Also, whereas everyone in the group had a part to play in the first book, Aerin and Madison felt like they were just along for the ride. It was difficult to pinpoint what they were contributing to the situation. It seemed like social media was doing most of the work for them.

But then, I really did enjoy how reasonably everything was figured out, though. You could actually imagine that this is the way a bunch of teenagers would solve a crime by doing a little internet stalking and cross referencing comments on Instagram posts. The access to details the group had in the first book was a bit far fetched, but this had genuine logic to it.

I was also really interested in the way the police responded to Chelsea’s kidnapping and how they read it all as a bid for more followers on social media. I think there was some thought-provoking critique on how adults perceive teenagers’ behaviour nowadays.

The very last page about Brett kidnapping Aerin…well, it didn’t feel like there was enough groundwork to that for me to believe it would happen. And even then, because Aerin didn’t play a huge part in the narrative – being replaced by Chelsea – I don’t know if I care enough to know what happens next?

Overall, I’m giving it 3 stars. I definitely enjoyed Follow Me less than the first book, but if you’re in the mood for a quick kind of thriller read, I’d recommend it.

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Review: Songs About Us by Chris Russell

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

Songs About Us was a lot of fun and the perfect sequel to Songs About A Girl (which will get its own mention when Bee and I recommend our favourite books about music during Blogmas! Ooh, a little teaser there for you!)

Charlie Bloom, budding photographer, had connections with Fire & Lights, this book world’s version of One Direction, basically. You’ve got all the classic boy band personalities of the quiet, sensitive type, the comic goofball, the moody and broody. Charlie’s got to know two of the band members quite well, Olly (the down to earth, take home to your parents one) and Gabriel (the Harry Styles one). In the first book, there’s some suggestion of romance for Charlie with both boys and this book takes it beyond suggestion.

I don’t know which boy band member I’d prefer her to be with. It’s a bit annoying that both boys make a great couple with Charlie. But, I think Olly is definitely stealing more of my heart than Gabriel. She gets cute moments with both of them, nonetheless, but there’s no doubt that when she’s with Gabriel, things get a little more…serious.

Songs About Us has a darker tone than the first book as Charlie delves deeper into the mystery of her mother’s past and just how much more she has in common with Gabriel than she realises. I loved the way that this came together – speaking of which, that cliffhanger?? Completely unfair. I need the final book this instant.

I absolutely loved any boyband fantasy moment, like when they were mobbed by fangirls, when they were on the private jet, when the boys walked out of a TV interview, when they were mobbed by fangirls…did I say that already?

I also felt like I got to know the other band members a little more in this book, and I hope that they become even more prominent in the final book. (Also looking forward to Carrie, Charlie’s famous female idol, being part of the story too – I could always do with some more female friendship.)

Songs About Us is definitely on par with the first book, and continues all the guilty pleasure plot threads that fangirls can only dream about. It’s fast paced, silly fun and I’ll definitely be picking up the final book in the series to see where it ends up. Until then, I’ll be listening to the Fire & Lights songs Chris has recorded.

Review: Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn

*Note: We were sent this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I started reading this in July, got through the first 30 pages and then gave up because the writing style was too bogged down with adjectives. I picked it back up again because royalty and boarding schools are two of my favourite buzzwords and I really wanted to be impressed. But, I think I’m a decade too old to really enjoy it. A lot of the story had a more middle-grade vibe than YA, so this would be the perfect book for 10-12 year old girls who love princesses because they play a huge role in this story.

The boarding school element of the story was one of the most underdeveloped aspects. Lottie wants to go to Rosewood. It’s prestigious but it’s not magical, it’s just where some royal and wealthy kids go. The lessons are completely regular and besides one maths lesson, you don’t get a lot of insight into them. The book takes place over one school year, but it’s the end of Christmas break, Valentine’s Day and results day at the end of May all in the span of 20 pages. What the heck? Am I meant to believe that nothing nefarious happened in five months to Ellie and Lottie who were in danger at Christmas break? It was ridiculously paced!

The plot is a bit all over the place as well. Obviously the focus is on Lottie taking the place of Ellie, Princess Protection Program style, but then there are all these boarding-school-by-numbers moments like sneaking out to the library in the middle of the night that didn’t do anything to enhance the main story line.

And let’s not forget Olly, who’s posed as Lottie’s best friend from back home. Rosewood has rules against mobile phones and the internet (if only that was the case in the identically named hometown of Pretty Little Liars!) which is a convenient way to justify Olly being completely forgotten and replaced by Ellie. It was like Lottie didn’t even care about him anymore even though I was always thinking ‘what about Olly?’

Ellie and Lottie’s friendship was built out of nowhere too. They go from being seemingly enemies as Lottie steals Ellie’s real identity, to best friends when they realise that’s actually a good thing. I wanted them to have Sophie and Agatha traits, but it felt a little stilted to be that. Still, I appreciate a strong female friendship, even if it was instantaneous.

With the little world building it did have, I was reminded of the character dynamics in ‘Vampire Academy’ and ‘Rebel Belle’, but posed for a younger audience. Important royals have Partizans, who are essentially guardians that protect them. Lottie’s role of switching place with Ellie is called a Portman. Those terms and one curse word are as far as the world building goes for the country of Maradova. You get no other sense of where it is, what it’s like or why Ellie is in danger as the princess. Frustrating, right?

I won’t be continuing on with the series, but if a middle-grade version of the two comp titles above appeals to you, definitely pick this one up!

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!

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”

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

Every verse novel of Sarah Crossan’s has been getting better and better and this is no exception. She just picks the absolute best characters to write about and tells stories you don’t normally hear that mean you can’t put the book down until it’s done.

Moonrise tells the story of Joe, who’s brother, Ed, is on death row. He hasn’t seen him in ten years, and now that he’s been given a death date, he decides to move to Texas for the opportunity to reconnect with him, and get the truth about what happened the day he was arrested.

What I loved about the story was how unassuming it was. It could have been from Ed’s perspective, and been a huge mystery like The Life of David Gale, that film with Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet. Instead, with the focus on Joe, there’s a stronger emphasis on strength and family and needing support. If you want to get angry about the justice system, watch the film instead, because while it does get mentioned, trying to save Ed is never at the heart of the book, it’s more about both brothers coming to terms with his fate.

My favourite moments of the book were Ed’s letters to Joe – the last one definitely had me tearing up – and when Nell turned up in Joe’s life because it was such a sweet and real relationship against a harsh reality that offered Joe some escape.

While the prospect of counting down the days until your brother dies sounds morbid, Moonrise strikes the perfect balance between touching and melancholy, never fully dipping into complete sadness, but never letting you forget that life is unfair sometimes.

Succinct and moving, I’m giving Moonrise 4 stars, and it’s definitely going to be something I’m thinking about for months to come!

Review: Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

Vendetta has been on my TBR since our friend, Carys, raved about the author at last year’s YALC. Now that the event is under two week away (!!), it was finally time, after months of staring at it on my shelves wondering ‘when will this happen?’ and I read it. The only thing I knew going in to the book was that there was a slight Romeo and Juliet vibe, but with the Italian mafia thrown in. Cool. Also, I bought the other two books in the trilogy, so I definitely plan on continuing – every time I brought it up in a video, there would be at least a few comments telling me how great it is! So, let’s talk about my thoughts.

As any first book in a series is, this was full of tropes. Luckily, the tropes were all ones that I get on with. Apart from one, and we’ll get to that later. Our main character, Sophie, lives in a small town called Cedar Hill, where nothing happens. There’s an old and abandoned mansion that has recently been filled with five (yes, five) hot Italian-American boys. The combination of dull town, unsuspectingly gorgeous girl and the new hot boy influx is as cliche as it comes. (See: Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, a gender-bend Beautiful Creatures.) And Catherine Doyle does little to step outside of the cliche.

I was getting seriously Bella and Edward flashbacks when one of the brothers would take turns saving Sophie’s life, or fighting people on her behalf. I swear there’s a cut-and-paste moment of Sophie being like ‘But, you were there, you saved me!’ and Nic saying ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ I was kind of trash for it, especially when two of the brothers grew more prominent.

There’s Nic, the one she sees first and so the one she falls in love with. He’s a bit of an outsider in his family and wants Sophie to be part of his life, even though it’s against family policy. I call him Stefan Salvatore.

Then there’s Luca, the one that doesn’t want Sophie at all, but is still rugged and handsome with a sexual magnetism stronger than Nic. He’s more tied to family life and doesn’t hold back in upholding the whole assassin thing. I call him Damon Salvatore.

Because this dynamic already exists, I have a sneaky suspicion that Sophie will be caught in a love triangle and chose a different brother in the end than the one she chose to begin with. The forbidden romance thread is something I hadn’t read in a while, and it brought with it all the swoon-worthy moments of romances past. 

Most of the book is the brothers getting to know Sophie and Sophie uncovering the secrets of the Falcone clan, putting herself in danger and whatnot. I found all of this okay, but it wasn’t mind blowing. I feel like I’m still waiting for something to be uniquely Blood for Blood about the book that I want to read the second book straight away. It definitely has something to prove.

So, now for the naysaying. The trope I talked about earlier that I really didn’t like is one that may count as a spoiler for the book, but it deserves to be exposed. There are five brothers. One of the brothers, Valentino, who’s Luca’s twin, is in a wheelchair. He fulfils the role of tortured artist, sensitive and housebound. When Sophie is kept hostage in a warehouse to lure her uncle out of hiding, we find out that Valentino, rather than the evil uncle stereotype, is the villain. But it just went from one bad stereotype to another!

Really? There’s a link between villainy and disability? What the actual hell? We’re past this. We’re so past this, it’s cringey. It’s horrid and really tainted the story for me that Catherine Doyle went there.

And that’s my two cents on Vendetta. Overall, it was a good, if slightly predictable, play on forbidden love and family feuds that did enough to make me want to pick up the sequel. Fingers crossed it colours a little more outside the lines than this one did.

 

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: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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

This is probably THE MOST topical book to read about right now. After the release of the TV show, and all the problems that came with it (seriously, research the well-deserved uproar about the representation of depression and suicide) this book has been getting a lot more attention. And yes, I was desperate to read it to see how it all matched up, and nervous, too, that the portrayal would be potentially triggering or harmful. You can’t avoid it. While I’m sure the message of the book isn’t to condone revenge suicide, or suggest that bullying others is the best response to being bullied yourself, I was so aware that those are things you could take away from it. Keeping all that in mind, here are my thoughts.  Continue reading “Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher”

Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

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

There’s always a lot of pressure that can come along with a Breakfast Club reference. It’s literally right there on the cover: ‘a geek, a jock, a criminal, a princess’. And although the characters from the 80s classic were way more than their cliched labels suggested, I wondered if Bronwyn, Cooper, Nate and Addy would prove that there is no box to be put in. I couldn’t be more pleased to say that the characters are what make this book amazing and you all know I love a good murder mystery, so that’s saying something. Continue reading “Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus”