Reading Year in Review: 2017

We got to do some pretty amazing things this year, all thanks to reading. Here are some of our bookish highlights of 2017! Continue reading “Reading Year in Review: 2017”

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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: 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: 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.

(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.

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!