I’m writing this on December 9th. This year, I’ve been keeping track of my reading on a spreadsheet, because I wanted more details than what Goodreads would provide. So far this year I’ve read 211 books, and I can’t see myself reading too much more. I’m not going to take out books re-reads like Maddie did, because that would take way too long! But the numbers won’t add up precisely because I didn’t rate things I read for university or that I DNF’d.
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: 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: 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: 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: Purple Hearts by Michael Grant
Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
FRONT LINES review | SILVER STARS review | Michael Grant Interview
I’ve been a huge fan of this series from day one, and Purple Hearts did not disappoint. In fact, it’s probably the best ending to a trilogy I’ve ever read. THE CLOSURE WAS REAL. We got to see what the characters got up to post-war AND their obituaries so we know what they did with their lives as a whole. Thank you, Michael Grant, I’ve never been more satisfied with an ending. Not to mention, we finally learn who’s been writing these stories! (And I guessed right!)
I feel like in each book, the girls have an identity breakthrough, and I’m glad that I’ve loved a different girl most strongly in each book. In Front Lines it was Frangie, in Silver Stars is was Rainy, and in this book, I’ve rolled round to loving Rio. She’s arguably been through the most, because her character is almost unrecognisable to the girl who stepped into training. In Purple Hearts, Rio got a particularly wonderful scene about femininity and I cheered her on the whole way through. I really love the hardened person she became. She might have lost her innocent view of the world, but in the end she’s better for it.
I also loved that in the book, more than ever, it felt like the girls were interconnected. We’d often see Frangie talking with Rainy or Rio, and I love it best when they’re all aware of each other because, well…it’s just nice, isn’t it? Their moments take you out of the action, (in welcome reprieve) even though there was more explosions and death than ever before! Purple Hearts is gritty and harrowing in all the right places, perfectly capturing the terrors of war. There was also a bigger discussion on deserters and loyalty, which I don’t think has been touched on, but I’m sure if you’d asked the girls in Front Lines what they thought of deserting they’d be giving very different answers to now!
Overall, Rainy’s in top from being a bad-ass spy character, Rio has more responsibility and she handles the weight on her shoulders admirably, and Frangie’s still following close behind, patching everyone up. They all make me so proud, and I’m so pleased I picked up Front Lines, and have followed these girls on this truly epic journey.
I can’t recommend this series more, it’s got sustained action, lush, well developed characters, and brilliant narrative architecture. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up Front Lines again.
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.
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.