Review: A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

A Sky Painted Gold is the story of Lou, who sneaks into the mansion house across the lake to escape her small-town life, until the glamorous Cardews arrive and she becomes their new fascination. Set in the late 1920s it’s the UK’s glitzy YA answer to The Great Gatsby. 

First of all, Lou is an incredibly relatable character. Her sister’s just gotten married, and she’s feeling pretty lost, so obviously she gets completely swept up by the secrets and hidden desires.

I really adored the settings how they could become claustrophobic crucibles at some times and magical expanses of freedom. The atmosphere was addicting, and really pulled me through the entire story. It never lost a sense of the Cornish countryside vs. the smog of London divide, and I enjoyed seeing how Lou acted differently, and how she explored new aspects of herself, in each setting.

Romance is possibly the main thread of A Sky Painted Gold, except no one is with who they’re supposed to be with! Who doesn’t love a good masquerade ball though! I adored this scene, because it was the perfect opportunity for truths to be revealed and scandals to cause ripples! However, I was pleasantly surprised that the romance resolved relatively with little complication that there was an F/F thread. I guess I was assuming the worst of these people, but it turns out they were just nice at heart, and I don’t know about you guys, but that made my heart sing.

Overal,, I’m giving A Sky Painted Gold 3.5 stars. I was drawn in; I loved the characters, and the world, and the writing was beautiful too. If you’re in need of a slower paced, yet addicting, summer read, I would definitely recommend this one!

I haven’t read a lot of historical fiction, but if Laura Wood writes any more, I’ll certainly be reading it!

 

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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.

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.

(Spoiler) Review: Quests for Glory by Soman Chainani

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Warning: This is a SPOILER review. If you have not read QFG, or the rest of the SFGAE books for that matter, you may not want to read.

The School for Good and Evil is one of my favourite series of all time. When I found out a fourth book was coming, I was beyond excited for it. Writing another series within the same world has become so common nowadays, that maybe I shouldn’t have been as surprised. So, Quests for Glory kicks off with a 100 pages ‘where are they now?’ section. If you’ve read the Handbook of Good and Evil, you already have a good idea of it. Sophie is the Dean of Evil, Agatha and Tedros are getting married but their relationship is on the rocks – when is it not, let’s be honest? – Hort is a teacher for Evil, and the Coven have been given the task of finding a new school master. Phew, we’re all up to speed!

Because Hort and the Coven are given sections, this first part is quite lengthy. It’s very expositional but familiarises the reader with the characters again, so I’ll cut it some slack. But, along with the main characters, every other student in Agatha and Sophie’s year gets name dropped, telling you what quests they’re on too…

The plot finally gets rolling when Tedros can’t pull Excalibur out of the stone and a new enemy turns up: the Snake. There’s this pretty long winded explanation about The Lion and the Snake, another fairy tale that’s going to frame the book. When we meet the Snake, there’s the suggestion that he’s Rafal from the first trilogy but one thing is for sure: he’s evil.

We also get to meet Rhian, who shares a name with Rafal’s twin, the Good school master so that can’t be a coincidence. He’s all handsome and generally a better version of Tedros that Sophie can fall for. He actually has King Arthur’s blood. It felt like wish fulfilment. Sophie didn’t get the guy in the first trilogy, so we’ll just make her a new and improved version of the guy she wanted all along. But, with the foreshadowing of the evil connection, it’s not a surprise when Rhian’s too good to be true and turns out to be the villain. We’re also heavy-handedly told that Sophie ‘isn’t good at choosing guys’, so does it come as a shock? No. It’s exactly what we saw in The Last Ever After. I would have much preferred if Sophie didn’t fall for another cute evil guy because what does it say about the most powerful witch in the world if she needs a guy to goggle at?

Tedros, by the way, is a complete whiny child. He’s always moaning ‘this is my sword, my kingdom, I’m the king, blah, blah,’ that he comes off as so immature and not kingly at all! Agatha is downgraded to Tedros’ assistant and never really given her own moment to shine until the end when she works out who Rhian really is. They don’t work together as a couple – they don’t even feel like a couple, although we’re tricked into thinking they genuinely care about each other with a few small kiss scenes. I just don’t see them working and I need their relationship to have more depth. Show me they’re in love, don’t just tell me.

We also get introduced to some new characters – as promised – but they’re nothing more than names on a page for me. Nicola, the new Gavaldon girl, was the most fleshed out and introduced seemingly just as a love interest for Hort. She’s smart and captains the ship for their quest, but I don’t really know why Agatha or Sophie couldn’t have done that. They’re both equally capable. There was also Willam, Bogden, Kei and…maybe someone else, but like I said, I know so little about them that they seemed irrelevant when we were just focusing on the characters we knew. Nicola seemed to vanish once she’d served her purpose. I hope they all have a stronger presence as the series go on, and we don’t have to rely so much on Agatha and the gang to draw in readers…but then again, the new characters didn’t get enough screen time to be established, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re destined to the background forever.

At least there are some deaths in Quests for Glory. Chaddick, Tedros’ best friend who I’d completely forgotten about, was the first to be killed of on his mission. It came a bit too early for me to care, especially because there was no scene between him and Tedros beforehand to really assert their brotherhood. It was really relying on you knowing Chaddick from the first trilogy. Second to die was Lancelot, who, again, was a secondary, maybe even tertiary character and the least important adult. I’ll need at least one big main character death in this series for it to have some sense of believability. (My guess is Hester so that Sophie’ll take her place in the coven, especially if we’ve established that Anadil and Dot are besties within the trio, so Hester’s more isolated.)

We’re also introduced to this HUGE bit of lore about the school that would have probably been important to know in the first trilogy, and that is that there’s a house in the school specifically for kids that are being raised by evil parents but who are actually good, or vice versa. We learn that Rhian, Kei and Aric are all from this house. To have a grey area is a really good idea, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t that have been where Sophie and Agatha went? Sophie was raised good but she was evil, and Agatha was the opposite, so to add this convenient but important nuance to the school is too little too late.

There were some scenes I really enjoyed, though. The more action-adventure scenes were the group was fighting the Snake – particularly in that trap-door room – was very cinematic and even though the ending felt a little rushed, the pacing meant I didn’t want to blink because that would mean taking my eyes off the page. It ended on a massive cliffhanger, if you think that Rhian pulling Excalibur from the stone, Tedros failing and the world being plunged into chaos was a surprise.

Overall, this book did a lot of setting the scene for the next two books in the trilogy. A World Without Princes is such a great sequel, and probably my favourite book from the first series, so my expectations are definitely high for the next book. I’ll be reading it, for sure, and just hoping that my Agatha is given some more of the limelight! Quests for Glory, as a first book, was promising and ambitious and did great things to already be establishing a threat as big (or bigger?) than Rafal. I just can’t believe I have to wait another year to read what happens next…

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”

Winter Kindle Book Haul!

Because most of the books I read on my Kindle are ARCs and I’m getting them from the Document tab, I forget that I’ve got some other great already-published books sitting on my digital shelves. These are all books that I’ve bought in the last couple of months and really want to be reminded of so, and hopefully make up a Kindle TBR for 2018.

Replica by Lauren Oliver

We received a copy of Ringer from Hodder and Staughton, which was extremely generous, but it made me want to kick myself for always choosing something else over Replica when I came across it in a Waterstone’s Buy-One-Get-One-Half-Price deal. (Isn’t that always the way, the moment you decide to buy something, it’s full price?) After giving up on a bargain physical copy, I finally spotted this for 99p (!!) and although I’d love to add the pink-and-orange cover to our shelves, a digital copy will have to do. It’s a book from two different perspectives that you read one after the other, and after reading Truth or Dare by Non Pratt, I’m really interested to see how that narrative style will work out in this more paranormal genre. I’ve also heard people compare it to Stranger Things, which I love, so we’ll see!

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

After reading Love, Hate and Other Filters, I’ve really wanted to find more books with Muslim protagonists, and since hearing Ayisha Malik talk about the relationship between  the Islamic faith and dating at YALC, I’ve been super curious to pick up her book that’s described as a muslim Bridget Jones. I’m hoping that this one will be a lot of fun and introduce me to some perspectives I haven’t read from enough.

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne 

I read a sampler of this that I got at YALC and have been really intrigued to continue. When I saw this come up for 99p during it’s release week, I couldn’t resist, and seeing as I’ve got the rest of Holly’s stand alones of my Kindle, it only made sense to add this yellow beauty to my e-editions. It’s about a girl called Audrey who analyses the behaviour of guys in relationships on screen and it sounds wonderful, if a little didactic. I loved the Spinster Club series, so fingers crossed this one is also a hit.

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Any #OwnVoices story, I want to jump on top of right this second. Although I normally go for any other letter in LGBTQIA+ than ‘G’ – because it’s the most represented of these underrepresented groups and I want to show the others more love – Adam Silvera is one of these authors I’ve only heard good things about and I feel like the last person to jump on the Silvera band wagon. This is going to make me cry, I’m sure of it, since it’s about Griffin grieving the loss of his boyfriend, Theo, but sometimes I like to punish my heart.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Corodova

Speaking of LGBT+, this one has a bisexual main character, I’m pretty sure. It’s witchy and spooky and Latinx, all the things I need more of on my TBR (although I’m thinking this one is a book that would fit way better with Bee’s reading aesthetic!) I’ve found a lot of Alice and Wonderland comparisons, which isn’t a story I’m fond of, but it has some great ratings on Goodreads, so hopefully, I’ll be one of them.

 

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: 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.

Let’s Talk About The GoodReads Choice Awards!

The GoodReads Choice Awards have been going on for nine years. The only category I’ve voted in consistently since joining GoodReads in 2013 is the Best YA of the Year. I thought it would be fun to look back at all the previous years and see the winners, the voting numbers and whether it was a good indication of what YA people were reading that year.

2009
Winner – Along For the Ride by Sarah Dessen – 547 votes
Runner Up – Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – 534 votes

As the first Goodreads Choice Awards, when the website was only two years old, these are some pretty good numbers for people reading YA. It’s also cool to know that these authors are both still writing eight years later, with many of Sarah Dessen’s later books making it to at least the first round of the challenge. Although I can’t speak for Laurie Halse Anderson, Sarah Dessen is definitely a staple of YA, especially when you’re first transitioning from middle grade.

2010
Winner – Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver – 825 votes
Runner Up – Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter – 655 votes

It seems so weird that a fourth book in a series was the runner up for this category, seeing as all of the winners have been stand alones. You go Ally Carter! She was also working on Heist Society simultaneously so had two different series in the category before Sarah J Maas ever did. As for Before I Fall, this definitely sets the trend for the next two years, when books about death (in some way) come out on top. Everyone just loves a bit of morbid YA, apparently. (Also, the film came out this year and was surprisingly good, so well done Lauren Oliver for keeping this book relevant for seven years.)

2011
Winner – Where She Went by Gayle Forman – 4221 votes
Runner Up – Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins – 3352 votes

Now we’ve moved into the era where YA books are getting thousands of votes. 2011 was the year TFIOS was published and when everyone started paying attention to this age group. The Year of The Spin-offs. I’m surprised that Lola is the first Stephanie Perkins book to make the final two, seeing as everyone on BookTube raved about Anna so much! As for Gayle Forman, is it just me, or has no-one really heard from her since I Was Here? What’s she doing now?

2012
Winner – The Fault in our Stars by John Green – 37438 votes
Runner Up – Easy by Tammara Webber – 8890 votes

Ah, John Green, the king of YA. Of course TFIOS was going to win, everyone saw that coming but 37,000 votes to 9,000?? Are you kidding me? The Nerdfighters were so strong this year, and probably did wonders for getting more people to use GoodReads. Also, has anyone heard of the runner up book? Me neither.

2013
Winner – Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – 21818 votes
Runner Up – Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – 17124 votes

This is such a funny year. Rainbow Rowell’s biggest competition was herself! That’s the dream, right there. Personally, I prefer Fangirl, but this is iconic. 2013 will forever be remembered as the Year of the Rainbow. It’s also interesting that Eleanor and Park was blurbed as ‘For Fans of John Green’, so that probably had some sway over the 37,000 people from the year before…

2014
Winner –  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – 33948 votes
Runner Up – Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins – 20352 votes

Before I even looked at the results, I knew We Were Liars would be number one. This was the book that nobody would stop talking about and really proves the wonders of a good marketing campaign, particularly when it comes to getting BookTubers on board.

2015
Winner –  All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – 31978 votes
Runner Up – P.S I Still Love You by Jenny Han – 26274 votes

ATBP is marketed for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Basically, if a book gets compared to previous winners, or a John Green quote is on the cover, it’s bound to do well. Thinking about it, didn’t that happen with We Were Liars too? That man has a lot of power. I’m pleased to see a Jenny Han book in second, because although it’s my least favourite book in the series, it’s the first #OwnVoices, racially diverse book to make it to the top two and that shows a lot of promise. The gap between the two books is also super close. 2015 seemed like a good year for YA.

2016
Winner –  Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – 29122 votes
Runner Up – The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L Armentrout – 20168 votes

I was really surprised by these top two, because Salt to the Sea feels very left-field compared to the rest of these books. It’s historical fiction for one, and very, very serious. Bordering on sad the whole way through. As for Jennifer L Armentrout, I knew she was big with the Lux series, but I didn’t really get a sense that this would be the second best book of the year. The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon and If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo also made it to the list, and they’re equally diverse and #OwnVoices, so I think it would have been cooler to see one of those in top spot!

Side note: Let’s appreciate that Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour got just under 150 votes in 2009, and The Unexpected Everything got 16,200. Talk about reaching a bigger audience!

2017
Winner – The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas – 59571 votes
Runner Up – Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – 52517 votes

This year’s winners was the biggest ‘of course’ moment of the year. It’s amazing that John Green’s book, which came out in October, mind you, managed to get so many votes when THUG has been on shelves since February. THUG has set a trend for social justice books, with POC protagonists and that’s something I’m really glad has come about this year. From the look of it, 2018 is going to be even better. Hopefully, next year’s nominations will be even more inclusive!

Of the 18 books that have been called the cream of the crop by GoodReads users, I’ve read 10. Maybe next year, I’ll try and read the other 8, as a time wrap into YA history. Overall, I’d say the winners get more and more expected, based on how much buzz the book has in the year. Apart from 2016 – that came out of nowhere.

We might have a look at the fantasy awards, but really, it’s just Suzanne Collins for two year, Veronica Roth for three (seriously, how did Allegiant win when literally everyone disliked the ending??) Cassandra Clare for one (I thought she’d won a lot more than that!) and Sarah J Maas for the most recent three years. We really need to diversify our fantasy reading as a community!

Let me know how you feel about the GoodReads Choice Awards! It’s good to remember that they’re very US publication oriented, but do you think the winners are a good representation of the year?