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…

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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: Unblemished and Unraveling by Sara Ella

*Note: We received these books from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

UNBLEMISHED

I knew before going into Sara Ella’s series that it was going to give me ‘Once Upon a Time’ vibes. I’d heard Sara talk about ‘Unblemished’ on her YouTube channel (where she’s done an excellent series about getting it published!) and so had some idea of what to expect.

A girl called Eliyana wakes up one day to find that the world isn’t what it seemed. With her mother’s death looming over her, suddenly everyone in her life has a different role in another world on the other side of the Reflection. This world is like a fairy tale, with queens, kings, magic and villains that are out to get Eliyana because of the large birthmark on her face.

I don’t feel like I can explain the plot more than that because from 20% into the story, you’re constantly introduced to new characters and concepts, all with the own names like the Kiss of Accord and Callings and…well, there are too many to list. The world building is intense and so is the backstory. The queen was having an affair, the king has an evil brother, Eliyana might be related to one of her love interests, she’s claimed for good, she’s claimed for evil…it was all very classic if you’re used to fairy tale worlds, but it was a lot to take on board, nevertheless. I found it difficult to find my feet with this story because every time I thought I grasped something, there’d be a new thing to learn.

There’s a love triangle – not between prince and guard, but guard and guard, which was kind of cool. Both boys felt a little one dimensional for me, and their love for Eliyana was too many words and not enough actions. For the first book, that is. The love triangle only gets more intense with the marriage proposal at the end…

UNRAVELING

And (a week later) having read the second book, I can confirm that the love triangle 100% ramps up as El has to decide which of the boys she likes best, while they fight to gain her affections. Oh, and one becomes evil. No big deal. It’s definitely an interesting dynamic and one that will bring the biggest resolve to the final book. As for who’s side I’m on, I’m not sure. Both guys have proved themselves. Ky is more stand-offish and Joshua is The Sweet One but who knows how the tables will turn.

With another quest, pirates and fairy tales, Unraveling is again a lot to take in but there’s always something go on to make you want to read just one more chapter. It’s also neat that the chapter titles are lyrics from ‘I See The Light’ from Tangled. (And the book title is the opposite of Tangled…mind blown.)

If you like fairy tales, love battles and adventures to different lands that seems way more familiar than you think, this series is definitely worth checking out!

Review: Another Place by Matthew Crow

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

I’ve been putting off writing this review for the last week because I just wanted to sit with this book for a while. I remember reading Matthew Crow’s debut, In Bloom, a few years back – it was one of the first books I took out from my sixth form library, and it didn’t make a massive impression on me. It was another teen cancer story in a wave of the same kind, like the UK’s answer to The Fault in Our Stars. By comparison, Another Place is so much more unique and places Matthew Crow’s name among authors to watch in the future!

Another Place tells the story of Claudette who’s just come home after being in recovery from severe depression. She’s welcomed by the news that one of the girls she was closer to than the world things, Sarah, has gone missing. Over the next couple of weeks, Claudette takes it upon herself to investigate Sarah’s disappearance, getting wrapped up in the more criminal side of town as she’s digs further and further into what was really going on.

I was intrigued by this from the very first moment. Disappearances are one of my favourite things to happen in YA and I’m a huge fan of any kind of mystery. But, what I thought I’d love it for wasn’t actually the strongest reason for my high rating. It was the nuanced relationships between characters and the portrayal of a small town gang that felt so authentic and threatening. Usually, when I read about misfits or loners, the characters come across as types – people that are more words than actions. In Another Place I was genuinely convinced that Sarah and Claudette, by default, shouldn’t be messing with these people.

My favourite relationship was between Claudette and her father’s long term partner. It was amazing to see a relationship that’s normally presented as terse, with the ‘ugh, you’re not my mum’ mentality be flipped on it’s head. She actually cared for Claudette and Claudette let her, realising that a secondary mother figure isn’t something to be afraid of, but something wonderful instead. More of this, please.

Split into four or five part, Another Place is hard to put down as more things get revealed about the mystery and as circumstances get increasingly sinister. The elements of backstory and flashbacks to Sarah and Claudette’s relationship before her hospitalisation were in sharp focus compared to the rest of the book, standing out as pivotal to the book.

I can’t speak for the accuracy of representation of Claudette’s depression, but it was definitely complex and explored as opposed to something that was part of her, unspoken. Overall, Another Place was a surprisingly gripping read, and definitely something I’d recommend if you’re a fan of mysteries, and the gritty real-life side of YA.

Series Review: No Virgin and No Shame by Anne Cassidy

*Note: We received ‘No Shame’ from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

NO VIRGIN

Stacey Woods has been raped and this is her story. She lays out the circumstances that led to the horrific event and what happened immediately after. The story is unassuming at first, but tinged with something terrible that you can’t avoid thinking about on every page.

It’s powerful and important, with a positive message about seeking the support from friends, family and charities that specialise in helping rape victims. (The ending is particularly supportive, delivering the most hopeful speech when Stacey phones the Rape Crisis Centre.)

Obviously, every rape that you read about, fictional or real, is terrible, but ‘No Virgin’ certainly isn’t as harrowing and dark as the books of Louise O’Neill or ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. I’d really recommend picking up this series if you’re interested in exploring these themes and how they’re portrayed in YA, without being too heavy. ‘No Virgin’ is the perfect stepping stone for a dialogue about sexual assault and the effects it has on the victim.

NO SHAME

The companion is all about the court trial Stacey is convinced by in order to get justice. There’s further exploration into the way rape cases are perceived by the media/jury/eyes of the law. It’s actual terrible, and made my blood boil on so many occasions but it’s the sad reality for most cases. Reading ‘No Shame’ will hopefully open everyone’s eyes to the injustice of it all, and the wrongly placed blame and encourage people to get angry about the way court works.

If you enjoyed the third season of ‘Broadchurch’ or shows like ‘How To Get Away With Murder’, this is for you. The court room drama is real, but so are the effects on the defendants.

I really liked the discussion of ripple effects of rape cases and just how many individuals are harmed. As more and more women stepped forward, the more likely justice was to get served.

Again, by the conclusion, ‘No Shame’ is another powerful tale about speaking out against sexual violence and getting the support that one deserves. Both stories felt like two halves of the same whole, so while they can easily be read as two stand-alones, I’d really recommend both. (I mean, they’re under 200 pages each, so really, it’s one reasonably sized book put together!) Overall, it’s a hard-hitting, raw series perfect for lighting a fire in anyone who reads it to fight for justice.

Mini Review: 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant

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

’36 Questions…’ is the story of Hildy and Paul who decide to take part in a PhD student’s experiment about falling in love. They are to ask each other – you guessed it – 36 questions in order to get to know more about each other and potentially find that romantic spark. Whenever the pair are talking to one another, they don’t know the other’s full identity and it’s written in interrogation interview format. (If you’re curious to what the 36 questions are and what to know to see what the conversations might be like, here they are.)

I found the dialogue between Hildy and Paul to be extremely predictable. It was like blah, blah, joke, getting offended, blah, blah, presumption about personality/upbringing/past relationships. This happened 36 times as they cycled through all the questions, so it’s safe to assume I got bored.

There were important things going on in the background, like Paul’s trauma with his mother, but the only thing that was lingered on was the pair’s supposed banter with one another that was all very one note. I was trying to read between the lines of their conversation and see when exactly they ‘fell in love’ but couldn’t pinpoint what made the change and so I wasn’t at all invested in the couple when they inevitably got together.

I’ve also read a few books recently, like Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index and Letters to the Lost that deal with the good girl/bad guy trope so complexly, so to see the personality types pared down to their most basic rom/com form was disappointing.

Unfortunately, this book was not for me, and I probably should have stopped reading it sooner like a few other people on Goodreads. BUT, if you like fast reads with different formats, and silly rom/coms that cheer you up whilst you’re reading, then I’m sure you’ll find ’36 Questions…’ quirky and cute.

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!