Reviewing the Unreviewed: July – September 2018

We’re getting closer to the end of the year, so I’m trying to finish up these unreviewed lists, so that I don’t have the guilt at seeing a list devoid of hyperlinks!

  • Am I Normal Yet? (Spinster Club #1) – Holly Bourne
  • Thirteen (Eddie Flynn #4) – Steve Cavanagh
  • The Next Together (The Next Together #1) – Lauren James
  • About Last Night… – Catherine Alliott
  • Undercover Princess – Lenora Worth
  • The Trip of a Lifetime (The Alphabet Sisters #3) – Monica McInerney
  • The Last Beginning (The Next Together #2) – Lauren James
  • Geek Girl (Geek Girl #1) – Holly Smale
  • Alex, Approximately – Jenn Bennett
  • The Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen #1) – Emily R King
  • The Novice (Summoner #1) – Taran Matharu
  • Cuckoo Song – Frances Hardinge
  • Second Best Friend – Non Pratt
  • A Midsummer Night #nofilter (OMG Shakespeare #4) – Brett Wright, William Shakespeare
  • The Dazzling Heights (The Thousandth Floor #2) – Katharine McGee
  • The Iron Chariot – Stein Riverton
  • Don’t Close Your Eyes – Holly Seddon
  • The Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo #3) – Rick Riordan
  • Tradition – Brendan Kiely
  • This Could Change Everything – Jill Mansell
  • One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns #2) – Kendare Blake
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick
  • The Wish List – Jane Costello
  • Peter Pan – JM Barrie
  • The Summer Guest – Emma Hannigan
  • Overheard in Dublin – Gerard Kelly
  • You Only Live Once (Gracie Dart #1) – Jess Vallance
  • The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1) – Alexandra Bracken
  • Slated (Slated #1) – Teri Terry
  • How I Lost You – Jenny Blackhurst
  • Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly
  • The Fire Queen (The Hundredth Queen #2) – Emily R King
  • Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  • Summer’s Child – Diane Chamberlain
  • Elena Vanishing – Elena & Claire B Dunkle
  • Burned (Burned #1) – Ellen Hopkins
  • Unwind (Unwind Dystology #1) – Neil Shusterman
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
  • Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) – Sarah J Maas *
  • Suitcase Girl (Suitcase Girl #1) – Ty Hutchinson
  • Turf Wars – Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh
  • North and South – Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino*
  • More of Me – Kathryn Evans
  • The Assassin’s Blade (Throne of Glass #0.5) – Sarah J Maas*

26017107Am I Normal Yet? (Spinster Club #1) – Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne is so clever. This first book in her Spinster Club series is delightful, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of them. Not quite as bitingly funny as the first of her books I read, which was It Only Happens in the Movies, this is still a great look at mental illness and friendship.

Four Stars
****

Thirteen (Eddie Flynn #4) – Steve Cavanagh

36217425I enjoyed this so much. I know it was ‘a big thing’ this year, but with good reason. I read it, my sister read it, my other sister read it, then we gave a copy of it to my dad, who also read it. Very enjoyable. Not, perhaps, the most literary, but a solid example of a thriller which has great appeal, and doesn’t lose anything by being part of a series.

Four Stars
****

The Next Together (The Next Together #1) & The Last Beginning (The Next Together #2) – Lauren James

Funnily enough, I actually read Lauren James’ books backwards. I read The Loneliest Girl in the Universe before I read this series. But I think these two books are better than Loneliest Girl. I thoroughly enjoyed these time travelling adventures, and how the story which weaved through both novels tied together so neatly (and yet so messily) at the end. A really interesting look at repeating lives and time travel, destiny, love, and interspersed with really fun notes from other contexts, as well as an AI overseeing everything, I was a big fan of this series.

Four Stars Each
****

About Last Night… – Catherine Alliott31227052

An audiobook bought on a whim, this was interesting, but overlong. Yes, chick lit is often predictable, and this was much the same, but I still enjoyed it. It hit up lots of the tropes which are genre stalwarts for good reason, and had some laugh out loud moments, but in the latter parts it really dragged.

Three Stars
***

38311150Undercover Princess – Lenora Worth

I really don’t remember much about this – I know that I didn’t like it very much, and it was some kind of Cinderella story, only undercover? I felt cheated by the word princess in the title, and no actual princesses. Only an ‘heiress’ to a store. Pfft.

Three Stars
***

The Trip of a Lifetime (The Alphabet Sisters #3) – Monica McInerney36125939

I think I love The Alphabet Sisters too much to really adore any followup stories, but this was certainly a better offering than the second in the series. As a standalone, I probably would’ve liked this much more, and Lola really is a great character, but something of the magic of the first book is missing.

Four Stars
****

Geek Girl (Geek Girl #1) – Holly Smale

17232242An interesting MG book about learning to love who you are, but also becoming an international model, this one didn’t quite hit the spot for me, but I don’t really know why. I don’t think this series is for me, but I do think Holly Smale is an author I like.

Two Stars
**

Alex, Approximately – Jenn Bennett34669877

A YA retelling of You’ve Got Mail in California, the problem with being the reader, rather than a character is that we know so long before the main character knows that her two love interests are the same person. And I haven’t even seen You’ve Got Mail. I just read the blurb on the back of the book. This leads to a lot of time rolling your eyes at the MC and yelling at her what seems obvious to me. Come on. You must be blind!

Three Stars
***

The Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen #1) & The Fire Queen (The Hundredth Queen #2) – Emily R King

I’m only halfway through this series, but I’m enjoying it. Filled with magical powers and fighting queens, the main character is a little bit of a Mary Sue. The cover art is spectacular, though, and I have the third and fourth books in the series lined up to read eventually.

Three Stars Each
***

The Novice (Summoner #1) – Taran Matharu

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This feels like it could be the start of something amazing, but it is SO short. It feels like almost nothing happened in this book, and it was over almost before it began. Looking at the later books in the series, they’re much chunkier, so maybe it just takes a little while to get into the stride of things? But I was really surprised by how short this was, and how little happened. It feels a lot like Cassandra Clare and Holly Black’s Magisterium series, and I probably will come back to this eventually.

Three Stars
***

Cuckoo Song – Frances Hardinge18298890

Frances Hardinge writes such strange books, but they are still so compelling. This is such an interesting, offbeat story, but I found myself drawn into it. It had some lovely musings on sisterhood and family, but was overlaid with a thick layer of just plain strangeness which is so Hardinge.

Four Stars
****

38104394Second Best Friend – Non Pratt

I loved this! A short novel, published by Barrington Stoke, it’s a deeply effective musing on being second best to your friend, and how that can affect your feelings of self worth. Being short only increases the impact it has, as it builds up such feeling in so few words. Beautiful.

Four Stars
****

A Midsummer Night #nofilter (OMG Shakespeare #4) – Brett Wright, William Shakespeare

I probably should have re-read A Midsummer Night’s Dream before reading this. But it was a passably entertaining depiction of the Shakespeare comedy through texts and messages, liberally sprinkled with emoji.

Three Stars
***

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35674047The Dazzling Heights (The Thousandth Floor #2) – Katharine McGee

I thoroughly enjoyed this high-tech, high-stakes, high-rise story of scandal, death, revenge, and quantum computers. The third in the trilogy has a lot of expectations to live up to.

Four Stars
****

The Iron Chariot – Stein Riverton34342113

I remember almost nothing about this, except that I kept falling asleep while trying to listen to it. Didn’t hook me in at all, I was thoroughly unimpressed.

Three Stars
***

Don’t Close Your Eyes – Holly Seddon

33396821This book was massively twisted in tangled threads of family ties, twinship, abuse, remarriage, divorce, partner swapping… There was so much going on it felt like it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the reader for no reason other than the author felt like it. It was enjoyable, but certainly felt a bit try-hard at times.

Three Stars
***

The Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo #3) – Rick Riordan36544788

I love this series. Apollo transformed into a human is still an arrogant, know-it-all, selfish brat, and the best character in the entire series is Peaches the karpoi. Plenty of laughs, and some unexpectedly tragic scenes meant I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the fourth book.

Four Stars
****

Tradition – Brendan Kiely

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Some great musings in this on rape culture and the insulated nature of posh private schools, but what was depicted as a victory in the book’s final pages was more of a depressing indictment that nothing in these tradition-filled halls would ever change. But it didn’t read like that was the intention of the author. So strange.

Three Stars
***

This Could Change Everything – Jill Mansell35129210

I love Jill Mansell. All of her books feel like a fuzzy warm hug, and they’re filled with characters I will probably fall in love with. This was no different, but it did suffer a little from overlong ending syndrome. Past the climax of the action, there was still two hours of audiobook to go! What happened in those two hours? Do you know, I can’t even remember. But it did make me happy listening to them.

Four Stars
****

One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns #2) – Kendare Blake

29923707This series has too many characters going on and I can’t keep track of them. There are so many threads of story and they’re so unbelievable that I really can’t get on board with any of them. It’s not even that I’m reading one queen’s chapters waiting to get back to another, it’s that all of them leave me with a slightly bemused feeling which lacks any real enjoyment or desire to find out what happens next. Although I probably will pick up the third eventually.

Two Stars
**

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick

36429331A classic, so they say. I didn’t love it. There were some interesting thoughts on humanity and augmented humanity, what it means to be alive, and how precious real life can be, but it was couched in a story which did nothing for me.

Two Stars
**

The Wish List – Jane Costello30826143

Very enjoyable romp through a to-do list which Emma is trying to tick off as she hurtles towards the end of her twenties. That looming spectre of the big 3-0 is also coming towards me, but I know I never wrote any to-do lists, so I’m unlikely to find one. Still, at least I got to live vicariously through Emma.

Four Stars
****

Peter Pan – JM Barrie25133426

A classic, which I had oddly never read before, I listened to an audiobook of this. Peter really is a callous git. He just throws lost boys out when he gets bored of them, and has no qualms about chopping off someone’s hand and feeding it to a crocodile. This is also much scarier than I would’ve expected for a children’s book.

Three Stars
***

The Summer Guest – Emma Hannigan

22846594This was really enjoyable, and sweet. But it did NOT end the way I thought it would. Quite a sting in the tail.

Four Stars
****

Overheard in Dublin – Gerard Kelly

2520128Some funny moments in this, but it’s probably not one that you should sit down and read all in one go, as I did. Oh well.

Two Stars
**

You Only Live Once (Gracie Dart #1) – Jess Vallance36642906

This is such a departure from Vallance’s previous novels, which are dark and spooky and kind of twisted. This is a really fun romp through life-changing events where Gracie decides to live dangerously. Gracie herself is an intensely irritating sixteen-year-old, who I don’t think I’d be able to stand, and I’m still not sure I understand the significance of her decision at the end of the book. What exactly is the difference between sixth form and college? Isn’t sixth form short for… sixth form college?

Four Stars
****

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1) – Alexandra Bracken

 

With the film release, this dystopia was on special for a ridiculously low price, so I snapped it up. Enjoyable enough, it didn’t stand out amongst the myriad of other dystopian books I’ve read. I’ll probably pick up the rest of the series eventually.

 

Three Stars
***

Slated (Slated #1) – Teri Terry

No film of this one coming out, but it blends irretrievably into The Darkest Minds and all the other dystopia I’ve read. I may have read too many dystopian books.

Two Stars
**

How I Lost You – Jenny Blackhurst23435951

This book was mental. There was so much going on. The main character has no memory of what happened the day her baby died, but is running around trying to reconstruct it. Meanwhile, shady things are happening in the past in a parallel narrative, and it all explodes into about seventy five murders and coverups in the last 20% of the book. Too far-fetched to be really enjoyable.

Three Stars
***

Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly

34760306This was SO interesting. The book which inspired the Oscar-winning film, this tells the story of Black female calculators at NASA during the Space Race. Definitely worth reading, although a little dry at times.

Four Stars
****

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

12067I’ve never read anything Terry Pratchett wrote before, although I’ve read lots of Gaiman, and this collaborative novel was a great introduction. I loved it. It was strange, quirky, twisty, and irreverent. Wildly unpredictable, thoroughly enjoyable, I will definitely pick up more Pratchetts in future.

Four Stars
****

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Summer’s Child – Diane Chamberlain

I normally love Diane Chamberlain, but this wasn’t one of her best.  I don’t know if it was too many threads or not enough threads, but some of her usual magic was missing, and I didn’t love this with the same kind of fervour that I’ve enjoyed her others.

Three Stars
***

Elena Vanishing – Elena & Claire B Dunkle

22875391This memoir of Elena’s struggle with an eating disorder is bleak, dark, and compelling. Short enough to be read in almost no time, there is very little to offset how upsetting this is, and it’s probably not one to read if you’re sensitive to this kind of stuff.

Three Stars
***

Burned (Burned #1) – Ellen Hopkins270807

Why do I keep reading Ellen Hopkins? All of her books are so terribly depressing. And I don’t even really like free verse. This was probably the one I liked least of hers so far. Will it stop me from reading more? Who knows!

Two Stars
**

Unwind (Unwind Dystology #1) – Neil Shusterman

6571974Of all the dystopia I read this month, I think UnWind actually stands out the most. It’s also part of a series, and if I had to pick which one I’d continue if I was only allowed one, I think this would be it. The concept of unwinding a teenager into their component parts is just so… twisted. And intriguing.

Four Stars
****

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke34604009

I HATED this. I rage listened to the last thirty hours of it. It was long, meandering, pointless, plotless, and historical. I don’t know how or why I decided I wanted to read this, but it was Not. For. Me. I’m also not sure why I kept reading it when I knew that (about an hour in), but I did. All thirty two hours and thirty minutes of it. Whyyyy.

Two Stars
**

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Suitcase Girl (Suitcase Girl #1) – Ty Hutchinson

I don’t know what the hell was going on in this book, or why I kept reading it, but it was mental, and I probably will not read the followup. The final chapter was outrageously rushed, and threw a deliberate cliffhanger/bombshell in to cynically draw in readers for the next installment. I will not be tricked!

Two Stars
**

Turf Wars – Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh & North and South – Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino*

I love the followup graphic novels to the Avatar and Korra tv series. They’re so nuanced and beautifully drawn, and add so much depth to what was in the series. I especially liked Turf Wars, because it allowed an expansion of Korra and Asami’s relationship, which was only blossoming into its beginning stages at the closing scenes of the tv show. So much to like here, I hope far more of these comics come out!

Five Stars for ALL of them
*****

27270184More of Me – Kathryn Evans

I really enjoyed this. For once, a novel where something disastrously weird is happening, the main character actually considers whether she’s imagining it or not. That never happens! All those books where one of the main characters is a figment of the main character’s imagination, and they never even consider that. But not only is it considered in this book, it’s acted on. Loved it.

Four Stars
****

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) & The Assassin’s Blade (Throne of Glass #0.5) – Sarah J Maas*

So different in tone to the later books in the series, it’s a little odd to look back on those early Throne of Glass books and stories, and see how much more simplistic it was. The characters are much less developed and nuanced, but in some ways they’re also more interesting, because we haven’t spent so much time in their heads. And it’s so lovely to see Chaol and Celaena forge the first steps of their journey together!

Three Stars Each
***

 

So that brings us up to the end of September. Hopefully I can squeeze in another reviewing the unreviewed before the end of the year, and then wrap it up with December’s books some time in January. Unless by some miracle I manage to review everything I read in December on the blog, in their own posts. But let’s be real. That’s not going to happen.

 

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If We’re Not Married By Thirty – Anna Bell

I received a NetGalley copy of this book from the publisher.

I’ve read another of Anna Bell’s books – The Good Girlfriend’s Guide to Getting Even – and really wasn’t keen on the characterisation. But there was enough good writing and humour in there to mean that I didn’t write the author off completely. And I’m glad I didn’t, because this was a really enjoyable book of escapism, which I’m very glad I read.

If We’re Not Married by Thirty – Anna Bell

40376037.jpgA brilliantly funny, romantic and effervescent read, If We’re Not Married by Thirty is the irresistible new novel from the bestselling author of The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart and It Started With a Tweet. For fans of Lindsey Kelk and Sophie Kinsella. 

Lydia’s not exactly #LivingHerBestLife. She never imagined she’d be here at thirty – newly single, a job that’s going nowhere and her friends all winning at life when she’s still barely taking part. So she jumps at the chance of a free holiday and jets off to sunny Spain.

Then, out of the blue, she bumps into her childhood friend, the handsome and charming Danny Whittaker. She’s always had a crush on him and they soon enter into a passionate holiday romance.

But this relationship could be more than just a fling. Years ago they made a pact that if they were still single when they turned thirty they would get married. But noone really follows through on these pacts . . . right?

Could Lydia’s back-up man really be her happy ever after?

Praise for Anna Bell:

‘The perfect laugh-out-loud love story’ Louise Peatland 

‘Smart, witty and completely fresh’ Cathy Bramley

I really enjoyed this book. It was exactly what I was looking for. A funny, fresh, fast-paced romance which was full of twists and turns, but came with a guaranteed HEA. Danny and Lydia have known each other since they were knee high to a grasshopper, and on a drunken night at a wedding, after a spectacular kiss, they make a pact that if they’re not married by thirty, they’ll hitch themselves together. Spending a glorious week in Spain leads to an impulsive decision to make good on the pact, and the two begin to twine their lives together in the coming months as they prepare for happily wedded bliss. But the path to happily ever after never does run smooth, and jobs, friends, family, and too many people having a key to your house leads to some extremely mortifying situations.
This book was light and entertaining, and had a great cast of characters – particularly Danny and Lydia’s mums, who are best friends and clearly rooting for the couple to succeed, but in trying to help making everything much more difficult. I also particularly liked that the book had some followup details in the form of Christmas Round Robins, which showed that things don’t end up working out perfectly the second you have the ring on your finger.
Anna Bell has created a cast of characters here who are lovable and relatable, and a situation which, although daft in some ways, still had me rooting for the couple to succeed. And, of course, they do, but not in an unbelievable way. They settle their difficulties like actual human beings, and come to sensible decisions, but seeing this couple who were meant to be come to a compromise which means they both live happily ever after was a delightful journey to follow them on.

Four Stars
****

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Izzy + Tristan – Shannon Dunlap

I received a digital advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Izzy +Tristan – Shannon Dunlap

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This isn’t a story about anything new. It’s about the oldest thing in the world. It’s about love.

Sixteen-year-old Izzy, a bright aspiring doctor, isn’t happy about her recent move from the Lower East Side across the river to Brooklyn. She feels distanced from her family, especially her increasingly incomprehensible twin brother, as well as her new neighbourhood.

And then she meets Tristan.

Tristan is a chess prodigy who lives with his aunt and looks up to his cousin, Marcus, who has watched out for him over the years. When he and Izzy meet one fateful night, together they tumble into a story as old and unstoppable as love itself.

From an exciting new voice in YA, this is a gripping tale of first love for anyone who loved All the Bright Places and The Hate U Give.

This modern retelling of the Tristan and Isolde myth has all the hallmarks of the classic, and builds a wonderful sense of foreboding throughout, but doesn’t deliver in the final pages, leaving me deflated and disappointed.
I’m a fan of the Tristan and Isolde story in general. When I saw this book was one of the proofs at YALC, I was gutted to miss out, and then delighted when I was approved for a NetGalley copy. And reading this, it was full of some really great stuff. Shannon Dunlap knows how to write a romance, and the intense, crazy love between Izzy and T is really well written and enjoyable. There’s also a chess metaphor drawn throughout the book, as Tristan is a superb chess player, and the characters are given chess pieces, rather than names, as chapter headers. There was lots that I really liked here, especially the relationship development – Izzy and Tristan acknowledged that their love was insane, heady, teenaged obsession, and that only strengthens the book itself, as the reader is swept along in their insanity.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the deep sense of foreboding which built throughout the book. From the opening lines, which insist that it’s not a novel, it’s a romance, with all the tragedy that entails, to the creeping realisation that while Izzy’s chapters are written in the past tense, Tristan’s are in the present, I spent the first eighty to ninety percent of this book thoroughly enjoying the uneasiness, and the tragedy it was inevitably building to. But then, the climax just… didn’t. There was no oomph behind it. The final acts of the book were weak, terribly so, and left me incredibly disappointed in what, up to that point, had been a massively enjoyable experience.
Such a great first three-quarters, I was badly let down by the end. Not by the actual plot, which was expected, but by how it was portrayed. There was no impact, no feeling, and I was left flat, instead of devastated.

Three Stars
***

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November Roundup

November was a really busy month for me, and I got almost no reading done. I think this is my lowest number of books for any month so far this year. But over December, I have plenty of leave from work, so I should be able to bump that back up as we approach the end of the year.

Books

  1. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  2. Her Name Was Rose – Clare Allen
  3. I Have Lost My Way – Gayle Forman
  4. Red Clocks – Leni Zumas
  5. Something Borrowed – Emily Giffin
  6. Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – Jill Mansell
  7. Shadow of the Fox  (Shadow of the Fox #1) – Julie Kagawa
  8. The Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes Novels #2) – Arthur Conan Doyle
  9. Dear Evan Hansen – Val Emmich
  10. Izzy + Tristan – Shannon Dunlap

Cover Art

 

Favourite Book This Month

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I really did not expect to love Jane Eyre as much as I did. My pervading memories of it are from when my older sister did it as her GCSE single text, and she studied it to death, with great rage in her heart. So when I started reading it myself, I expected similar rage to begin to bubble up. I don’t know why, though, because clearly I was reading it for pleasure, not for study. So when I did actually read this, I very much enjoyed the story of Jane and Mr Rochester and his dark, terrible secrets. I did, however, spend much of the book anticipating the obstacle which would come between them, because I’ve spent the rest of the year reading other classics wondering ‘is this the one with the wife in the attic??’. It was very refreshing to finally find the book where it actually WAS the wife in the attic.

Least Favourite Book This Month

Something Borrowed. Everyone in this book was a terrible person and didn’t deserve to be happy. The resolution of the warring couples at the end was so over the top, I was pretty disappointed. There’s a followup which focuses on Darcy, the jilted fiancée, and her recovery journey. I do not think I’ll be reading it any time soon.

Favourite cover art

Back to my default of loving covers which are busy and interesting, Shadow of the Fox was my winner this month. Those gorgeous swords, which I’m sure there’s a fancy name for. The colours are so vibrant. The blossoms floating from the corner are so evocative of Japanese aesthetics. The c-shaped abstract image still makes me think of a fox. How does it do that? Amazing. I’m here for all of it.

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Other…

December! Christmas! I’m so excited. I’m going home on the 19th, and I can’t wait to watch lots of terrible Christmas films with my sister. I’m gonna cuddle the heck out of my tiny niece. I’m gonna see as many of my friends as I can. And in the mean time, I’ve put up my own Christmas tree and I feel so festive and full of joy!

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Dear Evan Hansen – Val Emmich

I wrote this review yesterday, then forgot to post it, so Thursday’s post has become a Friday post, because I am a numpty.

I received a copy of this book for free on NetGalley

Dear Evan Hansen – Val Emmich, with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul

From the show’s creators comes the groundbreaking novel inspired by the Broadway smash hit Dear Evan Hansen.

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation

The novelisation of the smash hit Broadway musical, rather than hitting the high notes, falls slightly flat.Being a fan of the musical Dear Evan Hansen, I was chuffed to be approved for a copy of Dear Evan Hansen the novel, and started reading almost straight away. Having read the first two chapters as part of Penguin’s ARC sampler, I knew the style of writing was interesting and engaging, and stuck closely to the musical plotline. This isn’t as much a reinterpretation of Dear Evan Hansen as it is a transposition – taking it from the stage and putting it straight on the page.I won’t deny that there were some lovely moments in this book – Evan Hansen’s crippling mental health issues are sensitively dealt with and Conor Murphy’s taking of his own life is dealt with in accordance with all suicide reporting guidelines, and never played for shock, which is both appropriate and appreciated. But the general plot of Dear Evan Hansen is … ridiculous.It’s easy to justify ridiculous plots for Broadway musicals because you get carried away by the staging. An entire musical about a chess competition? Yes, ridiculous, but ABBA wrote the music! The single most depressing failed rebellion in French history? Should be dull, but injected with searing intensity of Jean Valjean’s desperate struggle to be the man he could be, it is enduringly brilliant. A secret double life completely invented because of a misinterpreted note in the pocket of a boy who took his own life? Sure, why not, as long as the songs are good!Sadly, on the page, I don’t have the same kind of benevolent dismissal of plot difficulties. Without the jaunty tune of Sincerely, Me buoying me up, I can’t have the same kind of affection for the book as the musical.As an adaptation of the source material, DEH is great. It’s very faithful to the story, interweaving aspects of the musical through lyrics, thoughts, overheard songs, and conversational snippets, meaning that the avid DEH fan has plenty of Easter Eggs to spot. Evan’s chapters are also interspersed with an additional perspective which gives more voice to Conor, which I really liked. I thought it added great depth to a character who is both central and spectral in the musical.Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to make this book stand up without the prop of the musical behind it. Plenty of great stuff for a fan of DEH the musical, but I don’t think I would recommend this to the uninitiated. A cast of largely dislikeable characters, incomprehensible decisions, and absolutely no respect for privacy or personal concerns (Alana, wth), propped up by an improbably huge fundraiser – there’s just too much going on here to support without the complex chords of the musical underneath.A lovely harmony added to the musical version of DEH, it’s not strong enough to be a countermelody on its own, and sounds discordant in isolation.

Three Stars
***

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Bookish Wish List

Christmas is coming, and I’m short on time, and these are the top books I hope to find under my Christmas tree (because I put them there, because treat yo’ self).

I’ve also been thinking about what to get others in my family for Christmas, and as usual, it’s books books books!

What are your best recommendations for books for:

  • New mothers
  • My mother
  • My father
  • Tiny babies
  • Small children?
  • Reluctant readers?

I’m basically having to almost physically restrain myself from putting up my Christmas tree, because I’m so excited that Christmas is coming! December starts this weekend and I am pumped. I love Christmas! I love giving gifts and seeing people’s eyes light up!

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Blog Tour – Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Thanks to the publisher, HQ, for sending me a copy of this book and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Check out the graphic at the bottom for a list of all the participating blogs in this tour!

I haven’t read any Julie Kagawa before, so this book was an introduction to something brand new for me. Oozing with Japanese mythology and sweetness, I really enjoyed the first in this trilogy, and am now very impatient for the second.

Shadow of the Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1) – Julie Kagawa 

A single wish will spark a new dawn. Every millennium, one age ends and another age dawns…and whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers holds the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish. The time is near and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto. The holder of the first piece is a humble, unknown peasant girl with a dangerous secret. Demons have burned the temple Yumeko was raised in to the ground, killing everyone within, including the master who trained her to both use and hide her kitsune powers. Yumeko escapes with the temple’s greatest treasure – one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan. Yumeko knows he seeks what she has and is under orders to kill anything and anyone who stands between him and the scroll.

This was my first book by Julie Kagawa, so I didn’t know what to expect, but judging by the absolutely gorgeous cover, I was expecting something Japanese-inspired, with evocative writing, and lots of fighting. And boy, was I not disappointed. Shadow of the Fox is set in a Japanese-style Empire, with seven different Houses each holding their own lands. Yumeko is a half-kitsune, and a peasant girl tasked with a huge responsibility. She’s fun and sweet and innocent – probably because she was raised in a temple – and there are multiple very entertaining instances of her not understanding sarcasm, or just being entire naive which are very endearing.

Teaming up with Kage Tatsumi, shinobi, demon-slayer, he of no emotions, she begins a journey to the capital of the Empire, and picks up a host of friends along the way. If there’s any criticism I can make of Yumeko, it’s that she seems to be too sweet. I love how innocent or naive she is, how trusting, and how wondrous the outside world is to her, but I really don’t get why everyone she meets falls over themselves to help her. Hiding her outcast status as a half-fox, and her magical powers (as well as her furry ears and tail), it’s somewhat confusing that she seems to charm and entrance every person (or spirit, kami, or whatever) that she meets. It’s almost unbelievable. But I’ll actually forgive it, because she’s very enjoyable to have as a narrator, and I really did enjoy following her story.

The other part of the duo, Kage Tatsumi, wielder of a cursed sword, is our other narrator, alternating chapters with Yumeko. He’s your standard dark, brooding, emotionless man, with a tragic backstory and a magical sword to boot. He’s hiding something – a lot of things, actually, and he’s oh-so-sexy. Actually, although I liked Tatsumi, I did roll my eyes at him a lot as well. At least in his circumstances, there is a solid reason why he’s never felt gentleness or human kindness before, nor has he really felt anything. He’s isolated, mechanical, and utterly dedicated to his task. So why is it Yumeko who awakens his feelings? I’m not sure. But it certainly is interesting to watch the relationship between the two of them grow and change, and I am really interested to see where Tatsumi’s story will go in the next book in the series.

If this review sounds critical, it absolutely doesn’t mean to be. I really, really enjoyed this book. It is beautifully written, with great world-building, and really subtle indications of how the characters develop, especially in relation to each other. The movement from Yumeko-san to Yumeko-chan was a particularly sweet development for me, and never specifically pointed out, which made it all the nicer. 

In conclusion, I am furious with Julie Kagawa. And that is only because she wrote a book that I enjoyed so much, that I am now enraged to have to wait for the sequel. Months, I’m going to have to wait! Months! Can you believe it? I don’t know how I’ll cope. I’ll have to find some of Kagawa’s back catalogue and read them instead.

Four Stars
****

Check out today’s other stops on the blog tour – Amy and Ana!

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Double Dexters

Last week I managed to read two books in a row where the male lead was called Dexter. This was wildly confusing for me, because I have trouble keeping characters straight in my head anyways, so I was frequently mixing the two Dexters up. Nonetheless, I struggled through, and decided Dexter one was a vastly inferior specimen when compared to Dexter two, who was a treasure.

Dexter #1: Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

Something Borrowed tells the story of Rachel, a young attorney living and working in Manhattan. 

Rachel has always been the consummate good girl—until her thirtieth birthday, when her best friend, Darcy, throws her a party. That night, after too many drinks, Rachel ends up in bed with Darcy’s fiancé. Although she wakes up determined to put the one-night fling behind her, Rachel is horrified to discover that she has genuine feelings for the one guy she should run from. As the September wedding date nears, Rachel knows she has to make a choice. In doing so, she discovers that the lines between right and wrong can be blurry, endings aren’t always neat, and sometimes you have to risk all to win true happiness. 

Something Borrowed is a phenomenal debut novel that will have you laughing, crying, and calling your best friend.

I wasn’t very keen on this Dexter – or on this book, actually. There was lots of good stuff in here about toxic friendships, moving on from relationships that no longer work for you, and finding a partner you really like. But actually, it was all couched in such rubbish terms. Darcy and Rachel love each other? Hate each other? Darcy was a caricature of how terrible a person she was, and Rachel was suckered by her prolific lies. And yet she continues having this affair with Darcy’s fiancé. Um… What’s going on here? It’s painted as some kind of happy fun romance between Rachel and Dexter, but actually it’s seedy and sordid, and I was really not keen on either character by the end of the book. This Dexter might have been painted as a swoonworthy man that two women would be fighting over, but he’s definitely not for me. Although there was a nice diversion into a tort law lecture in this book, which I appreciated.

Two Stars – Dexter is not my dreamy leading man.
**

Dexter #2: Don’t Want To Miss A Thing – Jill Mansell



Dexter Yates loves his fun, care-free London life; he has money, looks and girlfriends galore. But everything changes overnight when his sister dies, leaving him in charge of her eight-month-old daughter Delphi. How is he ever going to cope?

Comic-strip artist Molly Hayes lives in the beautiful Cotswold village of Briarwood. When it comes to relationships, she has a history of choosing all the wrong men. Leaving the city behind, Dex moves to Briarwood – a much better place to work on his parenting skills – and he and Molly become neighbours. There’s an undeniable connection between them. But if Dexter’s going to adapt, he first has a lot to learn about Molly, about other people’s secrets…and about himself.

Now this, this is the kind of leading man I like. Dexter is a man about town, with a string of girls in his bed and a sporty yellow Porsche. But when his sister dies, and he’s suddenly left – literally – holding the baby, he really steps up. Developing a relationship with the locals in his previously weekend getaway cottage in Briarwood, Dexter develops and changes in such wonderful ways. He’s far from perfect, but he is very swoonworthy.

Jill Mansell books are always a winner for me. They’re not groundbreaking, and they rarely stir excesses of emotion in me, but they’re always very enjoyable, like a cuddly hoodie that you love to throw on after a hard day at work. This is no exception, and with an ensemble cast of characters that works well together, this book was a big thumbs up for me.

Four Stars – and I wish I had my own Dexter Yates!
****

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Why I Love – and hate – NetGalley

NetGalley is honestly one of my favourite websites, especially as a book blogger. Publishers make advance digital copies of their books available for free, in exchange for a review. Anyone can sign up, and you stand a chance of being approved for any book you request to review, which is super exciting. What’s not to like?

NetGalley is also one of my most hated websites, though, and leaves me with intense feelings of guilt, jealousy, and longing. So here’s my quick list of five reasons to love NetGalley, and five reasons to hate it.

80%
This is my NetGalley 80% badge, showing that I’ve reviewed at least 80% of the books I’ve been approved for.

Reasons to LOVE NetGalley

  • Free books! What’s not to like about that? You can go online, see a book you really want to read, request it, and boom, it ends up on your Kindle.
  • Supporting books to succeed: NetGalley reviews are important for books to succeed. They help publishers get an idea of how the book will be received, and they can drum up hype for books to come
  • Knowing what’s coming soon: NetGalley means you get a sneak preview of what’s coming down the line in book publishing, and feel like an elite club who are all working together to help the publishing world
  • Share reviews: NetGalley gives you the chance to give feedback to the publisher on the book, your thoughts on it, and what you thought was good or bad about it. And because your reviews are some of a lucky few who were approved to read it, you know that they have an impact.
  • Interact with other readers: You can also view others’ reviews on NetGalley, and indicate whether they were helpful or not. Plus, when you’re lucky enough to get a galley of a book, you can then squee with your fellow bloggers over how excited you are to see this book coming out. The community of bloggers is one of the best parts of book blogging! NetGalley definitely helps that.

Reasons to HATE NetGalley

  • FOMO: Sometimes, I just don’t have time to get on NetGalley and see what’s coming up. But when I see other people raving about a Galley they got, and I really want to read it, but don’t have time, I feel like I’m missing out on the greatest things in life!
  • Guilt: When you have a stack of NetGalley books lined up on your Kindle, but you haven’t read them yet, the guilt is real. Or worse, when you’ve read them, but you haven’t written your reviews yet, the guilt is even worse.
  • That struggling TBR: Every time I log on to NetGalley, I see new books I want to read. Even if I don’t request the Galley, they end up on my TBR, which is groaning under the weight of books on it. I can’t help myself, though. I’m incapable of stopping myself from wanting to read ALL the books.
  • A Lesser Experience: Let’s be real. Reading a Galley is not the same as reading a finished book. The typesetting is never quite right, there are often typos and errors, and images aren’t inserted where they should be. Especially if it’s an author or a book that I really like, the experience from a galley is not the full experience that the author deserves. That just means I end up buying the finished book in the end, because I want that full experience.
  • Shelf losses: NetGalley books won’t stack up on my shelf. They don’t look beautiful in my bookcase. I can’t take great photos of them for instagram. Hugging my kindle doesn’t have the same impact as hugging a book parcel which has arrived in the mail. But they are terribly convenient.

So there you have it! These are some of my top reasons why I love and hate NetGalley. Being honest, though, the love outweighs the hate. It’s a fabulous resource for book bloggers and a great way to get books more attention, and I am glad that it exists. Yay, NetGalley, and yay, books!

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Red Clocks – Leni Zumas

After I thoroughly enjoyed Vox and The Power, I spent one of my audible credits on this, which often comes up on ‘if you liked this, you’ll love’ lists in relation to Vox and The Handmaid’s Tale. I was looking forward to an inspection of women and fertility and something really engaging and thought-provoking. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t get that. I didn’t really… get this book. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not clever enough for it.

Red Clocks – Leni Zumas

40881738.jpgFive women. One question. What is a woman for?In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

I didn’t just not get this book. I think I actually disliked it. I didn’t connect with any of the characters. I didn’t enjoy the plot. I hated the way the characters were referred to by their titles or positions, regularly, although I can see why the author chose to do that.

There are five distinct characters here, each of whom has their own story to tell, but they don’t intertwine particularly well. The book hops between them arbitrarily, and never seems to have a cohesive grasp of what it’s trying to say. There are certainly moments in this book which are excellent – Susan’s crushingly small life which Didier expects her to be satisfied with is really well drawn and I could feel the claustrophobia seeping out of the speakers. Mattie’s terror and angst at her unexpected pregnancy as against her own status as an adopted child is really interesting as well, although I definitely think it could have been given more space.

All in all, though, this book just didn’t work for me. I didn’t connect with the characters. I didn’t enjoy the plot. The structure annoyed me. The writing style took me out of the experience of read it (or listening to it, since this was an audiobook). I think the only reason I read it as quickly as I did was because I had two flights in four days, so I had uninterrupted stretches of time where an audiobook was easily absorbed.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will think this novel electric, insightful, and expertly written. I’m just not one of them. For me, this was a big disappointment and definitely not one I’d read again.

Two Stars
**

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