Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Marriage Pact – Michelle Richmond

Another NetGalley promotional email (how do they always know the kind of books I’ll like?), this pacey thriller was an interesting examination of how people grow and change together, as well as how far one would go to protect their marriage.

The Marriage Pact – Michelle Richmond

In this relentlessly paced novel of psychological suspense, New York Times bestselling author Michelle Richmond crafts an intense and shocking tale that asks: How far would you go to protect your marriage?

Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact. And most of its rules make sense. Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . . Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples. And then one of them breaks the rules. The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life. And The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

While the premise of this thriller was really interesting – a secret organisation that aimed to support others in their marriage and dire consequences if you failed to adhere to the rules – I was massively let down by a major point near the beginning. Alice is a lawyer, and signs a contract without actually reading it. She skims it, and is certainly more aware of the rules than Jake throughout the book, but this kind of impulsive decision seems out of character with her lawyer persona. Now it is stated in-text that she can be impulsive and doesn’t always think through her decisions, but even still. Any other kind of profession might have been more appropriate than having a lawyer impulsively sign a contract which binds her to all sorts of weird and wonderful rules.

But other than that minor quibble, I mostly very much enjoyed this thriller. As Jake and Alice realise how deep they’ve gotten themselves into something they actually know nothing about, and try to extricate themselves, they realise that The Pact is a more sinister organisation than they could have guessed.

What I really liked about this was that obviously as a couple Alice and Jake wanted their marriage to succeed. So the juxtaposition of wanting to get out of The Pact – which aims at making their marriage succeed – and still wanting their marriage to succeed presents some nice misdirection on what their aims are.

Jake himself is something of a nothing character. There’s little that’s distinguishing about him. Alice is the centrepiece of this book. A collection of contradictions, former rocker chick, band frontwoman, but also a junior associate in a commercial law firm, writing briefs for IP cases. She contains multitudes, and Jake doesn’t understand her, but he worships her. Their relationship and the insights given into it is the driving force of this novel, as they forge their first year of marriage and navigate the path The Pact has drawn for them.

Some twists at the end that I didn’t see coming, and one that I did, meant that the ending of this book was something I found very satisfying in its very ambiguity. The first book I’ve read from Michelle Richmond, I would be surprised if it was the last.

Four Stars
****

 

A note on cover art – the left-hand picture above is the cover art on NetGalley, while the right-hand side is the GoodReads cover art. Perhaps one is the American edition? Either way, here’s my question: Why does the right-hand side image, which is clearly two left hands, not have wedding rings on the ring fingers? When it’s a marriage pact? How bizarre.

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The Nearly-Weds – Jane Costello

I bought a new aux cable last week, which meant that I could start listening to audiobooks again. For a few weeks I held off, because the cable was dodgy, and sound was only coming out of my car speakers on the passenger side. All well and good, but unsurprisingly, I sit on the driver side, and wanted the sound to be coming out there.

In any case, part of my return to audiobooking was this chick flick in a book – The Nearly-Weds, by Jane Costello.

What’s the worst thing that could happen to a blushing bride?

After Zoe is jilted by her fiancé Jason, she’s unable to face the pitying looks of her friends and family any longer.

Fleeing to America, she is employed as a nanny by the moody, difficult, but devastatingly sexy, single dad Ryan.

She quickly wins over his children, but her boss is more of a challenge. Things aren’t helped, of course, by her inadvertently displaying her knickers to his colleagues or nearly hospitalising him with a toy bow and arrow.

Thank God she’s got her colourful circle of friends to keep her sane: fun-loving Trudie, hippy Amber and chilly, tight-lipped Felicity.

It is only over time that Zoe and Ryan begin to understand each other and their apparently ill-fated relationship takes on a new dimension.

There’s just one problem, as Zoe soon discovers: that the past isn’t always easy to escape, no matter how far away you go.

This was pretty standard chick-lit fare. Girl is trying to escape her past, meets a guy who’s totally wrong for her, makes new friends, guy turns out not to be that bad, things look good, then her past comes to catch up with her. I’ve read it so many times, and I like it, but it’s nothing groundbreaking or shocking.

That said, though, this was well-written and quite funny. Sticking to a formula which works is nothing to be ashamed of, and this is a good example of a chick-lit book with a bit of heart behind it, and two funny little kids who are clearly trying to play matchmaker. Peppered with a cast of slightly over-the-top caricatures, there was nothing about this book to make it stand out from the crowd, in either a good or a bad way. It was, in terms of story, characterisation, and execution, perfectly acceptable, perfectly good, perfect escapism.

Except. Well, now, this is my own personal prejudice. The main character, Zoe, was Scouse. Now I have nothing against anyone from Liverpool, but the Liverpool accent goes right through my head. It’s like nails on a blackboard, and I absolutely cannot cope with listening to it. So for me to spend nine hours listening to a book narrated entirely in a Scouse accent was something of a pain for me. I don’t even know what it is about the accent that sets my teeth on edge, but I can barely cope with listening to it. I think the only way I survived was that I listen to them so fast that the accent is softened by the speed. I don’t know if the narrator – Emma Gregory – is actually from Liverpool, or if she was just doing a Liverpudlian accent, but by God, I hugely disliked it.
That said, though, I did listen to all nine hours of the book, so that’s something in its favour, I guess!

My other complaint is that the cover art on the ebook and paperback shows the bride running away from the groom. This, bizarrely, is entirely the opposite of what happened. It was Zoe who was jilted on their wedding day, not the groom. Strange artistic choice from the designer.

Overall, an enjoyable, but forgettable romantic romp. Except for that Scouse accent.

Three Stars
***

 

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Countless – Karen Gregory

I won a copy of Countless in a GoodReads giveaway, and then promptly forgot that I had ever entered said giveaway. So when the book arrived in the post, I had a very intriguing hour wondering what it could possibly be, and even tweeted about it a few times.

Beyond that excitement of opening the actual parcel, I was very much looking forward to reading this book. The story of Hedda and her battle with Nia was one that I thought I would really love. And I was not at all wrong.

Countless – Karen Gregory

‘Is there anything that’s concerning you?’ Felicity says. ‘College, home, boyfriends?’ Though she’s more or less smiling at this last one.

I don’t smile. Instead, I feel my face go hot. Silence stretches as wide as an ocean.
When I look up, Felicity has this expression on her face like she’s just seen Elvis. Slowly, she leans forward and in a gentle voice I’ve never heard her use before she says, ‘Have you done a pregnancy test?’

When Hedda discovers she is pregnant, she doesn’t believe she could ever look after a baby. The numbers just don’t add up. She is young, and still in the grip of an eating disorder that controls every aspect of how she goes about her daily life. She’s even given her eating disorder a name – Nia. But as the days tick by, Hedda comes to a decision: she and Nia will call a truce, just until the baby is born. 17 weeks, 119 days, 357 meals. She can do it, if she takes it one day at a time …

Heartbreaking and hopeful by turns, Karen Gregory’s debut novel is a story of love, heartache and human resilience. And how the things that matter most can’t be counted. Perfect for fans of Lisa Williamson, Non Pratt and Sarah Crossan.

This book was phenomenal. Although I carted it around in my handbag for over a week before I actually opened it up and started reading, once I read the first page, from there on it was less than 24 hours until I turned the final one, and I was bereft to think that I was finished already. Karen Gregory paints a world which is so viscerally, terrifyingly real that I was absolutely hooked, from the first page to the last.

Hedda is seventeen, living on her own, and engaged in daily interaction with Nia – her own personal companion in every step of her life. This is then complicated by the fact that Hedda realises she’s pregnant. Torn between conceding to Nia and nurturing the life inside her, Hedda strikes a truce with Nia, that she will keep going just until the baby is born, and then return to her primary focus in life.

34299826Every page of this book was delicately drawn, tackling the incredibly tough twin issues of pregnancy and motherhood and Hedda’s eating disorder. It was so incredibly real, visceral, but heartbreakingly understandable. Hedda is only seventeen, still a child, and caught in the grip of something she doesn’t really understand, which has been shaping her life since she was in primary school.

This book is a love story, but not so much about Hedda falling in love with anyone else as about learning to love herself. There was so much of it that felt incredibly real, and I adored every step of her journey. There’s so much that I feel like I could say about this, but none of it would do justice to how delicately and sympathetically Karen Gregory portrays Hedda’s journey – all back and forth of every step of it.

When I was still living in Ireland, I read Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and it was so powerfully drawn that it actually scared me. But at the same time, that felt a step removed, and somewhat detached. Countless never scared me, only filled me with empathy and fear and longing for this girl Hedda, who’s trying to do something bigger than herself. Her journey of self-discovery and acknowledging her demons, her Nia, is so very real I struggle to find the words to talk about it.

On finishing this book, I actually put it down and just sat and thought for a while, which is something I never do. Very powerful, very moving, but not gory or disturbing, this book was really, truly excellent.

Five Stars
*****

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Yesterday – Felicia Yap

This NetGalley find was pushed into my consciousness by an intriguing email, followed by an intrigued request to download. I love murder mysteries and thrillers, and this one was added to by the complication that everybody can only remember either yesterday, or the past two days. That means the murder needs to be solved that day, before all the suspects forget everything.

I downloaded this book last week, but read it yesterday, almost in a single sitting – it entranced me for the entire evening, and I was loath to do anything other than finish the book for the whole day.

How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday?

There are two types of people in the world. Those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.

You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.

Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police? Can you trust your husband? Can you trust yourself?

I really enjoyed the setup of this book – society is divided into monos and duos, who can remember either yesterday, or the two previous days. The fact that this was a thriller, a murder mystery, meant that the nuances of this carefully drawn world were drawn out organically – rather than simply being an exploration of what memory is and how crucial it is to our lives, the details of this alternate universe and how it differs from our own are subtly and skillfully intertwined with the actual plot.

I really very much enjoyed this twisting and turning mystery as we saw detective Hans try to unravel the story of what happened and how the body of a woman ended up in the river Cam, weighed down with stones. Told from four perspectives – detective Hans, victim Sophia, suspect Mark, and his wife Claire – this nuanced and exciting thriller flips seamlessly between perspectives, intertwining narratives subtly, especially since Sophia’s perspective is told to us from her diary – as Hans reads it, trying to solve the mystery.

Claire, as a character, was definitely the weakest of the four. A mono married to a duo author with political aspirations, she actually has little depth to her. The blurb paints her as the main character, but although she begins the narrative, I would personally say that it’s Hans who holds this whole book together. Claire is something of a background character, both in her personal life as she supports her superior Duo husband in his public appearances, and in the book itself. She plays a vital role, but she’s certainly not the star, and casting her as such in the blurb does this book a disservice.

Claire’s lack of depth also then undermines one of the big reveals about three-quarters of the way through the book. She’s been painted so thinly that it doesn’t actually seem in any way credible that she could play such a pivotal role.

A final twist in the last pages was also something of a disappointment, as it stretched credibility to the very limits – Sophia’s motivation was certainly believable, but the twist in the final pages was certainly a little too much for me to accept.

Generally, though, this was an excellently written thriller, with a hugely interesting alternate universe setting. Nods to how things would have played out the same – Tim Berners-Lee and Steve Jobs both get mentions – augment the believability of the world and the ingrained prejudice visible against ‘inferior’ monos is thoroughly woven throughout the narrative. Sophia and Hans were hugely compelling characters, and Mark stood up well too. Pitching the book as focused on Claire was, I think, a mistake which weakens what it really a very interesting and engaging book, and an excellent debut from an author I will certainly be looking out for in the future.

Four Stars
****

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Daughter of the Burning City – Amanda Foody

This debut fantasy novel was mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago, and the cover drew me in instantly. Thanks to the publisher (HQ Young Adult) and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ahead of publication!

b3b93af9ec940e8b07a36bbeada3fa81A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

I really very much enjoyed this book. It took me approximately forever to read it (two weeks) due to a combination of circumstances – mostly that it’s been too hot to do anything but sit miserably on the couch and moan about how hot I am, but also because I’ve been quite busy the last few weeks. So my experience of this book was somewhat disjointed, as several days would pass between times when I could actually sit down and get into it. And, to be honest, that’s something I regret, because Daughter of the Burning City was a really enjoyable experience. It’s unusual to read a standalone fantasy which succeeds in building a world that convinces the reader to come and explore the smoky, seedy world of Gomorrah with Sorina as she tracks down a killer that she’s not even sure exists.

Populated by a cast of freaks and weirdoes, largely the creation of Sorina’s own mind, the underlying themes of family, belonging, what it means to be human, and how to fit in in a world where you’re not quite normal were delicately handled and left me thinking long after I finished.

I also very much appreciated the diversity in this book. It’s hard not to be diverse when your main character has no eyes and her family includes a girl who’s part hawk and two boys who share a body, but you know, I liked as well that the main character is bisexual, her love interest is demi-sexual, and one of her sisters is lesbian (or possibly bisexual/pansexual, it’s not specified). In a city-circus which is known for being a travelling den of debauchery, a few same-sex relationships wouldn’t raise so much as an eyebrow, so the book gets props for that.

All in all, this was an exciting and darkly dangerous standalone fantasy which succeeded in building a world that I solidly believed in, accented with throwbacks to biblical stories from which the inspiration for Gomorrah must have arisen. Complex and layered, and with a satifying mystery and several twists that I didn’t see coming, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and am only sad that life got in the way of being able to sit down and consume it as it probably should have been consumed – in one dark night of indulgence, like a visit to the city-circus itself.

Due to my own fragmented reading of the book, I think I lost elements of connection with the characters and also managed to forget the thread of the story, so for me this was not quite as good as I think it could have been if I had read it at a different time, but I think that’s on me, rather than on the book itself!

Four Stars
****

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Aurabel – Laura Dockrill

29979298I read Lorali, the first in this Mer series, almost two years ago, after being sent a copy by Hot Key Books. Aurabel, the follow-up, has many of the same strengths- including beautiful prose, wonderfully imagined societal structures, and the main narrator being the Sea, which was fun, but unfortunately it fell down in some of the same places as its predecessor as well. I was provided a copy of this by the publisher.

Aurabel – Laura Dockrill

Laura Dockrill makes a dramatic return to the sea set in the same world as the sparkling and magnetic mermaid story, Lorali.

It has been two years since Rory drowned, and Lorali is in Hastings, living the quiet life of a normal teenage girl. But her safe life on land won’t last for long. Life in The Whirl has become a hotbed of underwater politics and as the council jostles to oust the king, one Mer in particular has her eye on Lorali as the key to her own rise to power.

Meanwhile, Aurabel, a lowly Mer from the wrong side of the trench, is attacked by sea beasts and left for dead – and without a tail. Raging with righteous anger, she rebuilds herself a mechanical tail and reinvents herself as a fearless steampunk Mer seeking revenge. But she never expected the most important job that was about to drop into her lap.

Laura Dockrill’s imagination explodes any pre-conceived ideas about mermaids and creates a curious, hilarious, riotous adventure not to be missed.

First things first! This book is truly beautiful. Seeing the cover art online doesn’t do justice to the shimmering, shifting glory of the potato print shells on the cover. The envelope it came in was adorned with a tiny shell sticker, which is now decorating my computer at work, and the internal pages are just as lovely. Water marks spatter the corners of the first pages of different chapters, Lorali’s chapters are headed by a beautifully italic signature, and the visual design of the book is simply stellar.

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Lorali got a new cover as well to match its younger sister, and while I have something of a pang of regret at losing the blue gorgeousness of the original cover, this new soft pink repeating pattern sets of Aurabel beautifully, and I can see them being absolutely stunning on a shelf together.

But besides the visual gorgeousness of these two books, what about how Aurabel actually reads?

Well, I was kind of torn on it. On the one hand, I absolutely loved returning to Lorali and how she’s adjusting to life in Hastings, and I was so enamoured with Aurabel, our new heroine, who struggles through the most adverse circumstances to forge a new life for herself. She was awesome. I aboslutely love Aurabel, and would have loved a book which was more about her, and less about the rest of the characters that we had seen in the first installment.

Then there was the third protagonist, Opal, who I really felt added absolutely nothing to the story. She might have been an interesting story in her own right, but set against Lorali and Aurabel, I just was not a single bit interested in her.

I loved, once more, how the Sea was a new type of omniscient narrator, although some of the ways in which she/he/it was able to narrate were a bit, well, forced – again, notably in Opal’s case.

I also really enjoyed that Aurabel and Lorali had very distinct voices, totally different to the Sea, and appreciated it a lot more than I had in the first book. I think the contrast between Lorali’s panic and Aurabel’s stream of consciousness added far more to the experience than just having Lorali did in the first book, and their very real feelings bled through in a way which was really lovely when contrasted against the Sea and its detachment in its omniscience.

However, I had some serious issues with this book. All the worldbuilding was done in Lorali, and having read it two years ago, to be honest, I’ve forgotten it all. The occasional flash of reminder would have been beyond helpful, but it was really lacking. If someone came to this book without having read Lorali, I can see them being utterly confused, as there’s really no level of callback to the first book, just an assumption that you remember everything that happened.

While this works in some ways for Kai and Victor, it’s generally a weakness of the book. For cod’s sake, I’ve read Lorali and I was still left confused a lot of the time.

Aurabel is much more streamlined than Lorali, with fewer subplots going on, but having set them all up in the first book, it feels a bit like a letdown to have nothing of them in the second. What happened to the pirate crews, and the harpies, and what’s the deal with the selkies? Too much was left unexplained in this book, and while it had so much going for it, there was just too much left for the reader to work out, or imagine, and I was left quite disappointed.

Finally, my last complaint is once again with the blurb. We know from the beginning that Aurabel is going to be attacked by sea monsters and have to rebuild her tail, so why is it built up so much in-text? If it’s meant to be a dramatic reveal, don’t put it in the plot! I loved Aurabel’s working her way back to strength and developing friendships and a revenge plan – everything that happened after the attack was awesome, I just wish I had more of it!

Last compliment, though – I loved that Aurabel’s mate is female. In a world where reproduction happens by grabbing drowning people from the sea, there’s no reason not to have badass lesbian couples. I am so on board with this.

Lots of potential, but not as well-executed as it could have been.

Three Stars
***

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Cover Lover

We’re nearly halfway through the year and I’ve had a really busy week, so haven’t finished any books to review (I know, the shame), so I’m going to do a retrospective today of all the cover art of books I’ve read this year, and pick out some good, bad, and great ones.

The reason I’m writing this is because when I was glancing at my site, the GoodReads widget on the side showed my currently reading, and all three of them are blue/purple, which I thought was quite fun.

Although, looking at them now, there’s a lot more red in The Gift than I thought. In any case, having looked at the cover flow of my 2017 books, a few themes become immediately visible.

  1. Mostly/largely Black

    Some of these I really liked, because the darkness made them so visually striking. Sometimes I Lie, for instance, or Ariadnis, work really well. And I’ve made no secret of how much I love Maria V Snyder’s books’ cover art. I really don’t like, however, the Tamora Pierce covers. They just don’t work for me at all. They’re too dark for the lightness of the stories contained within. And I’m not entirely sure I should have included Give Me The Child in this section, but it’s too hard to take it out of the mosaic now.
    I also wasn’t sure about The House of Mountfathom, because it’s white around the outsides, but I put it in the black section because the overall feeling of it is quite dark.

     

 

2. Mostly/largely White/light

Have you noticed that He Said/She Said is in both of these first two categories? Yeah, the half and half split was something I found really interesting. But there are several books in there this year which are a starkly bare background, with the title standing out like a beacon. I think this is really effective, since it puts the black/white contrast right in front of your face before you even pick up the book. It’s interesting that it’s mostly red and black used as the accent covers on the white books. Maybe that’s because they’re such strong contrasts?

On the other hand, there are a few with soft pinks and blues and greens on the white background, which gives them a much more gentle feel. All very intriguing.

One thing which really intrigued me with this group was the massive range of genres it covered. From YA fantasy to women’s fiction, with thrillers in-between, there’s nothing about a white background which affects your ability to slot into any genre. I thought this was pretty interesting!

3. No faces

So many of these books have people on the covers, but their faces are either partially or entirely obscured. I thought this was interesting, especially since it was mostly the women’s fiction that did this. Was it to make it easier to identify with the characters and imagine them in our heads, rather than getting caught up in the cover model? This is something I’d love to know more about!

Admittedly the two Violet Vaughn books have side views of both characters, but it’s not exactly a full view of either face!

4. Red

Apparently I’m drawn to books which have a big splash of red across them. Maybe because it’s such an eye-catching colour? The Diabolic, although it doesn’t look particularly red here, has a red spine, which is awesome.

 

5. Patterned covers

Rather than having an image of a person or a thing on the cover, lots of the books I’ve read just have the title and a patter/mostly only a pattern on the cover. This tells you almost nothing about the book. Is this a good thing? Yeah, I think so. Means you go in with fewer preconceptions. The Lost Sister, which you can see above in the Red section, had a very misleading cover – I was expecting something very different to what I got, so perhaps patterns are better for not creating preconceptions?

 

6. None of the above

Of course, there are a few books that don’t fit any of the trends I’ve picked out above. They stand on their own, and both actually look really nice. I’m sure if I thought about it I could come up with a category that they and a few others would fit into, but nothing is coming to mind right now.

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Pride Month: Books with LGBT+ characters

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Rainbow Vector CC BY-3.0

June is Pride month, and since today Ireland elected its first LGBT+ Taoiseach* ** *** I decided today I’d do a run-through of a few of my favourite books that feature LGBT+ characters. They’re not all main characters, nor is their sexuality always a main feature of the story, or in fact relevant in any way, but there you go. These are some of my favourite books which feature LGBT+ representation.

Clariel

The main character in this, Clariel, is asexual, aromantic, and doesn’t care about it, or you. It’s never really discussed much in-text, and Clariel doesn’t angst over it, it’s just a fact of her life.

Far From You

A female friendship which might be more? Drug addicts? Disabled main character? Bisexual love triangle including siblings? Sign me up!

One Of Us Is Lying

Tthere are many things that any of us might be lying about, including being a murderer and being LGBT, but finding out who’s lying about what is most of the fun of this murder mystery breakfast club book!

This Is Where It Ends

So much going on in this book, but I really appreciated that amongst the characters who worked their way through the school shooting, was a lesbian couple who not only had to deal with the difficulties of finishing school and moving into the wider world, but also worrying if the other had been shot.

Like Other Girls

Semi-own-voices, this bisexual narrator has much bigger problems than accepting her sexuality, which she did years before, but the narrative still has some awesome nods towards the erasure that bi people in straight relationships face, as well as showing an honest and not always endearing portrayal of the process of accepting one’s friends for who they are.

Gone

In this entire series, Dekka was one of my favourite characters. Marginalised in several ways, she takes no nonsense from anyone and is one of the strongest teenagers in The Fayz.

The Knife Of Never Letting Go

Maybe it’s not really gay representation to have a gay relationship in a town where there actually are no women, but Todd’s dads are awesome, and they deserve to be on this list! Not only because they successfully raised a child together after his mother died but also because even though you see very little of them, you can FEEL the loving environment Todd was raised in.

The Hidden Oracle

Apollo, even in human form, spends a massive amount of his time thinking back on his past conquests, both male and female. Yay for the perfect acceptance of bisexuality. Not that Apollo isn’t problematic for a whole host of other reasons, but he is funny and self-absorbed as heck.

Special Mention:

A Dance With Dragons

10664113Who knew a lesbian sex scene could be so decidedly unsexy? And how did Martin do it? By use of the word swampy. I have never been so turned off in my entire life.

*(seriously, he’s not a Prime Minister, it’s not that hard to say)

**(although he’s problematic for a whole host of other reasons)

*** (and also our first PoC head of government, and the youngest Taoiseach in our history, but still unlikely to be good for, you know, anyone)

Other books with LGBT+ characters that I’ve read & enjoyed:

 

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S.T.A.G.S. – M.A. Bennett

*I was provided with a NetGalley copy of this book by the publisher*

S.T.A.G.S – M.A. Bennett

35154365Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

A twisting thriller for fans of Looking for Alaska and The Hunger Games

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

Although aspects of this book were very good, with a likeable narrator, an irreverent sense of humour, deliberate flagging and self-awareness of the ridiculousness and slightly farcical nature of the book, there were a few things which dropped it down from very good to just good for me.

Greer is a likeable, believable, funny narrator. A scholarship girl at a posh school, she’s naive enough to trust the Medievals, but worldly enough to figure out, once she gets to Longcross, that something very strange is going on. I particularly liked that the story was told as if Greer was discussing it with the reader after the fact, so little addendums increased the humour of the situation as narrator Greer flagged up aspects of her own past character which were, well, dumb.

I also liked the setting, which was firstly an old school, St Aidan the Great, or STAGS, followed by Longcross country estate, in the Lake District. Big points for making the settings sound believable, but adding in that incredulity which comes when one views the archaic nature of the British aristrocracy through fresh eyes.

Thirdly, I liked the plot. Verging on the ridicculous, the idea of these misfits being taken to Longcross to be hunted and mocked was at once twisted, hilarious, and thoughtful at the same time.

However, I had several complaints and irritations about the book as well, so they dragged down the rating.

The book took too long to get going. Perhaps I’m just bloodthirsty, but when the blurb flags the fact that they end up going on a hunting trip where they’re the prey, I wanted it to happen almost immediately, but instead we had to go through pages and pages of Greer explaining how lonely she was, and how she deliberated over whether or not she’d go, and too much backstory about how Greer had gotten into this posh school. It was all tell tell tell, no showing, and I got bored quickly.

I also (and this is a personal difficulty) took issue with the word Savage being used as a negative. Firstly because it was capitalised every time (why…?), but secondly because savage, in Irish slang, is a really good thing. So the mental disconnect for me between savage as a compliment and Savage as a derogatory term was difficult to get around.

Greer’s is big into film. I mean really, really big into it. So her internal narration is absolutely packed with film references. Which, okay, is fine, but I am not into film, and I didn’t get half of the references. The only ones I did get were the disney ones, and even then, when Cinderella was referenced, it took me ages to figure out that perhaps it wasn’t either of the disney versions being referenced, but perhaps the Rogers and Hammerstein version, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. But even still, I don’t remember the particular scene which was referenced, so almost all of those references flew right over my head. They also, I think, will date the book quite badly in years to come.

There’s little to no diversity in this book. I mean, as an upper-class British boarding school, it’s expected that the majority of the students will be snooty,  but even still there was zero diversity here. The one PoC character was referred to as the Punjabi Prince. And okay, this is noted in the text as being extremely problematic, but that’s really the only nod to how homogenous this school and its students are. Greer’s supposed to be somewhat aware, so even an internal comment that it’s strange not to see any LGBT students wouldn’t have gone astray.

My last complaint was that the book was kind of predictable. I mean, the blurb gave away that the misfits were the prey, and the start of the book confirmed who survived, and one person who definitely didn’t, so there wasn’t actually a whole lot to figure out as you proceeded through the book. Even the final reveal was something of a let-down, and I had copped it several pages before Greer herself did.

There was a lot of potential in this book, some very funny parts, and a darkly funny twist behind the writer’s mood-setting. But there were a lot of weaknesses as well, which made this a relatively forgettable book in the end.

Three Stars
***

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If Birds Fly Back – Carlie Sorosiak

I spotted a tweet online a few weeks ago saying that proofs of If Birds Fly Back were available for request, so naturally I requested one. My Kinda Book were kind enough to send me one, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting to. I thought it would be good, but not great, but it was actually wonderfully sweet.

34327163Linny has been living life in black and white since her sister Grace ran away, and she’s scared that Grace might never come back. When Linny witnesses the return to Miami of a cult movie star long presumed dead, she is certain it’s a sign. Surely Álvaro Herrera, of all people, can tell her why people come back – and how to bring her sister home?

Sebastian has come to Miami seeking his father, a man whose name he’s only just learned. An aspiring astrophysicist, he can tell Linny how many galaxies there are, how much plutonium weighs and how likely she is to be struck by a meteorite. But none of the theories he knows are enough to answer his own questions about why his father abandoned him, and why it left him in pieces.

As Sebastian and Linny converge around the mystery of Álvaro’s disappearance – and return – their planets start to collide. Linny’s life is about to become technicolor, but finding the answers to her questions might mean losing everything that matters.

I feel like books with dead/missing sisters are ‘a thing’ that I apparently like to read. I can think of several – Lost Stars, Love Letters to the Dead, The Sky is Everywhere, Vanishing Girls, All the Bright Places, Now You See Me, Trouble is a Friend of Mine, even. And, honestly, I’m not sure I like them all that much. The question then, of course, is why do I keep reading them?

The answer to that, of course, is so that I find gems like this one. I said already that I went into this thinking that it would be a light summer read, and I would forget it within minutes. But it was much more than that. Linny and Sebastian are developed, nuanced characters, and okay, yes, they fall practically in insta-love but that’s what summer romances are about, right?

This book packed an unexpected emotional punch, which left me weeping quietly for the final eighty pages or so. Emotional hit after emotional hit downed me until it was all I could do to actually see the page through the blurring of tears, but I didn’t want to stop because I was enjoying it so much. Linny’s trying to solve the mystery about her sister’s disappearance, while Sebastian is trying to get to know the father he never met, and the two of them fall in love over the course of a summer of fun, romance, heartbreak, and realisations about themselves and their families.

I was expecting a summer romance, and I got a summer romance, but as well as that, I got a whole lot more. I got two beautiful stories of a boy and a girl, their families, their friends, and finding their place in the world, as well as a whole lot of physics knowledge and theories, a lot of film terminology, and a smattering of Spanish words. Maybe too much physics and film, but it might be that I was reading this at the same time as STAGS (review next up), which was saturated with film references, and I kind of conflated them.

Either way, this was an unexpectedly beautiful and emotional book, which I very much enjoyed.

Four Stars
****

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