Monthly Archives: August 2017

Texas Feminism Part Two – The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

As I mentioned in my last post, I read two books set in small-town Texas tackling issues of feminism in very quick succession. Part One discussed Moxie, which told the story of Viv discovering feminism and advocating for change in her school. Today’s post is talking about the second of these two books, The Exact Opposite of Okay, which tells the story of Izzy O’Neill dealing with being the subject of a national sex scandal. I received a proof copy of this book at YALC.

The Exact Opposite of Okay – Laura Steven

35817737Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

 

TEOOO starts off with a girl who is already unashamedly a feminist, and uses humour to deal with life in general. An aspiring screenwriter and comic, Izzy is almost finished school, and spends her days laughing with her two best friends, writing and filming sketches, and chilling out with her awesome grandma/parent figure.

Then everything changes when a malicious website – Izzy O’Neill World Class Whore – is set up, and Izzy suddenly becomes a pariah. Told through blog posts written at the time, with later commentary from future Izzy as she assembles them into a book, the real-time updates were actually, I thought, one of the weakest things about the book. While I can countenance the idea that a diary/journal could be written on the go and updated several times a day, for some reason I didn’t feel the same about a blog. I think that’s my own personal prejudices, though, and probably for 18 year olds, I’m making no sense at all.

In any case, the dual format of blog post written at the time and later commentary allows Izzy to give us two perspectives – both her immediate thoughts and feelings, and then later more considred thoughts. It also allows for some fourth wall breaking which is very witty at times.

Caught up in a sex scandal, Izzy holds her head high, tries to find out who’s behind the website, and tries to bite back against the double standards inherent in the fact that she’s reviled as a wanton, loose woman, while the man involved is depicted as having been caught up and dragged along by a hussy. The acerbic commentary on the slut-shaming culture that only applies to women resonates strongly with me.

There was so much in this book that I really loved. The discussions of slut-shaming, revenge porn, the friendzone, nice guy culture, and ‘purity’ of women (but not men!) were absolutely spot-on, and hit every button of outrage in me.

Izzy is already, unashamedly, a feminist, sex-positive, and unafraid to speak out about her right to be seen as equal in every way to any man. But, of course, when it’s a sex scandal, there are issues that she has to deal with also. Her discussion of these, her actions, and her responses, even when she has an open and frank relationship with her grandmother, are so realistically drawn that I really did love them.

Izzy is basically my idol. Holding her head up in the face of public shaming, she bites back and criticises the inherent sexism in what she’s being subjected to, but she’s still human, and she has her own wobbles and difficulties. I read this book in a single day, when I was supposed to be writing lectures, and will be pressing recommendations on many of my friends and family to pick up their own copies of it. Funny and frank, this is a book which needs to be read and discussed, because it’s so on the nose.

As I already mentioned, I had some wobbles about the blog format of the book. It’s also not exactly hot on diversity or intersectional feminism. But I actually think that’s okay, because this specific book is about Izzy’s personal experience of slut-shaming and sex culture, and it applies to her and her alone.

Really excellent read, and highly recommended.

Four Stars
****

The Exact Opposite of Okay is published on March 8, 2018 – International Women’s Day!

 

When looking at both books set in Texas together, it’s a little depressing how many similarities there are between them – cultures of jocks and geeks, boys will be boys, and girls must be good and quiet and not sexual at all. Given that Izzy is an older protagonist than Viv, and that she already knows she’s a feminist, whereas Viv is only discovering feminism, Izzy resonated with me that bit more, but it was really wonderful to read two books with such kick-ass, take-no-shit ladies who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and what they believe in.

Honestly, I recommend that you read both of these books, because they’re both well-written, engrossing, engaging, and fun. But if you have time to only read one, then I’d say Moxie is a feminism primer, and The Exact Opposite of Okay is already clearly feminist. But I don’t think you should choose. I think you should read both of them, as soon as they’re published!

 

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Texas Feminism Part One – Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Strangely enough, in the space of a week, (the same week as I read about twentieth century feminists), I read two books set in small-town Texas which tackled issues of feminism and teenage girls. Both were picked up as proof copies at YALC and both were thoroughly enjoyable. Very different, taking very different approaches to feminism as it affects teenage girls, I highly recommend both of them.

Moxie – Jennifer Mathieu

35383830It’s time to fight like a girl!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and spread the Moxie message. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realises that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

TIME TO FIGHT LIKE A GIRL

A page-turning read with a feminist message, for anyone who has ever had to deal with #everydaysexism

It’s lovely to read several books in quick succession which are funny, frank, and feminist. Moxie and TEOOO are both really excellent, and I thoroughly recommend them both.

Moxie tells the story of Vivian as she discovers feminism, forges friendships, and starts a revolution in her high school – rebelling against sexist dress-code checks, obsession with the football team, and glibly brushing off accusations of improper conduct against football players. There was a lot to unpack in this book, with obviously more than just feminism being an issue here – the small-town obsession with football, classism, homophobia, and racism also rear their heads. This book is largely single-issue, with Viv discovering firstly the power and heady discovery of feminism as a way to fight back against the patriarchal society she lives in. But it does give nice nods to intersectional feminism in several ways, by criticising the Riot Grrl movement that Viv’s mother was part of, by pointing out the racism inherent in the brackets competition in the latter half of the book, and even by casual references to the tendency of the faculty to blame the latina girls for insurrection, rather than white Viv, who is the architect the Moxie zine. There was also a lovely depiction of the insidiousness of the Not All Men reaction in the form of Seth, new boy and love interest for Viv, who falls into the trap of many well-meaning men (and indeed privileged people in all sectors of life), of minimising lived experience. There was a lot which was really praiseworthy in this book, all surrounded by a believable, empathetic story of a girl who’s far from perfect finding a way to kick back against a society which is just as imperfect as she is.

If I had some criticisms of this book it would be: that Viv is bizarrely naive for a high school junior – she grew up in a small town, without much to do, so I’m surprised that she’s only discovering things like boys and feminism at this point. I also sometimes struggle to relate to the American High School experience. Having gone to schools with uniform requirements, the idea of being pulled up for showing your shoulders is completely alien to me, as is the football obsession, and the gloryifying of jocks and jock culture in general. That sort of culture just wasn’t in any of the schools I went to. But having read a large number of books and seen a lot of television shows and films depicting the American High School, and seeing ridiculous stats like the fact that in 2016, 39 states’ highest-paid public employee was a sports coach.

Lastly, for me, since I’m already a feminist, and have been since I discovered what the word meant, I feel like some of the impact was lost. I spent the first part of the book waiting for Viv to catch up with me and realise that of COURSE she should be a feminist, and that feminism isn’t a dirty word.

This book was a wonderful primer to discovering feminism, and the joys which appear when you realise that it’s subversive to advocate for the social, political, and economic equality of men and women.

Also the dedication in the front of the book, which was printed on the back of the proof copy, is wonderful.

Four Stars
****

Moxie publishes in September 2017, and is one of the Zoella book club picks.

Tune in to my next post for my review of The Exact Opposite of Okay, and some thoughts on the two books together!

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Things A Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls

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

Things A Bright Girl Can Do had a stand at YALC as well, and although I didn’t pick up a proof, I was approved for a NetGalley copy, so I was pretty chuffed. The story of three teenage suffragettes and suffragists was definitely something that piqued my interest, and I was on board from the first page.

Things A Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls

33876596

Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, three courageous young women join the fight for the vote.

Evelyn is seventeen, and though she is rich and clever, she may never be allowed to follow her older brother to university. Enraged that she is expected to marry her childhood sweetheart rather than be educated, she joins the Suffragettes, and vows to pay the ultimate price for women’s freedom.

May is fifteen, and already sworn to the cause, though she and her fellow Suffragists refuse violence. When she meets Nell, a girl who’s grown up in hardship, she sees a kindred spirit. Together and in love, the two girls start to dream of a world where all kinds of women have their place.

But the fight for freedom will challenge Evelyn, May and Nell more than they ever could believe. As war looms, just how much are they willing to sacrifice?

With three girls from very different backgrounds championing this story of the fight for women’s suffrage in immediately pre-WWI England, there was a diverse approach to how women saw themselves and sought the freedom to be themselves in stifling Edwardian (what a misnomer, the monarch at the time was George V) and WWI times.

All three main characters were interesting, especially Nell and May, and their relationship. The clash of cultures between them and their differing values on war, violence, money, class, and their difficulties navigating those made for some really interesting conflicts, especially because we were in the heads of both girls at times. Evelyn, the third character, was less compelling, probably because a lot of her rebellion seemed to be teenage chafing against the constraints of what was laid out for her in life, and she dropped it before too long.

I really thoroughly enjoyed the commentary on class, war, suffragism, suffragettes, women’s rights, poverty, and the impact of the outbreak of WWI on all aspects of life, including jobs for women and their position in society. All of these historical discussions were compelling, and all the more interesting as they were framed around the lives of individuals, which made them seem all the more real.

However, as I got further into the book, and it skipped more and more chunks of time, I really felt disconnected from the three main characters as people. The first 50% of the book was really excellent, and I felt connected to and empathised with all three girls (women?). However, as war broke out, and the chapters of the book became shorter and more disjointed, and there were larger and larger chunks of time between sections, I lost interest in all three girls and their struggles.

Disappointingly, I finished this book feeling a little apathetic about all three main characters. For historical commentary, it was spot on, but for characterisation and emotion, Things A Bright Girl Can Do struggled more the further in it got.

Three Stars
***

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A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares – Krystal Sutherland

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

Krystal Sutherland’s first book, Our Chemical Hearts, was one of my Best Books of 2016. Bearing that in mind, it was an absolute no-brainer that I was going to read and probably love her second, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares. Or so I thought. Our Chemical Hearts was so beautiful it made my heart burst and my eyes leak, but ASDLoWN is magical realism, a genre I really just don’t like. I thought I would adore Marieke Nijkamp’s second book, but the magical realism genre put me off from the beginning, and I ended up very much disliking it. So I approached Nightmares with caution.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares – Krystal Sutherland

35698586From the author of Our Chemical Hearts comes the hilarious, reality-bending tale of two outsiders facing their greatest fears about life and love one debilitating phobia at a time.

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can’t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.

So I was torn, before reading, on how I thought I might feel about this book. On the one hand, I loved how Sutherland wrote, and her characterisation in Our Chemical Hearts. On the other hand, I really just don’t like magical realism. It’s something about the lack of explanation of things. But surprisingly, this book doesn’t suffer from that. I actually appreciated the supernatural elements of this book (much like I did with Second Star), in that they added to the story, but explanations were possible without them.

So this was actually a book in which the strength of the story won out over my dislike of magical realism. Jonah and Esther are two outsiders, teens trying to navigate their way through their messed-up worlds as they work through a set of weekly challenges. Jonah and Esther leaped off the page as they got to know each other and laughed and loved together. Eugene, Esther’s twin brother, has his own demons to face, and his story arc informs Esther’s as she journeys through her list of fears.

The weakest characters in this book was Hephzibah, who was presented in the beginning as someone as important as Eugene, but whose character development was largely off-page, and quickly became irrelevant to the story.

Esther’s parents, and Jonah’s father, were largely menacing caricatures in the background, although there were some touching elements in Esther’s relationship with her mother near the end of the book.

I find it difficult to put into words what I liked about this book. Two teenagers from difficult circumstances finding each other and working through a list of fears as a way to escape their rubbish lives and come to terms with the difficulties that everyone around them faces.

I also appreciated the intertwining narrative of Esther’s grandfather Reginald and his encounters with the Man Who Would Be Death/Death/Jack. The supernatural elements of the story were presented as something between reality and a fanciful story for grandchildren, and I appreciated the duality of it all.

Sutherland’s writing is nuanced and beautiful, and her dealing with mental health issues is delicate and effective. While aspects of the book were somewhat unbelievable – every member of Esther’s family having crippling MH issues, for example – and some were left unresolved – such as Jonah’s little sister! – overall, this was a really touching look at friendship, love, mental health issues, and dealing with the circumstances life has thrust upon you.

Four Stars
****

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Fireblood – Elly Taylor

I won a proof copy of this from Fairyloot at YALC.

Frostblood was one of my top three YALC reads last year, along with A Torch Against The Night and Goldenhand. In a month where I read many frosty books last year, it was the clear winner, and the only one where I was actively looking forward to the sequel. So I was delighted when it was one of the proofs that I picked up at YALC, as it doesn’t publish until September 7th.

Fireblood – Elly Blake

33877168

In this action-packed sequel to Frostblood, the future of Ruby’s world and a court ruled by the love of her life depends on the uncovered secrets of her past. Perfect for fans of Red Queen and Throne of Glass.

‘With a fierce and vibrant world, richly-drawn characters, a steamy romance, and page-turning twists, Frostblood has all the elements of a great fantasy.’ – Morgan Rhodes, New York Times bestselling author of the Fallen Kingdom series

Against all odds, Ruby has defeated the villainous Frost King and melted his throne of ice. But the bloodthirsty Minax that was trapped inside is now haunting her kingdom and everyone she loves. The answers to its demise may lie to the south in Sudesia, the land of the Firebloods, and a country that holds the secrets to Ruby’s powers and past….

Despite warnings from her beloved Arcus, Ruby accompanies a roguish Fireblood named Kai to Sudesia, where she must master her control of fire in a series of trials to gain the trust of the suspicious Fireblood queen. Only then can she hope to access the knowledge that could defeat the rampaging Minax – which grows closer every moment. But as sparks fly in her moments alone with Kai, how can Ruby decide whom to trust? The fate of both kingdoms is now in her hands.

I very much enjoyed Frostblood, and was looking forward to Fireblood a lot. And when I started reading, I was delighted to find that I wasn’t disappointed at all. Although the book does have some major YA tropes, such as ~true identities~ and ~love triangles~, there were enough twists and turns and adventures in this book for me to enjoy the entire story without rolling my eyes more than a tiny bit.

Ruby is still hot-headed and impulsive, emotional and often unwise, but that makes her quite the relatable protagonist, as I’m something of a hothead myself. Her adventures in Sudesia, the land from which her mother hailed, are far more and far less than she expected, and she meets a host of new characters as she learns to control and master her Fireblood gift.

Thematically, this second book in the trilogy felt a lot like Magic Study, the second book in the Poison Study series, as the main character travels to her homeland to learn about her culture, her people, and master her magical gift. That’s not a negative comparison, by the way. I very much enjoyed Magic Study, especially the suspicion with which the new arrival was treated

New character Kai is warm, emotional, and in most ways the exact opposite of Arcus, the icy, reserved love interest of the first book, so he adds new dimensions to the comparison between the two. Ruby chafes against the constricting society of the Frostblood court, so the chance to escape to Sudesia, the Fireblood homeworld, is a welcome relief for her – but it doesn’t turn out to be everything she hoped it would be.

Fireblood added new dimensions to the story started in Frostblood, and amped up the tension as we saw the other side of the Fireblood massacres in the Frostblood homeworld. Some interesting points about nationality were raised, which I hope will be expanded on in the third installment. As well as that, there was huge developments in the overarching magical story, of the twin Minaxes, and what their release into the world means. Prince Eiko, the prince consort of Sudesia, was one of my favourite new characters, and the end of Fireblood left his fate very much up in the air.

Frankly, I’m furious that I have to wait until June of next year to get the third installment of this trilogy, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both Frostblood and Fireblood, and the ten-month wait for Nightblood may well be the death of me.

Final note: the cover art for Frostblood was spectacular. The cover art for Fireblood is incredible. The cover art for Nightblood is also stunning. Huge commendations to the cover artist at Chapter 5, because they are doing absolutely stellar work here.

 

Four Stars, and an impatient huff at having to wait for the final installment. Judging by the cover art, it’s going to be darker and every bit as awesome!

Four Stars
****

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The Treatment – CL Taylor

I received a proof copy of this book at YALC.

I was intrigued by this book at YALC, not only because of the author being there and signing copies of it, but also because of the very creepy cover art. The idea of a correctional facility for wayward kids being more than it seems isn’t new – I know I’ve read a few before, and I have some from Source Books which are based on a true story, which is, frankly, terrifying, but the idea of one set in England was interesting, so this was one of the first books I picked up to bring on my summer holidays. The Treatment will be published on October 19th.

The Treatment – CL Taylor

35261805Cecelia Ahern’s Flawed meets Never Let Me Go in the pulse-pounding YA thriller from the Top Ten Sunday Times bestselling author of The Escape.

“You have to help me. We’re not being reformed. We’re being brainwashed.”

All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She’s not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she’s almost relieved.

Everything changes when she’s followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something sinister about the ‘treatment’ he is undergoing. The school is changing people.

Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets.

Before it’s too late.

You might think that a dark and twisted story of wayward teens being moulded into perfect citizens in a correctional facility which seems too good to be true would be an incongruous match for a summer holiday of sun, swimming, and sightseeing in Santorini (I love a bit of sibilance). But actually I read most of this on the plane, so the enclosed, claustrophobic environment was perfect for this tense and twisted thriller.

Drew, the main character, is on a mission to save her brother (annoying though he is) from the Treatment in the reform academy he’s been sent to. Accosted on the street in the first chapter by a mysterious ‘Dr Cobey’ who passes on a secret message, Drew must decide whether to act on this message from Mason. He may well be an annoying and disruptive sod, but he’s still her brother. So Drew begins to infiltrate the Academy to save her brother.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, largely because it wasn’t entirely predictable. Although Drew goes in with a plan, like most times when you’re jumping straight in, there are many factors that can’t be predicted, and so lots of improvisation has to be done. Drew was smart and resourceful, but still only sixteen years old, and in an environment which was way outside of her comfort zone. Pleasingly, she made plenty of mistakes, and reacted in ways which seemed utterly believable.

If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that too many coincidences centred around Drew and Mason’s family and friends. Too many characters who were briefly mentioned in the beginning showed up later with bigger roles to play, which made the whole thing seem less believable.

There was also an unexplained moment in the final scene which might have been designed to leave the reader unsettled, but just left me frustrated and confused, as it wasn’t fleshed out enough (I felt) to actually mean anything.

But overall, this was a hugely entertaining read, and I will definitely look out for more by CL Taylor.

Four Stars
****

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I See You – Clare Mackintosh

I read I Let You Go shortly after it was published in 2015, and thoroughly enjoyed it (although I never blogged it, I don’t think).

The second book by Clare Mackintosh was published last year, and is another thriller, focused around the notion of being stalked. With two main characters – Zoe Walker, who sees her photo in a newspaper, and Kelly Swift, a police officer investigating the case – and others that may be linked.

While I Let You Go was excellent, with two intertwining storylines and a conclusion that was hugely satisfying, I feel like I See You suffers from that dreaded second book syndrome. It’s just not as good as Mackintosh’s first offering.

I See You – Clare Mackintosh

26233572You do the same thing every day.

You know exactly where you’re going.

You’re not alone.

When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it’s there. There’s no explanation: just a website, a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it’s just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that.

Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make . . .

I See You is an edge-of-your-seat, page-turning psychological thriller from one of the most exciting and successful British debut talents of 2015.

I had several issues with this book. The first was that I’m not sure the whole idea stands up. The notion of stalking seems to me to be more intensely personal than the book depicts, with the involvement of a website offering up women being somewhat of a stretch. So I wasn’t really on board with the thing from the beginning.

There’s a lot of misdirection and suspicion in the book, with Zoe suspecting every man in her vicinity at one time or another. But while the first two-thirds, or even three-quarters of the book were solid enough, providing I get over my disbelief of the central premise. But while there was an interesting twist in the last quarter, as the villain was revealed, from there, things just went crazy, and my belief in the story decreased with every word.

My specific disappointments with the story are difficult to articulate without spoiling major plot points, so I think it will suffice to say, that while I was surprised by the reveal of the villain, and appreciated one aspect of their character, the lack of flagging earlier in the book of who it might be was a weakness. While I like a twist that takes you by surprise, on second reading of a book, knowing in advance who it is, you should be able to pick out tiny hints of what was going on. And I really don’t feel like that was the case with this one. Plus, the motivation and actions of the architect of the website was more than suspect. So that left me even less impressed with this book.

Finally, there was a needlessly dramatic epilogue tacked onto the end of this book which was thrown in entirely for shock value. While the last few lines of I Let You Go are ominous, and leave an unsettled feeling, the last few pages of I See You was needless addition to a story which had already crossed the line into melodrama a long time before.

Disappointed in this offering, I’ll still look forward to Mackintosh’s third book, in March 2018, but this one was far from a keeper for me.

Three Stars
***

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Before I Let Go – Marieke Nijkamp

One of my favourite books of 2015 was This Is Where It Ends, a story of an American school shooting written by a Dutch writer, and with the most gorgeous chalk cover art which still gives me shivers. So when I noticed that Source Books was at YALC, I went looking to see if they had proof copies of her second book, Before I Let Go, and I was delighted to realise that they did.

Before I Let Go – Marieke Nijkamp

33918883Days before Corey is to return home to the snow and ice of Lost Creek, Alaska, to visit her best friend, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

I went into this book expecting another realism. Having thoroughly enjoyed This Is Where It Ends, I wanted an exploration of the mystery of Kyra’s death, treatment of mental illness, female friendship, asexuality, and possibly murder or small town prejudices. And I did get all of those things. There were lots of really great things in this. It actually reminded me a lot of the book I read immediately before (Nemesis), not only because of the isolated, small-town nature of the protagonists, but also the explorations of prejudice and the notion of the treatment of outsiders. But the other way in which this book reminded me of my feelings about Nemesis was that I went in expecting something that I did not get.

before I let go is a magical realism book. There’s something almost other-worldly about Kyra, the nature of her death, and her existence in the time since Corey left Lost Creek, their tiny Alaskan town. And I just really don’t like magical realism as a genre. I like fantasy – I like high fantasy, I like low fantasy, I like YA fantasy, I like adult fantasy. I also like thrillers, murder mysteries, conspiracy books. And I like realism. So I should, in theory, like magical realism. But I really, really don’t. So as I went through this book and realised that this was where it was going, I just disengaged more and more.

I think my disgust with magical realism is that it never really gives an explanation for anything. How did this happen? Was it real? Was it just mental illness? I hate that kind of ambiguity and the lack of clarity you get from it.

So although the relationship between Kyra and Corey was lovely, and the murder mystery was dark and creepy, and the small-town mentality of Lost and how they treat Corey as an outsider less than a year after she left the town was wonderfully drawn, and Nijkamp is still a really great writer, I did NOT like this book.

But that’s on me. I just hate magical realism. So my rating of this book is my reflection of how much I enjoyed it, and not really how good it was. I’m not sure if that’s fair to Nijkamp, as it really is well-written, but this is my blog, so I’m giving the rating!

Two Stars (sorry)
**

 

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Nemesis – Brendan Reichs

I was sent a copy of this book by My Kinda Book in exchange for an honest review. Although, in all honesty, if I hadn’t been sent a copy, I very likely would have bought one anyway, because it looked great. Sprayed red edges, a stark red and white contrast, and a blurb which had me utterly hooked from the beginning. What was not to like?

Nemesis – Brendan Reichs

34790382Orphan Black meets Lord of the Flies in the riveting new sci fi thriller from the cowriter of the Virals series.

It’s been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, a strange man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later, she wakes up in a clearing just outside her tiny Idaho hometown—alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the horrifying crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him, though he does his best to hide the signs. But when the world around him begins to spiral toward panic and destruction, Noah discovers that people have been lying to him his whole life. Everything changes in an eye blink.

For the planet has a bigger problem. The Anvil, an enormous asteroid threatening all life on Earth, leaves little room for two troubled teens. Yet on her sixteenth birthday, as she cowers in her bedroom, hoping not to die for the fifth time, Min has had enough. She vows to discover what is happening in Fire Lake and uncovers a lifetime of lies: a vast conspiracy involving the sixty-four students of her sophomore class, one that may be even more sinister than the murders.

I’ll tell you what’s not to like about this. Nemesis is the first in the Project Nemesis series. I only realised this about thirty pages from the end of the book, when it became abundantly clear that it was not going to be possible to wrap up the dangling plot threads in the time remaining. So because I wasn’t aware of that as I was reading the book, I was left distinctly disappointed when I finished.

I have mentioned this so many times before, but I really hate books that leave you on a cliffhanger at the end of the first book in a series. I have no issue with leaving continuing plot lines over a larger arc, but I want a resolution to the story which was set up in the first book. In Nemesis, I did not get this. Nemesis ends poised to begin the greater conflict of the series, and it is infuriating to have to wait for the next – largely because I didn’t realise at the time of reading that I would have to wait for the next book.

For that reason, my rating of this book is probably lower than it would have been had I known at the beginning that I was starting a series. I still don’t like the way it’s done, as I don’t feel like it has a proper resolution or conclusion to the book, but I wouldn’t have been as angry if I knew it was going to happen.

Other than that major gripe, though, this was a very enjoyable book. Min, the main character, is paranoid and suspicious (entirely understandably), and trusts nobody in her little po-dunk town, other than her best friend Tack. After being murdered in cold blood for the fifth time,  she decides she needs to find out what the hell is going on in her life.

Noah, the other main character, doesn’t come into the story until a fair bit later, is less interesting than Min, but still the two of them make for a solid pair of intertwining narratives, as they come to realise that their stories are much more closely related than they previously thought. With plenty of conflict, mystery, conspiracies, and out-and-out murder, this twisting, thrilling, wild ride went in directions that I would not have expected, and ended up in a place which has set up for Genesis to be a real stonker of a book. But actually, I think Genesis will likely be the better of the duology (I mean I hope it’s a duology), although very, very different to what I thought Nemesis would be.

Infuriated by the way this book was set up and what it turned out to be, I finished with a feeling of immense dissatisfaction, but had I known that I was going to be set up for a half a story, I likely would have found it a lot more enjoyable. So my medium rating is as much to do with my disappointment in the lack of flagging that we were only getting half a story as it is to do with the quality of that half a story.

Three Stars
***

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Remix – Non Pratt

After all my posts about YALC last week, it’s worth noting that Remix is actually the first Non Pratt book I’ve read. Two best friends at a festival for a weekend, this was the kind of refreshing journey into British YA that I really needed at the time.

Remix – Non Pratt

30369794Boys don’t break your heart; best friends do. A funny touching story about friendship from the Guardian’s “writer to watch” Non Pratt, author of Trouble – one of the most talked about debuts of the year. Kaz is still reeling from being dumped by the love of her life. Ruby is bored of hearing about it. Time to change the record. Three days. Two best mates. One music festival. Zero chance of everything working out. Perfect for fans of John Green, Judy Blume and Rainbow Rowell.

Ruby and Kaz are best friends, at a music festival for the weekend with a motley crew of friends, family, and exes. As much about the human experience as about the music acts they’re going to see, this summer between the end of school and the start of sixth form is a time of great change for them both – and music festival Remix is obviously the best time for them to come to terms with it.

Laden with friendship, sex, lies, cheating, breakups, get-togethers, exes, new friends, some terribly bad decisions, and the quintessential festival problem of forgetting to charge your phone, Remix is true to life and thoroughly enjoyable. Neither Ruby nor Kaz (nor most of the other characters, in fairness) is perfect, and both make some seriously questionable decisions, but the underlying thread of this book, and what makes it so great to read, is the love and dedication they have for each other, for their best friend. Teenage girls are so full of emotion, and capable of forming such strong bonds so quickly (also demonstrated over the weekend), but the friendship bonds we see in this book are fierce and wild and hugely enjoyable to read about.

A refreshingly honest summer YA, Non Pratt has wonderfully captured the alcohol-fuelled, hormone-driven, music-filled and sun-soaked (okay, that was unrealistic, I don’t think it rained ONCE all book) atmosphere of a summer weekend music festival, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will definitely be delving into more of Pratt’s work.

Four Stars
****

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