Category Archives: Books

Scars Like Wings – Erin Stewart

This was one of the big proof drops at YALC this year that I didn’t actually get a copy of. So I was really thrilled when it popped up on NetGalley, and even more thrilled when the publisher approved my request. So, by virtue of those two sentences, it’s worth noting that the publisher provided me with a digital copy of this book.

Scars Like Wings – Erin Stewart

Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see …

47182592._SY475_.jpg16-year-old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all: Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn’t?

When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival, and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass—or the people by her side.

The beautiful, life-affirming debut from Erin Stewart that’s being called the YA answer to Wonder. Perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Nicola Yoon and John Green.

I very much enjoyed (and cried at) this beautifully touching story of Ava, a girl who suffered horrendous burn injuries in a fire a year previously that claimed the lives of her parents and her cousin. Left behind as the sole survivor, she’s trying to find her new normal in her new life with her aunt and uncle as parental figures, as all three of them try to navigate their terrible loss and forge a new path in life.
Thematically, this book reminded me a lot of Faceless, by Alyssa Sheinmel, which I also loved (I swear I’m not sadistic). This differed in that it starts quite a while after the fire, and Ava’s physical recovery is at quite an advanced stage. We come into her story as she begins to reintegrate into society, which takes the form of her starting at a new school. Her facial disfigurement makes her an instant target for attention, which is her worst nightmare, as she wants nothing but to blend in.
There are two very major characters in this book – Ava and Piper. Both scarred, damaged girls recovering from accidents that left them with burns, their friendship is really beautifully written as they help each other along the road to recovery, but with all the usual angst of teenage girls thrown in for good measure. A cast of backing characters in the form of school friends (and enemies) and Ava’s aunt and uncle add a little depth to the tale of these two girls, but it’s definitely the friendship between Piper and Ava that takes centre stage.
And yes, that pun is meant literally, as Ava is also trying to rediscover who she is as she tries to find out what parts of her life Before the Fire – like her love of musical theatre and identity as a drama geek – will transfer into her new life of Ava After the Fire.

There were elements of this book that I might have liked to see a little more of – of Ava’s connections with her past life, which she seems to have sloughed off like so much skin, and actually I would’ve liked to see more of Piper too, because while we discover some things about her, she’s certainly not given the same priority as Ava. I guess that’s understandable as it’s really Ava’s story, but I did feel a little bit like Piper deserved a tiny bit more attention. Still though. This is a beautifully written, lyrical, heartfelt story of a teenage girl finding out who she is, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will definitely look for more from Erin Stewart.

Four Stars
****

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Tag Thursday – Book Blogger Inside Look

I don’t often do book tags, but I just saw this one on Pretty Purple Polka Dots and thought it was really fun, so I decided to do it. She got her prompt from Thrice Read, but the original creator is A Little Slice of Jamie.

Where do you typically write your blog posts?

I generally write my posts at my desk at work, at lunch times. But during the summer, when it’s not term-time (so I’m not on campus as often) I could write them anywhere. My last post was written on a tube, and this one is at my dining room table.

This is my writing station (and my work station) today. The notebooks on the right are from work. The sharpie is from my Hodderscape book challenge. The hairbrush is… just because I’m disorganised and messy.

How long does it generally take you to write a book review?

This varies wildly depending on how much I liked the book and how busy I am at work. While I try to write my posts within a lunch hour, sometimes I get distracted by other things, so it can take a long time for me to come back to them and finish them off. I also find it easier to talk about some books than others, so it depends on the book itself also.

When did you start your book blog?

I started this blog in January 2009, but it was a personal/mixed blog for about five years before I converted to a solely book blog in the middle of 2014. And I haven’t looked back in the five years since!

What is the worst thing about having a book blog in your opinion?

I seem to have divorced the habit of obtaining books from the habit of reading books, which means that books I was really excited to get (and even pre-ordered) don’t actually… get read. Instead, I seem to end up reading lots of books that I’m not as excited about or interested in, while these beautiful, exciting books just look mournfully at me as I regret everything in my life.

One of my many piles of ‘to-read’ books. This one is from YALC this year (with some additions).

What is the best thing about having a book blog in your opinion?

The community. I love being able to spend time talking to and interacting with people who are so unashamedly bookish. It’s also great that it intertwines nicely with my own personal interests at work, although I have yet to find a way to actively tie them together…

What blog post have you had the most fun writing so far?

I actually really like writing reviews where I’ve had very strong feelings about a book. Whether they’re good or bad feelings, I find those reviews the easiest and the most fun. Sometimes a good rant is really worth the time it takes to type it up!

What is your favourite type of blog post to write?

Definitely reviews. The vast majority of posts on my blog are reviews, because I enjoy them the most, and value them most when I’m looking back at my blog.

When do you typically write?

I try to write around lunchtime, but sometimes I get caught up in things and forget. Today, for example, I’m writing at 11.15pm.

Do you review every book you read?

No way. I read far more than I would be able to comfortably review, and if I tried to review everything I read, I would probably end up a stressed out ball of hatred who felt unable to start new books because I hadn’t finished reviewing the last one. I do give them all star ratings on Goodreads, though.

How do you write your book reviews? With a cup of coffee or tea? With Netflix? Cuddled with your fur baby?

It varies wildly. I tend to have some kind of snack on my desk at work at all times, and try to drink water throughout the day (although I’m terrible at keeping up with that), but I tend to be curled up in my office chair, typing manically for one reason or another, so the blog posts become part of that routine.

When do you write your book reviews? Right after finishing the book? Two weeks after finishing the book?

I try to write as soon as possible after I finish a book, but things often don’t work out that way. If I was any kind of organised I would type up reviews immediately and then schedule them, but that… doesn’t happen.

How often do you post?

I post twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or at least, I try to. I did a couple of years of posting every day when this was a personal blog, but the pressure got to be too much for me. I also did a couple of years of only posting when I felt like it, but I didn’t like how sparse the blog was. Twice a week is a nice mid-point between those two for me, but I don’t beat myself up if it doesn’t happen.

I would love to hear if you complete this tag, so do link me in your posts!

 

 

 

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Hodderscape 2019 Reading Challenge

One of the things I picked up at YALC as part of my haul of bookish merch was a poster of Hodderscape’s 2019 reading challenge.

I picked it up and didn’t think too much about it, since we’re more than halfway through the year, and I didn’t think I’d have read many of them. But then a few days ago I was on the phone to my sister and I decided to see how many I could fill in.
20190813_155048Surprisingly, I managed to get to nine of the twelve selections. So, obviously, knowing that, I figured I’d have to finish it out.

One category that I hadn’t ticked yet I knew wouldn’t be an issue, since Sinéad had recently passed on her copy of The Surface Breaks. In fact, it’s in my bag right now, waiting for me to finish writing this post and start reading. So that was no problem. I’m sorted for a retelling of a classic fairy tale so, as The Surface Breaks is a retelling of The Little Mermaid.

20190813_155119.jpgI also managed to pretty quickly come up with a SFF book in translation. Dragon Rider (originally German) has been sitting on my shelf for years now. I remember reading the first few chapters while on a beach and getting sand in the pages. It wasn’t my book (it was my sister’s) and she took it off me, annoyed I had damaged it, as I couldn’t get the sand out of the page binding.

I don’t recall how it then ended up on my shelf instead of hers. Probably something to do with keeping all the Cornelia Funke books together (have you ever read The Thief Lord? It’s a treasure).

In any case, once Ronan came over and I got him to get Dragon Rider down from my top shelf (which I can’t reach without climbing), that was the translation category sorted.I actually finished it last night, and it’s really lovely. I also discovered that Funke published a sequel in 2017, eleven years after my edition was published.

 So to finish the challenge (once I read TSB), I only need to read a non fiction book by a SFF author. But I’m kind of stumped as to what book that should be. Hodderscape made some suggestions in their post: 

On Writing by Stephen King
In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

The problem is, none of these suggestions really interest me. So. Help! What non fiction book by a SFF author should I read to complete my Hodderscape challenge?

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Kingdom of Souls – Rena Barron

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

Kingdom of Souls – Rena Barron

44596261._SY475_.jpgMagic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

Absolutely chuffed to get my wish granted by the publisher for this gorgeous African-inspired fantasy. Arrah is a daughter of two magical bloodlines, granddaughter of the Chieftain of Heka’s tribes in the tribal lands and daughter (on the other side) of the ka-Priestess in the city. With such strong magical heritage, it is a source of constant pain to her that her magical gifts show no sign of appearing. But magic in this world can be obtained another way – if you’re willing to pay the price, magic can be traded for your life, or part thereof. Charlatans who gain magic in this way are shunned by most of society, and Arrah knows she would never harm herself in this way. That is, until children start disappearing in Tamar, her home city. When her friend is threatened, Arrah is forced to confront her deepest self to find out just how far she’ll go to save a friend. Worse than that, the long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring, and Arrah is much more intimately connected to him than she ever would have guessed.

There is SO MUCH in this book that’s really wonderful. A rich, vibrant world with two vastly different cultures – the bustling city of Tamar in the Kingdom contrasts sharply with the opening scenes set at Heka’s temple in the tribal lands. Arrah is a child of both cultures, daughter of two tribal parents, but raised in the city, and as such she’s also caught between two different religions. The orisha of the city contrast sharply with the single god Heka of the tribal lands, and Arrah is forced to confront both of these elements of herself as the stakes rise and the action gets going. The worldbuilding here is first class, with the city of Tamar almost being audible as I read the book, the bustle of the East market giving way to the shrine to the Orisha in the Temple. Arrah’s parents Arti and Oshe are caught up more deeply than Arrah can imagine in the sinister goings-on in the city, and Arrah will get dragged in before she knows what’s good for her.

As the story progresses, the action proceeds at a steady clip, with intrigue and mystery, and a rich cast of backing characters. Arrah’s friends and sometimes more (*cough*, Rudjek, *cough*) are equally deeply drawn, with backstories that are only touched on, and nuanced relationships, both with Arrah and with each other. Their support will be crucial to her in the trying times ahead.
And then… Efiyah. Ah, what is there to say about this magnificent, enigmatic, whimsical, cruel character? Well, without spoilers, not too much. But she’s a personality who is at once sophisticated and naive, terrifying and endearing, and utterly compelling. Arrah’s complex relationship with her is a pleasure to behold.

The relationship of Arrah’s story to the wider mythology throughout the book becomes clear as the story progresses, with a variety of twists and turns which kept me gasping. The unravelling of the mythology of the Demon King, the orisha and Heka’s grace is slow and complex, and the snippets from the perspective of other characters really added to the depth of this book. I felt like I was alongside Arrah on her journey as she fights demons, discovers magic, experiences crazy things, and discovers her true destiny.
Absolutely wonderfully written, tightly plotted, and promising greater things yet to come, this is a spectacular debut full of black girl magic, diverse, complex characters, and incredible atmosphere. I’m already awaiting the second in this planned trilogy, and KoS hasn’t even been published yet. Absolutely one of my favourite books this year.

Also, fabulous cover art. Putting a black girl front and centre is so important to representation and the artwork for this really captures Arrah’s strength of character.

Five Stars
*****

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Crossfire – Malorie Blackman

I got an early copy of this book at YALC, but it publishes tomorrow!

Crossfire (Noughts and Crosses #5) – Malorie Blackman

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‘The Noughts & Crosses series are still my favourite books of all time and showed me just how amazing story-telling could be’ STORMZY

‘I grew up reading her. It was one of the few books about black people, so I felt seen.’ CANDICE CARTY-WILLIAMS

‘The most original book I’ve ever read’ BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH

“Malorie Blackman is absolutely amazing … [Noughts & Crosses] really spoke to me, especially as a woman of dual heritage.” ZAWE ASHTON
_____

Years have passed since the love between Sephy – a Cross – and Callum – a Nought – destroyed their world and changed their families and society forever.

Society appears to be very different now. For the first time ever, a Nought Prime Minister – Tobey Durbridge – is in power. Race and class don’t divide people anymore. But things are never really that easy.

Because Tobey’s just been framed for murder, and the only way to free himself is to turn to his oldest friend – Callie-Rose.

Their families divisions run deep, and when two young people are kidnapped, their lives and everything they’ve fought for are put in the firing line.

And when you’re playing a game as dangerous as this one, it won’t be long before someone gets caught in the crossfire…

Crossfire is the long-awaited new novel in legendary author Malorie Blackman’s ground-breaking Noughts & Crosses series.

I remember when I was first introduced to Malorie Blackman’s books. It was when I was in primary school, and Blackman came to our school during book week. I’m not entirely sure how old I was, but I definitely remember picking up some of her books and getting them signed by her. I was so excited to read many of her books, and she was the first author I remember reading who always writes black characters. It took me at least five books to come to the realisation that Blackman’s protagonist is almost always black, and confront my own assumption that main characters are white by default. Noughts and Crosses, the first book in this series, was one of the books that my sister got that book week, and I loved every page of it. Over the following years, my sisters and I picked up all of the followup novels, and I loved returning to this original, refreshing world where the power balance is reversed between black and white people. The nuanced examination of race, politics, and identity underlies the wonderful human relationships that feel so very real. The end of Noughts and Crosses made me absolutely bawl, and the postscript was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever read. This series is one of my iconic teenage series, so I was delighted when Blackman said that she was returning to this world with a reintroduction to the characters I’ve held dear for so long.

So when I saw an early copy of Crossfire at YALC, I was delighted. I immediately bought it, and began reading it the next day. There are three main characters in this book – Callie Rose Hadley, who we’ve met in several previous books, her younger half-brother Troy, and Libby, a former friend of his from school and the daughter of Tobey, Callie Rose’s friend from earlier books, and now the prime minister. Other well-known characters make many appearances, including Sephy, our OG protagonist. A long time-skip has happened since the previous book in the series, Double Cross, and much has changed since then. Honestly, I probably should have re-read the earlier books in the series to remind myself of who was who and what had gone before, but the book doesn’t suffer for my lack of knowledge. A new reader coming in would be able to understand everything that the book presents and the nuanced political situations without any difficulty, but readers who’ve been there from the beginning will also benefit from nods to previous history of the books.

Crossfire is beautifully written, with a large but not sprawling cast of characters. The kidnapping of the two biggest characters, Troy and Libby, is the central focus of the book, but the rest of the plot develops around it, and not chronologically. Seeing the history between Troy and Libby and the way their lives were interlinked long before they ever knew it is masterfully drawn and thoroughly entertaining. Blackman is at the top of her game, and the action in this book is well-paced, mixing worldbuilding with plotbuilding nicely, and keeping you interested without losing either character or plot development.

I have only one complaint about this book, but it’s a big one. I was so excited for this, a return to this world after so long away from it. The book is very, very good, and thoroughly enjoyable, but it ends on a HUGE cliffhanger, and there’s no word of a sequel, or when it will happen. The sickening realisation that there’s far too much left in the story for the very small number of pages left leaves a disappointing aftertaste to what is otherwise a masterclass of writing, world building, characterisation, and plot.

I’m hopeful (and even confident) that a sixth book will be announced shortly, but I don’t understand why, when the plot is cut off so abruptly, both books weren’t commissioned or announced together. I would have no problem with going into the book knowing it was half of a story, and would eagerly await the sixth installment in this wonderful series. But going into Crossfire expecting a conclusion and getting nothing of the sort was really hugely surprising, and disappointing in how easy it would be to avoid that kind of shock.

Four Stars
****

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July Roundup

I can’t believe it’s August already. I know that I say this every month, and therefore it really seems like I should have gotten the hang of how quickly time passes, but apparently I am just not good at that, and therefore every month I am shocked that another month has passed. I had a lot of July off work, so I thought I would get loads of loads of reading done, but actually I was really busy, and although I read a lot of books, it actually ended up being the one less than I read in June, when I was working most of the month. So… I don’t know what that means.

Books

  1. The First Time Lauren Pailing Died – Alyson Rudd
  2. Meat Market – Juno Dawson
  3. The Truth About Keeping Secrets – Savannah Brown
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  5. Staying at Daisy’s – Jill Mansell
  6. Broken Things – Lauren Oliver
  7. Blink – KL Slater
  8. The Anniversary – Roisin Meaney
  9. American Royals (American Royals #1) – Katharine McGee
  10. All the Things We Never Said – Yasmin Rahman
  11. She – HC Warner
  12. The Day We Meet Again – Miranda Dickinson
  13. Here Lies Daniel Tate – Cristin Terrill
  14. If I Die Before I Wake – Emily Koch
  15. A Wedding in December – Sarah Morgan
  16. Crossfire (Noughts and Crosses #5) – Malorie Blackman

Short Stories/Novellas

None this month

Cover Art

 

Favourite Book This Month

I was super excited last year to hear that Malorie Blackman was writing a new book in her Noughts and Crosses series. So when I was at YALC last weekend, and I was browsing the Waterstones, I was super excited to see that they had early copies of Crossfire available (more than a week before publication! It still hasn’t been published now). So that was definitely my favourite book of this month, because it was amazing to return to the world that Malorie Blackman had created, and that I really loved when I first discovered it as a teenager. I’m not saying this book was perfect – I was really disappointed with how it ended – but definitely the anticipation combined with how much I love this series made this my standout favourite book this month. Plus, how amazing are the reimagined covers of the entire series?

Least Favourite Book This Month

I really like Roisin Meaney as an author, but the one of hers I read this month – The Anniversary – was a huge disappointment. I don’t know what it was about this one, but I just didn’t like it. I think it was weak, the characterisation was weak, the plot was weak, and overall it’s definitely not my favourite Meaney book, and by far my least favourite book that I read in July of this year!

Favourite cover art

Although this is a complete divergence from my existing copies of the first four books in this series, I really appreciate the artistic beauty of the cover of Crossfire. The stark colour palette, the bright white background, the integration of the title into the artwork, the fractious relationship between the two main characters depicted so clearly… I love this. A lot.

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Other…

I said last month about how much annual leave I had, but it turns out that I jam-packed it with visiting and socialising, so I didn’t have much time to myself to sit down and read. Plus, when I was driving, a lot of the time there were other people in the car, so I didn’t get a lot of audiobooks completed either. I’m not complaining or whining, just commenting. I was surprised, looking back, that I didn’t get as many books completed as I had expected. Interesting. I will think about that going forward.

 

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The Day We Meet Again – Miranda Dickinson

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

cover163592-medium.pngThe brand-new novel from The Sunday Times bestselling author, Miranda Dickinson.

‘We’ll meet again at St Pancras station, a year from today. If we’re meant to be together, we’ll both be there. If we’re not, it was never meant to be . . .’

Phoebe and Sam meet by chance at St Pancras station. Heading in opposite directions, both seeking their own adventures, meeting the love of their lives wasn’t part of the plan. So they make a promise: to meet again in the same place in twelve months’ time if they still want to be together.

But is life ever as simple as that?

This is a story of what-ifs and maybes – and how one decision can change your life forever…

I was really excited to be approved for this one, because it sounded lovely. Two people meet in a train station, hit it off really well, but both are heading off on year-long adventures. Over the next twelve months, they keep their relationship going through texts, emails, and postcards, making a promise to meet back at the same statue in St Pancras if they still want to keep it going. Both are on journeys of self-discovery, and discovering who they want to be, and who they were. I can see where this book was going, and lots of it was really interesting, but it just didn’t hit the right notes for me.
Told in alternating sections between the two characters, it was great to be inside both characters’ heads as they discovered themselves and their roots, and tried to keep in contact with the other party. But their relationship over the year is quite fractious, as they struggle with miscommunications and hidden developments. I understand and appreciate the difficulties of this, but what I found really difficult to enjoy and understand was the fact that neither of the characters really articulated what they were doing or why they were doing it. Every time something went wrong in their relationship, I, as the reader, was utterly bewildered as to why these things were happening. And, honestly, my confusion could easily have been avoided by simply not getting in the head of the person doing the confusing thing, and experiencing the confusion of the other half. But the narrative jumped into the head of the person and the person didn’t know either, and I felt like this was a character development flaw – if the characters can’t articulate to themselves how they’re feeling when we’re inside their head, how do we as readers feel that this is realistic and relatable?

That was my main difficulty with the book, and the only thing I really disliked about it. Plotwise I did like the book, and it was very realistic about how a relationship founded on a single day’s experience together can feel like it’s absolutely meant to be, but still hit rocky waters – especially when it’s low-contact and long-distance.
Lots to really like here, but it didn’t quite hit the right notes for me.

Three Stars
***

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American Royals – Katharine McGee

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

I had actually only just finished The Towering Sky – the third in the Thousandth Floor trilogy – when I saw that the author, Katharine McGee, had a new series starting. Seeing that it was available on NetGalley, I was pretty interested to see what would happen in this one.

American Royals (American Royals #1) – Katharine McGee

43744300What if America had a royal family? If you can’t get enough of Harry and Meghan or Kate and William, meet American princesses Beatrice and Samantha.

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.
Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.
This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American. And their country was born of rebellion.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.

I was really quite enjoying this fun, frothy story of an American royal family in the 21st century. I had already put aside any scepticism that the US would have a monarchy at all, because sometimes you just have to accept the original premise of a book, so that was no problem. And really, there was a lot to like in this book. Told from the point of view of four girls who are either in or adjacent to the royal family, we’ve got two princesses, the best friend of one princess, and the ex-girlfriend of the prince. Things get complicated when you realise that one princess has already kissed the guy who’s dating the other princess, who is actually in love with someone else, and the best friend is secretly really into the prince, but the ex-girlfriend is having none of that. Scandals ensue, and loyalties are tested, all controlled by the strict requirements of royal protocol and decorum, and maintaining the image of the royal family above all else.
The four girls who take us through this luxe world of balls and gowns are very different, and have entirely conflicting goals, values, and priorities. As the action moves along, and relationships are developed, we start to see the clashing desires of each girl and how that’s going to impact their lives going forward.
I actually really enjoyed 95% of this book. Yes, it was silly, and yes, it was almost entirely driven by straight relationships and was somewhat lacking in diversity (although Nina, the best friend, does have two moms), butI did kind of expect that. This was never going to be an issues-driven book which is a hard-hitting deconstruction of police violence, and it was probably also never going to be a searing criticism of royalty and the system of peers and nobility. But that was all okay, because that wasn’t really what I was looking for with this one.
So. Yes. I was really enjoying this book. Scandals, broken hearts, crossed wires, protocol, all was chugging along nicely. In terms of feel, there were serious echoes here of The Selection series, particularly The Heir – probably because both books focus on the first female heir to the throne and her search for a suitable partner to support her reign. There was even the added similarity of royal twins – although a different position in the family. And, actually, American Royals has the same problem as I had with The Heir, and the main reason I knocked it down to three stars. It doesn’t actually conclude. The book ends on a huge cliffhanger.
Now, I don’t really have a problem with cliffhangers in general. They can be a good way to add tension to the book and change how all of the characters will act. But if you are going to have a cliffhanger, you need to have some plot threads resolved beforehand. Or even seemingly resolved, for the cliffhanger to throw them into turmoil.
That didn’t happen here. Nothing is resolved. Nobody’s relationship knows where it’s going. Nobody is happy. There was no sense of satisfaction here at all. Rather, I finished this book with a pretty disappointed ‘ugh’, because honestly, after the time I had invested in getting to know these characters, being cut off in the middle of their story was really very frustrating. It felt like a cheap trick, and one that I’ve seen too often.
I also rate it a lot less in this book – the first in a series – than in the Heir, which was the fourth. By the time you get that far in, you’re more invested in the characters, and willing to wait to see how things will develop. To throw it in at the end of the first book is disappointing, and not what I was hoping for.
For a book that I had really enjoyed up until the very end, the final pages left a sour taste, and have really coloured my overall view.

Three Stars
***

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Weddings on the Brain

I’m heading back to London today, after a brief trip home to see my very good friend Kellie wed the love of her life. So naturally, I have weddings on the brain. Today’s blog post, so, is my top four wedding books, and one that I’m literally about to start – once I finish the book I’m on. Because I love weddings. And I love Kellie. And I had a great time at her wedding, so I’m sharing the wedding love around.

Save the Date – Morgan Matson

35389087._SY475_From the author of Since You’ve Been Gone and The Unexpected Everything comes a dreamy story of summer romance and finding yourself, perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen

Charlie Grant tries to keep her life as normal as possible. Hanging out with her best friend, pining for Jesse Foster – who she’s loved since she was twelve – and generally flying under the radar as much as she can.

But sometimes normal is just another word for stuck, and this weekend that’s all going to change. Not only will everyone be back home for her sister’s wedding, but she’s also juggling:

– a rented dog that just won’t stop howling
– an unexpectedly hot wedding-coordinator’s nephew
– her favourite brother bringing home his HORRIBLE new girlfriend
– fear that her parents’ marriage is falling apart
– and the return to town of the boy she’s loved practically all her life…

Over the course of four days Charlie will learn there’s so much more to each member of her family than she imagined, even herself, and that maybe letting go of the things she’s been holding on tightest to can help her find what really keeps them together.

Praise for Morgan Matson:

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour 
“Funny and heartwarming, we love Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour” – Bliss
“Strong literary romance, this is an ideal summer read choice” – The Bookseller
“A near perfect summer read” – Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

And Second Chance Summer 
“Absolutely huge recommendation. Matson has become my favourite contemporary author.” The Bookbag
“Heart-wrenching and beautifully portrayed” Prettybooks

And Since You’ve Been Gone 
“A heartwarming story of loss, taking risks, new beginnings and self-discovery along the journey” – The Guardian

I absolutely loved this one. The depiction of a big family, loads of siblings, wedding planning chaos, and a really sweet romance. It was one of my favourite books last summer, and definitely bears re-reading. I’m going to try and get around to it before the new school year starts! My full review of it is here.

The Godfather – Mario Puzo

25780857More than thirty years ago, a classic was born. A searing novel of the Mafia underworld, The Godfather introduced readers to the first family of American crime fiction, the Corleones, and the powerful legacy of tradition, blood, and honor that was passed on from father to son. With its themes of the seduction of power, the pitfalls of greed, and family allegiance, it resonated with millions of readers across the world—and became the definitive novel of the virile, violent subculture that remains steeped in intrigue, in controversy, and in our collective consciousness.

Not ABOUT a wedding, per se, but that iconic scene of the Godfather in the shadowy room that has been parodied so many times is set at his daughter’s wedding. Plus, this book was great. So many layers of intrigue and meandering distractions into the backstories of characters who are killed barely after we got to know them – it’s not a quick read, but it’s certainly an engrossing one. My full review is here.

Once and For All – Sarah Dessen

33297389._SY475_As bubbly as champagne and delectable as wedding cake, Once and for All, is set in the world of wedding planning, where crises are routine.

Louna spends her summers helping brides plan their perfect day and handling every kind of crises: missing brides, scene-stealing bridesmaids and controlling grooms. Not surprising then, that she’s deeply cynical about happy-ever-afters, especially since her own first love ended in tragedy.

When handsome girl magnet Ambrose enters her life, Louna won’t take him seriously. But Ambrose hates not getting what he wants and Louna is the girl he’s been waiting for.

Maybe it’s not too late for a happy ending after all?

‘When I read a Sarah Dessen novel, I’m sixteen again, in the flush of first love.’ Jodi Picoult

Set in the world of Louna’s family wedding planning business, there are weddings galore in this one. And, because it’s a Sarah Dessen, you just know it’s going to leave you full of warm fuzzy feelings and serious enjoyment. Full review is here.

The Princess Bride – William Golding

21787What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad’s recitation, and only the “good parts” reached his ears.

Now Goldman does Dad one better. He’s reconstructed the “Good Parts Version” to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.

What’s it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.

In short, it’s about everything.

I read this one a few years ago, and really did love it. It’s got everything in it. True Love. Fake love. A Miracle. Fezzik. It’s totally worth taking the time to read it. Full review here.

And one upcoming wedding book that I might get through on the plane today:

A Wedding in December – Sarah Morgan

43162894.jpgThis funny, charming and heartwarming new Christmas novel is USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan at her festive best! 

In the snowy perfection of Aspen, the White family gathers for youngest daughter Rosie’s whirlwind Christmas wedding. First to arrive are the bride’s parents, Maggie and Nick. Their daughter’s marriage is a milestone they are determined to celebrate wholeheartedly, but they are hiding a huge secret of their own: they are on the brink of divorce. After living apart for the last six months, the last thing they need is to be trapped together in an irresistibly romantic winter wonderland.

Rosie’s older sister, Katie, is also dreading the wedding. Worried that impulsive, sweet-hearted Rosie is making a mistake, Katie is determined to save her sister from herself! If only the irritatingly good-looking best man, Jordan, would stop interfering with her plans…

Bride-to-be Rosie loves her fiancé but is having serious second thoughts. Except everyone has arrived—how can she tell them she’s not sure? As the big day gets closer, and emotions run even higher, this is one White family Christmas none of them will ever forget!

I picked this up at the Destination HQ showcase a little while ago, and have been waiting for the opportunity to sit down with it and really enjoy it. Looking forward to it!

 

 

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All The Things We Never Said – Yasmin Rahman

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

All The Things We Never Said – Yasmin Rahman

40083585._SY475_16-year-old Mehreen Miah’s anxiety and depression, or ‘Chaos’, as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can’t bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, ‘the pact’. Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.

As they secretly meet over the coming days, Mehreen develops a strong bond with Cara and Olivia, the only people who seem to understand what she’s going through. But ironically, the thing that brought them together to commit suicide has also created a mutually supportive friendship that makes them realise that, with the right help, life is worth living. It’s not long before all three want out of the pact. But in a terrifying twist of fate, the website won’t let them stop, and an increasingly sinister game begins, with MementoMori playing the girls off against each other.

A pact is a pact, after all.

In this powerful debut written in three points of view, Yasmin Rahman has created a moving, poignant novel celebrating life. ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID is about friendship, strength and survival.

I really enjoyed this book. Three teenage girls, each with their own problems, join a website to assign them partners and a method of death. Three very different girls, with very different circumstances, but all of them want to die. The main character, Mehreen, is beautifully drawn. A British-born Bangladeshi Muslim, her battle with anxiety and depression is beautifully written. Her religion is neither a problem nor a talking point, just a part of who she is, which was really wonderful, and something we need to see more of in YA! Her suicide pact partners are Cara, a sarcastic, acerbic, vulnerable teen who’s trying to put her life back together after a terrible accident ten months previously, and Olivia, a posh, privileged girl whose perfect home life is definitely not all that it seems.
The three girls meet and start to complete the tasks assigned by the website to prepare for their mutual death. But, ironically, meeting each other turns out to be the thing that gives them the strength to carry on. The friendship between these three damaged, fragile girls is something that helps all three of them to move forward, and they decide not to go through with the pact.
But the website has other ideas, and things start to go terribly wrong for all three of them. With the website ramping up the tension as the assigned date approaches, will the girls find a way to move past this?

There was lots of really great stuff in this book – representation of a very diverse group of girls, all of whom had their own mental struggles. There was also a really true to life depiction of how mental illness can make people act, really, not very nice. Mehreen’s Chaos, as she calls it, is visually depicted on the page, and the irrefutable, constant screaming of the voice is both hard to read (because it’s so powerful) and feels very true. I also liked that the book depicted the non-linear process of dealing with mental illness. Meeting each other was a turning point for all three girls, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all magically cured, and the narrative of the book shows this very clearly. All three girls felt fully developed and very real, with rounded characters and fully fleshed-out personalities. There was one passage in the book where Cara, who is a wheelchair user, dismisses invisible disabilities, which I found surprisingly adamant, but it was in keeping with her characterisation, which is quite bitter and dismissive of others.

The typesetting of this book was a thing to behold – Mehreen’s Chaos is angry and scratchy, taking up space on the page and drowning out everything around it. Olivia’s thoughts read like a free verse book, tripping along the page, growing and shrinking with the emphasis she places on different thoughts. There is an audiobook version of this book, but I think it would lose something by not having the visual impact around these girls’ thoughts.

The ending of the book felt a little rushed – there was a lot going on, and it all seemed to come together at the same time. I was particularly disappointed that we didn’t hear more about the operators of the website – they were just dismissed in a throwaway comment, really, and I would have liked to see more about that. I’m also fiercely curious about who Cara’s mother was talking to on the phone – I don’t think we ever found that out.

Overall, though, this is an incredibly powerful debut and a searingly honest portrayal of mental health struggles. It has enough extra moving parts to make it feel like more than just an issues book, and really shines for its lack of love interests for any of the three girls. The emphasis on friendship, support, and recovery makes this book a beautiful, heart-breaking read which deserves a place in the annals of important UKYA. I also look forward to seeing what Yasmin Rahman does next – clearly a very talented author, I expect great things to come.

Four Stars
****

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