Category Archives: Books

Fierce Fragile Hearts – Sara Barnard

It’s no secret that I really loved Beautiful Broken Things, so I was really delighted when I realised that Sara Barnard’s next book is a sequel to that. As usual, the cover design is fabulous. I read a NetGalley copy of this, so didn’t get to see the beautiful foiling in person, but I might just have to buy a copy because it’s so gorgeous, inside and out.

Fierce Fragile Hearts (Beautiful Broken Things #2) – Sara Barnard

imagesFierce Fragile Hearts is the stunning companion novel to Sara Barnard’s YA bestseller Beautiful Broken Things. It is about leaving the past behind, the friends who form your future, and learning to find love, in all its forms.

Two years after a downward spiral took her as low as you can possibly go, Suzanne is starting again. Again. She’s back in Brighton, the only place she felt she belonged, back with her best friends Caddy and Rosie. But they’re about to leave for university. When your friends have been your light in the darkness, what happens when you’re the one left behind?

 

I was super stoked for this book before I even saw the cover or the plot summary. Beautiful Broken Things was one of my best reads of 2018, so finding out that Sara Barnard was returning to those three beautiful girls was like Christmas coming early for me. Once I was approved for FFH on NetGalley, I knew the book deserved my attention, so I saved it until I had the time to properly appreciate it, and wouldn’t read it in snatches. This actually meant, bizarrely, that it waited until I was back home after Christmas, but having finished it, I know I made the right decision.
Fierce Fragile Hearts is a thing of beauty. Returning to the story of Caddy, Rosie, and Suze, three years after they first met, Suze is leaving care, and returning to Brighton, while Caddy and Rosie are heading off to uni. taking place over about six months, the book follows the three girls as they transition into this new stage of their lives.
While BBT was told from Caddy’s perspective, FFH is from Suze’s, and this transition really marks a change in tone between the two. Suze is almost nineteen, leaving care, striking out on her own, and trying to forge her own path in a world which is much more difficult for her than many other girls her age.
This book was beautiful. Gorgeously written, thoughtfully structured, interestingly developed, and so heartbreakingly real. Suze as a care leaver is struggling with complex PTSD, on top of the normal issues that nineteen year old girls have, and she really is the focus of this book. Her growth over the course of the book is so realistic, so frustrating at times, but so heartbreakingly true is wonderfully done.
I absolutely love Barnard as an author. I think she writes brilliantly. It was really interesting for this book to be about girls who are a little older – they’re eighteen and nineteen, and facing very different issues to the protagonists in her other books. But this step out of her normal zone isn’t a bad thing. It was brilliant to see how these three main characters have developed, and shows the breadth of Barnard’s skill. The older sisters in her other books have been really well-drawn, and having older girls as main characters was a great experience here.
There are old characters returning here, notably the three girls and Suze’s family, but also some new faces. I particularly liked Kel, who played a bigger role than I expected, and Clarence was really lovely. Plus, Clarence highlighted Suze’s naivete in her experience, and how the odds are stacked against girls like her.
Lots of this book explored Suze’s relationship with her family and her friends in relation to her being a care leaver and abuse victim, and it was really well-drawn. Suze’s natural reluctance to let others in is drawn out and explained, and although there are no perfect solutions in this book (there never are), it was really gratifying to see her growth as a person both from who she was in BBT, and who she was at the beginning of FFH.
I LOVE these three girls, and seeing how they grew and changed from when we met them first in Beautiful Broken Things to the young women they’ve become by the end of Fierce Fragile Hearts was a hugely valuable experience. Ten days into the year and I’ve already read what I know is going to be one of the best books of 2019.

Five Stars
*****

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books of 2018

As ever, it feels like life is a wheel that I’m inside, frantically trying to keep up and save myself from rolling away entirely. So while most people are full of their looking forward to in 2019 posts, and reading resolutions, I’m still stuck on trying to assess how 2018 went and what I did. For the first Tuesday of this year, I’m looking back at what my top ten books of last year were, and a few thoughts about them. Hopefully there’ll be some equally as cracking books in my repertoire for 2019, if I have the time to read them!

I’m excluding re-reads from my top 10, because, well, I feel like it. I also excluded non-fiction, although I did rate two really excellent non-fiction books at 5 stars in 2018. In fact, I’ll just mention those here, and then I’ll talk about my top ten fiction.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Written in 2016, I read this mostly for work but also because I wanted to get a tiny insight into the lives of people of colour in the UK. This was a really interesting and phenomenally well-written primer on the experience of systemic racism which is entrenched in the lives of non-white British people, which opened my eyes even more to the privilege which I was faintly aware I hold, but often am reluctant to acknowledge. To suggest that we live in a post-racial society in 2018 is to arbitrarily dismiss the experience of millions of people who are systemically discriminated against, and this book was a hugely enlightening – although I wouldn’t necessarily say enjoyable – experience, which I would recommend to anyone.

Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men by Lundy Bancroft

I read this one because I often see it recommended on forum sites or relationship advice, especially where the poster is in a controlling or abusive relationship. Written with a very American and confusingly male-focused gaze, this book was really very interesting, but also very hetero-normative. That said, acknowledging its weaknesses, it was a fascinating and deeply disturbing insight into the mindsets of abusive and controlling men, how society reacts to them, and just why it can be so difficult to get out of a relationship which, from the outside, seems to be unrelentingly horrible for the victim of that abuse. Definitely worth reading, especially if you are struggling to understand the mindset of someone who is trapped in an abusive relationship.

With that said, onwards to my top ten (fiction!) books of 2018!

These are in no particular order, by the way, because I’m actually terrible at picking favourites. They’re just all equally ranked as ‘best’, and numbered only so that I can make sure that I’m actually talking about the correct number of books.

1. La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1) – Philip Pullman

I was so stoked to read this. I LOVED His Dark Materials, even though neither of my sisters was half as keen on it, and I was so excited to return to the world of Lyra’s Oxford. Although very different to HDM, La Belle Sauvage was no less brilliant, and I cannot wait for the second and third books in this trilogy to drop.

2. The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars – Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh

This graphic novel in three parts is the followup to the illustrated series The Legend of Korra, which in itself is the followup to the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. I really loved how the creators ended the series, with a fledgling romance between Korra and Asami. Constrained by the limits of creating a PG-7 series, it was very heavily implied, but not explicitly stated, that this f/f relationship was becoming a thing. The graphic novel from Dark Horse doesn’t have those same constraints (as an aside, I don’t see how a f/f relationship depiction which is every bit as chaste as the many m/f relationships on the show would be skirting the bounds of child-appropriate, but that’s a discussion for another day), and so it allowed the relationship between Korra and Asami to flourish, against the backdrop of Republic City trying to deal with a new spiritual portal which appeared in the middle of their city. I LOVED this. It was beautifully drawn, a really engaging story, and I absolutely adored the romance between the two lead characters, because it was so supportive, and very much a relationship between equals. Even Mako’s coming to terms with his two ex-girlfriends being in a relationship was wonderfully done. I am so excited for Ruins of the Empire, the first part of which comes out in May this year, to continue on with Korra’s story.

3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

I wrote a full review of this, so there’s not much more I need to say, but I can just reiterate that I absolutely adored this epistolary novel set in and around post-war Guernsey. The relationships between the Guernsey residents, the developing interest that Juliet has in the island, its residents, and the unfolding story of how they coped with occupation during the war was beautifully done. I knew very little about the Channel Islands before I read this book, not even realising that they had been occupied, and this was a really interesting and heartfelt depiction of life there. I heartily recommend. I also have been meaning for months and months to watch the film version of this, but have yet to actually get around to it.

4. Far From the Tree – Robin Benway

Again, I wrote a full review of this, so I don’t have too much to say here, but I really loved this as well. A deserved spot in my top ten, this lyrical investigation of family, love, and what ties siblings together was heartbreaking and heartwarming, and I cried buckets reading it. I only bought it because it was on special for 99p, but Robin Benway is now On My List, and I’m going to start looking at her back catalogue as well.

5. The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

I loved this too, but because it was an ARC, I can’t share too much about it. My full review will go up on publication day, so in the mean time I just have to reiterate that this was fun, funny, sweet, and had two such distinct narrative voices that I really loved. Definitely one to watch out for.

6. Save the Date – Morgan Matson

I’ve read a few Morgan Matsons, and while they’ve been enjoyable, I don’t think I would have rated her as highly as, say, Sarah Dessen. Well this book might have changed that. Save the Date blew me away by being the perfect YA contemporary. Set around weddings (I love!), including a big family (I love!), with a quirky love interest (yes please!), and just so much heart, this was an absolutely entrancing escapist read. With cute little comics at the start of chapters! I didn’t even know that’s a thing I loved in books, but I love it now!

7. Sadie – Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers write such unflinching books. Everything she writes reaches into my heart and twists it and makes me look at things I’ve been trying to avoid. Sadie is one of those books. Starkly brilliant, it dives into the consumer culture of true crime, girls as victims, and the podcast industry, and it’s brill. It also, in a bizarrely and intriguingly meta twist, has a podcast – The Girls. Which is just wonderful. And chilling.

8. Beautiful Broken Things – Sara Barnard

I adored this book. It hit me right in the heart and made me cry (which, okay, not particularly difficult, but whatever) and lingered in my brain for ages. When I found out Sara Barnard was writing a sequel I was thrilled! I’m actually reading Fierce Fragile Hearts right now, and it’s every bit as good. So gorgeously written. So wonderfully tender. Such a great exploration of friendship and support, and how sometimes even that isn’t enough.

9. The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed

Every time I think about this book I wonder why I didn’t review it in full. It was so wonderful. The story of three girls tackling rape culture in their school, this investigation of female sexuality and the constraints that are placed on it was so delicately drawn I loved every word. Amy Reed is another author whose back catalogue I’m going to have to investigate!

10. Charmcaster/Soulbinder – Sebastien de Castell

I’m cheating with this entry, because it’s actually two books, but I don’t care, I’m doing it anyways. Books three and four in Sebastien de Castell’s Spellslinger series are every bit as snarky, witty, gross, magical, and filled with sarcastic, magical squirrel cat as the first, and I am loving them. I can’t wait to see how the story ends, as Kellen’s development from wannabe mage to outcast, outlaw, and Shadowblack has been so fraught with difficulty but still so endearing. I’m on my knees waiting for Queenslayer, the last in the series. Who is the queen being slain? Who’s doing the slaying? What’s going to happen? I’m so excited.

So those are my top ten (uh, thirteen) books from 2018 – hopefully 2019 will have as many gems in there! What should I read next, based on these beauties?

 

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December Roundup

Last roundup of 2018! I can’t believe the year is over. I spent the last ten days of December at home in Ireland, and although I thought I would get LOADS of reading done, that was totally not the case. Instead, I cuddled babies, made jigsaws, played videogames, and saw lots of lots of people. And ate delicious brownies. But rounding out my year was December’s list of books, which brought my total for 2018 up to 240 – the most I’ve ever read. So I’m pretty delighted overall.

Books

  1. If We’re Not Married By Thirty – Anna Bell
  2. Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty
  3. The Day She Can’t Forget – Meg Carter
  4. Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay – Jill Mansell
  5. The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary
  6. A Cotswold Christmas (Willoughby Close #1) – Kate Hewitt
  7. Queen of Air and Darkness (The Dark Artifices #3) – Cassandra Clare
  8. One Day in December – Josie Silver
  9. The Brands Who Came For Christmas – Maggie Shayne
  10. Girlhood – Cat Clarke
  11. Blame the Mistletoe (A Marietta Christmas #2, Love in Montana #2) – Dani Collins
  12. Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men – Lundy Bancroft
  13. One Day in December – Shari Low
  14. Vicious (Villains #1) – VE Schwab

Cover Art

 

Favourite Book This Month

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I LOVE love loved this book. Because I got an early copy of it, my full review isn’t scheduled to go up for another few months yet, but once this is available, I whole-heartedly recommend that you read it, because I really, really enjoyed it. It was just very sweet, very enjoyable, and atmospheric, and had a surprising depth to it which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Least Favourite Book This Month

The Brands Who Came for Christmas. I mentioned this in my Christmas Crackers post – it was just full of such judgemental attitudes, it was really jarring to read.

Favourite cover art

Everything about this Shadowhunters cover is so ethereal and gorgeous, it has to be my winner for this month. It fits really well with the previous books in the trilogy, evokes the seaside setting of The Dark Artifices, and is very eerie-looking, reminiscent of Thule from the book itself. I keep meaning to write a post about QoAaD in full, but I just have so many questions it would be terribly spoiler-filled. I might have to go onto Tumblr to ask all my questions. In any case, great cover art!

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Other…

I can’t believe 2018 is over. I’m sitting at my desk at work on January 3rd, 2019, and insisting on writing the wrong year on everything (my diary, mostly…), while in my head I’m convinced it really was 2016 only a few weeks ago. It’s very quiet in the university today (largely because the campus was closed until, uh, yesterday), and I’m thinking about planning out what I’ll be doing for 2019, both in work and blogging (and life in general). The freshness of the new year always gives me pause for thought. But I don’t think anything shocking will come in 2019. We’ll see how that thought pans out, though!

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Christmas Crackers

I had great intentions of writing lots of blog posts over the Christmas holidays, because the university is closed and I don’t have to work, and I have lots of free time. But as soon as I got home to my parents’ house in Ireland, it was like my blogging brain just switched off. I’ve actually spent very little time on the internet over the last ten days, and I haven’t even done that much reading either. I’m currently on 238 books read in 2018. I’d like to get to 250, but honestly I can’t see myself reading 12 books in the next three days. I’m not even sure I’m going to finish the three I have on the go at the moment.

But over the last ten days, I have been trying to read lots of festive books, so I’ll chat about those that I’ve finished! All of these books were either free or like, 99p when I bought them. Although some may have been lurking on my iBooks account since Christmas 2017. Or even 16!

Blame the Mistletoe

31345078A story of ex-in-laws who meet over Christmas and bond over their terrible former spouses, they start a romance which is meant to be no strings attached. But a snowstorm and their children (who are cousins, and were at a family wedding) arriving unexpectedly means that their secret affair doesn’t remain secret for very long…

I enjoyed this one. It was sweet, relatively uncomplicated, and full of happy Christmas vibes. Although I’m not sure if my cousin were becoming my step-sibling I’d be quite so happy about it as these two teenagers…

Three Stars
***

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The Brands Who Came for Christmas

I thought I’d like this one, a story of a one-night stand which results in a twin pregnancy. But actually, it oozed with judgemental attitudes and really out-of-date moral declarations. Looking at the information, it was originally written almost twenty years ago, but the judgement of single mothers and lingerie models is a mindset which dates many years before. This would’ve been a one-star, except for a totally fabulous scene involving heavy machinery and a snowstorm.

This series is a spin-off of the Oklahoma Brands series by Maggie Shayne, of which I’ve read one, but I don’t actually know how they’re connected. Perhaps that comes to light later in the series? Either way, I won’t be reading any more, because I can’t deal with the judginess.

Two Stars
**

A Cotswold Christmas32021986

A story of a romance which was meant to only last a week, this was surprisingly sweet and didn’t wrap everything up in a happily ever after within three days (which, uh, Blame the Mistletoe totally did). Not groundbreaking, but full of feel-good Christmas vibes.

Three Stars
***

One Day in December42110279

I’ve seen loads of hype about this one, and bought it one day when it was on special for 99p. Pegged as One Day with added Christmas vibes, it was actually much less Christmassy than the cover would suggest. I enjoyed this story of three friends over ten years, and the star-crossed path they would take as Laurie’s ‘love at first glimpse’ reappears in her life as her best friend’s boyfriend, and certain scenes later in the book made me want to throw my kindle away and just go hug my dad forever, but I didn’t really warm to Jack as a character, and so wasn’t totally invested in their journey as friends. I was a little bit, though, because I’m a sap, and it’s Christmas.

Three Stars
***

One Day in Dece35429599mber

Admittedly, I haven’t finished this one, so it doesn’t get a star rating, but thus far I’m enjoying the stories of four intertwined lives and one fateful day in Glasgow. I did actually buy this book thinking it was the book immediately above, but although I’m not very far in, I’m enjoying this different take on a single day. I’ll probably finish it tonight, and then compare the two side-by-side.

Or no, I won’t, because it’s Christmas, and they can just both be great. I’m full of happiness and good cheer. Largely because over the last ten days I’ve gotten loads of baby cuddles, and who can be cranky when there are baby cuddles on offer? Not me, that’s for sure.

 

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Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

Not gonna lie, if Liane Moriarty releases a book, I’m going to read it. The fun thing about listening to this on Audible was that she’s had the same narrator for a few books, so it feels familiar in all kinds of ways.

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

42193554.jpgCould ten days at a health resort really change you forever? In Liane Moriarty’s latest page-turner, nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

I have to admit, this was definitely not my favourite of her books. There were some great scenes in it, and a whole swathe of characters that I loved getting to know. But there’s not a lot of plot here. It’s all character-driven. Each of the nine residents at the super-resort Tranquillum house, plus the staff there, are on their own journeys, and have more to admit to themselves than they would like. But nine main characters (ten, really, because the Director is also a character) is a lot to keep track of, and some of them didn’t really get the time or attention they deserved.

I particularly liked Frances, and felt like she was the main character. Her scenes late in the book, where she’s dreaming (sort of) were very fun, although they had no regard for the fourth wall whatsoever.

I was also deeply traumatised by Napoleon, particularly his monologue in chapter 26. It was so bad I actually had to turn it off, because I was crying, and it was probably dangerous for other people on the road with me (I listen mostly in the car). His and his family’s story was definitely the best part of the book, but parts of it felt unresolved near the end.

I liked the idea of a health resort, and aspects of it were great, but the plot in the climax went utterly wild and incomprehensible, as well as not really justifiable. I felt a little like I had taken LSD while listening to this, and not in an enjoyable way.

My main complaint about Nine Perfect Strangers, though, was the pacing. Although almost all character-based development, there was a lot of plot squashed into the final parts of the book, and really not a lot of time given to it. The closing chapters of the book just kind of wrapped everything up neatly in a bow, and I was left feeling quite rushed and a little dissatisfied by it.

I really don’t think this is Moriarty’s best work, although there are some achingly brilliant chapters in there. A very mixed bag.

Three Stars
***

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Reviewing the Unreviewed: July – September 2018

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

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

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

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

Four Stars
****

Thirteen (Eddie Flynn #4) – Steve Cavanagh

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

Four Stars
****

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

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

Four Stars Each
****

About Last Night… – Catherine Alliott31227052

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

Three Stars
***

38311150Undercover Princess – Lenora Worth

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

Three Stars
***

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

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

Four Stars
****

Geek Girl (Geek Girl #1) – Holly Smale

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

Two Stars
**

Alex, Approximately – Jenn Bennett34669877

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

Three Stars
***

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

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

Three Stars Each
***

The Novice (Summoner #1) – Taran Matharu

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

Three Stars
***

Cuckoo Song – Frances Hardinge18298890

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

Four Stars
****

38104394Second Best Friend – Non Pratt

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

Four Stars
****

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

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

Three Stars
***

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

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

Four Stars
****

The Iron Chariot – Stein Riverton34342113

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

Three Stars
***

Don’t Close Your Eyes – Holly Seddon

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

Three Stars
***

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

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

Four Stars
****

Tradition – Brendan Kiely

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

Three Stars
***

This Could Change Everything – Jill Mansell35129210

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

Four Stars
****

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

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

Two Stars
**

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick

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

Two Stars
**

The Wish List – Jane Costello30826143

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

Four Stars
****

Peter Pan – JM Barrie25133426

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

Three Stars
***

The Summer Guest – Emma Hannigan

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

Four Stars
****

Overheard in Dublin – Gerard Kelly

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

Two Stars
**

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

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

Four Stars
****

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

 

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

 

Three Stars
***

Slated (Slated #1) – Teri Terry

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

Two Stars
**

How I Lost You – Jenny Blackhurst23435951

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

Three Stars
***

Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly

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

Four Stars
****

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

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

Four Stars
****

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Summer’s Child – Diane Chamberlain

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

Three Stars
***

Elena Vanishing – Elena & Claire B Dunkle

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

Three Stars
***

Burned (Burned #1) – Ellen Hopkins270807

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

Two Stars
**

Unwind (Unwind Dystology #1) – Neil Shusterman

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

Four Stars
****

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke34604009

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

Two Stars
**

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Suitcase Girl (Suitcase Girl #1) – Ty Hutchinson

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

Two Stars
**

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

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

Five Stars for ALL of them
*****

27270184More of Me – Kathryn Evans

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

Four Stars
****

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

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

Three Stars Each
***

 

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

 

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If We’re Not Married By Thirty – Anna Bell

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

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

If We’re Not Married by Thirty – Anna Bell

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

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

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

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

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

Praise for Anna Bell:

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

‘Smart, witty and completely fresh’ Cathy Bramley

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

Four Stars
****

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Izzy + Tristan – Shannon Dunlap

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

Izzy +Tristan – Shannon Dunlap

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

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

And then she meets Tristan.

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

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

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

Three Stars
***

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November Roundup

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

Books

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

Cover Art

 

Favourite Book This Month

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

Least Favourite Book This Month

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

Favourite cover art

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

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Other…

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

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Dear Evan Hansen – Val Emmich

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

I received a copy of this book for free on NetGalley

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

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

Dear Evan Hansen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Stars
***

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