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T5W: Books Without Romance

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is books without romance. Sometimes, romance plots can follow certain cliches, and are, by their nature, usually quite predictable in their endings. For that reason, I don’t typically love romance novels, and prefer the romance to be a secondary storyline, or play a minor role, if any at all. Sometimes I love the cliches, and sometimes I want something new. This can be difficult to find, but it can be refreshing and if done right, can bring to light different themes that aren’t always explored as much, as well as exploring other relationship dynamics that characters have, whether they are friendships or family bonds.

Here we go!

1. The Red Abbey Chronicles – Maria Turtschaninoff

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When does this series not feature in one of my T5W posts? I don’t know if it ever won’t be here. I will find every opportunity I possibly can to talk about this. Romance is completely absent in the first novel, Maresi, and features slightly in the second, but never in the way that you expect it. Turtschaninoff’s writing is completely new and different, and so her exploration of love and romance is as well.

Read my reviews for the first two books in the series here and here.

2. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

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Romance features briefly at the start of this novel, but not for long. Before the story has even got going, Shadow Moon discovers that the love of his life Laura has died. From then on, he embarks on an adventure with the mysterious Thursday, discovering that gods are real, and that they are going to war. Although this isn’t a book devoid of romance, much like the Red Abbey Chronicles, this is not a story that is driven by romance.

Read my full review here.

3. The Way Back Home – Allan Stratton 

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The most important relationship in this novel is that of Zoe and her grandmother, who she runs away from home with to protect. I thought at one point that romance would feature, but it turned out to simply be a red herring. It was so satisfying to see a YA novel adventure that focused solely on the family relationships of the main character.

Read my full review here.

4. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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Another YA novel that focused on family bonds, Everything I Never Told You is one of the most interesting books I have read in this genre. In the very first page, we are told that Lydia, the favourite child of the Lee family, has died. Over the course of the novel, Ng explores not only the relationships between the characters, but the dynamics of interracial relationships, racial identity, the American dream, the pressures that children face, and guilt.

5. Uprooted – Naomi Novik 

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The whole way through this novel I expected there to be more romance. It just goes to show how conditioned we are to expect it. Although romance did feature, it only made an appearance two times, if I remember correctly. Other than that, there was so much more to the plot that it took a back seat, and it would have been just as good without it altogether, because the relationship between Agnieszka and ‘the Dragon’ is so complex regardless.

Read my full review here.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The Way Back Home – Allan Stratton Review

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Rating; ★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Way Back Home is about a young girl called Zoe Bird who loves her grandmother more than anything and is furious when she is put into a care home. Fed up with her own life in the town, where she is bullied relentlessly and her parents don’t listen to her, she decides to escape with her mother to Toronto, where her long-lost uncle lives. There were parts of this book that I really liked, and other parts that I just didn’t really feel made an impact on me, and overall it balanced out to be just that. Good, but not great.

Zoe’s relationship with her grandmother is one of the best parts of this novel. Zoe on her own was not a character that I liked. I really do not connect to characters who are rude for no reason, and I felt like, although I can relate to the struggles of seeing a loved one be put into a care home, Zoe’s anger and attitude to her parents felt a bit exaggerated at times. Generally, the parts of Zoe’s life that did not directly link to the story with her grandmother felt a little two-dimensional, like her cousin Madi’s character. I guess none of it felt real enough to me, it all just felt a bit too much of a caricature. However, seeing Zoe with her aunt on their trip was really endearing or Zoe’s character. We see that Zoe is kind and loyal behind all the anger that she harbours, and her desire to look after her grandmother isn’t a pipe dream, but she actually does it.

On the other hand, I felt like this is a perfect example of a character that is just too dumb to live. The whole way through this book I was waiting for the moment where someone would shake Zoe by the shoulders and ask her what the hell she was doing. I admire the way that Zoe and her grandmother’s relationship was written, but it also felt a bit ridiculous. Having seen Alzheimer’s in my own family, I know how difficult it is to deal with, and I find it hard even now, let alone when I was fourteen or fifteen. The whole story in this respects felt a bit naive, but once you look past the recklessness of it and how unreal the situation is, you can sort of enjoy the story.

Finally, the best part for me was the story with Uncle Teddy. I loved seeing the story unfold and the family come back together and especially Zoe discovering the truth of the family secret. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who goes onto read this book, but it was refreshing and I felt like it was handled well, exposing some common experiences whilst not being insensitive. However, I was really confused at how the rest of the storylines played out around this. Zoe’s family reunite with one side of their family, only to turn around to the other side of their family and completely cut them off. When you read the book, you do see that their relationships are not exactly healthy, but I felt like for a book about families coming back together and looking past each other’s problem, perhaps this could have made an effort at humanising Aunt Jess and cousin Madi a little more to make it feel more cohesive.

Overall, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t not like it. It was okay, with good bits and bad bits. I think perhaps my own experiences with the subject matter made it difficult to connect to because it felt silly to me, but it didn’t ruin the book for me.